Fishing with a Scottish “Gillie”.
If you are still waiting to go fishing in Scotland, you should believe everything you read. It really is a magical mystical place; mist shrouded hills; rain and wind; historical ruins. And around every corner is a tree-lined river or a wild, open country loch. All just waiting for an angler. Sure you might have to pay an owner a few pounds and book a specific day, but there are so many options there will be somewhere to suit your needs.
There are three very good small books available giving the details of what must be every puddle of fishable water in Scotland. After careful planning from home and much help from our enthusiastic House of Travel consultant I was ready for my two days guided fishing in Scotland with a real “Gillie”.
The travel consultant’s instructions were: “ My client must catch a fish and he must stay in a castle”. The fishing was to be slotted into an 18 day driving tour. We had good weather for June until my two allotted days when it went all pear-shaped. Gale-force winds and rain were the forecast and how right it was.
My “Gillie” collected me from my castle hotel and turned out to be a Scot of medium stature, dressed in green wellies up to his knees, and a long waterproof jacket. With a bushy beard, large round glasses and a flat cap he looked the part. A fisherman all his life, his love of the Highlands was infectious and his knowledge of the fishing enormous.
The first day was a Sunday and salmon fishing is not allowed so we needed somewhere to fish for trout. The wind and mist meant the big Lochs were out so we went to a couple of small ones stocked with rainbows. Not very interesting. I caught about 10 one pounders on a dry, And by 3pm I was glad to call it a day.
The second day we went to a river know for its salmon and that was a lot more like it. He set me up with a 9”6” fly rod, floating line and double hooked fly, and away I went. The beat was about half a mile long, nearly all fishable water, with two lovely holes as well as a lot of holding water in under the trees on the far bank. The river bottom was referred to as “slippery cannonballs”, so wading in knee high wellies was a bit tricky although there was no need to go too far in as a good cast covered the whole river. Luckily the wind was at my back so I was able to cast horizontally in front of me and walk my way down the beat. I spent a very pleasant morning and caught one “ wee wild broon troot” to top it off.
Sitting on the bank I cleaned up the lunch box provided by the hotel and mentioned that I was keen to try a two handed fly rod. Gillie said, “I just happen to have brought one, it’s just a wee one mind, 13 foot. I usually use a 16 footer. I was then kindly given a lesson in doing the “ Spey River Cast”. And it is damn efficient. If you get it right 30 metres of line up off the water and straight out in one flick. And with almost no back cast, there is no problem with trees.
Because of the wind I made a bit of a hash but picked up the fundamentals for future use. I started off again fishing my beat and had another couple of hours in one of the most picturesque places I have ever fished. No more fish but it was such a magical place it always felt like the next cast would be the one. Gillie had been keeping an eye on me while fishing himself. From time to time he wandered over to see if I was enjoying myself and to give me a pointer or two.
As the afternoon wore on he wandered down to me and called “ I just turned a salmon over in that pool up there, you better come and have a try”. Upon inspection of the hole we decided it was too deep to get a fly down so a spinning rod was produced. I wandered out into the edge of the hole and had a couple of warm-up casts. There was a splashing to my left and Gillie was standing at my side. “ Do you catch many salmon laddie?” I’m well retired so I loved the laddie bit. “Not a lot, just the one this year” I replied. “Do ye mind if I tell ye why?” “Certainly not” I replied, and was then given a few pointers about salmon, their lifestyle and vagaries, and what to do to fool them.
It sounded reasonable so I tried what he said, and second cast, Bang! I then saw the fish on the surface and asked what breaking strain the line was. “Ten pound laddie” “Hell” I said, “at home we used twenty to thirty pound”. I was scornfully told that in Scotland that would be poaching.
I played the fish out very gingerly and brought it to the side of the river. The first attempt at netting was not good. Gillie tried to slide the net under the fish. Fish being twice as long as the diameter of the net, it simply went rigid, and then flailed itself off the rim and back into the water.
The second attempt was even less successful. Gillie tried to net it head first in about 150 mm of water. The second and third barbs on the hook hung up in the net. Then the net hit one of the cannonballs on the bottom and stopped before the fish was more than a third in the net. A quick flick and there was the fish sitting in the water for all to see, but no longer hooked.
We later agreed that the shallow water’s edge meant it would probably have been much easier to get the fish out without a net. We briefly admired the fish at our feet, and estimated the weight (they do encourage catch and release after all). Then with a flick of its tail it swam away and took up station again at the bottom of its pool. Gillie said nine to eleven pounds while I said ten to twelve. So twelve it was. The salmon in this river migrate back to the sea and Gillie reckoned this one was on its third spawning trip. He did say the biggest he had caught was just under forty pound.
While hiring a guide for a day is an expensive exercise I felt it was well worth it. I was taken straight away to good fishing water. The permits etc had all been arranged. I learnt a few good trout tips and a couple of excellent salmon ones. All good gear was supplied, and I met a most interesting and dedicated fisherman.
If I can ever make it back to Scotland again I will hire a guide for a day or two and arrange the rest myself, avoid Sundays and leave the landing net in the car.
First published N.Z.Fishing News. March 2005