Mike Ladle


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Tackle and Tactics.

THINK LIKE A FISH Part 42 Sea trout etc.

Fish such as bass and flounder use estuaries as nursery grounds and as rich sources of food. It is certainly true that the meeting of freshwater with salt can provide angling potential for those who know how to make the most of the golden opportunities.

Essentially there are very few fish, which spend their entire lives in the river mouth areas but a great many can be found there in transit. Some like the eel, flounder and thinlipped grey mullet are on their way to feed in freshwater while others, including shads, smelt, salmon and sea trout find rich food sources in the seas and oceans.

As far as anglers are concerned the important thing is that many of the migrants have a tendency to hang about in the region of tidal movement while they feed on the superabundant worms, myriad shrimps, crabs, cockles, and small fish which seek refuge from those predators which are unable to tolerate the frequent switches from freshwater to salt. Of course, the species present differ from time to time. As the tide floods a wedge of heavy (salty) water pushes along the bottom under the out flowing river. Most fish and other animals prefer to avoid dramatic changes in salt concentration so they move in and out with the tidal flow.

As a consequence of this swimming back and forth it is likely that your legered bait will only be attacked as the appropriate species swims by. Similarly, in winter the main fish available could be flounders which are about to leave for their marine spawning grounds, while in the warmer months a much wider range of species will be available. Flounders will still be present in summer, of course, but you may have to use different methods if you want to catch them in numbers. In addition, you will have such exciting prospects as thin-lipped mullet and even sea trout.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm no purist when it comes to angling and the snobbery of game fishing (or indeed any other sort of fishing) is not for me but without a doubt there is a lot of pleasure to be had in catching sea trout. The fish feed mostly in the sea and generally close to the seashore, so they are readily accessible to the sea angler. Since they are closely bound to river mouths by their lifestyle the first requirement of successful fishing, location, is easily met. The second requirement of anyone who aspires to catch these fish is, of course, an Environment Agency licence.

What next? Well, if you have access to an estuary where sea trout run your chances of contacting them are quite good. Keep your ear to the ground for news of accidental catches and make a note of the times, places and methods used if you can obtain the information. As a general rule, sea trout spawn well upstream just before Christmas time so there will be few to be taken in mid-winter, and after spawning the fish make there way to the sea to feed and recover. These fish are known as kelts and although they feed voraciously and are very easily caught it is illegal to catch or keep them.

In my local estuaries quite numbers of large numbers of skinny, big headed, silver sea trout kelts are caught accidentally in late winter by both coarse fishermen and flounder fanatics and although the capture of such a fish invariably causes great excitement they must be carefully unhooked and returned to the water at once. Unlike the related salmon, which mostly die after spawning, many sea trout survive the ordeal and return to sea to fatten up for another go (and sometimes another and another).

Before considering how the fish can be caught it's worth thinking a bit about their habits. Sea trout live in the river for their first year or so of life before migrating down to the sea in May or June. Once they taste the salt they feed and grow like the clappers and may return to the river of their birth by the following August or September at a length of ten or eleven inches.

In early spring those fish that are still too young to breed tend to hang around the river mouths where they will be joined by the larger kelts descending from the river.

Just as in the case of salmon it is probably the largest sea trout which return to the river soonest and big fish may even enter estuaries before the start of the official "trout fishing" season possibly providing a chance for the sea angler who wants to try early-season spinning from the shore near the estuary mouth.

If you do want to give it a try remember that the peak numbers of fish are likely to be found very close inshore at low water when this coincides with dusk/or dawn and that the small fish, in particular, may wander back and forth from sea to river several times in a year. After the fish reach the sea they generally begin to feed in the vicinity of the estuary. Their food consists of three different sorts of material. Firstly there are worms and crustaceans, which live on the seabed, secondly there are insects that become trapped on the surface film of the sea and lastly there are tiny near-surface-swimming fish such as sandeels.

The sea trout, like its freshwater brother, is a fierce predator and will hunt and devour almost any living prey of suitable size. Few of these fish, however, are taken on traditional legered or paternostered baits so clearly this is not the way to do it. Young fish and insects are mostly eaten in the warmer months so light spinning gear or even 'reservoir' fly tackle might be appropriate at that time of year. Larger specimens feed mostly on live active fish at all times, so clearly static fishing is unlikely to produce worthwhile results.

Just to show that this is not simply speculation I can describe the result of a short session that I had some years back. I was fishing a tidal south coast estuary for an hour or so in the evening and the stretch to which I had access was only a couple of hundred yards in length.

I began at the 'upstream' and fished down to the bottom with a ragworm baited bar spoon in an attempt to catch thinlipped mullet. None were forthcoming. At the bottom of the stretch I switched to a small black and green plug and, with sea trout in mind, began to cover the stretch over which I had just fished.

At the only sharp bend in the section I noticed that the tide had just begun to flow and the level was starting to rise. I cast across and began to retrieve when the plug was taken with an almighty yank. My first thought was that it must be a big pike that liked a spot of salt on its food but the notion was soon dispelled when a huge square tail broke the surface. I played the fish for about five minutes before it was eventually subdued by my 'spinning gear,' (11ft carp rod, fixed-spool reel and 8lb line). It proved to be a sea trout of 9lb 10oz.

The battle was certainly no fiercer than I would expect from a bass of similar dimensions and the fish's stamina was definitely less than that of a good sized mullet but I was pretty chuffed and I would be surprised to meet any angler who would turn his nose up at such a fish. Clearly the fish exist, all we have to do is find out the best way of catching them.

If you have any comments or questions about fish, methods, tactics or 'what have you.' get in touch with me by sending an E-MAIL to - docladle@hotmail.com


Think like a fish.

Sea trout etc.

Sea trout 7.5lb.

Where there is a decent flow of water wooden Devon minnows, fished paternoster style, are effective baits for salmon, seatrout and many other predatory fish.

A much larger seatrout.

Small plugs will take big seatrout.

A salmon caught in the days when I used to fish for them on the Frome.

As a rule in tidal waters the seatrout seem to bite much more freely than salmon.

Thinlip on baited spinner.

Seatrout occasionally take mullet spinners.


Flounders are common in most estuaries but seatrout don't usually take flounder baits.