Fly Fishing Devon: Sea trout fishing with a guide

The Upper Yealm Fishery is a Westcountry Angling Passport beat

It has a good run of sea trout during the summer months

This page will help you decide where, when and how to fish for sea trout

The Upper Yealm Catch Reports pagecontains reports of anglers' sea trout sightings and encounters.The rod season for sea trout runs from 3rd March to 30th September

Some tips on spotting sea trout

This video explains how to use behaviour, shape and colour to detect sea trout during the day.

Sea trout are very alert to overhead shadows, sudden movements etc.

Extract from Tim Rolston's blog:

"I thought Paul was joking when we started a Monty Pythonesque, slow walk from the middle of the field. The river wasn’t even in sight at that point, but the Sea Trout are so spooky that one has to proceed with extreme caution. In the end we spotted a few, fascinating things they are, and tricky to see, they barely move, trying to hang on to reserves of energy that they will need to reach the spawning grounds when the rain comes. Fish in a river are tricky to spot at the best of times. Fish that don’t move are near impossible and Paul’s eagle eyes and experience revealed fish that took me minutes to locate."

A fly fishing guide can show you where, when and how to fish for sea trout

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Careful daylight preparation is essential before fishing for sea trout

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Casting a fly at night for sea trout

Don't be suprised if you experience problems with overhead casts when darkness descends.

Steffan Jones wrote: "I have often seen good casters become terrible casters as soon as night falls and / or when a heavier fly is placed on the leader."

Stephan advocates "overloading the line weight of your rod by one or looking for short bellied lines that can load with ease under a short distance"

From Steffan Jones "Sea Trout, Tips, Tricks & Tribulations" published by Steffan Jones,2017

Overhead casting

Jeffery Bluett wrote: "One of the chief troubles experienced by the angler fishing for sea trout when daylight has failed is that he is often largely unable to see what is happening, what mistakes he is making, and into what trouble he is getting. A slight hitch in casting may cause a minor entanglement which, unless rectified immediately, will develop into the most hopeless muddle.... At night I have known many a fisherman, inexperienced at fishing in the dark, to hit his rod with cast and fly time after time on the backward cast."

Bluett offers this advice: "By making the backward cast with the rod held slightly away from the body, and at an angle of some fifteen degrees from the vertical, and then coming forward with the rod handle close to the side, and upright, this trouble can be largely mitigated, if not wholly mitigated "
From Jeffery Bluett, "Sea Trout and Occassional Salmon", Cassell, 1948, p 81-2.

Loss of accuracy: A price worth paying?

Bluett's suggestion will help to avoid the fly crashing into the rod, but it may conflict with advice given by your casting instructor to cast with the rod tip traveling in a straight line.

This is because a straight line path ensures accuracy which is important when fishing for brown trout in daylight.

I used the overhead cast when I started fishing for sea trout at night in the 1970s. I coped with wind knots, tangled leaders and enthusiatically trimmed overhanging vegetation to accomodate overhead casting.

But there is a better way...

Try a roll cast

More recently I have turned to roll casting at night. A roll cast gives you the gift of time; time to position the D loop and anchor; time to make the forward cast clear of the line lying beside you on the water; time to use surface tension to pull line you have retrieved through the tip ring ready for the next cast, and thus more time with your fly in the water.

Steffan Jones also highlights the usefulness of roll casting "The most fundamental cast that must be mastered is the roll cast. A roll cast can keep you fishing in areas where an overhead cast would be impossible. It also opens up your loop on the forward delivery which makes it less prone to tangling . It can also be a lot safer cast when turning over larger flies, as the flies spend less time in the air and are less likely to hit you or your rod as a result."

From Steffan Jones "Sea Trout, Tips, Tricks & Tribulations" published by Steffan Jones,2017

Double Spey cast

The Double Spey cast is an advanced roll cast that allows you to change direction when swinging a fly 'down-and-across' for sea trout at night.

These videos show :
  1. how this cast is used to cope with overhanging on the Upper Yealm Fishery
  2. a breakdown of the steps in the Double Spey cast

'Practice makes perfect'

Roy Buckingham was a fishing instructor for 39 years at the Arundell Arms, Lifton, Devon and reckons he has taught around 16,000 people to fish.

He wrote: "Most of the problems that people have really boil down to casting faults of one kind or another. It's most surprising, because everything feels different at night, and almost everyone is inclined to speed up their casting in the dark without realising it.... So that is the first thing to deal with. Bad casting in the dark. There's only one way of doing it: go out to the river at night - but not the sea trout pools -and practise and practise until you get the feel. "

From "Success with the Sea Trout" by Roy Buckingham, in "West Country Fly Fishing", Anne . Bark (General editor), Batsford, 1983, p 48.

As they say 'practice makes perfect' and your confidence will grow as you begin to rely more on your auditory and tactile senses at night.

When to fish for sea trout: night, dusk or daytime ?

