Gently, I dug the tip of the Spruce paddle into the gravel, and pushed the Canoe out into open water. The glass 16 footer, glided, with almost effortless ease, out over the gravel shelf and onto the dark, glaciated waters of the Highland Loch. This high lake, I had known and fished since childhood – and it had yielded many fine Brown trout, to my home tied flies.
Digging the paddle deeper, into the mirror flat, frigid waters – I pushed the old Canoe further out, into the bay. Already my knuckles were chilled by the snow fed waters. Still, it was early, and the rising sun would add warmth to the surface layers, and hopefully, start a hatch.
Warming to the rhythmic, steady strokes now, the well balanced craft, seemed to fly across the unrippled surface. As we moved, we shattered the mirrored image of snow capped peaks, and solid ranks of ancient Pines, reflected in the loch’s visage. This water was high – a mountain lake – and a full 1 mile wide by 3 long. It lay in the shadow of 4 mountains – and had been formed by
the last, thawing remnant, of the Ice age.
Well out into the bay by now, I drew my paddle from the water. The cold, clear, droplets, running down the varnished shaft, and across the back of my hand. I scanned the water before me. Not a rise, or a trout to be seen.
The sun was higher now, and already warming my back. Hatches I knew – usually took place fairly early in the day, on this piece of water – but still, I couldn’t detect the tell tale ring of a rise.
As I scanned the water’s surface further, a long, low, wailing call, came across from the far shoreline. I turned, and saw the distant, grey, outlines, of Red throated Divers. Again their strange, unworldly cry, drifted out over the surface of the water. I wondered whether they were feeding now – or had found fish?. They had that unerring ability!.
Known locally as “Rain Geese” – because legend says, they always call before a downpour – I was rather hoping the Old Wives tale was wrong. A soaking was the last thing I wanted!.
A sudden breeze picked up, and gently rocked the Canoe beneath me. A ripple always made this high lake fish well. Inspired – I took up my fly rod from the thwart where it rested, and tied on my ‘Old Faithful’ – ‘The Invicta’. A wet Sedge pattern – this tiny twist of fur and feather, had probably brought more Trout over the gunwale, then any other in my fly box. Passing the 2lb tippet through the eye of the hook, and with a quick half blood knot – I was paying out line from the reel, and casting!.
The Canoe drifted with the strengthening breeze – and I was happy to go with it. The waters here are Gin clear, and a wind rippled surface can just help to deceive a hungry Wild Brown.
The little #6 rod was a joy to cast – and flicked the tiny Invicta, out and across the water, with the speed of an Adder. I watched the fly skip and skitter across the waves. Every moment expecting the savage take of a native Brown.
Hearing wing beats overhead, I looked up to see that the ‘Rain Geese’ had decided to join me, in my bay. Clearly things weren’t so good at the other end of the loch!.
On stiff, set wings, the four birds skimmed onto the water’s surface, paddles down. These ungainly creatures always seem more at home on the water – than in the air. No sooner down, than they set about fishing. This is something that I always enjoy watching – but makes me somewhat nervous. It would be very easy for a diving bird such as these, to become entangled in an angler’s fly line, or leader. I for one, do not relish the idea of unhooking a large, wet, angry bird, with a beak like a dagger!.
I marvelled at the ease with which the ‘Rain Geese’ dived and fished – although so far – they demonstrated no more success than I!.
The ‘Rain Goose’
My fly was fishing over clean, clear gravel now, and in about 4 feet of water. One particularly large and hansom diver, ducked under, rather too close to my line for comfort. Convinced that he might become entangled, I quickly started to strip line back into the Canoe. Then – it happened!.
With a tremendous wrench, the rod tip whipped down and touched the surface of the water, and the #6 line screamed off the reel!.
Under normal circumstances, this would have been music to any Fly fishers ears – but not to a Fly fisher convinced he had hooked 10lbs of angry, wet bird!. My thoughts were wide and varied – but centred around the problem of dragging a ‘Rain Goose’, over the gunwale of a narrow tippy Canoe. Well that – and not ending up looking like the victim of a knife attack, when coming into contact with that beak!.
The fly line had long since vanished from view, and I was now well in to the Dacron backing. The alloy drum of the little reel clearly visible – and it was time to call a halt to this Olympian run – and apply the breaks!.
I clamped the palm of my hand hard to the reel’s whirring drum – and hoped for the best. The little rod bowed. The Dacron hummed – and up out of the water, surged the biggest, finest, most beautiful Wild Brown Trout, I had ever seen!.
I don’t know which emotion was the stronger. Relief,that it was a fish – and not a diver as I had thought. Joy – at the sight of the fish of a lifetime. Or panic – that such a beast might throw the tiny home tied fly!, ( No. I know which. It was panic!!) ‘Rain Geese’ now forgotten, I set about the Cat and Mouse game of trying to tire this mighty trout.
My best fish from this high lake, had been a midge over 3lb – and I knew that this one was better. Way better!. He ran deep – and shook his head like a pup with a slipper. That was fine with me. The last thing I wanted was him up thrashing on the surface. The bay was clear of stumps and weed, that I knew, from years of casting and paddling here. The time seemed to stand still – but gradually, the steady pressure of the little Carbon rod, was taking it’s toll on the fish.
He cruised under the hull of the Canoe twice – and then for the first time in an age, the tippet/fly line connector, came into view. To the anglers reading this account – I will not have to explain the feeling, on catching first sight of a big fish, as he comes quietly out of the depths. This trout was simply breathtaking!. Everything about him was perfection.
He beat his tail one final time, and dived under the hull – but I now knew he was beaten. His strength was spent – and as he rose to the surface on his side – pectoral fin in the air – I slipped the net beneath him, and he was mine!.
