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.

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

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