Brown Trout on a hidden Highland river

TUFF headed North Westwards to explore a great river in a hidden gem of a glen; West of Inverness lies a glen that most drive past on there way up Strathglass heading for Glen Affric, blink and you would miss the turning for the wee single track road that leads you westward up a glen that is in my biased opinion the far more beautiful sibling of the famous Affric. ​Much like the secret garden a gate greets all, keeping the wonders beyond hidden, vehicle access restricted on the private road to certain times and months which thankfully limits the car numbers and the obligatory coach tours that haunt so many glens like Affric. This secret highland glen is Glen Strathfarrar a glen they named twice it was so good.


Strathfarrar reaches westwards for over 30 miles almost touching the west coast its ramparts wild rugged Munros senetery like along its flanks and headwalls separating it from its neighbouring Straths and hiding this wild beautiful gem of a glen. However the 1950s saw its walls breached as Hydro electric brought dams and turbines across the highland, Strathfarrar was tamed somewhat as the waters of the River Farrar, Loch Monar and Beanachrain were held back and harvested to drive these turbines.

Though the Glen has had its circulatory system tapped its wild heart still beats strongly and this hidden gem feels as wild as it ever was, with its changing character that develops as you climb westwards from the rivers junction with the River Glass; Birch, Alder and Scots pine trees fill the lower glen a remnant of the ancient Wood of Caledonia, providing a magical wooded landscape that fills the lower 5 miles of the Strath hugging the River Farrar and on summers day makes me feels like I could happily stop time and loose myself here in my own personal middle earth.   

Winding westwards following the river upstream through its slabby gorges and tumbling riffles you emerge through a narrow road cutting above Beanacherain Dam where this glacially hewn glen opens before you; to loch, steep slopes of heather and glistening rocky outcrops of mica rich schist (sorry the former geologist in me getting over excited!) a patch work of moorland and native woodland draws you westward to Loch Monar at the head of the glen and the end of the single track road. An area depicted beautifully in a snap shot of what seems like a simpler time in the captivating book “The Isolation Shephard” written by Iain Thompson about a time before the hydro. 

Loch Monar and Dam looking North West towards the narrows of loch Monar

​If you hadn’t guessed by now I have a special attachment and love for StrathFarrar; or have I been too subtle? I was lucky enough to have been born and spent my early life growing up on the banks of Loch Beannacherain in the glen, sadly over the last 20 years I haven’t been able to return often enough. With autumn knocking on the door of summer and the end of the trout season beconing I made a journey home to fish the River Farrar! Well at least to fish the bottom 5 miles of the river below Beanacherain Dam.

Looking Eastward down the Cave pool below Beannacharan Dam

Culligran Estate has 5 miles of double bank fishing on the River Farrar extending from below Beannacharan Dam to just below the the Gate, divided into 3 beats aptly called Top, Middle and Bottom with over 30 named pools, all fly only. Almost all of them are within easy reach of the road and with the best parking spots cleverly mark by a little red numbered flag that’s  really makes finding the pool very simple, so no excuse for not finding the pool or a parking place. It’s popular so book in advance and I have to say It was a very warm welcome from both Frank and Juliet Spencer-Nairn the owners of the Culligran Estate who have a huge love and enthusiasm for the Glen and the quality fishing the River Farrar has to offer.



The Farrar offers both quality salmon and Brown Trout fishing with April –Mid June offering the best Brown Trout fishing with many of the bigger Trout being taken during the early season and there is plenty to explore over the 5 mile beat. Although it’s a hydro river the Farrar retains many of the quality’s of a natural spate river with one huge advantage, a weekly freshet where by the dam is opened and closed gradually over a 48 period on a Thursday, Friday to put through a flush of water; its all in the name “Freshet”. This Flush of fresh water through the system is for the salmon fisher, aimed at livening up any fish and encouraging them to run.  As per usual among the fishing and science community opinions are divided about the effectiveness of “Freshets”. I think I’ll let sleeping dogs lie and leave the arguments to the salmon fisher, personally I think these runs of water are an advantage to the Trout fisher as much as the salmon fisher,  any Trout bum will know having had a fruitless or frustrating day during the warmer months and the rivers are on their bones; the fish quickly  feel pressured and switch off,  but the “freshets” help livened them up and more willing to feed/take a fly.  Anyone who has fished a highland spate river that is rising or in moderate. spate where it has risen slowly and the water is not turgid with silt can atest to some fantastic top quality sport.


I was was lucky enough to witness a small “Freshet” on this visit to the Farrar and the responding reaction from the fish was obvious, the trout began showing and feeding within a 6 inch rise of the river, the Salmon began running certainly on the pools I was fishing but the freshet lasted less than 2 hour. And the activity soon died off under the clear blue skies warm sunshine with temperatures in the high teens, normally these conditions are a cue to pack up and head home. But like a returning salmon I was on a mission to my river of origin and I wanted to make the most of this late summers day in a breathtaking location.​

During this “Freshet” the rapidly rising river caught me quite unaware, I was fishing a tricky pool to position yourself to cast caught between  deep water and over hanging trees, I only becoming aware that the river had risen as I came to exit the pool by the shingle I had walked on 30min earlier which was now submerged 6 inches under water. It was a Monday and a freshet wasn’t scheualed and that is where I made the school boy error! I had expected the status quo and in some circumstances that lapse could have proved deadly and reaffirmed how important it is to keep your wits about you, because it maybe a controlled river but things can and could go drastically wrong very quickly. A river can rise exceptionally quickly be it from the opening of a Dam or a flash flood induced by heavy rain fall a mile from your location.  Never under estimate a river – an example of this was brilliantly illustrated by a video post by Cawdor estates this summer shot on the River Findhorn (Avalible on the Cawdor Estates Facebook page) that saw a placid river turned into a raging torrent in 3 minutes, a terrifying demonstration of natures power.


I explored the river searching out pockets of shadow, normally this glorious late August is cursed by the fisher but having been savaged during the still overcast morning by a massed assault of midgies, the warmth of the late summer sun and its ability to deter these little blighters was most welcome; “blighters” was not the actual word I think my language was somewhat more colourful through gritted teeth as I furiously attempted to ignore them casting and focusing on my fishing. Evidently swearing like a trooper at them has little to no effect in stopping them or the irritation, they are in your nose, eyes, ears and they find every tiny chink in your clothing and repellent being able to drive you to distraction. I have developed quite an effective technique of being able to change my flies whilst jogging in circles because let me assure you if you stand still you will be lucky to survive becoming a buffet for a fog of Midgies!  

Exploring the Double Bend pool with some tricky casting

Discovering a large pool; J2Bostail above a fork in the river leading to some nice broken riffles and pocket waters that had the sought after shade and the catnip that every trout fisher craves, the occasional sound and sight of rising trout feeding on the surface. For the Farrar like any of these highland spate rivers I find size of fly is as important and sometimes more so than the actual pattern, looking to mimic naturals as closely as possible particularly for my dry fly choices so emergers, terrestrials and usually a good supply of PTNs and HRE nymphs for subsurface both weighted and unweight. Making sure to carry a good selection of sizes from 12 to 22/24 for all my flies, many fishers would also carry some Scottish Trads’ like Kate McLaren and butchers but I prefer to use North Country Spiders, I just find they fish more productively, but then that is purely a personal preference, and confidence in them producing. As I always say, a fisher that fishes a fly with confidence is more successful and fishes more effectively, that one who constantly questions their choices.

Looking upstream on Bobs Pool

The day so far had not been particularly productive having risen several trout to the fly they had failed to stick, so a change to a size 18 grey Para dun I use an awful lot when small up wing are hatching produced immediate results rising a couple of fish when fishing beneath the over growth where there was good flow of water along with the intising rings and sound of sipping trout beneth the fallen and over hanging trees. Presenting the fly up stream allowing the current to carry the fly under the over hangs and over the fish being sure the 1.8lb 2x tippet is well mudded and hidden avoid any drag, I imparted the occasional “tweak” to the fly (single point fly no dropper) and now my fortunes turned as a fierce wild StrathFarrar brownie sipped down my fly and this time with barbless hook help I had a beautiful very dark Farrar brownie of just under a pound to the net.

a long tricky wade at the top of the Ant pool above the Neaty Beach pool

A long wade over the next hour and a half produced 4 more reasonably sized trout and a feeling of being completely detached from the world, I could easily have been the only person alive; a feeling of total bliss. With the sun beginning to touch the hills above I made the long wade back to the road and the car with a real feeling of blissful satisfaction from a days fishing.  This hidden highland glen that still has a draw that only home has and I think I can in some way relate to the salmon and that draw that pulls them home to the burns and rivers they spent their early life in. StrathFarrar is a magical glen and it will see me far more often that’s a guarantee. And I will be back come next May hopefully to search for the bigger brownies.
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On The Hunt for Harris Trout, fell in love with Harris Sea Trout

I never expected this article to be one of the hardest to write, this the fourth rewrite and it has got no easier! The problem is I just don’t feel like I can do the Island of Harris justice, certainly not without sounding gushing and clichéd…it really was that good a trip! To what is truly one of the most beautiful locations Scotland has to offer, look I’ve started with the gushing already! So maybe I should apologize now for the clichés and moments of gushing that are inevitable in trying to describe Harris, the welcome and the fishing.
Its almost 20 years since my last visit to these Islands of Scotland’s western frontier, I was but a chubby school boy with a tent, a good friend and a couple of fly rods. The trip had been great but we were beaten by glorious blue skies, sunshine and the worst sunburn I’ve ever had. The midges rose as the baking August sun set every night, so we turned tail and made for the ferry having only sipped from the over full glass of fine hill lochs and fishing that Harris has to offer, with literally hundreds of lochs most filled with hard fighting wild brown trout and many with sea-trout and the occasional salmon it a fly-fishers paradise.

