Lure Fishing with Robbie Northman #28

Sea Trout Shortcomings

A summer morning sat beside a misty lake in dappled sunrise targeting tench, with my good mate John Bailey. Crouched in reeds, watching pin bubbles, a wiggle of the float, time for concentration? For me, questions… Being an avid fly and lure angler it’s hard to stay quiet, especially when sat beside such a wealth of knowledge. I love a good fishing tale as much as the next angler, and from John I wanted to hear about his youth. Specifically, targeting sea trout in the North Norfolk creeks. I could listen for hours about fresh bars of silver, leaping and running yards of line in the most skinny water. Truly tales that inspire.

Feeling inspired, I set out to try and land one myself. But am I setting an impossible task? Certainly, there are very few people targeting them these days. Aside from the odd by-catch by bass anglers, and occasional fish falling to worm, you rarely hear of their captures. I think the big runs of seatrout here are history, but there are certainly still fish that visit our coast and coastal rivers. Some venturing far upstream, where I’ve caught them in the past as by-catch while targeting other species. 

Back in spring I spent many of my trout sessions fishing with streamers not far from where small numbers of sea trout still spawn. The streamer fishing proved to be a huge success in singling out the biggest trout, leading to a wild brown PB. Soon after things got really interesting… I spotted some large ghostly-coloured trout in the river one day which quickly disappeared. Shortly after I hooked a powerhouse, which I was unable to stop before it spat the hook while way into the backing.

Not disheartened, I fished on towards dusk when I hooked another powerful fish. An explosive burst of speed and big jump was followed by a long dogged fight. Finally, I landed an unusual fish. Very similar looking to the sea trout I’d landed years before. I instantly shared the photographs with John, who excitedly agreed I’d caught a sea trout. This capture alone inspired me more to target them in the saltwater creeks and estuaries. Hopeful that I could crack the code, and make it a consistent style of fishing. 

At nearly 30 miles inland, this sea trout has began to adopt a coppery colour

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve tried hard. From casting sandeel imitations over reefs on the open coast, to fly fishing tiny estuaries and saltwater creeks. Most of my attempts have been close to dusk, even hours into darkness, with little success. I fished different phases of the tide, moon, winds, clear and cloudy nights. Never once hooking my target fish. One thing became clear, I was getting closer. My time spent on the water slowly added more pieces to the puzzle. I watched a few breach and jump, both in open sea and the creeks, surely it’s just a matter of time. I learnt how truly resilient and adaptable brown trout are, catching them in places I believed too muddy or salty. At one point I almost thought I’d hooked my target fish… 

A tidal creek hiding a shady pool
The water flows slowly in these creeks, so I picked flies I can move

I arrived at the water upon dusk, quickly setting up my two-fly rig. A small Cuban Shrimp on point, with a Czech on dropper. I sat and watched the water as light fell, the estuary still low and muddy. As the rising tide drew in, the change became noticeable, the creek began to fill and the flow reversed. Darkness had taken over, the moonlight barely illuminating the reeds around me. The hum of mosquitos droned on through the night as I performed cast after cast.

High water approached, and the first signs of life appeared. A splash in the darkness, no doubt a trout. I crept down towards the sound. Casting and covering ground as I moved. I gently teased the flies back, crawling them through the water, occasionally changing to a faster retrieve.

Bang! I felt the line shoot through my fingers and struck into a heavy resistance. The fish jumped two feet out of the water, and I quickly switched my torch on, catching a glimpse of silver among the ripples. I held on with gritted teeth as the fish ran, quickly clearing the excess line, reaching the drag. Through dim torchlight a frightening fight, no idea where or how far this fish had ran. I continued to pull back, inching the fish closer when it leapt again, this time landing in the reeds. Everything went tight and I thought I had lost it! I heard another splash, phew. The hook hold was good and I was still in with a shot.

I slid down into the muddy reed bed, hoping to find the fish still fighting away among the snags. I cleared the line from its obstacles and regained full contact as the fish made one final run then glided towards the net. This wasn’t my target sea trout, but an awesome slob brown, which certainly didn’t deserve that name. I took a quick photo and slipped the fish back. Now 11.00pm, I fished on for half an hour with no other signs of life. Finally deciding to head home. 

A big brown from brackish waters. This one took a Cuban shrimp

While the quest for a sea trout continues, the journey itself has been the real prize. Taking on an alien style of fishing has been another great learning curve, and certainly something I’ll keep working at. 

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