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

Osprey2

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.

Bucket list on the Spey.

It is an impossibility for me not to answer a ringing phone the whole reason why I am still wearing my waders and dripping all over the kitchen floor, having just got back from the Deveron and as the phone began to ring as I reached the back door, my compulsive nature gave little option! now standing in a growing puddle with a less than impressed looking Jennifer standing in front of me, a sheepish smile does little to recover the situation! It was Jay our neighbour; Drumdelgie B&B and Holiday Cottages from just up the hill , “Ah just the man! You know about all things fishing” flattery will get you everywhere Jay! “could you organize a days Salmon Fishing for my boss?” Jay and his wife Claire own the huge former farmhouse and cottages at Drumdelgie, with even better views of the Deveron Valley than mine, and the soon to open boutique holiday lets, (http://facebook.com/Glambunking) When not being hospitable Jay works in IT and his boss Mark it turns out was desperate to Fly-fish in Scotland and land his first Scottish Springer.

Mark a very experience all round fly-fisher having fished all over Ireland, the UK and further afield for Salmon, Sea-trout and like myself Mark is a huge Brown Trout bum. It didn’t take much thinking about, with the famous Spey only 20 minutes away, it was an easy choice for a Scottish salmon virgin! A quick call to Dougie on the Craigellachie Beat and we were booked on for the 19th of March. No doubt a shiver went down Dougies back at the thought of my Spey Cast! The 19th still a couple of weeks away as due to work commitments it was as soon as Mark could cancel his meetings and head North. Our fate and our fishing was now in the hands of Mother Nature and the March weather, which can sometimes be a lot like Russian roulette. Bad weather is a certainty but its all about whether it will be on your turn with the gun that it decides to fire? And as sure as the proverbial brown stuff, wind and torrential rain, in places over 100mm of rain moved in from the West. Temperatures rose to a sultry 14 degrees around Huntly, stripping the snows on the hills across Scotland and combining with the deluge of rain, the Spey at Craigellichie rose over 8ft in 24 hours. The Tay like-wise went up 12ft in 12 hours, typical March weather! I sat nervously watching the SEPA river level data as the week of the 9th wore on. I was having a squeaky bum moment, I don’t specilise in Salmon Fishing, it’s just a bit of fun for me, Brown Trout is my trade so I was starting to feel like I was out of my depth, combined with finding out that fishing the Spey for Springers had been on Mark’s bucket list for some time, dread of the 19th becoming a wash out and Mark having travelled 600 miles for nothing felt tangibly close. But as the week of the 9th slipped in to the 16th, river levels began to drop and fairly rapidly the 19th was looking like a perfect day, light wind from the West, cloudy with bright spells, light rain later in the day and 10 degrees it looked pretty close to perfect.

Looking West upstream of Mark and Myself on the Slabs pool, Ben Rhinnes behind and the MacCallan fishings hut.

The week of the 16th became a busy week for me with the Trout season open I headed for some brownies.  I always forget how disappointing and hard work the brownie fishing can be this far North this early in the season with cold water and lack of insect life, which seems all the more frustrating as you read the tweets of the like of Paul Proctor who already seems to raking the Lunkers from the waters of Cumbria. March is a fickle month and to stem my frustrations I bashed….some rainbows on the Wednesday morning and then, a fantastic afternoon Clay shooting with Mark and Jay. Jay thought a bit of an ice breaker and friendly competition would warm us up for Thursdays adventures on the Spey.

Arriving on the Spey at the back of 8.30am the weather man seemed to have got it spot on, the boys Mark and Jay however were looking a little bleery eyed, no doubt a restless night due to excitement……..alas No, they had been sampling a different liquid from Speyside, one of its many malts!

However Marks excitement was still quite obvious and it is quite contagious when a client is that excited about a day fishing you have organized, it gives a real lift and personally its a major part of my enjoyment for the day.

Mark casting on the Slabs pool drinking in the scenery and the smell of Whiskey and Shortbread

 

Mark loving the fishing, the smile says it all.

Fingers crossed he would see a springer, the river had been producing a few, so now we just had to present our flies in the right place and hope the Salmon were for taking them.

There were 5 rods including mself and Mark booked on the Beat, Jay had volunteered to drive, coming a long as a voyeur of  our fluff chucking, more like an excuse for a day off work. You can’t get a much better skieving spot to whyle away a day than beside the beautiful Spey. And as before on my last visit, the intoxicating aroma of Whiskey mash and shortbread filled the air.

