Tackling Scottish Lochs can be very challenging to any angler, so Lesley kindly takes us through her top tips when approaching new waters. From understanding local food sources to choosing your location, this article outlines some of the most important tactics to use.
Whether you are a visiting angler or a seasoned river enthusiast the first time you take on the challenge of wild trout loch fishing you are bound to find it a little daunting. For a start many of Scotland’s larger lochs can look like vast stretches of seemingly featureless water with few obvious starting points. And because your quarry is an indigenous non shoaling fish you may fear that you will have your work cut out both in locating and catching a species born and bred to survive in an often hostile environment.
Thankfully there are a few simple steps you can take to put you on the right path or drift as the case may be! – When you arrive at a loch you have never fished before always take time to look for features which break up the uniformity of the shoreline. Wild trout look for three things in life; food, shelter and a place to reproduce. These prerequisites will be found in and around such areas as promontories, weed beds, skerries (rocky outcrops), islands, inflowing burns and ditches, fences, old submerged walls and so on. Trout will always be near the essentials necessary for them to survive so do not think of the water as one large mass, rather consider it as a series of micro environments with the biggest trout likely to be holding in the best locale.
And don’t forget to look at the surrounding topography, steep banks and hills/cliffs plunging straight into the water usually mean deep water while gently shelving fields or moorland mean corresponding shallows. In general wild browns will prefer the shallow water and lie predominantly in water up to about 10 to 15ft in depth. This is simply because the food sources lessen out in the cold sterile deeps so you need to plan your fishing accordingly.
Take note of what time of year you are fishing the loch, early on the trout are always closer to the shore to access both food and shelter whereas in midsummer their preferred haunts may have dried out with falling water levels and the trout may have moved further off. Toward the latter half of the season trout may well come in closer to the margins again to feed and also to follow their underwater path back to their natal stream. Thus late on big trout can be intercepted as they cruise toward or linger near their spawning burns.
Turning over a few stones at the edge of the loch as this will reveal the local food sources like caddis, snail and/or shrimp. If you find numerous shrimp in the shallows you are in for a treat as freshwater shrimp cannot survive in acidic waters and therefore your chosen loch is going to have rich alkaline based feeding available and potentially some goodly sized trout. If on the other hand you find stonefly nymphs (they look like mini scorpions!) and not much else then the water is likely to be more acidic and trout might be smaller and harder to come by. Of course exceptions to this rule do exist but in general terms the more abundant the feeding the bigger the trout population in numbers and/or size.
So having had a suitable recce of the water the next task is to choose suitable tackle and flies. If there is no one around to give advice, and on many of Scotlands remoter lochs you will not find anyone for miles, then plump for black or black and red flies first. For peaty waters have something orange or black and orange on the cast and for clear water have a bit of green or blue in the fly make up. We normally fish a minimum of 2 and up to 4 flies on the cast (leader and droppers) and while we use many of the traditional patterns like Zulu, Black Pennel, Invicta, Kate McLaren, Butcher, Bumbles, Clan Chief and Soldier Palmer we also use numerous variants of these so do a bit of research via local tackle shops and/or angling clubs first. Most locals use a 9ft to 10ft rod with WF7 line with either a floater or a ghost (midge) tip with 4 to 6lb leader; Maxima, Shakespeare or Drennan are popular as you can make droppers much more easily with these firmer types of mono.
If you are boat fishing try to keep your drift on a line parallel to the shore where you have seen the most suitable trout features for example lots of fences running into the water or several promontories which create little backwaters and eddies. If exploring the bank do likewise and be aware that in some of our richer shallower lochs you will need at least thigh waders to get out amongst the trout. And always wade down a shoreline as fast as you would go in a drifting boat, too many visitors spend too long rooted to the spot, have two or three casts and then move along so you keep covering new water.
There is an old adage (one of many!) that if trout are rising they are taking so keep ears and eyes wide open and aim to cover any fishy movement as quickly as you can. Browns are usually more cautious than rainbows but as long as you present your fly in a way as to not SCARE the trout you have a good chance of connecting. When the loch is quiet you may have to search out the trout at more depth with well sunk lure type flies but top of the water loch fishing is our norm.
There is of course no substitute for experience so make a date next year for Scotlands lochs and I`ll see you there…