Trembling like an Aspen, I lowered the fish into the bottom of the Canoe. The ‘Rain Geese’ on the shoreline wailed once more – but I had no interest in what they had to tell. The object of my fascination lay before me.
Dipping my hands into the loch water, I leaned forward and gently held my prize. It was a fin perfect, red spotted, Wild Highland Brown Trout. His flanks were the colour of beaten copper in sunlight, and his back,as dark as the mountain slopes above.
The tiny,home tied Invicta – that had fooled this old fish, where others had failed – now lay in the net. Steady pressure, clearly having been the only thing to keep it in place. I shivered when I thought how easily the fish might have ejected it.
Hooking the weighing scales under the rim of the net, the mighty Brown tipped them at 5lb 3 oz, exactly. I was stunned!. I had thought he was good – but this exceeded even my expectations.
I held him in my wetted hands one more time. I watched his gaping jaw mouthing the air, and the sunlight gleam off his red speckled sides.
I couldn’t begin to guess how many Summers he had seen. How many Caddis hatches. He was not for the dinner table.
Cupping my hands beneath him – I lowered the trout over the side of the Canoe, and into his own element. His gills moved slowly, as he breathed once more – oxygen surging into his tired flanks.
I felt the strength return to his body – and with a double beat of his broad tail, he swam from my hands, and was swallowed up by the loch’s dark waters. I wondered if we would ever meet again. But it mattered not. For once was enough!.
As I took up the paddle to head for shore, a light shower began to fall. From somewhere in the distance, a Rain Goose called.
14 Comments Add yours
Nice story about landing a big old Brown. I enjoyed that. Never had the opportunity to try any reservoir fishing like that. Sounds so different than the small trout streams Im used too. Id probably be lost.
Scolopax, I loved it! I am a big fan of the Brown Trout, for their subtlety, their difficulty, and their sheer savagry. I love bird hunting greatly, but my first love is fly-fishing. I have actually written a book about some of my fly-fishing experiences, which is going to be published. Again, you are a great writer and your stories are captivating. I look forward to reading more from you. Thanks for sharing!Andy
Bravo!! Bravo!!’ Becasse–you are a natural-born story teller. Nicely phrased, dramatic, great finish.Question: Is your rain goose a near relative of the common loon of the northern US and Canada? They sure look similar although the coloration if quite different. Does anyone know about this?
I answered my own question with a quick search. Here it is the Great Northern Diver and is a relative of your bird there. Aint’ Google grand?
Bill, I think that you would do just fine on bigger waters, like Lakes and Lochs. The trick I have found, is just to divide the expanse of water up – rather like the pools on a river. Julian.
Andy, Thanks for you kind comments. I just hope that people find my scribblings entertaining, as this writing business is all new to me.I concur on the Brown trout. They are sublime!.As close to perfection as nature ever reached.
Hi Walter, Yep. Quite correct. The Red Throated Diver is a close relative of the Loon. The colouring is somewhat different – as is there goose like call. Such a beautiful bird!. One of my favorites.
Julian:Is that Schiehallion in your picture? Lovely story. And if it is, then the last time I fly-fished may have been in the same loch. No such luck as you, though.Cheers.Andrew
Hi Andrew, Ah no. The Mountain in the photo is Cairngorm. Further to the east than Schiehallion.Glad you enjoyed the story.Scolopax.
Julian,I found your site, and this post. Wonderful! I don’t have (take?) the time to fish much, but your story inspires me. Surely this summer I will take more time. We’re right here on the headwaters of the Rio Grande. I should be out there!You’re one good story teller, weaving a great web, and what a beautiful location. And as for that Highland beef: I started with one cow, and 2 years in a row she gave me girls, which is fine for my desire to slowly grow a “fold.” Alas, just 2 weeks ago, she gave me a boy! And so I have 18 months to wait before I finally have the prized Highland Beef on our table…gg
Julian: sorry, took a while to get back to here… I have actually spent an Easter weekend in an igloo on the backside of Cairngorm by Loch Avon… that view is a lot less familiar to me.Which direction are we looking onto the mountain?bestA.
Andrew, You are kidding me?!.If you were in an Igloo by Loch Avon – were you out with the Glenmore Lodge people?. Wouldn’t you have been below Ben Macdui?.The view shown in my story, is taken from the Coylumbridge, Glenmore, side of Cairngorm.Loch Avon is a wonderful wild place – and the Loch itself is supposed to hold Char – although I’ve never fished it. The Victorian artist Edwin Landseer loved that area, and drew much of his inspiration from its wild landscape. Slant’e, Julian.
Julian: no joke. It was during my first year of college — and with a friend who had already been offered a place on a K2 expedition. I had been down to Loch Avon before and visited the Shelter Stone. But we went wanting to explore the valley on skis… the snow was wretched for x-c skiing but deep with some nice ice veins. So Jon decided that instead of pitching the tent, we should make an igloo. And stayed in it for three days before the weather closed in and we bailed out. Hiking back out in a whiteout offered the opportunity to learn several lessons at once.But no, we were on the shore directly below the crags behind Cairngorm.It is a lovely, lovely spot — and I gather Queen Victoria had herself carried to that spot all the way from Balmoral.bestA.
Andrew, This grows more bizarre!.If I might ask – where abouts in the U.S. are you – and were you born in Scotland?.Both Lanseer, and Prince Albert, spent the night at the Shelter stone,(but not in the Biblical sense). Prince Albert would head out with his Ghillies from there, at dawn, to stalk Red deer in the surrounding corries.I was last up there about 20 years ago – but from the office where I sit and type, I can see Sgurran Duhb Mhor – which is between Glen Feshie, and Glen Einach – both but a Caber toss from Loch Avon.Julian.