I had always said that I would return to Harris but had lacked any real commitment ’til last summer when I discovered a tweet by Gail Tunnah who runs Finsbay Fishing’s. What sealed the deal was the January morning that the brochure for the fishing’s and their holiday cottages landed on the door mat, a cold January morning spent leafing through it dreaming of wild brownies, it had me hooked! It was all just a matter of finding the time so when the opportunity arose and ten days became free in my diary at the start of June I began planning an adventure and immediately Harris came to mind. Spending a few day pouring over maps and noting how accessible the lochs and fishing’s were, I had the hair brained notion that this adventure would be on foot. I am happy to admit that having once been a keen mountaineer I have softened with age and wisdom and enjoy the comforts of a nice hotel and clean bed after a day or nights fishing.  But I was feeling bold for this trip. Maybe it was a reniessounce, a reliving of younger days. Exploring on foot just seemed the best way to immerses myself in the plentiful and accessible fishing plus the public transport links on and to Harris really are very good, putting many on the mainland to shame. So I packed the rucksack with a lightweight one man tent, sleeping bag, stove and freeze dried meals, lightweight is ………well a figurative term because once you have packed every thing you need to survive for seven days without visiting a shop it weights alot more than you would imagine, nearly 14kg. The fly-fishing tackle the cherry on top.

With space and weight at a premium I opted to take only 1 rod and reel and a fairly lightweight set up

• Greys/Hardy 9’6 Streanflex Plus 5wt Rod

• Hardy LHR Reel & Spare spool

• Cortland Platinum Precision WTF Floating line

• Cortland Precision WTF 15’ Ghost tip

The 1st of June saw me heading westwards by bus from Aberdeenshire to Uig the ferry port in Northern Skye and the link to Tarbert on Harris. As we drew ever nearer Skye the clouds cleared and from horizon to horizon pale blue sky and warm early summer sunshine, little did I know then that this perfect beach weather was to follow me from the day I arrived on the island till the very hour I climbed on the ferry and sailed south for North Uist seven days later. The weather was almost identical to 20 years earlier, had I stumbled on a well-kept secret about Harris? That from May till September these Isles where bathed in Mediteraining sunshine? Alas apparently that’s not the case and by pure luck Mother Nature was playing a cruel joke on this hapless fisher.

Harris is one of the chain of Islands that make up the Western Isles, and are the first real land fall for the worst that the Northern Atlantic weather systems can throw. Really I shouldn’t complain I should shut up and make the most of the stunning weather but as an A-typical fly-fisher much like the stereotypical farmer; one is never happy with the weather.

I was heading for the Finsbay Fishings ( a group of over a 100 lochs divided into 3 areas, Stockinish; the northern group of lochs, Flodabay the middle group of lochs and Finsbay the southern group comprising of nearly 50 lochs. With boats on 20 of the 100 lochs and fantastic sea pools the fishing can be as diverse as you want from classic highland boat drifts to a day exploring hill loch on foot, some not much bigger than a bathtub but still containing wild brownies.  Some of the Finsbay fishings lochs have produced some real lunkers; brownies over 11lb and sea trout over 14lb. So you never know your first or your last cast may produce a beautifully marked hard fighting fish of a lifetime but aside from the monsters there are plenty of free rising hard fighting brownies that inhabit these lochs.

Over every rise and in every hollow there seemed to be a loch, it’s a smorgus board of choice, you could spend a life time exploring these lochs and still not fish them all. I began my adventure on the stockanish lochs. Having got the permits at the crack of dawn, I had my tent pitched by lunch time and was off with rod in hand exploring loch Creebhat and loch Glumradh Mor, managing to produce a couple of fish from shady nooks but I was fast discovery what was to be my nemesis for the duration of the trip. The bright warm sunshine putting paid to anything but morning and late evening fishing, which could be exploited by camping,  able to move from loch to loch and only have a short distance to stumble from sleeping bag to bank or boat. Every night as the sun set an hour or two of a rise would ensued, producing a few fish to the traditional highland wets.

I soon moved south loaded like a pack mule, walking the coast road I soaked in the stunning scenery that was putting on a real show in the beaming June sunshine, I was heading south for Finsbay, a group of 50 lochs and sea pools. Alistair Mackinnon the Ghillie found me slouched, parr boiled by the roadside south of foldaway and took pity on me offering me a lift and a quick tour of some of the lochs and sea pool, local knowledge truly is invaluable especially in trying conditions. Setting up camp in the ruins of an old fishing lodge; 2min walk from the sea pools and 5mins from the hill lochs this was to be home for the next  four days with views eastwards over Skye and the jagged teeth of the Cullin Ridge. I could have stayed there forever, perched on the rocks above Loch Fhionnsabaigh (Gaelic for Finsbay) the pale blue sky above and the shimmering Turquoise waters of the Minch below its hard to describe other than Stunning

Over dinner I sat watching the tide surge into the sea pools creping ever higher from one pool to the next and with it sea trout, topping and showing tantalizing splashes drawing you to the water like the sirens song. I set up a cast with just a single dropper about 6-7ft back from the point fly I opted for a classic sz12 teal and blue on point and a size 12 Claret Bumble on the dropper. As the tide peaked I began sending out casts landing the fly tight to the rocks across the pool, giving them to the count of 8 to sink and then a fairly fast retrieve. It produced instant results Bang! a 1.5lb sea trout takes me on a trip up and down the pool fighting me for every inch of line as I retrieve it to the net and then almost every second cast produces a take providing a very enjoyable hour of sport over the tide turning.

The finnock and sea trout hitting the flies hard and fighting like monsters, the sort of sport that you can often only dream of, double hook ups, loosing as many as you land in a frantic hour of mesmerizing fun. Nothing over 1.5lbs but that didn’t matter as they felt like monsters on the 5wt 9.6ft rod, almost pulling it from your hand and as the sun began kissing the hills to the West the action tailed off and I returned to my tent buzzing. I had landed more sea trout in that frenetic hour than I had seen in the previous four seasons.

I will admit I favour Brown Trout fishing over all other but Harris sea trout had hooked me and three of the next four days I spent on the hunt for Harris Sea Trout. The tides played ball with high tide arriving between 6 and 10 pm and allowing some great sport to while away my evenings producing; finnock, sea trout, slob trout and much to my surprise Pollock. A 1lb seat trout on the point fly and half pound Pollock on the dropper every cast a surprise.

I hadn’t forgotten about the bars of gold I had come in search of, venturing out in the mornings exploring the nearby lochs of Holmasaig, Dempster and Humabhat all of which lie on the same system as the sea pools of my first nights fun. Saturday morning I wasn’t feeling too optimistic, the the warm morning sun seemed already high in the sky as I stumbled over heather and peat hag before 7am making my way round the east bank of Dempster but the sound of fish freely rising around the reeds and margins greets me, a real surprise! The lochs where showing the effects of nearly a months warm and very dry weather and I was worrieed that in these kind of conditions the fish had become stressed with lower water levels and reduced oxygen levels, switching off from feeding and had disappeared into deeper waters. However it appears Harris trout are made of sterner stuff ; oblivious to the bright sunshine even with the clear lightly peated water giving little protection, they were feeding on the surface!

A dry fly fishers dream I opt for a light cast of about 2.4lbs and a single fly to reduce any drag. I throw on a fly I tie at size  16; Quill and elk hair midge on a light Grub hook which sits right in and through the surface film, mimicking the large midge that were occasionally hatching and the main attention of the rising trout. Making a long cast I let the wind drift the fly over the rising fish, a breathless wait willing a take soon rewarded with a strong splashy hit, striking as much out of instinct as a reaction in fright at the sudden splashy. A quick reaction imperative as these wild beauties discard the fly as quickly as they strike. An hour and a half of brilliant surface action, having to replace the fly several time as the vicious takes soon took their toll on the small flies, these the tattered reminants in the fly patch serve a a reminder of some fantastic sport.

I would have loved to fish from dawn till dusk but the glorius weather put paid to that, but when it did allow the sport was spectactular, exciting and varied. I honestly cannot express how much I enjoy my time on the island and the rugged beauty of Harris,  a landscape that can make you feel like the only person alive. The people are warm, friendly and welcoming. And of course the great fishing, Harris has it in bucket fulls! You could write and article about everyday and every loch each would be quite a different story.  I wanted to give you a taste, but the only way to truely experince it is to go!

I was genuinely sad the morning I packed up and headed for Leverburgh and on to North Uist, Harris has a lot more fishing  to offer and I guarantee it will not be another 20 years till I next wet a fly on Harris. I can’t thank Gail Tunnah who runs Finsbay, and Alistair Mackinnon the Ghillie enough for the friendly welcome and all the help, I hope to see you all again soon.

I strongely recommend that you plan a fishing trip soon to Harris the transport links are good, the people are welcoming, the fishing is world class. And I think that the sun is always shining………

Useful Links;

Ferry times and Bookings;


Buses times and Booking;


Harris bus timetable;

Chasing Spring Silver; on the Helmsdale and Thurso

Part 2 of 2 (Every Adventure has to start somewhere)

The journey north had been stunning in the gathering gloom and was a taste of the vistas and scenery that we were to experience over the next 2 days; it’s wild, remote sunning landscapes inspire, and in winter weather it is something to experience. Spending the night in Brora a wee town 10 miles south of the village of Helmsdale it was a quick jaunt North and on to this famous river. Having elected to fish the Association water which runs from the harbour 1.5mile upstream, in Spring this can be most likely to produce of all the beats on this 20mile river, famed for its once prolific Spring run like every river it has dropped off in recent years that is as much to do with the pressures on the species and the endless other factors threatening wild Atlantic Salmon than anything else, yet the Helmsdale still manages to consistently produce good numbers of fish.


Tentative wading on the Helmsdale, sheets of sleet, rain and high wind, river high water and difficult wading, looking upstream east/north eastwards

Its location in stunning scenery, it’s history and influence on salmon fishing makes it all so worthy of a pilgrimage, just scanning a beat map or OS map of Strath Kildonan also known as Strath Ullie you can’t help but notice the origin of several famous flies alone that this river has contributed to the sport; the Kildonan Killer , yellow Torransh and of course the legendary Willie Gunn which some credit with having taken more fish than any other fly. There is also a sadder Scottish history associated with Helmsdale, the Strath and Sutherland as a whole but that is another story and I had ventured north to fish. The Helmsdale primary source is Loch Badanloch, 1 of 3 interconnected lochs Badanloch, Loch nan Clar and Rimsdale.  These lochs help to maintain water levels in drier times thanks to a Dam, so fishing is an option season long. Picking the day ticket up for  a very reasonable £25, generally it’s a first come first served basis but it always worth while to phone a head of time. The Helmsdale is unique in some respect as the waters above the Associations water are a collective of owners that work together in regards to the fishings, allowing their guests to to experience all the Helmsdale has to offer fishing different beat on different days. Similarly the opening week; 11th of January is free, all you have to do is register in advance and on each day of opening week you are alotted a beat for the day, personally I think this is a fantastic idea and allows anglers a taste of a river that might otherwise be out of reach. it also helps to get plenty of rods out in the hope of seeing the first salmon of the season, never a bad thing for a rivers’ reputation. Currently Association day tickets can be bought at the Helmsdale Tackle company shop in the centre of the village but sadly they are in the process of closing their retail shop to concentrate on online sales so where to get the tickets following the shops closure, I am unsure.

