Thursday, June 16, 2016

Mousing: 'tis the season

A friend of mine and I pulled an early June all-nighter. My kind of all-nighter. I never stayed up the entire night in college or graduate school. No test was ever worth that. I've never worked a graveyard shift. Video games bore me.  But for fish? No-brainer. I'd do two or three in a row if necessary.

We started fishing before dark and hiked out well after sunrise, after the first anglers of the day had already begun filtering in. Fought bloodshot eyes the remainder of the weekend.

Once it was too dark to see, out came the mouse flies. I couldn't see them land, but the soft 'splat' told me where they'd come to rest even though the wind robbed some sound and meddled with placement. The moon was only a thin crescent-shaped sliver and was gone over the ridge almost right away. But you can always see better than you think you can. At least enough to have a vague idea of where the structure is.

We dodged storms, twice hunkering down against rocks and logs encapsulated in waders and rain gear to wait out thunderstorms.  Lightning-flash danced on and illuminated the canyon walls. The white and gray crags sprung from the mountains in a crystal-clear three-dimensional form not seen in sunlight, only to be gone again a second later - the ashen image still burning vividly in your stunned vision.
One of Stormy's 'bows

No one else was around to witness the show.

The unsettled weather and passing storms brought rain and wind, along with periods of calm. But the bite was great throughout.

The first fish was a dink rainbow that ambitiously stuffed a big mouse into his face. But it WAS a fish and we were on the board with the first mouse hook-up of 2016.
The hits came steadily - not constant, but more predictably than a typical mousing night. And rainbows were killin' it. Mousing is the one time when fishing this water that I expect to see more browns than rainbows. But not tonight. It was easily 8:1 rainbows.
First fish on mouse 2016

The first storm passed and the cloudiness gave way to a clear Montana sky seemingly polished clean of grime and haze. We both stood in awe of the vividness of the Milky Way framed between canyon rims. The depth and vastness of outer space plainly visible in the absence of artificial light and moon glow. Staring upward it felt as though you may fall - only not down into the water, but weightlessly up into the stars. A sizzling shooting star interrupted the daze, the trail hanging in the atmosphere long after the meteorite had burned out.

The fly of the night was the Mr. Hankey.
The particular specimen I was tossing came from Big Y Fly Company in Oregon - known for speedy service, great prices, and a wide selection of flies and gear. Last summer a photo I submitted to them featuring a nighttime brown caught on their slim version of the Morrish Mouse was used as a 'photo of the month' [click here to see it].  Folks chosen for photo of the month get to pick out a selection of flies.  I stuck with the theme and requested mice - these very Mr. Hankey's that were getting the job done tonight in fact.  And one Mr. Hankey survived the entire night of action.

Another thing I was trying for the first time and absolutely loved was a furled leader from Cutthroat Leaders in Idaho.  I was using the floating nylon Big Bug leader in a 7-8 weight.  My tippet was a section of 12lb mono cut from a jumbo spool in my garage I use to fill spinning reels.  The leader behaves like the fly
Hooked up!
line itself, unrolling in a tight loop and laying supple on the water. Almost like the tippet is the only leader. It was a big help in cutting the wind. Usually when I tie heavy leaders for throwing mice, some memory is inherent in the mono I use.  Particularly in the base sections. This had none. When throwing mice, go heavy.  Turnover in the cast is easier, landing the fish is quicker, and the unseen enemies of rocks and bushes are less of a factor.
This was one of the best nights mousing I can remember.  Lots of hits, hook-ups, misses, losses, and fish brought into the net. The biggest landed brown of the night (there were only two) refused to give in and camped out like a rock, just outside of headlamp range. I was mostly making short casts, paralleling shoreline or targeting structure just off the edge.  I could perceive structure by combining vague visual clues with the sound of interrupted water.  Fly casting at night is easier than it may seem.  Most casts are short since the stealth of a longer cast isn't as needed - and the fish I'm after are primarily the ones cruising the banks looking for a terrestrial or amphibious steak dinner.  There's no need to worry about mending line when a swinging drag is the basic presentation, other than perhaps making simple little roll casts to walk it further out or back through a run. As a result you are almost always maintaining a tight line connection with your fly.  And you know where your fly is going - the length of cast is inherently known, making it reasonably easy to envision where your cast landed and what the retrieve looks like (yes, you are living in a fantasy land all night trying to picture where your bait is and what it's doing, but never really knowing for sure.)

I was on my game anticipating strikes and connecting with them when they came. I did a much better job waiting for weight to set the hook than I'd done the entire previous summer. It reminded me of how each year in high school I was always better at my sports the next year than I had been the previous, with no practice in between. Here it was, seven months since I'd last tossed a mouse to willing fish and I felt ahead of where I'd left off. Maybe daydreaming about it constantly does translate into some acquired skill....

The irony of fishing a trout stream at night is that the big trout that are unreachable during the day come into the shallows at night while the fisherman who flock to the river by day are all tucked into bed.  Mousing at night is a unique way to experience the river. And it's as different as, well, night and day......

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