Sea Trout - “As Darkness Falls”: John Slader, Orvis Head Ghillie, sheds some light on the enigmatic sea trout
“Of all fish and fishing this for me is the very top,” a quote from the late Hugh Falkus when describing fly fishing for sea trout at night. Well, whatever your view this method of fishing undoubtedly provides a challenge, not to mention a sense of excitement and satisfaction when your efforts are eventually rewarded.
The Sea Trout is a migratory brown trout when, having spent time feeding at sea where weight is gained quickly, it returns to its river of origin for the sole purpose of spawning. Generally, the larger sea trout enter the river as early as April or May with the smaller fish following-on some weeks later, and spawning occurring in October or November.
It is typical to fish for sea trout in rivers at night – and they say the darker the night, the better. This poses the fisherman some obvious problems, with safety being of paramount importance. Never venture on to the river in darkness without having fully acquainted yourself in daylight with the beat you aim to fish. If you intend to wade, carry a staff, wear a life jacket, know your river entry and exit points and be sure to record and monitor the height of the river. Spate rivers can rise at an alarming rate, especially following a summer storm. You should definitely talk to the local shop, guide or club members about the river you intend to fish and how it reacts to rain. Finally, always protect your eyes with clear glasses when casting a fly at night and carry a torch - but take care not to shine it on the water.
Another benefit of careful reconnaissance is that sea trout can often be located by day, giving you a distinct advantage when it comes to choosing a place to fish. Though, do have a second spot in reserve just in case the pool is occupied when you arrive later.
Sea trout are spooky by nature and scatter at the first sign of disturbance. Any heavy handed casting will be prejudicial, so it's worth spending sometime beforehand ironing out any casting faults. If it can go wrong, it's guaranteed to happen at night and there is no fun in sorting out tangles or renewing leaders in pitch darkness. Remember too the Spey cast. It's not reserved exclusively for salmon anglers and comes in very useful with a single handed rod when high banks or vegetation restrict overhead casting. In this regard, my Clearwater 9'6” 7-weight has never let me down. To this I match weight forward (WF) lines in both floating and sinking density though there are times when a sinking tip can prove invaluable.
Whilst fly choice needs consideration, it's far more important to concentrate on fly size, weight and shape. Placing emphasis on this, I'd advise you to carry a small selection of flies tied in a variety of sizes from 4–12. Classic patterns such as the Medicine, Stoats Tail, and Bloody Butcher all have a proven track record and can be fished with confidence.
As a rule, early in the evening or during periods of bright moonlight, smaller flies on a floating line work best. When cloud cover persists, or on those darker nights, switching to larger flies can prove to be a shrewd move. The accepted method is to cast to the far bank (downstream and across) then allow the current to swing the fly across the flow into the near bank. In low (slow) water conditions it maybe necessary to induce some movement by retrieving.
Pool tails are a good starting point and if sea trout are present they often betray themselves by jumping whilst in low water. You may also be lucky enough to hear them negotiating the riffles as they enter a pool. As the night progresses, if fish activity wanes, move to deeper water in the body of the pool and try a cast. Here you may need to fish deeper with a sinking or sink tip line and a large lure (e.g. tube fly or Hugh Falkus' sunk lure). In contrast, a surface pattern fished on a floating line often tempts the fish.
On arriving at the river bank, waiting for darkness to descend, there is an air of anticipation and an eagerness to get the fly in the water. This is where patience plays a role. Refrain from starting too early and when that magical moment does arrive don't rush, just go in quietly. In my book a frightened fish rarely takes the fly.
Finally, do give consideration to the practice of catch and release, particularly with regard to larger fish (i.e. multiple spawners). It is vital that the genetic purity of sea trout stock be maintained for future generations.