Mousing for Brown Trout Article
Midnight Mousing for Monster browns
By: Brandon Butler
Brown drakes are swarming my head. The temperature, with its high level of humidity, is perfect. A storm is on the horizon and it seems that maybe, just maybe tonight will mark the arrival of the much anticipated Hex hatch.
No such luck. It’s 11 p.m. and I’m standing waist deep in strong current quickly losing hope the bugs will show. Mosquitoes are buzzing in my ear, I haven’t had any dinner, and there is a six pack of Oberon on ice back at the truck. A saner person would have already left.
“You know we’re crazy, don’t you?” I say to my friend, Steve Martinez, as thunder rumbles to the east.
Steve, who is a local fishing guide, doesn’t even look my way before acknowledging with a simple, “yup.” He continues to strain his eyes scanning the surface for an emergence of Hex, but it isn’t in the cards.
“How ‘bout mousing?” Matinez said.
Tying on a big, deer hair spun mouse with a 3 inch rabbit fur tail, I listen intently as Steve explains the train wreck like surface explosions the overgrown trout of this west Michigan river produce when attacking small mammal imitations.
“Man, there’s no mistaking a strike on a mouse,” he said. “When they decide to hit, they’re hitting to kill.”
Mousing is, simply put, fishing a fly that imitates a mouse swimming in the water. Cast the mouse tight to the shore and strip it back at a speed you assume a mouse would swim. Occasionally stopping and starting gives extra enticement to the large predator fish that rarely come out during daylight hours. Mousing is most commonly reserved for night fishing. That’s not to say you can’t catch browns during the day on a mouse.
Mouse flies can be made from a number of materials. Most common though, are deer hair and foam. Deer hair represents the more traditional aspects of fly tying, while foam is more modern. Each work well. It really comes down to preference.
Rods come down to preference as well. Really, any rod strong enough to push a large, bulky mouse through the air will work. If you’re dead set on using a 3 weight it can be done, but your casts will be shorter. Heavy rods, 8 weights and above, can be used as well, but you’ll lose some of the fight. My rod of preference, and Steve’s too, is a 6 weight. A nice 6 weight will provide the strength needed to cast a bulky fly, bury a deep hook set, and fight a fish back out of weeds, all the while maintaining a decent amount of fight without over powering the fish.
Floating line with a short leader work best. Don’t be afraid to shorten your leader to 4 or 5 feet. These browns hit hard and there’s no reason to lose a pig to broken tippet. These trout are predators coming to attack movement. They aren’t going to psycho analysis your offering the way they may a dry fly in the afternoon.
The old adage, bigger bait?bigger fish, holds true in mousing.
“We don’t catch too many small ones out here at night on mice,” Martinez said.
Any trout that’s able to take down a full grown mouse, is a pretty decent sized fish.
“I have clients take browns over 25 inches out here on mice at night every year,” he said. “And we catch a boat load over 20.”
Some people use boats to move up and down the river at night, but it seems from talking to local anglers, that most people walk in. Fishing under the canopy of darkness is obviously always a little more complicated than fishing during the day. The trouble of a boat often outweighs the worth. Wading in at access sites and bridge crossing offers the non-local a chance to get lucky. Having access to private land to enter the river in an otherwise non-accessible location is probably a superior option, but hey, we aren’t all that fortunate. Hiring a guide is also a possibility. Most guides, Steve included, know holes that are home to some large, resident fish. As my childhood G.I. Joe heroes used to say, “knowing is half the battle.”
So I’m casting to the bank, retrieving, casting to the bank, retrieving for about an hour, all the while salivating over the Bell’s in the back of the truck, when out of nowhere, wham! The surface erupts, shattering the eerie silence of midnight. I was completing spacing. Thankfully the brown hooked itself. The brute charges back to the bank, heading for the security of the undercut. I swing downstream to try and force the brown away from any roots that could possibly be growing into the water from the shore. The trout turns and heads downstream, out across the current.
Now is not the time to emulate brad Pitt chasing a prize fish downstream. I don’t know this river and have no idea of holes, under water logs, or other potential hazards. I scoot to the bank, keeping my line taught. Steve exits the river and moves down the bank behind me with his net in hand. He positions himself below the fish, and works out to where my line is disappearing below the surface. One precise scoop puts an end to the struggle.
I turn my head-lamp on and immediately marvel at a shimmering light of gold reflecting off the fat, 20 inch brown. Incredible specks of red jump out from behind the fish’s dark markings. Steve gently removes the mouse from inside the trout’s cotton like mouth, and I slowly raise my prize from the confines of woven rubber.
Brown trout are in my opinion one of the most beautiful creatures gracing the earth. Their ferocious predatory instincts are forgiven the instant when one gazes upon their undeniable beauty. Like a spoiled child forgoing punishment because he’s just too damn cute.
Hardy, handsome, and haggard?I release the beast back into the murkiness of midnight water. Steve and I slosh to the bank. Its closing in on 1 a.m. and we decide to hang it up. Back at the truck we strip off muddy waders, while recollecting the excitement of the one fish of the night.
Digging my hand to the bottom of the cooler, I drag out two ice cold Michigan brews.
“Two guys standing in a river, sweating in waders, slapping a thousand mosquitoes all to catch one fish,” I said.
We tap bottles and laugh, like school kids with a secret. Another amazing Michigan adventure is in the books.
Brandon butler is a syndicated outdoor writer from Indiana. Steve Martinez is a professional fishing guide from Walhalla, Michigan. To experience some midnight madness of your own, contact Steve Martinez at (231) 690-1870.