I’d been to Scotland before. My Nana and Grandpa, two off-the-boat Scots, took me when I was ten years old. Now, nearly fifty years later, I was going back with my wife and kids.
Chanelling my inner Scotsman. Nae kilt for me, but surely there’s an auld angler within each of us who fishes traditional wet flies.
Although this was a family trip, it seemed a moral imperative to not only fish, but to fly fish in the homeland of my forefathers. And if I could catch a trout on an ancient or traditional Scottish wet fly pattern, that would immeasurably sweeten the pot. So, where and how to do this? I ruled out Salmon fishing: cost-prohibitive and a greater chance of failure than success (maybe next time). So trout it was. Buddy Matt Supinski hooked me up with Graeme Ferguson, and we made plans this past spring for August 9.
Well, that’s the thing about booking so far in advance in a land thousands of miles away: you play the weather and conditions lottery. And my goodness, did we lose. Cam and I have a knack for choosing disaster weather on fishing trips, and we nailed this one dead center. The forecast called for heavy rain and 10-20mph winds. The Scots call it dreich. That sounds about right.
Brown, swollen rivers meant loch fishing — or in this case, lake fishing. Our mark was Lake Menteith, the only lake in country of lochs. Now, stillwater fishing is not my bag, but I was willing to try. And so we launched in a driving rainstorm accompanied by banshee winds. What the hell — the fish don’t know it’s wet.
We started off with sink tip lines and teams of three flies. I had the first touch, but I didn’t really know what to look for in a take. A botched hook set proved to be my downfall. A while later, Cam was on. If it looks wet and wicked and wild, it was. But a bent rod tends to make you oblivious to the conditions.
Attaboy, Cam! Trip bought and paid for. These landlocked rainbows reminded me of junior steelhead in temperment and leaping capability. They’re also not shy about going deep — we had several fish sound on us as if the lake were bottomless. This fish took Cam’s point fly, a very Nuke Egg-like day-glo pattern.
Are we having fun yet? We’d launched around 9:30, and three hours later the rain was dissipating. Graeme suggested we break for lunch, so we headed back to the clubhouse to dry out and re-fortify. A most civilized menu: Carrot/leek/corriander soup (a triumph, Mrs. Ferguson!), meat pie, and scotch eggs (hard boiled, surrounded by sausage, bread crumb coating, decadent).
Two critical events turned the afternoon tide in our favor: conditions improved (the rain stopped, it warmed up, hatches began, and the trout showed on the surface to feed) and I managed to fire up — in the wind, no small task with matches — a beloved Partagas Serie D No. 4. Floating lines on, first stop, bang! I’m on. You can see from the glassy water just below my elbow that we’re fishing in the shallow water of a cove, sheltered from the blow. We’d drift where the wind took us, adjusting as needed. Graeme also brought a subsurface drogue chute — brilliant! — that when deployed slowed our drift.
I bagged another one not ten minutes after the above photo was taken. We moved to a mark where a wee burn was dumping colder water into the lake. I decided to clip off one of Graeme’s buzzers (UK for midge larva) and tie on a fly I’d tied and brought with me, the traditional loch bob fly Kate McLaren. One of the beauties of fishing a team of three is that you often don’t know which fly the fish chose until you land it. Fish on, battle fought and won, and as Graeme netted it, he announced, “You’ll never guess which fly she took. The Kate McLaren.” I loved that fly, that moment, and especially that fish so much I decided to give her a kiss. The trout may look traumatized, but she swam away no worse for the wear.
Final tally was four for dad, two for Cam, and one very happy father-son team. Our boat, #4 (coincidence?) was a fine vessel. I can’t say enough good things about our guide, Graeme Ferguson: professional, matey, courteous, knowledgeable, capable, and his wife makes incredibly delicious soup. Here’s his contact information: email@example.com. He does rivers and salmon, too. Highly recommended. Tell him Steve sent ‘ya.
Great report. Sounds like you made the best of what most would call a bad situation. I’m happy that you turned chicken feathers into chicken soup, or should I say carrot/leek soup.
As a post script, my father was born in Johnstone, Scotland, and came to America when he was 9 years old.
I enjoy your blog.
Thanks so much for reading, and for the kind words. The first few hours weren’t the most pleasant conditions to fish in, but it usually makes for good storytelling.
Looked like fun. Stillwater fishing can be a blast when some hatches are going on. Best part is no snags to worry about!
No snags, but we touched bottom plenty of times (collected a few weeds). I still prefer moving water, but this didn’t suck.
Thanks for your entertaining and informative report. Glad you hooked up with some Scottish brutes, and did NOT see or hook up with a Loch-X monster!! Regards, Ron
Hi Ron, how are you? Glad you liked reading it. I enjoyed writing it — and most of all experiencing it. FYI we did take a drive along Loch Ness earlier in the trip. Nae monsters.
SCOTLAND…..really? Aye’ as a fellow Scotsman my jealousy is palpable. Ancestors come from the Moray Firth area, ever had finnan haddie soup? In Scotland if you use a hundred dollar bill as a leader straightener you catch more fish. Sounds like a pure barry trip. Alba gu bra’th my friend.
I wanted to try the Cullen skink, but never got round to it. Multiple fish and chips were had and enjoyed. We did sample some haggis and black pudding.
Stonington Seafood in Maine has the best finnan haddie you can get, it’ll set you back 45 bucks next day to your door for a pound, but it’s the real deal and well worth it. They also have a excellent milk recipe for cullin skink. Housy smallmouth action is red hot again, no monsters but tons of 10 to 12 inch fish, all hard charging acrobats.
I can’t wait to get back to the Hous…
Awesome! I fished the river Alness with a guide one month before you. Awesome morning with a few small browns to the net and then after lunch came the rain. We sat and watched the river turn brown and rise at least a foot. Called it quits early. Fished the Novar Estate, first time in Scotland. Amazing river, I will go back.
And then we came upon this amazing little fishing hotel, note woman at bar in waders, and fellow who fished in his tie. I’m with my wife in front, the two ugly Americans, had to stop in for a pint!
Edward F. Keyes Sent from my iPad
Ed, thanks for reading and commenting. It’s a beautiful place to fish, isn’t it?
Now that was a fun read
I’m glad you liked it. Feedback is always welcome.
Sounds like quite an adventure!
Sent from my iPhone
‘Twas that. Bad weather usually makes for good stories, regardless of the catch rate.
An altogether great read. Sounds like you are a stillwater man now for sure.
It’s still not my bag, however — I have a much greater appreciation for it and its nuances. It was far more engaging than I thought it would be.