Spey Trophy Trout

largeFeeling energized after the previous evenings fishing’s and even though I had only managed to squeeze in 6 hours kip I was raring to hit the water and start throwing out casts but thankfully I managed to stifle my enthusiasm and sit and watch the water for wee while.   Difficult at 8.30 in the morning with bright blue skies above and the sun beginning to crest above the high tree covered ridge line and hills to the south east, the gnawing realisation that very shortly the brightness would shut the morning fishing window and put the fish down until the evening and restbite from the sun. I sat with wader clad legs and torso feeling like a boil in bag Scotsman as the air temperature climbed past 20 degrees Celsius, my legs hanging in the cooling waters of the famous River Spey offered some relief. And I know many readers will laugh at the notion of 20 degrees being too hot but trust me when you are used to the average temperatures of the frozen North beyond the wall 20 degrees is tropical, add the person sized condom like waders, it’s too hot for this Scotsman!

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This middle River Spey beat was fast becoming one of my favourite beats on the river, I had spent a week fishing it with clients a year earlier and had got my first taste of its quality trout and fantastic surroundings. A group of experienced salmon fishers who were looking to augment the salmon fishing with a little trout action and a better beat you couldn’t find, so when the invite had land in my inbox to join again this time as a fisher I jumped on the offer and the opportunity to spend some time chasing the fantastic trophy trout that this beat can produce,  this time without clients. When you think of great Scottish trout fly fishing the main rivers that come to mind are rivers like the Don, the Annan, Clyde and Deveron but this famous salmon river that many salmon fishers have on their bucket lists, produce some of the finest trout fishing I have experienced and the dry fly sport make it a fly fishers nirvana.

River Spey

Sitting watching the faintly peaty waters of the Spey spilling from the salmon pool above through the fast rocky turbulent pocket water,  both banks cloaked in birch in the first fresh flush of spring green and behind me pine trees gently swaying in the light wind, it’s a picture perfect location.  And with conditions to match it had me almost salivating, sitting expectantly; waiting to see what fish would show themselves.

For the past 24hrs a caddis hatch of Granom and black sedge almost biblical in proportions had been streaming in brown mist like clouds, the volume of biomass streaming from the surface of the river was almost beyond comprehension.  A hatch of such profusion would be expected to produce a rise of trout to rival it but strangely hardly a fish stirred, clearly most of the feeding was going on sub surface with the trout targeting the ascending pupa rather than the struggling emergers of caddis on the surface. I can only assume the brightness of the conditions was inducing this feeding behaviour but with the evening cool and gloom once the sun had sunk below the tree line, the feeding actively switched to the surface. There were however, exceptions under the blue skies; the hatch had phases of less intensity where it wained and these periods seemed to induce a change to surface feeding of the emerged caddis and that was my cue and opportunity, with the waning hatch the larger trout were drawn to surface taking pupa just below the surface producing the distinctive dorsal and tail rises.

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As the Hatch easied I spied a couple of nice fish taking sedge from the surface, never in an easy spot are they!  Tight to the far side of a fast deep seam two thirds of the way across the river it was going to be a tricky wade across a very bouldered 3ft deep section of fast water to get in to a position to cast, to complicate there was also a freshening downstream wind.  But if it was easy it wouldn’t be fun!

fishing a barbless size 14 CDC Elk hair on a 16ft 5x tapered leader and a 4 weight 9ft Hardy demon rod.

I begin my slow wade across to the seam, the awkward lie of the trout meant I had a short window to present the fly before the current would induce drag and effect the flies movement. I position myself about 2 rod lengths below and on the opposite side of the seam to the rising trout. I make my first cast but the wind is playing havoc with the leader, no hope of the perfect presentation. I quickly retrieve and decide to shorten the leader removing 4-5ft of tippet and cast back out covering the steady rising trout but not a twitch…. I cover it once, twice, three times but not a hint of wanting it!

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Another quick retrieve, standing waist deep in the cold Spey water tugging at my waders and legs, I stare at the fly…… blankly; the fly is right! But why no interest? The size! I go down to a size 16 – quick change, floatant and I mud the leader.

Anxiety building that the trout might stop rising, as I look up it sips again so it’s still mine for the catching.  A confident sip and with each rise it’s moving a bit of water,  suggesting it’s a good fish, hopefully about a couple of pounds. The fly lands 2ft upstream of the trout and just as the drag starts to act on the fly a brownie coloured nose pokes from the surface and my fly disappears……. I lift in to the fish, feel the weight and know in that moment as the rod tip bends over that its “fish on”! the trout realises its hooked and the next 15 minutes of give and take sport begins as this lump of a fish takes off like a run-away steam train straight downstream my 4wt Hardy’s tip bouncing as the trout fights and thrashes crossing from one side of the river to the other below me in the current. My wrist beginning to ache from the fight as I keep switching hands; this is a big fish, far bigger than expected, it dawns on me I won’t be able to net this one in the middle of the river I going to have to get it in the shallower slack water by the bank, which means I’ve got to wade back across this minefield like boulder strewn assault course of a river bed. The swearing begins, inching my way back to the bank fighting to stay upright against the current whilst playing this rather large and feisty trout that doesn’t seem to be tiring in the slightest! It’s not expending that much energy using the current to fight me – whose playing who?

