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Starting Out for Sea Trout

Notes for an absolute beginner

by Dave Wallbridge  (aka Silver Stoat)

It is not unusual to see the occasional posting on a fishing forum, requesting advice, from an angler wishing to tackle Seatrout for the first time. Although nowhere near an expert myself I do have some experience of catching that weird and wonderful fish and I remember the frustrations I experienced when I first began my journey down the road to addiction. Fortunately, I was taken under the wing of a real expert at an early stage and, thanks to his generous advice and patience, soon gained the confidence and basic skills to venture out alone at night.                                                        

Not everyone is so fortunate to have such a mentor and so, remembering how I initially struggled to discover how to start and what to use, whenever I see a plea for help, I send a copy of the notes presented below. Based on my experience over the years, they are very basic guidelines aimed at the absolute beginner, setting out after sea trout for the first time ....

I would strongly recommend you read "Sea Trout Fishing" by Hugh Falkus. It is, in my opinion, a must. Another excellent book, which I believe is now out of print but may be in your local library is - Torridge Fishery by L.M. Grey, well worth searching for. Although the latter title is primarily concerned with salmon fishing, it does have quite a bit of useful and interesting information relating to Seatrout. It's also a pretty good read.

If you are visiting a new river your best bet would be get some local knowledge of where the taking spots are on the beat so it's worthwhile asking anyone you meet on the river as this could save you a lot of time and possible frustration.


I now use 10ft rods rated #7-8 for most of my seatrout fishing. Some anglers prefer a longer, 10 1/2 - 11Ft one but a lot depends on your physique and the strength of your wrist - using a rod that is too long for you can be very tiring. Choose a rod with a medium or middle to tip action, one that will give you plenty of `feel` on the backcast (for night fishing). I prefer not to use expensive rods for night fishing, especially on association water - it is so easy ( for both you and others ) to step on your rod in the dark following the excitement of landing a fish.

I will use a #8 floating or sink tip line during the day but prefer a #9 for night or when fishing narrow parts of the river as this will load the rod quicker and is easier for the `lift off, put on` style of casting. Try to learn not to have to false cast. False casts at night will load your leader with 'wind knots' in no time, also each false cast shoots a spray of water droplets onto the water - not a great 'stealth' technique ! Another danger with false casting at night is that it's all too easy to smack the water with the forward one.

The reels I prefer are the geared Shakespeare `Speedex`* (2:1 gearing) as these give you a bit more of a chance to keep in touch with the fish when they come screaming back towards you after a long run. Both Diawa and Youngs also market a similar model (actually they are all made by Youngs). There are two versions of these reels, a narrow spool version and a wide spool version (approximately 1" wide). The wide spool version is best as this will hold a #9 WF line plus sufficient backing.

*Since writing the above, these reels have gone out of production but good examples can still be picked up second hand.

While on the subject of reels, large arbour reels look great and probably do help with line memory to some extent but, on the wide shallow drum that these reels have, unless you lay the line carefully as you wind, it can pile up on one side of the drum to the extent that the top coils fall off the heap and the next time the fish runs the line may tangle jamming the reel. When you are reeling like mad to try to keep up with a fish running towards you in the dark, you tend to forget to `lay` the line evenly (you can't see it even if you did have the time). Using a traditional style of reel with its deep and narrower spool the line tends to 'self lay' and seldom causes a problem.

Whatever type of reel you use always make sure it is well maintained and oiled or greased so there is no chance of it jamming when a fish runs.

I commented on not using your best rod for night fishing, the same thing goes for lines. As there is seldom any need to make long casts at night there is not any need for fancy tapers or super slick coatings also, I am sure you can imagine how easy it is to destroy a flyline by trampling it to death on the shingle that you find by spate rivers. For many years I have used `mill ends` from Mularky`s - these are cheap and not such a loss if damaged. The faults are usually only slight colour marks or the odd surface blemish - nothing that will affect their performance.

The other benefit of buying cheap mill-ends is that as well as a floater you can buy a slow and a fast sinker to cut up to make sink tips of different length and densities without worrying about the cost of getting it wrong. A braided loop fitted to both ends will enable a quick change of length and/or density and will be easy to manipulate in the dark or the dim light of a torch. If the loops are impregnated with a rubber based adhesive (Evo-Stick etc.), this will reduce any tendency to "hinge" at the connection points - a dusting of talcum powder once the glue is dry (before first use) will avoid the loops sticking to each other. Carrying a range of sink tips (15Ft.-5Ft.) in different densities will equip you to cover most situations and obviates the need to carry two rods at night, an important factor for me as I like to keep my options open - on a night when the pools may be occupied by other anglers I will work my way down a section of river just fishing the runs. This would be difficult if carrying two rods and would result in a lot of tedium and time wasting.