The Helmsdale tackle company does produce some of the finest flies on the market; beautifully hand tied, so with the permit I bought a few of their classic Willie Gunn copper tube that only 4 days earlier had scored Helmsdales first 2016 springer.


Looking Downstream, East/south Eastwards across the Flat and Style pools

A mile by road up Strath Ullie brings you to the top of the Association beat, well sign posted next to a parking place a path leads down a flight of steps to the rivers left/north bank and the 2 most productive pools on the beat; the Flat and Style pools. The clear blue skies of earlier where now a distant pleasent memory, Mother Nature must have seen me tackling up and decided……well you can guess! Howling wind bringing with it sheets of heavy sleet and snow that looked like it was never going to stop, it was blowing 40mph from the Southeast/East straight in my face upstream. Hang it, I hadn’t travel 150miles not to fish! As I threw on my waders above the river Jen took pity on me and asked if I would like some company, someone to hold my net.  I was so grateful, as much as I love to flyfish there are times were I question my own sanity and just having someone there with you on the river bank when your fingers are blue numb and you are starting to believe your feet are lumps of ice can make the difference between fishing and sacking to off for the pub.

the Sharpes Gordon 2 13ft 9/10wt ( 15ft 10WT salmon-rod-195-p.asp),

with an Orvis Large Arbor IV (

teamed with the Rio AFS Shooting head with hover1 sink tip (

I fished virtually this same set up on all 3 river how ever I did change the fly used, on the Ness the cone head monkey was the go to fly, but I was on new water on the Helmsdale and Thurso so opted for the tried and test Willie Gunn since only days earlier it had produced.

I tentatively waded into the style pool the very top pool on the Association water where the water was high with the snow, sleet melt and the colour of an over brewed cup of builders tea. I couldn’t see the bottom, just a peaty abyss it’s because these type of conditions, I always wear a life jacket and carry a wading staff. An unfamiliar river, its bottom and its nature is the quickest way to kill yourself, you go for a days fishing and end up fighting for your life, it may be cumbersome but it could save your life. It soon became apparent that wading just wasn’t going to be an option so I heaved myself from the water and got to laying my first cast and even with the 13ft rod it was easy to cover the whole water, but I have to say that I truly hate Spey casting from a bank and I recently discovered that when the cast was developed it was never supposed to be preformed with in 2 yards of the bank and I can understand why! at the back of my mind there is always a niggling worry that you catching the bank. I could have thrown in an upstream C cast but with the wind it was just easier to limit the time the line was in the air, casting at about 45 degrees across the river the line would land several feet upstream of me but I was determined to fish through the pools and at least give it ago.  The river was 18in plus up as I fished through the flat and style pools without a touch and in the two odd hours I had seen several cars with rods on them heading down the Glen and calling it a day.  A rather wet and cold Jen doing star jumps by the river sealed for me, we beat a retreat to a great wee café in the village to thaw out. The Helmsdale is such a truly iconic river it was great just to wet a fly on it, a cold and wet day on the river beats a day in the office. I made a promise to myself as we drew out of Helmsdale on to the A9 that I would be back. May is proving a productive month, so come warmer days in the months to come I will be back chasing silver on the Helmsdale.


Snow storm coming in over the Beattrice oil platform, looking eastwards over the Moray Firth from Upper Latheron

Back on the A9 we had 50 miles left to Thurso and the final river on my northern adventure. It has been almost 10  years since I had ventured this far North on the East coast of Scotland, the West is a different story and is like a second home. I had forgotten how unique and stunning the landscapes of eastern Sutherland and Caithness are! As a recovering geologist the landscape is underlayen by some awesome mouth watering geology, a geology that paved many of the great cities of the world; London, Sydney and many more.  You can take the boy out of geology but not the geology out of the boy.

But I was here to fish and had left the rock hammer at home, I aimed to fish the lower section of the Thurso Beat 1 the Association water, but the first challenge was finding the shop to buy the permit. A small book shop little more than a broom cupboard the ticket was £40 for the day, which I felt was steep for a river that was not firing on cylinders of late and not a ghillie for help, from the outset I did not feel welcome. I was informed as a guest day ticket I could not fish below the graveyard in essence removing the lowest pools only.


The Tail of the Salmon pool on the river Thurso

The river was beautiful nestled in channel below the rolling plateau like landscape that optimises the this stark beautiful part of Scotland. The river was running a couple of feet above normal, running fast and coloured much like the Helmsdale the previous day however the weather was more favourable, light wind and blue skies only occasionally broken by light snow showers as they drifted through. I chose to fish the well known Salmon pool above the weir, a long deep pool with lovely greasy water and boils which just looked as though it should hold fish, fishing from the West Bank wading was once again out of the question so I stuck to cast of 45-60ft aiming the copper tube Willie Gunn on the edge of the fast water that lay along the opposite bank and fished the fly round through the seam and the greasy water I fished slowly through the pool twice without a touch.


Looking upStream south on the Thurso, Snow storm on the Horizon

I had enjoyed the 4.5 hours on this classic river but no success so with my frustration building, the sky darkening and heavier snow looming I opted to beat the retreat to the hotel and the Scotland vs Wales rugby, so from one passion to another. I alluded earlier to a less than welcoming reception to the day angler on this beat and I have to say it was only this beat that I fished so I cannot comment on the other higher beatsimage. Now I hate to be negative about the locations I fish or the sport in general but I was so disappointed to learn that I could have fished these tidal pools at the very mouth of the river, I was told otherwise and it sadly reflects how some Association waters are managed almost like private thiefdoms who would rather not see a visiting angler.  But I do have to say having spoken to the Chairman before we travelled he could not have been further from this, welcoming and very helpful but sadly this appears lacking in the other points of contact for the visiting angler who often pays more for a day than the members pay for a year. It is quickly forgotten that these visiting anglers are a valuable revenue stream for any Association water that allows the members to enjoy reasonably priced season tickets and river upkeep, is it so terrible a thing that a visiting angler catch the first fish or even just sample this beautiful river? because apart from the revenue, these fishers leave with a real appreciation of how lucky the locals are, a tinge of jealously that as a visitor it may only be that once a year that we get to sample the peaty waters.



Looking down stream across the Salmon pool towards Thurso, beautiful conditions and a vast improvement on the previous day

The rugby concluded much like my previous two days fishings, without victory but I had loved every minute exploring a tiny bit of these fantastic classic Highland salmon Rivers. We headed South homewards on the homeward leg, a much needed rest and a chance on my local rivers, now that they were once again open for salmon; the Deveron, the Spey, the Dee and the Don.

Every Adventure has to start somewhere, 3 famous Salmon rivers 


Every adventure has to start some where; this one began early last December with the arrival of a party invite tucked inside a Christmas card, no sooner had Jen sent the R.S.V.P. I was formulating an adventure; that would see us travel a 400 mile round trip and present me with the opportunity to fish 3 famous Scottish salmon rivers in 3 days and in the process experience the gamut of classic Scottish spring weather conditions. Before I go any further I feel the need to clarify the term Spring, it most certainly is not spring like here at the moment! simply by looking out the window you can tell its still the middle of the bloody winter! The term Spring gets banded about by salmon fishers simply because it’s the new season, misleading the uninitiated! I emphasise: it is no reflection of the weather and the five layers of clothing I wear below my waders can attest to that fact, spring is a distant dream or so it seems but as a sufferer of a incurable fly-fishing Addiction, the weather is a small discomfort to bear when in search of “Spring” run wild Scottish Atlantic salmon.


The party invitation set a ball rolling that would see me fish the River Ness, the Iconic river Helmsdale and the famous River Thurso, each river quite different in its own right regardless of the weather conditions or it water levels. The Thurso and The Helmsdale opitomise classic Scottish spring rivers, opening first for the season these rivers are world renowned and in some senses are a pilgrimage that every Scottish salmon fisher should make. I added the Ness to the list simply because it’s a true classic and its one of my favourite rivers in Scotland. I cut my teeth on the Ness, casting my first fly as a young boy, its where I caught my first trout on the fly and its the river that produced my first Salmon over 20 years ago. Mid February was the date  set and all I could do was cross my fingers and watch the skies, hoping mother nature would be kind. The 11th arrived with the usual pre-dawn start heading northward, apparently mother nature hadn’t got the memo! As we slipped on to the A96 a snowplough sped past clearing our route, thankfully only 4in of the white stuff had fallen but it was coming down hard and fast as we journeyed North and I was worried, having been washed out on the Tay at Dalmarnock 5 days earlier I had visions of white out all day, a rising river and frozen fingers. A feeling that didn’t leave me till I was waist deep in the peaty waters of the River 3 hours later.