 

 

 

 

Half way back to the bank and something makes me look down, just as my McLean’s weigh net sweeps past me? Somehow it’s come loose from my back and its lanyard? (more swearing) it lands a few feet in front of me wedged between two rocks.  You have to be kidding me! (more swearing) My wrists are killing me, I am struggling to stand up in the current and now my bloody £80.00 net has decided to swim with the fishes! “RIGHT that’s it!” (more swearing) I need the net to land this fish inching forward crouching, bending, stooping down I reach and stretch through the cold mountain water desperately trying to get my fingers to the sunken net whilst fighting and playing this trout (more swearing) my shirt is soaked and water begins pouring in to my waders very quickly solving my overheating problem and making me gasp as the cold water hits part of my body it shouldn’t! Just as I feel like all is lost I make fingertip contact with the net and somehow I get a hold of the frame “YES got it” I yell to myself and the blue sky above as I wrestle it from its watery grave and manage to clip it to my belt. Half drowned, sodden and aching I finally make it to the slacker water thankfully still playing my prize, the trout relinquishes its battle and slowly I work it to the net aware that I have this monster on a size 16 barbless hook.  It slips head first into the net and it’s a monster alright, a deep powerful Spey brownie 5.25lb in weight, a slab of Spey Gold. I breathe a sigh of relief and lean back against the bank just as Bill and Roddy the Ghillie arrive, right boys get a photo of this I am “****ing knackered.” Quick photos are taken for posterity  and the adrenaline begins to ease as I kneel in the water and slowly release this beautiful slab of Spey gold with a huge smile and total exhaustion (me, not the trout!).

 

 

 

 

Early season Trout

largeThe Early Trout season of 2018 can be best described as unique possible challenging and for the less eloquent bloody frustrating! March saw Scotland and the UK as a whole still gripped in winter with the “beast from the East” refusing to relinquish winters grip, repeatedly freezing temps and heavy snow pounded Scotland. As the trout season opened the  large snow accumulations in the head waters decided it was time melt and sent the river gauges rocketing, turning the rivers a chocolate brown and sending water temperatures plummeting to levels that made body parts shrink and seek shelter in ones throat accompanied by gasps of frozen shock.  It produced very short lived hatches if any at all and the trout went turgid, switching off from the feed and doing as little as possible to conserve energy.

I didn’t get my first proper days fishing in until 25 March, the hatch finally appearing late afternoon between 3.30 and 4.00pm.  A  short flurry of LDO’s and March Browns brought

img_1175-1a few fish to the dry fly but you had to be camped on the pools waiting otherwise blink and you would miss the days rise and so March and early April continued “frustrate and repeat” as the rivers went up and down with pulses of snow melt keeping the water temperature somewhere in the region of Baltic cold and the air temperature didn’t do much better.  The wind stubbornly coming from the east and north east the air temperature was never given the chance to climb, hatches where patchy as were the rises. To maximise fishing it was all about time on the water waiting and social media was alive with the howls of frustrated fishers, especially the go to Nymph fly fishers who seemed to be completely incapable of adapting to the different and changing conditions and unable to understand that due to the longer winter and colder water conditions trout wouldn’t be sitting in the same locations as 12 months earlier, but still they banged away with tungsten bemoaning the lack of fish!

The trout were to be found in the water that offered a more stable therma-cline, they weren’t needing to get in to the fast water yet as the cold water temps meant oxygen saturation was high enough in slower water that the trout could feed without expending unnecessary energy. The slower deeper river sections, for the dry fly fisher with patience, proved great fishing with some really nice fish falling to a well presented dry fly in early April.

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April felt more like February and as the month dragged by I had to spend hour after hour waiting for the hit and miss almost random hatches that the rivers produced through much of the month.  As a glamour of warm began to creep in to our chilled world the hatches were beginning to come earlier in the day but lacked “set your watch by them” frequency and regularity,  but with patience there were rewards to be had, but it meant knowing were decent fish like to lie given the conditions and waiting till they decided to show themselves, picking at the odd hatching upwings and even midges.

The first week of April saw one such lunchtime a cold wind from the North West, grey laden cloud with the occasional blue window above was producing a less than motivating atmosphere as I sat huddled against the bank on one of the River Deveron’s tributaries that I love to fish in early spring, the first green shoots beginning to struggle through the brown and dead looking banks of last year’s growth. I had been hunkered down watching a stretch of water  where I had spotted a decent looking trout a week earlier but had failed to entice to the fly, suddenly from tight to the opposite bank in relatively slow water in about 5 ft of depth a confident sip and a push of water gave away the location of the trout I was in search of, signalling the start of slow intermittent hatch of march browns and the occasional LDO.

