Thursday, 6 June 2013

Highlands and Lows

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Decidedly mixed feelings crowd my head as I sit and type this, slightly cranky from a long drive. Enthralled on the one hand from some beautiful and unexpected fishing in Scotland; gutted on the other with a car repair bill that nearly made me faint. What looked like an affordable holiday quickly got expensive when my car blew a head gasket on the trip up. Just before Stoke, the other half commented that the engine sounded funny- a bit like there were a gang of Chileans under the bonnet playing pan pipes. Five minutes later and I was looking at a horrible mixture of steam and oil. A total mess; it looked someone had massacred Thomas the Tank Engine. I guess we do use and abuse our fishing vehicles.
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We might have abandoned our trip there and then, but I thought sod it. Cramming supplies into a rental car, we were on the road again, getting to Fort William decidedly late. The right decision, because when your head isn't in a good place there's nowhere better for the soul than the Highlands. Loch Morar is so beautiful it makes you gasp, even on a return visit.
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It was also great to see Loch Superintendent Viv de Fresnes again, who was there with a smile and a cup of coffee, ready to take on Morar. Fishing was challenging at times, but Viv took me to some fabulous looking areas of the lake. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that on two visits I've never seen another fly fisherman on the Loch.
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Viv's approach is classic, pulling meaty traditional flies through a rolling wave to stir up aggressive wild brown trout. Well, that was the plan- sometimes the weather was just too still and sunny. I like a guide who gives it to you straight- and Viv is not one of those who'll waste your time and money when conditions are all wrong. Instead, we held fire and returned for better periods when a proper breeze was kicking up.
 photo DSC_0171-1_zps0c7da613.jpgEven when the fishing was tough, the crack was great. Viv was as keen as I was to raise a monster "troot", and without his relentless optimism and knowledge of Morar I would have been on a hiding to nothing. The tactics were smart and varied too- which I'll detail at greater length in an article, along with more on the fascinating character of this magical place. Each time the line went solid I was enthralled by the savage power of these trout, with even the half pounders throwing severe temper tantrums on a seven weight. (Grab a look at for more info on great value guided fishing).
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The other real bonus in Scotland is the huge variety of hill lochs. I tackle these with a float tube where possible. Lazy fishing it is not. The walk is often like hell, the fishing like heaven. Jo and I battled the hillside carrying supplies to find a good sized upland lake totally new to me. She fished from the shore, while I took the tube.
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Puffing the bloody tube with air is pretty character building after a steep hike, but once you're set up it affords you endless freedom to hit areas that simply never see a fly line. I had a dozen splendidly marked fish to around the pound mark. Last year I battered them on the Sedgehog- a fly I've been slightly fixated with ever since my pal from the Shetlands, artist Paul Bloomer sent me a little bundle of them. This time, they seemed to pick of the other flies in the team more often (although I always feel the "wake" of the hog helps draw fish to your other flies). The "Heathen" is my latest experiment. To all extents and purposes it's like a traditional hackled wet fly crossed with (gulp!) a blob. The trout loved it:
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When you're in the middle of a wild lake, the wind on your face and hits coming thick and fast, it's impossible not to feel like the world is a better place, hefty vehicle bill or not. I absolutely love it here.
 photo IMG_0152_zps1a6558ac.jpgAnd the fun wasn't quite over on the way back either. We stopped in Glasgow, of all places, to have a cast on the local canal. Beguilingly pretty it was too, and contrary to the cliches, all the locals we met were incredibly friendly. The fishing wasn't easy, but there were some cracking fish showing. In the space of an afternoon session we saw pike, roach and even a carp. It was the roach that really excited me. Some of them looked huge.
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I started with the fly rod, but with a combination of heavy tow and a fierce cross wind I found a convincing presentation impossible. Tempting them on bread flake under a waggler didn't seem much easier- some fat roach taking a look but proving totally suspicious in the clear water. I finally managed a cracker of a pound and a quarter, but the rest spooked and with the tow picking up I felt like I'd have been better off with a stick float and centre pin. Plan C was a quiver tip. I kept feeding mashed bread and, relieved to see some seriously large roach still milling about, stuck with a big piece of flake. My set up was rather unusual to say the least- but it worked! In fact I think I may have stumbled upon something really useful, largely by the accident of only having limited tackle at my disposal. More on this at some other juncture- necessity is indeed the mother of invention!

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The best of the bag (above) was ridiculously broad. It looked like it had swallowed that Glasgow delicacy, a battered Mars bar. This was a truly giant canal roach, and a bit like my car repair bill, darned near priceless!

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