Gold in the hills of Aberdeenshire

Hidden gem is an over used term in my opinion so I am not going to use it this time to describe the Gold mine of a limestone loch that is loch park, a loch that produces stunning bars of Gold. Nestled in a fairly narrow glen with hills rising on the North West and South East sides of the loch, its waters rise very close to the source of the River Isla which runs North east till it meets the River Deveron, South of Huntly and the Isla in it own right is a brilliant trout river, with a reputation for monster trout. Along the South East bank of loch Park the Keith to dufftown heritage rail line runs among the broad leaf, larch and scots pines that stand guard of the loch. Meaning the fishing is only possible by boat, the hills above loch Park are blanketed in conifer plantations helping to add a sheltered protected feel to the narrow loch,  that can, sometimes feels claustrophobic particularly at the north end of the loch when its overcast and you are fishing under the giant trees that line the lochs shores. This claustrophobic atmosphere adds to the secluded feel, hidden from the road and view you could be miles from anywhere. If you happen to be the only rod out that day you feel truly hidden from people, even though the loch sits only a few miles from dufftown. It can be deceiving thou, the trees don’t stop the wind howling down the loch on occasion and if you catch it on the wrong day in can funnel a gale down the mile long water, which is between 6 and 25ft at its deepest. Loch Park is one of, if not the only limestone loch in Aberdeenshire, an old quarry long ago disused and flooded it produces some magnificent wild brown trout fishing with some real lunkers lurking in its depths with fish 5lb plus, having been caught.

Looking North up loch Park

Looking North up loch Park

Arriving at the back of 8.30am at the North end of the Loch, I am greeted with a view straight down the loch light wind swirling across the loch and broken cloud revealing a glimpses of a pale blue spring sky above. two other anglers where tackling up in the car park by the jetty, with only two boats available on the loch each day during the season you are best to book especially early in the season April-may, when the loch fishes at its best.tingling with anticipation, desperate to get on the loch I quickly tackle up, sign in, a quick chat with James who runs the loch. Seeking any hints or tips on what’s been well. And I am first away from the jetty, fishing on my own this time I am how ever joined by my long suffering fishing widow, apparently it’s the only way she gets to see my during the season, she doesn’t fish but is happy to lounge at the back of the boat read a book and net my catches. I row its easier that way for my patience and sanity, I’ve described Jens rowing to friends like watching someone trying to repeatedly lick their elbow! It is just impossible! Putting in loads of effort with out really getting anywhere, its the only way I can put it with out swearing.

Splash take by Loch Park Brownie

Splash take by Loch Park Brownie


First Brownie of the Day taken on a Cdc merger

First Brownie of the Day taken on a Cdc merger

I’ve opted to take only 1 rod a 4wt, 9ft Hardy/Greys streamflex with the Hardy featherweight reel with a 4wt Cortland Platinum precision WTF floating line.

I have elected for this set up for one reason; Loch Park is only really a dry fly loch, for me that’s a Bonus! But it doesn’t suit everyone, its more of a dry fly loch due to necessity more that anything. The rich habitat that limestone lochs provide mean everything grows well and big. Loch Park is thick with weed that thrives in the crystal clear mineral rich water of the loch, this also produces a bonanza of life particularly fly and invertebrate life, a rich food source for the brown trout to feed on. The profusion of weed in the loch requires you to fish on the surface or spend all your pulling weed.  it is more of a water lily than the green mucus strings of weed, that most lochs seem to experience to varying degrees. But Park does also has several naturally clear areas where the lochs depth prevents weed growth and James regularly cuts channels through the banks of weed, allowing easy transit and rich fishing spots for a well-placed fly. The abundance of invertebrates produces incredible hatches and the resulting rises are astounding. Water can be almost carpeted in flies and carapaces and almost appears to boil with fish topping. A vision I witnessed several years ago on my first visit. This buffet menu means fish are plentiful and they grow big and strong and I mean strong! When you hook up with one of these bars of gold it is like hooking a train, brilliant sport! But a strong leader is required, I use an 8lb-tapered leader, out to between 12-15ft in length depending on wind conditions. Now I could go on at length  about leader choice, types and lengths but every fisher I know is different and every fisher develops their own preferences over time and to be honest I don’t want to send you and myself to sleep over the subject.