A white or light coloured line is very useful at night. Backing - at least 100yds. I use 20-30 BS nylon but the usual braided stuff is OK.

A landing net is, in my opinion, an absolute essential and this should be of large diameter - a 15Lb. Seatrout will have a length of approximately 30 inches and attempting to land such a fish with a trout sized net will only end in tears. My preference is for the largest size Gye type net - foolproof and simple to use even in the dark.


Firstly you have to forget what you have learnt about river trout fishing or any other form of fishing for 'Normal' fish. Seatrout (and salmon) won't be where you would expect to find other fish - their priorities are different. Normal fish will be where they can expect food - our fish are not really interested in food so will try to find a comfortable lie where there is plenty of Oxygen, not too strong a current ( but this could be in front of or behind a submerged rock in a fast run) and as much concealment as the other conditions allow for. Under the trees on the deeper far side of the river is favourite. They can also often be found resting beneath a surface disturbance - where a tree branch dips into the water and causes a 'V' wake.

Daytime Fishing.

In daylight we fish down the runs between pools using a sink tip, intermediate or slow sinking line depending on how much water there is. That said, most times I use a floating line with looped on sink tips of various lengths and densities although, if the river is running really high and fast, I might then use a full sinking line. Unless the river is running high or coloured, don't waste too much time fishing the pools, you will seldom do any good there during the day (plus there is the possibility you may unsettle the fish - something to consider if you plan to fish the pool later that night).
Fish every run regardless of how shallow it looks, even the thinnest water will have fish in it somewhere - a favourite resting spot is at the bottom of a run, in the fast, broken water just before the run-in to the next pool - inches of water but with the odd pocket big enough to hold a fish.

KEEP LOW - never `skyline` yourself. Wading during the day will put you closer to the water and less easy to be seen, but balance this against getting too close to the fish. Wade quietly and slowly and remember these fish have a heightened sense of self preservation - they will usually see you before you see them! This is a bit obvious, but in order to blend in, wear the drabbest gear you have. I say this after seeing two visitors, one wearing an almost white `rezza` style waistcoat, the other a Gortex wading jacket in pale blue and bright turquoise, wading in bright sunshine within ten foot of an undercut bank which I knew contained about thirty good fish. When I stopped to say hello they were bemoaning the fact that they "hadn't had a pull all day" !!!

Use small to very small flies ( 14, 12 ... or 10 if the river is higher - singles, doubles or fly trebles ). Patterns which work well locally - Silver Stoat, Munro's Killer, Teal Blue & Silver (or Medicine), Yellow & Black and the Haslem, about 8- 10 lbs.B.S. leader should do.

Try to get your flies to land within a foot or so of the far bank, casting downstream and across and, if you can, avoid false casting. Take about three or four steps between casts and if you see a fish move, don't fall into the trap of stopping to cast and re-cast across it. This will only put the fish down. If it does not take first time, it`s not going to - just carry on down the run and later (15-30 minutes or so ) fish through again with a different fly.

Persevere, sometimes we can go for hours without a take - they can be weird fish. When you do get a take (it will probably catch you quite unawares), as soon as you are sure the hook is home, LET THE FISH RUN. Don't try to hold it hard or slow it down too much, let it tire itself against the reel check and the flex of the rod but be on guard for the quick stop, leap and fast return rush.

Night-time Fishing

If the river is at or around summer level, night fishing offers the best chance of catching.

At night I use sparsely dressed hairwing tubes of about 1" - 1.75" armed with trebles size 14 - 10. Patterns - Silver stoat, Black & White and Squirrel & Silver should do plus a surface lure - a largish, bushy, Muddler or a very heavily dressed, lightweight plastic tube often work well around here but anything that will make a wake as it swings round with the current will do … even a short piece of a twig.

When I first began night fishing I used to fish two flies but nowadays only fish the one. I reckon there are enough problems involved in fishing in the dark without adding the tangling and snagging ability of a fly on a dropper!