Dougie smiled looking out over the River “ it is at perfect height, good chance of seeing a fish” the River was lower than my last visit and was between 6/8 inches above summer levels. Myself and Mark were put down to fish the Upper and Lower Slabs pool which runs from above the MacCallan fishing hut on the North bank in a large sweeping arc past main Cragellachie hut on the South bank about a half mile above the old cast iron bridge.

I fished on a Sharpes (http://www.sharpes.net)15ft 9/10wt Gordon 2 rod, a large arbor Able game reel, Rio 9/10wt outbound floating shooting head, spey line with an 11ft fast sink tip and the old favorite 1.5in brass tube Monkey. A combination that wanted to shoot out long accurate line, well, once Dougie had corrected my lingering affliction of a Trout fisherman’s bad habits, that seems to hinder my Spey casting more than help.

Mark slipped in to his Bucket list River 50m below me, and from the outset there seemed to be a problem, the rod just wasn’t loading, the line seemed to collapse on the water.  I tried to help to little success. But once more Dougie spotted the problem, a quick change of rod and line and Marks experience shown, as cast after cast effortlessly rolled out long beautiful casts arced out delivering one of his new Ian Gordan flies in to the deep glassy water that looked certain to hold his much desired Springer.

Dougie giving Advice, on the Slabs

 

Change of Rod for Mark and Dougie showing where to put the fly  

New Rod, New focus, Mark fulfilling His bucket list sending casts out over the beautiful pool

We both fished through the pool with little luck, we only had to contend with the Gorrila photography of Jay, who often went un-noticed until you heard the click of the shutter, and a shout of “got you” with Jay appearing from behind a broom bush. He captured good and bad shots alike, and as many bad and goods casts against the beautiful back drops of Speyside. By the end of the day he had filled my camera’s memory card with over 200 snaps.

Reaching the tail of the Slab pools around 1pm we retired to the Mashton Bar and restaurant in Aberlour for a tasty lunch and to re-energize.

Looking West upstream, Mark fishing through Ringorm pool

Looking East and downstream, from Ringorm to the Garden pool

Casting out over the Ringworm pool

Dougie Ross our Ghillie for the Day on the Craigellachie Beat, the Garden pool behind.

With the afternoon Dougie got us on the Garden and Ringorm pools, the wind beginning to strengthen with a decided chill on it.  We fish down through our respective pools, I was fishing the Garden pool, I faced the challenge of casting from the bank due to the depth garden pool. But I seemed still to be managing to reach out and land my fly were I wanted it, landing it between two prominent large rocks generating nice eddies of bubbling, oily water, that looked bound to hold a fish. From behind I hear Dougie “remember your Snap-T cast” a better cast from the bank but knowing my caic handed casting, I decide to err with caution and stick with what I am doing “Baby Steps” I shout to Dougie, ‘I only just got my double spey firing right! lets not tempt it to fall apart”. Dougie smiles knowingly and heads off to deal with other fishers. The pool is soon fished through and still not a touch for either of us. With the wind picking up and the temperature dropping we decide to call it a day.  Mark had ticked the Spey off his bucket list, but unfortunately not his Scottish Springer. As we head for the hut Mark admitted although he’d not seen a Springer he felt truly rejuvenated after his day on the Spey and now with Dougie’s contact details, he would be back on the Spey for his Springer as soon as he could. next time Mark ventures North I’ve promised him some worthwhile Brown Trout adventures.

Change of Species is as good as a rest!

February drawing to a close and having spent the month exclusively fishing from river to river on the hunt for the elusive Spring Salmon. I now craved a change! I am a shameless trout bum at heart, I adore fly fishing for the whiley and gorgeous Brown Trout, that haunt our rivers and lochs. Unfortunately we have to live with what sometimes feels like a never-ending closed season in the UK. So diversification is key! That means either Grayling on the rivers, which we don’t have in Northern Scotland or Rainbows on the still waters. I can hear the scornful tuts and whispers! I know many scoff at Rainbow Trout fishing and i know why, many flyfishers see them as over fed, over stocked puddings. That have a suicidal drive to throw themselves on the first fly cast in their direction. Producing combat fishing venues! There are people as far as the eye can see, surrounded by duff castors, chucking huge chunks of glittery candy floss on the end of telephone poll like 8wt fly rods, ripping and splashing the line on and off the water, subtlety totally lacking. and there is some truth in these stereotypes. I know have fished venues like that and hated every minute of it.

