On the dry fly, down the River Don

September beginning to tick by and the seasons’ inevitable end looming, taunting the Trout fisher that very soon the fun will be over, much like the better half arriving to take you home from the pub. The night feeling far to young and the humour not having yet reach the gutter, that feeling of impending finality now lingers over the trout season too, a period of mourning soon to be upon me. One more for the road, before the better half drags me from the pub sulking, I needed a last few trout fixes. A couple of more days on a trout laden river or loch, and the Don offered a new adventure, with a chance for some excellent trout from its’ fertile waters. the Don rise high in the Cairngorm mountains, before it winds and meanders itself eastwards down Strathdon, weaving its way through the beautiful county of Aberdeenshire. Streaming past the Towns of Alford, Inverurie and the flanks of the iconic Bennachie. The Don’s pale tea coloured waters that often run as colourless as a chalk stream are so inviting, with the long ribbons of weed waving in the fertile waters. At this time of year the purple heather clad hills gives way to glens and the flatter lands of the East, that wear a patch work quilt of green and golden fields that make this county a true bread basket and larder. The Don’s waters run for 82 miles with 263 named pools from source to sea where it empties, only 2.5 miles along the course golden sands of Aberdeen beach, from where the famous Dee spills it peaty waters to North Sea.

Looking downstream toward the Elphinestone Road bridge on the on the Port cooker& Bridge stream pools

Having fished the MonyMusk and Kildrummy beats of the Don in the past, I rolled the dice and opted for the Inverurie Town water. This beat consists of 3 miles of Don water and about the same of the River Urie, a small but deep muddy bottomed river that meanders eastwards never far from the Inverness – Aberdeen railway line. The Urie rises near Insch and flows ever eastwards till its union with the famous Don just East of the ever-growing commuter town of Inverurie. But I wasn’t there to fish the Urie, the Don was my focus for this days fishings

Inverurie fishings

And the day couldn’t have started better. A cloud laden sky, thick with the haar that had rolled in the previous evening, a common occurrence only 14 miles from the Aberdeenshire coast and the North sea. Thankfully under this grey veil the air had kept some of its temperature and only a light wind blew from the West/North West, near perfect conditions a position that hadn’t presented itself many times this excuse of a summer.

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Upstream, looking westwards on the Inverurie town water

As I trudged a across the Elphinstone road bridge rod in hand, the river stretched westwards below. fish after fish rose the rings and ripples growing outwards from the sip and disappearing on the greasy looking surface of the tea coloured water.

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rings from rising fish on the Bridge stream pool

My appetite was well and truly wetted. I made down to the rivers edge and headed westwards upstream, away from Inverurie and the hum of the A96 traffic. I wanted to be away from the sight and sounds of the town before I rolled my first casts, on to this truly inviting stretch of water.

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Managed by Aberdeenshire Council along with several other beats on the Don the fishing comes at a very reasonable price, for both county residents and non resident and it can all be done on the internet the night before (https://www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/communities-and-events/fishing/) Great for the early bird fishers like myself, the permit can be quickly printed off and taken with you on the day, no waiting for the tackle shops to open; the wonders of modern technology!

The Don at Inverurie is a mix of rocky riffles and streamy sections with deeper muddy bottomed slower glides that are in areas sheltered and shaded on at least one bank by large beautiful mature broadleaf trees that add a challenging aspect to casting. And contribute tremendously to the beauty of this great setting for a days fishing.  Due to the nature of these deep muddy pools wading can be tricky and access at this time of year through the dense summer growth of reeds, rushes and flag Iris requires care, and clearly its more the Salmon fisher that fishes this beat going by the access points and with an average 115 salmon a year. The trout are however plentiful and today rising fish are to be seen on every stretch as I headed up stream and some of the brownies making their presence known were exceptionally good fish, a pound plus and bigger. All this and more and only 20 mins walk from a main train line with a half hourly service from Aberdeen.

Looking East over the broken down old mill weir at the bottom of the Black Pot pool

I throw out the odd cast as I meandered up the winding river toward the top of the beat with little success, a few connects that I couldn’t keep stuck to the hook and a few turnaways as I cycled through a selection of favourite flies trying to match the plentiful fly life on the water, hoping to dial in on what these brownies were snacking on. Adding to my frustration, the warming sun was fast burning back the blanket of cloud and the little voice at the back of my head (doubt) was nagging that “ if you don’t get a fish now, with that sun you never will”.

