Fly fishing for sea trout - sea run brown trout in Scotland
- the prince of fish

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Sea trout fishing (article and photos by Ally Gowans)

sea trout fishing
Sea trout fishing

Sea trout are the same species as resident brown trout, (Salmo trutta). In rivers that have good spawning and juvenile habitat, trout have learned that migrating to sea to feed on a rich diet makes them grow large and strong. In freshwater during daylight sea trout tend to be shy, spooky fish unless the river is high. Always approach holding water with caution because once frightened it is very unlikely that they will take a fly. The angler should attempt to blend into the background by wearing inconspicuous clothes and using the cover of the bank-side vegetation to the best advantage. Avoid being silhouetted against the sky for that will ruin your chances.

Like salmon, sea trout prefer to enter rivers when the water is a suitable height for them to run upstream and reach holding pools. There the trout will gather in shoals, lying low during daylight and becoming active around dusk and dawn. Often they continue their upstream migration during the cover of darkness. If you want to catch them, the best times are when the fish are active. Daytime sport is finest when the river is at a good height for them running. Rising water is not good, the dirt seems to put both salmon and sea trout off the take. Once the river level starts to fall and the colour starts to clear, fly fishing conditions improve.

Let's examine fly tactics from when a spate begins to recede and continue through the series of conditions that might occur and relevant tactics. Imagine that rain has made the river high, fast and coloured. Sea trout will be sheltering in quiet water. Look for them in the margins or in seams of gentle current where they can rest. Perhaps behind a boulder, or on the slack on the inside of a corner, or maybe in the slower water of a pool tail. It is unlikely that trout will be lying in deep water in these conditions, they have no need to hide in dark holes because predators cannot see them.

The secret is to find where the trout are, select a fly that they will see and present it to them at the correct depth and speed. Control the depth and speed by choosing a suitable line sink rate. My choice is usually a type 2 sinking line or a sink tip line. If the river is shallow a slow sink or intermediate line is ideal. I don't use heavy flies for sea trout fishing, preferring instead to use the line density to gain depth. I prefer lightly dressed flies that will move freely in a lifelike manner.

It is possible to fish with a team of two or even three wet flies provided that you are willing to accept the risk of tangles or getting hooked up on a snag whilst playing a lively sea trout. The advantage of using more than one fly is that you can give the fish a choice of size and pattern and if conditions are changing, hedging your bets is a smart idea. I limit myself to two flies on a three metre long leader in conjunction with a rod of 9ft 6ins or 10ft. Single, double or treble hooked flies are can be used. Sometimes I use a treble as a point fly with a double on the dropper. I never use a tube fly or a treble on the dropper because they tangle around the leader. Long shank single hooks are ideal for Muddler Minnows or small lures.

It is essential that fish see the fly so in coloured water so it pays to use showy patterns. In muddy water, I like silver-bodied flies. Especially those with jungle cock cheeks. Alexandria, Teal Blue & Silver, Teal & Silver, Executioner and Silver Stoats Tail are good choices. Sizes can be larger than normal, up to #6 hook or a slim bodied tube fly up 35mm long armed with a small treble. In spate conditions the flies can be fished slowly, in fact it is sometimes difficult to slow them down enough due to the fast current so the cast can be made at a fairly acute downstream angle and be allowed to settle into the slower water beneath the surface.

When the water starts to clear, the size of flies can be reduced to #10 or #12 and they need not be so flashy, particularly during daylight. If the water is peaty flies with orange and gold in their dressing are best. My favourites are Dunkeld, Hairwing Wickhams Fancy and a slim orange & black hairwing tube fly (tied in quarters) with a gold body.

Any of the above flies in smaller sizes are suitable for fishing in low, clear water. However if the trout have been in the river for a time they can become quite picky and subtle imitations may be required to entice them. Patterns such as Greenwells Glory, Invicta, Silver Invicta, Dark Mackerel, Grey Monkey and Mallard & Claret are good choices.

sea trout fishing
Fresh run sea trout

Tiny tube flies with minute trebles can be deadly but you have to accept that with hooks #18 or the like, the trout will often shake itself free. Coloured trout, having been in fresh water for a time have tougher mouths and less fighting energy so there is more chance of landing them. Tubes can be tied on small diameter polythene tube so short that there is no room for a body. The fly consists merely of a little hair around the tube. Again the black & orange colour combination is good as is black & blue and all black. If the fly is long enough to have a body, black floss with a silver rib is as good as any. If I had to choose only one clear water tube pattern for the rivers I fish (which are peaty in nature) it would have black and orange wings with a body of black floss (front two thirds) and yellow floss (rear one third) and a silver rib.

For many anglers the quintessence of sea trout is night fishing. Some planning is essential however. Safety depends on seeing the pools in daylight, figuring out where the trout will be concentrated and where it is safe to wade. Look around for overhanging bushes that will reach out and grab your flies in the dark and trees that will devour your back cast. Choose pools that suffer little disturbance during daylight. Sea trout that have are settled are much more willing to rise to the fly than those that have been harried during the day.

At night keep your casting simple and reasonably short, throw open loops that prevent tangles especially if you have two flies on the leader. Roll casting and Spey casting are great methods because they eliminate the need for high back casts that risk loosing flies up trees. Always arrive an hour before sundown and sit quietly by the river observing. Mark the locations of fish that are rising and decide what flies and techniques you are going to use. Put up your rod complete with leader and fly or flies attached. Then if you have not already prepared spare leaders and flies, do it now. I use leader sink compound to ensure that the leader and flies sink immediately I start fishing. This avoids surface disturbance on glassy tail outs, which is likely to spook the trout.

Shining a torch onto the water will frighten every fish within sight. Shield its glare from the river and always go ashore quietly if you need to use the torch. Test your torch. I like to take a spare one just in case a bulb fails. My torch is attached to my jacket by a piece of old fly line to prevent it getting lost. My scissors and hook hone are similarly attached to me.

In many cases there is no need to wade deeply at night. Confident with the cover of darkness the trout will often swim into water only inches deep where they can be taken with a softly presented fly. Move carefully and slowly making as little disturbance and noise as possible on the gravel and beware of tripping over stones, slipping or loosing balance. Cast quietly and work your flies through the glides, sooner or later that heart stopping solid thump of a lively sea trout will come and you'll be glad that you prepared well.

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Copyright 2007 Alastair Gowans AAPGAI and FFF Master and THCI, APGAI. All rights reserved.