Short answer:

Once you are confident in your casting:
  1. Sea trout will generally be most active, and most catchable, in the first hour or two of darkness
  2. If you are not experienced fishing at night, start in daylight; you will quickly find out if, and where, sea trout are lying ; essential information before fishing after dark.
  3. Do not discount the possibility of catching sea trout during the day, more below ...
  4. Then fish at dusk. Success at dusk will build your confidence in facing the challenge of fishing in complete darkness
  5. In unfamiar locations, I would start at dusk several times before embarking on fishing in complete darkness

By way of explanation:

Fishing for sea trout in Devon and Cornwall is mainly carried out in darkness.
Nevertheless for many years West Country authors cautiously described tactics that are occassionally successful in broad daylight.

But now a new generation of local fly fishing guides are more optimistic about catching sea trout in daylight

A most enthusiatic advocate of targeting sea trout in daylight is Farlows' Fishing Manager, Nick Hart.

In June 2018 he wrote a short article : Top Tips for Daytime Sea Trout Fishing
Nick's advice is based on his experiences guiding anglers on West Country rivers.

In daylight sea trout are notoriously wary of shadows and sudden movements which may account for the success of night fishing.
Nick advises during the day "Approach these fish just as you would any big, astute brown trout."

Devon based fly fishing guide Pete Tyjas has described his approach to catching Daytime Sea Trout

When I moved to Devon in the 1970s I fished for sea trout exclusively at night. I caught the occassional sea trout during the day, but put it down as a 'fluke'. In daylight I noticed tiny rises or 'dimples' and put these down to very small trout. But curiously these 'dimples' stopped as soon as I cast anywhere near them, and I never hooked any of these 'very small trout'. A local expert, who relished fishing for sea trout by day, explained that 'dimples' were caused by sea trout.

And this year (2018) - because we endured prolonged low water and bright sunshine - I was able to spend more time observing sea trout. I saw larger fish 'dimple' and smaller fish appeared to make conventional rises. There are examples of both these behavious in the video Tips on spotting sea trout Fellow Fly Fishing Devon guide Geoff Stephens has also reported 'dimpling' sea trout on the West Dart.

Sea trout caught in daylight tend to be the smaller fish (finnock), called locally 'school peal' to distinguish them from the larger fish - 'peal'.

Wade with caution and steath at all times. Here's a useful article from Domenick Swentosky It’s wading, not walking

Do not assume that sea trout will remain where you observed them in daylight. Anglers have noticed that, on rivers as darkness approaches, sea trout leave their daytime lies for nearby shallower water. Recent marine research has shown that during darkness sea trout move into shallower water The secret life of trout at sea

Tackle recommendations:

Parts of the beat are narrow and have overhanging vegetation.

An ability to Roll Cast is a useful skill.

We recommend using a white floating line with an 8 to 9 foot rod rated AFTM# 4-7

It is worth 'overlining' the rod because most casts are short i.e. less than 30 feet of flyline outside to tip ring

Here are some sea trout flies tied by a South Devon expert (Cedric Potter) who specialised in sea trout fishing by night and by day. Fly Fishing Devon guide Paul Kenyon fished with Cedric on the Devonshire Avon in the 1970s and '80s


Cedric fished this fly at night after treatment with floatant so that it fished in the surface and created a wake when retrieved

Peter Ross

Tups Indispensible

Cedric fished this as a dry fly or nymph during the day. It went through several versions with increasing amounts of red / pink dubbing

Why conserve sea trout? The case for catch and release

Tim & Paul talk about conservation

Sea trout conservation

Brown and sea trout are the same species (Salmo trutta). Sea trout are brown trout that migrate to sea. Some brown trout migrate to sea and some sea trout eggs develop into brown trout that remain in the river throughout their lives.

Migratory trout make an important contribution to trout stocks. The heavier, older sea trout produce more and larger eggs, and should be released for the sake of conserving the stock of all trout in a river.

Because of their large size, female sea trout provide most of the trout eggs laid in a river

Scientists have not yet worked out why some trout migrate to sea. It is possibly an interaction between genetic and environmental factors. Maybe a lack of food in the river triggers migration. We do know that the better sea trout rivers tend to be short acidic rivers with easy access to good spawning and nursery areas.

Most sea trout are female . They produce an average of 800 eggs per pound of their body weight.

Recent scientic studies highlight the importance of sea trout to brown trout stocks

Over the last 12 years it has become clear that a few large sea trout are critical in maintaining the number of trout in a river.

In 2004 the ‘First International Sea Trout Symposium’ highlighted the following key points:

  1. Sea trout are the sea-running form of brown trout
  2. Sea trout and brown trout interbreed
  3. The majority of sea trout are female
  4. Unlike salmon, sea trout can return to spawn up to 10 times
  5. Because of their large size, female sea trout provide most of the trout eggs laid in a river
  6. Genetic studies show that larger, longer-lived sea trout produce young that are also likely to grow large
  7. ‘Finnock’ are sea trout in their first year after leaving the river as smolts
  8. Some finnock enter rivers in the summer/autumn, and some of these breed
  9. Sea trout and brown trout should be managed jointly

Chapter 1 of the 2004 symposium written by Harris and Milner is available online in Sea Trout: Biology, Conservation and Management

In 2015 a report to the 2nd International Sea Trout Symposium revealed that 85% of eggs in the Shimna river were contributed by larger sea trout that have spent at least one winter at sea. This is likely to be true of many other systems, and has obvious implications for management.

