Sea trout in fast-flowing freestone rivers

Attempting to describe one particular river as being a typical sea trout water is virtually impossible. The fish run any river system with clean water and enough gravelly headwaters for spawning.

At one time sea trout ran most of the rivers in the British Isles. Now, however, the runs are more often associated with west coast rivers, although some on the east coast – such as the Scottish Dee, Spey and Tweed – have prodigious numbers.

The River Lyn in Devon, the Glaslyn in Wales, the Kent in Cumbria and the Echaig in Scotland are sea trout rivers which could serve as suitable models. There are many more, but in character they are all very sim- ilar: boulder-strewn rivers that die away to near trickles in summer but, following substantial rains, become transformed into raging torrents.

When and where?

The peak runs of sea trout occur in June, July and August, so if you are planning a week’s fishing holiday, mid July is your best all-round choice.

Water height is of paramount importance to the upstream movement of fish on most rivers. Until the first significant floods of late May and early June, there is no considerable influx of sea trout into the river systems.

Sea trout don’t spread themselves evenly throughout rivers from the onset of these spates. Drought years concentrate fish in the lower beats and estuary until late in the season. Some river systems — in particular the big rivers — have genuine early and late runs of sea trout. The River Tweed system is a good example.

Once in the rivers, sea trout show a marked preference for pools with sluggish, deep water. They stay here during the day, especially if this section is blessed with a tree canopy. The fish love shaded pools where they can lie with some security from prying eyes.

A typical pool has a fast-water run at the throat, leading into a deep, tree-covered central part which in turn runs off into a long shallow tail.

During the daylight hours most fish are concentrated in deep water. But as night approaches they tend to move up into faster water at the throat of the pool and also drop back into the pool’s tail.

The trout won’t move all together: the deep water always holds fish. The best lies in the pool are usually tenanted by the better-quality specimens which may not actually leave the pool at all during the night.

As the night progresses, sea trout again swim to deep water and then have a tendency to stay put until first light when, once again for a short period, they move into the fast water at the throat and tail of the pool.

For anyone new to a section of river, there is no substitute for daylight reconnaissance to locate fish – provided the water clarity allows for it. Take careful note of the positions of sea trout, so you know where to fish your fly or spinner during the night.

Some truly wild rivers have deep, slightly coloured water and steep, tree-lined banks which don’t make reconnaissance easy. But there is no need to despair: sea trout are very obliging in betraying their presence. As darkness falls, you can often hear them jumping and splashing repeatedly in the gathering gloom. Again, mark well the position of the leaping sounds, and concentrate your angling efforts there. is clearly defined by the fish themselves. Suddenly, as if a switch were thrown, the pools become lifeless – though the occasional fish may splash in the darkness.

Sea trout are loath to respond to a surface fly, and the angler must now revert to a deeply sunk lure up to 7.5cm (3in) long, fish it very slowly on a sunk line, and stick to the deep-water sections of the pool or to specific lies that you have noted previously. The third phase doesn’t last long – from the first signs of dawn into proper daylight. Sea trout activity during this period is generally confined to the faster water at the throat of a pool when the fish once again respond to the same tactics as in phase one.

Whenever you fish, be careful when wading into a fast-flowing river at night. Always carry a reliable torch and a sturdy wading stick with a rope handle.

Why fish at night?

Before deciding on a strategy to catch sea trout, you must accept one strange fact: the fish don’t feed while in fresh water. So how do you go about catching a non-feeding fish, you may well ask? If it is not feeding why does it take any form of lure? This is a puzzling question. But as the sea trout can’t tell us themselves, we’ll have to accept that they do and be thankful.

Sea trout are very shy, nighty and wary creatures. Although they can be caught during daylight, they are much more responsive to lures at night. They feed heavily at sea at dawn and dusk and continue to be active at these times. But this memory dims with time in freshwater. They become progressively more and more difficult to catch the longer they’re in the river.

Your best time to take fish, therefore, is directly after a summer spate when the water has dropped and cleared and when the stocks have been replenished from fresh-run fish. At this time they can be very obliging and easily caught. But three weeks later they can be totally different propositions and very difficult indeed.

Times for fishing

There are three distinct phases to sea trout behaviour from dusk to early morning. The first phase is from dusk to three hours later when sea trout are very active. They rove, splash about in the pools and are responsive to a fly fished quite fast and close to the surface.

The second phase runs from three or so hours after dusk until the first signs of dawn appear in the eastern sky. This period