Monday, April 15, 2019

When Things Go Bump in the Night

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I spent more time on the river at night than I did during the day last week, and it was a great experience. I learned quite a bit, I saw some really cool things, and I caught a few decent fish.

Tooth marks are the sign of a workhorse mouse fly.
I found that I had to vary my tactics more dependently on the kind of water I was fishing than anything else: mice worked well in slow, flat water. Pushers worked well in big deep eddies and pockets. Woolly buggers and large soft hackles worked best in riffles, tailouts, and runs. A large black Heifer Groomer worked well anywhere but would only pick up a fish or two out of any given spot.

Out of probably 4 dozen trout I caught during the week, I photographed only a few. I took what I'd basically call the still photo versions of b-roll, for future blog posts. But I had no real intention of writing any blog posts about these nights...

...until Friday night, when I saw one of the strangest things I've ever seen.

The night before was plenty typical. I moused the riffles before it got dark and pulled some fish. Funny how that seems to work: The water that mouses well during the day doesn't at night and vice versa. Then, after dark, I had a slow, steady pick. And, most excitingly, I caught a big crayfish with purple eyeballs.

Friday night was warmer, cloudier, and rainy, which wasn't a bad thing. The bite was much better, I was on fish right away. And I could get some time on this water with nobody else in sight before opening week commenced, which was great. Even in the TMA opening day is hell. 

At about 9:10 I released a small brown trout and looked up to see a little white light erratically meandering out towards the middle of the river on the third pool down from the one I was fishing. "Oh great, just what I need, some idiot that doesn't know how to night fish out here skunking up the water I want to fish," I said aloud. I often talk quietly to myself about what's going on when I'm night fishing. I talk to the fish too, and other animals I encounter out there. It keeps me from spooking myself out. As it turned out, there was little reason for me to do it to myself. This little light was going to do it for me. 

I watched the light down there for about four minutes after it reached about a third of the way across the pool and stopped there. Like a headlamp when the user turns their head, it dimmed and brightened periodically. Noting out of the ordinary. But then I looked away briefly and looked back and it had brightened considerably, so much so that I thought for a moment it must have gotten close. It then made a fast and abrupt swoop down and to the left, then swung back to where it had been as it dimmed again. I said "what the hell?" under my breath, and simultaneously missed a solid take. I kept watching though, and again the light did nothing particularly odd again for a little while. It then brightened again and made the same swoop to the right. Okay, so maybe my eyes weren't tricking me the first time. But then it turned red and once again did nothing interesting, this time for much longer. It lulled me into a false sense of security. My eyes must have been messing with me. There was no way what I saw had actually happened. I continued missing takes. Then it turned white again and slowly meandered back toward the river right bank, the place it had come from, and again I was sure it was just a fisherman. "Good." I thought, "Go home and don't come back until you learn how to night fish without a light".
But when the light reached the bank, it paused, brightened excessively, then shot to the other bank in less then a second. There, it paused for a second, then shot up to the tree canopy, where it faded away and disappeared entirely. Yeah... that was no night fisherman's headlamp. What the hell had I just seen?

I sent messages to some friends, lest this be the night I vanish without a trace. I even talked on the phone with my friend Ian Devlin about it. After which I headed down there to check things out. There were no recent signs of human activity along the pool over which the lights had been. The closest house was a little ways away and hidden behind the hill and trees. They had a bonfire going, and were quite inebriated. Probably too much so to be performing crazy maneuvers with a drone just feet above a river on a dark rainy night. I kept fishing, though I was completely unable to get back into a groove again. 

What the hell was that?!

I'm not sure I believe in alien visitors. I certainly believe a lot of people have seen lights and objects in the sky they couldn't identify, but I also think most of that can chalked up to misidentifications and lack of observational experience. Some can by chalked up to lying, too. But I've also had a number of strange things happen throughout my life that I couldn't explain. I've spent a lot of time in the woods and on the water at night for various reasons. I think some things are true that would probably make most people scoff. And frankly, I don't care. I know what I've seen and heard. I also I know what the only intellectually honest answer I have is in almost every case:

I don't know what it was.

So. What is the strangest thing you have ever seen or heard while fishing? I'm sure a few of you have some good stories. Fill up the comment section with weird and spooky stuff.


  1. Wow,I dont know what you saw, but I believe things happen. The first thing I thought was a drone too.
    Keep on posting !

  2. You'd hear a toy helicopter. If you didn't hear anything...
    What was the air doing?
    When you shine a flashlight at a flock of whiporwills you see their eyes. But you weren't shining a light?

    1. I heard nothing, though I can conceive of not being able to hear a drone or toy heli at that distance. But I cannot imagine a drone or toy helicopter doing the things this light did. The abrupt accelerations and even more abrupt stops... it would be almost impossible to do them without sending the thing into the river.
      At no point during my more than 15 minutes observing this did I have a light on of my own. It was definitely not any kind of animal eye shine.

  3. These experiences that we can't explain are the best. I have heard noises and felt things while in the woods and fishing. What a rush, and that is when I talk to myself and get no answer.
    Tie, fish, write, conserve and photo on...

    1. Yup. That's a pretty good explanation of what it feels like.

  4. At first, I figured it was a deer or coyote hanging out in the stream, but last I checked, they don't climb trees. Curious as to why you didn't shine a light on it? Particularly after 15 minutes.

    1. For one thing, I use a light as little as possible while on a hot bite at night, even with strange things going on. And for another, this was far enough away a car headlight would just barely have aided in seeing anything in more detail, so shining my own light at it would have been a waste of time.