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They usually go to sea in the spring months, from March on into May, returning in late August and moving up the rivers in September and October. Even after that relatively short stay in the seawater, they come back dressed in brighter colors and filled with a lot of extra vinegar. The cutthroat that has been to sea is commonly called blueback, or harvest trout, and although the average weight is only about a pound and a half, the fight is so much better than that put up by the resident fish that they hardly seem to be the same species. They hit a fly hard and jump as often as four times before finally coming to net.
Bluebacks are just as avid fly hitters as the regular cutthroat. They sock all the standard ties in the wet flies, plus the steelhead flies, and small red and white bucktails tied on number 6 hooks. Another sure fire bet with them is the Harger sea shrimp, tied by Don Harger of Salem, Oregon, a long-time blueblack enthusiast.
The rod best suited to throwing these flies at the blueback is an 8-footer with an HDH line and a leader tapered down to 4-pound test tippet.
On the opposite side of the continent another native trout, the brook trout of Newfoundland, also goes to sea and returns to provide anglers with some sensational fishing. These sea going fish are the true Eastern brook trout, Salvelinus fontinalis, the native trout of the Eastern states, also called speckled trout, squaretail and brook trout. In Newfoundland they are commonly referred to by the lowly name of "mud trout" because of their habit of lying over mud in ponds and in the backwaters of rivers.
Many Newfoundland brookies remain in their native streams, but just as many more for some unknown reason head for the salt in March and April, stay for periods of one to three months, then return to the rivers in July and August to spawn. Usually they stay over in the river, then, until the next spring. Strangely enough, those fish that stay at home, stay regardless of size, and the same applies to those that go to sea-fish as small as seven inches make the ocean trip, come back into the rivers and spawn.
The fish work into the rivers in runs, the smaller males first, then the big hens. So thick are these runs that sometimes the bottom of the river appears to be black with them. Like all sea run trout, when they first come in they are bright silver and will hit a fly with a wallop, and being the strong fish they are, they make a rodful for quite a while. Catches of 112-pounders used to be common in the Fox Island and Serpentine Rivers.
Sea run brookies like salmon flies to the point that many a salmon fisherman has cussed them out when he was working over a good salmon and smaller sea trout kept hitting his fly. I remember my own first encounter with them, very vividly.
Jim Young of Flat Say, Newfoundland, was guiding me on the Serpentine River. That morning I was working on a nice salmon that had come to my mar lodge and refused. As I rested him and changed to a black dose, Jim pointed to a dark patch down towards the middle of the pool.
"A school of sea trout have moved in since yesterday," he said. I barely glanced in their direction. I was after salmon.I had a hit on my first cast, the short one with which I usually start each series of casts to cover a salmon pool. I waited for the fish to take off or jump but this one stayed deep, shot across the pool, came back to the middle of it, made a hole in the ranks of the sea trout Jim had showed me, and then hung down there, sulking. I batted on the butt of the rod grip and anked back to try to dislodge that salmon from his perch and he came up to the top and started thrashing around."Sea trout!" shouted Jim.
Ten minutes later I got him in. He was a 5-pounder, strong and then some. I made the next cast and was into another brookie. After landing this 5-pounder, I looked at my black dose. It was just about torn apart. I wanted to catch some more of those sea run brookies but I didn't want to give up a good salmon fly for each two I took. "Will they hit streamers?" I asked. "You bet," said Jim.
I tied a number 6, red and white streamer, on the end of the 6-pound test tippet. They tore that one up too.
Each time I would hang a fish, the black patch would dissolve, then when I landed the fighting fish, they would reform their ranks.
"I'm going to try a dry fly," I said to Jim. "They'll hit that, too," he answered.
I was casting straight across stream and I sent a royal Wulff over the patch. Two fish came up for that floater and one got there first. Again I had a good, stirring fight, this time a bit longer because he was big enough that on that size 10 dry fly hook I had to play him easy. These fish were ready. In this short time I had taken them on Atlantic salmon flies, streamers, and dry flies. What more could you want?
