Sea Trout Fishing
A lifetime can be spent pursuing a big sea-trout, a lifetime pursuit and ambition that many will leave unfulfilled. Catching sea-trout can, at times, be difficult enough, however, targeting and catching big sea-trout – and by big I mean weighing into double figures – can seem an insurmountable goal, especially if some fundamental concepts are not understood and adhered to.
Catching a sea-trout of any size is a delight, and one that any angler lucky enough to do so should cherish. However, feeling the raw, electrifying power of a big sea-trout is something to behold, something that will drive you to rekindle that flame as often as possible, regardless if the fish was landed or not.
Diligence and perseverance are mindsets that pave the way to sea-trout success, with big sea-trout being no exception. Keep the fly in the water for long enough and you will be rewarded sooner or later, but add a bit of science and thought to the approach and you can quickly transform the equation into sooner rather than later.
A key variable in hooking a big sea-trout, and one that is, perhaps, unsurpassed, is to fish the rivers which give you the best or better chance of encountering such fish, as simple as that may seem. Luckily the UK is blessed with rivers that have a pedigree of producing such fish, revered waterways such as the Towy, Dovey, Wear, Yorkshire Esk, Test, and the Tweed system. This knowledge, amalgamated with other key considerations and tactics, form the foundation upon which landing a big sea-trout is based – after all, there’s little point in fishing water where they are known historically not to exist, or only make impromptu appearances.
Further to choosing the right river you then need to choose the right water to cover. Think what the fish are looking for, and, in particular, what a big fish would be looking for once they’ve entered the river, often, as is the case with many of the larger fish, over half a year ahead of their spawning time.
A lot of time is wasted fishing poor holding water, even though sport may be had with smaller fish. But what constitutes good holding water? And what should you be looking for? This can vary a lot. However, as a rule big fish will be searching for a haven – somewhere that will provide them shelter and safety, which is often achieved by deep water, until the latter months approach when they may continue their journey to their spawning beds. Holding water often looks unappealing; usually comprising of very little flow, which would otherwise expend their energy, energy that they must ration and retain during their fast. More often than not such water is disregarded by sea-trout anglers as being a salmon holding pool or worming water, but make no mistake it’s in such water that the largest concentrations of big fish will be residing.
This knowledge will mature as you get to know your water more intimately, but choosing a large, deep pool with very little deep water for a considerable distance below would certainly hold you in good stead to begin your journey – big sea-trout will strive to reach such water. Another way of making certain that you’re fishing the correct water is to watch the water at dusk and throughout the night as you fish, chances are they will make their presence known at some stage, which will also indicate where you should be concentrating your efforts – these places rarely change from one season to the next, which makes targeting the fish in future seasons a lot easier and with greater confidence.
With the right river and the right water now selected the next stage of our journey is the when’s and how’s. To begin with, let me assure you that we are not solely targeting big fish, as the same methods pick up fish of all sizes, yet, in comparison to other generic tactics, they do pick up a greater percentage of the larger fish.
Most notable sea-trout rivers get an early run of big sea-trout, with many seeing fish as early as March. Targeting the early run of big fish does have its advantages, namely; you are very unlikely to intercept little else, and such fresh run fish are usually more aggressive, therefore more likely to take. However, it’s not for the faint hearted, and a fair share of blank nights are to be expected, but with the reward more than making up for them.
Early season exuberance provides the drive to target these fish, and a mild night under the solitude of the stars in April can be a soul enlightening experience. As the weeks trickle by and we enter May yet more fish have entered the system, the nights have become milder, and nature springs from its winter slumber, making for far more appealing fishing conditions. More fish in the system simply equates to more of a chance of encountering one. In fact, not a month goes by throughout the season when big fish will not be entering the system, adding to the stock already residing in the holding pools. The holding pools are a place of sanctuary for these fish, and, as a result, they can be targeted in these areas throughout the season. In August you may catch a tide fresh sea-trout whilst also catching a fish that has been in the system since April. Indeed, there’s a better chance of encountering a big fish during the latter months of the season due to the sheer numbers present, which, in itself, may be a reason to make a concerted effort in these months rather than the early ones.
Avoid certain ‘dos and don’ts’ at your peril, especially when big fish are concerned. For example, starting to fish too early in the evening can be disastrous; sure, you may catch a few fish, but the chances of picking up the larger fish soon diminish – especially in the slower holding water, which exacerbates the effects of noise, clumsy wading, splashy casting etc. whilst also being the water most likely to be holding the largest concentration of fish, including the big fish.
Certain sea-trout theories have held water well with time, however, some require updating, or even disbanding – especially when big-fish tactics are being deliberated. For example; the half time theory. Granted, the theory does have its virtues, and it does hold water. However, if the same tactics were persevered with from the start of the evening, especially on the sinking line front, then you would be far more likely to encounter the larger fish from the outset. The half time, or second half theory, teaches us to fish deep and slow with larger flies, which invariably produces the larger fish. The reason for this isn’t because the time of the night you are fishing, it’s because the way you are fishing.
Another misconception is that by utilising sinking lines people instantly assume that you must fish deep. However, big sea-trout won’t always be lying on the base of the pool, which raises the need to search the depths – even reservoir tactics such as counting down come into play, and is a great way of searching the layers of the pools. As a rule, however, more often than not the big fish will be found in the lowest third of the water column – this can vary according to river level, structures etc.
