Angling, by and large, has lost its sheen these days. ‘Too many anglers chasing too few fish’ (as my Dad used to say!) and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to capture those still moments of contemplation that used to be common currency during a day at the waterside. Now I go fishing in my daydreams.
However, once in a while, romantic notions can become reality…
The angling gods smiled upon me during our trip to Loch Nevis and Morar. A period of steady, stable weather no doubt helped, as did a fairly benign tide, and I managed to break my duck on the sea loch. Two small whiting and a sparkling sea trout couldn’t resist the spinner that fluttered through the crystal waters at the end of my line. I had plenty of follows from much larger sea trout, too, but couldn’t induce a take.
My main objective of the trip was to catch a wild brown trout from a hill lochan. This had been on my mind since the last visit to this lovely part of Scotland and I felt better equipped this time.
I’d done my homework, too. Googlemaps and ‘Earth are great distraction at any time, but they excel as tools for scouting hill lochs.
I pored over images of the lumpen hills to the north of Loch Morar and found plenty of candidates. Some seemed to be choked with weed and thus would make fly fishing tricky, certainly for someone of my limited skill, but two or three looked very promising. There were few additional resources online, though: these lochs would either be fishless, or folk were keeping schtum. The reality might again pale in comparison to the romance.
Consulting the OS map in the cosy cottage before heading out, I plotted a route through pathless terrain to my favoured body of water. It looked fairly straightforward, but I knew progress would be tougher on the hill.
The initial stages followed the well-constructed path to Tarbet and over the pass to majestic Loch Morar. I veered off the track to the right and followed a rough bearing to the loch. As anticipated, the rough hills threw up numerous obstacles and I clambered over crags and traversed deep valleys.
It was an agreeable problem-solving exercise. Several times I would set out on a course, only to backtrack to find a better, and safer, route. Fortunately the ground was firm and the old rock offered assuring grip.
Route finding was not too problematic as burns draining these upland bodies of water gave me a path of sorts if all else failed. Also, the kidney-shaped lochan I was heading for was fairly large and provided a pretty substantial target in its own right.
Contouring around another summit, I found my objective. It indeed was large, and the banks were mainly steep, with heather and bracken tumbling into its still waters.
The southern end was flat and had more character, containing a small island and peninsula. It looked ideal: the loch was sheltered from the wind, aiding my appalling casting, and the glassy waters favoured fish spotting.
Then, a small fish leapt clear of the water, the splash cutting through the silence.
Another disturbed the surface, and another. They were feeding… I’d arrived at the loch I’d discovered in my office on a miserable Manchester lunchtime during a rise!
I scampered round to the bay and hastily assembled my only fly rod, far too heavy for this application but it would do.
Now, which fly?
A guy in a tackle shop had urged me not to worry too much about this. ‘If they’re rising, they take with confidence,’ he said. ‘Anything with some red, black and silver and you’ll be OK’.
I tied on a Butcher.
Paying out the floating line for a short cast, I struggled to find rhythm. ‘Slow down you idiot,’ I muttered.
I unrolled a shortish line and let the leader sink. A slow figure of eight retrieve was disturbed by electric pulse of a take. A small brown trout went aerial and escaped.
For those who’ve never fished, you no doubt think this is too much fuss about nothing, but my hands shook. I repeated the metronome of my cast and the fly gently settled again. I repeated the steady retrieve and had another take but this time quickly took up the slack line and maintained contact.
After a spirited tussle, I gently guided the fish to the shallow water at my feet. Gingerly cradling it with wet hands, I had a stunning eight-inch wild brown trout. The colours were all I’d hoped: deep chestnut brown, bronze and gold, creamy shades on the underbelly, and a constellation of spots.
I held it in the water for a short while and it powered off strongly. Maybe eight or nine years old, this little fish was miraculous compared to the bloated, pellet-stuffed rainbows of some fisheries I’d visited. It was a magical experience.
I caught and returned more, and had planned to keep a couple and enjoy some lunch up high but the weather turned foul and time was getting on. I’d become lost in the fishing and had an appointment to keep at the bunkhouse for a cup of tea.
I packed away the rod and turned for one last look at the lochan. My compact camera had finally given up the ghost and so had no photographic record of this special place.
It didn’t matter. Any romantic notions I’d had of this moment were exceeded by reality and the images were fully developed in my mind.