Lyn Davies offers some ‘no-nonsense’ advice for newcomers to sewin fishing.
Some of the most successful sewin anglers I know are somewhat narrow-minded. Many wouldn’t dream of a day’s brown trout fishing, or even chasing rainbows – they are specialists in their field. Night fly-fishing is all they know, and they use the same methods and techniques demonstrated by their fathers and grandfathers. In comparison to many other forms of fly-fishing, night fishing for sewin is surprisingly simple.
I’m fortunate to live just a 5-minute drive away from my local River Loughor in South West Wales. During the season, my sewin tackle is permanently set aside for easy access. With the minimum of fuss, I can load-up my car – I’ve usually a mental checklist in my mind – rod, waders, coat, bag and net…
My Simms wading jacket carries the bare essentials. The left-hand chest pocket contains my fishing licences, a spare spool (holding a floating fly line) and a torch. The right-hand pocket holds a small tube fly box, along with a spool of 10lb Maxima leader material. My mobile is stored safely in my inner fleece jacket. That’s it – no other accessories or luxuries required. Even though wading jackets are short, I still tuck mine into my chest waders to stop it getting wet. I regularly find myself on tiptoes trying to reach that ‘un-fished’ stretch of water. Waders take a hammering at night, so think cheap for night fishing – just make sure that they have cleated soles for extra grip on muddy banks. I believe that it’s best to invest in a budget pair of ‘chesties’ that will only last you a season and save your expensive breathables for daytime fishing. A baseball cap keeps my head warm, but more importantly it keeps away any rain. Although modern hoods are well designed, I find them too restrictive by my lack of peripheral vision.
I carry a torch, which I only use if it’s absolutely necessary. To me, torches take away the mystery of the night, inform others of your presence and play havoc with your night vision. I think anglers rely on them too much – especially novices. Try holding a tangle up to the night sky, you’ll be surprised how much you can actually see. This will save time leaving the water and putting on the torch. I’m fortunate to have 20/20 vision, but I do sympathise with the anglers who struggle with their eyesight. I often tie flies on for some of my fishing pals.
A large and more importantly, light net is essential. Mine is permanently erected and slung over my shoulder with a quick release buckle (available from camping shops). It’s quick to hand and is out of the way from barbed-wire fences and bank side vegetation. I’ve also added some lead weight to the bottom of the handle to help keep it upright. There’s nothing worse than a net swivelling around your back when you are trying to concentrate on fishing. If I carry a bag, I prefer the ‘game’ type used by shooting enthusiasts. It’s large and soft enough to wrap around your body out of the way – you don’t know it’s there.
My old faithful 10ft, 8wt Sage RPL serves me well. It’s the perfect tool for the job. It has the backbone to cast large lures and it can deal with a feisty double-figure fish. Attached to it is a battered Scierra IC3 fly reel, which has never let me down. This lightweight, large arbour cassette reel seems ideal for night fishing. However careful you are, there are times (usually following the excitement of landing a fish) that your reel is thrown onto sand, mud or gravel. I suggest leaving your expensive kit at home – it can be subjected to a lot of abuse at night. Loaded onto the IC3 is a fail-safe, Cortland Blue Intermediate, WF7. Some anglers prefer a floating line but I think an intermediate is the best all rounder. I’m only casting short distances (usually just a simple pick up and lay down), so I don’t waste money on expensive lines. I carry a floater, but it’s rarely used. Usually I’m too lazy to even change it to fish the Surface Lure – there’s rarely enough line on the water to drag the lure under.
I began my sewin fishing career using large streamlined singles tied on low water salmon hooks, but over time, small aluminium tubes have won me over. Their added weight makes me feel like I’m fishing ‘amongst’ the fish quickly with the minimum of fuss. Tubes are easy to tie, harder wearing and of course the trebles can be replaced. If a single hook fly is blunt or damaged, the fly must be binned. We all loose fish, but overall my favoured size 12 Kamasan B990’s have served me well – they are pin sharp and don’t cost the earth. The only down side of a treble is that they tend to pick up more debris and catch in your net.