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I creep to the banks edge attempting to keep my bulk out of sight above the bank, not an easy feat as its not so much ignoring the elephant in the room, more of a case of trying to hide it! I lay the cast about 6 feet upstream of where the fish had been rising in a foam line, 3 feet above the fishs’ last rise my size 14 CDC shuttle cock disappears in the softest of sips and I quickly lift into the fish………the water explodes and the joyous whoops quickly turns to mild panic as the trout runs straight for the bottom and upstream peeling line from the reel.  Talking to myself aloud “keep it on”, the pleasure of hooking a good fish soon disappears as desperation and panic to get what is clearly a good fish to the net sets in. Having run up stream in to fast thick water the trout turns and using the fast water races back towards me down the pool, the rod held up over my head as I franticly strip line trying to stay in contact with the fish and keep a semblance of pressure on the barbless hook, the fish still hadn’t showed itself yet other than a flash of gold in the peated waters as it raced past me towards the tail of the pool and the fast water that it was using to great effect.  Sitting in the fast thick water at the tail, this whiley bar of Aberdeenshire gold sat moving from seam to seam attempting to cast the hook in a 5 minute battle of wills to see whether the leader would give out before I had managed to tire the fish enough to get it to the net, but slowly I regained line and I worked it from its fast water bastion to the net. Adrenaline trembles and gasps of relief as the net enveloped and cradled this beautiful 2.6lb wild Deveron brownie.

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Smiling and recovering my composure I stroll up stream to see what else I can find, still a few March browns continue to float down on the current, but nothing seems to be showing any interest. From the pool above I hear the enticingly familiar sound of a feeding trout taking upwings from the surface and sure enough the familiar sight of a rolling trout confidently moving from side to side taking the march browns, I crawl and edge my way slowly along the water’s edge below the high bank trying to get into a position so I can make a presentation above the fish.  But it’s not an easy prospect given the position which is being compounded by the downstream wind but I get myself almost level with the rising trout, my back almost flat against the bank and I manage to make a cast which deposits the fly about 4 feet above the trout and almost immediately I begin to mutter and curse as the fly is being drawn in to an eddy and off the line of the rising trout.  You would be amazed at the swears I can string together as I mutter to myself recumbent against the bank, the fly drifts 2 feet wide of the trout but I daren’t lift off and cast again until it’s well past it for fear of spooking it but as this thought flashes through my mind I watch the trout rise, turn and sucks in my offered fly.  I lift as quick as I can and there at the end of the line is that joyous feeling a good sized trout on the line the rod tip bends over and it realises its hooked the battle to the net begins ‘FISH ON” I call to myself!  Two cracking bars of gold in 15mins with in 100ft of each other…… counting my chickens before they’ve hatched, as my hooked slab of gold proceeds to give me a very educational lesson in physics, acrobatics and hubris, going vertical like a Polaris missile and smashing back on to the rivers’ peaty surface in an explosion of white water more fitting of a tarpon, the barbless hook is dislodged and sent pinging back in my direction and as the river surface settles, the air turned blue as an expletive filled rant erupted from the bank as I berate myself……… my brief lesson in over confidence concludes is my day and make for the comfort of home a cupa and the wood burner.

Deveron Trout

As fly fishers we all have our favourite beat or stretch of water that we love for different reasons, its location, the size, quality and numbers of brown trout, the pools and the water or maybe just because that stretch of water has been particularly kind to us in the past. For me the River Isla is one of my favs and a couple of spots in particular on this tributary of the Deveron.  Few rivers offer a more isolated feel without actual isolation, the Isla has been particularly generous to me with quality trout and memorable days and it is only 10 minutes from the front door. However this season my affections are being competed for and I have strayed, not far but love has grown for a beat on the middle Deveron. And has been getting far more attention from me these early days of the trout season.

Those of you that follow Tuff flyfishing on social media;

https://m.facebook.com/TUFFflyfishing.co.uk

https://mobile.twitter.com/tuffflyfish15

may have noticed me adoringly tweeting and flooding the Facebook world with loving words as of late and may well already have guessed where is this new love of mine well………..its Bridge of Marnoch! Should I be whispering? Possibly! Trout bums familiar with the Deveron will know this beat well and I confess it’s a beat I had only fished a couple of times before this season and without great success.  But it’s 2017 and something clicked. 


Opening 2 two weeks before my home beats on the 15th of March, rather than the 1st of April meant it got its chance to seduce me and it really did work its magic.  Stretching for just over 2 miles on the middle Deveron this beat has a great choice of waters – streamy sections, pocket waters and deep glides with nice seams galore. 

