February drawing to a close and having spent the month exclusively fishing from river to river on the hunt for the elusive Spring Salmon. I now craved a change! I am a shameless trout bum at heart, I adore fly fishing for the whiley and gorgeous Brown Trout, that haunt our rivers and lochs. Unfortunately we have to live with what sometimes feels like a never-ending closed season in the UK. So diversification is key! That means either Grayling on the rivers, which we don’t have in Northern Scotland or Rainbows on the still waters. I can hear the scornful tuts and whispers! I know many scoff at Rainbow Trout fishing and i know why, many flyfishers see them as over fed, over stocked puddings. That have a suicidal drive to throw themselves on the first fly cast in their direction. Producing combat fishing venues! There are people as far as the eye can see, surrounded by duff castors, chucking huge chunks of glittery candy floss on the end of telephone poll like 8wt fly rods, ripping and splashing the line on and off the water, subtlety totally lacking. and there is some truth in these stereotypes. I know have fished venues like that and hated every minute of it.
But do not tar all Stillwaters with the same brush! Hark among the darkness there is light! There are some extremely good still waters around that keep a lower stocking density, don’t feed, and let the fishery grow that little bit wilder and natural not manicured like the 18th at Glen Eagles, with a good head of full finned resident rainbows that are feeding on naturals and coloured up to match the peatier waters we have up North. these gems of fisheries offers us a nice escape when or beloved brownies are on their winter hols! I am very lucky i live in Aberdeenshire a county I adopted as home 11years ago and I have grown to love all that it offers, great salmon rivers, intoxicating trout rivers and lochs, and from my location easy access to plenty more beyond. Living between Huntly and Dufftown. I have the opportunity to fish 1 of these under recognised gems. Only a miles walk from the house. This wee fishery of less than 8 acres, has been around since the late 70s and has gone through a few changes over time but offers everything I’ve mentioned; a more natural feel to the surroundings, a more natural head of trout feeding on the prolific fly, larva, shrimp and fry, this produces natural, more wild behaviour. Wild trout they may not be, and certainly not native to our fair shores but they can still behave as they would in native US given the right conditions. As a result these Rainbows can prove all to gather quite tricky. A fishery like this offers a haven in the dark wint
er months! This winter trout haven is Artloch fishery (http://www.artlochfishery.co.uk) Located about 4.5 miles from Huntly just off the Huntly-Dufftown road, bounded on the loch’s north side by the River Deveron, to the east broadleaf and birch woodland and rolling hill farms on all sides produces really quite a charming venue. Owned and run by retired RAF officer Stuart Wright, it is also home to the famous Sharpes of Aberdeen. (http://www.sharpes.net) A wooden Cabin overlooks the loch with a wood burner normally going over the winter months, plenty of tea and coffee flows with the banter and chat. Who says men don’t gossip? Put a group of the local flyfishers that haunt the loch in the hut together, stand back and listen! Everything from what new fly they’ve tied to what the local milkman has been up to with Mrs Smith from down the road. But seriously it can be a treasure trove of information, tips and history on the local and even further afield fishings’. And as I’ve said, listening is as valuable sometimes as practice in learning about this addicting…I mean sport! Some of these guys have two lifetimes of experience and have forgotten more fish than some of us have ever caught.
So let’s get back to the fishing! as I said, having spent February chasing Springers I needed a change! Arriving at Artloch around 9 am, the sun was gloriously shining, the way it only seems to in the winter in the crystal clear blue sky, unfortunately the wind was not being as kind as the sun with gusts blowing 35 MPH, but if you want to fish in Scotland in the winter, autumn and spring months you learn to fish in the wind! I tackled up in the cabin over a cup of tea and talking to the Sharpes guys mainly about my disastrous River Spey trip and the unavoidable humour mostly at my expense.