But do not tar all Stillwaters with the same brush! Hark among the darkness there is light! There are some extremely good still waters around that keep a lower stocking density, don’t feed, and let the fishery grow that little bit wilder and natural not manicured like the 18th at Glen Eagles, with a good head of full finned resident rainbows that are feeding on naturals and coloured up to match the peatier waters we have up North. these gems of fisheries offers us a nice escape when or beloved brownies are on their winter hols! I am very lucky i live in Aberdeenshire a county I adopted as home 11years ago and I have grown to love all that it offers, great salmon rivers, intoxicating trout rivers and lochs, and from my location easy access to plenty more beyond. Living between Huntly and Dufftown. I have the opportunity to fish 1 of these under recognised gems. Only a miles walk from the house. This wee fishery of less than 8 acres, has been around since the late 70s and has gone through a few changes over time but offers everything I’ve mentioned; a more natural feel to the surroundings, a more natural head of trout feeding on the prolific fly, larva, shrimp and fry, this produces natural, more wild behaviour.  Wild trout they may not be, and certainly not native to our fair shores but they can still behave as they would in native US given the right conditions. As a result these Rainbows can prove all to gather quite tricky. A fishery like this offers a haven in the dark wint

View of cabin bay looking north of the Island

View of cabin bay looking North over the Island, Don Mackenzie Having a cast with an old split cain rod

er months! This winter trout haven is Artloch fishery (http://www.artlochfishery.co.uk) Located about 4.5 miles from Huntly just off the Huntly-Dufftown road, bounded on the loch’s north side by the River Deveron, to the east broadleaf and birch woodland and rolling hill farms on all sides produces really quite a charming venue. Owned and run by retired RAF officer Stuart Wright, it is also home to the famous Sharpes of Aberdeen. (http://www.sharpes.net) A wooden Cabin overlooks the loch with a wood burner normally going over the winter months, plenty of tea and coffee flows with the banter and chat. Who says men don’t gossip? Put a group of the local flyfishers that haunt the loch in the hut together, stand back and listen! Everything from what new fly they’ve tied to what the local milkman has been up to with Mrs Smith from down the road. But seriously it can be a treasure trove of information, tips and history on the local and even further afield fishings’. And as I’ve said, listening is as valuable sometimes as practice in learning about this addicting…I mean sport! Some of these guys have two lifetimes of experience and have forgotten more fish than some of us have ever caught.

Looking East thick cloud rolling  in, Strong SW winds, the mornings beautiful blue skys gone!

Looking East thick cloud rolling in, Strong SW winds

So let’s get back to the fishing! as I said, having spent February chasing Springers I needed a change! Arriving at Artloch around 9 am, the sun was gloriously shining, the way it only seems to in the winter in the crystal clear blue sky, unfortunately the wind was not being as kind as the sun with gusts blowing 35 MPH, but if you want to fish in Scotland in the winter, autumn and spring months you learn to fish in the wind! I tackled up in the cabin over a cup of tea and talking to the Sharpes guys mainly about my disastrous River Spey trip and the unavoidable humour mostly at my expense.

Regardless of whether I am fishing river, loch or stillwater I set up several rods. I opt for a Hardy/greys; Streamflex, 9ft, 4wt rod, the Hardy L.R.H lightweight classic reel with a Cortland precision platinum WF4 high float line (http://www.garryevans.co.uk) This rod is for dry-fly with a lighter leader 3 lb because there may always be an opportunity for fish from the surface, a truly enjoyable way to fish one of my real loves and mainstays for trout. to deal with the wind and to allow me to fish heavier flies at range I opt for the Hardy/greys XF2 9.6ft, 7wt, rod. Hardy Princess reel with the Cortland precision platinum WF7 floating line. Many fishers would opt for an intermediate of sinking line, I am not a huge fan of these on a small loch like this, and knowing the loch is at its deepest 12-14ft I would rather opt for a longer leader with a heavier fly like a tungsten beaded nymph or a flight fly of a similar ilk.  I am sure there are Rainbow bashers currently falling of their seats at the suggestion of using a floating line in the windy cold conditions! Please hear me out, I do it for several reasons. FIRSTLY; I have found it always generates more takes for me as I fish over a weedy vegetated loch bed like this one with a jerky, slow retrieve with intermittent dead stops the floating line even with a long leader causing the fly to lift and drop in the water column more naturalistic it also acts as a take indicator for both nymphs and should I change on to buzzers too. SECONDLY; I hate the cumbersome, weighty, tiring sinking lines, if I wanted to give my wrist cramp I can think of a far more pleasurable way. I set up the Streamfex with a nice black hopper it never seems to fail river or loch. On the XF2 I opt for a single tungsten beaded nymph size 12 kamasan B175 hook, with a fluorescent green body with black rabbit fur strip in total about 3cm/inch and a half long fly far bigger than I am used to but it seems to work at this time of year, on a 8 lb Rio leader.

