Long after the sun sets in the summer, vicious things happen in even the quietest scenic cold water streams. What once the daylight painted as gravel, river rock, sand, and timber fades into a totally different monochromatic world.
You step into knee-high water in complete darkness and immediately you could swear you’re on a different planet even though you may have floated this river hundreds of times. The only light is the chrome reflection of the moon off of the river but only if you’re at the right angle. There are exactly three deafening sounds….the water rolling off of your legs, the crickets, and the sound of coyotes in the distance reminding you that the playing field is even and you’re no longer in a situation where you should feel comfortable. There’s something calming and disturbing, at the same time. There are bear, wolves, and cougars in the area but you continue your hunt anyway. The odds of seeing them are slim…but that doesn’t mean every other noise won’t make you listen that much more careful.
Taking time to move stealthily along the stream also ensures you don’t stumble over a rock, an old piece of timber from the logging era, or drop into a hole. Line is stripped off of the reel and at the other end, a wake-creating creature that incites violence that will be enough to change your life. The first cast is made into complete darkness. You can forget about your eyesight as it does you no good. You may think you can see a large sweeper at the far end of the stream. You may think you can see your fly skimming across the stream. Your eyes may adjust a bit but you close them anyway. Feel, timing, and the feedback of the river tugging at your fly line is the only thing that matters right now. You need to listen and feel. The goal is to animate your fly….make it swim, create a wake, give it life the same way a rodent falling into the pitch black water would act. And then wait.
Wait for that moment. It will startle you no matter how steady your nerves. No matter how much anticipation. No matter how many times you’ve been there before. When the hunter tracks its pretty and decides to make a move it as if someone dropped a cinderblock into the water so close you’d swear you were sprayed with the splash. An excited lift of the rod will set the hook, but, not too soon. The predator will hit its prey and dive before working the food item farther into its mouth. You’ll be rewarded with weight at the end of the rod and the fight is on. Advantage: the fish. If the strike was a miss, you let the fly drag in the current in hopes of a more accurate second hit. That’s how these fish work. The first hit is to startle, injure, and kill. The second strike will be more exact and calculated.
For those anglers looking for a new experience and possibly a new species to hunt, reminisce about this scene. Trout are not given enough respect as a violent gamefish. There’s nothing cute about the way they hunt. Occasionally we’ll have a bass, walleye, or pike immediately rip the rod out of our hand. Mousing for trout will be just as violent, if not, more. And it’ll happen 100% of the time.
In our local streams, brown and rainbow trout that reach the 14-16” mark alter their main source of protein from a variety of insects and aquatic creatures to mainly crawfish and finned creatures. They also eat rodents, small ducks, birds, amphibians, and anything else worth the expended energy. A quiet stream during the day turns into a hunting ground by night. A swimming rodent easily falls prey to a hungry trout. In fact, as many as six rodents have been found in Alaskan wild Rainbow Trout’s stomachs at a time.
This type of sensory deprivation and overload (at the same time) isn’t for everyone. There are some risks and you have to know the water you’re on. But floating a section of a well-known water and stopping along the way is a tremendous way to see a side of nature you haven’t seen before. It’s just one of many outstanding angling experiences our great state has to offer.