Rowe head Pool, looking NorthWest upstream

Rowe head Pool, looking NorthWest upstream

I fruitlessly fished upstream past the old mill and it’s disused mill pool that sat in deep shade below the trees that tower on its southern bank. Hidden behind the wall of reed on my bank I could hear the repeated confident sip and splash of feeding fish, behind that a combine hungrily consumed the gold barley in the field that sits in the large meander of the Don here. The sun made the barley glow on this beautiful harvest day that normally I would have been relishing but I had the anxiety that at any moment the glorious sunshine would drive the trout from the surface and off the feed.

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The Mill stream pool that produced so many nice fish, looking East down stream

But the very opposite seemed to be happening, if anything more fish appeared to be feeding in the deeper fast water towards the far bank rising on the break between bright sun shine and shade. This constant rising seemed to be a response to the prolific fly life that was fast filling the air, Claret spinners, large dark olives and a plethora of other fly life I couldn’t name.

Lunchtime fast approaching it felt more like an early springtime sunny day when the trout are feeding hard after the long winter. I instinctively reach for a spring time favourite of my own design, a Cdc emerger that rarely lets me down. I slipped into the muddy bottomed pool, feet sinking into the treacle like mud pulling at my boots as I slowly wade out to limit the disturbance, fish sipping all around me. I could see a decent sized fish repeatedly rise in a feed line picking off olives. I was going to have to roll cast – high above me where high voltage lines so I wanted to the line and rod tip to stay low. It was safe to cast but doubt airs caution with thousands of volts a 100m above my head but I was determined to get this fish. Keeping the tip low I roll out a line, thankfully with the wind behind the tappered leader coils out and the fly lands 3ft upstream from the fishs’ last rise. I track the fly as it ‘s carried on the current, nothing rises to the fly and I am sure its passed over the fish. I begin to draw the rod to roll the line back out but as the fly twitches on the surface I see a flash of gold in the tea coloured water through the polorisers, the water erupts, the line tightens and I am hooked up with a cracking River Don Brownie. The fish runs down stream taking a little line and turns in to the faster flow holding me dead in the water, neither of us give an inch but slowly I begin to retrieve line. I am wondering how big this brownie is or is it simply using the current against me. That’s what I love about wild river brown trout their strength and use of the waters power against the angler, which at that moment was producing a joyous fight. Eventually I bring the fish to the net and I am still pleasantly surprised by this pound beauty which fought like a lion.

Quickly returned I inch my way downstream, a muddy slick rising under my feet and creating a ribbon of coloured water thankfully clear of the rising fish. I roll another couple of casts straight out at right angles as I edge down stream but no takers then on my third cast it no sooner hits the surface than a its sipped from the surface and I am into another good fish.  This time it tears up stream and fights me hard as I wrestle it back towards me and it feels like another cracking fish.  And I wasn’t disappointed, my second pound wild brownie in 4 casts, which to be honest was a surprise after such a poor morning. With each fish I move further down the pool I am wading at just above waist height on the soft bed. I was not feeling completely comfortable as I rolled out another cast still weary of the overhead danger.image

And again within moments of the fly landing I was hooked up, not as good as the previous two but this feisty wee monster ran me ragged up and downstream through the thick fast water, it was great fun and to be honest I was more worried of parting my 2lb Rio tapered leader but with a breath of relief I scoop it from the water remove the barbless hook, release and watch it rocket off into the peaty waters with beautiful clarity. Feeling quite out of my depth now with my wading I decide to retreat from the water and have a bite to eat and savour the quality of the Dons fish.

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My appetite for food was quenched but not for Trout so I while my afternoon away in the glorious early autumn sunshine fishing my way downstream to Inverurie.  The hatch died away and with it the intensity of the rise but there there were still fish showing on the surface so I stick with dries and see another 6 fish to the net.  Sadly not as large as the first two but they are beautiful quality fat bodied, full fined and hard fighting.

My fishing companion for the day, now this chap really nows how to fish, looking West towards the old Mill pool

I really can’t recommend the council owned stretches of the Don enough, great price with good sized quality fish.  A statement that is true for the whole of the River Don I will soon be back on this stretch of the Don and come next season the other council stretches will doubtlessly see me in search of Don Brownies.

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

Where Monsters Lurk

For the most part the month of April produced good weather, even after the snowy start to the month, for two weeks we had on the whole bright glorious sunshine with little cloud and temperatures in the mid teens. Damn you Mother Nature! A fly fishers Nightmare we are often like vampires hiding from bright sunshine and I often wonder if sea Trout fishers actual are Vampires that hibernate, You only ever seem to encounter them on summers night in near darkness. But with bright sunshine a flyfishers  complaining is never done! Fishers complain about the weather almost as much as farmers. With farmers on both sides of our family my in-laws and brother in law, I am only too familiar with farmers near identical obsession with the weather, its either too dry, too wet, too windy and invariable far too bright!

