Brian Fratel on Fly Fishing for Sea Trout

The first sea trout are beginning to run and we asked Brian Fratel to reminisce upon some of his fly fishing for sea trout experiences, for what is undoubtedly one of the most enigmatic of our species.

The exact timing of sea trout runs varies from river to river and although the best of the fishing is still a month away the first fish are already on the move in most localities and numbers will continue to increase into June and July, probably August. It is worth noting, however, that the biggest fish are often the first to run and early May can be a great time to connect with a really big fish if overnight temperatures remain buoyant. As soon as air temperatures begin to remain in double figures overnight then it’s time to get out!

Brian Fratel It's sea trout time and 'Mr. Farlows' himself, Brian Fratel, reminisces on his sea trout sessions on the Border Esk.

Just as the timing of fish runs vary locally so do tackle and tactics and most of my sea trout fishing experience has been on the Border Esk but one thing remains universally constant for the species and that is the need to creep out at dusk to enjoy the best of the fishing. It is possible to get an occasional pull from a daylight fish, particularly in spate conditions with coloured water, but more often than not we become crepuscular and pray for a low, clear river at, or even below, normal summer level. Some heavy cloud cover, to block out any moonlight and keep the temperature, up is always welcome too. Make sure you arrive on the river well before dark though as some daylight reconnaissance is essential if you want to fish effectively – and safely – once the lights have gone out.

The need to work your run all night means that one of your most important tackle purchases will be a good torch, make sure you have one with a red beam to protect your night vision and make sure you turn away from the river before you switch it on – the need for caution is paramount when searching out a sea trout pool. Make sure you carry spare batteries (or indeed a spare torch) with you too.

On my Border Esk sessions I set up two separate outfits, one with a floating line, and one with a sink tip for searching out the deeper pools. I always tie a white handkerchief around the tip of the one I’m not using too – it makes it easy to spot in the dark without having to rely overly on my torch!

Abercothi Junction Pool

I keep referring to the need for caution when fishing for sea trout and I really cannot emphasise this enough, in fact when I fished for sea trout regularly I used to wear woollen socks over my boots to dull the crunch of my feet on the gravel, little things like this can make a big difference to your results!

Always start off by fishing the faster water at the neck of the main pool, then work your way into the pool as it gets darker. In stealth mode I used to stand as still as a heron, there really is no need to move about, wait for the fish to come to you rather then create disturbance by walking about and come to you they usually will.

The one area where you do require movement when fly fishing for sea trout is in your fly, which you should always work with a figure-of-eight retrieve, and plan your casting carefully to work the pool methodically, starting close then steadily working your way across.

I always found nights on the Border Esk fished ‘in two halves’ with the chance of a fish always good up until around 12.30am. The river always seemed to go dead around this time, so I’d have a cup of soup and a quick nap before getting back to it an hour or two later.

Sea trout fly choices and tactics do vary locally but for me a sunk line and a streamer fly are always the first choice, except on those warm, pitch black nights when you literally can’t see your hand in front of your face. On these occasions a muddler or surface lure can bring rewards.

If you'd like some more advice on fly fishing for sea trout or wish to discuss tackle, then please call our experts at the store on +44 (0) 207 484 1000.

Photos courtesy of

Ian Welch

A freshwater biologist by training I drifted into angling journalism and am now Farlows Group marketing manager. A hopelessly inadequate fly angler (the team are hoping to put that right.) I have fished all over the world and am now most at home fishing for River Test grayling, River Ebro catfish, Indian mahseer, or battling giant freshwater stingray on the Thai rivers. Away from my rod I do a bit of shooting and a lot of fruit and vegetable growing!