Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Mousing 101- Mouse Do It

I've decided to so some posts about summer time fishing this winter. One reason is that during summer I'm too busy fishing to write about it. Another reason is that right now it is the nasty cold dead heart of winter so what better way to take us back to our happy place than to contemplate what is definitely a summer activity? I don't claim to be expert at much in fly fishing, but mousing is one of my few areas of expertise. I'll cover the reasons, conditions, techniques, gear and flies you need in order to be successful.

This first installment is titled:

Just Do It

Mousing used to be the realm of a few cagey anglers who kept to themselves, but by now that secret is well out of the bag. Still, I'm surprised at the number of anglers who have never tried it. You owe it to yourself to experience this.

Mousing is one of the most dramatic and explosive takes in fly fishing. You'll be standing there in the dark, every sense on high alert, letting your mouse swing across the current and ba-WHAM, one of the biggest fish in the river will eat your fly. Then it's game on as you try to muscle a big angry fish before it takes you to the wood.

Here in the Midwest much is made of the Hex mayfly hatch as a time to catch big brown trout on a dry fly. This is true and it is an amazing thing to experience when the stars align. The problem is that the hatches only last for a couple of weeks in June and they can be spotty. Mis-time it and you can find yourself staring at quiet water. Tie on a mouse and fish that same water and you have a reasonable chance of hitting it big. As a matter of fact I caught three very nice fish this summer swinging mice while waiting for the Hexes to pop. You should have a couple of mice in your Hex box at all times.

Mousing can be done from May through September, any time the nights are reasonably warm enough, usually 55 degrees or warmer. I caught my first big brown mousing during the first week of May several years ago. I rolled a big fish on October third a couple of years ago when it was warm. Instead of waiting on one brief hatch for a chance at big fish, mousing gives you the whole summer.

Have you ever wondered if there are any big fish in your river? Mousing is the way to find out. Telemetry studies have shown that once browns reach twenty inches long they become almost completely nocturnal and stay tucked deep under cut banks and log jams during the day. Night is another matter. Big browns come out and roam at will, often traveling several miles in search of a meal. Often times that meal is a mouse or frog that had the audacity to swim the river.

Have you ever wanted to hold a brown trout twenty inches or longer? Mousing is the way to achieve that goal. You will catch a handful of smaller fish mousing, but most of my fish are over twenty inches. I've reached the point where I'm not happy unless I've gotten at least one fish over 24 inches each summer. It's very doable, and between me and my fishing buddies we land quite a few fish in that rarefied range. My personal best was over 28 inches long and nearly ten pounds.

my 24" hen from this summer

Mousing does have its challenges and dangers. You'll want to scout the water you're going to fish by day or be very familiar with it already. Going for a swim in the dark is no fun at all and very dangerous. You'll have to buy a LED headlamp with a red LED in it. You'll have to get used to howls, hoots, breaking brush, bats, and beavers slapping the water right in front of you. My mindset when in the woods or fishing at night is that I am the biggest, baddest thing out there, I am a danger to all the critters and not the other way around. This keeps my knee-knocking and wild-eyed staring-into-darkness-at-sounds to a bare minimum. Still, when the coyotes are howling and the owls are hooting a chorus, you smell the wet river smells while staring at the diamond dusting of stars overhead- those will be the most memorable nights of your life.

One thing I want to go on record about- mousing is not dry fly fishing. Mouse flies are more like floating streamers, but they are not a true dry fly in my opinion. The take is topwater and usually very loud and explosive, but it is more akin to a bass or pike slamming a frog than a brown sipping dries. This is what makes it so exciting.

I'll also add that while this is the best way to learn what kind of fish are in your rivers, they are not pushovers and you will work for them. I have to fish 5-7  nights on average to land a good fish. Sometimes I go out and land a couple big ones in my first hour of fishing, but many times I can fish hard all night and not hook up at all. Mousing is like streamer fishing or sight fishing on flats in that you don't necessarily have to catch fish to have a great day on the water. While it lacks the visual appeal of those other kinds of fishing, when you hear a fish strike in the dark that sounds like a bowling ball being thrown in the river I guarantee it will get your heart pounding and your hands shaking.

So tune in over the next weeks and cold winter months and I'll walk you through it. I'll cover the gear, water, fish, conditions, rigging, flies and techniques that I've learned. I've spent several summers during which I fished more at night than by day and have caught numerous big fish, and I've learned by trial and error what it takes to be successful. 

Let's go mousing.

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