Looking west up the Glen

Looking West up the Strath Deveron

In the sunshine there is a good bit of warmth, but there is still that howling wind which is a southerly blowing from the S / SW and not nearly as bitingly cold as the N/ NE we get blowing in off the North Sea. I choose to fish the more sheltered regions of the loch and of these I choose to fish the spots that aren’t much deeper than 7ft mainly because I’ve often found fish come into these zones for warmth in the sunshine, the shallower water warming quicker. The bay directly in front of the hut offers me all these. There is little movement on the surface so I opt for the heavier rod and nymph set up, to fish at depth, taking the lighter rod with me for quick change to on the surface given the option. I fire a long line out reaching out beyond the bay. Aiming for along the side of a hidden sand Bar below the surface, that extends out from the middle of the bay. I send out  almost all my line, only a single turn remains on the reel before I am in to my backing. Letting the fly sink which doesn’t take long, I give a couple of sort sharp tugs, and stop, then begin a slow figure of 8 retrieve. Instantly I feel pressure and watch my line tip disappear under water and curve away in an ark. YEUP,YEUP, FISH ON!……Damn it! no! fish off! as I Lift the rod tip in to the take and strike, i pull the fly from the fishs mouth. I recover composure and continue the mixed up retrieve slow,stop,jerky, slow fast retrieve. on this first retrieve  I get a couple more knocks before, I lift the fly off the water to cast off again. My 2nd cast streams out to hit the same mark again and within 6ft of line  being retrieved, BANG! FISH ON! And this time, the barbless hook takes hold and I land the 3 lb over wintered beauty. The next 3hours stream past with another 13 fish coming to the net with the best at 6.5 lb  even a Brownie of 1 lb making an appearance. Between landing these fish I have also lost another 10 fish, for reasons I just can’t seem to explain. By 1pm I was in need of replacing the now well and truly tattered fly it had died serving bravely. I needed attention too, sadly excitement and enjoyment can’t sustain me alone, so lunch was called, warm soup and a sandwich.

fish taken earlier in the year at Artloch, fell to a black hopper

fish taken earlier in the year at Artloch, fell to a black hopper

Over lunch the wind intensified and the cloud rolled in, and to be honest the sky looked like it was going to rain or worse sleet. Normally when fishing is as good as had been, its a short lunch but with the changing conditions outside i lingered by the wood burner. I pried myself from fireside and headed for the productive little bay of this morning, but the sun was now gone behind thick cloud and temperature had dropped. Regardless I tried the bay again, on my first cast I land a 2 lber and still getting a few knocks, but the ferocious activity of the morning has dropped off. I move off, fishing around the loch here and there choosing spots where the wind allows. I land another 3 fish, a few more tugs keep me going. Then the activity just seems to stall.  at 3.30pm  after a fruitless hour I decide to call it time! and head for the cabin and warmth, truly satisfied, my craving for trout fishing fulfilled, at a time of year that can produce really tricky fishing, on what can be a very fickle Stillwater. That’s what I love about these wee Gems of fisheries, you quite often have to bring Your A-game, and these venues can quite often favour the wild fish fisher. Mainly because they have a more diverse and subtle skill set. Don’t rule out the Rainbows!

Shambles on the Spey

I had hoped to regale you with a great story of this weeks Salmon fishing trip to the Craigellachie Beat, on the famous river Spey a beautiful section of the river, and better still it is only 20min from my front Door. The Craigellachie beat constitutes one of the lower middle sections of the river, with the beat stretching for over 4 Km/2.8miles and lies about 17miles from the Moray coast, Were the Spey empties its peaty waters in to the Moray firth at the aptly named spey bay.

