Where in England would you expect an average sea trout to be around 4lb. in weight, a seven pounder to be a distinct possibility and a fourteen pounder to be 'on the cards' Such is the quality of fish in the Wear. Add to that the fact that twice as many fish per hectare are caught on the Wear than are caught on the neighbouring Tyne and you can see why this river is considered by many to be the best Sea Trout River in England, and one of the best in the British Isles.
The water of the Wear, a freestone river, tends to be very clear under normal levels whilst the Tyne nearly always has a peaty colouring. Sea Trout are caught regularly during the day on the Tyne but if you want to catch the Wear Sea Trout during daylight hours stealth is the order of the day. The fish are nervous and very easily disturbed. Approach silently, keeping a very low profile. Avoid wading if possible; if it is essential be 'heron-like' Don't 'fish fine' (remember, the fish are big!) but do fish 'far off' Use a single fly; droppers greatly increase the chance of getting caught in the Willows opposite. Almost any fly will do but local favourites include patterns such as the Dunkeld, Mallard and Claret, Bloody Butcher and Hugh Falcus's Medicine Fly. Cast carefully and accurately, near to or under the bushes on the far bank, and keep you mouth shut to stop your heart escaping!
If you are not faint hearted and wish to experience the best of the Wear Sea Trout fishing then do it at night. You will need to make a daytime 'reconnaissance' to familiarise yourself with suitable pools and the access to them. Note obvious markers that you will be able to find in the dark. Go armed with a ten foot, seven weight rod, a large landing net, a wading staff and a variety of flies. If you are intending to stay until the early hours take a hot drink and some food.. Be warmly dressed and wear a head torch (but never let it shine on the water!).
Be patient, do not start until it is almost dark. Have your rod set up ready. A floating line is best, with a sink tip if you are fishing deeper water. Use a single fly. Many locals use sparsely dressed tube flies with a bit of glitter. A single hook rather than a treble makes it easier to return fish if you don't intend to keep them.
Enter the water quietly if you need to wade and don't go too far in. Cast at 45 degrees to the far bank, make a small upstream mend and fish your fly just under the surface. As the night progresses it may pay to put on a darker fly, such as a Stoat's Tail, to give a stronger profile. After a couple of hours it may pay to go deeper. Put on a heavier fly, cast more across the stream and mend the line to give the fly time to sink. Sometimes a fly tied with a 'riffling hitch' to create a wake on the water will draw fish up from the depths.
Remember, at all times, to keep your rod at an angle to the fly line to absorb the savage take that might ensue. Do not strike, for fresh run Sea Trout have very soft mouths. Remember this when you hook a fish and do not play it too hard - let it run if it wants to. Catching a Sea-Trout in the dark is one of the most exhilarating and heart stopping experiences you will ever have.
Some people would argue that fly fishing is the only method that one should use to catch Sea Trout. They can, however, be caught on small spinners such as Mepps or artificial minnows, especially when the water is coloured. Worms and shrimps, where allowed, will also catch you a fish.
It is your choice as to what method you use but please remember to treat your quarry with respect. Do not use low breaking strain leaders which could leave fish trailing several feet of line. Land the fish as quickly as possible and if you are returning them do it with care and ensure that they are recovered enough to swim strongly away. Do not kill fish that you do not need. Read the E.A. Regulations and the Rules of the water you are fishing. Return all gravid and coloured fish. You will then be helping to ensure the propagation of this gem of freshwater fish and ensure that future generations will be able to do so too.
The River Wear is renowned as a first class game angling river, but it is also excellent for sea angling. Summer months can produce good bags of flounders and eels and in the winter other species can be caught.
Cod are present all year round, but the winter months tend to give the bigger fish, with cod to 7lb plus. Flounders upto 2lb and eels are probably the most prolific species present.
Baits for the cod tend to be peeler crab and for the eels and flounders rag worm or lug worm, coupled with strips of mackerel.
Best times to fish the river are either the last hour of the ebb and the first two hours of the flood, or one hour before top of the tide and one hour after top water.
When the tide is flooding hard, spiders are advisable as plain leads tend to roll with the tide. Hooks need not be big, with a 2.0 quite big enough.
Main lines vary, depending on the skill of the angler, but for safety reasons it is advisable to use a shock leader with a breaking strain of at least 10 lbs per 1 oz. of sinker - i.e. 6 oz sinker = 60 lbs. shock leader.
Long casting is not necessary as the majority of fish tend to feed close in to the jetties and river bank. There have been double-figure cod taken in the past, so there is always the chance of one of these.
The Grayling is a European fish and was probably introduced by man into England. Not all rivers are to its liking for it prefers fast running water, well supplied with oxygen, little pollution and a prolific weed growth. The Wear satisfies three of these requirements but is limited in the presence of weed beds, hence there are not large numbers of Grayling but there are sufficient to make angling for them worthwhile.
They are nomadic fish, especially in Winter, and hence the angler should be mobile and go in search of them. In Summer they tend to be found in shallower, streamy water, lying just off the main flow, whereas in Winter they tend to move to deeper pools where they can often be found in significant numbers. They are omnivorous feeders, eating weed as well as the full range of aquatic invertebrates. During the winter months Witton Park down, Escomb Flats Farm and Vinovium beats are noted for grayling.
Grayling can be caught by both fly and bait. The bulk of the Grayling's diet consists of Gammarus, snails, midge larvae and Ephemeropteran nymphs, all being bottom dwelling forms. Hence, any flies used to target Grayling should be weighted imitations on these. For many years English anglers used the typical wet fly approach, casting across and down with flies such as the Red Tag and Treacle Parkin, together with standard trout wet fly patterns. Nowadays there is a greater tendency to 'Czech nymph', using heavily weighted patterns of shrimps and caddis larvae.
In the Winter, long trotting with a natural bait such as redworms is probably the best way to locate the fish in the deeper pools. Do, though, check local rules to ascertain which natural baits are allowed. Some Clubs ban the use of maggots and do not allow groundbaiting or loose feeding. Once located, they can be fished for with flies, if that is the anglers preferred method.
Grayling do take hatching flies, even in the middle of Winter, so carry a few floating patterns such as dark Klinkhammers and CDCs. However, if no fish are rising there is little chance of 'bringing them up'. The fish, if present, will probably be pre-occupied with feeding on the bottom.
Finally, as Grayling in the Wear are not numerous, it is unwritten policy to return all fish caught so that stocks can be maintained.
Most of the Coarse Fish in the River Wear are to be found in the Lower Reaches and some of the deeper pools on the Middle Reaches. Some of these fish grow to specimen sizes. A British record Dace was caught on the Wear as it passes through Durham City whilst Chub to 8 lb and Barbel to double figure weights can be seen in some of the pools.
The resident fish stocks have been recently supplemented by the Environment Agency with the addition of 3,000 Dace and 3,000 Chub. Plans for 2011 include stocking with 180 lb of 2 lb+ Bream, 2,000 Chub, 5,000 dace 3,000 Roach and 2,000 Barbel. The E.A. has also been constructing purpose-built pegs on some of the more popular stretches.
The Coarse Fish in the Wear respond to all the regular baits but anglers should be aware that, as the river is better known as a Game Fish River, several clubs have specific rules on the use of certain baits (e.g.maggots) and ground baiting in order to protect the Game Fish stocks. Hence anglers should make themselves aware of the club rules for stretches that they wish to fish.
As the Wear is a comparatively narrow river there is no need for special equipment. Twelve foot float rods and ten foot ledger rods will be suitable. Do remember, though, that there are some big fish in the river and hence use line of suitable breaking strain. Do not have your day ruined by breaking on the fish of a lifetime!