Youghiogheny River workshop teaches tactics on trout fishing after dark
“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.