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|Wendy’s Big Trout|
Joe Whoriskey visits Glen Affric
Ever since walking the west highland way back in 1994 I have been a regular visitor to Scotland, I even for a short while became infected with that terrible disease known as Munroe bagging but that’s a story for another day.
Strange thing is that during my many trips to walk and climb I never fished. O occasionally I would see a burn or loch that took my fancy, and I would get that gnawing feeling in the pit of the stomach, but there was always a peak to top out or a hostel to reach before dark, and others rushing ahead, so the moment would pass.
However one location became a problem. Glen Affric is a stunningly beautiful place, where An Teallach Mountaineering Club has one of the finest huts, if not the finest hut (Strawberry Cottage) anywhere in these islands. This became the location for an annual long weekend outing. The problem was on first seeing it the burn in front of the hut caused that gnawing feeling to begin, and since I saw it every day of the weekend the feeling never passed.
Now on that first visit water levels where extremely low, and I contented myself with the rather desperate notion that even had I had a rod, fishing wouldn’t have been possible. Amazing what fabrications the human mind is capable of. But I did decide that should we return again, a rod would be packed.
Well we did return the following year but due to reasons I can’t quite remember, no rod was packed, and I had another weekend of stomach problems. Then I missed the next trip due to work commitments, so when Jim rang me from Glasgow in early 2006 to enquire if I would be free for the by now annual trip to Glen Affric I immediately said yes, came off the phone went upstairs dug out the 7 piece from the back of the tackle cupboard (wardrobe in spare room) and shoved it into the rucksack. This time there would be no mistake.
So a few months later I was sitting in the pub in Cannich, drinking Guinness, and catching up with the rest of the gang most of whom I hadn’t seen in almost two years. It was at this stage as tentative arrangements were already being made about where we would walk each day, that I made it clear I was opting out from all arrangements on Saturday as I was going to spend the day fishing.
On Saturday morning as the others put up lunches, studied maps, filled water bottles etc I relaxed with a mug of tea and a round of toast. My intention was to simply follow the burn up for a few miles, and then spend a leisurely day fishing back to the hut. It was at this point that Wendy suddenly announced that she might just go fishing with Joe instead of whatever wonderful mountain adventure the rest had planned.
Wendy had been fishing with me before, a trip up to island Lough some years ago which resulted in a pair of ruined walking boots, (my fault obviously) and a demonstration of how a fly rod could be used as a crochet hook to produce intricately woven casts.
I agreed that the company would be nice, making a mental note to pack an extra spool of nylon, and continued drinking my tea. When the rest had vacated the hut I started to pack a small day sack with fly boxes, reel, rod, spools of nylon etc, while Wendy packed waterproofs, and lunch.
Soon we were walking along the track parallel with the burn discussing life the universe and everything. By the time we had solved the middle east problem, discussed the merits of ham and cheese on the same sandwich, and laughed about girls peeing on each other’s boots in the desert (you don’t want to know) we were as far from the hut as I thought would make for a good days fishing.
We clambered down a bit of a bank and fought our way through the undergrowth until we got to the water’s edge. The burn looked in fantastic shape; the water level was much higher than on previous trips but running clean and clear. I quickly assembled the rod and tied up a cast of small wet flies to start.
As I started to repack my day sack Wendy asked if I thought there would be any trout here. I stopped what I was doing and looked into the burn, of course there would be trout, the place screamed out trout. I lifted the rod pulled a yard of fly line through the top eye and flicked the flies unto the water, I pointed out to Wendy how the current at this point funnelled into a deeper channel just below our feet and then fanned out again to join the shallower wider flow below.
Food items carried by the flow would be concentrated into a much smaller area in this channel making for easier pickings. So trout will be lying there waiting for food to come by she said? Exactly that’s why I drift my flies into the same area. Give me a go! I put the rod in her hand and showed her how to just flick the flies into the current, let them be carried around into the channel, then raise the rod slowly holding the flies in the optimum position for a second before flicking them back into the current.
