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!).

 

 

 

 

Brown trout-Assynt Adventures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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thick cloud decending over Loch Druim Suardalain

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

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

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

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

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First cast of the day

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

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

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

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

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

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Loch Inver from the mouth of the River Inver looking West

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