Sea trout is one of the hardest species to consistently catch on the fly. Sure you can get lucky but in the long run you will have to put in a lot of hard work.
Air temperature: three degrees Celsius. Water temperature: seven. The fifty horses on the back of Timo Tintse’s boat are rocketing us from reef to reef off Kaberneeme. I’m freezing. Timo probably wouldn’t let on if he were cold; he was a soldier in Kosovo.
And Hendrik is always in some kind of zen state of happiness, even when his car has two flat tires and he’s trying to find a tow truck driver who’ll come to the forest at midnight, or when he’s driven his car down a forest road only to have it rain cats and dogs and make it impossible for it to drive out and we don’t get home until four in the morning. (It’s the Curse of the Tiguan. He can’t shake it.) So I’m the only one who’s officially cold.
Timo has a nose for sea trout. I’ve fished for sea trout dozens of times and only ever caught one fish. They call salmon the fish of a thousand casts. But that’s because whoever coined that phrase wasn’t a sea trout fisherman. My usual method is to find some part of the coastline where the wind is tolerable, wade out until waist deep, and start casting toward Finland.
I’ve only ever connected with a sea trout once, and that was 25 years ago wade fishing off Tabasalu. It was too small to keep, and behaved as if it were ill. But I did catch it on a fly rod, and 25 years ago in Estonia that meant something. Not anymore. Everybody fly fishes.
Today the wind is up enough that only Hendrik strings up his fly rod. He’ll fly fish no matter what. He’s 30-something, not yet old enough to be lazy, and young enough that his boundless energy put into fishing actually pays off. Reach 50 and you’re more likely just to sit on the bank, drink coffee, and watch other people fish. (Like our friend Jaanus, who often doesn’t even bring a rod anymore.) Not Hendrik. If there’s a fish behind one of these islands, he’s going to catch it.
Timo knows these waters and guides through his company Estfish. He’s on the water over 100 days per year. “When the water gets colder they come even closer to shore,” he says, making an argument to fish in December and January. He doesn’t guide much on rivers. His thinking is that Estonian rivers are a limited resource and there’s no catch and release culture, so the last thing he wants to do is bring clients to rivers who’d kill fish. The sea, however, is a different story. Two fools lobbing spoons out of a boat are hardly going to do any damage.
Like today. There’s nothing happening. Of course we were ready for that. But we wanted to give winter sea trout fishing a real chance, and fish with a guy who knew what he was doing. And he makes a pretty good sandwich, too. (Secret: foreign cheese; not that Estonian yellow stuff that’s all the same but goes by multiple names.)
Hendrik interrogates Timo on strange stuff that’s happened in his boat. Has a seagull taken a lure? (No.) Has an angry seal come aboard and tried to take a child passenger? (No.) Any heart attacks that necessitated a helicopter rescue? (No.) All Timo can offer is the standard fare of a fisherman hooking a fellow angler’s hat. Seems Timo’s boat is a pretty safe one. But I can see the wheels turning in Hendrik’s head. What drama could he bring with the Curse of the Tiguan?
After roughly six hours on the water there’s an unspoken agreement to head to port. The foreign cheese sandwiches are gone and Hendrik still has to move his wife’s horses around tonight. And for me there’s a sauna waiting. But we’ll be back. When it’s warmer.
Author profile: Scott Diel is a Wading List contributor and full-time proprietor of Fly Fishing in Estonia.