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Sea Trout Flies

Thoughts on sea trout flies for night fishing on British rivers


Having considered where and when to begin our sea trout campaign, let us now look in a bit more detail at sea trout fly selection, at the flies we might present to them - the "what" and "how" if you like. Sea trout may be caught on a great variety of flies, from singles as small as size 16 to long lures of two inches or more. We all have our favourites. It is worth remembering, though, that sea trout cannot distinguish colours at night any more than we can. Different colours will appear, both to us and to the sea trout, as varying shades of grey, so we need not worry too much about the colour of our sea trout night flies, except for their tonal qualities. Incorporating a splash of colour in our sea trout flies will, of course, do no harm and, in addition to creating some variation in shade, tone and contrast, will provide a useful variety if used in daylight.

Sea Trout Fly - Daytime

Sea Trout Fly - Night

Fly as seen in daylight

Fly as sea trout might see it at night

The night flies in our sea trout boxes should certainly be varied, but not so much in colour as in length, bulk, weight, density, mobility, tonal quality and the degree to which they reflect light. It might be reasonably argued that a simple black fly, or perhaps a black and white fly, dressed on a silver hook or tube, will be as effective as anything for sea trout at night. Last season, apart from one taken on a spinner, I took all my sea trout on such a tube fly, simply dressed on a slim stainless steel tube with nothing more than a black squirrel hair wing and a couple of strands of Krystal Flash, similar to that shown below.

Sea Trout Tube Fly

Needle Tube Flies by Grays of Kilsyth

I would suggest that the size of the fly is far more important than the colour. As a general rule, I fish smaller flies early in the night and longer flies later when the night is darkest, but this will depend on conditions, too. A higher river or colder night might suit a larger fly.

I like to keep things as simple as possible. I generally fish for sea trout only at night. I rarely fish anything smaller than a size 10 single or longer than two and a half inches, the longer lures dressed on needles or tubes. For flies up to about an inch long, I tend to use singles. My favourite hooks are Partridge Captain Hamilton in size 8 and Partridge Saltwater Perfect, also in size 8. The Saltwater Perfect hook is a well made hook, slightly longer in the shank than a standard hook and with a nice silvery black nickel finish. With no body dressing, it makes for a very simply dressed, fish imitating fly such as those shown on the right.

My approach to sea trout fly fishing and fly tying has been influenced very much by some of the ideas and writings of Falkus. He expressed the firm belief that the most effective sea trout lure would be one which, rather than setting out to imitate a creature on which the sea trout had recently preyed, created a tenuous "impression" of such a creature, a tantalising reminder to stimulate an instinctive response. For a fish which was not actively seeking food while in the river, indeed one which had no need for, and little interest in, food, this made a lot of sense to me. A slim, translucent, mobile, sparsely dressed lure, with a bit of glint, seemed to me to be the way to go and this basic objective of creating an impression rather than an imitation has since been reflected in most of my flies, not only for sea trout but also for trout and salmon.

Traditional Sea Trout Favourites

Stoat's Tail

Silver Stoat

Stoat's Tail

Silver Stoat

It is often said that, colour aside, sea trout have excellent night vision and can detect the smallest of flies. Indeed, flies as small as size 12 may, at times, be fished effectively through the night, particularly on a mild night. Nevertheless, on very dark nights, even in the clearest of water, a lure with a bit of "presence" , perhaps a heavily dressed aluminium or plastic tube, might sometimes be needed to attract the attention of the sea trout, or, more to the point, provoke a reaction, particularly in those fish which have "gone down" late in the night. In general, though, I would tend to select a lure (and fish it in an appropriate manner and at an appropriate depth) which represents, however tenuously, something the sea trout is known to have eaten at some point: a slim, silver bodied fly for a small fish, fished at various depths; a bulkier, hackled pattern for a sedge or moth, fished on or very near the surface. At times, when sea trout are at their most active, it would seem that they are not particularly fussy and will happily take a wide variety of fly types, fished in various ways at various depths. Nevertheless, it would seem logical, most of the time, to offer the sea trout a tenuous representation of something which they will recognise as food, behaving in a manner which they might perceive as "normal".

