2017 Trout Opening

Finally the wait is over! The Brown Trout season is open I could say its has been a long hard winter but it really hasn’t, dry and mild would be the best description. The rivers really haven’t seen much rain over the closed season certainly in Aberdeenshire and as the river opened on Wednesday the 15th many were at or only inches above summer levels, not great for the Salmon fisher but a bonus for the Brown Trout junkies dusting off the cobb webs after a long winters slumber. I would be lying if I said I hadn’t been out since the close of last season I had sated my thirst for fly fishing with a couple of trips to some to my favorite salmon beats on the Tay and Ness; a couple of shoulder knackering days chucking fluff for pike and even managed a day with the ladies (grayling) on the Tummel, but like a child on Christmas Eve ; trout season couldn’t arrive fast enough. I am ticket holder on the Deveron but my section of the river doesn’t open till the first of April so it was a quick phone call to 

Turriff tackle( http://www.fishingthedeveron.co.uk/

booking myself on a middle Deveron Beat for the 15th; Avochie (http://www.avochie.com) a great beat only a couple of miles down stream of Huntly. A fly only water popular with a hardcore of Aberdeenshires troutbums.


Famous for the heaviest UK fly caught salmon at 61lb in 1924 by Tiny Morrison, Avochie has 24 named pools including the Junction pool where the Isla, a river close to my own heart, meets the Deveron. The beat stretches for almost 2.5miles of which most is double bank fishing. Avochie is a classic salmon and sea trout beat; huts, well kept banks and defined pools, this fact seems to do little to discourage the brown trout which like the mix of deep pools and riffles and plenty of cover thanks to its boulder bed plus plentiful invertebrates that helps produce its hard fighting, slabs of gold, with some of considerable size. Opening week’s weather was even playing ball with mostly warm settled spring days and I had even heard tell of good Upwing hatches being seen already, most likely march browns and LDOs. Opening day was shaping up nicely.

The 15th opened to blue skies fringed with broken cloud and hardly a breath of wind, by 10am I was surveying the Junction pool, ready for the first cast of the 2017 season. No sooner had I laid the line on the water than a cold westerly wind began to blow bring a real chill to proceeding with it a building of cloud,


 I had set up two rods a 9”6’ 5wt for nymphs and wets, and a 9” 3wt for Dries ever hopeful of surface action. But within an hour I was a rod down. I still having difficulty understanding how it happened; as I climbed down a bank my size thirteen feet, myself and the 5wt found ourselves entangled lying at the rivers edge and my 4piece rod was now a 6piece rod, resulting in an eloquent tirade of expletive.  I was reduced to one rod, a 3wt and to add insult the westerly wind decided to strengthen. Only one option for it, find those shelter corners and lies, where the wind would allow a cast and its chill wasn’t killing any sign of the much hoped for hatch. Between 10am and the back of 2pm not a fish moved and not a touch had been had on nymph or spider, despair and frustration at my ineptitude was setting in. I slumped on the banks for a late lunch by a sheltered stretch of water on the Green Bank pool, the familiar early season rustiness and frustrations building.

My sulk and thoughts of home were broken by that magical sound of a supping fish! feeding on the surface, cat nip to a fisher. Scanning the water I pick out the joyous sight of upwings and the expanding rippling ring left by a feeding brownie, the odd March Brown hatching and drifting on the current appeared, drying itself on the surface film before clumsily climbing into the air or disappearing in a swirl as meal. 

Quick change of leader and fly and I have a single quill Cdc upwing as a point fly on an 7x (2.8lb) tippet waiting to tempt a feeding trout. Aiming for what I thought to be nice sized trout I cast about 10m upstream from where it was showing mid river letting the lazy current drift the fly over my target, an almost silent “sssup” a swirl and my size 14 fly disappears. 


Instinct took over, lifting into the fish the line tightens the rod tip doubles over…”FISH ON” it was smaller than I thought about a half pound it dives and runs, brilliant first fish of the season! But I should know better than assume, as quick as it was on it was off! I quickly retrieve with a couple of curses, take my time drying the fly off, re-mud the tippet and target another rising fish. Once again first cast, it takes it! “FISH ON” a better fish this time it takes off downstream the rod tip bouncing as the 3wt fights taking line I let it run and as I begin retrieving the line goes limp much like my my mood was going! I let rip a four-letter word barrage at myself. I slump back on the the bank and wait to see where the next fish rises but after half an hour; nothing has shown and not an upwing in sight I call it a day, I admit defeat and head for home!

I comfort myself with the knowledge that I have an entire season ahead of me, plenty of time! I assure myself it was nice to be out on the river blowing the Cobb webs off toasting the new season; 

Here’s to the season a head the heady summer evenings, the plentiful months of April and May as the trout feed hard, the early mornings of June and July, the caddis hatches of August and September. Here is to making the most of very moment on river and loch, here’s to the next adventure.

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.
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