Looking south down loch Park

Looking south down loch Park

About half way down the loch it cant have been much after 9am I notice fish begin to rise and the decision is easy, I drop the anchor and aim to lay my cast under the tree hanging from the banks. This is also one of those weed free areas but this early in the growing season, the loch is pretty free from weed growth anyway which means plenty of options. I opt for a single fly for presentation, and to stop a dropper snagging on what weed there is, there appears to be a pale coloured dun hatching. Not a huge hatch but enough to bring on the rise, I put on a pale Cdc emerger and cast to within a couple of meters of the bank and leave it. Giving the occasional tweak hopefully giving the fly abit of life, but not moving it really from its position, with in a foot of a repeatedly rising fish. A gentle sup, I strike and I am in to the first fish of the day, Jen muttering she had only just opened her book. It’s a nice fish that gives a great fight as I bring it to the net I am presented with a fish just over a pound, the ironic thing is that on any other Highland loch this wee wild brown trout would be a big fish. On any other day or Loch I would be clapping like a deranged seal with joy. But here its just above average so its quickly returned and back to fishing, the rise continued around the boat as a slow but steady hatch went on, I bring a few more fish to the net as the other anglers motor past heading for the bottom of the loch. The South end and the deepest open section of the loch, a common mistake fishers seem to make on Park assuming that the deep clear water guarantees fish. When in truth they are under the trees and among the weed feeding, from shelter essentially. Ignoring what the signs of fish are telling them, they begin fishing drifts down wind and later conversation with them proves with out much success. This is what happens when fly fishers go in to standard operating procedure rather than fishing to conditions and location. Read the Water! You will reap the reward! 

Crystal Clear water helps bring the Trout to the Net

Crystal Clear water helps bring the Trout to the Net

The fly hasn’t seen any action for a while now so I move down the loch a little, and opt to change the fly still in an area free of weed. Through the gin clear water I can see fallen trees and some other structures below the surface, I decide for a decisive change of fly and opt for a gold head PTN; not something I would normally fish here. In the process of the change a decent, actually very decent fish breeches the surface just behind the subsurface structures I can see; Becoming all fingers and thumbs with excitement I struggle to tie on the fly, eventually succeeding I send out a long cast landing about a meter short of where the fish had breached. I turn to Jen to berate my casting, and as I turn back my line begins diving and arching away, I strike and as I’ve said the loco takes off. What a fight! Smiling like the Cheshire cat I net the 2lb + fish and quickly release it. with out thinking I send a cast back to the same position, immediately I beginning to retrieve the line, the fly is hit by another thundering bar of gold, and its bigger than the last. My face is beginning to hurt from the smiling, again I roll out a cast to the same location more just to gain my composure Before I decide were to place the fly next, when once again its hit! I have a joyous rangey fight form another loch park brownie, I net the third 2lb plus brownie from 3 casts. I sit giddy in the boat, talking nonsense to a bemuse Jen.

I decide its time to move on and visit a couple of more spots around the loch varying between Cdc emergers, a PTN and a Hares Ear Nymph, keeps producing fish. By mid afternoon the fishing has slowed and the wind building carrying a chill on it. I decide quite satisfied for once, it was time for the jetty and home, a miles row away. My day wasn’t over yet, on the leisurely row down the loch we were treated to a true lesson in fishing by an Osprey. Having circled the loch off and on all day the osprey had disappointed by not yet taken a fish, as we reached the half waypoint up the loch. Form high on a larch it had been surveying the water from, it hit the water with a splash! it struggled for a while, before fighting its way sky wards, fighting the reluctant catch beneath it forcing a somewhat erratic flight path as the brownie thrashed its tail.  The osprey struggled to control the big Brownie, which it eventually aligned beneath it in its talons, and treated us to a flyby, boasting about its catch no doubt. A real privilege to witness and the photos caught by Jen where her highlight of the day.