Fishing once more with Mark a regular fishing buddy, we arrived at the main hut about 8.45am, nestled among some trees on the well groomed and maintained right hand bank of the river. Over looked from behind by the craigellichie hotel and sitting about a half mile above the old cast iron telford bridge that majestily arcs across the deep tea coloured pools of this world famous river. Above on the opposite bank beyond the trees sits the Macallan Distillary, hidden, but making it presents known with the familiar smell of sweet roasted barley mash. The whiskey ladened sent was being carried on a light wind, which thankfully was expected to stay light for the day. To the west above Ben Rhines,  wearing its bright white coat of snow much of which and fallen the previous day glowed under the glorious blue sky which wasn’t expected to last the day, as cloud was to roll in Bringing heavy rain and sleet. Ah the joys of spring fishing.

image

Greeted by Dougie Ross our ghillie for the day,  we quickly tackle up slipping into something less comfortable; 3 layers of thermals, woollen jumper, fleece body suit and topped off with a pair of Waders, warm is the aim! With air temperature about 4 degrees and the water not that much better layers is a must. Clad head to toe in goretex and neoprene,  you can’t help feeling that you look like some kind of  PVC clad fetishist, auditioning for the next 50 Shades film. on top of this you throw on a goretex wading jacket, buff, neoprene gloves, a wooly hat and of course  life jacket. Thankfully then the Fishing can commence.Craigellachie

As the only Rods on the Beat to have arrived, we had the choice of pools and on the grilles advice we headed for the top of the beat and the first pools of the day. I elected to fish the Brown Isle the second pool on the beat. Slipping in to the chilled water at the neck of the pool, I wade out through the glassy water that stretches the length of the pools right/south bank wading to thigh depth and start sending lines out in to mid stream using a right hand double spey fishing a brass tube monkey, on a Rio scandi line with Hover sink 1 shooting head. and to be honest I never really enjoy fishing a sinking line be it for Salmon or Trout, but i wanted to get down to the fish. My fly was landing in the boiling water that extended from the mid stream across to the left/north bank and runs the length of the pool till it reaches the riffels and then transitions in to the Garden pool below. Occasional  large boulders litter Brown isle generating nice, eddies and greasy water, These I would pay more attention to as I reached them. Then on only my third cast my fly is greeted with a Knoock knock as it drifts across and down. My senses ping the knowledge fish are there wetting my appetite, almost as much as the lung fulls of warm homely shortbread are wetting my appetite, the warm sugary smell drifting on the breeze from the nearby walkers factory. I loose myself in my fishing cast after cast and slowly fish down through the pool with out another touch.

Looking east down stream on Brown isle pool

Looking east down stream on Brown isle pool

Not another touch was had through the pool, and as the pool draws to its end, the cloud began to roll in. And with the cloud, my day began to descend into a shambles! To be honest by the time the day drew to an end, shambles is as polite a word as I could use! No longer being able to feel my toes, I waddled from the pool feeling really quite frozen! In the fast obscuring sun I gained some warmth, and quickly I began trying to warm my ice like toes. The warm starts to return, the growing warmth brings  with it a surging throbbing pain, the Hot aches! An excruciating throbbing pain coursing from toes to shin. Agony! so Dressed like some sort of PVC clad fetishist I begin waddling as though on hot coals, stretching and swearing on the river bank like a deranged mad man, that has soiled himself! I frantically try to get warmth in to feet, whilst fighting the throbbing pain. I must have looked a site, I dearly hope no-one saw me!

Trying to regain my composure I waddle to the garden pool Where Mark is fishing, with Dougie watching. Having now returned empty-handed from attempting to find the missing guests. Mark is quickly shown a different cast to help deal with the high bank that you have to fish from on the Garden pool, and I return to the top of the pool and begin to start fishing again, employing the new learned technique. With the first cast begins the total collapse of my casting, I appear to have become a ham-fisted idiot, with every worsening cast my rage boils at myself. Now cursing and berating myself under my breath, streaming combinations of insults and swears that only real rage brings. Dougie spots my decent into chaos and comes to my aid, his patience and resolve to get me back on track was amazing but it seemed to be a lost cause, as we sort one part of my cast another part dissolved and with it embarrassment and rage fizzled away within me I think we spent an hour beat our heads against the brick…crumbling wall that my cast had descended in to. My right shoulder screamed in pain as did my back, and I am almost sure I could hear my pride in there aswell! I should have walked away and taken a break but I didn’t and really can’t thank Dougie enough for is endless help. Eventually broken dougie calls lunch! And my weary body and patience could get a rest.

