Mousing for trout in western Alaska is about as cool as it gets. We’re not talking about strapping on the headlamp for night time browns or waiting for a “mouse hatch” every seven years (although they both sound awesome as well!), we’re talking about chucking big gnarly mammal imitations day in and day out to our big leopard rainbows! Our resident rainbows actively feed on small mice and shrews throughout the season and will regularly take a well presented mouse fly.
However, a common mistake we see a lot of from anglers fishing a mouse fly for the first time is aggressively stripping the fly as opposed to ‘swimming’ the fly. Often times an angler will cast their fly into some fishy water and retrieve using short quick strips, similar to fishing a popper. Although this may entice some aggressive fish to eat, it is not the most realistic retrieve. Remember, mice do not “pop” or thrash around aggressively on the surface as they swim, they sputter across at a slow steady pace. Here’s a few tips for effectively retrieving a mouse fly.
When fishing either from the boat or on foot, the classic mouse retrieve goes something like this. Cast your fly just above that fishy water before making a quick mend to ensure that the fly is not swept too quickly downstream. Raise your rod tip slightly so that it is just above parallel to the water. This quickly removes slack from your line putting you directly in control of your fly. Now, with your rod tip elevated, wiggle your rod tip at a constant rate using short twitches from your rod hand. As your fly swims towards you, with your line hand, slowly draw in line to take up slack. If done correctly, this will provide an extremely realistic action to the fly.
Due the fact that a slow swimming action is an effective way of fishing a mouse fly, and because we love our two handed rods, swinging mouse patterns on a switch or small spey rod can be a great way to target rainbows as well. Cast Mickey tight into the opposite bank of a side channel, make a good mend to ensure as slow a swing as possible, and just let ‘er swing. Better yet, as your fly is swinging, elevate your rod tip and provide the same ‘swimming’ action as mentioned above. By swinging mouse patterns, you are able to effectively imitate a swimming mouse as it tries to fight the current while attempting to ferry across.
Think ‘Wet Dog.’
Understanding exactly what the fly should look like as you fish it is often difficult for many first time mouse fisherman. Honestly, how often do you really see a mouse swimming across your local trout steam? However, one of the best analogies that we’ve heard on the matter is to think ‘wet dog.’ Think of a golden retriever after it jumps in after a tennis ball. As it swims, it does not thrash or sputter around in the water. It ‘doggy paddles’ around slowly with its head out of water. Mice swim in a similar manner and so should your mouse fly.