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Fly Fishing for Sea Trout

December 8 2008

It has been said to me by several trout anglers over the years, that you must be mad to go fishing at night for sea trout. Rushing home from work, gulping down your evening meal that your partner has lovingly prepared for you, and then a quick peck on the cheek and you disappear for the rest of the night.

Over the years I have taken a great many anglers on their first sea trout fishing expedition, and have found there was an occasional angler who said their night vision was almost nil, and their casting went to pieces at night, they would not have missed it for the world, but would never do it again. Others would go out at night if accompanied by someone else, because they were scared of the dark, and that is nothing to be ashamed of. A heron screeching, a sheep coughing, or a herd of inquisitive young bullocks galloping towards you can be scary at night if you are not used to it. The majority, however, get hooked on night fishing and feverishly wait for the sea trout season to begin each year.

Most of my sea trout fishing is done on the Tamar and Lyd, one of the main tributaries. A few larger sea trout enter the lower reaches in March and April, but where I fish on the middle reaches we do not see any significant numbers until the second half of June.

If you have not fished at night before, it is always a great help to have someone who knows the water take you out during the day, and show you where the fish lie and where to cast from to avoid trees and bushes. One problem at night is knowing exactly how much line you have outside the rod tip. There is nothing more annoying than pulling your leader through the rod tip at night. An easy way to avoid this is to pull out a rod length of line, and then practise pulling off exactly a foot of line at the time. Pull off ten feet, cast it out, and then pull in ten feet, and you should still have a rod length outside the rod tip. Try it first in the daytime with your eyes closed. For night fishing I use a rod of nine or nine and a half feet that takes a size six or seven line. Most of my fishing is done with a floating line, and a leader of around nine feet tapered to eight pounds breaking strain.

Sea trout are unpredictable, so you must be prepared to change your size of fly, and sometimes your method of presentation. I well remember fishing the tail of Quarry Pool on the Tamar with my usual team of three flies. After covering all the likely places without a single touch. I changed the tail fly for a large muddler minnow, greased it up and skated it across the surface. In the next half hour I caught six sea trout all from the same spot. If I had not changed my fly, I think I would have had a blank that night.

My reasons for fishing three flies is to save time having to change the fly size, and of course the flies will fish at different depths as well. Normally I would use something like a size 12 Alexandra or Coachman on the top dropper, a size 8 Silver Invicta in the middle, and a big fly on the tail such as a black lure or a palmered fly such as a Zulu on a size 6 or even a 4 long-shank hook. Do not be tempted to use droppers until you feel proficient at using just one fly at night, or you could end up with one horrendous tangle in your leader.

Always try to arrive at the river in good time before it is dark, and wait until you cannot see the colour of the grass, then you can start fishing. If you cannot wait, then fish another pool as the light is fading. This can often be productive, but could spoil it for night fishing. Sea trout will often lie in just a few inches of water at night, so always start with a short line and then gradually extend it, fishing it back on a slow retrieve. When you feel a take it could be anything from a gentle pluck to a really savage snatch, so do not strike too hard or you may end up being broken even on a strong leader.

Never leave anything lying around at night. It is surprising how your can put something down and the next moment it has disappeared on a dark night. You can buy adhesive luminous tape which can be used on nets, fly boxes, priest etc., or even a thermos flask. One angler who had fished hard for a couple of hours, decided to stop for a well earned cup of coffee, he sat down and poured his coffee into a mug. Just at that moment a sea trout splashed in the pool beside him. Creeping down to the water’s edge he cast out and caught it. Feeling rather jubilant he sat down once again, picked up his now lukewarm coffee and took a large mouthful, only to spit it out again… While he was away, a large slug had crawled up his mug and decided to share his coffee ! The grass was wet with heavy dew, and when he switched his torch on, he saw that everything was covered in slugs, including the coat he was sitting on and his sandwich box.

All kinds of things happen at night. I remember sitting down at 1am to have a cup of tea. There I was, quietly sipping my tea and listening to the river in complete darkness, when my legs and bottom felt wet. We had not had rain for a couple of weeks, and the ground was bone dry… After switching on the torch I found myself sitting in the middle of the biggest fresh cow pat you have ever seen. You can imagine what my wife was thinking when she opened the back door next morning and found my trousers and a pair of white underpants stained in a sort of olive green lying on the step!

If you do not like going out at night it is perfectly possible to catch sea trout during the day. An odd fish is taken when salmon or trout fishing, but you will catch more if you fish specially for them. My normal outfit is what I use for trout. A rod of 8’5 or 9’ with a size six floating line. Because sea trout are so easily scared during the day, use a leader as long as you can manage. My own formula is made up as follows. Buy a Leeda Profil Knotless salmon leader tapered to ten pounds, which I needle knot to the end of my line. To this, add 24” of 8lb, 18” of 6lb, 12” of 4lb and 3ft of 3lb. A leader tapered in this way will present the fly very gently on the water, and the heavy butt section will help straighten it out. Braided leaders tend to absorb water and will fall more heavily no matter how careful you are.

For daytime fishing I use small weighted wet flies such as coachman or black and peacock spider, or goldhead nymphs, hares ear or prince, sizes 12 and 14 or even smaller at times. On our small to medium sized rivers fish all methods upstream during the day. Wet flies and nymphs should be cast upstream or up and across and allowed to sink for three or four seconds before starting to retrieve slightly faster than the current. If there is little or no current, use the induced take method with a weighted nymph. Cast upstream and wait for the nymph to sink almost down to the bottom, and then slowly raise the rod tip, drawing the nymph up towards the surface.

Sometimes you will see them feeding on surface flies, but they can be taken on dry fly even when you do not see any rising. It is always a great advantage if you can see the fish, because if a dry fly is cast well upstream and allowed to drift over the fish, I have found this much less effective than casting into the sea trout’s window of vision, which can sometimes create an immediate response. If after two or three casts the fly is refused, cast a little further upstream and retrieve the line a little faster than the current to create a wake on the surface. This will often produce a fish when all else fails.

Summer spates will bring fresh sea trout and salmon into the rivers and, as the water is clearing, sea trout will be easier to catch under these conditions. Use a sinking line and a leader of eight or nine feet tapered to eight pounds. Size of fly will depend on the height and colour of the water. One of my own favourites is a waddington type silver stoats tail between one and two inches in length. Fish the fly downstream and across in the tails of the pools as you would for night fishing. There is no need to retrieve, in fact you might have to mend the line upstream to slow the fly down a little.

The great thing about this kind of fishing is you could catch anything from a cheeky seven inch brownie to a lively sea trout, or even the occasional salmon.