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.

Salmon Season, Tay Time

2016 entered with a real bang, weather providing the fireworks as we all know but thankfully after the storm’s, some settled proper winter weather arrived. The rivers began to drop as did the temperatures and by mid January the Scottish rivers started opening for the Salmon season, finally a tonic for my cabin fever and the chance to wet a fly, a quick visit to Fishpal (http:/fishpal.com) a couple of clicks and I was booked on the Meikleour and Islamouth beats; 2 miles of the mighty Tay, boat or bank fishing.

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Meikleour Bridge, Look upstream to ward the bridge from the Castle pool

At the start of every season I get that same child-like excitement, the same buzz and I can guarantee that the night before my first trip of every season will be a restless one. An alpine start, up at the back of 5am I was remarkable fresh and chomping at the bit! Quickly filling the car with the excess of gear that you always seem to need at this time of year, loaded as though I was away for an Artic adventure not a day on the Tay. I manage to squeeze in a quick bacon roll and I was out of the traps for the start of my 2016 season. I might be dramatic but any keen fisher will tell you that the start of the season is like rebirth; exciting prospects await, new adventures new sights beautiful locations and of course that adrenaline inducing, endorphin racing, rod bending moments as a fish takes your offered fly.

Heading South pale blue began to seep skywards across the eastern horizon and the day was dawning with almost perfect conditions, hardly a breath of wind and the temperature only just a couple of points below freezing, with these conditions were set to last the day, bliss! But what would I now blame my generally terrible Spey cast on if not the wind…..I am sure I would find an excuse.

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Misty Perthshire hills, looking North upstream from the Birch bank towards the Tunnel pool and Tunnel stream

The broad rolling farm laden glens of Cooper Angus were shrouded in a veil of mist, drifting between the towering trees and distant hill, at times obscuring the horizon and reducing the world to monochrome. nearing Meikleour the damage of the New Year storms became more evident, debris meters above the river suspended in leafless trees with high water marks in places beyond sight of any River, testament to the volume and power of the waters. but thankfully the river was now at a good height and I was eager to wet a fly and sample the Tay.

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Monochrome Misty world,looking upstream towards the Tunnel Stream and March pool hidden in the mists

Greeted by Dan Wright and Callum McRoberts the Head Ghillie with a warm wood burner and a cup of tea, at the inviting Ferry cottage boat house; its hard to tell that only 4 months earlier it had gone up in smoke now sporting its new roof and fire place. I can imagine is a struggle to leave the cozy fire side on days less inviting than this. but I was desperate to be out on the water, a quick chat and the application of several more layers a pair of waders and a life jacket, I was ready to have my first taste of the famous Tay and its world renowned fishing’s.

The Beat

Fishing Map Pool

Beat Map (Copyright Meikleour estate)

The Meikleour & Islamouth beat sits on the junction of the River Isla and the Tay and is famous for the Junction and Castle pools, 2 of the 14 named pools on the 2 mile beat, which sit 7 miles downstream of Dunkeld and 10 mile above Perth. Nestled in the rolling rich fertile farmland that lines the lower Tay, it is a consistent beat producing nearly 200 fish a year, Meikleour has been with the same family for over 300 years. The current owners have a real passion for fishing themselves, which is reflected in the effort, detail, expense and love that is clearly been put into maintaining and developing the beats facilities. The same passion for the beat is clear as soon as you talk to Callum and is reflected in enthusiasm with which past guests Tweet and speak about the beat. What I hadn’t been prepared for was the beauty of this stretch of the Tay even on a misty Scottish winters day.

The River Tay winds its 118 miles from source to coast through a stunning seasonally changing pallet of colour that takes in some of the most Shortbread box perfect scenery Scotland has to offer, from its mountain and moorland highland Perthshire sources. The Tay flows south through deep once glacial glens now cloaked in conifer and broadleaf, these glens and hills resonate with the past battles and history of Scotland. And Meikleour is a snap shot of Perthshires’ heritage and alluring scenic beauty, its towering tree lined banks draws you along the mighty peaty waters of the Tay.

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Callum McRoberts; Head Ghillie taking us upstream for the mornings fishing

Starting my exploration of this famous beat we motored upstream under the picturesque old red sandstone Meikleour Bridge, Callum on the outboard of the Tay boat a fantastically stable and wide boat with a good keel that cuts through the surging and boiling mass of the Tays’ peaty waters. These boats are reminiscent of the famous Leven style boats comfortable and a pleasure to fish from, this one in particular freshly painted and clearly well cared for. I’ve never river fished from a boat before, simply because most Scottish river are too small to require one, It provides a unique perspective letting you appreciate the shear width of the Tay and the mass of water flowing through it.

Behind us as we motor through the aptly named house pool, the striking red stone of the Meikleour bridge beamed against the monochrome mist filled world, framed on both sides by the towering broadleaf’s and conifers that line the banks of the peaty highway. The towering leafless trees parting to a grassy slope leading from river upwards to the beautiful Meikleour House partially hidden in the slowly drifting mists.

