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.

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.

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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.

 

Brown Trout on a hidden Highland river

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Looking Eastward down the Cave pool below Beannacharan Dam


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

Website http://www.culligrancottages.co.uk/fishing/

Email info@culligranfishing.co.uk

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


  

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

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

 

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

Exploring the Double Bend pool with some tricky casting

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

Looking upstream on Bobs Pool

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

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


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

On The Hunt for Harris Trout, fell in love with Harris Sea Trout

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


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

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

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

• Hardy LHR Reel & Spare spool

• Cortland Platinum Precision WTF Floating line

• Cortland Precision WTF 15’ Ghost tip

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Useful Links;

Ferry times and Bookings;  https://www.calmac.co.uk/

Finsbay
Fishings; http://www.finsbaycottages.co.uk/uk/

Buses times and Booking; http://www.citylink.co.uk/

Scotrail; https://www.scotrail.co.uk/

Harris bus timetable; http://www.cne-siar.gov.uk/travel/busservice/current/indexlh.asp

Chasing Spring Silver; on the Helmsdale and Thurso

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the Sharpes Gordon 2 13ft 9/10wt (http://www.sharpes.net/gordon-2 15ft 10WT salmon-rod-195-p.asp),

with an Orvis Large Arbor IV (http://www.orvis.co.uk/p/access-mid-arbor-fly-reels/3r44)

teamed with the Rio AFS Shooting head with hover1 sink tip (http://www.garryevans.co.uk)

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


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

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

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

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

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The Tail of the Salmon pool on the river Thurso

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Happiness is……Torridon Trout

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Looking East down loch Torridon, and the Glen, Liathach and beinn Eighe behind taken from the Applecross peninsula

Heading North West into the Highlands of Scotland with the ultimate destination being Torridon.  This a pilgrimage I make several times a year but to be honest that still is not often enough for my liking. Torridon is a Glen and sea loch on the North West coast, South of Gairloch and stretching South West from the head of the famous Loch Marie at Kinloch Ewe to the village of Torridon. Its white washed houses dwarfed on the giant alluvial fan that spills down from the buttresses and narrow, jagged ridge of Liathach to the huge Fjord of Loch Torridon. Stretching for miles westward with rugged mountains climbing steeply from waters edge to the clouds. No matter where you look stunningly captivating views catch you and you can lose yourself in for hours.

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Looking South East over loch Torridon, with Loch Damh visible behind

Beautiful and a true outdoor enthusiasts play ground, but I hadn’t come here to climb or mountain bike I had come in search of West coast gold, wild highland brownies. From the winding single track road that hugs the foot of the towering hills on the North side of the glen, Lochs come into view about half way between Torridon village and Kinloch Ewe. These are the Lochs of the Coulin estate (www.coulin.co.uk) Clair, Coulin and Bharranch. Clair and Coulin are joined by tempting looking wee river. These waters ultimately flow North East from Clair in the River Gharbhie for about 5 miles until its junction with the River Kinloch and north-westwards through Loch Marie till it finally meets the sea at Poolewe. A some what circuritise route considering the sea sit only 7 mile westward down Glen Torridon and I am sure it would have once flowed this way, if it hadn’t been for a twist of geological or glacial action that force these peat waters to take the long way to the coast. This distance does little to dissuade the once plentiful sea-trout and the still decent numbers of salmon that fight up-stream to reach the waters of the Coulin estate. I was on a search for their year round guests and having fished on the estate several times over the last couple of years I knew what hard fighting plentiful trout lay ahead for me if I could dial in with fly choice and location.

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Head of Loch Clair looking West, Liathachs ridge visible with broken cloud

Loch Clair was my aim, and having phoned Neil Morrison the head keeper and booking the only boat on the mile and a half long Loch I was like a kid on Christmas eve, excited and chattering at my long-suffering better half, as we head down the Glen from the brilliant Torridon Inn (www.thetorridon.com). Loch Clair sits in the mouth of a spur glen leading due South for Glen Torridon where mixed native woodland of scots pines and silver birch surround the Loch and give way to steep rolling heather that clings to the rugged stepped slops of Torridonian sandstone and quartzite from the Lochs western shore. Sgurr Dhubh looms in the mist, to the North Beinn Eighe menaces in the descending mist and cloud and to the North-West hidden from view waits the razor like ridge of Liathach. A careful drive down the bumpy private estate road we are met by Neil on the wooden bridge that spans the tempting Coulin River.  A quick chat is all we manage as the midges are wild in a cloud as thick as the mist hanging on the hills above us, the little buggers cloud round us and begin their banquet. Beating a retreat to the cars we make for the boat house, waders and lashings of Avon skin so soft, the only thing that seems to deter them then making for the boat at almost a sprint down the pontoon; throwing my kit in the boat like a bank robber fleeing a robbery I start the engine and head out onto the Loch and safety from the midge