Regardless of the weather I was going to wet a fly, with only 3 hours free before heading South to Edinburgh I was under firm instruction, that if I wasn’t back by 1.30pm I was being left behind. A tempting offer to be honest! So with time tight I headed for the Isla not the most accessible location, but the lure of big trout and the fact that few fishers ever fish this gem of a river, had me stalking up the bank searching for rising fish faster than you could say Abandonment! The Isla a tributary of the Deveron rises in the hills North of Dufftown and winds its way for about 20miles to it’s junction with the Deveron below the Avochie beat. A mostly muddy bottomed river, that can be surprisingly deep in places, and surrounded by open farm land and pasture with pockets of forestry and trees dotted along its length. The Isla flows North through Keith before it leisurely swings it’s way East, eventually meeting the larger Deveron and heading north once more before emptying in to the Moray firth at banff.

Taken a week later and conditions changed a lot

Taken a week later and conditions changed a lot but still in the cold pale duns hatching

This shocking, irritatingly good weather would not stop me seeing if I could tempt a few Isla Brownies to the fly. Above me an ocean of pale blue sky, without a cloud in sight provided a gloriously warm sun on my back, Brilliant for sun bathing not so great for fly fishing. A moderate SW-W warm wind blew from behind me and downstream having elected to access the river along the South bank, which at times made casting a little tricky depending on where I was fishing. There is something special about fishing in a t-shirt and waders, when only a month earlier I had been wrapped in 3 layers below my waders, with balaclava and gloves, during my early season search for a 2015 springer. Now basking in a t-shirt in spring sunshine and cursing it in equal measure, arriving on the river about 10am, I spent some time watching and searching for either rising fish or fly life. And I was pleasantly surprised on both fronts, the occasional march brown, LDO and other upright winged dun surfaced and rode the current downstream, only to be greeted by the occasional rising Trout greedily splashing as they snatched the duns from the surface. Bliss! Having aimed for dry fly fishing I was over joyed to see them feeding on the surface. Tackled up with my old favorite; a 9ft 4wt streamflex with a Hardy Featherweight reel loaded with 4wt WTF Cortland Silk floating line, set up with a 14ft tapered leader, 2.8lb tippet and a single point fly, a Cdc LDO emerger pattern I developed and tied myself. I prefer to fish a single dry fly, force of habit as much as anything but it reduces drag on the surface and in the overgrown banks of the Isla it reduces snags and tangles.

Changed conditions cloud with a cold wind and the river is very coloured up

Changed conditions cloud with a cold wind and the river is very coloured up

The rising fish seemed to be concentrated in the faster deeper water, hungrily taking flies in the greasy eddies and on the edge of the choppy water. Kneeling behind a clump of long brown grass, trying to keep my silhouette on the high bank as small as possible against the bright horizon. Not an easy proposition with my 6’2’’ frame! The Isla by no measure is a large river, from 20-30ft wide and smaller in places, so you will never be fishing a hugely long line so subtlety is a must. I send out a fairly short line upstream landing the size 14 Cdc mid current, bobbing down stream in the choppy water with out any visible drag. The water clearer than normal, reveals a flash of bright gold as a Trout darts up from depth and smashes my fly, taking the fly right on the edge of the greasy water, I lift firmly into the fish and its on! The first fish of the day, from the first cast, this is becoming habit of late.