More than enough to keep any fly fishing fanatic happy,  Nymphers and “normal” fly fishers alike. Winding downstream from the top of the beat which lies just above the Marnoch bridge that carries the Banff road over the Deveron heading northward, the beat meanders downstream with a fantastic mix of water; comprising ————named pools, these  two miles of river hold a surprisigly large number of 2lb+ trout.

 https://www.tuffflyfishing.co.uk

With the nature of the beat it is possible to find some shelter when the wind howls, as it often does and on those blue sky days there is shade to find. 

Blue skies above and a strengthening westerly wind I headed downstream seeking a little shelter, surveying the water for those first signs of the hatch but no hint.  I prefer to fish dries almost all the time which means life can be some what more challenging but there is some thing so visual, engaging and enthralling watching the fly on the surface, the anticipation, the hope waiting for the take, so I often spend a fair bit of time watching for that rise brought on by the hatch.

So far this year there has been good hatches of LDOs and short lived hatches of March browns  have been coming off the water during the magic window lunch time window, to the point you could actually set your watch by them between 11am and 2.30pm. I have my favourite spots and others theirs and I am sure this is the point where you expect me to spill the details on my spot… Afraid not folks! Where would the fun be in that, you just have to fish the beat and find your spot and the beautiful trout they hold.
I stroll almost to the bottom of the beat without much in the way of hatch or fish rising.  I turn and stroll back upstream and with that mother nature flickes a switch and Upwings begin struggling through the surface film and floating on the rivers surface like a flotilla of sailing boat before drying their wings and climbing skyward or becoming a trout snack.

Slowly the trout begin to sip and pop on the surface taking emergers as they break through the suface of the river and as the hatch continues, what seems like reckless abandument sets in amongst the trout.  They feed hard with splashy breaches of the surface taking both emergers and the duns on the surface, so I cast to my first fish.  It’s a reachy cast to the far side of a seam that runs down the middle of the river, this fish keeps rising and appears to be a reasonable size and I need good accuracy for this as the fishs’ positions will mean that as soon as the line hits water will quickly generate drag on the fly.

The wind drops and I pull off a good cast and almost instantly drag takes effect but in that same moment the trout takes and runs; “fish on”.  Fishing a 4wt rod it feels like a good fish but sometimes it can be deceptive, especially as it fights upstream so  I am fighting the current as much as the fish.  And trying not to put too much strain on the fine 7X leader 2.4lb breaking strain. The trout quickly tires and I 

bring it to the net, a 2lb, 21in slab of gold.
For Fishing on the middle Deveron

Contact Frank at Henderson country sports  

TEL; 01888 562428

http://www.fishingthedeveron.co.uk/

I dry off the Cdc quill emerger quickly, almost frantic to get the fly back on the water, quick dusting of frogs fanny I mud the line and look for my next target. The sounds of rising fish draws me downstream; in and on the near side of a seam in the mouth of the pool below there are several fish rising to Upwings drifting by.  One fish in particular draws my lustful gaze, intermittently rising right in the seam, I throw out a cast from a crouched position in the water right on the rivers edge and clearly having used up my quota of good casts for the day I over shoot an I have to let the fly drift downstream so as not to spook my target. As I go to lift off, the water erupts in a splashy take and I am convinced I am in to a monster.  Hand trembling and my heart racing as line streams from my reel I play the fish back and forth eventually bringing it to the net only to discover, somewhat bemused by the fight it had put up, a 12in, ¾ of a pound fiinock (young seatrout) – what a fight! I devoutly go through the tasks of preparing my fly and leader again and cover my target, in fact I cover it dozens of times changing fly three time as frustration sets in.  The whiley trout either rises infront of, next to or behind and never touches the fly…… I consider my options, pour over the flybox and select an old favourite; a Para Adams sz14 barbless.  A quick change and I cast holding my breath as it lands a foot from the fish and is carried down and over the fish and past it.  I can feel a tiraid of expletives building when splash – he’s taken it! “fish on.” He must have turned and taken the fly on his nose as it came downstream.  As he goes diving for the river and shelter in the broken bedrock I fight, trying to bring him to the surface concious of my light leader but luck is on my side for once and I get the 22in, 2.5lb beauty to the bank and the net quick selfie and he is back in to the depths of the river, until next time.

Sitting in the water with a contented smile on my face, I reflect that there certainly is an above average number of these lunkers on the Rivers Deveron and Don but for me its all about catching beautiful wild Scottish brownies, regardless of wheather they are 9in quarter pounders or 29in 7lb slabs.  For myself its about the privilege of being on beautiful stretches of water in stunning locations just catching trout. Maybe I am more of an explorer that a trophy hunter. So remember folks, it’s not about the size……..apparently, its all about the 1ertwqytyoiewrtqerfishing experience.

Help Get that Early season Success

These early days of the trout season are some of my favourite times of the entire season, I love the early days the feeling of rebirth after the grey winter months were the rivers and its banks felt so lifeless and stark. The first shoots of regeneration reach skywards and the air fills with the hum of the first bumble bees and skylarks song. Up-wings lifting from the water, as the occasional wild flowers dot the banks with yellows and whites beneath the purple haze cast by the broadleaf trees ripe with buds ready to burst open, flooding the grey world with bright fresh green bathed in the new warmth of spring sunshine. It lifts the soul, putting a skip in your step and a smile on even a grumpy bugger like myselfs’ face. 