Big sea-trout are more lethargic than their smaller counterparts, and do take longer to intercept a fly, hence the reason why the flies must be fished closer to their holding depth. In addition, larger flies are often required when fishing at depth and with sinking line techniques because the light levels and light penetration soon diminishes with depth, where the larger flies will carry more silhouette and prominence. Whereas the ‘big flies equals big fish’ theory does hold some kudos when talking big fish tactics, it certainly isn’t the key or overriding factor, but when viewed in conjunction with some reasonable rationale the application is justified.
First light is another ‘peak’ time when big sea-trout are said to take. Again, this is a theory I read little into. People often hook into the big fish at first light because of the type of water they’re fishing over and the tactics they have been deploying. More often than not these fish take due to changes in light levels, rather than some phase of change in the sea-trout’s behaviour. For example, some big fish will drop back to the tail or shallower section of the main body of the pool towards dawn – an area that many people like to target for sea-trout, and chances are will be fishing when such light changes occur. In addition, having concentrated their fishing effort over such water they are unlikely to be fishing a sinking line of any description. Now the big fish is in shallower water, and can intercept a fly at a shallower depth, especially with the light-levels allowing for better visibility, even if the angler was presenting smaller offerings. Whereas the angler could have been back home and tucked up in bed if they had attempted to intercept the fish earlier in the evening where it was initially holding.
Searching holding water does require sinking lines, and sinking lines or varying degrees. For example, dependent on flows, you may require anything from a slow intermediate through to a medium or even fast sinking line. The advantage you have with the slower holding water is that your line has plenty of time to sink. As such, it can often be a good ploy to utilise an intermediate line and count to different intervals. This method covers all the layers, whereas a straight fast sinking line may miss the upper layers out. If, however, you have found the fish to be lying deep – deduced by the counting down technique – then you can change to the faster sinking line to get to these layers quickly. The fish may also be encountered on or near the surface, of course, and may be drawn up from a few feet to take a surface offering such as a surface lure – which is a great big fish method. As such, when covering holding water, don’t instinctively think that you have to scratch the riverbed for success; the secret is experimenting with the layers until you find them, and knowing when to change and revert to another layer.
Sinking lines aren’t always the answer however, and fly choice can play a pivotal role too. Copper, brass and tungsten tubes are usually the domain of the salmon anglers, but they’re extremely practical and applicable to certain sea-trout fishing techniques, yet, not being the nicest of flies to wield at night- especially as they’re often utilised as part of a team. The heavier pattern is often fished on the dropper, as a sacrificial pattern that does also take fish. Then, trailing some 4-5ft behind is the main offering, which can be anything from a lighter tube, secret-weapon or even a longshank single when faced with low summer flows and clear water. The heavier fly combined with a sinking line is guaranteed to get you searching and covering the layers with ease.
Invariably by fishing such tactics you are prone to fouling the bottom, but these snags are often the lies, which should give you confidence that you are getting into the right areas. Heavy nylon is essential when fishing over such snag-laden waters, minimising the chances of losing flies, which can be daunting and even prevent you from fishing over such water. Even if you don’t lose the flies your leader may incur some damage, which is also a reason to make sure that you remember to change the leader before every session, or if you think flaws have occurred. For this reason, and so that I can exert some control on a fish, I would never fish leader strengths below 12lbs – sea-trout are not leader shy at night, and dropping below such strengths can be foolish, especially with big fish on the cards.
Retrieving slowly often has its virtues, but is certainly not a rule I adhere to or one I would endorse as being critical for catching larger sea-trout. In fact, when you are at your required depth I would advise varying the retrieves between casts; try some really slow, with some fished back at speed in a ‘roly-poly’ manner – the secret here is to experiment, as each night can hold its own key.
The takes can vary considerably too. People usually expect an extremely savage take from a big sea-trout, and often this can be the case. However, more often than not they can give the slightest of takes, takes that many would not register, passing them by as a leaf or a rock – especially so in slower water and with slow retrieves, as the fish may just follow and mouth the fly or just intercept the fly without much line or fly movement to give the angler an indication. Be on your guard, and strike at any notion. It is also worth noting that the nights when you get very few takes are often the nights you intercept the larger fish, even in the latter months when the system is holding a good head of fish.
Casting ability does play a substantial role, especially during the confines of darkness. We’re not talking tournament casting, but small casting flaws expressed during the daylight are soon exacerbated and become an Achilles’ heel when darkness falls. So much so that I would surmise that the inability to cover the water correctly and present your flies into likely holding areas would hamper your success.
A determined effort should be made to practice casting such lines and flies during the daylight hours until you become comfortable and proficient with them, practice that would soon pay dividends. Overloading your stated rod weight by one rating can assist dramatically, and won’t have a detrimental effect on the rod. Overloading enables the angler to feel the rod load sooner, it will also enable larger flies to be turned over easier over short distances, where hinging could otherwise take play. For the majority of my sea-trout fishing, however, I opt for heavy front profile lines, which don’t require overloading and are perfect for quick loading, turning over large, bulky flies and roll casting. What I use and recommend are the Airflo 40+ expert fly lines, as they perfectly compliment the aforementioned qualities and come in all the sinking densities required for accurate layer searching.
As you can see encountering a leviathan sea-trout isn’t as hard as you may think, especially when some simple processes and considerations are taken into account, adopted and adhered to. Remember, persevere, be diligent, and above all else don’t be confined by boundaries – experimentation is key.
Reprinted with permission of Steffan Jones.