Looking upstream the coming storm, the upper beat hut with veiws of the Nettings pool and beyond the just visible waters spilling over the weir

The Dochfour beat is spit between syndicate rods and Day tickets that are only avalible from Fishpal(http// 4 rods daily producing nearly 200 fish last year, Dochfour with both banks covers the top two miles of the Ness from the weir to the Ness Castle beat. This was my 2nd year on the beat with Grant Sutherland the head ghillie, the beat starts by the weir that divides the Ness from Telfords Caledonian canal, and a mile below Loch Ness and its monster, flanked on both sides by steep hills. These hills had now disappeared into the haze of sleet, snow and blanket of thick grey cloud, a stark charge from last time I fished the beat.  12 months earlier it had been blue skies and 12in lower, but regardless of the weather I was here to fish and once that first cast had rolled out the weather  was forgotten. Drowned out by the enjoyment and focus of the repeated casting, every cast carrying that hope of a fish as the fly lands in the boiling greasy, peated waters.


looking Downstream from the Nettings Pool on the Ness the Trees white with snow

Starting on the Nettings pool in front of the upper beat hut, the sleet and snow continuing fall, I fished seeing little action with only the one briefest of knocks, repeatedly my attention was being drawn downstream to the Andrews pool below, the sound of jumping and topping fish breaking the air  like audio catnip to the salmon fisher. Tingling with anticipation from all the visible action I reached the tail of the Nettings and Grant moved me on to The Andrews pool, as I slip in to the water and waded out Grant tells me “if your going to see a fish it will be in this pool” I am like a kid with a sugar rush, composing myself and following Grants advice  I fish the current break 25+. Ft from the bank,, between the boiling surging fast water being generate by the croy and the glassy slacker water out from the bank. The first 200ft of the pool generated not a touch and with every step down the pool the activity below seems to intensify, the urge to run down and try and cover every fish was hard to resist. Steady head prevailed; reciting ‘good things comes to those who wait’.


looking downstream eastwards over the croy towards the The Andrew pool and the island

Even from a distance  it was quite clear that a lot of the fish showing were kelts but where you find kelts you will often find a fresh fish, I was hoping that the next cast or every one after could produce me that 2016 springer. The north bank comes to a point and ends where the Ness widens and divides, where it drops and spills round a large wooded island. The south branch with the faster water follows the right hand bank and surges to right of the Island. The north or left branch forms a huge loch like pool of slow glassy, greasy eddies   3-4ft deep, these waters held back by a natural weir running diagonally upstream from the point of the island to the north bank.

Repeatedly fish topped downstream of me and I had to remind myself to breath! to keep my cast in check, cast repeat, cast repeat. Contact! Fish on! a lack lustre take and immediately I knew it was a kelt, none the less it offered some sport as I fought to bring it to the offered net, a Hen fish of about 5lb  turning back to silver as she nears the sea once more. A quick release and I watch her safely swim away, frantically I strip  line off the reel and roll out another cast, desperate to be back fishing. A distinct bounce to my step, always nice to see a fish, a couple of more knocks but nothing sticks and Grant suggests lunch.  As I lift my rod tip and begin to retrieve my line from on the dangle a faint knock and the gathered line strips from my fingers, a jolt of adrenaline and I lift my rod tip, FISH ON! It runs across the pool in front of me, porpoising as it turns downstream showing its self at a distance; its dark blue back and silver flank visible. Don’t ask me why but for what ever stupid reason I felt I should adjust the drag, still a little rattled from the unexpected take I fumble with the slack in attempt to allow it to run but under tension, fatal mistake! The fish turns and runs straight at me frantically I reel as it races up the pool, why oh why did I mess with the drag? Suddenly the rod tip recoils and lifts, the line goes slack……’s gone! A shower of expletive follow the vanishing Salmon, I retrieve the line and call it lunch. “That could have been a springer” hope in my voice, but Grants’ look said it all; you’ll never know! Buoyed by the mornings successes and un-dampened by the recent loss and with the sleet easing the odd ray of sunshine now hit the rivers tea like waters, as we walked back to the hut, a good morning had, high hopes for what the afternoon would bring.

Grant releasing a cock Kelt

Over lunch Grant suggests a return to the Andrews pool that had proved so productive in the morning,  with a clearing sky the temperatures had started to drop however the fish where not put off and were still active and before too long I bring another kelt to the net, losing 3 more over the afternoon, smiling from ear to ear we fish on till the back of four o clock.  For the final hour I fish quickly through the Burnmouth pool on the weir, sitting below this man made divide of river and canal, it is a surprisingly beautiful location the waters spilling over the weir in sheets and rivulets that boil and mix with the main river at the Burnmouth pool.  Behind me the sun was setting through the rising mists on the hills above Loch Ness adding to the magic and making it feel like a privilege to fish this beat. On this occasion I was to have the Beat to myself and monopolise the ghillies time too. No springer but it was a joy have put a bend in the rod a real smile on my face.

Last season was an great year on the Dochfour beat and the river can offer great fishing year round even in the dry weather when other beats struggle. It’s fairly obvious that the Ness and the Dochfour beat is a particular favourite of mine, you really should give it a go! It’s only in the last couple of years that rods have been made available, so jump on Fishpal and book it now! Grant and has spent 20+ years on this river, he has a genuine passion for the river and the quality of its fishing. If you want to Know more visit or keep up to date with the beat news and its catches on Facebook; @Dochfour Fishings.

Top of the Dochfour beat, Looking south west wards towars Loch Ness , the Weir that divides the caleonian canal an the River Ness

A very enjoyable days fishing concluded,  1 river down 2 to go so now a 2 hour journey northward, a quick change out of wet waders and we were off on the next stage of the adventure the evening sky clearing and the first hints of frost on grass, the dark navy blue of night descended and the first pin pricks of star light visible we followed the winding A9 northwards hugging the Moray Firth coast of Northern Scotland. The adventure was to continue; come morning I would be fishing the famous River Helmsdale, join me in my next article as I get to sample this famous river and the Thurso.

Salmon Season, Tay Time

2016 entered with a real bang, weather providing the fireworks as we all know but thankfully after the storm’s, some settled proper winter weather arrived. The rivers began to drop as did the temperatures and by mid January the Scottish rivers started opening for the Salmon season, finally a tonic for my cabin fever and the chance to wet a fly, a quick visit to Fishpal (http:/ a couple of clicks and I was booked on the Meikleour and Islamouth beats; 2 miles of the mighty Tay, boat or bank fishing.


Meikleour Bridge, Look upstream to ward the bridge from the Castle pool

At the start of every season I get that same child-like excitement, the same buzz and I can guarantee that the night before my first trip of every season will be a restless one. An alpine start, up at the back of 5am I was remarkable fresh and chomping at the bit! Quickly filling the car with the excess of gear that you always seem to need at this time of year, loaded as though I was away for an Artic adventure not a day on the Tay. I manage to squeeze in a quick bacon roll and I was out of the traps for the start of my 2016 season. I might be dramatic but any keen fisher will tell you that the start of the season is like rebirth; exciting prospects await, new adventures new sights beautiful locations and of course that adrenaline inducing, endorphin racing, rod bending moments as a fish takes your offered fly.

Heading South pale blue began to seep skywards across the eastern horizon and the day was dawning with almost perfect conditions, hardly a breath of wind and the temperature only just a couple of points below freezing, with these conditions were set to last the day, bliss! But what would I now blame my generally terrible Spey cast on if not the wind…..I am sure I would find an excuse.


Misty Perthshire hills, looking North upstream from the Birch bank towards the Tunnel pool and Tunnel stream

The broad rolling farm laden glens of Cooper Angus were shrouded in a veil of mist, drifting between the towering trees and distant hill, at times obscuring the horizon and reducing the world to monochrome. nearing Meikleour the damage of the New Year storms became more evident, debris meters above the river suspended in leafless trees with high water marks in places beyond sight of any River, testament to the volume and power of the waters. but thankfully the river was now at a good height and I was eager to wet a fly and sample the Tay.


Monochrome Misty world,looking upstream towards the Tunnel Stream and March pool hidden in the mists

Greeted by Dan Wright and Callum McRoberts the Head Ghillie with a warm wood burner and a cup of tea, at the inviting Ferry cottage boat house; its hard to tell that only 4 months earlier it had gone up in smoke now sporting its new roof and fire place. I can imagine is a struggle to leave the cozy fire side on days less inviting than this. but I was desperate to be out on the water, a quick chat and the application of several more layers a pair of waders and a life jacket, I was ready to have my first taste of the famous Tay and its world renowned fishing’s.

The Beat

Fishing Map Pool

Beat Map (Copyright Meikleour estate)

The Meikleour & Islamouth beat sits on the junction of the River Isla and the Tay and is famous for the Junction and Castle pools, 2 of the 14 named pools on the 2 mile beat, which sit 7 miles downstream of Dunkeld and 10 mile above Perth. Nestled in the rolling rich fertile farmland that lines the lower Tay, it is a consistent beat producing nearly 200 fish a year, Meikleour has been with the same family for over 300 years. The current owners have a real passion for fishing themselves, which is reflected in the effort, detail, expense and love that is clearly been put into maintaining and developing the beats facilities. The same passion for the beat is clear as soon as you talk to Callum and is reflected in enthusiasm with which past guests Tweet and speak about the beat. What I hadn’t been prepared for was the beauty of this stretch of the Tay even on a misty Scottish winters day.

The River Tay winds its 118 miles from source to coast through a stunning seasonally changing pallet of colour that takes in some of the most Shortbread box perfect scenery Scotland has to offer, from its mountain and moorland highland Perthshire sources. The Tay flows south through deep once glacial glens now cloaked in conifer and broadleaf, these glens and hills resonate with the past battles and history of Scotland. And Meikleour is a snap shot of Perthshires’ heritage and alluring scenic beauty, its towering tree lined banks draws you along the mighty peaty waters of the Tay.


Callum McRoberts; Head Ghillie taking us upstream for the mornings fishing

Starting my exploration of this famous beat we motored upstream under the picturesque old red sandstone Meikleour Bridge, Callum on the outboard of the Tay boat a fantastically stable and wide boat with a good keel that cuts through the surging and boiling mass of the Tays’ peaty waters. These boats are reminiscent of the famous Leven style boats comfortable and a pleasure to fish from, this one in particular freshly painted and clearly well cared for. I’ve never river fished from a boat before, simply because most Scottish river are too small to require one, It provides a unique perspective letting you appreciate the shear width of the Tay and the mass of water flowing through it.

Behind us as we motor through the aptly named house pool, the striking red stone of the Meikleour bridge beamed against the monochrome mist filled world, framed on both sides by the towering broadleaf’s and conifers that line the banks of the peaty highway. The towering leafless trees parting to a grassy slope leading from river upwards to the beautiful Meikleour House partially hidden in the slowly drifting mists.


Meikleour House; hidden in the mists with its view over the house pool, Image looking upstream towards the Pump house croy and Boxbush pool

Callum anchored the boat alittle further upstream in the Boxbush pool and I cast my first fly of 2016.

the Sharpes Gordon 2 15ft 10/11wt (—15-0-10-salmon-rod-195-p.asp),

with an Orvis Large Arbor IV (

teamed with the Rio AFS Shooting head with hover1 sink tip (

and the classic early season fly a 1.5in copper tube Monkey (

I felt like I could have used a rod twice the length and still fallen short.