For the dry fly fanatic this can be a season of success, plenty and simplicity where I know I can with confidence carry less flies an know with some certainty that it will also produce some of the larger trout that I will see for the year, but it does require patience 

3lb river Deveron brown trout

 

So how do you win during these early days of Spring and April;

·               Timing; Know when and what to fish

Start of the season its all about timing, you could fish from dawn till dusk but you could also beat your head against a brick wall, both have different outcomes but are equally as pointless. I have watched other fishers thrash the water and leave disheartened. You need to fish the window when the hatch is on, this tends to be a rather short 3 or 4 hour period over lunch from around 11am till 3pm, the warmest part of these spring days. So don’t be precious about a sit down meal at 1pm because that’s when the fishing is often getting good. Part of the real joy of the hatch at this time of year is the limited selection of what is likely to be hatching; Up-wings like LDOs (large dark olives), March Browns and occasional Brook duns. Grannom and Alders – members of the caddis family. We also see some stoneflies and midge and this limited number of species means fly selection becomes easier and its quicker to zone in on what the trout are feeding on. During these golden hours, regardless of whether you are fishing dries, nymphs or wets, the fish are far more likely to be switched on. I have seen it where arriving early on the river and not a fish is seen or taken till the hatch begins. Above or below the surface it truly is like a switch being thrown.

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Crippled March brown dun

·               What fly;

What is hatching? As I said before at this time of year certainly in Northern Scotland it is a select group of flies that we tend to see, but you must be aware there is always a regional variation in time of year and the species that will be hatching. In North East Scotland we are several weeks behind the South of England and invariably the magazines and social media chatter begins announcing what is likely to be hatching and people are catching on; “LDOs”, “Grannom have started”, “oh the first Iron blues”. But don’t assume that mean your stretch river 300 or 400 miles North is seeing these species hatching at that time, remember it is vitally important to see what is actually hatching! Don’t presume! It is also important to factor ineather, remember it’s one of our mainstays as conversation in Britain, this year it’s a key point in fact with a mild winter and warm March things are most certainly further on than usual and in some cases by as much as 2 weeks plus. So be prepared, as with everything in nature there is variation so you have to get out there and observe.

Maybe the name LDOs and March Browns are just gobble-d-gook to you or maybe you have heard them before and want to improve your knowledge of the invertebrates we find in our rivers and lochs! Well there is help at hand there are two great wee books, a couple of invaluable websites and a new App that every flyfisher should have to help them with identification of what is hatching and when through out the year and what imitations best suit.

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Particularly Matching the Hatch by Peter Lapsley for those new to flyfishing who need that little bit of help and confidence to choose the right fly to imitate the hatch. Its simple, easy to use and small enough to slip in the fishing vest or wader pocket. Above all use your eyes!  nothing beats getting out there and exploring the entomology of the river. What’s in the water, what’s in and on the surface not forgetting what is also on the bank and in the air above, better known as terrestrials. Turn over some stones in the river and actually see what invertebrate life is there it can sometimes be wonderous what you find.

I carry a small aqautics dip net and a wee Tupperware so I can rootle around under and among the stones of the riverbed. It produces a wealth of information that is incredibly insightful, helping inform my choices and adding to my knowledge of what species are present, every day fishing is a day learning.

 

 

App can be found here at the Riverfly partnership in both android and ios

By taking the time to do these searches I found that I became far choosier in my fly selection, more confident in my choices and I saw a distinct improvement in catches.

Never was a statement truer than “ imitation is the greatest form of flattery” I truly believe imitating naturally what is hatching will produce greater results.


·               Patience;

Take your time its not a race! What is the point in dashing from the car to the rivers edge jumping in and wading waist deep, chucking fluff or tungsten in every directing with the blind hope that a brownie will take? Explore! Walk and explore the stretch of river, too many fishers never fish more than 100 yards of the car park, laziness. Yes you will catch fish if you are lucky, but you may well be missing better fishing else where and half the fun of wild brown trout fishing is that sense of exploration, fishing the spot less fished.

Now breathe and take some time to just look and listen! Watch the water, look for foam lines; trout feed here. Just as the current has funneled and ”trapped” the foam in these lines so will it trap food items, hatching and spent fly life. Watch how the water moves and how it is likely to act upon your fly, leader and line. Above all, watch for rising fishing, thats what we are here for! Quite often a rising fish by its rising reveals whether it’s a tiddler or a bigger fish, maybe even that lunker of a lifetime. It’s not a foolproof clue and the best of us have been disappointed by the tiddler masquerading as a bigger brother, and equally surprised by what we assume is a modest brownie; but on sipping down the fly runs striping you to your backing, with a fight of your life on a 3wt rod and turns out to be a 7lb slab of gold.

