September 2006

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Today has left me feeling confused, excited and sad all at once. I had one of my more memorable days down on one of the auld haunts. To understand where I’m coming from, it helps to understand a little about what this bit of river is like. The word dour was invented specifically for it. I’ve made one or two posts about it previously, after catching begger all. This is quite normal. However, as is so often the case, the dourest places can hold the biggest trout.

The water was beautiful today, perhaps the nicest colour and height I’ve seen it this season. When the sun shines right the whole river bed lights up and the water glows a light whisky yellow. I remember the first time I fished this river, after only having fished on the Kelvin in Glasgow. I hadn’t imagined rivers were this clear anywhere in Scotland.

The more I fish this bit of water the more I’m mystified. It is clearly very healthy in terms of insect life, at least under the surface. Turning a few stones over I was pleased to see huge cased sedge larva, upwing nymphs and even freshwater shrimp which I hadn’t seen here before. But despite this the river just doesn’t seem to hold the population of ‘average’ catchable fish you’d expect. In a way you can think about it like some of the New Zealand rivers, where there are small numbers of lunkers separated by not much.

And there’s an example of one of the best of the ‘not much’ I caught all day. I fished hard all morning, then into mid afternoon before I found any fish rising. And then it was just these wee chaps who were possibly taking terrestrials falling off the trees. Using the smallest fly I could find it wasn’t very difficult to get takes from them. I gave up and moved on after a while because I don’t think it’s healthy for me or the river to hook parr like that.

So after having fished everything from tiny sedges to massive tunsten nymphs I started heading upriver towards the car. I decided to stop for a wee while at a known pool. The pool you might say. It’s the kind of place that just has to hold one or two biggies. Not that I’ve ever seen a fart’s chance in the Arctic’s sign of any.

Except today. Today I saw some fish. I saw two, maybe three nice fish. One of which was friggin big. Like the length of my arm. But I didn’t catch him because he only rose once, shortly after which he spooked the hell out of there. But I did manage to land a beautiful trout of around 11oz after casting to one of the smallest rises I’d seen all day. To describe a fish like this as gold dust up there is maybe wrong. No, it’s definitely wrong. More like huge hand sized chunks of gold studded with diamonds and sitting on a big chocolate gateau.

When I hooked him I was convinved it was a 1.5lber. Had to be, there was a bend in the rod after all. And he jumped about like a maniac. And he was longer than my eh, finger. All said, I was really thrilled to catch him. One of my hardest worked for fish of the season. Sod that, by far my hardest worked for fish as I’ve had about 5 trips down to the river and he’s about as big as all the other fish put together. Crazing game, fishing.

Last weekend I met up with the pal Al, and headed down to a nice bit of water. Once again the conditions seemed good, but once again the clock chimed that it was late in the season, and the trout were thinking of other things.

We both started off with dries, myself putting up the usual emerger pattern. I worked up some lovely runs, but only one take registered the effort, and came so out of the blue that it was missed. Desperation began to take hold and I tackled up nymphs that were three months heavier than usual. I refer of course to the deep nymphs of winter grayling fishing, but the river seemed as dead as any December afternoon.

It wasn’t too long before I found some fish. First a small grayling, then a better one from precicely the same spot. Great to see them starting to shoal up, in ones and two at the moment but soon to be more, let’s hope! A couple of trout followed from an adjacent seam, and the hint of a beaming grin passed across the cheeks.

The sun began to sink before I knew it, and it wasn’t too long before I followed in a similar fashion into the river. For some reason I only seem to get properly wet when I’m fishing with the Al pal. Has to be some kind of voodoo curse involved. Having said that, there wasn’t too much involved beyond idiocy when trying to wade through a 5′ deep hole.

This weekend I headed a little South to fish with the brother again. We fished all day using every method known to the (moderately) self-respecting fly-man but couldn’t connect with much beyond parr. The end of the season feels close. It is close, barely a week away.

