Delaney Buttes Fishing at Night
Delaney June 2008
Delaney Fall 2008
For those that ever get up this way don't forget to try your luck at some big fish at night! Yes I am a night owl and live fo rthe night action! As with the daytime acitvity it can be hit or miss as maybe you've seen from my Big Fish pics at night from years past. I love it and anytime you have the opportunity to catch a monster nocturnal fish, or a WHAM on your tandem streamers at night will keep you coming back for more! I did catch a few at night this weekend but nothing picture worthy....it has to be a Big one for me to "chance" bringing out my camera for a picture with the opportunity to drop it like I've done before. Night flies -mouse patterns, moma trailing her baby on top towards shore, big black leeches, white muddlers or any white streamer of choice, any baitfish fly, or just anything that will make noise and cause that instinctive reaction. Good luck and don't forget to crimp barbs, wear a red light, bring that 6 or 7 weight, cast cast and cast and most importantly ENJOY the evening stars, it's hard to beat!
Nighttime fishing at Delaney Buttes is such an experience and has become an annual past time for me, spending 4-7 nights a year on either South Delany or North. As daytime summer temperatures sometimes soar into the upper 90’s and fish go down deep into the cooler depths of the lakes, and fishing at night can often be the only time you get a shot at the larger trophy sized fish that inhabit these waters. Night brings on cooler water temperatures, safety from predators, and a vast array of food sources from both above and below---and big trout often take advantage of these conditions and act accordingly. Targeting these fish is not always an easy thing to accomplish, as it requires changing your tactics a bit. Skills like casting take on whole new dynamics, as you have to do it more by feel than by sight. Also such simple tasks as tying on flies, untangling line, and managing all the usual gear hanging off of you becomes more difficult while fishing in hours of limited visibility. I soon learned that fishing from a belly boat was the way to go---this made casting easier without the constant threat of hooking brush, or in some cases at Delaney, barb wire fences which are close to the edge of the lake along the southern shore. It also put me in a position where I was less apt to spook any fish in the shallows as I walked along the shoreline, stumbling over rocks and other foreign debris. A headlamp with red lens was soon added to my fishing gear, as it helped greatly when it came time to unhook fish or tie on new tippet or flies. The red lens did not ruin my night vision, and didn’t seem to spook fish as much as a conventional white light did. My fly patterns also changed. I started to use larger, darker patterns that created a more visible silhouette in the water, and also started adding small commercial made rattles to the streamer patterns I tended to fish at night. My leaders and tippet were shortened and beefed up in diameter, this made it easier to cast larger flies and reduced the amount of time I spent untangling my line in the dark from poorly executed back casts. Other unnecessary gear was removed from my vest, and I reduced the items I was carrying to a spool of tippet, some spare leaders, and one fly box. Hemostats and line nippers were placed in a pocket, which were less likely to tangle up in my line while casting or playing fish. A stripping basket was attached to my belly boat, this item helped greatly with managing the large coils of fly line that would normally be easy to control during the day when I could see it. Also hats and gloves are almost always a must no matter what time of the year, as it seems it is always a bit chilly there at night and this will allow you to stay out on the water longer instead of heading back to the truck every 45 minutes to warm up. Equipped in this manner my nighttime fishing excursions became longer, easier, and more productive over time.