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Meikleour House; hidden in the mists with its view over the house pool, Image looking upstream towards the Pump house croy and Boxbush pool

Callum anchored the boat alittle further upstream in the Boxbush pool and I cast my first fly of 2016.

the Sharpes Gordon 2 15ft 10/11wt (http://www.sharpes.net/gordon-2—15-0-10-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)

and the classic early season fly a 1.5in copper tube Monkey (http://www.grahamsonline.co.uk/product/the-long-monkey-copper-tube-salmon-fly-with-jungle-cock).

I felt like I could have used a rod twice the length and still fallen short.

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TheUnemployableflyfisher fishing through the castle pool, Opposite the Junction pool and the mouth of the river Isla

The Tay is a river I have never really fished well certainly not the lower Tay, I have fished the head waters of the Tay; River and Loch Tummel as well as the River Garry for trout and grayling but never Salmon. So this trip was a whole new world of experiences, for several reasons; the shear scale of the Tay, it is several orders of scale larger than what I usually fish wider and deeper it presents you with a huge body of water that truthfully intimidates as you contemplate trying to cover the water with a fly. unless you have a champion class cast, which I most certainly do not have, but what I lack in distance and length I make up for with trying…or so I’ve been told.

This casting requirement relates nicely to the other reason this trip was a new world, the fishing techniques! As its says at the top of the page and in the very name I am a fly fisher so with the Tay at 3ft above summer levels the most productive methods are spinning and harling. I can hear the collective gasp and in truth the thought of using any technique other than the fly generally elicits derision at best and at worst a high pitched girlish scream of shock  from myself, but as the collective “they” say “When in Rome”. So after a hour of ham fistedly casting the fly and angrily muttering insults at myself, I relent to the wisdom of Callum and pick up a spinning rod, to fish through the remainder of the pool. Approaching the tail Callum cautioned; a take if we are to get one is most likely here. But not a touch, the activity of earlier with fish showing had vanished and the water was quiet and a distinct chill was now in the air. We move on downstream to experience a new technique, that is all together alien to me.

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Harling; Rod in the rest as we search of fish, at the Pump house croy

Harling; a method I believe originated on the Tay certainly the name did. Most loch fishers will know it as Trolling, 3 lines with lures and spoons set at different lengths to the side and rear of the boat, and slowly the boat is motored back and forth across the the pool occasionally holding position in the current and over known lies, it is apparently one of the most productive methods at certain river heights and time of year and a complete eye opener to me. As we explored pool after pool slowly dropping downstream the air was developing a real chill and with it we saw little movement on the surface and not a touch. The boat taking the load of the casting the chat flowed from fishing to farming and much more as the morning slipped away unnoticed enjoying the chat with Callum and the refreshing pleasure of being out on the river after a long closed season. Reaching the Castle pool and still not a touch, Callum called lunch and we went in search of the wood burner warmth.

A quick lunch of my homemade newly christened “lucky steak” pies, which I hoped would bring a fish come the afternoon session, opting to fly fish I waded the castle pool slowly moving downstream through the pool. With every step I relaxed and my cast improved but still not a touch. Callum was determined to find me fish, so we took to the boat once more crossing the river to the famous Junction which sits opposite the Castle pool. A cracking, fishy looking deep greasy watered pool where the waters of the Isla and Tay meet, boil and churn together. In higher water this pool produces fish consistently and within moments fish began to top and show, my spirits soared and hopes of a fish raced. I returned to the Spinning, casting to the greasy boils where the water meet a couple of quick jigs to sink the lure and then a slow retrieve to the boat, and with every cast comes anticipation of a Take. I send a cast out behind the boat and sink the lure with a couple of jerks of the reel a brief pause and I begin a slow retrieve, I can feel the the lure flutter and bite into the sur

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Kelt from the Junction Pool

ging water of the junction pool. My anticipation waning, when the faintest knock, and before I can acknowledge it I feel that familiar adrenaline inducing take, the whole reason we fish! “Fish On!” Waves of excitement and relief course through me as I play the fish back to the boat, but its quite evident I’ve got a Kelt on the end of the line, alas no springer. But you couldn’t tell from the smile on my face, it just very enjoyable putting a bend in the rod and seeing a fish coming to the boat, regardless of it being a springer or not. Three casts later and I am shouting “fish on” as we approach the tail of the pool, another kelt more coloured than the first has take my lure, but it sheds the hook within feet of the boat and is gone with a splash into the peat darkness. Moments later Callum too is into a fish and as quickly as its on its off. Its the last fish or touch we see for the day but At least we have had a fish and put a couple of bends in our rod.

Returning to the Boat house and its warmth at the end of the day I was already planning my next Visit to this Beat, No springer but thats Salmon fishing it is a privilage just to see fish and to fish on a beautiful, well kept beat like Meikleour I really can’t praise it high enough; brilliant setting, quality facilities, with a real passion for the sport and its future. I can truthfully say i have not enjoyed my time more in a boat on a cold day; Callum is great Company and an invaluble source of Knowledge about the beat, the lies and fishing in general. if you intend to experience the mighty Tay I have to say try a day or more on the Meikleour and Islamouth Beat.