Starting Out for Sea Trout
Notes for an absolute beginner
by Dave Wallbridge (aka Silver
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
Sea Trout Articles