Wednesday, 30 June 2010

A Small Fisherman is Born!

I have just returned from a few days fishing on the River Lochy near Fort William. It is one of my favourite rivers, even though I have never managed to arrive in the right week at the right time. In fact I have only caught one fish in four or five trips, however as I get older and definitely wiser there has come a realisation that catching a fish is not the only thing to enjoy on a fishing trip.

Anticipation of an event is a very enjoyable thing in its own right and here the Lochy comes into its own, as it has a run of seriously large spring and early summer fish. The feeling that any contact with a fish could be one of these salmon, keeps ones enthusiasm going and hope really does springs eternal. When this sense of excitement on the river is combined with lovely fly water, varying wildlife and differing views of the majesty of Ben Nevis from every pool, perhaps someone who has not fished there, can start to understand what makes it special. This is further enhanced by the privilege of fishing with our professional ghillie Willie Ritchie who has such enthusiasm and deep knowledge of the river and its environs.

On departing Appleby with Eddie Braithwaite on the Tuesday evening after the annual horse fair it was raining and continued to do so all the way to Fort William. My hopes rose as I was aware that the Lochy had had no water since very early May and that the fish were waiting in Loch Linhe ready to run. Sadly when we arrived it was apparent that the Lochy catchment which is north west of Fort William had missed the rain. Life though does have its compensations, I had booked a new lodge for the party, which had recently been refurbished and it was simply splendid right down to a master bedroom where Edward and Mrs Simpson had been guests. A first meal of local langoustines freshly caught that day and a roast rib of beef from Comrie soon made me forget the low state of the river.

Despite the low water we fished hard on Wednesday and Thursday and did see the occasional fish. On the Friday Willie kindly offered to take Father and I trout fishing on Loch Akraig. It was a 25 minute drive up to the loch which took in the Caledonian Canal and Loch Lochy itself as well as several splendid views and a succession of very nice properties. The loch itself was very impressive some 18 miles long, 500 ft deep in places with lovely mountain scenery. Willie was waiting when we drove up and we were soon in the boat motoring up the loch on an ideal overcast windy morning, with a decent swell on the water. I was really looking forward to this as I had never participated in proper highland loch fishing before.

After motoring 3 miles or so we stopped and started to fish the drift. Willie had set us up with fairly stiff 11ft single handed trout rods with a team of 3 flies on each and we were instructed to cast them as far as possible and strip them rapidly back in. If we felt a anything at all then an immediate positive strike was in order. After a while I managed to get into a reasonable rhythm and achieved an adequate distance on my casts but not as far as Willie when he took over Fathers rod. It was surprisingly hard work and requires concentration at all times or boy can you get into a mess! We tried hard for some 4 hours and apart from one take that did not hook up we caught nothing, apart from a tired cast of mine that caught Willie's hat and plucked it clean away into the water. Apparently the trout fishing in the loch normally goes off around early July and Willie speculated that perhaps it had happened earlier than usual. A shame, but it was still a great experience that I will have another go at in the most lovely of surroundings.

On Saturday morning we met up with Willie on Beat 1 and amazingly the water had got even lower and it just looked hopeless for salmon fishing. I therefore tackled up for wet fly trout fishing with my 8ft Merlin. Jerry and Teresa arrived and I suggested that as they had not really fished for trout before they get Willie to take them for the morning and teach them how to catch some trout. With my second rod and a borrowed rod from Willie we were soon organised and went our separate ways. I started of with my usual North Country spiders, a greenwells on the tip and a snipe and purple on the dropper even though I had been given some home tied local flies. It is great to see if what works at home is effective elsewhere. My first fish caught me totally by surprise, second cast in quite fast water, a nice beautifully marked half pounder. I continued to catch fish all morning of all sizes up to 2lb on both flies, truly great fun, one forgets how well they fight and what speed they can move at. I was late for the rendezvous as I forgot the time but so had everybody else! Jerry and Teresa had both caught fish and we had all kept one trout for lunch. Whilst comparing experiences it occurred to me what an opportunity it was to get my nephew William into his first fish so I asked Willie if he would take his young namesake out after lunch!

William was impressed with our fish for lunch and soon excited about having ago himself in the afternoon. After an excellent lunch of pan fried trout in butter and olive oil, for once we were on time and hoping that the trout were still taking. Willie took William under his wing, teaching him how to wade properly in the river and to cast. Soon William was getting knocks but was not quick enough to convert them into hooked fish. The two Willies moved downstream with official photographer Teresa ready for the big moment. I stayed with Jerry and he soon got into a good trout in a spot where I had some success in the morning. We then moved down to join the others and say goodbye to Willie and there was one beaming nephew who had caught 4 fish, including 2 at once. I wish that I had caught my first fish at seven and a half instead of 27 ½! Willie then left to go and teach fly tying to the youngsters of Fort William. Whilst our William was keen to keep fishing. We got my spare rod from the car and he was soon into his first fish totally on his own. It was his biggest fish of the afternoon and was proudly taken home, a true hunter gatherer in the making and a lucky one to have had such a special start to his fishing adventures. Touchingly, I think he realised, as walking up from the river he asked if I had Willie's number. He then rang him and told him about the fish he had caught on his own, and thanked him for teaching him.

I guess I have really come back in a full circle to where I started. What a brilliant fishing trip we had, even on low water and no salmon. The whole party from Eddie who came with me just for the craic and to do some walking to Richard and Sally Clark who fished a little but toured the area and retreated to the royal bedroom each night, we all had a ball.
trout fishing at The Tufton Arms