Do trout feed at night? (and how to catch them)
Night can be an excellent time of day to catch trout. Trout are less wary under the cover of darkness, and some species such as brown and brook trout prefer to feed at night.
Many fishermen believe night fishing is only throwing large streamers or stripping in mouse flies, but it can be so much more. Any lure or fly which catches trout during the day will catch trout at night given the right conditions. Yes, it is even possible to catch trout on nymphs at 1am in the morning.
Keep reading to find out more about fishing for, and catching trout at night.
General advice and best practice when night fishing
Know the water before fishing it in the dark
I first need to make clear that trout fishing at night is difficult and can be a little dangerous.
Never fish a new spot for the first time in the dark. Always fish it during the day first, or at a minimum arrive prior to sunset to gain an idea of the lay of the land.
Like I said above, fishing is more difficult in the dark compared with during the day. In the day reading the water is much easier.
It is easy to see the speed of the current and to identify pocket water, structure, and deeper holes. It is possible to see the drop-offs when wading, and the gravel bars can be spotted well in advance.
When fishing at night, everything becomes that much harder to see. If you are not already familiar with the water, knowing where to cast is nearly impossible to guess. Even the act of casting becomes difficult, even the best casters can find themselves out of rhythm. Snagging trees or hooking themselves in the back of the head with a misplaced fly.
I always fish a river first during the day, I know it well. I know where the trout are likely to be holding. This makes night fishing much easier.
Do trout bite at night?
It is well known that trout are predominantly visual feeders, they see the food and they eat it. Some people still wonder if trout feed at night? Yes, trout feed during the night and they can be caught. In fact, they trout are probably easier to catch during the night than the day.
Best time of year to fish for trout at night?
There is no bad time to go trout fishing.
With that said. Night fishing is generally at its best during the late summer into the fall. This is for two main reasons. The water temperature is cooler than during the day, which makes the trout more active at night. Plus due to the low clear conditions, large trout hide during the day to avoid detection.
This is the time of year which typically produces the most big trout, at least in the more temperate waters I have fished.
Night fishing in the spring months can also be productive but due to high river levels, the larger trout can be harder to find.
Night fishing at winter is brutally cold, I personally do not recommend it, but I know some hardy souls have success. Over the cold winter months, the trout are also less active due to the low water temperature.
The brown trout spawning run can be a prime to target trout at night because they tend to gather at river mouths before moving upstream under the cover of darkness.
Best time of night to go fishing for trout
Brown trout are often the most active a couple of hours around dawn and after dusk. This also correlates strongly to the amount of food which is available.
During the summer rainbow trout generally stop feeding around midnight, probably when the last of the even hatches disperse, and will start up again 4am as the aquatic life get ready for the new day. Of course, this does differ slightly depending on the brightness of the moon and day length.
Brown trout feed throughout the night, but the best fishing is often between 1am and 3am, they then take a short rest before the dawn hatches wake them up again.
When there is an abundance of food around, the trout can feed all night.
With that said, I do not believe the time really matters, just get out when you can and make the most of it. I often will fish the evening hatch then continue fishing until the early hours of the morning. Every night, and water can be different.
Where do trout feed at night
For the most part trout feed in the same type of water as during the day.
I know many fishermen like to target deep dark holes when night fishing, in the belief that a monster trout must lurk at the bottom. Well, chances are a big trout probably does rest up in the hole during the day, but they do not feed there.
They move into shallower water on the edge of current, there they can suspend in the water column intercepting food as it floats by.
The main difference between trout feeding position at night than during the day is that they move into even shallower water. I have pulled 5lb+ trout out of ankle deep water. Their fins must have been breaking the surface. The vast majority of trout I catch at night is from water between 4 and 24 inches deep.
So, always fish your feet first and cover the shallows. I like to cast parallel to the shore, and even had trout pounce out from ‘flooded’ streamside rashes to grab my lure.
Best rod, reel and tackle for night fishing for trout
Many fishermen think they need a specialized rod, reel and even line for night fishing, but the gear which works during the day is perfectly fine at night. To begin with just use the gear and combinations you are most familiar with.
Night is not the time to experiment with something new.
With that said, it does not hurt to use slightly heavier tippet or leader. Trout are less line shy at night, and the stronger line does make landing them slightly easier and will be more forgiven for the occasional mistake.