nice 12oz Isla brownie

Nice 12oz Isla brownie taken on the surface from the 1st cast

A nice 12oz brown comes to the net good start considering the bright sunshine. I go through the laborious task of drying out the Cdc and reapplying Frogs fanny, a floatant to the feathers, and Mud to the first couple of feet of the leader. The next couple of hours flit by with several more fish coming to the fly but nothing spectacular during this time there is also a good hatch of March browns seeing dozens cover the surface and stream into the air with the responding increase in sips and splashes as the fish make the most of the self service buffet. It became a quite frustrating 30min with splashy take after splashy without a fish sticking to the hook, spending more time drying the bloody fly than casting it. Frustrated I speed up my progress upstream and quickly jump past a couple of pools, having the occasional cast with little success. Then I reach a beautiful stretch of water, gravelly bottomed with large rock between a shallow pool and a deeper pool, the rocks generating deep eddies and greasy water there is weed banks dotted here and there and with the clear water it could be mistaken for a southern chalk stream. Picking out the odd dun hatching on the pool above I watch them with keen interest drift down through the fast water and watch four fish rise, the first two fish look like a good size gently supping the flies from the surface and in the clear water I watch them turn beneath the surface and return to their stations. I watch this a couple of times and establish that in a 10ft length of water there are four fish all lying one behind another with at least two of them over a lb. I slip down the bank among the long grass and reeds lying flat against the bank I calmly change my tippet due to a couple of knots I’ve managed to stick in the line, furiously striking at taking fish that never stuck to the hook. Doing this calmly is not easy I just want to get the fly on the water, but I might as well pause breath and make sure its all at its best. I pick out a new dry Cdc emerger from the box and tie it to the tippet showing the patience and care of a surgeon. Brushing on the floatant and carefully Mudding the line, its not going to be an easy cast from the this position but its going to have to be a good one, the high bank heavily vegetated could go wrong fast, it felt like a life and death situation. I want one of those lb plus fish but one wrong or crappy cast and I could spook them and put them off the rise.Casting with my arms high in an attempt to clear the snags I opt for a double haul to guarantee distance, on the final movement bringing my road forward I tug the line and release and it streams out through my finger landing gently behind the bolder nearest the fish and my fly lands right were I want it. Perfect! Hold on – the line is hung up in the slower back eddie and my fly is coming round faster any moment the fly is about to start dragging and generating an eddie, bugger! As the fly moves in to greasy water a fish rises and sips swallow the size 14 Cdc, looks like a good fish, I strike! And it is a bloody good fish, it turns and breaches the surface then breaches again clearing the water completely, Bloody Nora it’s a salmon! I shout at myself, it turns and runs down the pool stripping line from my reel, turning again it runs back at me, the rod high above my head I furiously strip line in trying to stay in contact with this monster on a size 14 barbless hook…its not a salmon!

PB brown Trout taken on the river Isla, Dwarfing the landing net

PB brown Trout taken on the river Isla, Dwarfing the landing net

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

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

Now in the river knee-deep fighting this Lunker it passes me as it runs and I see it’s a beauty of a brownie! No time to enjoy the fight, the panic of making sure I land this fish of the season on 2.8lb tippet has over taken me. 10 minutes playing it, giving it line when it wanted but staying in firm contact with it, eventually it tired. My arms aching I manage to bring it to my net. A brook net. the net looked tiny next to this lunker!  Carefully this slab of gold slips and somehow squeezes in to the net. I immediately begin whooping like an Idiot, what a fish. Hooked nicely in the top lip I slip the hook free, a couple of snaps, I weigh him; 7lbs, and he’s back in the water.

On my knees waist deep in fast water I cradle my Isla gold allowing him to regain his strength, slipping my fingers from under my prize, he slowly swims off upstream only to turn and rocket like a torpedo down the pool and out of sight! What a privilege! A 7lb wild brownie from a small river. it was on the thin side as you can see, with fins like wings in perfect order. Thin from along winter and spawning, come the end of the season he could be 10lb+! A personal best for wild Scottish Brown Trout, 29.5 inches long 7lbs, best part was watching him swim off safe and well, a brief meeting that made my day, till next time. Trembling I pulled myself from the River and under a gloriously sunny blue sky I headed home with a rather smug smile on my face. so even in the wrong weather there are fish to be had!

Gold in the hills of Aberdeenshire

Hidden gem is an over used term in my opinion so I am not going to use it this time to describe the Gold mine of a limestone loch that is loch park, a loch that produces stunning bars of Gold. Nestled in a fairly narrow glen with hills rising on the North West and South East sides of the loch, its waters rise very close to the source of the River Isla which runs North east till it meets the River Deveron, South of Huntly and the Isla in it own right is a brilliant trout river, with a reputation for monster trout. Along the South East bank of loch Park the Keith to dufftown heritage rail line runs among the broad leaf, larch and scots pines that stand guard of the loch. Meaning the fishing is only possible by boat, the hills above loch Park are blanketed in conifer plantations helping to add a sheltered protected feel to the narrow loch,  that can, sometimes feels claustrophobic particularly at the north end of the loch when its overcast and you are fishing under the giant trees that line the lochs shores. This claustrophobic atmosphere adds to the secluded feel, hidden from the road and view you could be miles from anywhere. If you happen to be the only rod out that day you feel truly hidden from people, even though the loch sits only a few miles from dufftown. It can be deceiving thou, the trees don’t stop the wind howling down the loch on occasion and if you catch it on the wrong day in can funnel a gale down the mile long water, which is between 6 and 25ft at its deepest. Loch Park is one of, if not the only limestone loch in Aberdeenshire, an old quarry long ago disused and flooded it produces some magnificent wild brown trout fishing with some real lunkers lurking in its depths with fish 5lb plus, having been caught.

