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Fishing for Trout in Scotland’s Rivers

Scotland’s rivers have long held the reputation for nurturing the King of fish the salmon, and rightly so as illustrious streams like the River Tweed, the Tay and the Spey have for centuries been world renowned for their salmon angling. Lesser recognised but equally if not more prolific are the brown trout which inhabit not only the aforementioned but also other acclaimed rivers like the Clyde, Tummel and Don.

It is an angling fact of life that in Scotland the salmon always takes precedence and it is often assumed that if fishing our rivers, you are pursuing the bigger game fish. Do not let this ethos put you off however for there are trout permits available on all of the rivers highlighted and on their tributaries. The rewards are considerable for the patient trout angler for the trout are top quality and provide exciting and challenging fishing.

Fishing on the River Tweed. Dusk is more productive.

Fishing on the River Tweed. Dusk is more productive.

One of the most attractive features of river trouting in Scotland is its lack of pretension. Since our principal rivers have in the past always been fished for salmon first and trout really only as an afterthought there has been very little of the historical posturing about dry fly upstream only fishing so inherit in the streams of southern England notably the Test. That is not to say that some well known Scottish trout pioneers like Stewart or Stoddart circa 1880`s did not their say in what angling skills to use, usually about fishing an assortment of traditional wet flies in various ways, but we seem to have escaped most of the dogma associated with river trout fishing in the south. Nowadays it is very much a case of doing what the locals do. Normally you will find that you can get by with 9ft light rod, floating or ghost tip line, 3 to 5lb nylon (depends what size of trout are likely to be present) and suitable flies for the district. With this set up all you need to do is adjust your tactics to the time of year, the water height and to what hatch is happening where.

Having fished all the main Scottish rivers for trout with some frequency I speak from often hard won experience when I say remaining flexible and changing your strategy frequently is the main prerequisite for success. Take time to find out from local tackle shops what flies and fishing styles are working best, just charging in there and lashing away with an alien lure rarely works. For example you may find that while fishing the Tweed that heavy nymphs fished across and down may work best when the trout are lying low while a lightly cast upstream dry like an Adams may well take fish on a warm evening at dusk.

Extraordinary caddis on a strand of weed from the River Tweed.

Extraordinary caddis on a strand of weed from the River Tweed.

You will also find that there will be particular flies and fly tying styles associated with each river, for example the Greenwells Glory was tied originally as an olive imitation for the Tweed and there are the upright winged Clyde Style flies or the extremely sparsely dressed Tummel Flies. Take heed of their design because they are not random tyings, they are `flies to fit’ which have been evolved over a century or more.

So let me give a couple of examples of Scottish rivers and how we fish for their trout. First up is the already mentioned River Tweed. This is a fabulously rich gin clear pebble and gravel stream akin to a Ranaculus strewn southern chalkstream and the trout are cautious and challenging except perhaps at dusk as the shadows cross the water. A deep nymph trundled Czech style on short line across and down works exceptionally well on the shy wild trout that reside here. Sometimes a sacrificial nymph is used as a weighted tail fly and maybe a Hares Ear or a Black Spider will be used on a dropper above. Tweed trout will hit either. There are also some huge grayling present which only adds to the spice and look out for the sedge hatches, the river is strewn with caddis and it can be awe inspiring watching trout slash at emergers. Small dries will work especially on a dark dusk but the challenge is usually in getting them to take as there is so much natural food on offer.

magnificent river Tummel trout caught on a heavy nymph.

magnificent river Tummel trout caught on a heavy nymph.

My other favourite trout stream has to be the Tummel in Perthshire. Slightly smaller than its neighbour the Tay it has excellent wild trout and grayling and makes a superb place to summer fish again more into the evening unless the day is well overcast. Fishing here is usually as demanding as on the Tay but if you fish in summer and Autumn you won`t have to keep giving way to salmon anglers quite as much as on the Tay, the Tummel is an early salmon river. Sedge and Olives are prolific here especially the Large Dark Olive and hatches at times will carpet the water. Lightweight gear and judicious wading in the extremely fast flowing water are necessary and if dry flies like the Elk Hair Sedge or a dry March Brown fail to attract try weighted nymphs like the Pheasant Tail or the Hares Ear. The original Tummel flies were little more than a wisp of feather on a bare hook and its worthwhile looking at them but modern sparse nymphs fished upstream or across also do the business.

On both these rivers your tactics will of course vary according to the time of year but these are streams which can and do provide some fabulous trout up to 2.5lb or more. And it is always good to follow in the footsteps of some of those old Scottish greats and ply a traditional Greenwells Glory or a Tummel Special or two.


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