You will need a lot of initial luck just to find your fish, and then a certain strength of nerve to stand in a running river, at the dead of night, feeling for a pull on the line.
A good motto for the angler seeking sea trout today would be, ‘First find a sea trout river!’ The sea trout’s environment, like that of the salmon, is slowly being eroded; and where it abounds its runs and migrations tend to be more fickle and unpredictable than previously. So the angler must do some intensive homework: to find an adequate sea trout river and then, miraculously, contrive to be on the river when the sea trout is in the pools of his own beat.
Many dedicated sea trout anglers feel that fly fishing for sea trout with a floating line presents the ultimate angling challenge in Britain today. This must be a matter of opinion and opportunity, but undoubtedly the sea trout is one of the shyest fish to inhabit our waters. For this reason, most sea trout fishing, in normal to low water, is done under cover of darkness.
The ideal sea-trout rod is single-handed and about 10ft long. It should be rigged with a No 7 double or forward taper line, attached to a 9ft monofilament leader of not less than 6 lb b.s. To this tie on a No 10 single or double-hooked fly. Add waders and net and the sea trout angler is ready for the fray.
Patterns of sea trout fly are legion. Most anglers have their favourites, but there is little doubt that the angler is much more fussy in this respect than the fish. In the dark it sees the fly as only a vague silhouette, so it is size and not colour which is more important.
There is a magic about the eerie dusk of a summer evening. The best nights often come after a sharp but warm shower of rain, when it is cloudy rather than clear and a myriad of insects are dancing over the water. But do not be in a hurry to begin fishing. While it is still light, and with a discreet reconnaissance, establish where the sea trout are lying – but do not assume that they will stay put as darkness descends. Initial activity from the fish often takes the form of splashing or surface rises. This is the signal to start. Concentrate at first on the streamier sections of the river and leave the quiet glides and tails until full darkness.
Make your first cast out to a point slightly downstream and across the current. Further casts will have to be made in the dark, so it pays to stick a small piece of cotton wool on to the line to indicate the correct amount to use. With a little practice, the angler can sense when everything is going right, but even the experts experience the most diabolical tangles. When tangles happen, the best remedy is to retire well away from the water and, with the aid of a torch, exchange the leader and fly for another cast ready made up. Care must be taken not to let the torch beams show anywhere near the water. This can put sea trout down quickly.
On a good night, it is not long before the angler feels a determined tug. If the fish is properly hooked there may then follow a hair-raising display when the fish seems to be more out of the water than in it. The rod suddenly arches into a taut bow, the fish pulhng with frenzied runs and leaps. Fresh-run sea trout, however, have very tender mouths, and not all fish which pull at the fly are successfully hooked. Even many of those that are escape when the hook comes free during a twisting leap. The thrill of hooking and playing a spirited sea trout in the inky darkness never loses its excitement. The catch might be anything from £lb to a specimen topping 10 lb, providing not only excellent sport but also gourmet fare.
The undisputed authority on sea trout fishing today is Hugh Falkus. In his book Sea Trout Fishing he divides the night into three distinct sections, which he calls ‘first-half (before midnight), ‘half-time’ (up to about lam), and ‘second-half (from lam until dawn). These periods reflect the changing habits of the sea trout during the night. The fish are active at the surface during the early night, retiring to deeper water after midnight. During the ‘first-half, therefore, the angler should use a surface fly on a floating line. Thenl follows ‘half-time’ when the fish are uncooperative. This is the time for the angler to take a brief rest, have a dram of whisky, and change his line for one that sinks. For the rest of the night a subsurface fly is generally the most productive lure.
Try a big tandem lure
After 2am it is also worth while to try a big tandem lure fished deep. This lure represents a small fish and will often bring a response from some of the biggest fish in the water. The takes may be more gentle and delicate than to the subsurface fly, so all suggestions of an offer should be treated with a firm strike.
Not all sea trout fishing is practis-ed at night. Following a flood, when the water is falling and clearing, it is frequently possible to make good catches in daytime with the type of fly used for brown trout. This, however, is opportunist fishing in with fishing limited to the period between 9am and 5pm. Unless the angler can have a boat all to himself, he should try for a position in the stern. The gillie will row the boat across the wind. This enables the angler at the rear to let his flies swing well round before making a new cast. The angler in the bow, however, needs to make his cast a moment or two earlier. The dif-ference may seem of little signifi-cance to the casual observer; but when these tactics are employed, the angler in the stern of the boat has a distinct advantage over his compa-nion in the bow. The ratio of catches has been known to be as high as five to one.
Again, the choice of fly pattern is of little consequence and the most important factors to be established are that there are fresh stocks of sea trout in the water. July and August make excellent months for Hebri-dean fishing and the weather there is rarely so warm as to make fishing impossible. Most days offer their quota of strong winds and squally rain showers – just the medicine to keep summer sea trout active!
Other tactics involve spinners and worms. A small Mepps spoon is particularly good, spun in much the same way as for salmon. A worm is perhaps even more productive. Both can be deadly in slightly coloured water in daytime, but local know-ledge of where to fish is essential, and this is not quickly learned by the casual visitor.
The fly, therefore, is not only the most aesthetically pleasing bait to most sportsmen, it is also the most effective sea trout method over a season. But the season is all too short. In many years it is possible to number on one hand those few nights when conditions are ideal. Such rarity prompted the anony-mous comment that ‘When condi-tions are right, there is nothing that will get the dedicated sea trout angler to bed – not even a new wife!’