"In before nine, out after five," my father used to say. Lately, morning fishing is not as
good because of the many guide boats and their parties. I've seen as many as 15 guide
boats in a single location. Sometimes that includes me, but I try to avoid the crowds. There
are lots of fish on our Florida flats and it isn't necessary, or ethical, to crowd another fishing
party, especially a charter boat.
This brings me to a discussion about night fishing, or late afternoon fishing which usually turns
out to be an evening on the water. While the days get longer and skylight remains past 8:00 P.M.
the fishing can be superb. I've always liked fishing in the later afternoon.
The gusty winds of the day have died off and the water starts to get flat. Shallow water
temperatures retain the heat from the day and the fish become very active after sunset.
The day gives way to a falling sun and the waters, usually, become still and peaceful. There
is no pressure from racing boats and hundreds of anglers trying to entice a feed. You'll notice
that when schooled fish are surrounded, during the daytime, they go to the bottom. In very
shallow water this makes them skittish to say the least. At night, the risk of capture is gone
and prime feeding is at it's best.
There is a serenity to the lagoon and inshore waters that you don't find during daylight.
It is also a time when perfected casting skills pay off. You won't be able to see your back
cast; although at times just before dark you can see tailing fish and cast in their direction.
Fighting a fish at night is even more exciting.
Preparing for a night fly-fishing adventure requires common sense though. Consider the
type of equipment, clothing, and safety equipment you will need, and also what to do in
an emergency. Your knowledge of first-aid and CPR can be very important.
First and foremost, do not fish alone. Fly-fishing with friends is more fun and takes some
of the risk away from fishing in the dark. Decide how long you want to be out, where you
will fish, what conditions will prevail such as tides and currents and types of fish, or other
critters (alligators, snakes, sharks, etc.) that inhabit the area at night. Always, day or night,
carry a first-aid kit. Know first-aid and how to treat minor injuries and abrasions such as
puncture wounds, also take a flashlight and cell phone. It is more important at night to wear
protective footwear (Flats or Reef Boots), because you cannot see what you might step on
if wading a flat.
Consider the flies you might take. My after-dark favorites are ultra hair bugs Black Widow
(above) and Witches Brew (below) .
As your eyes adjust to the darkness you become acutely aware of movement, sounds
and nature. You are a minority among all living things. Your senses are heightened.
You smell things you hadn't noticed before. You can hear the ripple of water as it
brushes against your waders (recommended) or skin. The water and air is cool. You
can hear jacks or blues or dolphin breaking up baitfish. You will even notice a push more
pronounced at night because of the effect it has on the flat water.
As the sun makes its final plunge below the horizon, the world is yours. The stillness
becomes your ally. You'll also notice that your friends will be silent too. It is this
silence that is broken only by the swishing sound of the fly line in the air. There is
beauty in seeing the line fall softly to the water. Let the fly sink. Wait a couple of
seconds, even six if you can. When you start that strip be prepared for the explosion
at the end of the line, when a redfish, trout or other game fish, picks it up. Set the hook,
but let him run. Listen to the magical sound of line running the reel. Your heart will be
pounding with anticipation, like a rat in a 5-gallon bucket. The excitement is exhilarating
and will steal your breath away. This is what fly-fishing was meant to be.
But there is more. Once you've adjusted to the dark there is another rich surprise in
store for you. Look up and see the stars. We are so lucky in Florida to have the richness
of the galaxies within our grasp. See Orion's Belt (the three blue stars in a diagonal line).
Catch the Big and Little Dippers. The sky is like a map of all the constellations, laid out
perfectly for you. If fishing wasn't enough, you might even witness the Northern Lights.
Once while on a fly-fishing trip in the Northern Maine wilderness, a friend woke everyone
in the camp to come out and see the sky. It was spectacular. The light was a many hues
of green and white light squirreling it's way across the sky.
The Northern Lights represent a phenomenon that few of us in the South can appreciate.
Best seen in Northern U.S. this is an almost mystical display of astro-physics. This event
captured our attention for more than an hour. We sat on the cold ground, in soggy grass
and propped ourselves up against trees and stones. A couple of guys soon fell asleep
watching the lights. You could hear the faint snoring over the whistle of wind in the trees.
The light captured our attention and it seemed like an eternity sitting and watching the
light display high above the earth. After about an hour we gathered the stragglers and
headed back in camp. Four hours later when we awoke to the sun rising, we were all
speechless. But that day lives on in our memories for what we witnessed and the
outstanding fishing that followed. We caught and released more than thirty salmon
and trout in six hours.
Go out and fish the night. Take a friend and enjoy the wonder of our universe. Your bonus
will be catching fish. Until next time.
Doug is a fly-fishing guide from New Smyrna Beach, FL. He is a member of CCA,
FFF, AFF, APCA, and FOWA. He can be reached at 386-679-5814.