CATCH OF THE DAY
Michael Wigan and his son find an undisturbed little haven where wild brown trout can flourish
Michael Wigan rejoices at catching brown trout in the wilderness
Sun and high pressure had been unrelenting for three long weeks. Salmon nosed into rivers and assumed defensive positions. Anglers waited out the middle of the day, returning to the water when the sun had moved sideways and heat was fading. Catches were uninteresting. It had been a dry Spring.
Wild brown trout do not mind a dry spring. It means the level of the loch retreats and they are forced more into the middle, losing the feeding on the edges. The moors around were wakening. The bog cotton formed a white moving sheet surfing the peat.
A pair of teal squirted from a hidden corner. Their ducklings are hatched, maybe sheltering nearby under cover. Sand martins were swooping, common sandpipers jinking down the shoreline. The smell was of vegetation coming alive. Outside, a greenshank’s wild cry carried on the wind.
My son and I squelched over the bog to a loch nestled into a skyline. A boisterous wind was ruffling the water end-to-end. One bank was nice wading, with soft, underwater grass and occasional round boulders like musket balls. You could see down forever.
We had three-fly casts and six pound leaders. We started down one bank. I saw him in front, casting with a straight back, double-hauling to reach the darker mid-loch gully. After a long time I spied him far off bending on the shore. We held up arms, re-contacting from the mental other-world anglers slip into whilst bank-fishing down a loch-side.
After a while we re-convened, sharing notes. The trout were not rushing our way. He had a small one which leapt three times. The bigger one bored in and zipped around near the bottom. He had killed it. The tail is big on a Caithness trout, big enough to thwack a leader and bust it if the angler hasn’t accorded the nylon-strength deserved. The big tail, wrap-around eyes, round mouth, and lustrous spotting are what you notice. I rested up while he fished on. There was a small hut, corrugated but sturdy, roof wired to sunk posts. I was in a place where a procession of past anglers had seen the same birds, the same faraway encircling mountains, gazed into the same pellucid water. There were records of individual presences scored in the panelling.
Two anglers were both called A. Smith. Some entries went far back. Someone had incised a leaping trout in the wood. It was a significant loch with history, containing significant trout.
My son directed me to a point where the wading was rougher but the water was deeper. I lifted the rod point to skip the flies on the catching breeze when the line stopped. This fish was not skittish nor demonstrative. It took the point of the rod near the water. I backed towards the shore. Between the vertical peat bank and the water’s edge was a narrow, stony strip. That is where, eventually, his silvery body surrendered.
The flesh was pink. My son, wife and I ate pink trout that evening. He had asked, whilst we made the journey far out onto the peatlands, what was the point of such areas, with few birds, where the deer had been culled hard down and the sheep put off? Places where the fox and the raven reign.
There was the answer. In a pink-fleshed thick body. Its habitat had not been changed, toyed with. Land use arguments meant nothing to this lonesome water. Being on a skyline, nothing drained in. The loch was spring-fed.
A hundred years ago trout anglers tussled over access to these prized fishing lochs as salmon anglers do now for famous beats. They could hunt good fish in dry weather. A hundred years ago they knew a trick or two.
“The big tail, wrap-around eyes, rounded mouth, and lustrous spotting are what you notice