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Loch Clair, looking East, sheets of rain carried in on the wind

Having fished the Loch before I knew my destination and I motored North to the head of the Loch which sits in an almost amphitheatre as the wooded banks on the West and South banks shelter you from the now gusty wind bring incessant rain that varied between light drizzle to fat drops of rain that poured down, drumming on the hood of my Gore-tex jacket.  I didn’t care, I love Torridon! Come rain or shine, bobbing there in the boat surrounded by the fortress like walls of the mountains and the sound of a calling birds and the distinctive coo-coo of a cuckoo drifting from the trees. Fish were rising all around the boat I was in heaven! Shelter from the guesting wind  in the Bay allowed me to target the rising fish on the dry, my favourite way to fish and I had tackled up with 2 rod a 9ft 3wt greys/hardy streamflex with a hardy flyweight reel and a hardy 3wt double tapered floating line and a 14ft tapered leader with a single fly. To provide options the other rod was a 9.6ft 5wt greys/hardy streamflex plus with a hardy ultra light reel with cortland platinum floating line, a 15ft leader with 2 droppers about 6ft between them. This second rod would allow me to go subsurface with tradition highland wets and nymph if the dries didn’t go so well.

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Liathach veiled in could and rain looming over the Head of the Loch

The head of the Loch has a nice bank of reeds along the North shore, pockets of weed dotted among deeper pots, offering a real varied habitat perfect for trout. Many would anchor but drifting allows more water to be covered, the key when boat fishing on the drift is to position the boat and have your Drogues set to allow the drift to carry the boat and you within casting range or even over those trout lies. But remember don’t row straight back over them! and expect the fish to still be there, quick to spook slow to return. Row out and around where you want to drift, otherwise the fish are spooked and you are wasting your time!

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Wild Torridon Brownie show its Beautiful markings and colours

Taking the boat to within inches of the bank I began a first drift of many for the day, almost immediately I was into a trout falling to a size 14 quill ,emerger- hopper with a Cdc wing, the fly retrieved in quick short bursts seem to enduce hard splashy takes as the fly came to a stop brilliantly visual and exciting fishing.   This continued for the next couple of hours, fish after fish coming to the net.  By no measure were they monsters, half pound to a pound at best but they hammered the fly and fought like fish three times their size, and that is why I love Highland Brownies, they offer a fantastic fight and sport that not many fish can match for their size. By fishing on light tackle the excitement and challenge is ever-present with every fish hooked. As quickly as the fish were taking the dry, the rise had died! After a fruitless drift I opt to go on to the heavier rod and the wet flies; a size 12 hares ear nymph on the point, a peacock and black, size 14 spider next and a Kate Maclaren, size 14 on the top dropper.

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Kate Maclaren waiting to be wetted, the traditionals always produce fish.

Casting out and letting the gold-headed nymph sink and carry the cast downwards in to the peaty dark water and beginning a slow jerky retrieve produced four fish in quick succession, three of which were on the peacock and black spider all from quite deep and a fit as a fiddle, one noticeably drawing the boat across the water, brilliant sport!

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Hard fighting brownie

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Bringing yet another Beautiful Torrid0n Brownie to the net

Again another change and the fish are back, splashy rises all around, a quick change back on the dry rod and I decide to target what looks like a better sized fish that was rising off some rock.  A well placed cast, a single draw of the line to straighten the leader and I am into a cracking fish of about a pound.  A few more fish fall to the dry but the day is drawing on, the wind is picking up, it’s still raining and one look at a half drown Jenni and I decide its time to call it a day.  Six hours of brilliant sport in a location that words just do not do justice to.

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Torridon Trout taking to the Air.

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West coast rain didn’t give up all day

I row out of the bay and in to the main loch, but before I start the engine I cast a long line out the back of the boat with a classic bloody butcher on point. I start the engine and begin trolling behind the boat we hadn’t moved any distance before the line was streaming from the reel and the rod was doubled over as I fought to bring the best fish of the day to the surface and ultimately to the net a beautiful one and half pound brown trout. Motyoring down the loch I was really quite contented with my day the 4 hour drive north had been totally worth it but it was time for a warm shower in the hotel and a hot cup of tea to toast the beauty of torridon its brilliant brown trout and the superb coulin estate