TheUnemployableflyfisher fishing through the castle pool, Opposite the Junction pool and the mouth of the river Isla

The Tay is a river I have never really fished well certainly not the lower Tay, I have fished the head waters of the Tay; River and Loch Tummel as well as the River Garry for trout and grayling but never Salmon. So this trip was a whole new world of experiences, for several reasons; the shear scale of the Tay, it is several orders of scale larger than what I usually fish wider and deeper it presents you with a huge body of water that truthfully intimidates as you contemplate trying to cover the water with a fly. unless you have a champion class cast, which I most certainly do not have, but what I lack in distance and length I make up for with trying…or so I’ve been told.

This casting requirement relates nicely to the other reason this trip was a new world, the fishing techniques! As its says at the top of the page and in the very name I am a fly fisher so with the Tay at 3ft above summer levels the most productive methods are spinning and harling. I can hear the collective gasp and in truth the thought of using any technique other than the fly generally elicits derision at best and at worst a high pitched girlish scream of shock  from myself, but as the collective “they” say “When in Rome”. So after a hour of ham fistedly casting the fly and angrily muttering insults at myself, I relent to the wisdom of Callum and pick up a spinning rod, to fish through the remainder of the pool. Approaching the tail Callum cautioned; a take if we are to get one is most likely here. But not a touch, the activity of earlier with fish showing had vanished and the water was quiet and a distinct chill was now in the air. We move on downstream to experience a new technique, that is all together alien to me.


Harling; Rod in the rest as we search of fish, at the Pump house croy

Harling; a method I believe originated on the Tay certainly the name did. Most loch fishers will know it as Trolling, 3 lines with lures and spoons set at different lengths to the side and rear of the boat, and slowly the boat is motored back and forth across the the pool occasionally holding position in the current and over known lies, it is apparently one of the most productive methods at certain river heights and time of year and a complete eye opener to me. As we explored pool after pool slowly dropping downstream the air was developing a real chill and with it we saw little movement on the surface and not a touch. The boat taking the load of the casting the chat flowed from fishing to farming and much more as the morning slipped away unnoticed enjoying the chat with Callum and the refreshing pleasure of being out on the river after a long closed season. Reaching the Castle pool and still not a touch, Callum called lunch and we went in search of the wood burner warmth.

A quick lunch of my homemade newly christened “lucky steak” pies, which I hoped would bring a fish come the afternoon session, opting to fly fish I waded the castle pool slowly moving downstream through the pool. With every step I relaxed and my cast improved but still not a touch. Callum was determined to find me fish, so we took to the boat once more crossing the river to the famous Junction which sits opposite the Castle pool. A cracking, fishy looking deep greasy watered pool where the waters of the Isla and Tay meet, boil and churn together. In higher water this pool produces fish consistently and within moments fish began to top and show, my spirits soared and hopes of a fish raced. I returned to the Spinning, casting to the greasy boils where the water meet a couple of quick jigs to sink the lure and then a slow retrieve to the boat, and with every cast comes anticipation of a Take. I send a cast out behind the boat and sink the lure with a couple of jerks of the reel a brief pause and I begin a slow retrieve, I can feel the the lure flutter and bite into the sur


Kelt from the Junction Pool

ging water of the junction pool. My anticipation waning, when the faintest knock, and before I can acknowledge it I feel that familiar adrenaline inducing take, the whole reason we fish! “Fish On!” Waves of excitement and relief course through me as I play the fish back to the boat, but its quite evident I’ve got a Kelt on the end of the line, alas no springer. But you couldn’t tell from the smile on my face, it just very enjoyable putting a bend in the rod and seeing a fish coming to the boat, regardless of it being a springer or not. Three casts later and I am shouting “fish on” as we approach the tail of the pool, another kelt more coloured than the first has take my lure, but it sheds the hook within feet of the boat and is gone with a splash into the peat darkness. Moments later Callum too is into a fish and as quickly as its on its off. Its the last fish or touch we see for the day but At least we have had a fish and put a couple of bends in our rod.

Returning to the Boat house and its warmth at the end of the day I was already planning my next Visit to this Beat, No springer but thats Salmon fishing it is a privilage just to see fish and to fish on a beautiful, well kept beat like Meikleour I really can’t praise it high enough; brilliant setting, quality facilities, with a real passion for the sport and its future. I can truthfully say i have not enjoyed my time more in a boat on a cold day; Callum is great Company and an invaluble source of Knowledge about the beat, the lies and fishing in general. if you intend to experience the mighty Tay I have to say try a day or more on the Meikleour and Islamouth Beat.








Trout Season Out, Self-doubt In; as the days shorten so does your confidence but don’t dispair!

I consistantly make the point that every day fishing is a day of learning and the importance of learning from other fishers, and I stand by that belief! As a species; shared learning is in our very DNA, its genetic to learn from others and to then pass that knowledge on. I am sure almost every fisher reading this would agree that by these very means many of them developed and learned. But with the trout season having now closed for us Scottish based trout fanatics and the golds and russet browns of autumn dominating the river and loch banks, the urge to linger indoors is greater and the options outdoors to hone skills have passed. The vice is calling and a need to replenishing boxes for next season passes the time with the help of our now ever connected world, with hours of videos and opinions within reach there is the real prospect of never having to leave the armchair to indulage in the next adventure. Don’t get me wrong I love filling those winter nights and weekends by the wood burner with this plethora of flyfishing pornography, but it may have its draw backs?

As the season draws to a close I go through a period of mourning, reflexion, self doubt and criticism; I could have fished more, fished better, fished smarter and of course I dwell on the flaws in my cast. Thats fine! it provides me with the kick up the backside that makes sure come next season I am improved, more prepared, ready. If I am honest this personal drive to always do better is one of reasons I return to the fly rod year after year. Self doubt is something we all suffer from and more often than not we are our own harshest critic, the key its not letting ourself be consumed by that self doubt, otherwise you would never pick up a fly rod again. But more and more I am becoming immersed in this digital fishing world that exists beyond the river bank and conversely my self doubt had grown, lingering like a monster lurking in the corner of my mind, and at first I didn’t know why?

We are bombarded daily, if not hourly by opinions and photos showing others endulging in fantastic fish adventures. Displaying their prowess with a fly rod, as they define themselves as the epitome of hunter gatherers pulling lunkers from the waters using  that magic fly that never fails to produce fish. Maybe I am as guilty of this boastfull vanitey as the next, after all I write bloody flyfishing articles! All these opinions and ceaseless photos on exactly what technique to use and when, not forgeting the magic fly! That silver bullit to make you the best rod swinging fly fisher out there! What effect is this tsunami wave of digital information having? I am growing increasingly sure that this unstopable, totally immerssive wave was the cause of my growing uber self doubt! I am certain other fishers are feeling like my self, swimming through this morase of flyfishing information. 

Yes its great that at a swipe of a finger there is anything your heart desires to know flyfishing, and it is a hugely valuble resource of knowledge. But and there is always a but; I have to wonder as the avid flyfisher thirstily attemps to drink in every drop of information there, are they actually creating a disconnect? As they gorge themself on opinions, techniques and everything else are they stopping themselfs learning? Learning at the most important opertunities; when they are  actually, physically wetting a fly on the water? Should I be voicing this as a peddler of fly fishing writings? Yes I should as a sufferer of these very frustrations and self-doubts. On occassion I have found myself, lost in trying some new technique or random fly pattern, ignoring my muscle memory, ignoring the little voice inside; my gutt instinct that I have spent years instilling into myself. Paying the price  by wasting a day in fruitless frustrations, yes its important to try new things but its equally important to develop your own skill set and knowledge base. 

So what I am saying is; don’t buy in to everything you read! What you are seeing on the internet or in a You Tube video is the abridged version, the edited good bits like the trailer for most movies. All the best bits are in those 90 seconds, much like my love making. All the hundreds of hours and days so many of these fly fishers have spent refining their own skills and knowledge base learning on their own, but this is never mentioned! 

Learn what you can from others, but don’t let their knowledge and opinions weigh on you or belittle your self confidence! There is no magic fly! No silver bullit! Fish with flies that you are confident in, listen to that little voice inside, you don’t need to be carrying a thousand boxes that spill fourth every incarnation of fly imaginable.  I fish with about 10 to 12 fly patterens most of the season to great success, but I am as guilty as anyone of carrying to many flies.  But preparing to fish any eventuallity thankfully is a habit I am kicking. There isn’t always perfect technique with the perfect cast, or the exact fly. Sometimes you just have to get down and dirty in difficult locations, searching for that perfection just results in a repeated lifting and dumping of line onto the water, spooking every bloody fish in reach.  Live with that bad cast! let it fish, I don’t know how many times I’ve caught on what I would consider anobmanation of a cast.  Relax, you will get another chance in moments on the next cast to achive perfection: ultimately isn’t a fish on the end the perfection we crave!  Its all about technique not length, a short line in the right situation catches as many fish as chucking your whole spool of line out, remember a good cast is important but it takes time  and practice.  If you spend all every day spooking fish as you strive for perfection you loose sight of the point of being there!

Admire others skill, their achievements and take notes but don’t let the pressure of trying to be a fisherman like them spoil your fishing experince! Get out there, drink in every drop of the beautiful locations we fish in, savour the challenge, watch the water and how the trout behave. Observe the fly life on and above the surface and look for the entomology below the surface. And remember every flyfisher has blanked and fought the almost overpowering  urge to snap their rod in to kindling.  But they have picked themselves up (from the ground where they were sobbing) and cast another line and another line till  finally the pieces start to come to together and fish start filling their landing nets. Shrug off those niggling doubts, breath in that cool fresh air at the start of a new season and breath out the negitive pressures of what everyone else is doing or catching. 

Above all else love and enjoy every moment you spend casting a fly for trout, Tight lines!

