Fishing trips

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I have lost count of the number of times I’ve fished the Upper Tweed and blanked. I think my success rate (in terms of even remotely ‘countable’ fish) must be 20% at best. I keep going back though as it’s a lovely place to spend a couple of hours. There’s a strange magnetic presence, something about the light and the hills and the profound quiet. I hope this short sequence captures something of a summer evening of blanking up there.

Beautiful and fishless from Mike Tamanawis on Vimeo.

Note that the Vimeo compression is pretty severe, so click the video link to watch it on Vimeo in HD (a bit better but still nothing like what I see at home).

Lightweight cookware is a wonderful thing when you’re walking any kind of distance to camp. Light loads bring happiness. It seems less fun when trying to cook something other than water. Such cooking becomes less an art form and more of a disaster minimisation procedure. The reason is that it can be very hard to control the heat transmitted through the thin metal of sexy titanium cookware, so you tend to end up sacraficing things. How would you like your scrambled eggs this morning sir, burnt or raw?After the previous night’s gas production antics we ate a leasurely breakfast based on oats. It was a beautiful morning, with the rain clouds which had soaked the tent overnight now long gone. I scurried off for a few minutes to take some photos, and then we struck camp and dropped down off the ridge towards a potentially tricky river crossing.

On the way down we spotted a large herd of deer, perhaps already getting psyched for autumn’s shennanigans. Trying to get close enough for a photo we dropped behind a bluff, then poking our heads above the ridge line the deer were nowhere to be seen. It’s amazing how they melt away.

Down at the river and things weren’t looking too promising. We came up to it at a series of impassable rapids, and opted to walk upstream. Some bushwacking later and we came across an ancient ruined dwelling perched on the steep hillside just above the river. Almost completely hidden by bracken and hill grass, it was enough to make one pause and consider the remoteness of a life lived in such a spot. It really was just about as properly remote as things get in the UK. Getting through winter must have been an interesting challenge. The mind boggles.

Further bushwacking and we came to a wide, shallow pool. Off with the boots and we were soon across and getting a bit of lunch on the go. It was such an enticing pool that I decided it was worth the faff of setting up a rod, and within seconds trout were rising to the little deer hair sedge.

Half a dozen pretty little trout later and we packed up and struck off towards our goal. The first job was to find the path we’d seen from high on the ridge. It had looked promisingly clear and solid from far, but we soon discovered it to be exceptionally bog-like and disliking of leaky footwear. Much bog-trotting followed.

After that we did more bog-trotting. I think there was a dry section of path at one point, but I might be making that up. Things were damp.

After a bit more boggy wading we found ourselves at the head of the big loch and ready to turn and head up to the hidden lochan that was our final destination. Unsurprisingly the off-road section required for this goal was boggy and very wet, so the bog trotting didn’t stop. I’m not sure if I forgot to mention, but it was very damp.

At long last we came up and over the final rise, and there before us lay a rather magical scene. A Lost Loch snaking away between the steep sides of a remote glen. And sure enough, the spreading rings of rising trout pepperd over the surface close to the near shore.

It was 4.30pm. It had taken a bit longer to get here than planned (ahem). I quickly scouted around for a suitable tent pitching spot, but was rewarded with nothing but extremely boggy ground anywhere close to the loch shore. Even the attractive sandy beach that should have allowed for some extreme Scottish sunbathing was completely under water.

Beginning to feel just a touch uncomfotable at the prospect of the night to come I climbed part way back up the hillside and searched hard for a flattish spot. There were one or two, and you’ll never guess, they were boggy as hell. So a decision had to be made between pitching on lovely dry, bare rock at angles ranging from 30-90 degrees to the horizontal, or on profoundly boggy ground. Time to test that ground sheet waterproofing.

So at last to the fishing. There were some issues. The aforementioned flooded beach was the main culpret. It created a barrier of 6″ deep water about 10 metres wide between the solid(ish) shore and the slightly deeper water where fish were rising. I tried casting over it and succeeded in spooking all fish within a 30m radius. I had to get closer, and the only way was to strip off and wet wade up to the thighs. Swimming in highland lochs is one thing, can be very fun in fact, but standing still and casting for a couple of hours in the same water is somewhat more invigorating on the legs.

Luckily the fish liked the look of the little dry shipman’s buzzer I offered them. One after another they supped it down for the next couple of hours. Quite a wonderful thing to catch trout in such a wild place, truly surrounded by mountains and up to the knackers in baltic water. So much fun in fact that we got rather carried away and neglected to take any photos. You’ll have to trust me when I say that the trout were very pretty and all that, but they really were. The only thing which rivalled their shining forms was the incredible sunset which accompanied our dinner shortly afterwards. As pots of noodles simmered gently the western sky blazed the most intense pink I’ve ever seen, sending rays bouncing off the loch below.

It was soon quite profoundly dark, enhanced by the thick cloud that rolled over, blocking out all star and moonlight. Sleep was fitfull, dampened by the pounding rain that hammered off the tent canvas for most of the night.

I’ll spare details of the following day’s walk out, except to say that it was long, involved ticks in all sorts of places, and provided endless views of spectacular mountain scenery. Despite the grumbling over bogginess, we were actually remarkably lucky with the weather as it only properly rained during the nights. It was a really wonderful chance to spend a slightly more extended period of time away in the hills than I usually manage. Having the Lost Loch as a destination was in some ways unimportant. What mattered was that it was a long way away and required a bit of graft to reach. It’s just a shame it wasn’t boggier.

Read Part I of ‘The Lost Loch’ here.