The Upper slab pool looking down Stream to the lower slab pool and Mark with Dougie

The Upper slab pool looking down Stream to the lower slab pool and Mark with Doug

Following lunch we began fishing through the pool in front of the main hut, and alas the cast was still a shambles it creaked and fell apart with every second cast and Dougie battled on trying to help even trying me on a larger heavier rod in an attempt to slow me down. But the damage was done to body, confidence and focus, I trough in my hat and called it a day dragged myself from the river dejected by failure, rage and the kicking my pride had taken.

Pana Boat 'o' Fiddich Pool

Marks first casts on the final pool of the day Boat “o” Fiddich I chose to spectate for this Pool.

So from the Shambles what can I take? Casting should never be painful! clearly I was using my right shoulder to try to impart power into the cast, a trout habit that is utterly redundant in the spey cast, the over use of my shoulder inflamed old rugby injuries which now inflamed stopped me from moving and turning as I should have, and stiffened up. To compensate for this I seemed to speed up the whole cast which didn’t allow time for a D loop to form and I was in variably on almost every cast pulling my anchor point, these combined and stopped me loading the rod, which in turn ment I had to work harder and apply more power. A vicious circle! Listen to the ghillie! he is truly an invaluable source of knowledge and skills, A good ghillie like Dougie Ross is worth their weight in gold to the fly-fisher and don’t let your pride get the better of you listen to everything and learn! also listen to Ur body if your sore. stop, breath, slow it down and walk away for a minute the river will still be there in 10 minutes time and remember it’s not just about catching a fish drink in where you are Scotland is gorgeous and breath-taking so breath in the location as much as the fishing. Again thank you Dougie for your patience and resolve. I spent saturday on the River Deveron, 300 meters from my front door. No fly on my line but I went through the motions like a novice. Cast after cast sorting out the shamble, hearing and heeding Dougies advice, rebuilding my cast and confidence ready for my next adventure. Knowing that every time every time I go fishing I learn and importantly being open to learning is part of the fun for me.

Salmon on the River Ness

Wednesday 11th February 2015

Early start; up at 6am never a problem when it’s for early season Spring Salmon fishing. Even with the recent cold weather making my body think its anything but Spring, the sky Nearly cloudless slowly turning a pale blue with the rising sun, milder than its been a beautiful day lay ahead. Throwing on Plenty of thin layers and thermals to keep the cold out. Warm soup in the thermos. I headed for Huntly Train station, loaded down with kit to get the first train to Inverness. The hopes and expectations for what the day ahead would give took hold. bubbling away in me, It happens every time I go fishing, I revert to being an excited kid.

Mark a regular fishing sidekick, when he is onshore met me from the train.  We chatted excitedly about the day ahead, realising that it is 20 years to the month since I caught my first salmon. On the very River we were about to fish, caught on the association town water. The beat that comprises the lower section of the river before it meets the Moray Firth, and it was in conditions not dissimilar to today.  We negotiated the traffic and the roadworks that seem to clog Inverness, and before long we were heading South down the northside of the River Ness on the Drumnadrochact Road.  Heading for Dochdarroch and the locks at the head of the Caledonian canal, we were to meet Grant Sutherland our ghillie for the day at the wee hut nestled behind the old lock-keepers cottages.

Greeted by Grant and his furry companion Duke, we chatted about the season now a week old and the tactics for the day. The Rver running at 10in/250mm, we quickly changed in to our waders and life vests as Grant kindly set up our rods and reels. I opted to use my Sharpes Gordon4 13ft 9WT (www.sharpes.net) matched with the Rio Scandi AFS shooting head with a floating tip, 6ft leader with a copper tube; long tail monkey fly.

Packed lunches on our backs we crossed the canal lock gates and headed for the riverside hut, nestled in the trees on the top pool below the weir. We had the beat to our selfs, the only rods booked so we had Grants undivided attention. I headed out along the weir to the top of the first pool, quite an interesting wade.  On one side the black depths of the canal, the other the cobbled weir. The canals water flowing over the 200 year old weir at ankle depth, In some spots knee-deep where the water is channelled into streams. These streams meet the main River generating nice eddies and greasy water, with deeper pockets and gravel bars along the north bank below the weir.