Showing off it Catch

Showing off it Catch

Osprey2

Osprey3

A great day all round really as we neared the jetty and the end of the day, but I couldn’t resist a cast over some a blipping trout, 100 yards from the jetty. It would have been rude not to! Sending out a cast just beyond a bank of weed showing trough the surface, I brought a trout to the surface, greedily sucking in the wee Cdc Para dun. I had another fish on “ah its only a wee one” I chimed, at which point it realised it was hooked and took off stripping line from my hand. I rarely play fish on the reel opting to hand line them mainly, I feel it gives me more control especially on light leaders, this one gave me little choice and I ended up playing it on the reel. bring it to the net it was by no measure the biggest of the day, but it had fought like a salmon, I slipped it back in to the loch and headed for the jetty and homewards

Loch park(http://www.dufftown.co.uk/prov_attr_detail.php?id=12)(01542 810 334) is a True hidden gem. damn it! I said it but its worth the cliché, it is a brilliant loch to fish. It can be very challenging but very rewarding if your heading north to Aberdeenshire don’t miss it. £20 a rod and worth every penny

Rise of the Dark olives

April arrived not so much with a bang but with a howling shriek and a blizzard! Aberdeenshire seemed to be missing the westerly weather being blown in for most of March so I have to admit I was feeling quite blasé that the weather for Wednesday April 1st for opening day for trout on the Deveron catchment was going to be good and I was sure that my first river Brownie of the season may well fall to a dry. The Sunday before saw me net 8 brownies from a wee loch near the house, during a brief hatch of LDOs, Large dark Olive during the warmth of lunchtime. The nice spring weather seemed set to stay as I even managed to spend a good part of Monday fencing in short sleeves which just made me more cocky that come Wednesday I would be seeing bars of gold falling to a well presented CDC Olive or F-fly

Springing from my bed at the back of 6, brightness bleeding in from the edges of the blind I was as eager as a kid at Christmas. Throwing open the blinds, to view what a waited for opening day of the trout season 2015;  2in of bloody freshly fallen snow!  My rattle was firmly thrown from the pram! And compounded by he sun was splitting the pale blue sky not perfect conditions and freezing temperatures brought with the coating of white stuff. my hopes of fine weather dry-fly start to the season was fast evaporating. I quickly became a grumpy old man as I trudged towards the kitchen, Jen would argue that it’s a permanent state I exist in, She may well be right! With my mood Darkening the sky followed suit, as howling snow shower after prolonged snow shower began blowing in. I made the executive decision to spend the day in the office, muttering and cursing Mother Nature with every glance out of the window. Consoling myself with fly-tying under the watchful eye of the cat who was clearly as frustrated with the weather as I was. Keeping busy at the vice, my mind drifted and I began plotting which pool to target first! With the colder weather the fish will be in the slower, deeper water so I start tripping through my memory for a spot that would fit the bill to kick off the season on. Now all that I required was a change in the weather

Snow April 2015

Looking East over the Devon valley, Opeening day of the trout season

Thursday dawned warmer and over cast, the snow was fast disappearing and there appeared to be a fair bit of fly life flitting about. I was positively skipping with joy, joy I am sure only a trout fisherman can understand, that excited joyous feeling of seeing flies, well maybe a couple of entomologists can relate. A joy of Knowing that the long cold winter break was over. A winter break that often feels more akin to a Game of Thrones Winter, lasting decades! On seeing an avid trout fly-fisher who hasn’t had a chance to cast a fly since the close of season, you would be quite convinced you had seen a white walker.

