Seatrout: an international celebrity

Published on March 9, 2013

I haven’t written much about fishing in a while. Relatively speaking, it’s been a bit of a cold and snowy winter — not as harsh as winters I remember from my childhood, not much of a winter compared with the ’90s, even, but a much more robust winter than those of recent vintage

 So, I’ve been snowshoeing, winter camping and generally enjoying the snowy white woods.

But it’s March now, and it’s been raining in buckets for two days straight. The snow has taken quite a big cutting, at least around the house where I’ve been cozy and dry inside at the fly-tying bench. This early spring thaw has placed fishing with fly and long rod squarely and prominently on my cerebral cortex’s agenda.

I have fishing on the brain. It’s that time of year once again.

On my way back and forth to work, I pass by a fine early spring pond for catching seatrout. We call it a pond, but actually it’s more of an estuary. Tide runs freely in and out of the so-called pond. It’s where Carbonear River meets the salt as you drive along Beach Road in Carbonear, between the turnoff to the South Side and the entrance to College of the North Atlantic where I work diligently at my day job.

It’s tough on my nerves to see guys happily fishing while on my way to teach physics in a stuffy warm classroom. However, this coming week will be different. My students are on mid-term break and faculty has a week off as well. With the snow just about all gone, there is no doubt about how I’ll be spending a big chunk of the next seven days. I got my flies tied, rod strung, and thick warm neoprene waders ready for action.

When I say seatrout, I mean the brown variety that were imported to Newfoundland from Scotland back in the late 1800s and into the early years of the

20th century.

Many of us think of the term seatrout as referencing exclusively the anadromous variety of our native brook trout. Those beautiful orange-fleshed fish have fallen on precarious times here on the island portion of Newfoundland, and even in the Big Land. They are relatively easy to catch and an absolute culinary delight, a combination that has played havoc on their numbers.

I will write more about sea-run brook trout in the coming weeks. For this week, I’ll devout attention to sea-run brown trout or seatrout, as the British, Irish and Scandinavian people traditionally refer to this most wary and challenging of game fish.

Actually, the term seatrout in the context of the present day flyfishing fraternity means either sea-run brown trout, or an exclusively saltwater fish, the spotted seatrout, that’s very popular in Florida, Texas, Louisiana and the Carolinas. I’ve done a fair share of fishing for those toothy saltwater predators around the docks of Boca Ciega Bay in the St. Pete’s area of Florida. I’ll tell you more about that later as well.


Growing popularity

In the last 20 years the popularity of seatrout fishing — or, to be crystal clear on species, sea-run brown trout — has mushroomed exponentially, mainly because of angler accessibility to the brown monsters of Terra del Fuego, an archipelago off the southernmost tip of South America. These amazing fisheries are located in the southern extremes of both Argentina and Chile, with rivers Gallegos and Grande being the most recognizable waters to international anglers.

Fly fishers spend a lot of hard-earned dollars to have a shot at trophy seatrout that weigh well in excess of 20 pounds.

Fishing in Argentina is high on my bucket list. Actually, I had a media opportunity to fish the lower Rio Grande last spring but had to turn it down because of short notice and work commitments. I want to fish in South America really bad. My time will come.

I have a friend from New Jersey who travels south to the Rio Gallegos every year, and catches a seatrout or two over 20 pounds every trip. That’s amazing.

I’ve been fanatically seatrout fishing here on the Avalon Peninsula for just about two decades, and my biggest fish is stalled at about 12 pounds. That’s not to say that there are no bigger fish in Newfoundland. Witless Bay, Salmon Cove and South River are the best bets for behemothic browns.

Back about five or six years ago, Salmon Cove saw fit to bless an angler with a specimen more than 30 pounds. Lots of 20-pound plus fish have been caught in Witless Bay, although not so many in recent years. Lots of double-digit fish swim in South River, but most hard core anglers agree that their numbers are down dramatically. It’s sad to be living though a downward trend in seatrout fishing. We need to take action.


Lower numbers

What’s most interesting is that the trout that swim in South America have precisely the same genetic origin as our Newfoundland sea-run browns, both stocks transplanted a century ago from a hatchery in Lochleven, Scotland.

Why, then, is our fishery of lesser quality? We get the odd fish just as big as their southern cousins, but nowhere near the numbers.

One obvious answer lies in geography. Terra de Fuego is a very isolated and sparsely populated place. Angling pressure is low and the fish have an opportunity to grow to mammoth proportions in a nutrient rich ecosystem. In Newfoundland, we have plenty of protein for seatrout to eat in our bays and estuaries; the problem lies in us eating the trout before they get a chance to mature.

Even with the recent fiscal budgetary crisis, there are not many Newfoundlanders starving.

I dare say the trout we eat is not a big factor in our nutrition regiment or survival. Maybe it’s not necessary or wise to kill so many seatrout.

I think if we practised restraint and released more trout to bite another day, we just might have a fishery that rivals Argentina and Chile. Maybe people would fly from all over the world to fish in Newfoundland, and even if they don’t we would have a wonderful world-class fishery all to ourselves — depending on perspective, a good thing either way.

I’m not preaching 100 per cent hook and release. Go ahead and keep a few fish for the pan, but you don’t need to fill your freezer.

When you feel a mighty tug on your line this spring and reel in a 10-pound seatrout, give some thought to taking a quick photo and setting it free. t might grow to be that 20 pounder that I’ve been seeking for years.

You or I might catch a fish of a lifetime without travelling thousands of miles from home. There’s an obvious and logical reality in angling that many overlook; the average mediocre fish released today is tomorrow’s prize weight lunker. You can only kill a fish once.


Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay, fishes and

wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at