How boring would our sport be, if there were not room to do things differently, to learn from our experiences, and to explore new ideas. I'm thankful the only thing keeping me from making more of my experiences is myself.
I wanted to take a moment and share a few things I have learned, or that have been reinforced over the past year concerning mousing for trout. I mostly fish mice at night, and I primarily target brown trout, so that may be something to take into consideration with the following rambling.
The first thing I always tell someone when they are looking into mousing for trout, is to simply do it. It seems redundant, but I cannot emphasize this enough. When I first transitioned to fly fishing I had a hard time leaving the spinning rod and garden hackle at home. The doubt I had in my fly fishing potential pushed me to lean on my old ways, and they became a crutch, crippling my growth. It wasn't until the day I convinced myself to leave the old gear home that I started to see how it had held me back, and distracted my focus from where it needed to be in order find improvement with the alternative method. I remember going through the same process with steelheading. I knew I could catch them with the good old bait-caster. Even then it was sometimes a trial. It took time, but eventually I made the transition. That doesn't mean I don't use spinning rods anymore, but when I do it is not from a lack of confidence like it used to be. I went through the same process with streamers and European nymphing. The moral of the story is, sometimes we have to leave the things that keep us from growing behind. In the case of mousing, that may mean leaving all our other flies at home, and only taking the mouse pattern or patterns we have chosen to experiment with. The risk is that nothing may be caught, but by the end of the day, or night, we will have a much better feel of how our flies look in the water, and how they react to our retrieve.
Not everyone is willing to spend a whole day or night fishing and not catching, and that is okay. We are all at different stages in our angling, and one stage is not better than another. They're just different, and all are enjoyable for their own reasons. If these musings apply to you, cool, if not, don't sweat it.
In previous articles I recommended stripping the line in slowly, trying to make the fly look and swim as natural as possible. In many cases I still feel this is most effective, but what this past year's mousing has taught me is that making a ruckus can really induce bites. The trick is to try multiple retrieves. I did really well with short chugs, sometimes slow, sometimes fast, and found that in one place one approach worked better, but on the same water, in a different location, another approach was better. I learned to mix it up, and not be afraid to make some noise with the fly. I also found that the more natural disturbance there is in the water (from current, wind, or rain) the more "noise" you have to make with the fly to get a fish's attention.
If you are primarily a pm mouser, I highly recommend a stripping basket. You're line will last much longer, and you will have far less frustration pulling your line out of tangled weeds. A DIY stripping basket tutorial is in the works. Still testing the one I put together to see if it's worth recommending.
Initially I said that in setting the hook you should wait till you feel the take. While you can't go wrong with this approach, over the past year I found that setting on the sound of a take sometimes produced a hookup. This leaves me to recommend that you do whatever the heck you want. Two things that I found helpful though, were waiting a moment when hearing the take before setting (in New Zealand I have heard they say "God save the Queen" before setting) and then doing a super strip set when it is time to do so. Be sure to close your eyes/wear eye protection/duck if this is your approach, and be ready to clean your line out of the bushes or hook into a monster.
I have done a lot of searching for a preferred pair of protective glasses, and gone through multiple pairs. One of the things I routinely struggled with is that most protective glasses have some degree of UV protection, which in the pitch black of night decreases the amount of light coming through to the eye. Finally I have found a pair that I really like, which do not have any UV, light reducing, coatings. They are the Head Impulse Protective Eyewear racquetball glasses. And they have a strap, which makes them easy to take them on and off, are comfortable (to me), and are only around $10.
This may not apply on other waters, but all those I fish have appeared sensitive to this. Knowing the down stream current direction matters in the moving waters I fish, even with slow current. I still have found it true that a fish is 95% (Abraham Lincoln said this percentage was accurate, and that the internet tells only truth) more likely to take a mouse if it is moving the direction of the current, not against it. Unless you're in Alaska, or some other place where this doesn't apply, then all bets are off. Maybe just pay attention to which direction you are bringing your fly when you get your strikes more, or if you don't seem to be getting any strikes, try approaching the water from downstream moving up.
Also, with current direction, I have found my hookup rate is much higher when I present the fly so the fish hits it from the side, in a perpendicular/T-bone direction. Often this just means I hook up more fishing from the side of the run, with a slight swing downward toward the end of the retrieve, or casting diagonally upstream or downstream, versus casting directly upstream or downstream. I think it is largely to do with how the fly goes into the fishes mouth, and what it does when the angler sets.
Generally speaking the hookup rate when mousing seems to be about 20-30%. That means for every 10 takes, only 2 or 3 will stick, and even if those do, they don't always stay. I have my theory on why this is, which I'll address in a different post sometime, but with such low odds an angler wants to do everything he/she can to increase catch rates. Having a super sharp sticky hook is an obvious aspect to this, but what is less obvious is keeping that hook clear of fly tying material. A little bit of fur in the way is all it takes to prevent that sharp tip from doing it's little job of grabbing, and if it doesn't grab, there's nothing for the hook to penetrate into when we do our epic strip sets. To check this I place my fly in water long enough for it to absorb the water and move it around to check if fur is covering the hook. I then take scissors and trim the small parts that may be laying on the hook. I'm not positive this is a game changer, but I feel on some occasions it has prevented hookups before I noticed it.
In terms of which hook is more valuable in an articulated mouse fly, I feel the back hook takes the cake. AND, after extensive testing, I really feel that this back hook is best placed at the butt of the body of the fly, or just a bit (roughly half inch) behind it. Hooks in tails have not been at all effective for me, though this may just be from the wheres and how I fish. They also seem to tangle more than without.
Location location LOCATION!!!!!
The more time I spend mousing at night, the more I have come to realize that where you mouse is critical to your success. This could be general water, such as a particular river, lake, stream, or pond. It could also be where in any given body of water you are fishing. In my experience, the closer to cover you get, the better. Bushy trees that overhang the water are my favorite places to focus on, and mostly because I think fish hang out near them hoping for something to drop. The closer to the bank you can get, the better because that is where land-dwelling morsels originate. Also, foam lines/seams where things naturally are pushed in the water are an excellent place to focus on. These aspects of location are not without complications. The first location concept means that to find success, one has to explore, and risk having plenty of fishless nights. The second aspect of location is tricky because one cannot see the bank or tight spots in the dark, at least not in any great contrast so as to tell where the bank ends and water begins. The more you know your water during the day the better off you'll be at night. Timing also adds a tricky element to location. A place may not produce even a single blowup one night, but then be ridiculously productive two nights later. This could be a factor of light, hatches, water temperature, spawning times, etc. The fact of it all is that location is a critical part of mousing. The nice thing is that once your find a productive area, it tends to remain a productive area.
These aren't exactly earth-shattering tips or realizations, but some I thought worth mentioning. Good luck if you make it out to give it a try, and don't be afraid to dedicate a day (or night, though a night dedicated usually results in the following day dedicated to sleep, so same-diff right?) to it.
For other night fishing, or mousy posts, check out the Tips and Tactics section.