I have now sacked my two angling pals, Sean Elliott and Stewart Eastaugh. Despite numerous and arduous trips into various wild parts of this land they have failed to bring me enough luck to ensure I land a really decent wild trout from one of the many, many Scottish lochs we have fished together. Sure, we have caught an astonishing number of typical 3-to-the-pound brownies, and yes, they (Sean and Stewart) are delightful company and I suppose they have been more than competent camping companions both able to administer themselves in the often bleak Highland weather and put up with my snoring, lack of height and general poor demeanour but their karma has not conveyed itself to the local trout populations in order that one of the mightier fish has seen fit to attach itself to my line and this has become increasingly frustrating.
Not so Judith. Long suffering she may be, indulging my angling passion in a generous, wifely fashion admittedly with a slightly detached and bewildered air but she does bring me luck as she proved once more on a recent trip to Wester Ross.
As well as fishing, I like to climb hills. Judith is happy to support and participate in this too, so now that our children are beyond the need for constant supervision, we are free to explore the many wonderful and high parts of Scotland. In doing this I am normally accompanied by a very old, battered and olive drab coloured Berghaus Munro day sack remnant from my army days. This carries our hill-essentials; waterproofs, map, GPS, rations, stove, spare warm clothing. It also carries my Hardy Smuggler 5-weight rod and associated tackle.
Bought by the memsahib as a totally undeserved present for me in 1999, my Hardy Smuggler has been a faithful and constant companion since then. It travelled with me on most of my military deployments (save the Gulf in 2002) and saw active service in Canada and Northern Ireland as well as on rivers in Hampshire and North Yorkshire amongst others. The biggest fish it has ever been attached to was a giant Bull Trout of circa 10lbs in Alberta. It, in many ways thankfully, did not stay attached for very long but that was no fault of the Smuggler, merely a result of the Bull Trout’s aggressive desire not to meet a diminutive Scotsman. It has also tamed a number of cracking brown trout from the rich chalkstreams of England where it has bent manfully into the fight and allowed me the supreme pleasure of landing trout up to 4lbs. Mostly, however, it is pitted against the wild trout of my homeland, where its neat size and soft action mean it is both handy to lug into the hills and commensurate in dealing with trout as diminutive in comparison with their Southern cousins as I was when on the rugby pitch.
Last weekend Judith and I tackled a wee hill in Wester Ross. I say wee because it wasn’t, and whilst it was a mere 600 or so metres in height which did not compare impressively with An Tealloch (which, barring the low cloud, we were meant to be climbing) it was steep and demanding enough for a weekend off. It also had a number of inviting lochs around the 250m contour which meant I packed my Smuggler in case Judith needed a rest. She didn’t but she let me cast a line nevertheless. What a girl she is!
Despite the warm (good), buffeting (bad) wind, the first loch yielded a typical array of feisty finned residents, which ranged from a few ounces to rather more than a few ounces. They were, however, possessed of the brightest most crimson spots I have come across in 30 plus years of angling wonderful fish in wonderful surroundings.
After an hour of Jude reading her Kindle in the sun, I sensed that I was pushing my luck and so wound in my line having taken and released fifteen or so of these lovely wee fish. I broke down the rod back into its seven pieces and tucked it back in my rucksack and we were off down the hill towards civilisation.
Our route took us past a small, unassuming lochan which I had originally wanted to fish but which I had decided was in the â€˜youâ€™ve pushed your luck too farâ€™ category. As we walked along its shallow shore we were treated to a large number of beautiful electric blue damsel flies as well as some magnificent specimens of their larger brethren, flitting about in the sedge-grass margins. I kept stopping and marvelling at the rich biodiversity on display. Judith after 20-years of married bliss could easily recognise the glint in my eye. It had to be worth a dozen or so casts¦Go on she insisted. What a girl she is!
I set up my rod and two-fly cast again, this time putting on a size 12 damsel nymph on the point. It had to be worth a chuck¦
In fact just two. On the second cast my line went wonderfully tight and a super brown leapt into the air. I had a fish on that was capable of taking line and making a good fight of it! I suspect that Judith noticed all the subtle signs of a good fish on such as me bellowing to get the camera and to bring her bahoochie to where I was so that she could capture the action like a piscatorial Kate Aidie.
I won’t dwell on the details of the fight but they are etched on my mind forever. It was not a foregone conclusion by any means with a 4lb leader and no net. Whilst the margins of the loch were shallow, the bank edge was vertical rather than sloped, so I had no opportunity of easily beaching my leviathan. Once it was spent from the fight I accepted that a soaking wet walking boot was a small price to pay and jumped into the loch in order to scoop my prize out onto the heather. Relief and elation wrapped into one!
It took many minutes of TLC to allow my prize to recover and swim off to rule its underwater kingdom once more and I was relieved to see it was no worse for wear for its brief interlude on dry land. An absolute highlight of the summer not the largest trout I have caught by any means, but rare enough due to its wildness to ensure its place in my angling memory.
Thank you Judith for indulging me. Can we go again?