Looking North up loch Park

Looking North up loch Park

Arriving at the back of 8.30am at the North end of the Loch, I am greeted with a view straight down the loch light wind swirling across the loch and broken cloud revealing a glimpses of a pale blue spring sky above. two other anglers where tackling up in the car park by the jetty, with only two boats available on the loch each day during the season you are best to book especially early in the season April-may, when the loch fishes at its best.tingling with anticipation, desperate to get on the loch I quickly tackle up, sign in, a quick chat with James who runs the loch. Seeking any hints or tips on what’s been well. And I am first away from the jetty, fishing on my own this time I am how ever joined by my long suffering fishing widow, apparently it’s the only way she gets to see my during the season, she doesn’t fish but is happy to lounge at the back of the boat read a book and net my catches. I row its easier that way for my patience and sanity, I’ve described Jens rowing to friends like watching someone trying to repeatedly lick their elbow! It is just impossible! Putting in loads of effort with out really getting anywhere, its the only way I can put it with out swearing.

Splash take by Loch Park Brownie

Splash take by Loch Park Brownie


First Brownie of the Day taken on a Cdc merger

First Brownie of the Day taken on a Cdc merger

I’ve opted to take only 1 rod a 4wt, 9ft Hardy/Greys streamflex with the Hardy featherweight reel with a 4wt Cortland Platinum precision WTF floating line.

I have elected for this set up for one reason; Loch Park is only really a dry fly loch, for me that’s a Bonus! But it doesn’t suit everyone, its more of a dry fly loch due to necessity more that anything. The rich habitat that limestone lochs provide mean everything grows well and big. Loch Park is thick with weed that thrives in the crystal clear mineral rich water of the loch, this also produces a bonanza of life particularly fly and invertebrate life, a rich food source for the brown trout to feed on. The profusion of weed in the loch requires you to fish on the surface or spend all your pulling weed.  it is more of a water lily than the green mucus strings of weed, that most lochs seem to experience to varying degrees. But Park does also has several naturally clear areas where the lochs depth prevents weed growth and James regularly cuts channels through the banks of weed, allowing easy transit and rich fishing spots for a well-placed fly. The abundance of invertebrates produces incredible hatches and the resulting rises are astounding. Water can be almost carpeted in flies and carapaces and almost appears to boil with fish topping. A vision I witnessed several years ago on my first visit. This buffet menu means fish are plentiful and they grow big and strong and I mean strong! When you hook up with one of these bars of gold it is like hooking a train, brilliant sport! But a strong leader is required, I use an 8lb-tapered leader, out to between 12-15ft in length depending on wind conditions. Now I could go on at length  about leader choice, types and lengths but every fisher I know is different and every fisher develops their own preferences over time and to be honest I don’t want to send you and myself to sleep over the subject.

Looking south down loch Park

Looking south down loch Park

About half way down the loch it cant have been much after 9am I notice fish begin to rise and the decision is easy, I drop the anchor and aim to lay my cast under the tree hanging from the banks. This is also one of those weed free areas but this early in the growing season, the loch is pretty free from weed growth anyway which means plenty of options. I opt for a single fly for presentation, and to stop a dropper snagging on what weed there is, there appears to be a pale coloured dun hatching. Not a huge hatch but enough to bring on the rise, I put on a pale Cdc emerger and cast to within a couple of meters of the bank and leave it. Giving the occasional tweak hopefully giving the fly abit of life, but not moving it really from its position, with in a foot of a repeatedly rising fish. A gentle sup, I strike and I am in to the first fish of the day, Jen muttering she had only just opened her book. It’s a nice fish that gives a great fight as I bring it to the net I am presented with a fish just over a pound, the ironic thing is that on any other Highland loch this wee wild brown trout would be a big fish. On any other day or Loch I would be clapping like a deranged seal with joy. But here its just above average so its quickly returned and back to fishing, the rise continued around the boat as a slow but steady hatch went on, I bring a few more fish to the net as the other anglers motor past heading for the bottom of the loch. The South end and the deepest open section of the loch, a common mistake fishers seem to make on Park assuming that the deep clear water guarantees fish. When in truth they are under the trees and among the weed feeding, from shelter essentially. Ignoring what the signs of fish are telling them, they begin fishing drifts down wind and later conversation with them proves with out much success. This is what happens when fly fishers go in to standard operating procedure rather than fishing to conditions and location. Read the Water! You will reap the reward! 