On the dry fly, down the River Don

September beginning to tick by and the seasons’ inevitable end looming, taunting the Trout fisher that very soon the fun will be over, much like the better half arriving to take you home from the pub. The night feeling far to young and the humour not having yet reach the gutter, that feeling of impending finality now lingers over the trout season too, a period of mourning soon to be upon me. One more for the road, before the better half drags me from the pub sulking, I needed a last few trout fixes. A couple of more days on a trout laden river or loch, and the Don offered a new adventure, with a chance for some excellent trout from its’ fertile waters. the Don rise high in the Cairngorm mountains, before it winds and meanders itself eastwards down Strathdon, weaving its way through the beautiful county of Aberdeenshire. Streaming past the Towns of Alford, Inverurie and the flanks of the iconic Bennachie. The Don’s pale tea coloured waters that often run as colourless as a chalk stream are so inviting, with the long ribbons of weed waving in the fertile waters. At this time of year the purple heather clad hills gives way to glens and the flatter lands of the East, that wear a patch work quilt of green and golden fields that make this county a true bread basket and larder. The Don’s waters run for 82 miles with 263 named pools from source to sea where it empties, only 2.5 miles along the course golden sands of Aberdeen beach, from where the famous Dee spills it peaty waters to North Sea.

Looking downstream toward the Elphinestone Road bridge on the on the Port cooker& Bridge stream pools

Having fished the MonyMusk and Kildrummy beats of the Don in the past, I rolled the dice and opted for the Inverurie Town water. This beat consists of 3 miles of Don water and about the same of the River Urie, a small but deep muddy bottomed river that meanders eastwards never far from the Inverness – Aberdeen railway line. The Urie rises near Insch and flows ever eastwards till its union with the famous Don just East of the ever-growing commuter town of Inverurie. But I wasn’t there to fish the Urie, the Don was my focus for this days fishings

Inverurie fishings

And the day couldn’t have started better. A cloud laden sky, thick with the haar that had rolled in the previous evening, a common occurrence only 14 miles from the Aberdeenshire coast and the North sea. Thankfully under this grey veil the air had kept some of its temperature and only a light wind blew from the West/North West, near perfect conditions a position that hadn’t presented itself many times this excuse of a summer.


Upstream, looking westwards on the Inverurie town water

As I trudged a across the Elphinstone road bridge rod in hand, the river stretched westwards below. fish after fish rose the rings and ripples growing outwards from the sip and disappearing on the greasy looking surface of the tea coloured water.


rings from rising fish on the Bridge stream pool

My appetite was well and truly wetted. I made down to the rivers edge and headed westwards upstream, away from Inverurie and the hum of the A96 traffic. I wanted to be away from the sight and sounds of the town before I rolled my first casts, on to this truly inviting stretch of water.


Managed by Aberdeenshire Council along with several other beats on the Don the fishing comes at a very reasonable price, for both county residents and non resident and it can all be done on the internet the night before ( Great for the early bird fishers like myself, the permit can be quickly printed off and taken with you on the day, no waiting for the tackle shops to open; the wonders of modern technology!

The Don at Inverurie is a mix of rocky riffles and streamy sections with deeper muddy bottomed slower glides that are in areas sheltered and shaded on at least one bank by large beautiful mature broadleaf trees that add a challenging aspect to casting. And contribute tremendously to the beauty of this great setting for a days fishing.  Due to the nature of these deep muddy pools wading can be tricky and access at this time of year through the dense summer growth of reeds, rushes and flag Iris requires care, and clearly its more the Salmon fisher that fishes this beat going by the access points and with an average 115 salmon a year. The trout are however plentiful and today rising fish are to be seen on every stretch as I headed up stream and some of the brownies making their presence known were exceptionally good fish, a pound plus and bigger. All this and more and only 20 mins walk from a main train line with a half hourly service from Aberdeen.

Looking East over the broken down old mill weir at the bottom of the Black Pot pool

I throw out the odd cast as I meandered up the winding river toward the top of the beat with little success, a few connects that I couldn’t keep stuck to the hook and a few turnaways as I cycled through a selection of favourite flies trying to match the plentiful fly life on the water, hoping to dial in on what these brownies were snacking on. Adding to my frustration, the warming sun was fast burning back the blanket of cloud and the little voice at the back of my head (doubt) was nagging that “ if you don’t get a fish now, with that sun you never will”.

Rowe head Pool, looking NorthWest upstream

Rowe head Pool, looking NorthWest upstream

I fruitlessly fished upstream past the old mill and it’s disused mill pool that sat in deep shade below the trees that tower on its southern bank. Hidden behind the wall of reed on my bank I could hear the repeated confident sip and splash of feeding fish, behind that a combine hungrily consumed the gold barley in the field that sits in the large meander of the Don here. The sun made the barley glow on this beautiful harvest day that normally I would have been relishing but I had the anxiety that at any moment the glorious sunshine would drive the trout from the surface and off the feed.


The Mill stream pool that produced so many nice fish, looking East down stream

But the very opposite seemed to be happening, if anything more fish appeared to be feeding in the deeper fast water towards the far bank rising on the break between bright sun shine and shade. This constant rising seemed to be a response to the prolific fly life that was fast filling the air, Claret spinners, large dark olives and a plethora of other fly life I couldn’t name.

Lunchtime fast approaching it felt more like an early springtime sunny day when the trout are feeding hard after the long winter. I instinctively reach for a spring time favourite of my own design, a Cdc emerger that rarely lets me down. I slipped into the muddy bottomed pool, feet sinking into the treacle like mud pulling at my boots as I slowly wade out to limit the disturbance, fish sipping all around me. I could see a decent sized fish repeatedly rise in a feed line picking off olives. I was going to have to roll cast – high above me where high voltage lines so I wanted to the line and rod tip to stay low. It was safe to cast but doubt airs caution with thousands of volts a 100m above my head but I was determined to get this fish. Keeping the tip low I roll out a line, thankfully with the wind behind the tappered leader coils out and the fly lands 3ft upstream from the fishs’ last rise. I track the fly as it ‘s carried on the current, nothing rises to the fly and I am sure its passed over the fish. I begin to draw the rod to roll the line back out but as the fly twitches on the surface I see a flash of gold in the tea coloured water through the polorisers, the water erupts, the line tightens and I am hooked up with a cracking River Don Brownie. The fish runs down stream taking a little line and turns in to the faster flow holding me dead in the water, neither of us give an inch but slowly I begin to retrieve line. I am wondering how big this brownie is or is it simply using the current against me. That’s what I love about wild river brown trout their strength and use of the waters power against the angler, which at that moment was producing a joyous fight. Eventually I bring the fish to the net and I am still pleasantly surprised by this pound beauty which fought like a lion.

Quickly returned I inch my way downstream, a muddy slick rising under my feet and creating a ribbon of coloured water thankfully clear of the rising fish. I roll another couple of casts straight out at right angles as I edge down stream but no takers then on my third cast it no sooner hits the surface than a its sipped from the surface and I am into another good fish.  This time it tears up stream and fights me hard as I wrestle it back towards me and it feels like another cracking fish.  And I wasn’t disappointed, my second pound wild brownie in 4 casts, which to be honest was a surprise after such a poor morning. With each fish I move further down the pool I am wading at just above waist height on the soft bed. I was not feeling completely comfortable as I rolled out another cast still weary of the overhead danger.image

And again within moments of the fly landing I was hooked up, not as good as the previous two but this feisty wee monster ran me ragged up and downstream through the thick fast water, it was great fun and to be honest I was more worried of parting my 2lb Rio tapered leader but with a breath of relief I scoop it from the water remove the barbless hook, release and watch it rocket off into the peaty waters with beautiful clarity. Feeling quite out of my depth now with my wading I decide to retreat from the water and have a bite to eat and savour the quality of the Dons fish.


My appetite for food was quenched but not for Trout so I while my afternoon away in the glorious early autumn sunshine fishing my way downstream to Inverurie.  The hatch died away and with it the intensity of the rise but there there were still fish showing on the surface so I stick with dries and see another 6 fish to the net.  Sadly not as large as the first two but they are beautiful quality fat bodied, full fined and hard fighting.

My fishing companion for the day, now this chap really nows how to fish, looking West towards the old Mill pool

I really can’t recommend the council owned stretches of the Don enough, great price with good sized quality fish.  A statement that is true for the whole of the River Don I will soon be back on this stretch of the Don and come next season the other council stretches will doubtlessly see me in search of Don Brownies.

Brown Trout Addict is Born


Deveron In late June splendour, with Yellow on the Broom

The Bug had bitten!  Phil had popped his cherry so to speak – he had caught is first wild trout but he was now chomping at the bit to get back on the water. With fine conditions fishing was on the cards, broken cloud, 14 degrees and very light wind 2 days after Phil’s first experience on the River.  The Deveron was in fine Trouting condition, so it was an easy choice. Myself and Phil made for the upper beats of the Huntly association water.  This upper section really doesn’t see as many anglers as the lower sections, because of laziness mostly, as it can be a bit of a walk or wade. And as the season winds on the over growth can be a shoulder height battle, but with the battle comes rewards; plentiful half pound 9in to 12in brownies and a few monsters lurking in hidden spots.

We wondered up stream fishing at choice locations and drinking in the beautiful Deveron in June. I opted to just guide and let Phil fish on with his team of PTNs (pheasent tail nymphs), with an eagerness to explore every possible lie that could hold a fish; through fast water, deep water and slack water apparently unfazed and undaunted by difficult wading. The addiction had clearly taken a firm hold, Phil was determined to find more fine Aberdeenshire Brownie bars of gold.

Phil in search on Deveron brownies

Phil in search on Deveron brownies

And I have to admit a huge amount of satisfaction as a guide comes from watching a client like Phil develop in confidence and skill’s and more so when he hooks into a fish. With the satisfaction there also comes some anxious moments; seeing some of the positions Phil was getting himself into wading fairly quickened the pulse. And having seen what can go wrong very quickly as an experienced fisher you tread more cautiously and risk asses. But Phil was steady on his feet and moved with real experience. Importantly he was putting his flies where they needed to be, above all he was loving every moment and every cast.

Phil exploring upstream on the River Deveron in search of Aberdeen Brownies

Phil exploring upstream on the River Deveron in search of Aberdeen Brownies

Seeing a few upwings lift from the water above us, I couldn’t contain myself and took the opportunity to fish. Tying on a size 16 Hares ear Para dun, I take the opportunity to indulge myself and demonstrate some dry fly fishing. I love dry fly fishing, the pleasure of targeting a fish or lie, watching the fly land and move with the current and running water then waiting and hoping for the take. Then the visual feast of the take which could be a subtle sip or thundering splashy train like take is truly one of the most exhilaratingly, enjoyable and satisfying experiences. Further upstream we could occasionally hear the familiar, repeated sip and splash of a rising fish. We stood on the bank and both watched the water, waiting to spot the sign, any sign of the rising fish. And there in an area of broken fast water just off the main channel flow, through this bouldery riffled section the fish was lying. I cast out my first line, “ another 6ft up and out” comes the shout from Phil who hadn’t lifted his eyes from the water and the fish.