At this time of year it is all about timing. There is little point running to the river bank at 7 am, the fish will not be feeding and still tucked up in their winter/resting lie and would show little interest in a presented fly.  Only producing frustration and doubt in the eager fly-fisher, thrashing the water. I made do by playing with my tackle…..fishing tackle for the day ahead; I like to only carry a couple of boxes and conversely I ve found, the more boxes you carry the less flies you seem to ever fish. I make a diary note every day I fish of weather conditions, locations, times and the flies that proved successful, a note of the fly life and when there were hatches. This allows me to be somewhat more selective in what flies I take, not to say that I don’t still carry too big a selection at times. This can offer you options, but more often it just breeds self-doubt in your selected flies.

I opted to set up two rods a Hardy/greys Streamflex 9ft, 3wt with a Hardys flyweight reel with a Cortland Platinum 3wt WTF floating line and a 12ft 3x (3LB) Rio superflex leader and a single CDC, dark olive (Hoping and expecting a hatch) In addition I set up a Streamflex Plus 10ft 5wt nymphing rod, with a hardy ultralight reel 5wt Cortland nymph line a 17ft tapered leader with single dropper PTN (pheasent tailed nymph) 2ft above the point fly a Hares ear tungsten jig. Keeping my options open to fish the top given a rise or below, with out having to change leader and fly.

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Looking east down stream on the River Devon

I hit the Deveron late morning, and headed for a favorite pool. The river was up about 6in on the previous day, thanks to the snow melt, but still at a very good level, the river having taken on a lovely peaty, tea colour so indicative of these northern spate rivers. I felt quite confident of seeing a fish or two! Sitting on the back I see little movement and even less sign of fly life of hatch and to irritate me even more a cold wind was beginning to make its presence felt. Regardless I slip in to the cold springtime river water,with the nymph rod and tentatively begin searching a spots I know to have held fish in the past, but to little avail I elect to move on with niggling doubt beginning to lurk. Moving slowly down stream on the bank watching pool after pool I see nothing. I cover a mile and half and I am contemplating bailing out, but that burning desperation to have my first trout of the season from the Deveron, on a dry drives me fourth.

Then down stream of my current loitering spot, in a nice stretch of slack water behind a sunken boulder on the edge of the foam line, I repeatedly see the familiar and tantalising rings spreading out from a rising trout, then the familiar sound; blip! As it sups a fly from the surface, occasional LDOs drift down through the pool on the surface. The hatch I have been waiting for! I move down stream with the aim of casting up-stream to cover the rising fish I stay low being on a high bank and undoubtedly visible against the horizon. I nestle myself in behind the scrub sprouting from the bank of the pool which is to deep to wade so I am left with a tricky cast my first cast arches out and lands the fly perfectly where I want it, smiling to myself, the fly drifts over the lie and nothing excitement tingling in me I lift a long line of the surface to cast again the line shoots out behind me and snags! This is the point it goes wrong, we have all been there! Snag after snag tangling and wrapping your line round every piece of vegetation in sight! The more you try to sort it and untangle it the worse it becomes, the frustration becomes bloody over whelming you are desperate to hook the fish seen rising but it’s not Happening! Ooooh the rage! By the time I get untangled I am hopping up and down on the spot with rage. Down stream of me I see more fish rise in a lower pool, and decide to cut my losses and target them, covering a few fish with cast after cast, but nothing!  A quick change of fly and try again nothing frustration and exasperation in equal measure, I try again and this time on the back cast TWANG! Snap I break my leader and fly gone; the expletives are repeatable, even in a rugby changing room. Swearing and muttering, like a mad man talking it tongues I’ve and enough. THAT’S IT! I call it a day, no point in fishing angry I turn tail and head for home.