I left her to get on with it while I finished repacking, however I had no sooner turned back to the job in hand when there was an excited shout from behind me. I looked round to see the rod bucking in Wendy’s hand and her with the biggest smile you’ve ever seen on her face. What do I do now she asked? I helped her land a beautiful fat little trout of about 5oz which, after admiring for a second, was returned safely to the water. This was repeated twice more before I eventually got packed up and could take charge of the rod again.
I fished down the next stream without joy, at the bottom of the stream there was a small pool with flecks of foam circling on the surface. “Look,” said Wendy, “all the food carried down by the stream will gather in that pool, put the flies in there.” I did as asked and was rewarded with a little picker of about 3oz. Now it was Wendy’s turn again, with a little help from me the flies found their way onto the water just at the neck of the pool, and almost immediately Wendy had that silly grin on her face again as the rod arched over. This time a beautiful trout of about ½ lb slid into my hand as I knelt on the gravel, again it was unhooked and released.
The same pattern was repeated over and over all day as we worked downstream. Every pool and glide was stuffed with eager trout, and although we both took our fair share Wendy’s always seemed a little bigger.
After fishing for 3 or 4 hours we came to a large pool with a steep high bank on our side, on top of the bank was a large rock where we sat and had lunch. The day was beautiful, a little overcast and there had been a couple of light showers but nothing serious. Now the sun shone and a stiff breeze kept the midges away.We lazed about on the rock for some time enjoying the sun and eating the much-discussed ham and cheese sandwiches.
After we packed up our lunch stuff we worked our way down the steep bank until we where about 10 foot above the water, from here I took a few casts across the pool and managed to entice a couple of ½ lbrs before passing the rod over to Wendy. By this stage I didn’t really expect other than what happened, out came the silly grin and once again she was into a decent trout, only this time it seemed better than usual. Up to now the best had been about ¾ lb but this was definitely better. Certainly there was no way it was going to be lifted up the 10 foot between us and the water. So I did the only thing I could, I slid down the bank edging closer and closer to the water which looked very black and decidedly deep.
I managed to find a small ledge at just about water level and knelt down on it, I asked Wendy to try and guide the trout in to where I was as I couldn’t reach out very far or I would lose my balance. As the line passed in front of me I reached for it and gently drew the trout towards me. As it came to the surface I saw it properly and what a trout it was, 1 lb plus and absolutely perfect in every detail. I slid it towards my outstretched hand, but just as I almost had it, the hook came free. For a fleeting moment I even considered making a grab for it, taking the chance that I would find out just how deep the pool was, but common sense kicked in just in time and I stayed where I was, watching as it slowly swam away.
“You let it go; you let my big trout go.” “No I didn’t it just got off, it happens sometimes.” Wendy wasn’t to be so easily placated. For the rest of the day in between catching trout, laughing at stupid jokes, falling in holes, and generally having a good time I would hear, “You did let it go didn’t you?”
As the light started to fade we made our way up to the track and walked the short distance back to strawberry cottage. There we made a triumphant entry assuring everyone that we would provide the fish course for the night’s dinner. We had kept four ½ lbrs which, after I had cleaned and gutted, Adrian cooked in the oven with some lemon and butter, and it was universally agreed that no fish had ever tasted better.
As we all sat around after dinner full of food and alcohol the conversation flowed easily, we talked of past weekends away, people we hadn’t seen for many years, walks we must do again, and then through the buzz of conversation I heard Wendy’s voice “He let my big trout go”.
Joe Whoriskey ,a keen Irish fly fisher, is fifty years of age and has been fishing for more than forty of those. His main passion is wild trout in river or Lough, although he also fishes for salmon occasionally. Joe firmly believes that any day spent fishing is a good day, trout caught are an added bonus and should never be used to measure success or failure.
When not fishing he works as an electrical engineer to pay for licences, permits, and to fund occasional overseas fishing trips.