An article by Alun Rees.
Although Seatrout are caught in daylight using a variety of methods, the most enjoyable and by far the most productive method used to catch this elusive fish is with the fly at night. To the initiated, this is quite an obvious statement. Night-time is when Seatrout come out to play and dedicated anglers lose more hair/smoke far too many cigarettes/bite nails until they bleed*/discuss divorce arrangements*/jump with joy*/decide to take up golf* (* delete where applicable!). To the uninitiated, night time is when sane people are tucked up in bed reading a good book about fishing or fly-tying, reliving the last cast or lost fish. For these stay at home anglers darkness is a strange environment.
Until you can come to terms with fishing at night, you will miss a great deal of valuable insight and catch far fewer fish. It’s an environment where every blade of grass and tree branch is hell-bent on grabbing your fly. Strange unexplained sounds and rustles can make an angler so apprehensive and nervous that they leave the river and head for home; missing out on the cream of the sport. This need not happen, however. If you do decide to give the fly at night ago, some of the techniques you will need to learn and develop are wading, casting accurately with different styles and trusting to hearing and touch as opposed to sight. In this article, I hope to convey to your methods that I employ in my approach to both familiar and unfamiliar waters in pursuit of Seatrout.
As with all angling, we need a venue that holds our chosen quarry. There are many Rivers throughout the United Kingdom that have runs of migratory fish. In some Salmon predominate. In others, especially in Wales, the Seatrout is King.
You can never hope to master a single River in a ten lifetimes let alone the one that we have. If you take the River Teifi in West Wales, it’s over eighty miles long and contains numerous pools, riffles glides and runs. In the time that you have to fish in a season, you will end up being so frustrated at chasing fish hither and thither that you will achieve absolutely nothing constructive and probably decide to go back to whatever you were doing before taking up this idiotic branch of fly fishing!
All Rivers are unique, both in their makeup and in the environment that they are located. However, each River will contain elements that are found on any River in the world: there will be riffles and runs, long quiet glides and pools.
As with all the friends I have introduced to Seatrout fishing, my advice to them is the same to you; on your chosen venue, select a small stretch of perhaps half a mile that contains maybe two pools, some fast water and a glide. When you think about it, that’s all the variety of elements that you are likely to meet on any River anywhere. Use it to your advantage. If you learn to fish this half-mile stretch in all conditions from early season and high water to low water in the height of summer then you can apply the tactics and skills learnt or discovered here, with variations to cater for water depth and speed, to similar stretches elsewhere on your chosen venue or any other venue for that matter. It’s plain common sense really!
On any migratory River, these elements will all hold Seatrout at sometime throughout the season. The question you have to ask yourself is why? Why do some pools hold more fish than others? Why do fish lie in certain areas time after time and shun the remaining areas? Why? Why? Why? To some of these questions, there is no answer. Particular questions can be answered by reading articles like this one to find out how other anglers have overcome their problem. To others, observation will hold the key.
Observation and Reconnaissance
Observation and reconnaissance can take many forms. It can be as simple as a flash of a fish as you are walking past a pool to actually watching an angler cast, hook and land a fish from the pool that you have chosen to fish. Whichever form it takes though, it will all help to formulate a picture in your mind of what is happening on your chosen river.
There are clear indicators that will help you in identifying where to decide to fish. Walk into any tackle shop and just ask “Any fish been caught lately?” and you are sure to get a reply. Talk to other anglers; we all like to impress upon one another how good we are and boast of how many fish we have caught. Walk the Riverbank in daylight trying to spot fish. At the same time have a look at the Riverbank and try to identify signs where anglers have accessed the pools. Worn banks indicate popular fishing spots. Why? Obviously, because fish hold in this pool and are caught there on a regular basis!
In addition to this, when walking the Riverbank, try to identify obstacles or bottlenecks. In the early part of the season when the water is high, a block-stone weir or other man-made feature might not appear to be an obstacle. This will not be the case in the height of Summer when the River is but a trickle of its former self. You can guarantee that downstream of any obstacle will be a good holding spot for fish!
I cannot emphasise enough the importance of regular reconnaissance. It’s time that is never wasted. What’s more by acquainting yourself with the River and surroundings in daylight, it will make the unfamiliar, familiar by night.
Although in a previous article I touched upon the migratory cycle of the Seatrout, I failed to mention anything about their behaviour.
It has been written in many books and discussed at great length in many articles in the angling press whether Seatrout feed in freshwater? I’m sure everyone has an opinion on the subject. In the many years that I have pursued Seatrout, strangely I have never once given it a second thought. I can honestly say that I have never carried out an autopsy on a fish to confirm or deny it either. This, I feel, has a great impact on where fish choose to lie in Rivers. Why?
Seatrout and Salmon enter our Rivers for one reason and one reason alone: to spawn. Some fish enter the River systems as early as February, some as late as November. It is not until the water has cooled sufficiently, November or December, that you will see fish on the Redds laying their eggs. For those fish that enter the River system prior to this time, I believe the need to conserve energy is paramount. Taking this into account will help identify where Seatrout will lie.
If we take a typical pool, ideally it consists of a fast run in, commonly referred to as the head, the main body that is usually much deeper and slower water and the tail where there is a smooth run out before tumbling into the next pool. You will find active fish in all three areas at some time during the night. I recommend that you learn to fish all three with a variety of methods.