Crystal Clear water helps bring the Trout to the Net

Crystal Clear water helps bring the Trout to the Net

The fly hasn’t seen any action for a while now so I move down the loch a little, and opt to change the fly still in an area free of weed. Through the gin clear water I can see fallen trees and some other structures below the surface, I decide for a decisive change of fly and opt for a gold head PTN; not something I would normally fish here. In the process of the change a decent, actually very decent fish breeches the surface just behind the subsurface structures I can see; Becoming all fingers and thumbs with excitement I struggle to tie on the fly, eventually succeeding I send out a long cast landing about a meter short of where the fish had breached. I turn to Jen to berate my casting, and as I turn back my line begins diving and arching away, I strike and as I’ve said the loco takes off. What a fight! Smiling like the Cheshire cat I net the 2lb + fish and quickly release it. with out thinking I send a cast back to the same position, immediately I beginning to retrieve the line, the fly is hit by another thundering bar of gold, and its bigger than the last. My face is beginning to hurt from the smiling, again I roll out a cast to the same location more just to gain my composure Before I decide were to place the fly next, when once again its hit! I have a joyous rangey fight form another loch park brownie, I net the third 2lb plus brownie from 3 casts. I sit giddy in the boat, talking nonsense to a bemuse Jen.

I decide its time to move on and visit a couple of more spots around the loch varying between Cdc emergers, a PTN and a Hares Ear Nymph, keeps producing fish. By mid afternoon the fishing has slowed and the wind building carrying a chill on it. I decide quite satisfied for once, it was time for the jetty and home, a miles row away. My day wasn’t over yet, on the leisurely row down the loch we were treated to a true lesson in fishing by an Osprey. Having circled the loch off and on all day the osprey had disappointed by not yet taken a fish, as we reached the half waypoint up the loch. Form high on a larch it had been surveying the water from, it hit the water with a splash! it struggled for a while, before fighting its way sky wards, fighting the reluctant catch beneath it forcing a somewhat erratic flight path as the brownie thrashed its tail.  The osprey struggled to control the big Brownie, which it eventually aligned beneath it in its talons, and treated us to a flyby, boasting about its catch no doubt. A real privilege to witness and the photos caught by Jen where her highlight of the day.

Showing off it Catch

Showing off it Catch

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Osprey3

A great day all round really as we neared the jetty and the end of the day, but I couldn’t resist a cast over some a blipping trout, 100 yards from the jetty. It would have been rude not to! Sending out a cast just beyond a bank of weed showing trough the surface, I brought a trout to the surface, greedily sucking in the wee Cdc Para dun. I had another fish on “ah its only a wee one” I chimed, at which point it realised it was hooked and took off stripping line from my hand. I rarely play fish on the reel opting to hand line them mainly, I feel it gives me more control especially on light leaders, this one gave me little choice and I ended up playing it on the reel. bring it to the net it was by no measure the biggest of the day, but it had fought like a salmon, I slipped it back in to the loch and headed for the jetty and homewards

Loch park(http://www.dufftown.co.uk/prov_attr_detail.php?id=12)(01542 810 334) is a True hidden gem. damn it! I said it but its worth the cliché, it is a brilliant loch to fish. It can be very challenging but very rewarding if your heading north to Aberdeenshire don’t miss it. £20 a rod and worth every penny

Rise of the Dark olives

April arrived not so much with a bang but with a howling shriek and a blizzard! Aberdeenshire seemed to be missing the westerly weather being blown in for most of March so I have to admit I was feeling quite blasé that the weather for Wednesday April 1st for opening day for trout on the Deveron catchment was going to be good and I was sure that my first river Brownie of the season may well fall to a dry. The Sunday before saw me net 8 brownies from a wee loch near the house, during a brief hatch of LDOs, Large dark Olive during the warmth of lunchtime. The nice spring weather seemed set to stay as I even managed to spend a good part of Monday fencing in short sleeves which just made me more cocky that come Wednesday I would be seeing bars of gold falling to a well presented CDC Olive or F-fly

