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FishingMobile, with Two Minute Tackle

Youghiogheny River workshop teaches tactics on trout fishing after dark

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“Big trout be­come sus­pi­cious, sol­i­tary, se­lec­tive and sel­dom find their way into creels,” wrote Pot­ter County au­thor L. James Bash­line in his clas­sic 1973 trea­tise on night fish­ing for trout, aptly ti­tled “Night Fish­ing for Trout” (Freshet Press).

But some­times, he wrote, some of those wary be­he­moths “dis­play a com­plete char­ac­ter re­ver­sal. … These sud­den fits of ir­ra­tio­nal be­hav­ior oc­cur in­fre­quently dur­ing day­light hours. They are fairly com­mon at night.”

That’s the prem­ise of a Ven­ture Out­doors fly fish­ing work­shop Aug. 17 on the Yough­iogheny River at Ohi­opyle, Fay­ette County. Long af­ter the sum­mer eve­ning hatches, ris­ing green drakes, hex­age­nia and stone flies may be picked off the sur­face by trout. Moths, ter­res­tri­als from june bugs to ci­ca­das, and un­lucky field mice that drop into the wa­ter some­times be­come late-night snacks.

“The rep­u­ta­tion of big browns feed­ing only at night is er­ro­ne­ous -- I think they’ll feed through the day like all trout,” said work­shop in­struc­tor Dale Ko­towski, pres­i­dent of Chest­nut Ridge Trout Un­lim­ited. “But some brown trout change their be­hav­ior about the time they stop grow­ing, when they’re 5 to 8 years old. They stop eat­ing mac­ro­in­ver­te­brates [trout’s pri­mary food source] and start eat­ing fish.”

Those that be­come car­niv­o­rous, even can­ni­bal­is­tic, can live twice as long as other browns. Op­por­tu­nis­ti­cally tak­ing food that passes their deep and well-cov­ered haunts by day, they can feed ag­gres­sively, bra­zenly -- even reck­lessly -- un­der the cover of dark­ness.

“There are some big rain­bow trout in the Yough, but this be­hav­ior is pretty unique to brown trout,” said Ko­towski.

Those that be­come meat eat­ers were not born wild. The state Fish and Boat Com­mis­sion an­nu­ally stocks 200,000 to 300,000 trout fin­ger­lings 3 to 5 inches long through­out some 20 miles of the river’s colder up­stream wa­ters. By agency es­ti­mates, about 12 1/2 per­cent sur­vive to le­gal size, which in the All Tackle Tro­phy Trout area from Ram­cat Run to Ohi­opyle is 14 inches.

In June at the Yough­iogheny River Sym­po­sium spon­sored by Chest­nut Ridge TU, Fish and Boat an­nounced it will al­ter its Yough fin­ger­ling pro­gram from 50/50 rain­bows and browns to 70 per­cent rain­bows be­cause, bi­ol­o­gists be­lieve, the rain­bows sur­vive lon­ger.

“I think it’s just that in their sur­veys, they’re not find­ing a lot of the browns,” said Ko­towski. “There’s a larger pop­u­la­tion of browns in that river than Fish and Boat ac­knowl­edges.”

Some, he said, are raised in Chest­nut Ridge TU’s cage-cul­ture co-op nurs­ery at the tail­race of Yough­iogheny River Dam and stocked as le­gal adults. Last year, TU raised and re­leased only browns.

As doc­u­mented in books by Bash­line and an­other na­tion­ally re­nown Penn­syl­va­nia out­doors writer, Joe Hum­phreys, there’s a lot to be learned about catch­ing trout with flies at night. Ko­towski said his work­shop will fo­cus on two things: skat­ing dry flies and swing­ing big mouse pat­terns.

“Dry fly fish­ing at night is to­tally dif­fer­ent than in the day,” he said.

Ko­towski uses big 1 1/2-inch may­fly pat­terns on No. 6-8 hooks and cad­dis sizes 8 to 10, tied to 2X or 3X mono­fil­a­ment lead­ers and thrown with 6- or 7-weight rods.

“In the day, you cast up­stream and try to give the fly a good nat­u­ral drift,” he said. “At night you cast down and across, pull­ing it as it swings to skate it across the sur­face push­ing wa­ter aside so the trout can see it. Give it one fi­nal dance and pick it up, load the rod and cast again. That’s key. At night, no false cast­ing. You have to get a feel for when the cast is ac­cu­rate.”

The big mouse pat­terns cov­ered in the work­shop look like 3- to 4-inch bass bugs tied on No. 4 hooks. They can be fished up­stream and across or down and across, and are re­trieved with a sharp strip­ping mo­tion, al­ter­nat­ing the strips or strip­ping as quickly as pos­si­ble.

Night casts are best when they’re short, 20 to 30 feet. Keep slack to a min­i­mum, in­clud­ing the re­trieved line at your side -- you’ll want to get big browns on the reel right away. Ko­towski rec­om­mends ar­riv­ing early to fish the eve­ning hatch while scop­ing the area for struc­ture and other ob­struc­tions, best po­si­tion­ing, get­ting a feel for cast place­ment and learn­ing where it’s safe to step ... and where it’s not. At night, find a good spot and stay put.

“Safety is a big con­sid­er­ation when wad­ing at night,” he said. “There are places on that river that can be dan­ger­ous.”

Wear a head­lamp that shines white and red, and when pos­si­ble avoid shin­ing it on the wa­ter.

Ko­towski said the work­shop will touch on night fish­ing with 3- to 4-inch streamer pat­terns. Bash­line, who died in 1995, of­ten plied the sur­face at night with Yel­low Duns, but also wrote about noc­tur­nal browns he had taken on Gover­nors, Pro­fes­sors and other wet flies.

“I am convinced that night fish­ing for trout was brought to its high­est de­gree of per­fec­tion in the head­wa­ter re­gion of the Al­le­gheny River. Pot­ter County was the moth­er­lode of this spe­cial­ized sport,” he wrote. “Where else in the world is any wet fly larger than a size 10 al­ways re­ferred to as a ‘night fly’?”

Ven­ture Out­doors’ Night Fish­ing for Brown Trout work­shop runs 3-10 p.m. Aug. 17 and meets at the Ohi­opyle State Park Vis­i­tors Center, Route 381, Ohi­opyle. Min­i­mum age 16. Fly fish­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and fish­ing li­cense re­quired, BYO equip­ment. $86, VO mem­bers $65. Details and reg­is­tra­tion 412-255-0564, www.ven­tu­re­out­doors.org.

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