In 2016 our understanding of the importance of larger sea trout to trout stocks were increased by scientists from Exeter University, Queen Mary University and Game and Conservancy Wildlife Trust. They reported that a small number of large female sea trout are responsible for maintaining the stock of trout in a river. Their paper is available online: Goodwin et al. (2016) A small number of anadromous females drive reproduction in a brown trout (Salmo trutta) population in an English chalk stream. Freshwater Biology 61, 1075–1089.

What you can do to help conserve trout stocks ?

Please protect sea trout smolts

Some young trout of 1 to 3 years old and 5 to7 inches long change to a silver colour before migrating to the sea.

These small silver trout are called smolts. Smolts shoal together before migrating to sea, usually in late March / April. They are often caught by anglers and should be handled carefully and released. After all they may be parent of many of the brown trout you catch in the future

Please conserve adult sea trout

Follow this advice from the Ness District Salmon Fishery Board

"Help conserve sea trout stocks by showing restraint in the number and size of fish that you kill (i.e. don’t kill the bag limit just because you can!). We would recommend the release of all large sea trout over 3lbs as they are important brood stock for future generations"

My favourite conservation device: The waterproof camera

It was common practice for fishing clubs and associations to award annual prizes to the angler who caught the largest fish.

In order to recognize the contribution of conservation-minded anglers, one forward looking association now awards a waterproof camera to the angler who returns the most fish.

An extension of Catch and Release is Catch Snap and Release

Books discussing sea trout in Devon and Cornwall

  1. Sea Trout: How to Catch Them by Charles Bingham
  2. The Sea Trout Diaries by Robert Mountjoy
  3. Salmon & Trout in Moorland Streams by Kenneth Dawson
  4. West Country Fly Fishing edited by Anne Voss Bark, especially chapter by Roy Buckingham 'Success with Sea Trout'

Videos related to sea trout fishing in Devon and Cornwall

  1. Fly Tying - Pilk's Bumble- Sea Trout Fly tied by Arundell Arms fly fishing instructor and guide, David Pilkington,
  2. Fly Tying - Pilk's PR- another Sea Trout Fly tied by David Pilkington
  3. Fly Tying - the WMD Gurglertied by Tim Smith, fly fishing guide and instructor at the Arundell Arms Hotel
  4. These flies can be obtained from the Arundell Arms online shop: West Country Sea Trout Selection - Night
  5. An otter on the Tamar, filmed on 16th September 2018 by Alexander Jones
  6. Westcountry Angling Passport scheme Night Fishing on West Country rivers
  7. Dart Angling Association Dart sea trout

Internet resources

  1. Some advice.."if you hanker after a sea-run brown trout but cannot manage, or perhaps cannot be bothered, to stumble around in the gloaming" from West Country fly fishing guide and Farlows Fishing Manager Nick Hart Top Tips for Daytime Sea Trout Fishing
  2. An introduction to sea trout fishing in Devonby experienced sea trout guide Roddy Rae"A lot of the fishing and tactics on Devon rivers are quite different from what would be common on most of the big Scottish rivers or indeed the Welsh rivers. That is to say one would be casting a fly out at roughly a 45-degree angle and allowing the current to generally fish the fly for you while you wait in anticipation. Down here in Devon our rivers tend to be smaller, more wooded and with less water flow, making fishing the traditional methods of across and down less effective. Now I am not saying that this is true of all our rivers but it certainly is of most of them."
  3. An article by Devon based fly fishing guide Pete Tyjas on catching Daytime Sea Trouy
  4. "I have learnt over the years that a good guide or ghillie can be invaluable, particularly when you’re fishing water you don’t know or for a species you’re unfamiliar with." "A good fly fishing guide can be the difference between blank and brilliant, says Marcus Janssen, particularly when you can’t see a thing."
  5. Hardy ProTeam member Stevie Munn offers advice on safety, hiring a guide, wading and etiquette Top tips for night fishing
  6. Wade with caution and steath at all times. Here's a useful article from Domenick Swentosky It’s wading, not walking
  7. James Beeson describes catching his first Devon sea trout on Dartmoor
  8. Good advice from 'First Nature', "If you are a reasonably competent trout or salmon flyfisher, then we urge you to have a go at sea trout, but if you are still struggling with the basics of trout or salmon fishing then we strongly suggest you work on those areas first, because even for experts sea trout fishing is far from easy." Flyfishing for Sea Trout
  9. A useful description from David Luckhurst of how sea trout lies change from day through dusk to night: Spotting sea trout lies
  10. Internet archive of free to read books mentioning 'sea trout'