So, back in October I found myself packing my bags and relocating to the West coast of Scotland. That was an unexpected turn of events.
I was overjoyed, of course, to have found work in forestry (which is what I’ve been gunning for since leaving university four years ago), and to be moving to an undeniably beautiful part of the world that I’m very fond of, but inevitably there has been a mountain of stress to battle through: starting a new job, getting used to a new town, helping my long-suffering partner to settle, finding a place to live, for god’s sake. And this is all before having to come to terms with the fact that the chub and barbel of the Swale, and the familiar pools and riffles of my local River Wharfe, are now over five hours’ drive away. Fuck.
The change of scenery has brought with it the need for a drastic change in my fishing methods. My winter days by the water are normally full of tungsten nymphs or delicate trotted floats, but this year they have been replaced by heavy leads, broomstick-like rods, and hooks that wouldn’t look out of place in a butcher’s shop window.
There’s a distinct lack of coarse fishing ‘North of the wall’ to tide me over between trout seasons, but there’s a veritable glut of sea angling opportunities to explore. The loch on my doorstep, Etive, can be a dour place in the colder months, but a chunk of mackerel or herring heaved out into the icy depths has scored for me with the local spurdogs on more than a few occasions. I can’t say it’s my favourite kind of sport – there can be some excruciatingly long waits – but there’s a definite satisfaction when the rod does finally thump over and your strike is met with, even on the weapons-grade gear that shore fishing demands, stubborn resistance. And the fish themselves, though they are devils to deal with on the bank due to their constant attempts to impale you on their poisonous spines, are true wonders of nature to an angler used to mucking about in small becks. They average at a very agreeable four or five pounds, and their sleek form, slate grey skin and glowing eyes give them a positively primeval look which it is impossible not to be fascinated by. Add to this their potential to hit nearly twenty pounds in weight, and it’s definitely enough to focus the mind.
Even the biteless hours can be a delight on a calm, clear morning. Where else in the UK can you stand and marvel at the snow-capped peaks while high above you two types of eagle soar towards the stratosphere, then glance back down across the glassy surface of the loch to see an otter slowly weaving its way along the kelp line towards you? Enough said.
Away from Loch Etive, up until Christmas (when the water temperature took a nosedive) I enjoyed brisk sport with shoals of saithe (coalfish) from the rock marks around the nearby town of Oban. In complete antithesis to the spurdog fishing, this was an all-action game provided I caught the tide right, but the the fish were mainly small – more often under the pound than over. Not that this mattered of course, because on the right tackle they were tenacious little scrappers, happy to chase down all manner of lures or inhale a float-fished sandeel, and although there is undoubtedly more of a sense of achievement in landing a decent ‘spur’, after several hours watching my tip staunchly refuse to move, an hour or two messing about on the rocks could provide a welcome tonic!
Due to the awkward timing of my arrival, just after the close of the trout season, I am yet to take advantage of the abundant wild trout fishing which the area has to offer. I did, however, manage to fit in a day’s fishing on a nearby stocked lake not long after my arrival, determined to flex my fly rod once more before stashing it away for the winter.
It was a typically ‘dreich’ late October morning when I pulled up at the fishery – grey and gloomy, constantly drizzling and with an unpredictable wind that whipped this way and that, sending up spirals of autumn leaves.
Of the three lochs on offer, two epitomised everything I dislike about ‘stockie bashing’: featureless, uniform discs of water tailor made for the cast-strip-repeat brigade. Not my style at all. The third loch, though, was a different animal altogether. Hidden among a thicket of beech, birch, and alder, this was a dark, reed-fringed pool dotted with lilies and surrounded by trees which added considerable risk to every backcast (probably explaining why I had the place to myself).
I could see fish milling around a few feet below the surface, but they didn’t seem to be ‘doing’ anything in particular. A pair of buzzers slowly figure-of-eighted mustered no response. Likewise a black klinkhammer flicked beside the pads failed to stir so much as a fin, while a brief search with a black pennel produced one half-hearted swirl. It was clear that the fish weren’t interested in chasing down a meal, so I tied on a sparsely dressed sawyer PTN and allowed it to drift on the breeze under an indicator at roughly the depth I thought my quarry would be hovering. Sure enough, within a few minutes the pink dot flickered, and I lifted into a good fish – a fully-finned rainbow around the three pound mark – which provided me with an entertaining tussle among the lily stems and sunken branches before succumbing to the net. I soon followed this with two smaller fish before rounding up with another good one, then headed home feeling satisfied with my efforts on a difficult day.
Now, with a whole winter having passed since I last waved my fly rod in anger, we are within touching distance of the new season. Reels have been oiled, lines treated, fly boxes restocked, and I’m looking forward to a spring filled with exploration and adventures in my new home.