Tossing rodent replicas on the water at night, not seeing a bloody thing. Hoping to hear your fly go splat on the water somewhere and not hung up on the bank across stream or snagged in the trees from your back cast. Your other senses are heightened to make up for your lack of vision. Heart pounding, tingling with anticipation, waiting for the electricity of the killing kind to touch your line. Fingers poised, ready to hear a watery explosion on your kabob offering as you swim it back to you. If you are lucky, you feel a cannonball hit your fly. This is essentially mousing. Sound like fun?
I had my first small hit of this new drug two years ago and this summer I moused for browns in the Driftless area of Wisconsin. I’ve learned a few things like, you don’t have to go to Alaska to catch trout on a mouse, but most importantly, mousing with another angler is always more fun. You can’t help but grin and laugh when you hear your fishing buddy squealing when connected or when their fly gets swiped by a fish. Laughing uncontrollably is a serious side effect and, if you’re doing it right, there may be a little leakage of the golden showery kind. Besides, it’s hard to get good photography without a buddy, and let’s face it, you’re going to see, or should I say feel, some big fish.
It is important to know your water well, REALLY well. Plan to get there a few hours before dark and fish it until just before dark so all the intricacies of the spot are fresh in your mind. Wade it so you know where you can and can’t go. Note how much line you need once you have waded to your spot to cast to your feeding lane. I’ve heard some put a small piece of tape on the line to help maintain a safe casting distance. I use pre-dark time to choose my mousing water by fishing a few holes, but always end the evening at the hole I intend to mouse and fish it last.
Sit on the bank with your buddy and enjoy a few cold ones. Resting the hole is a smart idea and you have to wait until full-on dark before they really get going anyhow. I would, at this time, make ready a number of mice. One night I lost 5, the fishing was that good. I tend to use a 10 lb leader that is only 4-6 feet long. An old graduated leader chopped up to 6 feet will do just fine. I have found that the fish are not line shy at night and shorter leaders will give you more control over casting. Get your headlamp out and make sure it has a red light. You can leave this red light on and the fish won’t be disturbed by it. Any white light will shut them down and you will have to rest the hole again, which after landing a nice fish could call for a beer break. Red lights also make for some interesting photography.
I’m no night owl, but fishing is a completely different time warp. It’s usually about 2-3am before we end up packing it in. Sometimes the fish don’t turn on until later, luck of the draw I guess. Spun deer hair flies produced a lot of swipes with a few hits, but the foam & fur gurgler style produced far more serious attention and they are much easier to cast. After fishing the same stretch for several days in a row, they got wise to me. Fishing was best the first night and proceeded to go downhill from there. So, pick water that is likely to get low mousing pressure and don’t over fish your mousing waters.
Overcast days are also worth skating a mouse pattern if nothing else is producing. I typically cast 45 degrees downstream and skate across the current and do the same 45 degrees upstream. If nothing produces, then I just keep experimenting until I’m satisfied I’ve picked every possible pocket. When the fly is to be “swimming,” I work the rod tip a little to help give the mouse a live swim motion.
Recently I got the chance to mouse on the Pere Marquette River in Michigan. I was unable to see the water ahead of time and was a bit uncomfortable about this, but after some thought, I realized it would be an interesting experiment. Can I fish water I have never laid eyes on in the dark?
We hit the river trail at 11 pm and head-lamped our way to the river. The interesting thing was I felt completely lost and disconnected from the natural rhythm of the river once I stepped into it.
It kind of felt like I woke up in a foreign house trying to find my way to the bathroom at night having never seen it.
Shit! Which way is it? This experience showed me how much information I pick up when reading the water and structure around it. I could hear and see which way the water was flowing, but the lies and holds were a stab in the dark, literally. Not only did I have no data, my fishing buddy’s information was from back in May when the water was much higher. Because I did not know where the deeper holes were, I felt myself stiffen up with every step deeper into the river. I had my red light on, which did help me see the extreme drop-offs, but did little to comfort me. My nervous system was definitely kicked up a couple of notches. I’d settle down and get into the casting grove imagining what this water looked like in front of me and trying my best to fish it properly, while randomly receiving jolts of adrenaline from benign noises my fishing buddy would make. Eventually my buddy hooked up and landed a nice one.
Lesson learned. Seeing the water in daylight is a must and no you can’t fish water properly without seeing it first. This experience also gave me some insight into what a blind individual must feel like when attempting to fish. It definitely raised my respect bar for anyone sight-challenged who fishes.
My next chapter in regards to the mousing method saga is to elevate it by tossing muskrat patterns to musky. They are both highly nocturnal animals and should make for some interesting times. I’ll be sure to let you know how that experiment goes.