I experimented for some time with different types of patterns for night fishing. Initially I threw the normal stuff I thought the fish seemed to be feeding on---in that case, caddis. It worked sometimes, but for the most part it was very difficult to detect strikes due to the fact I couldn’t see my fly. I tried changing to larger, more buoyant patterns which I thought might be more enticing, but for the most part had the same issues---they worked sometimes, but more often than not I would hook a fish more out of luck than anything else. Mouse patterns didn’t seem to work too well for me either, which surprised me since the shoreline at Delaney has more mice than you can shake a stick at and you would think they would be a common food source for larger fish. Switching to crayfish patterns seemed like good alternative, since Delaney Buttes abounds with crayfish, and the trout feed on these there is no doubt. However, after fishing these flies for some time I came to the conclusion that fishing a pattern along the bottom of the lake at night made it difficult for the trout to see, which is why I didn’t hook up as much as I thought I would. After some deliberation I decided to split the difference and fish something that would be somewhere in the middle of the two, so I switched to larger streamer type patterns, experimenting with colors. At first I tried white, with the idea that a white pattern would be easy for the fish to see at night. It worked sometimes, but not only until I switched to darker colors did I start catching fish on a more regular basis. It seems that darker colors produced a better silhouette against the night sky as the fish looked up, making it easier for them to pick up my fly against an already dark backdrop. White flies tended to blend into the sky more, making it harder for fish to see. Adding such items as rubber legs, curly tails, and more hackle on my wooly bugger type patterns also improved their ability, as they created more of a disturbance and were more noticeable as they swam through the water. Later, I started tying in rattles on my streamers after a trip where I saw one gentleman catching fish after fish on a plug with rattles inside---it seemed fish not only relied on their ability to see, but to hear (or in actuality, sense vibration) when it came to feeding at night. This seemed to work, as I managed to hook several large browns the first night I fished these patterns. Now, for the most part I utilize one type fly on my night fishing excursions; a lightly weighted (or even non weighted) size 6 black wooly bugger with a rattle and rubber legs. This combination applied all the characteristics of the previous streamer patterns I used before and could be fished either on the bottom to imitate a crayfish, or stripped faster to mimic a fleeing baitfish. This is now my “go to” pattern for night fishing, and it has for the most part been a good producer for me for the past several years.
North Delaney Buttes for the most part is a fairly easy lake to fish. (notice I said fish, not catch fish…which can sometimes be difficult) It pays, however, to make a trip out there during the day prior to attempting fishing it at night. While there are no large sunken trees or rock piles in any of the areas I usually fish, the weed beds can get quite thick, especially in the summer. Locating these large weed beds during the day can save you much hassle when it comes to fishing around them at night. Also learning the layout of the shoreline and water depth can make fishing easier, as well as more productive. Areas near weed beds that are consistent in depth often hold fish at night, as well as drop offs, shallow flats and areas of rocks and gravel. For he most part I target water that is fairly shallow, between 1 and 4 feet deep, this is where it seems a lot of fish seem to hold during hours of darkness. Keep in mind you will be targeting areas you normally wouldn’t during the day…big browns aren’t too shy at night and have no issues with cruising shallow water or even coming up to the shoreline in hopes of finding food. I’ve also noticed over the past several years that during the months of October and November (when brown trout spawn) the fish tend to congregate rather thickly on the southwest end of the lake. I am not sure why this is, unless there is something about the water temperature or bottom consistency that draws them there when it comes time to spawn. I’ve witnessed literally dozens of fish (perhaps hundreds) there at a time cruising back and forth along the shoreline or launching themselves completely out of the water---kind of like small versions of Shamoo at Sea World. I’ve heard this is to help loosen their eggs prior to spawning, or something along those lines. I’m not really sure, but I do know whatever it is its defiantly a sight to behold, especially when it happens right next to your belly boat in the middle of the night when you least expect it.
