Sea-trout Fishing in Wales (Why, When, Where)

With sea-trout averaging 5 ½lbs in May on many rivers and still carrying an average weight of 4lbs by the middle of July, along with fish of over 20lbs recorded last year alone, you would be forgiven for thinking that we were talking about some far flung destination where ‘Cerveza’ and ‘Empanadas’ would reflect the local lingo! Not so! Welcome to one of Wales’ best kept secrets; the mystical and ever captivating sea-trout.

These silver tourists grace every corner of Wales; chances are where a large freshwater deposit meets saltwater sea-trout will be found. From the mighty Welsh Dee in North Wales right round to the Usk in South Wales, sea-trout make their presence and annual ascent. As they ascend, we, the anglers, embark on annual pilgrimages and traditions pursuing these illusive silver ghosts.

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But what makes sea-trout so special? No other species captivates and drives an angler, sometimes to despair, like sea-trout. Sea-trout fishing becomes a lot more than just about the catch – it becomes an addiction, sometimes to unhealthy levels proportions! As the shadows loom and all colour is lost under the night-sky, the period of quiet contemplation and solitude soon transforms to expectation and anticipation as the once devoid pool comes alive with sea-trout marking their presence with their acrobatic display that is without equal.

The sea-trout are primarily targeted in the night due to their shy and retiring nature in the daytime during summer low-flows and clear waters. However, given a spate and daytime action can be nothing short of exhilarating, be that with a fly, spinner or worm. For the fly angler it is the night-time sport on a humid summer evening that holds the true attraction and tradition of sea-trout fishing. At first the mere thought of flailing a length of carbon around in the dark sounds nothing short of idiotic. As the flies find their way to the trees behind then the trees in front idiotic soon turns to demoralisation and a feeling of attempting an insurmountable goal. However, when one pull from a sea-trout is achieved these trepidations will soon be forgotten, the addiction will take hold, and the drug will drive you on for as long as you have a drive to fish. This really is the pinnacle of the fly anglers’ quarry in the UK.

Why Wales? Very little light pollution, rivers that produce the largest fish and largest catches in the UK, easy to get to, good accessibility on all rivers, relatively cheap, an abundance of wildlife, beautiful and unspoilt countryside and if this wasn’t enough; Wales is the country that holds the longest tradition of fishing for sea-trout, especially so at night. So why travel thousands of miles, spending thousands of pounds getting to a destination like Tierra-Del-Fuego, where the wind will drag the hair from your scalp and the countryside is a monotonous plane?

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What about the usual ‘Where, When and How’? The ‘Where’ and ‘When’ are correlated, as the when you go where is of particular importance to a anadromous species such as the sea-trout, because they enter different river systems at different times, and different run sizes and fish sizes enter at different stages throughout the year. As a general rule; nothing can beat local knowledge when it comes to dictating an individual river’s run, as this is something that is monitored and cultivated not only yearly but through many generations, which has made timescales largely predictable. As such, the first step is to decide where you would like to target sea-trout, and then a little further research can pay dividends.

Rivers that have historically produced good runs and numbers of sea-trout include (from North to South); Mawddach, Dovey, Rheidol, Ystwyth, Teifi, Towy, Neath. This list is by no means exclusive or extensive, and as was previously mentioned; chances are where a large freshwater system meets saltwater sea-trout will be found to varying degrees. Indeed, many of the listed rivers have tributaries that are worthy of a mention in their own right, and many of these tributaries make for excellent starting points for newcomers to the sport, being less intimidating than the main systems.

With your river system now chosen we progress on our Welsh sea-trout journey through to the ‘how’. Firstly, and rather pertaining to the previous point regarding acquiring local knowledge, whenever possible do try and source a local guide to help you through the inevitable trepidations a newcomer faces. The benefits and guidance of a local and well rehearsed guide has never been as pertinent as when night-time sea-trout fishing is in question. Not only will the guide be there to assist you in overcoming well known obstacles that run in conjunction with night-time fishing, to which there will usually be well known antidotes, but they will also mature you into the art and get you accustomed to ‘things that go bump in the night’.