Remember that Seatrout (and Salmon) just like every other creature (including ourselves) cannot see colours in the dark so don't worry too much about the pattern of fly, just the size, profile and how well you present it. I use a leader about 10` long - B.S. 10-12 lbs !!! ( big fish run my local river - my largest on fly = 19 lbs.) Usually I use a floating line  but will swap to an appropriate length sinktip in faster runs or, when fishing a pool, if the fish have "gone down" later in the night.

Wade extra carefully at night - even more quietly than in daylight - try not to make ripples even (to the fish, ripples could mean Otter or Mink). Cast carefully - you will usually be fishing a deepish, slowish pool or a long slow glide where a splashy cast can put the fish down for a couple of hours.

Reccy the pool in daylight, wade down it so that you know that it is safe to do so (if you have to wade that is - try not to if possible), measure your casts so that in the dark you don't cast short or end up playing a tree on the far bank. The easy way to measure is to make your cast then pull in the line in `standard measures` (i.e. an arm length pull or from your rod to your thigh - anything you can reproduce consistently without looking) then at night all you have to do is pull out the same number of pulls from your reel to hit the spot. You must of course measure from the same place so make a note of a landmark such as an unusual or white rock nearby on the river bed ( you will see it at night.).

At night you will be casting almost `square` across the pool and letting your fly (tube) drift slowly round in what little current there is - it sometimes takes an age for it to do so but let it swing right round to the dangle before retrieving (watch the line at the rod tip and/or feel the pull of the current on the line).

Don`t start too early, even when fish are `splooshing` in the pool you must be patient. Wait until you can no longer distinguish the green of foliage at the very least. Fish slowly and carefully right through the pool including the tail - be extra careful here as it will be getting shallower and wait until it is as dark as it's going to get before fishing it. A lot of fish will move out of their daytime hideaways into the tail area provided they are not disturbed by an impatient angler.

Try not to use a light, I have learnt to thread a tube, thread through the eye of the hook and tie a `grinner` knot all by feel - it`s not as hard as it sounds, anyone can do it given practice. Even a dim light will reduce the night vision you will have acquired in the hours of darkness, a light that can be seen by the fish will put them down - and that includes a red light!

Carry a good torch to help you back after your session but be careful where you point it, there may be others fishing and they will not appreciate having their pool lit up!

If there is any heavy colour in the water (cloudy with suspended solids - a light peat stain is not so bad) don`t bother, have an early night and prepare for what could be excellent fishing the next day. Coloured water doesn't matter so much in daytime fishing - I know that even when I can only just see the boot of my waders in 10 inches of water, the fish will see a size 12 or 10 fly in a fast run.! A bit of colour in the water means that fish will most likely be running and will have more confidence in the daylight.

Night fishing requires more concentration than fishing in daylight so it's important that you eliminate any unnecessary distractions. Comfort is a major factor so don't weigh yourself down with unnecessary tackle – keep it as simple as possible, particularly if you plan to be mobile and cover a lot of water (fishing the runs). Wear appropriate clothing - even on summer nights the temperature can drop significantly to that of daytime so try to take account of this. A hat can protect you from a low flying hook should you occasionally miss-time a cast (does happen at night) and a loop of string attached to your reading spectacles (if you need these to tie on a fly) will keep them handy and safe.

If you are planning a long night a small flask of coffee or tea and a biscuit or two will help to fend off tiredness and fatigue.

Lastly, there is one item of tackle every angler who fishes alone at night should carry and that is a loud whistle. This should be attached to a lanyard (piece of string) and stowed in an easily accessible pocket. Accidents can happen and if you should be so unfortunate to slip and break a leg or suffer a similar serious accident then your whistle, the sound of which will carry a long way at night, could be a life saver.


If fishing with a companion, don't worry about following each other down a run in the day or through a pool at night, just space yourselves well. Very often the first man down can stir the fish, get them awake, and the second catches.

Before attempting your first night outing, practice casting in the dark if you can or with your eyes closed if you can't. It seems that most beginners to night fishing tend speed up their casting in the dark, especially the back cast. Even though you know that where you are fishing the back cast is clear, in the dark you always get the feeling that those trees on the daytime horizon are going to sneak up right behind you and snag your fly. Let the feel of the rod tell you how your casting is going and if things start to go wrong just tell yourself to Slow Down - do it often.

 Well, that's about it for now. It may sound a bit daunting but once you start you'll soon get into it - and once you've caught your first, thrashing, leaping, tearaway 10 pounder on the darkest night, we won't be able to keep you away.

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