The eminent nineteenth-Century physician, Edward Charlton, visited Assynt in 1853 and I have recently been fortunate to have read his journal which chronicled his exploits on this trip. It makes fascinating reading and whilst the language and social attitudes are dated I was left full of the feeling that the joy of angling is timeless.
Charlton visited and fished many of the lochs in which I have also been fortunate to cast a line and he certainly marvelled at the same majestic scenery that I too have enjoyed over the past seven years of visiting this part of Scotland.
He was particularly keen on fishing for â€˜Salmo feroxâ€™ as the ferox trout was known in the nineteenth century, and spent many successful and indeed unsuccessful hours being rowed about by â€˜burly hieland gilliesâ€™ in pursuit of this quintessentially highland fish. I do not know whether the numbers of ferox in Loch Assynt have changed since his day but he does seem to have had a more than satisfactory strike rate. What I enjoyed most about reading his recollections was the sense that he was, all those years ago and in such a different context, sitting in a boat with the same mix of expectation and anticipation that every modern-day ferox fisher has â€“ me included.
I have always had a fascination with ferox trout. Their rarity, size and ferocity combined with the wildness of the waters in which they swim sets them high on my piscatorial â€˜wish listâ€™. Sad as it will doubtless sound to any non-anglers reading this, my most-read book is that seminal work â€˜Ferox Trout and Arctic Charâ€™ by the redoubtable Ron Greer. Ron is nothing if not an enthusiast and I have been fortunate to speak to him and hear at first hand of his passion for ferox trout. His book is, in my opinion, a â€˜must readâ€™ for anyone interested not just in angling but in the natural history of Scotland.
Such is my passion for this fish that I bought myself a boat seven years ago prior to my return to Scotland so that I could indulge myself in its pursuit. Sadly, such has been the many other pressures on my time (including the many other forms of angling I enjoy), that I have not managed anything like the required time on the water to offer any reasonable chance of success â€“ but I was wonderfully fortunate five years ago to hook and land an 8lb Loch Laggan beauty; my only triumph to date.
Over a two year period I spent a good number of days on Loch Rannoch in search of its renowned ferox but sadly they eluded me â€“ so now my sights are firmly set on next year when, following my ferox sabbatical, I intend to rejoin my quest to extricate a large brown from one of my local Perthshire waters.
In the way of modern angling, there are many who wouldnâ€™t contemplate angling for ferox without the latest in sonar gear, down-riggers et al, but despite my own very limited success using more traditional methods, I would venture to suggest that our quarry will not have changed much since Edward Charltonâ€™s day when greenheart rods, horse-hair/silk lines and heavy wooden or brass reels were cutting edge â€“ so I am sure that success is not dependent on technology. Indeed my own trolling gear involves the use of old salmon rods, adapted to take modern multiplier reels (Iâ€™m a sucker for Abu Ambassadeurs) loaded with braid line and at the business end a home-made lead trolling weight and an eight inch trout mounted on a home-made multi-hook rig. When Iâ€™m not using dead-bait, Rapala lures are a weakness of mine as the multitude in my various tackle boxes will testify.
Despite those who love the use of downriggers, I believe that there is no need to always â€˜plumb the depthsâ€™ as ferox will often be up in the water. On the day I took my Laggan fish and witnessed another being caught to our boat within an hour of my good fortune, our baits were probably only fishing six-foot down.
Ron Greerâ€™s advice is simple â€“ be relentless! As he notes in his book, you are trying to put a lure in front of a three-foot fish which is moving in three dimensions in millions of gallons of water in the hope that your bait looks attractive, the fish is hungry and you are moving in the right direction at the time. An odds-on bet it isnâ€™t. But then you can console yourself during the many, many, many fishless hours that you are pursuing one of the last true remnants of the ice-age in wonderful surroundings (and hopefully in wonderful company) and whatâ€™s not to like about that?