Loch-Style Fly Fishing in Scotland: Kate McClaren, I think I love you

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.

ScotsChanelling

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.

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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.

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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).

HappyAnglers

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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. 

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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.

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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: graemeferguson_82@hotmail.com. He does rivers and salmon, too. Highly recommended. Tell him Steve sent ‘ya.

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The Peter Ross Wet Fly

The next time you fish the Peter Ross, be grateful that his name was not Aloysius Karbuncle. The Peter Ross is a traditional Loch style fly that dates back to the late 19th century. Ross based his pattern on the Teal and Red, another stillwater fly.

This fly is also a popular sea trout pattern, and you can easily see why. I like the contrast of the red, the black, and the dramatic barring of the teal. With its silver body, I’m thinking small baitfish or fry. Perhaps even something shrimpy. Something that looks alive and good to eat. I’ve already used it for steelhead, and I’m going to try it as the point fly on a team of three wets this spring.

The Peter Ross

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Hook: 8-16
 (this is an Orvis 1641 size 10)
Thread: Black
Tail: Golden pheasant tippets
Body: Rear half silver wire, front half red angora goat
Rib: Fine silver tinsel
Hackle: Black hen
Wing: Teal flank

Tying notes: When you’re tying a small wet that calls for a body of “half this, half that,” it’s easy to mess up calculating how much area you need on the shank for each section. (Ask me how I know). You end up with a body that’s two-thirds one and one-third the other. Remember to take the head of the fly into consideration. Then, divide the remaining space between where you think the head will end and the end of the shank. There are many ways to tie in waterfowl wings. Some like to create an effect like a quill wing. Others like to fold the wing several times on top of itself, dull side in. Another way, the one I used here, is to tie the wing in small folded sections. For this size fly, I used three sections of teal flank about ¼ to 3/8 inch wide, folded them once, dull side in, and tied them on top of each other.

The Kate McLaren Wet Fly

Ah, Kate-O, my little not-so-yellow friend.

Every year, I’m on the lookout for new flies to tie and fish. My friend Jon, who’s been wet fly-fishing forever, also happens to be from the UK. So he’s been exposed to a broad cross-cultural mix of patterns. When I asked him for some suggestions, he immediately offered up the Kate McLaren. It’s fair to say that I liked Kate the moment I laid eyes on her.

The Kate McLaren is a Scottish loch fly, intended to be the top dropper (or bob fly) on a team of three. While its traditional use is on still water, I’m going to be fishing this on rivers. And while I might give it some time as a top dropper, it’s going to get the lion’s share of action on point.

There’s something about the contrast of the golden pheasant crest tail and the dark body that I find magnetically appealing. Golden pheasant crest almost glows when wet. Who knows what a fish will think this fly is – perhaps a flash of spotted salamander, or a chubby stonefly – but I can’t wait to feel that first take.

Kate McLaren

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Hook: 8-14 (this is a 1x short, 2x strong Orvis 1641 size 10)
Thread: Black
Tail:  Golden pheasant crest
Body: Black seal fur (I used angora goat)
Rib:  Fine oval silver tinsel
Body Hackle: Black rooster (I used soft hen)
Head hackle:  Brown rooster (ditto on the hen)

Tying notes: Technically, this is a Kate McLaren variant since I used soft hen instead of stiffer rooster hackle. Since I primarily intend to fish this fly subsurface, I wanted the action the soft hackle would provide. When finishing the body, I tied the black hackle in near the head, leaving the thread at the tie-in point, and then wound the hackle backwards toward the tail. I then secured the hackle with the tinsel, and wrapped it forward to the thread. Also note that the black hackle is smaller than the brown. Some of the Kates I’ve seen have a longer tail, but I like the proportions of this one. I got lazy on the head and left it rough. As Dave Hughes said, trout aren’t interested in neatness.