The title already reveals it, when fly fishing for searun browntrout you can catch different types of trout, which is due to the fact that these fish are flexible during their spawning process in fresh water and go through different life stages.
The following knowledge is important for all newcomers, but perhaps one or the other expert can gain new knowledge, because it is particularly important to act carefully and sustainably when fishing for and sometimes keeping sea trout.
We start with what are known as “smolts”. As is well known, sea trout spawn in fresh water, so the newly hatched fish spend their first part of their life in the river. After a while they move into their “main habitat”, in our case mostly in the Baltic Sea. In the spring, especially near freshwater inlets, you can occasionally find these smolts, these are “baby trout”, which are usually around 10-20cm tall and are often found in large schools. If you find such a school, you should change the spot and stop catching mini trout, because honestly, even single hooks can cause damage and 15cm trout should be left alone. Fortunately, these large schools appear very local, so in most cases it is enough to move 50 or 100m further.
Small trout up to 40-50 cm
The next larger version of the sea trout is sometimes called Grönländer/Greenlander. Fish with this name are usually 40-50cm in the Baltic Sea and are often found in quite large schools. If you find such a school, perseverance can pay off, because there are often larger fish in these schools, but not always. These fish have not yet spawned and are on the verge of spawning age, but if you want to take a fish with you, the upper size limit of those fish is good for consumption, because they are often really well-fed. A round 47cm trout can have “more on it” than a slim 50s trout.
When the sea trout has reached a size of around 50 cm, it will go into fresh water for the first time to spawn. As a result, those pre-spawners are usually at least 50cm tall and there are no upper limits. These fish are preparing for spawning and are mostly found on the coast in late summer and autumn. They are characterized by a golden, sometimes brownish to black color and should definitely be released because they are about to spawn and are not a culinary highlight. There are always discussions about the fact that it doesn’t matter when a fish is removed, because dead is dead, regardless of whether it was removed in April as a blank fish or in autumn as a pre-spawner. But it is also a fact that the probability of successful spawning of a brown sea trout immediately before spawning is simply bigger than that of a bare spring trout, which first has to survive another six months without ending up in a fishing net or a seal.
Once the sea trout has spawned, it comes back into the salt water in winter and spring and is now a so-called “post-spawner”. You can usually see that these fish took part in the stressful spawning business, because these fish are thin, often have various wounds such as broken fins or open wounds and are usually very “lame” during the fight. You have to be extra careful with these fish, because some post-spawn fish seem to be silver again and, if you do not look closely, it could also pass as fresh fish that has not spawned. It is worth taking an extra look at the fins, because they often take a little longer to heal. Also, unlike blank fish and fish that skip the spawning, post-spawn fish have no loose scales. These spawned fish are also often found in freshwater inlets, but not exclusively. The same applies here: Please be sure to release carefully! These fish are hardly edible anyhow. Photographing post-spawn trout is a hotly debated topic and there is a lot of criticism. We see it a little differently, because let’s be honest, you can be happy about a big post-spawn trout, because you certainly don’t see such a big trout every day. Nevertheless, you should of course not fish specifically for these fish in front of inlets, but if one ends up on your streamer, then nothing stands in the way of a quick souvenir photo, provided the fact that you act in such a way that makes sure a release works well, i.e. photograph the fish in the water or just take it out of the water for a few seconds.
But these are factors that should be thought of with every released fish and not only apply to post-spawn fish. In our opinion, a large rubberized landing net is a good choice here, because on the one hand the fight is kept as short as possible and you can keep the fish in the water as long as you take out a pair of pliers to remove the hook, for example.
Silver fish and “skippers”
The dream of every sea trout angler is the so-called “skipper”, a trout that skips the spawning for one or a few years, i.e. they do not swim into fresh water and can accordingly eat themselves fat all winter. The best chances to catch these fish are probably in winter and spring. You can recognize “skippers” by a good physical condition, a completely silver body and loose scales. Nothing stands in the way of keeping such a fish, but we would like to say: be moderate! If you have no more space in the freezer or if you have to pass your sea trout on to all distant friends and work colleagues because you are already eating sea trout in the morning, at noon and in the evening, then you should perhaps reconsider your actions.
Fjord and summer trout
In summer and in the fjords of Denmark one often catches golden or dusty sea trout, which should not be confused with climbers, even if there is a certain similarity. In the fjords you can often find sea trout, which stay there all year round and do not “turn really silver” even in winter, in our experience these are mostly fish up to about 50cm. Describing this distinction is quite difficult, and putting it into the appropriate category is more or less experience. As a rule of thumb, however, one can say: from mid-September onwards, brown fish on the open coast are mostly climbers and not summer trout.
We are not judging here, but we are interested in sustainable fishing. Everyone can make their own decisions when fishing, but in our opinion it is in the interest of all sea trout anglers to gently release coloured fish (pre- and post-spawn), even outside of the legal closed seasons. The term “gentle” is important, but if you have a buddy with you who can take a quick photo, nothing stands in the way. And if you are not sure about the classification: In case of doubt, for the accused. Even if the fish had tasted good, releasing it gives you big points on the big-fish account.
Tight lines and good luck with the mysterious and always exciting sea trout fishing, where pure joy and pure despair are often very, very close together.