In the end I guess everyone deals with the end of a season in their own way. I tend to feel pretty philosophical about the whole thing and try to look at things in perspective. The close season is really a good thing. It concentrates the mind and you get so much more out of the months you can get on the river. And if I’m still saying that in Feburary, I’ll eat all the hats.

It’s been difficult to reach the heights of our northern trip in the last few weeks. In fact the fishing has been at best difficult, and at worst useless. I’ve found myself on some usual haunts, as well as a couple of new ones. But the running theme has been one of dour days and precious few fish.

The weather has been unseasonably warm, but it seems the fish just don’t look out for sunglasses weather when it comes time to think about getting it on. Despite all things it has really begun to feel like the clouds of another season are beginning to be blown away. It’s a funny feeling really, because while I feel sad to know the season will soon pass, I also know that there have been some great moments that can only ripen in the memory. All that is needed is a winter break to focus the mind anew and bring the excitement of a fresh spring.

Ealier in September we took a wee jaunt up to Perthshire to fish a couple of rivers for a weekend. It coincided with a family celebration (no coincidence) so of course fishing had to be a major feature. The first afternoon was hot and bright, and we struggled away on a lovely little stream full of pocket water and banked by old Scots woodland. A couple of small trout provided minor breaks in the blanking, but this was perhaps a day for enjoying some of the other distractions of a highland stream.

The next day we headed off to a much larger river, and managed to time things pretty well. Soon after arriving some trout started to feed on a small hatch of late olives. We took a few pretty fish to the usual patterns, DHE and a little dun creation of mine that’s been doing quite well this season. A little voice in my head suggested that this might have been the last worthwhile rise of the season. Little voices are often right.

In some ways loch fishing in Scotland is like finding a good plumber: it’s a lot easier if you know where to look. Next best thing is to know what to look for, and for loch fishing it’s pretty common for the best, most productive lochs to be quite shallow. For plumbers, well I don’t really have a clue..

In the far North there are plenty of lochs that fit this description. What makes things really happen though is some of the geology. It’s limey. As in the limescale on my kettle. Which is good, at least for bugs like freshwater shrimp:

Trout that eat lots of shrimp tend to be more sophisticated, discerning creatures, appreciating a nice bottle of Rioja with their supper. It’s the wine that makes their flesh pink and tasty. We don’t kill a lot of fish to be honest, but just had to try these famous Northern beauties, and we weren’t dissapointed. The fish below was actually returned, but gives a good impression of the superb condition of many of the trout. Prettier and healthier fish you will be hard pressed to find.

Buzzers apparently feature a lot on some of the Northern lochs, and on some evenings they certainly made a big showing, managing to get all over your face and in places you never imagined possible..

We fished a whole bunch of lochs on our trip, catching in almost every one. There was occasionally the tantalising prospect of some daddy longlegs action, but they never really got going properly whilst we were up. Nonetheless there was one lovely afternoon when I caught a nice handful to a daddy pattern I ‘invented’ the night before. It maybe wasn’t as pretty as some I’ve seen but it was effective. Let’s just say it involved a lot of polypropylene yarn and half a hare’s mask.

The fish in this loch were a good bit darker than some of the others we’d been catching, but were fantastic as well. I’d never caught on daddy’s before, and it was an amazing sight as fish confindently gulped down the fly. I found a nice bay and carefully wading down into it, casting across the wind and letting the flies drift downwind, like fishing traditional wet flies on a river. At one stage I saw a daddy fly past the line and clumsily hit the water. As it tried to get airborne again I made a bet with myself that it would get eaten, and sure enough, a few seconds later there was a big swirl and the Big Daddy was a gonner.

There was one particularly engaging loch we fished a couple of times. This loch was right near the sea, providing an extra thrill to the whole experience. The first day we were down we ran smack bang into the middle of a nice olive hatch. The old DHE did some nice work for us as usual, cast to rising trout. We found a few larger fish but couldn’t get near without spooking, as it was very calm and the wading was fun. In the evening the big rise we were hoping for didn’t really come, but it was a great place to watch the sun and sky and catch the odd brownie.

