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.