the bat flits
say that is when the first peal takes.
sea trout fishing is not for those making a start at fly
fishing. If you cannot cast, tie your knots and handle
the tackle by day, learn to do so by fishing for trout
before you slide forward rod in hand, into the dark river
half an hour before the bats start to fly.
start to think about sea- trout fishing in November at
the stationers when I am buying the following year's calendar.
This must show the phases of the moon. Full and new moons
bring spring tides, and with these high-water influxes
into the estuary come the sea trout which press forward
up the river. Three days later they reach my beat, five
miles above the sea.
are anglers who shun the moonlight, saying the darkest
hours are best. But if you are night fishing for the first
time, go for the moonlit nights; you will stumble less.
Take care not to silhouette yourself against the moon;
fish with its beams in your face. And be stealthy: imagine
you are a burglar stealing fish from the river.
there is little to be seen before mid June, I start to
climb riverside trees at the end of May. Then looking
down into the tail of the most productive pool on the
river, nerve tingling sights are revealed through polarised
spectacles I take care to creep towards the water, using
the tree for cover, and climb koala fashion, pressed against
the back of the trunk. By the third week they are always
there, still grey shadows close to the riverbed, comatose
not feeding, biding their time.
there are three or four slim fish in a group they are
school peal, a West Country name for little sea trout
about 22 oz on their first return to the river from the
sea. Farther out where the water is waist deep, in front
of the wretched central boulder on which they snag my
line, are the heart-stoppers, the 3-4 pounders. There
are not many of those. Having seen what there is to see,
I climb down and I go away, crossing Dartmoor to my home
to make some preparations. Out comes a 9ft 6in trout rod,
a white floating line, which will be visible in the dark,
and an 8lb tapered leader. Only in the fly does the choice
differ from a trout fisher's equipment, and perhaps in
the net - you ought to carry a large one, for a grandfather
fish may come your way.
men carry many flies, to the extent that the boxes filled
with offerings sometimes confuse them and they waste time
making up their minds. Not so the fishers of the night
who do not have to match the hatch. Half a dozen patterns
cover their needs. If I had to make a choice, I would
be happy to fish the season through with just one: a Silver
Stoats Tail tube. But if a change brings hope when all
is quiet, try something black: a no 8 Black Lure, or perhaps
a shiny fly, a Teal and Silver Blue on which the moonbeams
glitter. Just to show that I also suffer such doubts,
let me mention a fourth, my own creation, the Burglar.
Now there's a fly to relieve the agonies of choice.
other day I found a flattened stoat on the road, not far
from Dartmoor Prison, without a breath in him. Off came
his tail, amputated with my pocketknife on a fence post.
Two tufts of those fine black hairs, or a contribution
from a black Labrador, one on each side of a silver tinselled
tube, have relieved many a peal of freedom.
is a torch in my pocket, midge cream on my face, and the
sun has dipped below the hills when I reach the river.
With care noiseless and shadow like I creep along the
bank to sit beside my tree to wait for the light to go.
Robber crows sneak to roost in ivy-entwined trees, and
the first of the bats flit by. In the West of Ireland,
in County Kerry on the Laune, where Willie is the doyen
of fisher of the river, they wait until they see three
bats before they think it is dark enough to start. Not
being Irish, I cannot tell one bat from another, so they
system is no good to me-the third bat to pass might be
the first one coming back a second time.
peal are there for one or two have leapt-straight up,
glistening and shimmering-and then the splash and widening
waves spread across the pool. The time has come.
up my rod and the fly and leader, which have been soaking
in a little pool, I cast. Out shoots the line and falls,
the fly making a plop in the path of moonlight brightness
on the dark, sliding water. As the fly swims across the
river my fingers feel the line for information: a pluck,
a pull, some sign. Nothing. Drawing another yard from
my reel, I make a second cast still nothing.
for the boulders where the great ones lie. A pluck a mutter
of disappointment. The fourth throw is different. The
line checks. He leaps and goes for the deep water. We
fight it out in the dim light, the rod bent in a fighting
arc, which curves to a desperate fish. He surges down
the far bank, seeking a snag, a tree root or the middle
boulder, which was his lie. I am full of fear. The pressure
tells in time. He gives way and drifts on a bar of light
on the mystery of the dark water. Later as he lies on
the grass, thick and strong, scales glistening, I am in
two minds: triumph is tinged with sadness.
from "Sea Trout: How to catch them", published
by Swan Hill. Published 198 by Swan Hill, £19.95