While usually, as on that day, they'll hit almost anything you offer, the best wet flies for Newfoundland are the silver doctor, Parmarchene belle, cowdung, black Zulu, gray hackle, brown hackle, professor, quill Gordon, and the Traverse Brook sea trout fly. All should be carried in hook sizes from number 4 to 12.
There are not too many ways to fish a wet fly, but to counteract that there are many different sizes and kinds of wet flies, and as it sometimes seems to be size and color, rather than action, that makes these fish hit, the wet fly angler can still get plenty of variety into his offerings to the trout.
The red and white, black and white, all black and all white bucktails are tops, and the famous muddler minnow is away up front as usual, as a strike bringer. The black, white and yellow marabous are excellent producers and the gray ghost and royal coachman streamers all produce plenty of hits. Streamers and bucktails deliver best when they are cast straight across stream and then brought back in foot-long jerks with a pause between jerks, so that the fly floats downstream 8 to 12 inches with each pause. Sometimes the retrieve is begun almost the moment the fly hits the water, and at other times it can be allowed to float a few feet before starting it back. Similarly, variety should be added to the retrieve if the fish are not coming the way they should. Sometimes I use a slow retrieve on the first half of the bring back, then if I do not get a hit I speed it up on the theory that if a trout is following, but not hitting, he will think the fly is going to escape, and will sock it at once. And if they are still slow in hitting, I make the fly literally jump across the surface, and often that will wake them up.
Dry fly fishing for sea run brook trout is just like dry fly fishing for any trout. The cast is made up and across, or straight up, and care should be taken to avoid drag and to avoid slapping the line down hard on the pool. The best dries for Newfoundland are the royal Wulff, gray Wulff, grizzly Wulff, the old reliable gray hackle, the brown hackle, the brown bivisible and the black bivisible, all tied on hook sizes 8 to 12.
The ideal rod for sea run brook trout is an 8-foot rod that weighs 4 to 4I ounces. The matching line should be an HDH and the leader should be tapered from a heavy butt section to a 4- or 5-pound test tippet.
Any reel that is large enough to hold 100 feet of backing is big enough for brook trout as they do not wage a long-running fight. But since many times the angler is fishing for them in rivers where he just might hang a salmon, it is just as well to use an Atlantic salmon reel with enough capacity for the fly line and 100 yards of 14-pound test nylon squidding line for backing. Then he is ready if he should latch onto something big.
Besides Newfoundland rivers, there are a number of eastern coastal rivers in the United States and Canada where a certain number of native brook trout go to sea and return full of fight,and while they do not move in the same big and consistent runs as those in Newfoundland, they do provide some wonderful sport for those anglers who know about them. Hal Lyman, publisher of the Salt Water Sportsman, has taken them on Cape Cod for years, and while the largest I have ever taken in those waters was about a pound and a half, Hal has caught them as large as 4 pounds in streams only 20 feet across.
Sea run brook trout can be taken in the salt, too, when they hang about the entrances of the rivers into which they plan to run. Sometimes they remain around the inlets for as long as two weeks before entering, and then a cast made right across the river mouth where it enters the salt, or a fly drifted along either edge of the current, is an almost sure strike getter. Occasionally, too, they can be spotted in the open salt by water commotion, such as a wave put up by moving fish; or blind casting in shallow bays and estuaries will get them.
Because the fish feed a great deal on a small fish called capelin almost any streamer tied to represent these 6-inch-long smeltlike bait fish will usually do a job.
For big water such as often found around the mouths of rivers or in the estuaries themselves, it is advisable to step the tackle up to an 8 1/2-foot rod with a GBF line. This will throw the bigger flies with less effort than the smaller outfit, especially if there is some wind blowing. The same 12-foot leader, tapered down to a 6-pound test tippet will handle the strikes even from the saltiest of the trout.
Sea run brown trout cover a far wider range than any other member of the family that noses into the salt. They are the sea trout of Europe, extending from above the Artic Circle in Norway, all the way down to Spain. They are found in Iceland, and over here on the North American continent they are taken in Newfoundland and down as far as Connecticut. And due to foresighted stocking of the species in Tierra del Fuego in 1935, there are now great numbers of brownies down there, many of which definitely go to sea and return to run up the Fuegian rivers to spawn.