Leaders are exposed to all sorts of abuse at night, so I opt for a relatively heavy nylon, as opposed to Flurocarbon (which tend to be a thinner diameter). My tried and tested 10lb Maxima nylon in clear, has never let me down. The golden rule is to use a short leader. They are easier to manage, particularly when casting into awkward places with heavy flies – where the fish tend to lie. I wouldn’t recommend using anything less than 10lb breaking strain either. Thinner diameter leaders are more subject to kinks, tangles and wind knots. I’m convinced that using a heavier nylon doesn’t make the least bit of difference to the fish. I personally avoid using droppers at night – extra flies have the potential to catch in snags, encourage tangles and hook up in the net while landing fish.
Ninety-nine percent of my fishing involves wading – it’s a luxury to fish from a shingle or grass bank. Wading in spate rivers can be hard work as you try to fish around submerged trees and other obstacles including car tyres and even shopping trolleys! If you are in the water, it’s important to be quiet, stealth like and simply take your time – wade like a heron. As ever, I always recommend a daytime reconnaissance – not only for safety reasons but to understand where the fish may be lying. As a rule, I fish down and across using a slow figure of eight retrieve. I try to cast as square as possible (at times, with using an upstream mend), to cover more water and to help encourage my fly to fish as deep as possible. I also strive to position my fly as tight as possible to the opposite bank. Following the fly round in an arc, I raise the rod – which in turn makes the fly fish even faster. Fish will follow you around, so it’s always worth holding or ‘hanging’ the fly directly downstream before a recast. With as much line out as possible, one overhead cast and I’m fishing again. I remember my father once telling me, “You won’t catch fish in the air!”.
I never spend too long flogging one spot – even if it’s a known hot spot. Generally, if a fish is going to take, it’ll happen quite soon – there are of course exceptions. Keep mobile, I’m a great believer in fishing as many places as possible. Fortunately, at night your sense of hearing and feeling are very much accentuated. At times, something just ‘feels’ wrong, whether it’s a tangle or you’ve picked up some weed on your fly. Even if I know I haven’t caught the opposite bank, or clipped a tree, I always take the time to periodically check my fly for debris and ensure that the treble is still pin-sharp and sitting correctly in place. If a point is blunt or bent – stop and replace it immediately. It will only play on your mind otherwise, and if you lose that fish…
If you put the time in, the time will come when you feel the resistance of a fish. You’ll feel that ‘pull’, as everything tightens up and a sewin immediately thrashes about on the surface in a bid for freedom. So many fish are lost at this point – especially big ones. Inexperienced anglers tend to panic, holding a tight line, hoping that the fish will eventually calm down. This is a mistake. From experience, you must remember to drop the rod (or release some line), allowing the fish time to drop its head and turn away. If and when this happens, it’s usually well hooked. Next, reel in any slack line to play the fish off the reel – sewin will perform some mad, unexpected runs, so be prepared. Always be aware of your surroundings. If necessary, re-position yourself to make it as easy as possible to land the fish. Preferably, this needs to be away from any hazards, including fast currents and submerged branches. As a rule, if possible try and force the fish upstream, away from any water you haven’t fished – there may well be another one in the same place. Keep your rod held high along with a tight line and don’t make a meal of the fight – especially if you intend to return the fish. You’ll be surprised how quick you can land a sewin at night. Once you’re through the initial mayhem, even a double-figure specimen can sometimes be netted swiftly. Most of my fish are netted prematurely, before I see the underside of their bellies. Get it right and it’s possible to ‘scoop’ fish into your net earlier than expected.
Once in the net, it’s a case of retreating back to either shallower water or the nearest bank to unhook the fish – try and be swift and always keep the fish wet. Unfortunately, trebles tend to cause a bit of damage to the inside of the mouth. Depending where fish are hooked, at times it can prove difficult to retrieve them. Compared to a longer single hook fly, trebles have a lot less leverage and tend to really hang on to the flesh. It’s always interesting to see where fish are hooked, and it’s surprising how often you see fish very lightly hooked – leaving the treble tangled in the net. All my fish are returned these days, so where possible I remain in the river. This proves less stressful for the fish, makes less disturbance and saves time, enabling you to continue fishing. Following a quick check of the leader and alignment of my tube, I’m ready to start again.
There’s a lot of mystery surrounding night fishing for sewin, which is no doubt, one of the main attractions. Don’t be put off by the unknown, it may not be for everyone but if it’s something you’ve read about and you’ve always wanted experience – just get out there and give it a try. As I’ve said, the techniques are simple, it’s just the fact that everything is performed in the dark, and this only becomes easier with experience. Yes, it’s hard work and you may struggle to begin with, but it’ll all be forgotten when you receive that first take.