Taking the head of the pool first. Because of the broken water, it will be difficult to locate fish. However, come dusk and the first hours of darkness, providing conditions are right, fish will congregate here and ready themselves to run the fast water eager to get the next step of their journey to the spawning beds underway. This will not be the only time that fish will congregate here. In times of low water, due to the oxygenating action of the rapids above, the Seatrout’s need to survive will overcome the requirement to conserve energy. I have to admit, however, that in my experience, running fish are rarely taking fish. This also applies to any stretch of fast broken water.
Looking at the pool tail, we typically have a stretch of smooth water that has a good flow of water that gradually decreases in depth before emptying into the next run. It is because of this smooth expanse of undisturbed water that we can spot fish easily. As with the head above, we can ambush fish that are fresh into the pool. I will add that although you might see fish, getting them to take is a different matter. It is often recommended that anglers only fish the tails of pools because fish sometimes drop back from the main body and fresh fish always rest in the tail prior to continuing they journey upstream; two opportunities not to be missed. To get the cream of the sport and largest specimens, however, I concentrate most time and effort on the main body of a pool.
If you think back to the theory on the conservation of energy, wherein a typical pool would the most comfortable lies exist? In the slower deeper water of the main body! Believe it or not, there is a pecking order amongst Seatrout. This is more apparent in the main body of a pool than anywhere else. There has been many a time that friends and I have witnessed how the larger fish lie further into the pool and as you get nearer the pool tail, the size decreases. This status quo doesn’t stay static, however. If a larger fish runs into the pool, it often upsets the resident shoal who then jockey for position: showing themselves by leaping high into the air and crashing back to jostle for the next best position. It is at this time that we introduce our lure and hopefully gets a positive reaction. Most pools are tree-lined. Get a pair of polarised sunglasses on and start climbing. Anyone of those trees will provide the ideal position to survey the pool from and reveal its hidden treasure. You can apply this to any glide as well.
It’s all very well me advising you where to look for fish, but what if they are in a position that you can’t reach with your casting skills? Just wade deeper? Sometimes this is acceptable. However, if you fish on heavily fished association waters as I do, it would be inconsiderate and totally selfish of me to spoil the water for others anglers fishing behind. Something I’d never do.
To this end, I have adapted and “mastered” a range of casts that I utilise for various situations. Sometimes the overhead cast will suffice if there is no obstruction behind. Most of the time, however, I find myself using the switch cast, roll cast, single haul, double haul, steeple cast, single Spey, double Spey and snake roll. To an observer, they might not appear correctly in the true sense of the cast, but they all get my flies to the places where I want them with the minimum of fuss and more importantly with as little disturbance as possible. If you don’t feel that your casting skills are up to it, don’t despair, spend an hour or so with an APGAI approved casting instructor. It’ll be money well spent.
Wading, Noise, Light Pollution and Etiquette
It wouldn’t be wise of me to wish you tight lines just yet without covering some safety and courtesy aspects.
When it comes to wading, it is very easy to become overconfident and lose all common sense trying to get deep enough to avoid trees behind or that extra yard because you can’t quite reach the fish. Beware! I am extremely careful when wading and yet have had numerous soakings doing exactly what I have just said! After the fact it can be extremely humorous especially if you are fishing with so-called friends!! If you are sensible about it, on your daylight reconnaissance you will wade the stretch prior to fishing especially if the territory is unfamiliar. Use a wading stick and some form of floatation device. Try to keep disturbance to a minimum otherwise, you will only send the Seatrout back to the Sea!
Fishing for Seatrout at night implies that fishing takes place in the dark. I wear a headlamp that I occasionally use to find my way around the bank, especially in overgrown vegetation. I also use it to get in and out of precarious wading positions especially if it means scaling steep riverbanks. However, when I’m in the water I minimise the use of light in the first instance not to scare the fish and secondly out of courtesy to other anglers. Besides, using a light too much compromises your night vision that will only lead to other problems.
Noise. By all means, have a quiet conversation; it helps to discuss tactics. The noise I refer to is when you are wandering the bank, getting in and out of the River when wading and when moving from location to location. By keeping noise to a minimum, you will not spook the fish from heavy footfalls or annoy other anglers by spoiling their experience.
Finally etiquette. If there’s one thing that causes more problems than any other when you’re out for a night’s enjoyment, it’s the etiquette on the riverbank. Picture the scene, “…….you’ve staked out a pool that you have found fish in, the sun is starting to go down and you’re waiting for that magical moment before beginning. You’ve already tackled up with the killing flies and landed a dozen fish, even though you haven’t wet a line yet!. ” We’ve all been there. Then your night’s spoilt by some totally selfish idiots who come stomping along the bank, talking at the top of their voices, shining their torches all over the river and jump in the pool before you without a second thought!!!
What do you do? I know what I’d do, and I don’t have to say it for you to agree with me! All those fish you caught while daydreaming, those carefully tied flies and carefully laid plans, all shattered by the thoughtlessness of, thankfully, a minority of anglers. Don’t be an idiot, don’t check the pool out with a torch and most importantly don’t jump into a pool without first checking to see if an angler is fishing or waiting to fish it!
Whilst in the pool, fishing away, if other anglers are waiting to fish through behind you, the motto is, step and cast, step and cast………Even if you have a pull off a fish, have one more cast and then fish on. Don’t thrash the water to a foam. The chances are, although the fish showed interest, something wasn’t quite right. Fish through the pool as if you hadn’t had a pull. Re-assess your tactics and try, try and try again
Hopefully, this article will have gone a long way to give you the incentive to get out there and meet the challenge. I wish you well and tight lines.