Wherever they are found, they are great fighters, and in most places they also reach great weights. Swedish anglers come up with some in the 20-to 22-pound class, they weigh slightly less in Iceland, and in Newfoundland 18-pounders have been taken. In the New England States the brown trout that go to sea do not seem to reach very large sizes, mostly one and a half to two pounds being the average, and there are not too many of them. Only occasionally a four pounder is reported. In Argentina, originally not even a natural territory for them, they go up to the 20-pound mark. And in New Zealand at South Island, 15-pounders are taken on flies, usually at night.
In Norway sea trout are such favorites that they vie with salmon in popularity and fancy prices are paid for a "beat" on water into which the sea trout will run. Norwegians use dry flies almost exclusively for sea trout, mostly the same patterns that take Atlantic salmon, big flies that are good floaters, like the Wulff patterns and a Norwegian tie that is a big black hackled tie with hair wings, also black, on a number 6 hook.
In Norway the sea trout usually come into the rivers about July 1st and continue coming until August 15th-and this is the die-hard trout fisherman's heaven because at that time of year it never gets darker than dusk and the fishing often goes on until 2:00 or 3:00 A.M.
At the other end of the world, in the Rio Grande River, on the Argentine side of Tierra del Fuego, the sea trout do not seem to go for dries as their more northern counterparts do. Down there they seem to have a personal grudge against streamers and bucktails and the way some of those bozos hit those streamers tells you they aren't playing for fun. It's a strike that can be felt right down to the toes.
Sea run brown trout begin to ascend the Rio Grande River in mid-January and keep coming up until the middle of February, with stragglers showing even later than that. They also come into the Rio Gallegos, further north where it empties from the mainland into the Magellan Straits near the town of Gallegos, and in that wonderful river they show the same preference for streamers and bucktails.
Jorge Donovan, Bebe Anchorena and I hit the Rio Grande on Charlie Menendez Behety's ranch when the run was really pouring into the river. On my third cast something hit the fast moving red and yellow streamer and threw a shock into me. But I recovered in time, and when the first flurry of excitement was over, I knew I was into a big and powerful fish. He gave a couple of those head swings from side to side, a thing I always like because only heavy fish do that. Then he went downstream like a runaway pacer, really turning it on. He went 400 feet, a long run for any fish. At last he stopped and hung down there in the current still pulling line off the reel, slowly but surely. I had to get out of the river and run down the bank trying to get line back, and as I ran, that obliging cuss started to run up. So we met halfway and I got a tight line on him. But he cut downstream again, this time for 300 feet, and once again I went after him, but this time he felt mean and made me come all the way. I went below him and pulled back on the rod and pulled him backwards a bit, and that made him mad and off he went upstream in a hurry.
But that hard pull licked him. He slowed and I soon was pulling him backwards again, then completely over, and then I reeled him in towards shore, got the butt of the leader to the rod tip, and then I walked back from the edge of the water and skidded him up on a small sand spit. He looked bigger than a small balloon, so I reached down and got a grip in his gills and carried him ashore. He weighed 12 pounds.
He was a beautiful fish, silver all over, with his dots showing up near his shoulders. I wasn't too sure at first but what he was a rainbow, or an Atlantic salmon, or a landlocked salmon, but he was thicker through the peduncle, and as he faded the brownie marks stood out distinctly.
We took many sea run brown trout weighing from 10 to 16 pounds in both the Rio Gallegos and the Rio Grande, a few on size 4 and size 6 Atlantic salmon flies, but the big streamers and bucktails did far better, especially the platinum blonde and the honey blonde, the red hackle, white wing streamer, gray hackle with yellow wings, and red hackle with yellow wings, all on number 1 and 1/0 hooks.
We used both 8 1/2- and 9-foot rods, but mostly leaned to the 9-footers because of the wind. It blows a lot down there and we needed those big sticks to get out the large streamers we were using. Even the slightest breeze is an obstacle with those big flies.