Springing from my bed at the back of 6, brightness bleeding in from the edges of the blind I was as eager as a kid at Christmas. Throwing open the blinds, to view what a waited for opening day of the trout season 2015;  2in of bloody freshly fallen snow!  My rattle was firmly thrown from the pram! And compounded by he sun was splitting the pale blue sky not perfect conditions and freezing temperatures brought with the coating of white stuff. my hopes of fine weather dry-fly start to the season was fast evaporating. I quickly became a grumpy old man as I trudged towards the kitchen, Jen would argue that it’s a permanent state I exist in, She may well be right! With my mood Darkening the sky followed suit, as howling snow shower after prolonged snow shower began blowing in. I made the executive decision to spend the day in the office, muttering and cursing Mother Nature with every glance out of the window. Consoling myself with fly-tying under the watchful eye of the cat who was clearly as frustrated with the weather as I was. Keeping busy at the vice, my mind drifted and I began plotting which pool to target first! With the colder weather the fish will be in the slower, deeper water so I start tripping through my memory for a spot that would fit the bill to kick off the season on. Now all that I required was a change in the weather

Snow April 2015

Looking East over the Devon valley, Opeening day of the trout season

Thursday dawned warmer and over cast, the snow was fast disappearing and there appeared to be a fair bit of fly life flitting about. I was positively skipping with joy, joy I am sure only a trout fisherman can understand, that excited joyous feeling of seeing flies, well maybe a couple of entomologists can relate. A joy of Knowing that the long cold winter break was over. A winter break that often feels more akin to a Game of Thrones Winter, lasting decades! On seeing an avid trout fly-fisher who hasn’t had a chance to cast a fly since the close of season, you would be quite convinced you had seen a white walker.

At this time of year it is all about timing. There is little point running to the river bank at 7 am, the fish will not be feeding and still tucked up in their winter/resting lie and would show little interest in a presented fly.  Only producing frustration and doubt in the eager fly-fisher, thrashing the water. I made do by playing with my tackle…..fishing tackle for the day ahead; I like to only carry a couple of boxes and conversely I ve found, the more boxes you carry the less flies you seem to ever fish. I make a diary note every day I fish of weather conditions, locations, times and the flies that proved successful, a note of the fly life and when there were hatches. This allows me to be somewhat more selective in what flies I take, not to say that I don’t still carry too big a selection at times. This can offer you options, but more often it just breeds self-doubt in your selected flies.

I opted to set up two rods a Hardy/greys Streamflex 9ft, 3wt with a Hardys flyweight reel with a Cortland Platinum 3wt WTF floating line and a 12ft 3x (3LB) Rio superflex leader and a single CDC, dark olive (Hoping and expecting a hatch) In addition I set up a Streamflex Plus 10ft 5wt nymphing rod, with a hardy ultralight reel 5wt Cortland nymph line a 17ft tapered leader with single dropper PTN (pheasent tailed nymph) 2ft above the point fly a Hares ear tungsten jig. Keeping my options open to fish the top given a rise or below, with out having to change leader and fly.

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Looking east down stream on the River Devon

I hit the Deveron late morning, and headed for a favorite pool. The river was up about 6in on the previous day, thanks to the snow melt, but still at a very good level, the river having taken on a lovely peaty, tea colour so indicative of these northern spate rivers. I felt quite confident of seeing a fish or two! Sitting on the back I see little movement and even less sign of fly life of hatch and to irritate me even more a cold wind was beginning to make its presence felt. Regardless I slip in to the cold springtime river water,with the nymph rod and tentatively begin searching a spots I know to have held fish in the past, but to little avail I elect to move on with niggling doubt beginning to lurk. Moving slowly down stream on the bank watching pool after pool I see nothing. I cover a mile and half and I am contemplating bailing out, but that burning desperation to have my first trout of the season from the Deveron, on a dry drives me fourth.

Then down stream of my current loitering spot, in a nice stretch of slack water behind a sunken boulder on the edge of the foam line, I repeatedly see the familiar and tantalising rings spreading out from a rising trout, then the familiar sound; blip! As it sups a fly from the surface, occasional LDOs drift down through the pool on the surface. The hatch I have been waiting for! I move down stream with the aim of casting up-stream to cover the rising fish I stay low being on a high bank and undoubtedly visible against the horizon. I nestle myself in behind the scrub sprouting from the bank of the pool which is to deep to wade so I am left with a tricky cast my first cast arches out and lands the fly perfectly where I want it, smiling to myself, the fly drifts over the lie and nothing excitement tingling in me I lift a long line of the surface to cast again the line shoots out behind me and snags! This is the point it goes wrong, we have all been there! Snag after snag tangling and wrapping your line round every piece of vegetation in sight! The more you try to sort it and untangle it the worse it becomes, the frustration becomes bloody over whelming you are desperate to hook the fish seen rising but it’s not Happening! Ooooh the rage! By the time I get untangled I am hopping up and down on the spot with rage. Down stream of me I see more fish rise in a lower pool, and decide to cut my losses and target them, covering a few fish with cast after cast, but nothing!  A quick change of fly and try again nothing frustration and exasperation in equal measure, I try again and this time on the back cast TWANG! Snap I break my leader and fly gone; the expletives are repeatable, even in a rugby changing room. Swearing and muttering, like a mad man talking it tongues I’ve and enough. THAT’S IT! I call it a day, no point in fishing angry I turn tail and head for home.

