Picture this… It's pitch black out, you can't see a darn thing, there are animals moving around in the shadows and your senses are heightened. It’s a spooking environment to be in, but when you least expect it - WHAM - out of the depths something smacks your fly and you don't know if it's 12" fish or a monster. This is mouse fishing for trout. I had never thought or heard about using a mouse fly for trout until I stumbled upon Bum Cast’s Once in a Blue Moon DVD trailer a few years ago. It sparked a curiosity within me and had me researching for hours about the when, where’s and how’s of mouse fishing. It didn’t take long until I ended up down on the Bow river at 2:00 am, chucking mouse flies in slow currents and water treatment confluences. The first fish I ever caught on a mouse fly was actually a Northern pike, and man did it ever scare the crap out of me. One of the reasons why I am a mouse fishing fanatic is the adrenaline rush it provides. I can’t count the number of times I've missed fish because I either wasn’t ready or it startled me, and I tried to set the hook a little too quick. It’s a different world fishing at night no matter what you're using. If mouse fishing is something you are looking to try,
there are a couple things you need to take into consideration.
It has become common knowledge to many fly fishermen that larger trout are predominantly nocturnal and mostly feed at night. I have found mouse fishing to be a great way to attack these trout that spend the majority of their day in hiding. Many articles and websites mention that the best time to be out mouse fishing is during a full moon or the nights where the moon is at its brightest. Personally, I have found to have much better luck with no moon or overcast weather. In other words, the darker the better. Much like a human’s eye, during the day or in situations with lots of light, the retina of a trout’s eye mostly consists of cones, which provide trout with perfect color vision. Unlike our eyes, trout have excellent rod cells in their eyes, and these rods are very sensitive in low light situation, which give trout very precise black and white night vision. Trout go through a transition when switching between their cones to rods, which temporarily weaken their vision. Sometimes when I am fishing throughout the day and into the night there is a brief period at dusk where I find the fish stop feeding, this is usually when I get my headlamp and mouse patterns out. I have found the best time to mouse fish is from when the sun sets till about 2:00 am. However, I have also caught fish on mouse patterns closer to 4:00 am.
Scouting for good mouse fishing spots during the day is probably the most important aspect to your mouse fishing game. Not only does it give you an idea where some monster trout may be lurking at night, but it will also give you an idea where some of the dangers of mouse fishing may be hiding. I often mouse fish creeks and rivers located within prairie ecosystems. This assures me that there is an abundance of mice running around. However, these creeks are also home to many beavers and muskrats. With long grass shores along prairie creeks, it can be very difficult to spot some of the beaver trenches and muskrat paths that are hidden beneath the grass. For anybody that has ever fished creeks with a high population of beavers and muskrats, you may understand what I’m talking about when it comes to walking along a creek shore and taking a step into a knee-deep hole, hidden beneath the grass. This can be very dangerous, especially at night. It's always a good idea to find out where these paths and holes are hiding before you venture to the spot during a time when your visibility can be limited. I tend to target the sections of creeks that are very slow moving and relatively shallow such as large bends, eddies, water behind dead fall and slow confluences. I also target the cut banks surrounding these sections. From personal experience, I find larger trout are lurking in the places you wouldn’t have bothered to try fishing during the day. Also, make sure to watch out for barbed wire fences. Barbed wire is hard enough to see during the day sometimes, but during the night it can be a definite determiner between having a good night or a very bad night. Make sure to always have a headlamp and bear spray on you as well, it's better to have these items then not need them.
If there is one thing I have learned casting in the pitch black, snagging your fly on the other side of the creek is a pain and can potentially disrupt the section of the river you're fishing. To solve this problem, I try my best not to be greedy with my fly line and only take out as much as I estimate the width of the creek to be. When it comes to fishing a mouse pattern, I use three different methods. First is casting across the stream and stripping the line back in very short, quick strips. This creates a lot of wake behind the fly because the more water you move with the fly the more likely you are to catch the attention of a surrounding trout. Secondly, casting upstream along the cut banks and stripping it back along the shore using the same short, quick strips, targets the trout hiding beneath the cut banks. Finally, casting downstream and stripping upstream in long, slower strips simulates a mouse struggling to swim upstream. Don’t be afraid to slap the fly on the water during your final cast, this can simulate the mouse falling into the water. In terms of flies, I typically choose mouse flies that push the highest amount of water. My favorite is a Mickey Mouse variation that I like to tie (See photo below). The large head pushes a lot of water while the rabbit trip belly and tail gives it lots of movement. It is important to remember that setting a hook on a mouse fly is different than that of a regular floating fly. When I first started mouse fishing, I found myself missing fish fairly often. I came to learn that usually when a trout attacks a mouse fly it tries to swallow it from behind. If you try and set the hook like you would on a dry fly, you yank the mouse fly right out of its mouth. After this realization, I switched over to strip setting and noticed a substantial difference. Just because you hear a splash doesn’t always mean fish on, but instead keep on stripping until you feel that tug and let her rip.
Mouse fishing can be a very exciting and adrenaline filled experience. Although it's sometimes spooky, standing alongside a creek in the middle of the night can be good for you. It really makes you slow down and focus on every little detail of what’s going on around you. The experiences I have had mouse fishing in the middle of the night has allowed me to see a different perspective of this fantastic sport and what it has to offer. It's just a bonus that there is a possibility of landing a trophy trout, but remember, just because you hear a splash doesn’t always mean fish on, keep on stripping until you feel that tug and let her rip.