I knew a few things going in; it was going to be dark, I wasn’t going to be able to see anything, and I’d have a great time.
I got to the stretch of the Au Sable that I know the best. I had been here a number of times before and had good luck during the day and I often spotted pockets and pools where I thought bigger trout had to be but only abandoned during the night to feed. The sun began to set and I let down my long sleeves in anticipation of the cooler Michigan June evening that was ahead. The Hex hatch had been occurring for the past week or so and if I was lucky, this night would be no exception.
For the next two hours I tried a number of flies as I saw caddis and iso’s. We don’t always get what we want and in the area where I was, I didn’t see any Hex but I tied a spinner on anyway. One never knows what’s going to be the magic ticket for finicky trout. I figured anything that had hatched in the last two weeks was fair game. As the sun began to set, I kept my eyes and ears tuned to the river. Smaller trout were rising and I couldn’t quite tell what they were slurping down. Just then, not forty feet from me, I heard the first “gulp” of a larger Brown; it’s what I came to hear.
Just after 10pm, I was dead-drifting a Hex spinner directly downstream with a pre-measured amount of line and once I counted to “five” I knew it was time to lift my line, back cast, and put it down in front of me again. Much to my surprise, casting a dry fly at night wasn’t as hard as it seemed. Some more experienced guys mentioned it would make for better casts because the only way to get the line and fly out there is by feel. Once your sight goes, touch and sound becomes so important. They were right. For a couple consecutive days after fishing at night, I felt a lot more “in tune” to the rod and line.
I don’t know how many times I presented my fly to the particular area where the large “gulp” was heard before. I counted to “four” and then it was like someone stood on my fly line. Out of instinct I set the hook and felt the first head shake. When doing any other type of fishing, this is the point of the fight where my mind goes blank and experience/instinct takes over and I get the fish to the boat. In this case, I had so many things running through my mind. Was there wood nearby to get hung up in? How long should I play the fish? I hope my knot is strong. Should I reel in my stripped line? I wonder how big the fish is. It’s pulling hard and I can make the faint outline of my doubled-over rod shadowed by the lighter sky. Those are all the things I was thinking. Something more powerful took over me. It can only be described as “Fishing Tourette’s”. The obscenities that flowed from my mouth took me by surprise and they didn’t stop. What a fighter!
That was the only fish I’d hook into that evening but as I went to bed early that morning, it was clear that I didn’t go because of the fish. I felt no disappointment because there’s something more to it. Perhaps fishing was just an excuse to be on the river at night. Maybe it was the post-midnight walk upstream. It could have partly been because of the fish. Maybe I was there to tempt fate that morphed itself into the shape of one of Michigan’s brown bear. It’s difficult to explain but hundreds of dedicated fly fishermen hit the rivers every month at night. They know why and now, I do too. It’s easy to get lost in the moment and nothing matters except what is going on at that very second.