Sea trout are an enigmatic quarry worthy of considerable effort on the part of the angler and this will probably involve some loss of sleep as there is no doubt that night fishing will give the best chance of success when the river is at normal summer level.
That’s not to say it’s impossible to catch them in the day. For example, loch fishing is a daytime activity undertaken from drifting boats casting teams of wet flies in front of the boat. To work well a steady breeze is needed coupled with an overcast sky. They can also be caught in high, coloured water on spinners and large flies. Fishing low clear water with nymphs and dry flies can also be succesful, so night fishing is just one option, but when conditions are right it can turn a shy retiring fish into an aggressive taker!
Let’s take a look at the tackle you will need for night-time fly fishing:
A 10’ 7wt fly rod is considered the norm for night fly fishing on medium to large rivers. The ideal fly rod should have a medium action to allow plenty of feel for casting in darkness and for giving the best chance of maintaining a delicate hook hold on a fresh, soft-mouthed fish, although fast action rods can be slowed down by putting a line size too heavy on them. The rod also needs adequate backbone to play powerful fish. If you are fishing a large river with limited back-casting space you may find a switch rod useful as the extra rod length will help lift the line over a high bank, or allow easy Speycasting.
Big sea trout are powerful and fast moving so a large arbor, disc drag fly reel is perfect. The fast retrieve will keep you in touch with a fish moving at speed towards you and the smooth drag will iron out any sudden surges as the fish takes off on an unstoppable run.
It pays to have a few fly line options; the exact densities you need will depend on the depth of the river you are fishing and the speed of the flow. You will need to fish the surface, the bottom and depths in between.
My preference is for standard nylon leaders, which are easy to knot, strong and reliable. At night there is no need to fish too fine so 8-15lb is ideal depending upon the size of flies you will be casting and, of course, the size of fish you are likely to catch.
Your choice of sea trout flies will depend on where you are fishing but you can’t go wrong with black and silver patterns – singles, doubles, tubes, Waddingtons, tandems plus a few surface lures.
It pays to carry a net big enough to engulf the biggest sea trout you are likely to catch. A useful tip is to paint the leading edge of the net’s frame white so you can see it more easily in the dark.
Clothing and Waders
Even in the middle of summer it can get really cold on the riverbank in the early hours of the morning and if you are tired and cold your warm, dry bed will be especially appealing and you could easily miss the most productive part of a night’s fishing! So dress in layers, with good quality waders and wading jacket as an outer shell. Always have a flask with a hot drink at hand and dry clothes in the car in case you fall in.
Plan Your Night’s Fishing!
The golden rule is always to spend some time checking out the beat before you start to fish because the river will look, and feel, very different in darkness; it always pays to become as familiar as you can in daylight. Look for places to enter and exit the river if you intend to wade (mark them with a stick), also look for landmarks on the skyline near to promising fishing spots. You may also find shoals of fish, note where you see them, although in darkness lies may change particularly if running fish are about entering and leaving the pools.
Start to fish fast water as the light begins to fade – the rippled surface will obscure you from the fish and you may catch a bonus grilse or salmon. I would use small flies at this time (a pair of small doubles – a silver stoat and a silver invicta would be good choices size 10 – 14) and I would continue with these until it is fully dark.
After dark start to look for deeper, slower water particularly with some tree cover and spend a further hour or so fishing with larger flies. By then it should be heading towards midnight – and time to try a surface lure. Continue with the surface lure until it gets colder when, very often, the river will go quiet. Then is the time to have a rest and a hot drink and set up your rod with a sinking line and a big fly with the aim to fish it deep and find some fish lying deep in a pool.
When the light starts to come up it’s time to revert back to the smaller flies to fish into the dawn.
Of course none of this is set in stone and a lot depends on the how cold it gets and the river you are fishing but it’s a great starting point.
Not everyone will enjoy night fishing for sea trout but it’s something every game angler should try. I promise it’s a great experience with a special charm for anyone who enjoys solitude and wild places.