Mallard and Silver

Bushy Sea Trout Fly

Mallard and Silver

Bushy Dropper Fly

For me this generally means fishing a fly which represents a small fish (slim and silvery) or one which represents an insect of some kind (bushy hackle). Early in the night I may fish two flies, one of each type, with the bushier, insect-like fly as the dropper. Often I will hedge my bets and fish an all-purpose pattern which, when tied on a size eight hook, might be taken as either fish, insect or shrimp, for example a fly with a pearl or silver body, brown hackle and mallard wing, such as the Mallard and Silver and Ginger Pearl illustrated above. Later in the night, when it is properly dark, more often than not I will cut off the single on the tail and replace it with a needle fly (which I devised in the nineties for late night sea trout fishing on the River Earn in Perthshire - see Trout & Salmon magazine article "Needles for Sewin", John Gray, September 1999) or needle tube fly, with an overall length between one and a quarter and two inches, sometimes retaining a single on the dropper, sometimes dispensing with the dropper and fishing the longer lure on its own. If the night is very dark, I might use a needle fly or tube in a larger size, up to perhaps two and a half inches, clinging to the logic that this type of long slim lure gives the best impression of a small fish or sandeel.

Like many sea trout fishermen, I like tubes for night fishing. Flies for sea trout can be dressed on all kinds of tubes, home made or otherwise, in plastic, aluminium, brass, copper, steel etc., allowing us to make lures of all shapes, sizes and weights each for a different purpose and for fishing on or near the surface, often in the early part of the night, or near the river bed, usually later in the night, although there are no hard and fast rules and practices will vary greatly from one river to another and from one part of the country to another. My favourite sea trout lures are now dressed very simply, in a variety of lengths, on Needle Tubes, ultra slim stainless steel tubes with an outside diameter of only 1.5 mm. [see Trout & Salmon Magazine articles May 2008 (John Gray); April 2009 (Geir Kjensmo); June 2010 (John Gray)]

Needle Tubes for Night Fishing

Needle Tube Flies for Sea Trout

Being made from polished stainless steel, the kind used in the making of hypodermic needles, needle tube flies sink more readily than aluminium tube flies but fish a little higher, and more attractively I think, than the heavier copper and brass tubes. Needle Tube Flies would have a comparable sink rate and slim profile similar to flies dressed on Waddington shanks, but with the important benefit that the hook is more easily changed on the needle tube fly. I have also found tubes to be much more easily dressed than Waddington or snake lures.

While on the subject of flies, no list of sea trout lures would be complete without mention of the surface, or wake, lure, which, in one form or another, can be extremely effective at times on some rivers, particularly, it would seem, in Wales. See the example on the right, a simple plastic tube with a deer hair dressing. The sea trout are attracted, not so much by the lure itself, but by the wake made by the lure on the surface. The floating lure, which may be fashioned out of virtually anything that floats, foam or deer hair for example, even bits of cork or wood, is cast out into the darkness and either hand-lined in or allowed to swing round on the current, creating that all important wake, which the sea trout may, at times, find irresistible. I should say that I have had very limited success with such lures myself. Perhaps our Scottish sea trout are overly suspicious of such outlandish contraptions

sea trout flies





Traditional Sea Trout Flies

Traditional Sea Trout Flies


Simple Sea Trout Flies

Sparse Sea Trout Singles - Simple and Effective


Simple Sea Trout Singles

More Simply Dressed Sea Trout Singles


Ginger Pearl Sea Trout Fly

The Ginger Pearl - a good night fly


Neele Fly

A Simple Needle Fly


Sea Trout Needle Tubes

A Selection of Needle Tube Flies


Sea Trout Surface Lures

Sea Trout Wake Lure


Grays Needle Tubes

Since their introduction in 2008, Gray's Needle Tubes have recorded some notable international success. To read about some of those successes see:

Needle Tube Fly Fishing

Sea Trout Needle Tube Fly




sea trout fishing