Fly casting is much more difficult at night
During the day, I am a capable caster. At night, my casting deteriorates to the point where at times I spend more time re-rigging than actually fishing.
I can spin fish at night with ease, but the moment I get my fly gear out disaster strikes.
My loops open, and my accuracy decreases. My back casts ends up on the ground or in the branches and it is one disaster after the other. The number of snags and the amount of tackle lost also increases.
When fly fishing at night, unless you are a master caster I suggest plan your casts well. A few well executed and presented casts is much more productive than many casts that just increases the chance of a tangle.
What trout species can be caught at night?
Can rainbow trout be caught at night?
Rainbow trout are easier to catch during the day, but they are still active at night and they can be caught especially on bright nights.
A bright moon-lit night does make rainbow trout easier to catch.
In hot summer conditions, rainbow trout also become more nocturnal taking advantage of the cooler temperatures.
Can brown trout be caught at night?
Brown trout, generally speaking, are more active at night. Their peak feeding period often occurs in the early hours of the morning.
Some brown trout are entirely nocturnal and never feed during the day.
Heavy angling pressure during the day can also encourage them to feed at night.
Can brook trout be caught at night?
Brook trout can be caught at night, and some studies have suggested that they feed more at night than during the day, although their feeding patterns are highly correlated to food availability.
If there is more food at night they will feed at night, if there is more food during the day they will feed then.
In lakes, Brook trout often seek out deeper, cooler water during the day, but will move towards the shallows and lake margins at night.
Do stock trout feed at night?
It can be challenging to catch stock trout at night simply because they have been conditioned to feed during the day.
In saying that, Stock trout typically are not fussy and often have a vigorous appetite so chances are they will still feed even after dark.
Advantages to trout fishing at night
There are several advantages to trout fishing at night, in this section I will quickly cover them.
Trout are less wary and move into the shallows
Trout are a lot more confident at night, bigger trophy trout come out of their hides and are more likely to feed out in the open.
Many trout also move into the shallows from the deeps, making casting to them much easier. When trout fishing during the day, we only see a fraction of the true number of wild trout in the water. Most of them are just resting and waiting for the cover of darkness to start feeding.
At night brown trout are more active and predatory
Large brown trout are well known to be much more active during the night. That is when they go on the hunt and search for their prey.
Many anglers believe, and I agree that during the summer the best time to target trophy brown trout is between 1am and 3 am.
There is less wind at night than during the day
The weather at night is significantly calmer than during the day. Not having to contend with the wind makes casting and spotting fish signs much easier.
Fishing spots are less crowded
When night fishing, I usually have the whole river or lake to myself. In most fishing spots it is very unusual to see another angler on the water after dark.
This is in sharp contrast to many popular trout spots that are crowded during the day. On the weekend, during the day it can be impossible to get a parking spot.
This is never a problem at night because even the keenest of anglers typically head home shortly after the dusk hatch.
Disadvantages to night fishing for trout
Night fishing can be very rewarding, but it has its challenges.
Harder to see, everything becomes more challenging
Everything from reading the water, to seeing fish to tieing knots becomes harder. Even walking down a riverside trail can be significantly harder. It is important to plan ahead and have everything well organized before reaching the river.
Night fishing can be a little scary, strange noises in the dark
Outside at night can be scary, our mind can play tricks on us and start to imagine things that are not actually there.
But I will also note, that wildlife, in general, are more confident at night. I have had Coyote’s approach much closer at night than any time during the day. They always slink away when I turn the light on them.
Deer also can get much closer, and make unexpected sound as they sprint away.
I have never seen a bear, big cat at night but I am sure it is a concern in some areas.
Additional night fishing hints
Be familiar with your tackle and technique before using it at night
Night fishing is difficult at the best of times, good technique and accurate casts go astray.
Before fishing at night, you need to have a good understanding of your gear and how to fish it. If you struggle to cast during the day, it only becomes more difficult at night.
Untangling a line wrapped around a tree branch is tricky enough in the daylight, it becomes so much more tedious at night.
Bring two light sources when night fishing, but minimize its use!
Two light sources are almost essential. I like to bring a good powerful headlamp and a second backup light source for when my main light fails.
In saying that. While I recommend bringing two light sources, keep them off as much as possible.
The idea is to protect your night vision as much as possible. After half an hour or so, it is usually possible to see quite well in all but the darkest of nights.
I have been able to watch trout raise and grab hatching mayflies by starlight alone.