Fishing for two weeks is a bit strange for folks normally doing so only once or twice a week. At first you find yourself thinking it’s great, but you know it’s only for a wee while so make the most of it. But then I found I just stopped thinking about it, and just fished and fished, like it’s what I was designed to do. You get up, schmooze on some brekkie and decide which loch to head for. And the next day. And the next. A great feeling.

Not surprisingly you also find yourself getting noticably better at the whole shubang. Not just the casting, but reading the conditions, choosing the presentation. It feels like the more you fish the more you manage to unblock the sink that’s keeping your fishing a drip-drap instead of a gurgling rush! By the end of the trip I think we both felt like we’d reached a better level in this kind of fishing, which is great.

Need to go for longer next time..

The lack of updates lately is generally due to one of two reasons: not much fishing, or masses of it. For once it has been the latter, as I have been off fishing all over the north of Scotland. There are really too many lochs to write about, for the sake of boredom on the part of the author and any readers, so over the next wee while I’ll put up a few posts about some of the more memorable days.

Now there are literally thousands of lochs in Scotland, from minute peaty cess-pits to grand limestone beauties. I personally love to fish pretty much anywhere that’s wild (which is almost all of it), and preferably out of the way, at least in terms of distance from cities (ditto). But, for the average fly angler there are a few lochs that stand out, and we were no different. I won’t go into too many details of precicely where (as usual) because that would spoil the fun. Doesn’t matter really, there’s so much good fishing to be had.

The loch this post is about managed to leave a very strong impression on us. It wasn’t always easy, but when things were on, they were seriously on. We caught some lovely fish, almost all of which came to sedges fished from mid to late evening. Now I am really a riverman at heart, but there were a few nights where the fishing experience rivalled any I’ve ever done anywhere. In some ways it’s like fishing the tail of a nice pool, where the water is glassy and rises look big and inviting.

Never before have I come into the company of fish of such quality rising all around. A good percentage of the fish I usually catch do well to reach half a pound, which is absolutely fine by me. But just occasionally to get a few larger fish can really make your day.

Most nights I used just one fly, a size 14 DHS with a dark black/claret body. One evening there was a bit of a buzzer hatch, and a wee Shipmans buzzer did some good work for me. During the day, DHE’s were often very useful. The key was good presentation and accurate casting. I think in this respect hard learnt skills from river dry fly fishing stand you in very good stead on a loch during a rise. The goal was to land the sedge right in the middle of the rise, or better, a meter or two in the direction that the fish appeared to be moving when it rose. A little patience was sometimes needed, but very often a good cast brought a good fish.

I remember there was a post not long ago about fishing a spinner fall on a river. These nights were the loch version, but brought no less of a banana-grin to the cheeks. Casting a fly at rises on a pink loch surface at 10pm in August.. difficult to describe how fantastic it felt.

Oddly enough my best fish came during a difficult day on the boat. The conditions in the morning had been flat calm, warm, bright. Mid afternoon and a sudden norwester picked up and within seconds there were splashy rises. A good drift was quickly set up, and it wasn’t too long before a savage take to the sedgehog signalled a cracking fight with a beautiful two pounder. I find almost any trout to be pretty, but I have to say this fish was the healthiest, most athletic and wonderfully conditioned fish I’ve ever seen. Looked a dead ringer for those outragous New Zealand brownies with prominent kypes and charcoal spots. A special fish. Shame about the photo which does so little justice I’m not sure it’s worth posting.

The brother did really well too, taking a enviable string of cracking fishing throughout the week. Of course he needed my deadly flies, but who doesn’t..

Fishing the lochs up there is something to be savoured and enjoyed. Day to day work life definitely concentrates the mind when on a proper fishing break and makes all the experiences memorable. Plans are already formulating for next year..

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