Brown Trout Virgin

I have fished since I was a little more than 5 years old, and I remember that first brown trout I caught with my father, it started an addiction with wild trout that still burns bright if not brighter now than every. It’s a sport were you never stop learning, which I find hugely satisfying. Also provides me with reason to explore and loose myself in the wondrously beautiful locations that Scotland offers, these factors drive me on a daily bases to be out on the Rivers and Lochs of Scotland. The enjoyment and inspiration I gain from fishing in these locations compelled me to try and express, capture a memento, a fragment of the exhilarating locations and the fishing in a hope to inspire, to take every reader regardless of whether they are fly fishers or not on a journey!

Morning sunlight waking up the Deveron Valley, looking Eastwards Fly fishing offers early morning starts

Morning sunlight waking up the Deveron Valley, looking Eastwards Fly fishing offers early morning starts

To take you the reader on a journey, on an adventure, to immerse you in the moment. To immerse you in the landscape, the excitement and the challenge. Above all to give a taste of Scotland’s wondrous natural wild beauty. When I am not on an adventure fishing or writing about it, I occasional guide taking clients on a physical adventure in the search for beautiful wild brownies, in stunning locations. Fly-fishing for Brown Trout became the driving force in starting writing and guiding, it allowed a move to a more rural centric existence, having built a home in a beautiful Aberdeenshire location. It became more and more difficult to leave for weeks on end to spend endless days in a steel box on 2 acres of steel hundreds of miles offshore. I love being a geologist but I love being a fly fisher far more. Fly fishing becomes an addiction and a release from the day to day, its more than a hobby or a sport, it allow you to immerse yourself in a challenge and the wilds; wading, walking and drifting through Scotland’s wild beauty. I am sure many fishers will agree with my gushing’s! As I’ve said fly fishing is a constant learning experience and many fishers love to share their skills and knowledge, but maybe not their favourite fishing spots! The eagerness to share comes from a love the sport that endears and many grew up or started in the sport learning from others with that same passion. I owe a lot of my single handed cast to a water bailiff on River Ness town water.  When I was 14 he took the time to help me maybe not perfect my cast (I am always learning and improving it) but at least proficient at it, to the point I wasn’t quite such a danger to others.

Cracking Isla Browning The reasons we Fish.

Cracking Isla Browning The reason we fish.

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

7lb Trout, monsters like this to Wee Brownie fuels the wild brown trout addiction

I wanted to pass on my skills, knowledge and endless love of the sport to others and even some of favoured fly wetting spots. There is an incredible amount of joy to be taken from putting a fly fisher in the right position on a river or loch and helping them to the catch wild fish. Their excitement and enjoyment is as infectious as having a fish on the end of your own line.  And a recent client epitomised this; Phil, a neighbour new to the area, an experienced rainbow basher (which we can forgive) had taken casting lessons a couple of years earlier and was quite proficient, all he lacked was the confidence and the hours; what do I mean by hours? I mean the time out on the water gaining knowledge and experience which ultimately feeds confidence and only comes with “hours.”  An active outdoors man and gun dog trainer he was desperate to go out in search of proper wild fish, in a wild settings rather than manicured grass and flabby farmed fish. His eagerness and enthusiasm was contagious and almost like a teenager he was eager to pop his Brown Trout cherry.

The Isla produces even on the Sunniest of june afternoons

The Isla produces even on the Sunniest of June afternoons

The reality and the challenge of wild trout fishing can be hard to get across to the rainbow initiated. I think the illusion fishery fishing generates of every fish over 2lb ultimately disappoints the wild brownie novice when they actually experience wild fishing, because a 2lb wild brownie is a good fish and you don’t see them on end of every cast. I think this disparity stops many Bow Bashers returning or at least fishing for wild trout regularly; there is also the knowledge of where to fish, where to purchase permits and the daunting potential cost. And many people find it a bewildering morass of rules and have heard urban legions about fishing laws and rules all souring their willingness to experience wild trout fishing, that’s where a guide comes in to their own, we can put you on the fish and navigate rules, permits and locations.

Silhouetted against a June Sunset

Silhouetted against a June sunset

Sadly Phil’s foray into the world of Brown Trout didn’t start well as the weather played havoc through May and it was early June before we ventured out on to the rivers of the Deveron catchment, Phil’s new local playground. I decided that the Isla would be our first foray in to wild trout for Phill and a glorious June evening offered us a light wind from the South West, high broken cloud damping the bright June sunshine as it dipped westwards behind the hills of Balloch wood. A quick cast with a dry on the first pool we reached but up and down the river little seemed to be moving and nothing showed, even though there was considerable fly life about, with a steady hatch of midge and a few march browns and other Upwings lifting from the surface. These first cast where more of an opportunity to watch Phil’s cast than anything else. He was breaking his wrist, a habit so many fly fishers have and I have to admit I have suffered from at times so I knew the best way to deal with this. I removed my wader belt and wrap it around Phil’s wrist, anchoring the butt of his rod to his arm behind his wrist, preventing him breaking it and requiring him to cast with his whole arm.  Immediately the results where dramatic. Distance and accuracy increased, and by encouraging Phil to stop casting at a point on the water and raising his aim to the fence line, above the opposite bank, this coupled with slowing his back cast, began to produce near perfect cast, he started laying beautifully accurate well presented casts and it was a joy to watch.   Yes the belt looks ridiculous and I think initially Phil was convinced I was subjecting him to some kind of prank but the results began to speak for themselves and he settled into using the restraint. We moved upstream to the fast water above the pool we had started on and I introduced Phil to a short line Nymphing technique opting for 2 nymphs a PTN (pheasant tail nymph) and a tungsten bead hares ear nymph, both a size 14.

June Sunset, looking West upstream on the River Isla, Aberdeenshire

June Sunset, looking West upstream on the River Isla, Aberdeenshire

A short cast forward into the fast riffles keeping the rod high and the tip level keeps the angler in contact with the flies, allowing them to move downstream past the caster and keeping the flies off the river bed. The first cast produces nothing and I direct Phil to place the next cast on the edge of the fast water between the churning fast flowing water as it drops from the tail of the pool above and the deeper slow water of the bend. He brings the cast down downstream past us and just as the the cast of flies begins to lift in the coursing current, a splash, the water churns and two fish are attempting to take the offered PTN. Watching through my polarisers I see a cracking pound to 1.5 lb. trout rise to the nymph only to be beaten to the prize by nothing more than a 6in wee trout, Phil instinctively strikes! With a whoop of joy! A shout of yes and few exertions of unrepeatable words and thankfully the barbless hook holds as this beautiful wee Isla brownie flees downstream providing some energetic sport, before Phil brings his first wild brown to my offered net. The smile fixed across Phils face said it all – he was now hooked, that first wild brownie had given him his first wild fish high.

The smile says it all! Phil a very happy man with his first Wild Brownie it might be small but its beautiful

The smile says it all! Phil a very happy man with his first Wild Brownie it might be small but it’s beautiful

A wee Isla Brownie in Beautiful condition

A wee Isla Brownie in beautiful condition

We fished on, exploring further upstream on this seriously under fished River with Phil growing more confident with the Nymphing technique and the improvised wrist restriction.  He brought a further 3 fish to the net.   But with light fast fading we called it a night. Phil’s adventures have only just begun and two days later we ventured onto the Deveron which you can catch up on in my next article.

Perfectly formed Isla Brownie

Perfectly formed Isla Brownie

Brown trout-Assynt Adventures

Assynt panaroma

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.