Ideally, you will not have to turn the light on until the walk home, or maybe to frighten away any strange sounds in the dark.
I will admit, while I keep my torches off as much as possible. Curiosity often gets the better of me, and I do use my main torch to search for fish after fishing a pool. It is just interesting information to know what was there for my next trip.
Use all your senses, hearing is as important as sight at night
When night fishing use all your senses to find trout.
Hearing can be just as important as sight. Listen for the splashes and ripples of feeding and escaping fish.
If you hear splashes in the shallow, chances are a brown trout is attacking a shoal of baitfish. This is the perfect place to cast a streamer or lure.
The moon and night fishing
The moon does influence trout fishing, but most importantly it makes it a lot easier to see. In dark areas, I like to fish during the full moon because it makes seeing so much easier.
Rainbow trout are also more active on brighter nights.
Check regulations before night fishing
Night fishing is not always legal, so it is a good idea to check the regulations before heading to your local spot for a bit of fishing.
Also, check the closing time of any parking lots. Some parks annoyingly lock their gates during the night. I have had mates who were forced to spend all night
in their car fishing after getting locked in for the night.
Spinning for trout at night
While I prefer to fly fish during the day, I usually get the spinning rods out at night simply because the casting is easier.
When spinning for trout at night, I like to start with a surface presentation. A lure or hardbody which swims across the surface. This seems to grab the attention of any trout lurking below and they will swim up to investigate.
I highly suggest a very slow retrieve, give the trout plenty of time to detect, sight, inspect and strike your lure.
When I know the trout are hunting minnows, I sometimes wait until I hear them splashing about. Then I will cast in the direction of the sound. The strikes are often aggressive when casting to hunting trout.
Another advantage of using a surface lures is that it minimizes the chance of snagging the bottom or on some unseen structure.
Five best spinners for night fishing for trout
- Trillens flatfish
- Dynamic trout HD trout
- Jointed Rapala
- Frog and mouse lures
For more specific examples of spinning lures to use at night check my article here.
For a more comprehensive article on spinning at night for trout check here.
Fly fishing for trout at night
There are two sorts of fly fishermen at night, those of us who cast big streamers and the occasional dry, and the more hardcore that fish subsurface with nymphs.
Given the right conditions, all methods are still effective.
I usually target large, sometimes trophy size predatory brown trout. I favor a large black streamer. I like black, because it contrasts nicely against the brightness of the sky.
I cast out, preferably towards the swirls of a feeding trout and slowly retrieve. If you are retrieving too quickly, try the figure 8 retrieve to slow it down a bit.
Dry flies, poppers and mouse flies
Other times, fishing a large surface fly such as a popper or mouse imitation can really get the trout excited. I like to fish such poppers along the edge of reeds and rashes, trout often hide there to intercept prey.
If you can see the trout are taking from the surface, maybe during an active hatch then by all means tie on a dry fly and fish accordingly.
Nymphing at night
If you are really up to a challenge, then it can be worthwhile blind fishing the ripples and gutters with a nymph, but it does take a lot of concentration to detect the strike. Large indicators, and short precise drifts make it easier. Nymph fishing at night is probably the most difficult method of catching trout. So it is not for everyone.
While night hides many sins, trout can still detect drag on a nymph or dry. So drag free presentations are still essential to maximize chances of success.
Traditional wet flies
Fishing across and down with traditional wet flies can also be a very effective technique. Cast across the current and allow the current to carry the line downstream where it will swing across. Then slowly retrieve against the current. Streamers can be fished in the same ways.
The choice of wet fly does not really seem to matter. Just broadly try to match the hatch.
5 Best flies for night fishing
- Woolly Bugger
- Black Zonker
- Apache Black Fly
- Bunny Strip Popper
- Deer hair mouse
For more specific examples of streamers, I enjoy fishing at night check my article here.
Bait fishing for trout at night
Some anglers like to fish bait at night, and potentially the best bait to fish at night is minnows. Either dead or alive. Trout will strike both.
Cast them out, beneath a float and just wait until they are intercepted by a hunting trout. I have written an entire article on it here.
If you are not into minnow fishing or targeting less predatory stock trout, then consider fishing a nightcrawler or other traditional bait. Trout will still willingly take them.
One disadvantage to bait fishing is night, is that many other species of fish are also more active so the amount of by-catch can greatly increase.