fishing (Northern lochs)

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The trout season proper opened on the 1st April. It’s now June 7th and I haven’t really had a single eventful fishing trip. Forays to my usual early season rivers have been frustrating with sporadic hatches and even more sporadic numbers of rising fish. Perhaps I was just unlucky with my timing, but I’ve nevertheless been feeling a bit deflated by it all and in need of a piscatorial lightening bolt.In search of inspiration I asked my old man to join me for an evening of loch fishing from a boat. The recent spell of beautiful warm weather seemed like a perfect precursor to a few quiet hours of drifting over big-fish depths with a couple of buzzers and a fistful of fine biscuits.

We arrived at the boat to find sticky conditions. Once I’d managed to remove the peppermint cream from its wrapper, however, we got round to checking out the weather. Overcast, dull, humid and a slight breeze. Can one ask for better loch fishing conditions?

As we were getting ready to push out, I took a few moments to ask one of the regulars for some advice. I count myself as an all-around ‘improver’ with this fly fishing lark, but that category drops a couple of notches to ‘waste of space’ when it comes to fishing on big lochs. Buzzers I was told, small black ones with some red flashes at the head, fished slowly and carefully would (and I quote directly) “definitely catch fish tonight”. A true zealot, I lapped it up and prepared myself for baskets of golden trout. I could already sense the gentle draw on the line as a fish turned on the point buzzer, so delicious was the anticipation.

The first drift produced nothing except an increasingly hostile easterly blow. Likewise the second drift, and the third. By the time I’d finally got the motor going for the 4th time (it wasn’t easy…) I realised it was time to move on to a new bay. Ten minutes of motoring and out went the buzzers again, this time into water of barely 3-4′ deep which throbbed with weed. As I said, “waste of space”.

Nothing came of the weedy bay. By now the stiffening easterly had carried fresh rain clouds from the North Sea overhead and the brief interlude of scotch mist quickly gave way to proper rain and then something more like a tropical storm. I briefly rummaged through the boat box before accepting that I knew damn well that I hadn’t bothered to bring waterproofs, and that wishing for them at this point was probably only increasing the joy of Thor.

So there we sat, father and son, in a boat, gradually becoming waterlogged and casting aimlessly at the horizon for rumored trout. The spirit flagged.

In another of the evening’s vaguely comic scenes I decided to motor the boat off towards the only bright spot of sky on the loch. I was fully aware that the bright spot was actually located somewhere between Heaven and Crieff but it still seemed like the right thing to do, if only for the mild sense of purpose it gave to proceedings.

In the far corner of the loch we sat, the wind now dead and the rain steady. I noted with some interest the rising level of water at the bottom of my fine boat box – of course I hadn’t brought the lid – and wondered how the sausage rolls were doing. Those clever devils at Border’s knew to package the all-important biscuits in a plastic sheath, but the Morrison’s gang fell at the first hurdle with the paper-bag joke that was their 4-sausage-rolls-for-50p loon. Together they rise but only the strong last out.

A mutual decision was made to head back to the pier and end the misery. By this time I was fishing 2 dry flies having decided that humour was the better part of valour. But as we rounded the point and admired the glowing sunset I spotted a small trout leap clear of the water. A few moments later I saw a distinct rise, and seconds later another. In the gloaming light I could just make out the dorsal fin of a buzzer-sucking trout hoovering up the remnants of the intermittent evening hatch.

As manically as my frost-bitten hands would let me I stretched out a line and cast where I guessed was ‘in front’ of the fish. Seconds passed, and I had just enough time to convince myself that I had finally started seeing things when a frothy rise grabbed my attention back and I found myself attached to an extremely unhappy trout. For only the second time this season I heard that wonderful ‘ziiiinnnggg’ as my cheapo reel threatened to melt in its casing. What a feeling, what a glorious sodden-arsed feeling that was.

Making as much of a meal of it as possible I finally netted the monster, only to find a relative tiddler at 3/4lb or so. In my short and often-exaggerated fisherman’s memory that must have been the most impressive 3/4lb of fight I’ve encountered. My 5 weight Sage really did buckle over in a quite beautiful arc.

Hero shot in the can we moved on to a final drift. By this time there was definitely some kind of ‘rise’ on the go. Not a proper rise by any account, but given the completely fishless and uneventful preceding hours it felt exciting. Suddenly the #14 Shipman’s buzzer seemed a sensible rather than ironic choice and casts carried hope through the thickening air.

My wandering attention was suddenly brought back to focus as another fish nailed the dry. This time there was no denying it, he was a big fish. My plastic reel hummed a rather uncomfortably high-pitched whine as all my slack line was ripped back through the rings in short order. I don’t honestly think a fish has taken so much line from me since about 2004/5. It was great.

More experienced boatmen than I would probably have dealt with this kind of fish in a more elegant manner, but I found the process of having to dance 360 degrees around the boat a total thrill. In the deepening gloom I pulled him over the net and immediately twisted out the scales; a very respectable 3lb.

Apologies for the grotesque use of beard in this photograph.