Now lets talk about tactics. Since you are fishing large, heavy flies and its dark out you can nix that 5x leader. I like something a bit heavier…2x is what I prefer. It tangles less, and can handle the abuse of large fish and even larger bushes you might encounter while casting to shore. Short is also the way to go, darkness allows you much more leeway as far as spooking fish with fly line, and shorter leaders are easier to cast. I keep mine at around 6 feet, and sometimes even less if fishing shallow water. Also forget about sinking line, its not necessary and will keep you from losing flies on the bottom of the lake. I use a regular weight forward floating line, and in some instances heavy bass bug lines or pike lines that are designed for throwing large, bulky flies. When retrieving these flies its important to remember to keep your rod tip low and your line tight. Detecting strikes can be difficult in the dark and you will lose a lot less fish if you ensure you have no slack in your line when a fish hits. Often a fish will strike at your fly multiple times before you get a solid take, so be sure to keep your fly moving and don’t be afraid to cast at a fish several times before you finally get a hook up. Be sure to retrieve your fly all the way up as close to you as possible, I’ve hooked fish right at my rod tip on more than one occasion. Vary the speed and length of your retrieve, and let your fly pause once in awhile---being ready to set the hook when you start stripping again. As far as rods, I like a heavier 9 or 9 ½ ft rod of either 7 or 8 weight, although lighter rods will work fine. These handle large flies better, and will provide you with more leverage when it comes to dealing with larger fish. As far as times to fish, my success has varied. Fishing on a full moon has worked for me in the past, but I’ve noticed I’ve seemed to do best on nights where there is low illumination. This is not always the case, but more often than not my best fish have come well after dark, with little or no moon.
Another thing to consider is safety. Fishing at night has hazards of its own, and one should equip him or her self properly in order to make it the safest experience possible. One thing I am not flexible on is personal floatation device. It is an absolute must, especially when working around cold water. I like the vest-type with pockets, this allows me to store fly boxes, an extra flashlight, or other small items in a manner which is easy get to if the need arises. Another type that works well are the automatic inflatable vests, these are small and compact and fit easily over clothes and can support a large amount of weight if need be. Another precaution I take is to attach a small chem lite to the top of my belly boat (or pontoon, whichever you prefer) with a short section of rope or string. This allows boaters to see you from a distance so they don’t run you over in the dark. I leave enough hanging from it that I can wave it around over my head if need be to ensure the boat heading towards you at 20 knots can see you---which, believe it or not, has come into play for me in the past. Also, as mentioned earlier, casting can become more difficult in the dark, which means the chances of hooking ones self increases. I like to de barb all my hooks prior to using them---this is not only easier on the fish, but also easier on you when you miscalculate that forward cast and hook yourself in the back of the head. A size 6 wooly bugger is painful enough when it strikes you in the head at 90 miles per hour, there is no need to increase your pain levels by having to conduct minor surgery in the middle of the night attempting to remove a barbed hook from your scalp. One final thing is always tell someone where you are going. Sounds silly, but it can save some confusion and embarrassment later on when you are a day late coming home because your car got stuck and no one knew where you were…or worst.
Delaney Buttes Lakes lie west of Walden, Colorado in an area commonly referred to by locals as North Park. There are actually 3 lakes---North, South, and East Delaney Buttes, all labeled Gold Medal waters. North Delaney is famous for its big browns, while South Delaney is known for its monster rainbow and cutthroat trout. In fact the population of brown trout in North Delaney is so good that it is the only body of water Colorado Division of Wildlife conducts brown trout egg collecting from on an annual basis. Around October of every year thousands of eggs are harvested from the brown trout that inhabit this lake and used to supply hatcheries or are traded with other states for other fish species used to stock Colorado waters. Such a prolific fishery requires special regulations to protect it from over harvesting, so a 2 fish limit is enforced, along with a rule that dictates all fish between 14 and 20 inches in length be returned to the water immediately. It’s also artificial flies and lures only, so leave the worms at home on this one. Overnight camping is allowed, there are numerous camping spots designated along the shores of all the lakes, along with improved bathrooms. Firewood is scarce, so bring your own. Directions to get there are easy--- head west on HWY 14 out of Ft Collins until you get to Walden, then continue 1/2 mile west to County Rd. 12W. From there its 5.3 miles west until you reach County Rd. 18, and then 4.5 miles west on County Rd. 18 to County Rd. 5---hang a right there and its about ½ mile to the north entrance. There are signs along the way to ensure you are headed in the right direction, so its not too difficult to find. From the Denver Metro area its about a 2 ½ hour drive…not exactly a day trip, but it’s a good place to spend an evening or two if you have the time and patience to try your hand at some world class night time brown trout fishing.
Much more on this from other fellow Delaney Fans and More at our Buddies at North Park Fly Shop