Monster Trout 2

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

So we watch the the water, there is a hatch starting and now the occasional trout blipping taking the hatching Up-wing or Grannom….deep breath and lets just wait a moment longer wait till the brownies are taking confidently and regularly, you can watch as the same fish repeatedly rises, taking flies from the surface. When they are feeding consistently and focused on feeding the chance of a good take is now increased. I rarely cast a line till the hatch is properly under way and the fish are rising with confidence, it makes targeting of fish easier and often proves more successful.

I could talk longer still about tackle choices, weight of rod and line and of course, diameter and length of leader and tippet but I try not to bore the reader completely to tears.

In fishing as in life, it is so often all about being in the right place at the right time! but we can shorten these odd with a little preparation;

  • Knowing what is likely to be hatching and when
  • Match the hatch, imitation is rewarded
  • Patience! Wait, watch, listen then cast
  • explore; keep moving
  • mud your leader to reduce its visibility

Quite often you will find a perfuse hatch happening and the accompanying rising trout on an isolated stretch of the river or the hatch restricted to a particular pool yet down or upstream there be no hint at all of a hatch happening so keep moving and you will reap the reward.

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2.5lb River Deveron Brown trout (taken Bridge of Marnoch beat on DHE)

After all we are fly fishers; not course fishers sitting on their backsides for hours on end. This early season really can be a time of plenty and good sized trout and after a long winter, casting a fly to a rising trout is truely magical.

 

2017 Trout Opening

Finally the wait is over! The Brown Trout season is open I could say its has been a long hard winter but it really hasn’t, dry and mild would be the best description. The rivers really haven’t seen much rain over the closed season certainly in Aberdeenshire and as the river opened on Wednesday the 15th many were at or only inches above summer levels, not great for the Salmon fisher but a bonus for the Brown Trout junkies dusting off the cobb webs after a long winters slumber. I would be lying if I said I hadn’t been out since the close of last season I had sated my thirst for fly fishing with a couple of trips to some to my favorite salmon beats on the Tay and Ness; a couple of shoulder knackering days chucking fluff for pike and even managed a day with the ladies (grayling) on the Tummel, but like a child on Christmas Eve ; trout season couldn’t arrive fast enough. I am ticket holder on the Deveron but my section of the river doesn’t open till the first of April so it was a quick phone call to 

Turriff tackle( http://www.fishingthedeveron.co.uk/

booking myself on a middle Deveron Beat for the 15th; Avochie (http://www.avochie.com) a great beat only a couple of miles down stream of Huntly. A fly only water popular with a hardcore of Aberdeenshires troutbums.


Famous for the heaviest UK fly caught salmon at 61lb in 1924 by Tiny Morrison, Avochie has 24 named pools including the Junction pool where the Isla, a river close to my own heart, meets the Deveron. The beat stretches for almost 2.5miles of which most is double bank fishing. Avochie is a classic salmon and sea trout beat; huts, well kept banks and defined pools, this fact seems to do little to discourage the brown trout which like the mix of deep pools and riffles and plenty of cover thanks to its boulder bed plus plentiful invertebrates that helps produce its hard fighting, slabs of gold, with some of considerable size. Opening week’s weather was even playing ball with mostly warm settled spring days and I had even heard tell of good Upwing hatches being seen already, most likely march browns and LDOs. Opening day was shaping up nicely.

The 15th opened to blue skies fringed with broken cloud and hardly a breath of wind, by 10am I was surveying the Junction pool, ready for the first cast of the 2017 season. No sooner had I laid the line on the water than a cold westerly wind began to blow bring a real chill to proceeding with it a building of cloud,


 I had set up two rods a 9”6’ 5wt for nymphs and wets, and a 9” 3wt for Dries ever hopeful of surface action. But within an hour I was a rod down. I still having difficulty understanding how it happened; as I climbed down a bank my size thirteen feet, myself and the 5wt found ourselves entangled lying at the rivers edge and my 4piece rod was now a 6piece rod, resulting in an eloquent tirade of expletive.  I was reduced to one rod, a 3wt and to add insult the westerly wind decided to strengthen. Only one option for it, find those shelter corners and lies, where the wind would allow a cast and its chill wasn’t killing any sign of the much hoped for hatch. Between 10am and the back of 2pm not a fish moved and not a touch had been had on nymph or spider, despair and frustration at my ineptitude was setting in. I slumped on the banks for a late lunch by a sheltered stretch of water on the Green Bank pool, the familiar early season rustiness and frustrations building.

My sulk and thoughts of home were broken by that magical sound of a supping fish! feeding on the surface, cat nip to a fisher. Scanning the water I pick out the joyous sight of upwings and the expanding rippling ring left by a feeding brownie, the odd March Brown hatching and drifting on the current appeared, drying itself on the surface film before clumsily climbing into the air or disappearing in a swirl as meal. 

