Trying to conceal myself behind a row of young willows I approached the banks of a rumbling wild burn. I could see the backs of hungry feeding fish, as they swirled at the surface picking up sepia duns after following them a small way downstream. The surface film would part momentarily giving the briefest and most tantalising view of those exquisitely spotted backs. The water is a little low, but mercifully not crystal clear, it has that peaty whisky tinge typical of these parts.
The fish here are big, there’s an excellent average size, and they’re as wild as can be, this water has never been stocked, neither has any feeder water. There are a number of resident trout, and many more that run between the two substantial lochs this river connects.
A friend of mine at the start of last season set himself the aim of getting an 8lb plus wild brown on the fly, ambitious you might say, well on his second outing of the season he had to come up with a new goal as he had landed two fish from this very water which comfortably passed that mark.
It’s remote, which is its saving grace, remote, rugged and it looks like so many other highland rivers, bouldery, occasionally deep, and after heavy rain it runs like Guinness with those thin foam lines over the surface of deep water. It has little to tell it apart from so many others, but it’s what it contains that makes it so special.
At the end of the line of willows I come up from my crawl to a drop knee position, as though proposing to these beautiful beasts. The ring is provided by the trout’s rise, I aim my homemade offering three yards upstream of it. A follow, I can see the wake of a fish following, but then it turns without taking. There are so many naturals why would it take one that looked in any way dubious. I retrieve my fly and examine it, it looks pretty good, so out it goes again. I cast a little further and it seems covered the lie of another fish, another, less fussy fish because before I had the time to settled to watch my fly’s progress down through the pool towards me I already have a fish on. He’s heading upstream, slowly, I can feel those big head shakes common with large trout and suddenly the line goes slack. Gone. I sit back feeling a little sick, it’s the extremity of emotion, again I retrieve the line to check the fly and leader. The action on the surface has dulled considerably, were they all spooked? I didn’t think there was much commotion, but possibly the fly line being hauled under water by that last fish may have been enough. I elect to sit and wait to see if things get moving again.
There are much fewer flies on the surface now, and a chill in the air. It starts to rain and I think about giving up for the day. I remember Oliver Edwards’ DVD about streamers in rivers and decide to give that a shot, it certainly seems to work for him on the becks of his homeland. It means a change of rod and line and a trot back to the car, but with these temperatures that’s welcome. Away goes the dry fly rod and to an intermediate line I tie on a hefty brown job, it’s meant to represent a small brownie, the prospect of using this is quite exciting, I’ve never had a trout on a streamer in a river before.
I change my approach to casting across and down, and letting the current swing the streamer before tugging it back upstream with various rates of retrieve. On my third pool working downstream I hook something, it seems tiny, what could have taken that big streamer that can hardly put a bend in my rod? A small pike, barely bigger than the streamer itself had gallantly wedged its jaws open with the hook. I chuckle and pop him back. Although I’ve seen numerous examples I’m always impressed by just how fearlessly aggressive and downright gallus wee pike can be, I’d like to see a mind’s eye image of this pikes view of himself.
I work my way through the rest of the pools and with only one tug for encouragement come back to where I started the day, the willow pool. There are no rises now and I stand upstream of where I was casting to, knee deep in streaming water, out goes the streamer and within a second or two there’s a tug, but I don’t make contact, so I let the streamer sit there on the hang, there’s a few seconds of nothing and then bang something much more substantial, and a swirl, no spotty back this time, but a big square tail breaks the surface as it bores back to the deeps, it comes towards me briefly before heading off determined downstream. I head off too stumbling out of the shallows and between the willows and the bank, I give chase, but not fast enough because line is screaming off the reel. At the end of the second pool there’s a small waterfall and thankfully my quarry seemed to not want to brave it, so I had a chance to catch up and regain a modicum of control. After a spirited but short fight; I always try to get my fish in as quickly as possible, to further their recovery chances, a 6lb fin perfect, butter bellied hen brown slides into the net. She never leaves the water and after supporting her in the current for a few seconds she kicks free. It took me a few moments for me to feel the cold and stand up, feeling rather pleased with myself, and head for home.
What a varied sport we have, from the upstream delicate dry to the downstream streamer, from dapping to tenkara, washing line techniques and high line nymphing the innovations we have employed to catch fish with a fly rod are many, marvellous and varied. I encourage everyone to try a new one!
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