Fly Fishing for Wild Brown Trout

Day 1

At the unearthly hour of 06:00 I set off and picked up George at his house. The drive North was a long five hours but the company was good and the miles soon rolled by, although my traveling companion wasn't too pleased when we didn't stop in The Garrison for a MacDonald's breakfast.

Day 1 George beside car in car park

It was 11:45 am when we finally parked the car and set off with thirteen miles ahead of us. It would take longer to walk this than it did to drive the one hundred and ninety miles to get here. The first part is a pleasant walk up the estate drive through a grassy meadow dotted with sheep and young lambs, passed the gate to the gardens which are open to the public and passed the holiday cottages. Two miles in and we got to the start of the first climb. Although on an estate road it winds ever upwards through Hawthorn, Birch and Oak before changing to forestry and then open hillside. At four miles we reached the top, not before resting at the bottom of the last gruelling series of s-bends for a bite to eat looking down on a small shallow loch, brown stained with peat its glassy surface studded with the rings of rising trout.

It was at this point I found I had made my big mistake of this trip, there is always something happens. I had put new Sorbithane footbeds in my boots before setting out, big mistake as they must have raised my heel out of the recess in the boot and I could feel the blisters already. At the top of the last series of s-bends I felt the sharp, jaggy pain that told me they had burst, I would find out just how bad in nine miles when I removed my boot in the tent.

Day 1 Snow on the hills

The walk after that is mostly down hill with views of the hills, still covered in snow from the previous week. The view of the bothy in the distance was deceiving though as there was still another two miles to get there. The track takes a downward sweep to cross an iron bridge, one of two a legacy from a past age, over a dark peaty river and then sweeps back up in an ark to the bothy. This wasn't our destination though; we still had another five miles to go. We had something to eat and, with tired legs and my heels totally wiped out we soldiered on.

Another climb, then after three miles we left the track and onto the open hillside. Our first obstacle though was the wire bridge. More a tightrope with handrails except these were fence wire stretched across and above head height. More like an army assault course than a bridge. We followed the path up the hill to gain some height then traversed it for a mile before heading downhill to the river crossing and our destination. The crossing here was fun too. It consists of stepping stones a foot wide and a foot below the bank, under water with, two-foot deep pools on either side. A test of faith with sixteen kilo on my back, sore feet, tired legs and heels that felt as though someone was sticking needles in them. I tried first by getting down on the bank and trying to get my foot on the first stone, a foot away from the bank. I couldn't reach and then had difficulty standing back up again without George's help. I went to look for an easier way when George shouted that he was across. If he could make it then so could I. I stepped, have leaped from the bank onto the first stone, maintained my balance then continued over with George hovering in front of may afraid I would fall.

It was now 21:30pm so the thirteen miles had taken nine and three-quarter hours. We found a place to camp, tents up, had something to eat and we were in bed by 23:00 hrs totally knackered.

End Day 1

Day 2

AIR 15ºC WATER 15ºC Cloudy with a cool breeze.

Slept well in spite of the aches and pains in legs, heels and shoulders. I didn't remove my socks last night and they are hard with dried blood and whatever else is in there, I decided to leave the heels 'till later. After delicately putting the boots back on and hobbling to the river I washed and had breakfast before preparing for the days fishing.

Day 2 The tents and the loch

This was a day for the loch at the tent as the two of us were in no mood for too much hiking. The two hundred yards to the loch was agony but the pain wasn't long in being ignored once the fishing started. George had two fish on in two casts before I had even extended my line. I peeled a few yards off and tossed it in front of me while I pulled more line off the reel to start casting. A fish rose and took the HillLoch Nymph #14 on the point and I played and landed it while George played and returned his third fish in three casts all to a Green Peter. He had a total of six fish, all 4-6oz, in the first hour while I had returned four to the HillLoch Nymph and one to the Iron Blue #12 on the middle dropper. This shouldn't be called fishing, said George, it should be called catching.

I wandered on up the half-mile or so of the loch returning another two that had taken the Iron Blue just under the surface and rising or missing more on the way. Reaching the top of the loch I stretched out on the grass and looked back towards the bothy and the tents. George joined me and, as we had lunch, we reminisced about when we had crossed this part of the loch in bare feet carrying our rucksacks at the start of our first trip here nine years previously.

After lunch George set off back down the loch and I hobbled about on the sandy beach at this end. I watched a pair of Red Throated Divers for a while, and found a recently dead duck amongst the rotting grass where the loch had deposited them when it was much higher.

Day 2 This is just one heel with the flap of skin still attached.

I followed George back down the loch both of us returning, missing and loosing a number of trout on the way, then it was back to the tent for dinner and some repairs to the heels.

The site wasn't pleasant when I got around to removing the socks. I trimmed as much of the loose skin as I could using nail clippers then covered the bare bits with fabric surgical tape. I slept in my socks again so that the tape would stay where it was.

End day 2

Day 3

Last night had been very warm in the tent and the temperature this morning was 16ºC but with a cool breeze. By lunch the day and the breeze had warmed to a sweltering 26ºC.

It was decided that today would be a day for the river. We were camped beside one of the tributaries and the main river was only 200 yards or so away. It resembles more of a lowland stream than a highland river but it holds a lot of fish and the average size, although not great at 6oz, has more of the larger fish than the loch.

Day 3 The slow stretch at the top of the river with the hills in the background

We started at the first deep run just where the tributary runs in. I missed two fish right away but by the time we had fished to the tail of the pool I had one to the Dry Fly, two on the HillLoch Nymph, another on the dry and missed two more to the nymph. George reckoned he had lost, returned or missed about twenty as he followed me down.