The tackle you bring will generally be dictated by the system you have chosen. For example, it would be a foolish angler that journeys to a river like the Nevern or the Cothi with a 13ft double hander, where a 9ft rod would be the order of the day. Again, a little research and obtaining some local knowledge would go a long way. However, as a general rule, and for the majority of the larger or well known Welsh sea-trout rivers a rod between 9-11ft rated for a #7-9 is ideal, with a 10ft #8 being a perfect ally – no need to splash out on a ‘sea-trout’ branded rod, any reservoir/lake rod will suffice, and crossover admirably. I would personally advise a middle or middle-tip action blank as fast rods and tight loops can spell disaster at night both from the fishing and the catching perspective, but the brand is totally your prerogative.

The technology and time invested in fly line development over recent years is significant, where we get to reap the rewards. However, the cost of these lines has not increased in correlation with this investment; indeed, lines are cheaper nowadays than they ever have been. As such, this is one aspect where I would say; be prepared! And don’t let a £30 investment be the shortfall of your success and failure of the trip. A floating line is paramount, and an essential addition to your fly fishing tackle. However, chances are you will need to search out those deeper lying fish at some stage, where even the heaviest of flies on your floating line will not suffice. As a rule I would advise you to carry at least three lines; a floater, intermediate and a medium/fast sinker. These should also be accompanied with a set of salmon/steelhead polyleaders in various densities, to allow you to explore other tangents and depths. The key here is to be prepared; better to have it with you and not use it, rather than found wanting.

The same advice is reiterated when flies are in question too. Bring everything and the kitchen sink! As you never know what will charm the bar of silver from the deeps – over the seasons I have heard of several sea-trout in excess of 10lbs falling to patterns such as; zulu, sparklers, and even a dry daddy long-legs skated as a surface lure in the dead of night! Most shops now hold an array of sea-trout patterns, many of which target the anglers equally as well as the sea-trout. However, in general these can provide inspiration as well as supplementary stocks to your armoury. There are several books as well as online articles on the Fishing-Wales website regarding tried and tested patterns for sea-trout, which would hold you in good stead when compiling an arsenal of fly fishing tackle.

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With your fly fishing rods, lines and flies in order the other items on the checklist are straightforward yet paramount and essential. Firstly, personal safety should be covered at this juncture; no fish is worth your life. Always carry a life-vest, accidents can happen in the most unsuspecting of locations. Further to that, some safety glasses are a wise investment at around £5 a pair, and a wading staff can be of use when fishing unknown waters, as can a rescue whistle and a mobile phone in a waterproof bag. Secondly, always carry more torches than you need, with 2 being a minimum. A good headtorch with changeable settings that includes a red-light or red-filter is advisable, as the red light preserves your night vision. Further to that, some heavy nylon – we rarely revert to nylon strengths below 12lbs when night fishing, with good reason – a priest, disgorger, and some late night sustenance compiles the makings of a sea-trout tackle-bag. Always carry enough fishing clothing, as temperatures and weather fluctuates considerably during the night. It is, of course, advisable to carry a coat even though we all know it never rains in Wales…

Steffan’s Nightime setup and fly fishing bag contents:

  • Rods; I usually carry 2 rods set-up with different tactics; one usually holding a floater, the other a sinking line of some description. I currently use the Airflo Airlite 10ft for #7/8 rods.
  • Reels; don’t skimp on quality – quality doesn’t always equate to expensive! Make sure the drag is smooth, and that it can hold a decent amount of backing to cover all eventualities.
  • Lines; I use a lot of the Airflo 40+ Extreme fly lines in densities from floating through to di-5. These are great lines for medium and large river systems. The Sewincaster range of lines are also a firm favourite, and are specifically designed for this aspect of the sport.
  • Waders; waders of some description are usually essential, even though wading above your knees is rarely required.  I would advise felt and studded (combination) soles.
  • Nylon; Terry Eustace pro gold in 12lbs and 15lbs. Alternatively, Maxima Ultragreen. Also, a spool of 15-20lbs fluorocarbon for surface lure work, and a spool of 8lbs fluorocarbon for dusk and daylight fishing – I have faith in Airflo G3.

Steffan runs Angling-Worldwide, a company that specialises in sea-trout fishing packages, courses, and guiding in Wales, with a history of doing so stemming back for over a decade. For further information contact:

Phone: 07879 898 344
Mail: Angling-Worldwide, Crosslane, Dolgran, Pencader, Carmarthenshire, SA39 9BY

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