Quick change of leader and fly and I have a single quill Cdc upwing as a point fly on an 7x (2.8lb) tippet waiting to tempt a feeding trout. Aiming for what I thought to be nice sized trout I cast about 10m upstream from where it was showing mid river letting the lazy current drift the fly over my target, an almost silent “sssup” a swirl and my size 14 fly disappears. 


Instinct took over, lifting into the fish the line tightens the rod tip doubles over…”FISH ON” it was smaller than I thought about a half pound it dives and runs, brilliant first fish of the season! But I should know better than assume, as quick as it was on it was off! I quickly retrieve with a couple of curses, take my time drying the fly off, re-mud the tippet and target another rising fish. Once again first cast, it takes it! “FISH ON” a better fish this time it takes off downstream the rod tip bouncing as the 3wt fights taking line I let it run and as I begin retrieving the line goes limp much like my my mood was going! I let rip a four-letter word barrage at myself. I slump back on the the bank and wait to see where the next fish rises but after half an hour; nothing has shown and not an upwing in sight I call it a day, I admit defeat and head for home!

I comfort myself with the knowledge that I have an entire season ahead of me, plenty of time! I assure myself it was nice to be out on the river blowing the Cobb webs off toasting the new season; 

Here’s to the season a head the heady summer evenings, the plentiful months of April and May as the trout feed hard, the early mornings of June and July, the caddis hatches of August and September. Here is to making the most of very moment on river and loch, here’s to the next adventure.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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 (https://www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/communities-and-events/fishing/) 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.

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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.

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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

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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

Where Monsters Lurk

For the most part the month of April produced good weather, even after the snowy start to the month, for two weeks we had on the whole bright glorious sunshine with little cloud and temperatures in the mid teens. Damn you Mother Nature! A fly fishers Nightmare we are often like vampires hiding from bright sunshine and I often wonder if sea Trout fishers actual are Vampires that hibernate, You only ever seem to encounter them on summers night in near darkness. But with bright sunshine a flyfishers  complaining is never done! Fishers complain about the weather almost as much as farmers. With farmers on both sides of our family my in-laws and brother in law, I am only too familiar with farmers near identical obsession with the weather, its either too dry, too wet, too windy and invariable far too bright!

Regardless of the weather I was going to wet a fly, with only 3 hours free before heading South to Edinburgh I was under firm instruction, that if I wasn’t back by 1.30pm I was being left behind. A tempting offer to be honest! So with time tight I headed for the Isla not the most accessible location, but the lure of big trout and the fact that few fishers ever fish this gem of a river, had me stalking up the bank searching for rising fish faster than you could say Abandonment! The Isla a tributary of the Deveron rises in the hills North of Dufftown and winds its way for about 20miles to it’s junction with the Deveron below the Avochie beat. A mostly muddy bottomed river, that can be surprisingly deep in places, and surrounded by open farm land and pasture with pockets of forestry and trees dotted along its length. The Isla flows North through Keith before it leisurely swings it’s way East, eventually meeting the larger Deveron and heading north once more before emptying in to the Moray firth at banff.

Taken a week later and conditions changed a lot

Taken a week later and conditions changed a lot but still in the cold pale duns hatching

This shocking, irritatingly good weather would not stop me seeing if I could tempt a few Isla Brownies to the fly. Above me an ocean of pale blue sky, without a cloud in sight provided a gloriously warm sun on my back, Brilliant for sun bathing not so great for fly fishing. A moderate SW-W warm wind blew from behind me and downstream having elected to access the river along the South bank, which at times made casting a little tricky depending on where I was fishing. There is something special about fishing in a t-shirt and waders, when only a month earlier I had been wrapped in 3 layers below my waders, with balaclava and gloves, during my early season search for a 2015 springer. Now basking in a t-shirt in spring sunshine and cursing it in equal measure, arriving on the river about 10am, I spent some time watching and searching for either rising fish or fly life. And I was pleasantly surprised on both fronts, the occasional march brown, LDO and other upright winged dun surfaced and rode the current downstream, only to be greeted by the occasional rising Trout greedily splashing as they snatched the duns from the surface. Bliss! Having aimed for dry fly fishing I was over joyed to see them feeding on the surface. Tackled up with my old favorite; a 9ft 4wt streamflex with a Hardy Featherweight reel loaded with 4wt WTF Cortland Silk floating line, set up with a 14ft tapered leader, 2.8lb tippet and a single point fly, a Cdc LDO emerger pattern I developed and tied myself. I prefer to fish a single dry fly, force of habit as much as anything but it reduces drag on the surface and in the overgrown banks of the Isla it reduces snags and tangles.

