Sea-Trout Fishing Methods: Night Fly-Fishing
Most experienced sea-trout anglers concentrate their fishing into the hours at dusk, through the night, and at dawn. Night fishing is an acquired taste. Most anglers are not very enthusiastic about their first excursion, but the keen ones soon find that night fishing is not only more productive but has an appeal unknown to the daytime fishers.
Why do we fish at night for sea-trout, when salmon and brown trout are caught by day? The chief reason that, while spring and autumn salmon run when the rivers are full and camouflage of your tackle is unnecessary, sea-trout are summer fish and the angler needs the cover of darkness. In summer, brown trout fishing by day is notoriously dull, and in fact many anglers fish for brown trout at night also.
It should be remarked that all rivers are not equally suited for night fishing. Many Irish and Scottish waters take on a rich tawny colour, and in these the daytime fishing is as good as, if not a good deal better than, the fishing after dark. Fish are slow to take a fly in coloured water after dark.
Most West Country and Welsh rivers on the other hand are so clear that the cover of darkness is essential for sea-trout angling. Sea-trout are extremely shy fish, and if we were prevented from fishing at night in these rivers we should catch very few summer fish at all.
Too much tackle is a liability. After a good deal of experiment I find that the following items are essential:
A big landing-net
A rubber-covered torch
A spare leader, mounted with flies, wound round the hat
Food and hot drink
These, together with the fly-outfit and a commodious tackle-bag furnished with the usual small items, are sufficient.
Before going night fishing a preliminary daytime inspection of the water is necessary, especially on a strange river. Walk the bank slowly and make a mental note of the following points :
1. Discover where the fish are lying and look for the areas where they are likely to feed after nightfall. Usually they lie in deep water under cover of rock or trees and at night they move into shallow water adjacent to this cover — often the tail or the sides of the pool, sometimes the neck.
2. Check the wading conditions. If necessary, conduct a trial wade where you propose fishing. Make sure there are no nasty snags such as lengths of barbed-wire washed down by floods.
3. Check nearby vegetation and measure it against casting-distances, making sure that there is at least one spot where you can cast unimpeded. Remember that it is hard to estimate the distance of trees at night.
4. Find a good place to land your fish. Notice whether they can be beached on a sand-bar or whether you will need to net them. Check your route down and upstream on the assumption that you may hook a really big sea-trout and have to follow it.
5. Last, but most important, decide whether there are in fact sea-trout in the pool you intend fishing. Locals may advise, or by looking into the water with polarizing glasses you may be able to see the fish. Failing this, you must rely on the probability of the pool’s holding fish because of recent catches by other anglers up and downstream from that point.
This sort of inspection only takes ten minutes but it does much to remove frustrations before they arise. It helps one to approach night fishing in a determined and workmanlike manner.
Night fishing starts at full dusk — usually about 10 to 10.30 on a June evening, although heavy surrounding vegetation and a cloudy sky may permit an earlier start. The best of the fishing is from 11 till about 1 a.m. My own routine is to be on the water from 10 till 1.30 a.m. And again from 3.30 till 6 a.m.
Making a good bag of sea-trout at night demands hard work and a good deal of patience. It is important to weigh these demands against the prize offered. Many anglers, in my experience, fancy that they can dabble at fishing and still show interesting results. They play around till dusk and then go to their hotels to sleep soundly. It depends what you want; if you want fish you have got to work. To fish all night is more exhausting, physically, than doing a day’s hard work. Apart from the sport, however, the angler gains by sleeping like a log and eating like a horse.
Reaching the pool of his choice the angler puts up his rod, makes sure everything is neat and secure, then considers the prospects in relation to the conditions. Here are a few pointers that indicate the sort of sport that may be expected :
1. Swirls and dull plops, indicating feeding fish. The sea-trout will most probably be feeding on one of the numerous sedge-species. The angler notes the general area of this activity so that he can fish down to it the moment it is dark enough.
2. Fish jumping clean out of the water. An unfavourable sign. It means that the fish are uncomfortable — either through falling water-temperature or through changing chemical conditions. (Thunder and flood-water both alter the chemical balance.)
3. ‘Arrowheads’ seen at the tails of pools. This means that sea-trout are moving up-river. If they are fresh fish they should take a fly keenly. If they are rather stale — coming from pools lower down river — they will be much less easy to lure.
4. Heavy ‘boils’ seen near the shallows. This means that sea-trout are taking minnows. Show them a silver-bodied fly without delay.
5. White mist forming just above the surface. An unfavourable sign. If the angler is fishing while the mist is forming he may none the less get a few fish. Once the mist thickens all fish activity ceases, and deeply-sunk fly is then the only chance.
6. ‘Scotch’ mist or light drizzle. A favourable condition, especially when it brings on a hatch of sedges and other nocturnal flies.
7. Rising moon. Unfavourable if the sky is clear and it is a full moon. Fishing in the shade of trees offers the best chance. If moonlight alternates with cloudy periods the angler can fish under cover of cloud and use the moonlight to change pools, check tackle, and refresh himself.