Can Trout See in the Dark? Minimal Vision and Big Fish

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Nice winter day by Arkansas River brings colorful Brown Trout.

Trout cannot see color at night. The cones in their eyes disengage, and they rely on their rods to help them make out predators and food. A trout’s night vision isn’t as good as a bass’s, but their other senses compensate for the lack of vision. They can see everything in black and white. 

While anglers love trout for their beauty and picturesque homes, their aggressiveness and hunting abilities are underrated. In the mornings and evenings, trout use their strong vision to feed on insect hatches, smaller fish, and crustaceans. Giant trout, however, come out at night and take over their waters.

Trout Vision

All trout have an elliptically shaped orbit. This shape allows trout to see forwards and to the side. Even though their nose sticks out far past their eyes, trout have a notch in the front of their pupil, allowing them to see over the bridge of their nose. 

While they’re looking forward, the images off to their sides stay in focus. They can observe everything that’s happening in front and to the side of them at all times. It makes them very wary and reactive to any threat of danger. The only place they struggle to see is directly behind them. 

Like many other fish, trout do not have eyelids. The water protects them from the harsh light, but many trout like to sit in cover or deeper water during the brightest part of the day because their eyes cannot handle bright light for extended periods. 

Trout’s vision is also heavily dependent on the water clarity. Stained water makes it challenging for trout to see as clearly as they would in clear water. However, the stain may enhance other colors around them depending on the shade of the water. 

Trout and humans differ in their visual abilities in various ways, but one of the most unique is that trout can’t use their rods and cones simultaneously except for short periods during dawn and dusk. During the day, trout use their cones. These give them clear vision of everything around them. 

Trout Night Vision

At night, a trout’s cones disengage, and they use only their rods. 

A trout’s rods give them the ability to differentiate between objects. They can see contrasts and shapes but no color. As a result, anglers should use larger baits that stick out more in the water. Their rods also make trout less apprehensive at night. They can’t see clearly and aren’t as wary of everything around them.

Brown trout, rainbow trout, brook trout, tiger trout, and various other trout species share the same night vision. All rely on their cones to differentiate between the shapes they see in the water. 

They cruise the shallows, move deep, and swim in open water at night. Trophy trout cover as much water as they want. They still use ambush tendencies but rely on their prey’s struggles to see them at night. 

I’ve caught all of my biggest trout in the dark. Whether mousing or throwing streamers, I know my best chance to catch a trophy is in the dark. Their guard goes down, and the big trout come out to play. 

Trout, Brown fish by rocks.

How To Fish For Trout at Night

Fishing for trout at night is one of my favorite ways to target these fish. I can use the darkness to my advantage and put myself in places I otherwise couldn’t during the day. Plus, I can use different techniques than I would during the day. I know the big trout are hungry, and I want to capitalize on their hunger when possible. 

Fly Fishing

Fly fishing for trout in the dark offers some of the biggest adrenaline rushes. You make your cast, start stripping in the fly, and wait to hear a giant splash or feel a strong tug on your line. During the day, you can sight fish and predict when a fish will hit your fly. 

At night, you don’t know when a fish will strike, so when they do, it skyrockets your heart rate and puts a massive smile on your face. 

I love fly fishing for trout in the dark.


When I fly fish in the dark, I don’t differentiate much from the fly fishing gear I use in the light. I may go one size heavier with my rod and reel because I have a better chance of landing larger fish. So, if I use a 4-weight rod on a river during the day, I may switch to a 5-weight to land a trophy lurking at night. 

I always want to have extra power when fishing in the dark. It’s harder to fight fish in the dark because you can’t see the areas they’ll go to try and break you off. You want the extra power to get them in the net faster so they don’t spool you or pull you into logs and rocks and break your knot. 

Depending on where the trout are feeding, I’ll also carry floating and sink tip lines. I’ll use my sink-tip line if they’re feeding lower in the water column. I stick with my floating line if they’re higher or feeding on the surface. 


The flies you get to use in the dark are amazing. When fishing the Driftless Region in the Midwest, I always start with mouse patterns. Foam mice are the perfect fly to get a trophy trout to eat at night. 

Mice always fall into the water in the dark, and trophies wait by the bank for that splash. As soon as they see that object hit the water, they strike. Their night vision allows them to see the shape, so as long as your fly looks like a mouse, you have a chance. 

I also throw larger nymphs and streamers. Woolly Buggers, Drunk & Disorderlies, Clouser Minnows, Muddler Minnows, and Sex Dungeons are a few of my favorite streamers to throw.

For nymphs, I like to use stonefly nymphs, Pat’s Rubber Legs, big Copper Johns, Prince Nymphs, and even Beadhead Squirmy Worms. 

Anything that’s a little larger and gets a trout’s attention is ideal. 


I like to stick near the banks and the edges of pools when I fly fish for trout in the dark. Trout feel more comfortable sitting in the shallows in the dark, so I’ll cast along the bank and let my fly drift along the edge. Dead drifting my flies work well. 

If I’m throwing streamers or large nymphs, I’ll cast them on the edge of a pool or up along a bank. I let my fly dead drift downstream, and as soon as it gets below me, I’ll start stripping it. Swinging flies is the perfect option when fishing for trout in the dark. They’re more willing to chase their prey in the dark than in the light. 

Stick near the bank and on the edges of pools, and you’ll find all the fish you want. 

Caught brown trout with a spinning rod by the river.

Spin Fishing

Spin fishing for trout in the dark is another wonderful tactic. You can use bright, flashy, noisy lures to your advantage. You don’t have to be as sneaky as you would during the day. The trout are willing to take some chances to go after your lures. 


I’ll use a heavier spinning rod when I trout fish at night. A 6’ or 7’ light or medium light is my usual go-to. I love using ultralight setups for trout, but the potential to land a trophy causes me to choose a heavier rod than normal.

I’ll pair it with a 500 or 1000 spinning reel. I like to use a monofilament leader because it’s more challenging for the fish to see. However, at night, you can get away with using fluorocarbon. Plus, it’s a stronger line, so you can get your lures into areas you otherwise wouldn’t during the day. 


Some of my favorite lures for trout include Rapalas, Mepps Spinners, Panther Martins, Roostertail, Wigglers, and Dare Devils. These lures create plenty of action and attract all trout in the vicinity. 


Like fly fishing, stick to fishing the banks and the edges of pools. Big fish don’t sit as deep in the dark. They’re cruising the shallows and banks for easy meals. A cast up along the bank and a quick retrieve will attract any trophy nearby. The same goes for the edges of pools. Cast into the deep section of a pool and retrieve your lure through the shallower area. 


Trout cannot see as well in the dark as they do during the day, but that doesn’t stop them from feeding. They become more aggressive in the dark. They count on their prey struggling to see and take advantage. They use their rods to identify different shapes and contrasts. Trout know what food looks like, and they don’t let anything stop them from finding it at night.

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