I lift a long line from the surface and with a single back cast and a double haul, I send it streaming out towards my quarry. The fly line rolls out and the fly gently kisses the surface, the satisfaction of a good well-placed cast is almost immeasurable, and the reward was quick to arrive. A firm confident take, that didn’t  seem to even break the surface, I strike! The rod bends over “Fish on!” And I am into a cracking hard fighting Deveron Brownie, on a long line in fast water with a light leader, a tricky play but I get it to the net.

12in Deveron Brownie taken on the surface. the most inspiring way to Fly Fish

12in Deveron Brownie taken on the surface. the most inspiring way to Fly Fish

Phil can’t contain himself anymore and is in to the water and wading off up stream, moments later fishing through some nice pocket water by a huge bolder and he is into his first fish of the day. Both invigorated by the first fish of the day and Phil’s huge contagious smile.

Phil with his first river Deveron Brownie, the smile says it all

Phil with his first river Deveron Brownie, the smile says it all!

Sadly we see little else over the next hour as we fish onward to the top pool, which consists of a broken stream tumbling in to a couple of deep pools below a small braided waterfall. From these churning pools the River flows past a nice gravel bar flanked with a deeper riffled channel on the right-hand bank, a simply great looking pool that holds plenty of opportunities for fish.

I retire my rod to the bank and just guide Phil, targeting the best locations with the sun steadily climbing in to the sky. Beaming brightly through broken cloud the fish had inevitably retreated from the surface and ignored the fly life hatching as not a fish moved on the surface. Having retreated to the darker deeper waters seeking shade they would most probably still be feeding, only now in the more oxygenated shady churning below the falling water.  `Or lying just behind this boil waiting for whatever morsels of feed arrived on churning current.

looking East upstream on the top pool of t6he river Deveron

looking East upstream on the top pool of t6he river Deveron

In this situation the nymphs offered the best chance of a fish, like a pro Phil perfectly presented the nymphs landing his first couple of cast in the chaos of the falling water, retrieving the line as the casts are swept down through the pool and back towards him.

Phil Like a Pro

Exploring along the churning water in search of waiting fish hopeful with every successive cast, almost immediately he was into the first of 4 fish.

Phil Casting on Top PoolIt was great to watch! And these fish where coming from one of my favourite spots on the River. As I said its bit of a walk, but an excellent spot that can feel quite remote and when its in good fishing condition well worth the trudge. With every fish Phil whooped and his enthusiasm surged, as did his confidence. I couldn’t see him now returning to the Darkside, and just being a stocky basher any more.

Having reached the top of town water, the fishings gone quiet, lunch beckoned. We came off the River and headed for home, but we weren’t finished for the day. Following our evening meals, and an afternoon fly tying for me, we wondered on to a lower section of the Town water. A nice section of fast riffled water with nice pockets that can at times hold a considerable number and quality of fish. It was close to the house and personally I had an ulterior reason for choosing this stretch of river; having lost a very good fish here a week earlier I was out to get it to the net this time and would use this opportunity to try

And try I did with little success, my escapee didn’t show itself, but plenty of other fish did. Phil fished up through the fast rocky and pocketed water pulling fish from here and there. he had become quite adept at the short line, upstream Nymphing and was now eager for an elusive monster. A monster that could be hiding in any of the pockets but he coxed a further 5 fish from the water. One a real beauty of a brownie touching a pound. Considering that 3 days earlier Phil had never even tried fishing for wild Trout he was now confidently pulling them from the peaty tea like waters of the Deveron, where 3 day earlier he was unsure of where to start. He had now gained new skills, improved his cast and began to understand the mechanics of his cast. Importantly learning to identify and hopefully address the faults, that creep into all of our casts with time and fatigue. He was developing the skills and techniques needed for wild brownie River fishing and as I have said in an earlier article, all he needed now was hours (time out actually fishing) because experience is the basis of all knowledge with fish; where the fish lie, where and when they feed and general behaviour.

Phil hooks yet another beautiful Deveron Brownie

Phil hooks yet another beautiful Deveron Brownie

2 days after our final session I was over joyed to hear that Phil had gone out fishing on the Deveron on his own.

Mission complete!

Stocky basher converted to wild brown trout fisher.

Brown Trout Virgin

I have fished since I was a little more than 5 years old, and I remember that first brown trout I caught with my father, it started an addiction with wild trout that still burns bright if not brighter now than every. It’s a sport were you never stop learning, which I find hugely satisfying. Also provides me with reason to explore and loose myself in the wondrously beautiful locations that Scotland offers, these factors drive me on a daily bases to be out on the Rivers and Lochs of Scotland. The enjoyment and inspiration I gain from fishing in these locations compelled me to try and express, capture a memento, a fragment of the exhilarating locations and the fishing in a hope to inspire, to take every reader regardless of whether they are fly fishers or not on a journey!

Morning sunlight waking up the Deveron Valley, looking Eastwards Fly fishing offers early morning starts

Morning sunlight waking up the Deveron Valley, looking Eastwards Fly fishing offers early morning starts

To take you the reader on a journey, on an adventure, to immerse you in the moment. To immerse you in the landscape, the excitement and the challenge. Above all to give a taste of Scotland’s wondrous natural wild beauty. When I am not on an adventure fishing or writing about it, I occasional guide taking clients on a physical adventure in the search for beautiful wild brownies, in stunning locations. Fly-fishing for Brown Trout became the driving force in starting writing and guiding, it allowed a move to a more rural centric existence, having built a home in a beautiful Aberdeenshire location. It became more and more difficult to leave for weeks on end to spend endless days in a steel box on 2 acres of steel hundreds of miles offshore. I love being a geologist but I love being a fly fisher far more. Fly fishing becomes an addiction and a release from the day to day, its more than a hobby or a sport, it allow you to immerse yourself in a challenge and the wilds; wading, walking and drifting through Scotland’s wild beauty. I am sure many fishers will agree with my gushing’s! As I’ve said fly fishing is a constant learning experience and many fishers love to share their skills and knowledge, but maybe not their favourite fishing spots! The eagerness to share comes from a love the sport that endears and many grew up or started in the sport learning from others with that same passion. I owe a lot of my single handed cast to a water bailiff on River Ness town water.  When I was 14 he took the time to help me maybe not perfect my cast (I am always learning and improving it) but at least proficient at it, to the point I wasn’t quite such a danger to others.

Cracking Isla Browning The reasons we Fish.

Cracking Isla Browning The reason we fish.

7lb Trout Dwarfing the reel, returned shortly afterward tone caught another day

7lb Trout, monsters like this to Wee Brownie fuels the wild brown trout addiction

I wanted to pass on my skills, knowledge and endless love of the sport to others and even some of favoured fly wetting spots. There is an incredible amount of joy to be taken from putting a fly fisher in the right position on a river or loch and helping them to the catch wild fish. Their excitement and enjoyment is as infectious as having a fish on the end of your own line.  And a recent client epitomised this; Phil, a neighbour new to the area, an experienced rainbow basher (which we can forgive) had taken casting lessons a couple of years earlier and was quite proficient, all he lacked was the confidence and the hours; what do I mean by hours? I mean the time out on the water gaining knowledge and experience which ultimately feeds confidence and only comes with “hours.”  An active outdoors man and gun dog trainer he was desperate to go out in search of proper wild fish, in a wild settings rather than manicured grass and flabby farmed fish. His eagerness and enthusiasm was contagious and almost like a teenager he was eager to pop his Brown Trout cherry.

The Isla produces even on the Sunniest of june afternoons

The Isla produces even on the Sunniest of June afternoons

The reality and the challenge of wild trout fishing can be hard to get across to the rainbow initiated. I think the illusion fishery fishing generates of every fish over 2lb ultimately disappoints the wild brownie novice when they actually experience wild fishing, because a 2lb wild brownie is a good fish and you don’t see them on end of every cast. I think this disparity stops many Bow Bashers returning or at least fishing for wild trout regularly; there is also the knowledge of where to fish, where to purchase permits and the daunting potential cost. And many people find it a bewildering morass of rules and have heard urban legions about fishing laws and rules all souring their willingness to experience wild trout fishing, that’s where a guide comes in to their own, we can put you on the fish and navigate rules, permits and locations.

Silhouetted against a June Sunset

Silhouetted against a June sunset

Sadly Phil’s foray into the world of Brown Trout didn’t start well as the weather played havoc through May and it was early June before we ventured out on to the rivers of the Deveron catchment, Phil’s new local playground. I decided that the Isla would be our first foray in to wild trout for Phill and a glorious June evening offered us a light wind from the South West, high broken cloud damping the bright June sunshine as it dipped westwards behind the hills of Balloch wood. A quick cast with a dry on the first pool we reached but up and down the river little seemed to be moving and nothing showed, even though there was considerable fly life about, with a steady hatch of midge and a few march browns and other Upwings lifting from the surface. These first cast where more of an opportunity to watch Phil’s cast than anything else. He was breaking his wrist, a habit so many fly fishers have and I have to admit I have suffered from at times so I knew the best way to deal with this. I removed my wader belt and wrap it around Phil’s wrist, anchoring the butt of his rod to his arm behind his wrist, preventing him breaking it and requiring him to cast with his whole arm.  Immediately the results where dramatic. Distance and accuracy increased, and by encouraging Phil to stop casting at a point on the water and raising his aim to the fence line, above the opposite bank, this coupled with slowing his back cast, began to produce near perfect cast, he started laying beautifully accurate well presented casts and it was a joy to watch.   Yes the belt looks ridiculous and I think initially Phil was convinced I was subjecting him to some kind of prank but the results began to speak for themselves and he settled into using the restraint. We moved upstream to the fast water above the pool we had started on and I introduced Phil to a short line Nymphing technique opting for 2 nymphs a PTN (pheasant tail nymph) and a tungsten bead hares ear nymph, both a size 14.

