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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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.