The next couple of days are like ground-hog day, between my impatience and eagerness, my fishing just was not going well at all, not a fish to show for it. Loosing more flies than if I had sprayed DDT. I venturing along some of my favorite stretches of the Bogie, I tried probing with nymphs, I tried enticing with dries, but not a fish. And to compound the situation even when there was a hatch of LDOs not a fish surfaced on the 3 miles of the Bogie I waded, fished and scrambled through that day. They were there! I know they were there! I cycled through fly selections and sizes but not a touch.I snagged my fly repeatedly, seemingly on every branch or post by the river, Aaaaah! With every mistake I rush to sort it, which true to Murphy’s Law only makes it worse! Questioning my self endlessly, self-doubt shouting louder and louder in my internal monologue with every decision and cast. The frustration and rage at my own failings spilt over to the point I am fit to scream! The warmer than expected day, the rising blood pressure, the waders and thermal trousers has Me feeling like a boil in the bag idiot! I could have taken my rod and broken it across my knee! We have all been there as fisherman; you hope and dream of those perfect days on the river with the right fly choice off the bat, and with almost every cast a fish falling to the fly and being brought to the net. And when it doesn’t tell out as you’d imagined it would in those dark days of winter, the day progressively falls apart with mistakes and frustrations, a complete loss of focus ensues. Contributing and in many cases, and more often causing the terrible casting and snags. And above all these issue there is that nagging self-doubt again! I once read a an article that ask what’s the difference between a fly-fisher and a good fly-fisher, a fly-fisher goes hoping to catch fish, a good fisher goes knowing that they will catch fish.

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Panoramic view looking South/South east over the Isla

I decide to take a couple of days off from the river and rod. for my own sanity and Jenni’s. Time to refocus, I tied up some new patterns, a few variations and refined a few more. but with Monday dawning the self-doubt was still niggled there. Where to fish I have the choice of 3 rivers the the Deveron, the Bogie or the Isla I am a regular on the first 2, so the decision was made to head for the Isla a local river I have only little experience on, mainly as it’s a little further from the house and as so often happens once I see the Deveron I just tend to stop there. A new adventure and hopefully a larger change in my luck. Heading up-stream from the Portsoy bridge I am aiming to just watch the river for a while before I make a cast I slowly make my way up-stream watching lie and pool after pool and potential lie. The sun is splitting the sky but thankfully the cloud was beginning to build driven by a strengthening wind, blowing down stream unfortunately but I could deal with it as it stood. About 11.30 the beginning of a hatch as at first a few March browns rise from the surface here and there, followed by LDOs in a far greater perfusion, and like a switch being turned fish started blipping.

Whoop! I was still fish on the same 4wt set up with a small quill CDC emerger I target the rising fish almost directly opposite me in the river I land the fly jut above the last rise and the fly is almost instantly engulfed in a splashy rise. FISH ON! Fish bloody on, I quickly bring the little 12in bar of gold to the net! The duck is broken normal service can resume the rise continues for about 40minutes with at least a dozen good-sized trout feeding in the 14in deep faster water downstream from a deep pool, I slip in below the rising trout and slowly ninja like wade up to within casting range, this small stretch of water seems filled with breaching brownies gorging on the carpet of LDOs. Trout Nirvana, I am tingling with joy! I wish I had videoed the sight in front of me, true fly fishers porn!

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2nd Isla Brownie of the season

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Isla Brownie

I land a few more of those golden bars, quickly releasing the barbless hook and getting the fly back to work after, drying out the CDC. The wind that had brought the cloud aiding me earlier, was fast starting to hinder me. I couldn’t get the fly to where it needed to be; the river was also limiting my access to fishable positions so happily but far from satisfied. (There is always room for 1 more fish) I climb from the river and head for lunch.

After the trials and tribulations of the last couple of days I have to take more than the memories of the fine fish that were helping to blot out the nightmarish first couple of days. As I say every experience fishing is a learning experience; I need to remember patience and focus reaps rewards, every time. if you snag take the time, be methodical and don’t repeat, otherwise you’re only shooting your self in the foot by worsening the situation. Start of season Duck broken, i can relax and get back to landing the Brownies. The Isla will be seeing me again soon, there are a couple of lunkers that I’ve got my name on.