Night Fishing For Trout: Tips for Success After Dark

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Some of the biggest trout landed have been taken at night.

The largest brown trout (and trout of other species) get that way by being very wary and difficult to catch.

Many of them feed mostly at night when they feel more comfortable and are less vulnerable to predators, including anglers. These fish remain in deeper waters during the day, but venture into the shallower water during the night.

While stepping out into the pitch darkness can feel a bit intimidating, plan your trips carefully and I am sure you’ll grow to like night fishing for trout.

Trout Fishing Tips For Nighttime

Here are some tips to help you land a trophy trout after dark.

1. Choose your spot and scope it out in daylight hours

Moving around on the river bank or lakeshore is dangerous and counterproductive. Research likely spots for large trout during the day (places where they can intercept larger prey items) and find a way to get there easily under the light of a headlamp.

2. Upsize your line and your flies and lures

Trout hunting at night are generally on the lookout for larger meals. They are chasing little insects, which aren’t hatching anyway, they are usually chasing moths, crickets and even mice, so larger flies and lures make sense. There are no issues with fish spotting the line or leader (trout bite much more freely after dark), so you can fish 10lb line with no problems at all and have a better chance of landing a larger fish.

3. Use all your senses

With enough moon on a still pool you can see disturbances on the water’s surface to indicate a feeding trout. You can often also hear a feeding fish – the little pop as it sucks an insect off the top is audible and sound travels surprisingly well over water. On dark nights you really want to make the most of your hearing to make sure you lift the rod and strike when a fish has eaten your offering.

4. Get up close and personal

Whether you are fly fishing or lure fishing, you don’t need to hang back when you are fishing at night. The fish won’t be able to see you, so get up nice and close to make casting and line control a lot easier. But note, if you are wading, move slowly into position as the fish can feel the waves that are generated from moving too fast. 

5. Focus on the surface

Muddler Minnows, cricket patterns and other bulky surface flies (along with mouse fly patterns) are good at night.

For both fly and lure fishing at night, fishing topwater – or at the very least the upper part of the water column – is the key. You can’t see beneath the water’s surface at night, so fishing with a deep diving lure or fly is fraught with danger of snagging up and being forced to re-tie your rig in the dark. Surface lures and flies don’t have this risk, plus you can leave them in position much longer in stillwater spots, which are the kind you want to be targeting at night.

Muddler Minnows, cricket patterns and other bulky surface flies (along with mouse fly patterns) are good at night. Skating these flies by casting across and down on broad rivers can work well. In terms of the best lures, poppers (get one here), floating stickbaits and frogs are good options for trout fishing at night.

6. Be careful with white lights

Use the red light mode if you have to put your light on so that your eyes will not react to the bright light that snaps back into daylight mode.

Only turn your headlamp on if strictly necessary to preserve your night vision. Your eyes become used to the dark and on moonlit nights, you can see very clearly even at night. But this process takes time – 15 minutes or more. And every time you put on your headlamp, your eyes will react to the bright light and snap back into daylight mode and you will have to wait for them to reacclimatize to night. If you have to put your light on, use the red light mode as doesn’t have the same effect.

7. Keep your gear to a miminum

When you are trout fishing at night, you don’t want to be carrying extra gear that you don’t need. Eliminate anything unnecessary as it is a pain to carry. Consider going with a small box or lures or flies anyway in a sling pack rather than a vest. Make sure you do bring a net though – the larger trout you will encounter at night are tough to land without one.

Night Time Fishing For Trout: FAQs

Can you catch trout with bait at night?

Yes, bait fishing is actually a good way to catch trout after dark. You don’t have to move around as much as you do with lure fishing. You can cast your bait out and wait for the fish to come to you. Bait fishing is also better from the perspective of hook up percentage, as unlike with lure and fly fishing, you don’t have to react as soon as you feel the trout bite. For this reason, night time trout fishing with bait is a good option for the very darkest nights when there isn’t enough light to fish effectively with lures or flies.

Where can you catch big brown trout at night?

Our favourite place to catch trout at night time is usually a river. Lakes are possibility too, but the idea of luring those trout in a river that you might not otherwise catch is really appealing.
In terms of places with great night fishing rivers, Michigan has some excellent locations – places with reasonable stable banks and deep pools that can harbor big trout.
Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania are other states renowned for the quality of their night fishing opportunities.
But truth be told, anywhere you can find trout is a great place to go night fishing.
The other tip is that streams that are subject to high daytime temperatures can be great for night fishing as the fish prefer to feed when the water temperature has cooled after the sun has been off the water for several hours.

What is the Best Season for Night Fishing For Trout?

Summer is our favorite season for night fishing for brown trout and other trout species. That’s partlybecause it is the most comfortable time of the year. But it is also the time of the year that insects and mice and other prey items for large trout tend to fall on the water the most.
Night time trout fishing can be very good though in spring and fall too.

Are Moonlit Nights Better For Catching Trout?

The honest answer to this is I am not sure. The one certainty is you can catch trout at night on cloudy nights, clear nights, darker nights, rainy nights and nights when the full moon is out.
Some trout anglers believe that the full moon throws fish out and the fishing is better on the darkest nights, but others believe moon phases don’t matter to the fish. A full moon does help in terms of seeing the lure or fly on the water and getting into position too, along with seeing any obstacles that might obstruct your cast or damage your rod tip.
Once your eyes get used to the light you’ll often find you can see the water surface very well on moonlit nights allowing you to see when your lure or fly is snatched off the top by one of the big nighttime browns you are chasing.

Do Trout Really Eat Mice at Night?

Yes! Trout – especially brown trout – love eating mice. You can fish for mouse-eating browns on US rivers at night time with large deer hair surface fly patterns tied to resemble mice.

New Zealand and Patagonia also offer excellent trout fishing for mouse eating browns, particularly during years where beech trees shed their seeds creating spontaneous mouse plagues. In these years, the wild trout readily gain three or four pounds in weight offering a great opportunity for anglers to land a 10lb plus trophy brown trout.

While I have focused on fly fishing when mouse fishing I am sure there is probably a lure for this purpose too.

Final Thoughts On Trout Fishing At Night

Larger trout in a system feed almost exclusively at night.

Trout fishing at night can be very rewarding and for many anglers, it probably does represent their best chance to land the trout of a lifetime simply because some of the larger trout in a system feed almost exclusively at night.

Fishing slow flowing sections of a river – pools and backwaters – on the surface with fly or lure is a great way to tangle with big fish when they are in feeding mode and greatly increase your prospects of success.

It will take a little patience, and you should start fishing in a location you are familiar with during the day, but after a while you will become used to fishing for trout at night and begin to enjoy success with this method.

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Shawn Chapin is an experienced fishing writer and guide based in Wisconsin, where he loves targeting muskie and a range of other species. Shawn's fished extensively for pike, largemouth bass, smallmouth and panfish species. He's developing a passion for chasing trout on the fly rod.
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