Regardless of whether I am fishing river, loch or stillwater I set up several rods. I opt for a Hardy/greys; Streamflex, 9ft, 4wt rod, the Hardy L.R.H lightweight classic reel with a Cortland precision platinum WF4 high float line (http://www.garryevans.co.uk) This rod is for dry-fly with a lighter leader 3 lb because there may always be an opportunity for fish from the surface, a truly enjoyable way to fish one of my real loves and mainstays for trout. to deal with the wind and to allow me to fish heavier flies at range I opt for the Hardy/greys XF2 9.6ft, 7wt, rod. Hardy Princess reel with the Cortland precision platinum WF7 floating line. Many fishers would opt for an intermediate of sinking line, I am not a huge fan of these on a small loch like this, and knowing the loch is at its deepest 12-14ft I would rather opt for a longer leader with a heavier fly like a tungsten beaded nymph or a flight fly of a similar ilk. I am sure there are Rainbow bashers currently falling of their seats at the suggestion of using a floating line in the windy cold conditions! Please hear me out, I do it for several reasons. FIRSTLY; I have found it always generates more takes for me as I fish over a weedy vegetated loch bed like this one with a jerky, slow retrieve with intermittent dead stops the floating line even with a long leader causing the fly to lift and drop in the water column more naturalistic it also acts as a take indicator for both nymphs and should I change on to buzzers too. SECONDLY; I hate the cumbersome, weighty, tiring sinking lines, if I wanted to give my wrist cramp I can think of a far more pleasurable way. I set up the Streamfex with a nice black hopper it never seems to fail river or loch. On the XF2 I opt for a single tungsten beaded nymph size 12 kamasan B175 hook, with a fluorescent green body with black rabbit fur strip in total about 3cm/inch and a half long fly far bigger than I am used to but it seems to work at this time of year, on a 8 lb Rio leader.
In the sunshine there is a good bit of warmth, but there is still that howling wind which is a southerly blowing from the S / SW and not nearly as bitingly cold as the N/ NE we get blowing in off the North Sea. I choose to fish the more sheltered regions of the loch and of these I choose to fish the spots that aren’t much deeper than 7ft mainly because I’ve often found fish come into these zones for warmth in the sunshine, the shallower water warming quicker. The bay directly in front of the hut offers me all these. There is little movement on the surface so I opt for the heavier rod and nymph set up, to fish at depth, taking the lighter rod with me for quick change to on the surface given the option. I fire a long line out reaching out beyond the bay. Aiming for along the side of a hidden sand Bar below the surface, that extends out from the middle of the bay. I send out almost all my line, only a single turn remains on the reel before I am in to my backing. Letting the fly sink which doesn’t take long, I give a couple of sort sharp tugs, and stop, then begin a slow figure of 8 retrieve. Instantly I feel pressure and watch my line tip disappear under water and curve away in an ark. YEUP,YEUP, FISH ON!……Damn it! no! fish off! as I Lift the rod tip in to the take and strike, i pull the fly from the fishs mouth. I recover composure and continue the mixed up retrieve slow,stop,jerky, slow fast retrieve. on this first retrieve I get a couple more knocks before, I lift the fly off the water to cast off again. My 2nd cast streams out to hit the same mark again and within 6ft of line being retrieved, BANG! FISH ON! And this time, the barbless hook takes hold and I land the 3 lb over wintered beauty. The next 3hours stream past with another 13 fish coming to the net with the best at 6.5 lb even a Brownie of 1 lb making an appearance. Between landing these fish I have also lost another 10 fish, for reasons I just can’t seem to explain. By 1pm I was in need of replacing the now well and truly tattered fly it had died serving bravely. I needed attention too, sadly excitement and enjoyment can’t sustain me alone, so lunch was called, warm soup and a sandwich.
Over lunch the wind intensified and the cloud rolled in, and to be honest the sky looked like it was going to rain or worse sleet. Normally when fishing is as good as had been, its a short lunch but with the changing conditions outside i lingered by the wood burner. I pried myself from fireside and headed for the productive little bay of this morning, but the sun was now gone behind thick cloud and temperature had dropped. Regardless I tried the bay again, on my first cast I land a 2 lber and still getting a few knocks, but the ferocious activity of the morning has dropped off. I move off, fishing around the loch here and there choosing spots where the wind allows. I land another 3 fish, a few more tugs keep me going. Then the activity just seems to stall. at 3.30pm after a fruitless hour I decide to call it time! and head for the cabin and warmth, truly satisfied, my craving for trout fishing fulfilled, at a time of year that can produce really tricky fishing, on what can be a very fickle Stillwater. That’s what I love about these wee Gems of fisheries, you quite often have to bring Your A-game, and these venues can quite often favour the wild fish fisher. Mainly because they have a more diverse and subtle skill set. Don’t rule out the Rainbows!