June Sunset, looking West upstream on the River Isla, Aberdeenshire

June Sunset, looking West upstream on the River Isla, Aberdeenshire

A short cast forward into the fast riffles keeping the rod high and the tip level keeps the angler in contact with the flies, allowing them to move downstream past the caster and keeping the flies off the river bed. The first cast produces nothing and I direct Phil to place the next cast on the edge of the fast water between the churning fast flowing water as it drops from the tail of the pool above and the deeper slow water of the bend. He brings the cast down downstream past us and just as the the cast of flies begins to lift in the coursing current, a splash, the water churns and two fish are attempting to take the offered PTN. Watching through my polarisers I see a cracking pound to 1.5 lb. trout rise to the nymph only to be beaten to the prize by nothing more than a 6in wee trout, Phil instinctively strikes! With a whoop of joy! A shout of yes and few exertions of unrepeatable words and thankfully the barbless hook holds as this beautiful wee Isla brownie flees downstream providing some energetic sport, before Phil brings his first wild brown to my offered net. The smile fixed across Phils face said it all – he was now hooked, that first wild brownie had given him his first wild fish high.

The smile says it all! Phil a very happy man with his first Wild Brownie it might be small but its beautiful

The smile says it all! Phil a very happy man with his first Wild Brownie it might be small but it’s beautiful

A wee Isla Brownie in Beautiful condition

A wee Isla Brownie in beautiful condition

We fished on, exploring further upstream on this seriously under fished River with Phil growing more confident with the Nymphing technique and the improvised wrist restriction.  He brought a further 3 fish to the net.   But with light fast fading we called it a night. Phil’s adventures have only just begun and two days later we ventured onto the Deveron which you can catch up on in my next article.

Perfectly formed Isla Brownie

Perfectly formed Isla Brownie

Brown trout-Assynt Adventures

Assynt panaroma

Looking West over Coigach, on a blue sky day, Ben More Coigach on right, Stac Pollaidh visible behind Loch Lurgainn and Cul beag on the right.

My compass pointed farther North, so with a fantastic days fishing behind me in Torridon I headed for Assynt; it’s plentiful Lochs and hill lochs, its rugged landscape and wild brownies. Taking the winding coast road North through Gairloch, past Gruinard Bay; where so many WWII Atlantic and artic convoys sailed. Past Little Loch Broom and round and along Loch Broom meeting the main road from Inverness to Ullapool and the ferry to Lewis, but no ferry journey for me. My target is 40miles further North on a road that leads you through a breath taking scenery of rolling moorland and loch, with stepped near vertical mountains of Torridonian sandstone, that pierce the horizon like the fins and backs bones of prehistoric monsters, swimming through a rolling sea of heather and Lewisian gneiss. A scenic wonderland and a geologist’s wet dream!

The road hugs escarpments of Durness limestone and weaves along the shore of Loch Assynt till eventually closely following the River Inver you arrive at the fishing village of LochInver looking Westover the very North of the Isle of Lewis.


looking South, over Loch Assent with Beinn Gharbh behind, Ardvreck castle on the left bank of the loch.

In the far distance and beyond the Atlantic, behind the village a panorama of epic quality sits waiting to be explored, this was to be my base camp for the next 3 days to reacquaint myself with the lochs, hills and brownies I have neglected somewhat over the last 5 years with the constraints of work and building a house.


LochInver and East the hills of Assynt, from left to right Quinag, Canisp, Suilven, Cul More, Cul Beag and stac Pollaidh.

Quick stop to sort out boats and permits for the stay ( the prices are unbelievably reasonably well priced at about £10 day for a roving ticket that gives you access to a wonderland of over 400 lochs, my mouth salivates at the thought of it. i skipped back to the car giddy with excitement and with in moments I was winding my way up the narrow single track road from the village to Loch Druim Suaralain locally known as the Glen Loch. Parking with permission at Glencanisp lodge ( we made out on the Loch on its only boat a really nice Lomond, stable with a good keel and a total joy to row, that stopping me from pulling what little hair I have left out and swearing like a sailor. A crap unwieldy boat can truly frustrate beyond word and spoil an enjoyable day. The Glen Loch is situated in Glen Canisp, which runs between the ironically beautiful Corbett’s (A mountain of over 2500ft but below the magic 3000ft that defines them as the famous Munros) of Suliven and the sloping ramp of Canisp.


thick cloud decending over Loch Druim Suardalain

The Glen Loch is fed by the small river of Abhainn Bad na h-Achlaise at the East end and from West end below a small wooden bridge the waters continue Westwards to Loch Culag, better know as the School Loch before a short river section empty’s the peaty waters in to the Loch Inver. A stunning location to fish; surrounded by the rolling Lewisian hills covered in heather and small areas of native woodland comprising Scots Pines and Silver Birch. The heather dotted with white bog cotton swaying in the strengthening Westerly wind. Cold thick cloud descended hiding the surrounding hills and tops producing an oppressive feel as the low cloud hung over us, light drizzle carried on the gusty wind. At times through the day the gusts blew 25mph, but undaunted I rowed in to the wind, and made for the small forested Islands that group around the North shore about half way down this half mile long Loch. Glen Loch offers large numbers of Brown Trout, and with its connection to the sea only a mile odd away, both Salmon and Sea Trout were to be found here and are known to take a well presented small trout fly on occasion, so I hoped to see a mixed bag of fish.


looking West up glen Canisp, on one of the many drifts of the day.

Fishing these hill Lochs can be quite a challenge to the uninitiated as even though these Lochs are small, fish do not lurk everywhere! They hug the margins and the lochs edge, where they have access to shallower water, cover and an easier supply of feed; aquatics and terrestrials, fallen and blown from the surrounding land. In the deeper areas and middles of these Lochs they can be almost barren of fish or apparent life of any sort. to the uninitiated these challenges can often only produce only disappointment and it really can be advantageous to the new come to seek out all the advice they can to boost their chances of making a day amazing and i highly recommend local guide Stewart Yates (

I aim for  small bays and the outlets and inlets of Rivers and Burns, making drifts along the edges of the islands and main loch-shore. I head for a small bay on the East side of the islands, it just looks fishy and I have learned to listen to my little internal monologue, when it tells me “fish there” and occasionally what fly to use. I listen and do as it tells me, the sub-conscience accessing the deep recesses of my long forgotten knowledge and dropping hints. Rowing in to the narrow mouth of the bay I send out my first cast on Assynt waters in two years, I opted for a similar 2 rod set up than I had in Torridon but decided on a Hardy/Greys streamflex 4WT teamed with the Hardy flyweight reel and Cortland Platinum floating WF floating line instead of the Hardy DT, mainly to allow me to deal better with the wind and allow me to punch casts in to a head wind should I need to. The 4WT was for dry flies. The second rod was old reliable, my 5WT streamflex plus, with the Hardy L.R.H lightweight ( with a Cortland camo 5ft ghost tip ( just to allow me to put the flies down quicker and on retrieve to maintain a depth rather than pulling the cast to the surface with each strip of line. On this rod I had a team of wets and nymphs similar to Torridon. Gold head Nymph, a personal favorite, is flash back Hares ear I tie myself and has never let me down in the North on point. The 1st and 2nd droppers are a mix of flies usually highland traditional’s, the likes of a Kate McLaren, blue Zulu and Claret Bumble. I do love to use North Country spiders even though most people associate them with river fishing I have found them quite successful on the lochs.


First cast of the day

My first cast kissed the surface of the water and presented my single dry fly a size 16 pale Olive Para Dun, and it immediately soliciting a take from a hard fighting 9inch wee brownie, small but beautifully formed. The wind was frustrating but could be over come and I continued on the dry, even though there was little surface action from the fish and there was little if any in the way of a noticeable hatch going on. I persevered as it seemed to be drawing fish to the surface with splashy miss takes and the occasional bomber take that confirmed another Assynt brownie was on the end of my line. image I fish a single dry more often than not simply because I believe it presents better, and when you have several dries on I find they can generate unnatural drag and movement, that I feel is a turn off for often weary fish. To be honest having more dries on I’ve found doesn’t generate more takes, often the opposite. The fishing slowed so I changed position and established a drift between two islands fishing the dry fly close to the bank and slowly retrieving it, this seemed to generate fish with in a few feet of the bank, the fish darting out from cover or depth to hammer the fly. Missing as many as hooked which was really quite frustrating. image The wind was driving me crazy! Some folk would argue that I already am, but the wind was trying its best to make sure I was! I had a drogue set mid boat and could have done with another in an attempt to maintain a slower steady drift but the wind kept gusting and I was luck to get 2 or 3 casts before I was having to row the boat back in to position and start a drift over. I spent the next couple of hours exploring the loch in search of shelter and fish, only finding a few. With my patience and my arms falling, I returned to the bay and the islands of the morning producing a few more fish.


Bring a beautiful Assent Brownie to the Boat the Minnkin para dun visible hooked in its scissors

Thankfully there was a benefit to the wind we occasionally were offered a view down the Loch at Suliven and Canisp. However the summits never escaped their shroud of cloud.


Suilven on an earlier visit taken from the banks of Cam loch looking West, snow patches still visible

Fishing in Scotland you have to be prepared and able to fish in windy conditions because wind and rain is something we get in bucket load particularly on the West coast but I really could have done with a 2nd fisher to share the rowing or maybe a bloody big anchor. I bemoan the weather! The weather is part of the challenge of the sport but 2015 is a unseasonably crap year, cold to the point where for the first time every we have had the wood burner on in mid June completely unheard of. Maybe its the fact that it is a particularly strong el Niño year in the pacific playing havoc with the jet stream meaning it is sitting South of its seasonal norm, resulting in low pressure after low pressure piling in from the Atlantic and pulling cool air in from the artic North. I saw 20 fish for the day, not a fish over 12inches, but all beautifully marked full fined and hard fighting. less and smaller fish than I had expected, I was also surprised that I did not see much fly life, terrestrial or aquatic life something that has always been quite a abundant and previous visits.   Maybe it was the cold summer or was I out of habit when it came to fishing these Assynt Lochs but I had a couple of more days to reverse my fortune.


Loch Inver from the mouth of the River Inver looking West

I did however redeem the day when I decided to eat at the Caberfeidh ( with great view of the mouth of the River Inver I had expect standard pub grub and was delighted with the exquisite local food we were presented with. What am awesome gem of an eatery recently bought over by the Michelin stared Alabannach Hotel ( the food was sublime local seafood and game. It made the miserable weather just vanish and as we sat there eating the sky cleared and the wind dropped. The West coast with blue sky’s and fine food is probably my favorite place on Earth.