The next couple of days are like ground-hog day, between my impatience and eagerness, my fishing just was not going well at all, not a fish to show for it. Loosing more flies than if I had sprayed DDT. I venturing along some of my favorite stretches of the Bogie, I tried probing with nymphs, I tried enticing with dries, but not a fish. And to compound the situation even when there was a hatch of LDOs not a fish surfaced on the 3 miles of the Bogie I waded, fished and scrambled through that day. They were there! I know they were there! I cycled through fly selections and sizes but not a touch.I snagged my fly repeatedly, seemingly on every branch or post by the river, Aaaaah! With every mistake I rush to sort it, which true to Murphy’s Law only makes it worse! Questioning my self endlessly, self-doubt shouting louder and louder in my internal monologue with every decision and cast. The frustration and rage at my own failings spilt over to the point I am fit to scream! The warmer than expected day, the rising blood pressure, the waders and thermal trousers has Me feeling like a boil in the bag idiot! I could have taken my rod and broken it across my knee! We have all been there as fisherman; you hope and dream of those perfect days on the river with the right fly choice off the bat, and with almost every cast a fish falling to the fly and being brought to the net. And when it doesn’t tell out as you’d imagined it would in those dark days of winter, the day progressively falls apart with mistakes and frustrations, a complete loss of focus ensues. Contributing and in many cases, and more often causing the terrible casting and snags. And above all these issue there is that nagging self-doubt again! I once read a an article that ask what’s the difference between a fly-fisher and a good fly-fisher, a fly-fisher goes hoping to catch fish, a good fisher goes knowing that they will catch fish.

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Panoramic view looking South/South east over the Isla

I decide to take a couple of days off from the river and rod. for my own sanity and Jenni’s. Time to refocus, I tied up some new patterns, a few variations and refined a few more. but with Monday dawning the self-doubt was still niggled there. Where to fish I have the choice of 3 rivers the the Deveron, the Bogie or the Isla I am a regular on the first 2, so the decision was made to head for the Isla a local river I have only little experience on, mainly as it’s a little further from the house and as so often happens once I see the Deveron I just tend to stop there. A new adventure and hopefully a larger change in my luck. Heading up-stream from the Portsoy bridge I am aiming to just watch the river for a while before I make a cast I slowly make my way up-stream watching lie and pool after pool and potential lie. The sun is splitting the sky but thankfully the cloud was beginning to build driven by a strengthening wind, blowing down stream unfortunately but I could deal with it as it stood. About 11.30 the beginning of a hatch as at first a few March browns rise from the surface here and there, followed by LDOs in a far greater perfusion, and like a switch being turned fish started blipping.

Whoop! I was still fish on the same 4wt set up with a small quill CDC emerger I target the rising fish almost directly opposite me in the river I land the fly jut above the last rise and the fly is almost instantly engulfed in a splashy rise. FISH ON! Fish bloody on, I quickly bring the little 12in bar of gold to the net! The duck is broken normal service can resume the rise continues for about 40minutes with at least a dozen good-sized trout feeding in the 14in deep faster water downstream from a deep pool, I slip in below the rising trout and slowly ninja like wade up to within casting range, this small stretch of water seems filled with breaching brownies gorging on the carpet of LDOs. Trout Nirvana, I am tingling with joy! I wish I had videoed the sight in front of me, true fly fishers porn!

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2nd Isla Brownie of the season

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Isla Brownie

I land a few more of those golden bars, quickly releasing the barbless hook and getting the fly back to work after, drying out the CDC. The wind that had brought the cloud aiding me earlier, was fast starting to hinder me. I couldn’t get the fly to where it needed to be; the river was also limiting my access to fishable positions so happily but far from satisfied. (There is always room for 1 more fish) I climb from the river and head for lunch.

After the trials and tribulations of the last couple of days I have to take more than the memories of the fine fish that were helping to blot out the nightmarish first couple of days. As I say every experience fishing is a learning experience; I need to remember patience and focus reaps rewards, every time. if you snag take the time, be methodical and don’t repeat, otherwise you’re only shooting your self in the foot by worsening the situation. Start of season Duck broken, i can relax and get back to landing the Brownies. The Isla will be seeing me again soon, there are a couple of lunkers that I’ve got my name on.