Thoughts of lemon-crust barbequed trout briefly flashed across my mind, but in my fishing heart I heard the quiet voice which told me that the joy the fish brought to my evening was more than I needed to take from the loch. Sitting in the cold light of a foggy evening I’m glad I listened.

In autumn, who needs words?

Last weekend I decided it was high time to head for a loch and try some traditional strip-n-hope. All fishing has been on rivers so far this season. Yet as much as I love the rivers there is definitely a time to just take it easy and relax by the side of a beautiful wild loch for a few hours.


I’ve been looking for a good wild loch to concentrate on which is within an easy(ish) day trip distance of Old Smokey, and after some considerable deliberation I opted for a long strip of water somewhat out of the way and somewhat further than close. We discovered the loch was quiet and relatively un-soiled, and it would certainly be nice for it to stay that way. So The Loch of Trees it is.

Despite arriving at the back of 4pm, we still passed a wonderful few hours by tree-lined shores, in the company of naught but a good handful of trout, a stiffish westerly and about 20 rain showers. The only hitch was my leaky waders. The fresh sealant I’d smeared down the inside leg in the morning was not entirely dry when we arrived so I opted to spend half an hour tying flies with my ultra-minimalist portable fly-tying kit, hoping the scotch-mist and humid atmosphere might help. Eventually I decided to hot-foot it down to the loch anyway, and indeed it turned out that my leaky waders remained that way.

loch-2This fine example of the rare roddus leafus was one of many found in abundance by Loch Tree

The steel gray clouds which marched overhead, together with the favourable temperature, left me sure that we were in with a good chance of some action. Upon arriving I put up a standard starting cast of size 12 deer hair segde (tied extra bushy..) on the dropper with a black pennel/blae’n’black on the point. I had opted to fish with the 8.5′ 4 weight, which is a lovely light rod to use for several hours of continuous casting, but does leave a little to be desired in the cast-for-glory stakes needed with a 3 fly cast.

Arriving at the water’s edge we were greeted by a lovely ripple, and I quickly headed off upwind with the intention of fishing back down the bay, making casts out across the breeze.

It wasn’t long before the first offer, a quick slash at the DHS as it settled on the water. Missed it of course. A few minutes later another offer, this time to the wet fly on the point. Missed again, but it still seemed like a good omen. I steadily fished the flies down the bay, making slow retrieves and sometimes leaving the flies static to drift in the drift.

loch-3There followed a frustratingly long period with not a sign of anything, except a good soaking from the now continuous drizzle. I eventually decided for a switch in tactics, and opted for a butcher on the point and my favourite black zulu on the dropper.

Not too long in, and now fishing in a more traditional haul’n’hope style, a nice trout impaled itself on the zulu and put up a merry scrap. I tried to get a photo, but alas he did escape. First one always gets his freedom anyway, but a better photo of what was a gloriously marked, yellow-bellied brownie would have been nice.

Within the next short while another couple of fish opted for the zulu, though both were considerably smaller and of totally different marking; much darker and peatier. The first fish had been taken close to the far drop-off of a sandy-bottomed ledge, so I guess that accounted for his lovely condition.

Further down, into the next bay and another nice trout, probably just over the half-pound mark, and this time taken for the following day’s lunch. Interestingly the fish appeared to have been feeding on a mixture of unidentifiable black grubs and bits of loch-weed. I thought trout were carnivores..? The last time I saw weed in a trout’s stomach was from an escapee stocky on Loch Awe. Strange.. or perhaps normal and I don’t know my arse from my elbow.

As the evening wore on and the rain grew more permanent we decided to head for curry. Walking back through the forest we were once again confronted by a beautiful array of trees, quite a number of which I couldn’t identify. Work to do there. I had foolishly forgotten my wondrous wee guidebook, but I took some mental notes. Ash I now believe, interspersed with old oaks and the odd silver birch. What a fantastic place.

Nine days of fishing. For anyone less than a guide or a professional trout bum, it’s a good stretch. For the first few days it’s a novelty, then it begins to feel strangely normal. Casting becomes more natural, presentation more consistent, fly choice oddly instinctive. It’s almost like finding an activity that draws on all one’s spirit, slowly moulding everything together to fit some kind of focussed purpose. When a ‘normal’ day involves nine hours at a desk, it’s a deeply satisfying purpose to feel, even if it lasts just a few days.


The North is really about the lochs. There are thousands of them, scattered all across the land and each one with a particular character. It’s probably a good analogy to imagine the landscape as a giant bowl of curry. There are endless chunks of onion (the ‘typical’ lochs), punctuated by the occasional tomato (the ‘better’ lochs), and the odd rare and prized piece of tender lamb (the ‘special’ lochs). As with curry, it’s no use having just one ingredient: variety is truly the spice of life and the huge variety of Scottish lochs provides hope for a lifetime of interesting fishing. Lochs brim-full with pretty wee brownies desperate to eat a fly are sometimes exactly what is called for after a day fruitlessly chasing after the tenderest lamb. But on the days when the butcher is kind, a lifelong memory can be found in the glistening bronze flank of a 2lb belter. It’s all in the mix.
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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..

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