Back in 2008 I had a lovely day on the river. It feels like a long time ago, so I made this video to remember it. The parts with vocals are a bit embarrasing shall we say, but anyone who’s fished for any time knows what it’s like to catch a special trout and get a bit gushy.

The season ended a few weeks ago now, so it seems like an good time to look back and remember nice days on the river in spring sunshine. Perhaps it will help make the coming season seem less far off. Or it might just make it seem an age away.

All the same, the two video clips below are from the same day of spring fishing on a favourite stretch of river back in April 2009. Scores of March browns coming off the top, plenty of rising trout. One of them even ate my deer hair sedge, and turned out to be the largest sea trout I’ve ever caught. Somewhere around 4lb I seem to remember. Slightly wobbly video, but I was combating the competing urges of returning the fish asap and getting a bit of footage of a rare moment (for me anyway).


I appear to have lost almost the entirity of the second half of the fishing season. I’ve looked everywhere but can’t find it. It isn’t even in the outdoor cooking equipment drawer like most things that go missing around here. Somehow it really has gone missing, and with the 6th October rapidly approaching something had to be done. A few weeks ago it thus seemed like a good idea to plough all that pent up fishing frustration into a proper expedition, one that would make memories to last more than a few seasons.I trawled through the list of remote lochs on my ‘to do’ list, and finally settled on one of the remotest. The eastern edge of Knoydart, a 16 mile round trip, lots of uphill, two potentially dodgy river crossings and a long walk alongside a hydro-loch of variable height. There was no way to do it in a day, so together with the brother we opted for a three day expedition including two nights of wild camping.

After a Friday evening stopover in Glen Etive on the way north, we found ourselves in Fort William wasting time in outdoor shops, wondering what items might have been forgotten. My propensitiy to be drawn into outdoor gear shops, even when I know I wish to buy nothing, is something I really must address. Terrible consumerism and an unholy waste of time.

My initial purpose was perfectly reasonable. I wanted a lightweight trowel with which to bury the natural waste of eating and walking long distances. Alas the lightest trowel I could find weighed almost as much as the (heavy) trangia I was already carrying. I finally decided that with all the rain the ground was sure to be pliable enough that the camp spoon could be put to a new and interesting use.

To further digress, dare I say to rant, I must recount my conversation with an assistant (that’s a funny word) at one particular camping shop on the high street. After asking him if the shop had any trowels, he looked at me as if I’d just shat on the carpet right there and then, and stated, “We don’t sell things like that here.” I suppose I must have missed the secret method his regular customers no doubt adopt for turding in the wild, perhaps involving standing side on to the breeze and grimacing intently.

A couple of pies later, the venison version of which would go on to help provide a memorable night and bring the camp spoon into earlier use than expected, and we were driving ever north and west through sheets of rain. Every five miles or so the clouds parted as the rain subsided, only for another shower to be met around the next corner. Spirits didn’t flag though, as the always reliable highland weather forecast suggested that Sunday would be better.

We arrived at the parking spot and kitted up. Normally this is a brief affair, but with me around it tends to get somewhat slowed down as camera equipment is strapped on. This time it was further retarded by the fact that somehow 3 days of camping and fishing and walking gear didn’t want to fit into my 45L rucksac. Some emergency discarding helped a bit, but only in combination with wearing all clothes and offloading (ahem) the fishing bag to my kind companion would the lid shut. In my defence I was carrying the tent…

Thus we were on our way. For about 10 minutes. At which point it became immediately obvious that the first river wasn’t going to be crossed without swimming. Much hard staring at the map and an alternative start point was proposed. Back to the car.

Along the way to the revised start point an interesting looking bridge, which is maybe stretching the use of the word, was almost tempting enough to draw us across. But given the state of my balance, and the 80-year old knees located at my leg hinges, we kept going for the last mile up to the top of the road and thus avoided the river altogether.

All this arsing about had cost us another hour of light, which together with the Great Fort William Turd Scoop Debacle (GFWTSD) meant that we were not going to eat into very many miles before sunset. We thus took a more direct route towards our destination, which involved climbing quite steeply up to gain a long ridge, but which saved a couple of miles of low level trudging. Arriving on the ridge we were greeted with one hell of a nice view, including the sight of a sinking sun and beautiful splashes of colour on the surrounding mountains. The tent was quickly errected on the flattest raised spot we could find, which was nonetheless waterlogged.

Meanwhile SP went off to get some cooking water and I whipped out the camera and started photo-spamming. I spend so much of my regular time imagining being in places like that ridge at the right time of day, that to actually be there was really quite wonderful. Clouds danced around the higher summits and occasional patches of whispy mist passed under our feet. It seemed quite unreal that simply by plodding one foot in front of the other you could attain such a location and view. It gave the understanding that there really is no great trickery in the beautiful photos of folk like Colin Prior and Richard Childs, just a lot of trudging and patience (to go along with a healthy dose of skill and technique of course).

With dinner duties finished (it’s always worth taking that block of cheese and French sausage..) we watched the sky deepen through all imaginable shades of blue, until at last a few stars revealed themselves. I took a few long exposure photographs with the camera propped on rocks (the tripod was one of those emergency discarded objects), managing to simulataneously photograph Ursa Major and scratch the hell out of the LCD screen.

Squeezing through the tent door I produced the first suggestion of what the night would hold, but pretended it was just gas released from the bog under the groundsheet. The brother wasn’t buying it, but did decide to join in. Fun fun times in a cramped space. A few generous sips of whisky and off to sleep. I’ll spare the rest of the details.

Read Part II of ‘The Lost Loch’ here.

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