Looking west back towards the Weir that divides the confluence of the River Ness and the Caledonian canal were the waters of the Loch Ness now enters the River Ness on its way to the sea

Looking West upstream towards the Weir that divides the confluence of the River Ness and the Caledonian canal were the waters of Loch Ness enters the River Ness on its way to the sea


looking down stream from the weir, were contact was made with the first fish

looking down stream from the weir, were contact was made with the first fish

I start fishing down the pool under Grants watchfull eye and guidance, fishing a fairly short line as the fish tend to run close to this North bank.   The long winter off season was showing its effects, as my casting can be best described as rusty. I’m sure the ghillie would have privately called it something far worse.  Making steady progress down the pool with little sign of any action, apart from from the occasional enticing splash from elsewhere on the pool as fish moved and jumped.   Approaching the confluence of one of the larger streams that surge over the weir in to the River, I notice a nice greasy section of water behind the chop of the surging in water. A perfect spot to target a waiting fish…. I cast out across the river careful to control the length of my line.  The fly fished down and across nicely. Insuring I get the fly were I want it I drew in a little line. But a few feet from where I want it the fly and line gets slowed up in a the competing currents, and is just not fishing as I’d wanted. Quickly I mend the line downstream which helped to fish the fly across my target but nothing.  Briefly My attention is lifted from my line to further downsteam and Mark fishing. Leaving the fly on the dangle, I quickly regain my focus and retrieve some line before I start lifting my rod tip; Knock, knock, bang! The line begins stripping through my fingers, fish on! Then stupidity kicked in and the trout fisherman in me came to the fore, I struck! like it was a brownie supping at a dry fly.  The Salmon now starting to run across the river and in my haste I wrenche the fly from the Salmon’s mouth! sending the fly whistling past my ear. Damn! Pulse racing and colourful language subsiding, a smile spreads across my face. The day is still young, there will be another chance….hopefully

Time for a coffee and a move, on to the next pool. In the hour spent fishing the first pool the river had risen 4.5in/110mm, a combination probably snow melt in the surrounding hills and input from the hydro.  We fished through the next pool with out much action, having to adopt a double Spey cast to cope with the growing down stream wind, which at times was bitingly cold, persueded us it was time for lunch.  Grant suggests we move to the lowest pool after lunch as it hasn’t been fished yet this season. He didn’t have to suggest it twice! The Tantalising over lunch show supplied by the Kelts jumping and splashed all through the pool in front of the hut spurred us on.

looking downstream  on the bottom pool of the Dochfour beat

looking downstream on the bottom pool of the Dochfour beat

The river seemed to be holding its height between 14-15in/250-275mm. I slipped in mid pool, and began putting out mid range casts. Fishing the fly round nicely producing better casts than earlier in the day, I felt quite confident in myself. Slowly fishing down the pool getting a couple of good knocks but not much else, I manage to suppress the urge to change my fly And continue fishing. A nice well presented cast, a quick mend up stream and the fly is fishing down and round nicely. It just felt right! And with that a sold take! The line runs though my fingers and I slowly lift into it. The rod doubles over, a quick run from a kelt too lacklustre to be a springer. I slowly bring a well coloured spawned cock fish to the net.  And with that its quickly released, A quick chat with Grant and I get back to flinging casts out. Within 2 casts I was back in to a fish, smaller this time but more of a fight,  the fish shows itself on the surface with a brief flash of silver in the afternoon sunshine, and my hopes surge for a springer. Gently playing the fish to the net, I am soon dashed on the springer. But it’s still a nice Hen Kelt.

Grant Sutherland the Ghillie removing the hook from the 8lb Hen Kelt

Grant Sutherland the Ghillie removing the hook from the 8lb Hen Kelt

With the day drawing to a close and the sun now low dropping behind the hills above loch Ness. A couple of more takers but nothing sticks, so we call it a day and head for the hut. The hut that we had started out from 7 hours earlier. A great day, in a beautiful location had been had. A lot of that enjoyment was Thanks to the excellent Ghillie Grant Sutherland.

If you get the opportunity to fish the Dochfour beats on the River Ness take it!  though the beat tends to fish better in the back half of the season its a beautiful venue and stretch of water year round.

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