Witching Hour Tactics and Tips
Webster’s Dictionary defines the witching hour as:
An hour when supernatural events are thought to occur, often in the form of trout rising to eat mayflies.
Let’s face it, all good things must come to an end. In the angling world, the witching hour is one such occurrence. It’s often a chaotic blur of activity that, as quickly as it starts, seems to disappear. As anglers it is easy to become overwhelmed and find ourselves huddled in the fetal position, while trying to untangle a snarled mess that looks more like a kindergarten art project than line, leader and fly. The combination of excitement and the reality that it could be over at any second, typically weighs heavy. As a result, we often make mistakes. The following are a few tips, tactics and techniques that have kept me from becoming a complete wreck (trust me I’ve been there many times) during the witching hour. While I can’t guarantee anything, what have you got to lose (other than your dignity and lots of fish)?
It Will Happen/Expect it all
This one is more of a mindset to approach your fishing. I can’t tell you how many times I have witnessed/been guilty of not having the right gear for a specific situation. Maybe they are only eating swung wet flies and you only brought hoppers. You were convinced the hopper bite would be on fire. It’s happened to all of us. While I’m not suggesting you buy a Llama to carry all of your gear to and from the water (though they can make great company), I think it’s crucial to understand that the river and fish make the rules. That is to say, they don’t care what you think might happen. They couldn’t care less if that one box of flies is back at your house.
All of this is to say that we should, whenever we go to the river, be prepared for multiple situations. This doesn’t mean you need 300 of each fly. Rather, you should be able to cover many situations/feeding habits every time you head out. Obviously, it is great to have local knowledge and a better idea of what might happen. Equally important though is the concept that what could happen isn’t always what will happen, and we need to be prepared for that situation. Which brings us to our next tip, organization.
Get Your Sh#t Together
In checklists we trust. Seriously though, a simple check list and a little bit of organization on your part can have a huge impact on your fishing. Looking for (insert any piece of gear) when you’re supposed to be fishing is bad, but being on the water while trout are boiling left and right only to realize you don’t have something you need is the absolute worst. It has happened to all of us and we all know the feeling. A little time spent off the water organizing your gear with a quick checklist can make for an excellent outing. Not only will you get on the water faster and fish longer, but you also won’t have to worry about what you did and didn’t bring. A clear mind will fish way better than a cluttered one.
Take a deep breath, or 20. One of the biggest mistakes I see on the water is a lack of observation—especially when the eat is on. I sometimes sound like a broken record. More than one client has looked at me sideways when I tell them to just observe while fish are erupting in front of us. But this is so crucial. Taking a few minutes to watch a run or pool with risers can be very beneficial. In general, the adage “don’t just do something, stand there” is one of the hardest, yet best practices in fishing. Questions like: what stage of the hatch, what type of rise, where is the sun/shadow angle, and, most simply where are the fish can easily be answered with a few moments of watching the water.
There is nothing worse than seeing one rise and charging into the gut of a run to cast at that fish. First, if you’re like me, the sight of rising fish spikes your adrenaline and blurs your judgement. This leads to poor fishing practices. Second, you probably just ran over ten fish in the process. Taking it slow and fishing the close water after a period of observation can yield some awesome results. On many occasions nice fish are caught in the very spot you would be standing if you had just barged in. Go monk, you won’t be disappointed.
Let it Fish, PLEASE!!!
For the love of trout, let your fly fish! Let’s say you’ve nailed everything—the timing, the organization, and you even meditated on the shore for 10 minutes—and you know exactly how and where to target that feeding behemoth. After all that work you cast, and think “nah it needs to be three feet this way or that way.” So, you rip it off the water and re-cast…AHHHHHHHH!!!!!
Seriously, let it fish. If you only take one thing from this, fish the fly. I get it, we all want to be perfect. We want that cast to be exact, A River Runs through it and what not. But if in your pursuit of perfection, you put that fish down with a hasty repositioning aka ripping off the fly. You’ve blown it. If you cast short, shy or in the wrong place, let the fly get well downstream of the fish before recasting. Who knows, you might even catch the fish you’re targeting or another opportunist in the process. It can be hard to fight the urge to fix a “mistake.” That’s human nature. But, it’s also exactly why we fish, to push ourselves, to learn and to be patient. Just let it fish. Please.
I hope this helps you the next time you find yourself fishing the witching hour. Much of this is applicable regardless of species and something that, like fishing, requires lots of practice.
Cheers! I hope to see you on the water soon!