I am not new to calico bass on the fly, in fact I was one of the few guys talking and flyfishing for night time calico bass fishing back in the day when they thought I was nuts. Well I am still nuts, only now, there are a lot of new fly guys to the game, banging night time calicos on many of our local inshore jetties. Good on them.
When I would do “Calico on the Fly” presentations to the fly clubs, I would say “nighttime is the right time”, a phrase coined from fishing for striped bass at night, back on the east coast. If you wanted a trophy striped bass you either fished the big surf just before a Noreaster, in sloppy weather or you fished in the dark off jetties, the surf or bridges at night. The first striped bass I ever landed was when I was around thirteen and it came at night, off a bridge under the lights in Jamaica Bay. I have many fond memories catching bass after bass in Martha’s Vineyard on flies, off Dogfish bar and in the back bays of Menemsha Harbor all night long. Whether stripers or calicos these predators are both night time ambush feeders, their eyes and lateral lines able to distinguish shapes and sound in low light.
Night fishing is not for everyone. Things tend to be amplified and creepy, like tying knots, casting fly lines and landing fish in the dark. You have to slow everything down and practically pretend your blind, amplifying your other senses like touch and hearing. If you are going to try this, its always a good idea to fish as the sun begins to fall so you have a bearing on where you are, how long your casts need to be. Putting a speed nail knot on your line (coat with nail polish) will help you measure where your shooting head has exiting your rod tip, prior to beginning your next cast. This can help a beginning, since you can not see well and rely mostly on feel.
You need to put your casts right on the doorstep of the jetty/rock wall. That means throwing your fly into the edge of the rocks. A cast that is two feet away from the wall may not get bit. Use weed guards on your flies. I like 60# hard mason. Always wear clear safety glasses, in case the wind shifts and a fly gets close to hitting you or a friend. I always carry a head lamp and a back up light. I usually color the glass on my head light with a red sharpie, to keep it dim and not blinding. Its always a good idea to turn away from the direction you are casting to change a fly so the flicker of light on the water doesn’t freak out your quarry. Think slow, strip your fly as slow as you can go, keep contact and do not trout set. Lifting the rod could get you wrecked in the rocks, a straight pull, till you stop the fish and get them away from the structure, then you can lift the rod maintaining constant pressure, no line slippage. The take can be violent or sometimes a little tick. Just remember to point the rod low, straight towards the fly and strip set, then hold on. Don’t let go, no drag, only hand stripping to get back line! Often times a big fish feels like you are stuck on a rock, only the rock begins to move, LOL.
It can be frustrating the first few times you try this style of fishing but believe me it is rewarding and you forget all the mishaps once you start landing a few fish. It gets a lot easier each time you go. Safety first, fish with friends, wear safety vests, and make sure your boat has a trolling motor to keep you a safe distance away from the boilers. DO NOT attempt this style fishing if there is a big swell, it just isn’t worth it. Look at the weather and tides to make sure it is safe to try. I personally like a high tide at night, either incoming or outgoing as long as you get good current. The best inside walls are ones that are detached from the mainland. Those types of jetties will get good running, side current and the fish will go on the chew… tight lines