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A Dram And A Dream Of Fishing

Written by Bruce Sandison

thumb Fishing and whisky are inextricably linked. The rivers and lochs that nurture the salmon and trout we love also nurture the peat and barley used to make uisgebeatha, the water of life. In Scotland, you can match a malt to where you are fishing and these notes will help you to do so.

The rivers and lochs of Edinburgh and the Lothians are splendid, as is the preeminent lowland whisky Glenkinchie, elegant smooth and smoky. The distillery lies south of Edinburgh and draws its water from Kinchie Burn, a tributary of Humbie Water which flows into the River Tyne. The Tyne was famous as a sea-trout stream and whilst these fish are still caught, the river is fished mostly for brown trout today.

For sport afloat, head for Gladhouse Reservoir, 400 acres in extent and my favourite Lothian water. This is really a hill loch as it lies on the skirts of the Moorfoot Hills at an altitude of 900ft. Outboard motors are not allowed so be prepared for heavy oar work or pack a strong friend and sufficient Glenkinchie to keep him encouraged. Trout average l2oz in weight and fish of over 31b are taken most seasons. Tempt them with Black Pennel, Grouse & Claret, and Cinnamon & Gold.

North from Glasgow is Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, the 'bristling country'. Wonderful single malts are shaped at the Loch Lomond Distillery at Alexandria. The Loch Lomond malt is light and graceful, whilst Inchmurrin and Inchmoan are named after islands in the loch. But the prize here has to be Auchentoshan, distilled by Morrison Bowmore. Its aroma is achieved by a unique triple distillation, a process that creates a dream-like malt.

Loch Lomond is also dream-like. The system produces 1,000 salmon and 1,500 sea-trout most seasons. Salmon average 8lb in weight, sea-trout 2lb 8oz. Boat fishing brings best results and the most popular fly fishing drifts are at the shallow, south end; out from Balloch, where the River Leven leaves the loch on its journey to the Firth of Clyde; and from Balmaha, on the south-east shore.

The greatest concentration of Scottish single malt distilleries is in Speyside and Moray. This area also offers some of the finest game fishing as well: the fast flowing Spey, the Rivers Findhorn and Deveron and, for brown trout, historic Lochindorb on desolate Dava Moor, the ideal place to introduce beginners to the gentle art of fly fishing.

A focal point for fishing and distilling is Ballindalloch estate. Here you'll find superb angling on the Spey and its longest tributary, the River Avon, and two best-loved malts, Cragganmore and the world-renowned Glenfarclas distillations. Cragganmore has a floral fragrance and a malty taste. All the Glenfarclas distillations are magnificent, from the straw-gold of the 10-year-old, to the stunning 30-year-old ABV malt.

In 1892, William Grant built a new distillery at Balvenie on the banks of the Fiddich. There are five "partners" in The Balvenie box and it is hard to chose which to try. The Balvenie Single Barrel is drawn from a single cask of a single distillation. No more than 350 hand-numbered bottles are produced. The Balvenie Vintage Cask is exceptional.

wff-7-31-2012-7-06-33-AM-2007may211179772530edradour distillery pitlochry Also guaranteed to please is The Macallan, described by whisky expert Michael Jackson as the "Rolls-Royce of single malts". The Macallan is distilled at Craigellachie, close to where the River Fiddich flows into the Spey. The company has an excellent salmon beat. Offer the salmon Silver Stoat's Tail, Garry Dog and Willie Gunn. For sea-trout, try black Pennell, Peter Ross, and Mallard and Claret.

In Skye you will find the wettest rain in Scotland and Talisker, one of Caledonia's most distinctive malts. Drinking Talisker is always a pleasure, but pleasure with Skye salmon comes only after heavy rain. A number of streams can provide sport. The most productive is the River Snizort, a narrow river where light tackle and flies fished "fine and far off" bring results. Try Green Highlander, Kate McLaren and Garry Dog.

The best of Skye is to be found amidst its trout lochs. The principal water, the Storr Loch to the north of Portree, contains some super-large specimens. North again will bring you to little Loch Mealt, notable for its unique strain of Arctic char, descendants of fish which have survived there since the end of the last Ice Age. Bushy patterns of fly work best, Ke-He, Soldier Palmer, Black Zulu and Blue Zulu.

Two fine malts welcome you to the Island of Mull: Tobermory and Ledaig. Tobermory is lightly peated and medium dry while Ledaig is more intense, with a peppery kick. The island's fishing "wares" include the chance of salmon in the Lussan and Forsa Rivers, and trout fishing on the Mishnish Lochs and Loch Frisa.

On Islay, there is whisky and fishing enough to last several lifetimes. The isle has eight distilleries, all of which produce spectacular malts. When trout fishing on Loch Gorm in the north west, or on Loch Finlaggan near Ballygrant, fill your flask with magical Bowmore. Sir Harry Lauder, the Scottish comedian, celebrated here with a "decent dram" in 1930 when he landed the only salmon ever taken from the loch.

For me, the most splendid Scottish malt is Lagavulin, distilled in the south east of Islay near the ruins of Dunyveg Castle. This is a majestic malt, bottled when 16 years old, redolent with the taste of peat smoke, salt-tinged, robust and wonderful. The final step of our journey takes us over the Sound of Islay to Jura, "the island of the deer", where you will find myriad trout lochs amid some of Scotland's most dramatic scenery. The Isle of Jura malt, an extraordinary whisky, will help you catch them, and add miles to your casting distance.

Neil M Gunn (1891 to 1973), a Scottish author who knew more about whisky and fishing than most, must have the last word. The opening chapter of his book, Highland River, describes a small boy catching a huge salmon in a narrow stream. No angling writer I have read matches the power of Gunn's prose. He was equally eloquent about whisky, "embodying in it the tempest of thunder and the sweetness of innocence, a work of art which is always repeated yet always unique." SlĂ inte, sonas agus beartas!


Would anglers please note that free bank fishing on Lochindorb is no longer allowed due to litter and anti-social behaviour by certain groups of anglers. Permission of the owners MUST be sought before fishing Lochindorb.


Bruce Sandison is a writer and journalist and author of nine books, including the definite anglers' guide, 'The Rivers and Lochs of Scotland' which is being revised and updated prior to republishing.

He contributed to 'Trout & Salmon' for 25 years and was angling correspondent for 'The Scotsman' for 20 years. Sandison writes for the magazine 'Fly Fishing and Fly Tying' and provides a weekly angling column in the 'Aberdeen Press & Journal'.

His work, on angling, Scottish history and environmental subjects, has appeared in most UK national papers, including 'The Sunday Times', 'The Telegraph', 'The Daily Mail', 'The Herald', 'Private Eye', 'The Field' and in a number of USA publications.

Sandison has worked extensively on BBC Radio. His series 'Tales of the Loch' ran for 5 years on Radio Scotland and was also broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and on BBC World Service. His series, 'The Sporting Gentleman's Gentleman' and his programme 'The River of a Thousand Tears', about Strathnaver, established his reputation as a broadcaster.

Sandison has had extensive coverage on television. He wrote and presented two series for the BBC TV Landward programme and has given a number of interviews over the years on factory-forestry, peat extraction, wild fish conservation and fish farming.

Sandison is founding chairman of 'The Salmon Farm Protest Group', an organisation that campaigns for the removal of fish farms from Scottish coastal and freshwater lochs where disease and pollution from these farms is driving wild salmonid populations to extinction.

Bruce Sandison won 'Feature Writer of the Year' in the Highlands and Islands Press Awards in 2000 and in 2002, and was highly commended in 2005. Bruce lives near Tongue in Sutherland with his wife Ann.

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