Changed conditions cloud with a cold wind and the river is very coloured up

Changed conditions cloud with a cold wind and the river is very coloured up

The rising fish seemed to be concentrated in the faster deeper water, hungrily taking flies in the greasy eddies and on the edge of the choppy water. Kneeling behind a clump of long brown grass, trying to keep my silhouette on the high bank as small as possible against the bright horizon. Not an easy proposition with my 6’2’’ frame! The Isla by no measure is a large river, from 20-30ft wide and smaller in places, so you will never be fishing a hugely long line so subtlety is a must. I send out a fairly short line upstream landing the size 14 Cdc mid current, bobbing down stream in the choppy water with out any visible drag. The water clearer than normal, reveals a flash of bright gold as a Trout darts up from depth and smashes my fly, taking the fly right on the edge of the greasy water, I lift firmly into the fish and its on! The first fish of the day, from the first cast, this is becoming habit of late.

nice 12oz Isla brownie

Nice 12oz Isla brownie taken on the surface from the 1st cast

A nice 12oz brown comes to the net good start considering the bright sunshine. I go through the laborious task of drying out the Cdc and reapplying Frogs fanny, a floatant to the feathers, and Mud to the first couple of feet of the leader. The next couple of hours flit by with several more fish coming to the fly but nothing spectacular during this time there is also a good hatch of March browns seeing dozens cover the surface and stream into the air with the responding increase in sips and splashes as the fish make the most of the self service buffet. It became a quite frustrating 30min with splashy take after splashy without a fish sticking to the hook, spending more time drying the bloody fly than casting it. Frustrated I speed up my progress upstream and quickly jump past a couple of pools, having the occasional cast with little success. Then I reach a beautiful stretch of water, gravelly bottomed with large rock between a shallow pool and a deeper pool, the rocks generating deep eddies and greasy water there is weed banks dotted here and there and with the clear water it could be mistaken for a southern chalk stream. Picking out the odd dun hatching on the pool above I watch them with keen interest drift down through the fast water and watch four fish rise, the first two fish look like a good size gently supping the flies from the surface and in the clear water I watch them turn beneath the surface and return to their stations. I watch this a couple of times and establish that in a 10ft length of water there are four fish all lying one behind another with at least two of them over a lb. I slip down the bank among the long grass and reeds lying flat against the bank I calmly change my tippet due to a couple of knots I’ve managed to stick in the line, furiously striking at taking fish that never stuck to the hook. Doing this calmly is not easy I just want to get the fly on the water, but I might as well pause breath and make sure its all at its best. I pick out a new dry Cdc emerger from the box and tie it to the tippet showing the patience and care of a surgeon. Brushing on the floatant and carefully Mudding the line, its not going to be an easy cast from the this position but its going to have to be a good one, the high bank heavily vegetated could go wrong fast, it felt like a life and death situation. I want one of those lb plus fish but one wrong or crappy cast and I could spook them and put them off the rise.Casting with my arms high in an attempt to clear the snags I opt for a double haul to guarantee distance, on the final movement bringing my road forward I tug the line and release and it streams out through my finger landing gently behind the bolder nearest the fish and my fly lands right were I want it. Perfect! Hold on – the line is hung up in the slower back eddie and my fly is coming round faster any moment the fly is about to start dragging and generating an eddie, bugger! As the fly moves in to greasy water a fish rises and sips swallow the size 14 Cdc, looks like a good fish, I strike! And it is a bloody good fish, it turns and breaches the surface then breaches again clearing the water completely, Bloody Nora it’s a salmon! I shout at myself, it turns and runs down the pool stripping line from my reel, turning again it runs back at me, the rod high above my head I furiously strip line in trying to stay in contact with this monster on a size 14 barbless hook…its not a salmon!

PB brown Trout taken on the river Isla, Dwarfing the landing net

PB brown Trout taken on the river Isla, Dwarfing the landing net

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

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

Now in the river knee-deep fighting this Lunker it passes me as it runs and I see it’s a beauty of a brownie! No time to enjoy the fight, the panic of making sure I land this fish of the season on 2.8lb tippet has over taken me. 10 minutes playing it, giving it line when it wanted but staying in firm contact with it, eventually it tired. My arms aching I manage to bring it to my net. A brook net. the net looked tiny next to this lunker!  Carefully this slab of gold slips and somehow squeezes in to the net. I immediately begin whooping like an Idiot, what a fish. Hooked nicely in the top lip I slip the hook free, a couple of snaps, I weigh him; 7lbs, and he’s back in the water.

On my knees waist deep in fast water I cradle my Isla gold allowing him to regain his strength, slipping my fingers from under my prize, he slowly swims off upstream only to turn and rocket like a torpedo down the pool and out of sight! What a privilege! A 7lb wild brownie from a small river. it was on the thin side as you can see, with fins like wings in perfect order. Thin from along winter and spawning, come the end of the season he could be 10lb+! A personal best for wild Scottish Brown Trout, 29.5 inches long 7lbs, best part was watching him swim off safe and well, a brief meeting that made my day, till next time. Trembling I pulled myself from the River and under a gloriously sunny blue sky I headed home with a rather smug smile on my face. so even in the wrong weather there are fish to be had!

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