Wednesday May 18, 2016

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Sheltered Rocky Place

Written by Brian Morrison

thumbIt's that time of year again- the time that I find the most difficult to bear. The long closed season is almost at an end and I'm beginning to find the “cabin fever” insufferable. It's around about now that  I start pouring over maps to plan some adventures for the season ahead.

Perhaps one of the more fascinating elements of looking at maps of Scotland are the Gaelic place names. The use of hyphens and accent notes above some letters give the names an ancient and slightly ethereal look to them- as if written by some unearthly race that abandoned this world long ago. Of course, the meanings

behind the names are slightly less divine. Like place names given by many other cultures, they're often just descriptive lines of text depicting the local topography or environment. For this reason you'll come across many bodies of water that have the same or similar names. Search any OS map and you'll surely find lochs with the names Caol (narrow) or Gaineammh (sandy) or Dubh (black).

A few years ago Dave, Darren and I spent a day wandering and fishing the lochs near Forsinaird. At midday we stopped by a loch to have some lunch. I noticed two swans on the opposite side of the water- nothing odd with that? Except for the fact that in thirty years of exploring Caithness and Sutherland,  this was the first time I had ever seen swans at any of the lochs we'd visited. That evening when I was recording some details in the fishing diary I noticed that the loch was called Lochan Ealach Beag which roughly means “little lochan abound by swans”. Seeing the name in print gave me a slight chill. It served as a stark reminder of one's own insignificance. I realised that hundreds of years before I came along, there must have been a little loch here with resident swans and I dare say that hundreds of years after I have left this world there will still be a “little lochan abound by swans”.

That's not to say that I think all Scottish loch names are entirely fitting, nor indeed do I find that they always do a place justice. Last September Darren and I were fishing a loch in North Sutherland. It was late on Sunday afternoon and the fishing was beginning to slow up. It felt too early to finish - not least as I knew that not only would these be the last few casts of the weekend, they'd be the last casts of the season. In a desperate bid to prolong the day I reached for the map to see what water was close by. Unfortunately for us we'd fished all the lochs in the vicinity that day- all that is, except for two rather unassuming blue specks on the map about 1km from where we stood. Knowing it was that or nothing we made our way towards them.
The name of this loch roughly translates as "sheltered rocky place".  I suppose that in some respects this name is quite apt- it was indeed very rocky and was low-lying enough that I could very well believe that it would offer some shelter from wind. Somehow though, “sheltered rocky place” doesn't quite cut it for me. The name (for me at least) conjures an image of a high-sided featureless bowl – quite the opposite of the enchanting picture that met with us as we made the last few tricky steps towards the waters edge. The shear beauty of the place took our breath away.

When we approach a loch for the first time there's an automated, almost subconscious process that happens as we survey the water. We scan for signs of any subtle features like weed beds, promontories or rocky patches that will inevitably be good fish-holding areas that we may exploit.

The problem with this loch was we were spoiled for choice- the whole place looked like one big fish holding area- a myriad of rocky nooks and sparse weed breaking the surface over three quarters of the loch. So spoiled were we in fact that we couldn't even decide which way to tackle the loch and each headed-off in the opposite direction.

On first glance I thought the water looked dead. From my position I could hear Darren chuntering on about rising fish but I could see none. When, after five minutes of fishing I'd seen Darren land three and I'd yet to even see a fish let alone encourage one to rise to the fly I decided a change of position was in order and I made my way around the south side of the loch. First cast from my new location resulted in a fish quickly followed by a few offers. It was then that I noticed fish rising further out so began to wade. Wading was tricky but not impossible. With care I made my way out towards the centre of the loch. That is when my fortunes changed for the better.

My arrival coincided with the beginnings of a rise. The water was covered in a medium-sized species of bibionidae but it wasn't necessary to attempt to imitate this- the fish were looking up and would splash at anything we put by their noses. I took them on a wingless Wickham's and a Kehe- Darren having made his way to the same area was having the same success to a mixture of patterns. Cast after cast in every direction produced a reaction.1

The takes were aggressive, so aggressive in fact that we each foul-hooked a couple of fish during the madness which seemed to last for an hour. I can recall very few times before where we have been able to hook so many fish in such a small area of water. I lost count how many times we had a double hook up- hard to believe that this was 18:00 in the evening just two days before the autumnal equinox.

Conscious that time was of the essence we walked in the now failing light with the silhouettes of mountains as our backdrop towards the smaller lochan which connects to the main body of water via a four foot-long burn. This little water is almost entirely consumed with weed but still stuffed full of equally accommodating (if slightly smaller) trout as the main loch. I disturbed dozens in the margins as I walked around the shore. Unfortunately time had run out and we were unable to explore this loch fully- we had to leave.

A few last casts on the main loch before heading for the car produced a fish for each of us- 59 in total for our little session.

Maybe it was part of the magic of this little loch. As if under some spell- Darren and I can't agree what time we actually arrived here. We both have differing accounts of when we actually set off from the car. What we both can agree on however is that it was hard to pull ourselves away from this inappropriately named place- from this magical place- from this magical, wonderful, “sheltered rocky place”.

Brian Morrison has been fishing and fly tying for nearly thirty years and is happiest whilst tripping through the heather in northern Sutherland  by the side of some unpronounceable loch.


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