Moving down into the faster shallows I missed one on the dry but there was no more action at this part.

All the while we were being serenaded by the drumming of a Snipe as it flew around and over us. We must have been near its nest as its drumming was ever present morning noon and night. There was also the inevitable Cuckoo, or two, ducks, Meadow Pipits. We also came across numerous lizards sunning themselves, but close enough to a bolt hole for a quick disappearing act. Numerous frogs of course and on another day I even came across a pool in a gorge high above a stream with tadpoles in it.

The fly life was also abundant with Olives, Stonefly, sedges, beetles, Jenny Spinners of the Iron Blue, Claret duns and many more.

Day 3 Looking down the rockier stretch of the river

Moving on down the river it gradually gets rockier and steeper as it tumbles down through smaller pools and eddies. We fished all the likely spots; the top of ledges before the water goes over; the point where two currents converge; in front of and behind stones, all fished downstream as that was the direction we were heading and the breeze was downstream.

I saw a fish rise in one stream and drifted the dry over it. The fish came up and just sucked it under. A classic take in a classic lye at the point of the riffle.

By this time we had covered a mile or so of the river so we turned and fished it back up. I missed more fish to the dry, got one on the Iron Blue Dun and one on the HillLoch Nymph. George had missed, returned or lost at least twenty five fish if not more, my tally was probably nearer twenty.

Hot, tired and exhausted in the heat we returned to the tents, had dinner and relaxed. We had a good day today, what will tomorrow bring?

End day Three

Day 4

AIR 20ºC WATER 17ºC Very sunny and strong breeze.

I thought I had been sleeping in a Sauna when I woke up this morning. The overnight temperature in the tent was 17ºC. I can tell you inside a down sleeping bag which goes down to -10 that is hot.

Day 4 Looking back down the hill towards the bothie and tents

This morning saw us tackling the hill loch above the bothy. We set off up the path following it, as we thought, the same as the last time. After a mile and a half we came to the conclusion we were following the wrong one as we hadn't come to the loch and the area around us didn't look right. I got the GPS and map out to check the co-ordinates and George checked his map. We were half a mile too far east so I set off across the moor following the GPS as it pointed towards the loch. George decided to test his map and compass skills and started taking some bearings. Walking in a straight line up here isn't an option as the place is studded with peat hags and deep peat cuts, small rivulets and big lumps. I kept a watch for George and then saw him quite far behind me but going up instead of towards me. I found out later he had taken a bearing on the wrong loch. It wasn't long after that, as I approached the loch which I still couldn't see, that I saw George striding across in front of me. A fine start to a hot day.

The loch isn't that big, about 250yards in diameter, so we walked up the wind to the far end. It is fairly weedy here so we started to fish along the edge. It was manic. We were getting a fish a cast, sometimes two at a time. All the flies on my cast took fish. George's best fly though was a Hen Pheasant winged, palmered Pheasant Tail #12 on the surface.

Day 4 George landing another fish from the loch

It didn't matter where we went on the loch we caught, missed or lost a fish nearly every cast. Sometimes with a slash, next a sip or the line just went tight. You had to be fast though or you missed them. If it wasn't for the fact it was at 1200feet and miles from any road you would have taken it for a stock pond with every fish just making the 6oz mark. It didn't matter if the breeze was strong and rippling the surface or a flat calm, still they came. In the end we estimated our catch to be in triple digits, that's each not combined. As you can imagine there was plenty of fly life about and it was here I saw my first Claret Dun of the trip, my favourite hill loch upwing, if they are about then the fish will be dining on them.

As we walked back down to the tents, on the right path this time, George enthused about our day. It is five years since he used a fly rod and it really pleased him that he was getting his line out and putting his flies over rising fish and catching them.

The temperature was well into the 20's even in the evening at dinner and while George prepared his lunch bag for the next day I marvelled at how the snow had all but disappeared from the surrounding tops.

End Day 4

Day 5

I'm sure the temperature during the night was into the twenties. I woke at one point, had to un-zip the sleeping bag, and get my arms and body out to get cool.

Wall to wall sunshine and the temperature was at 23ºC at breakfast. We were going back to the river again today. This time we walked down past the part we had fished previously to check it out lower down. There are the remnants of an amazing iron fence all round the river, lochs and over some of the hills. Why it has been put up is anyone's guess as it effectively stopped anything from getting to the water as it is on both sides and there are even floating stock gates over some of the tributaries.

The river changes and becomes rockier with small pools. There was plenty of fly life about beetles, Yellow Sally, Olives and a Jenny Spinner of the Iron Blue which was unexpected.

Day 5 Fish were lying of theis rock just where the two streams met

On my third cast of the day a fish came for the dry at the same time as one took the HillLoch Nymph. The fishing wasn't as easy as the top section and the fish were smaller but I managed a few on all three flies on the cast.

The temperature soared to 30ºC and the water was showing 18ºC before lunch. While we had lunch we were watched, from a distance, by the herd of deer that seem to have this as their territory.

After about a mile we decided to turn and fish back up through the previous day's areas and I managed one on the upstream dry. George had been catching quite a few fish too both going down and coming back up. It eventually got so hot I headed for what was the only piece of shade for miles around, and I literally mean miles.

George carried on upstream catching and missing a few fish on the way and I eventually followed him. At one of the riffles I managed four fish in four casts and then farther on, had two more on the Dry Fly and Iron Blue Dun, one at 6oz and the other at 8oz.

At one point we were on a high bank over a pool when we noticed two or three fish patrolling. George decided to see what would happen if he put his flies into the water. He had a couple of follows to his wet fly then a fish decided to go for the dry. We were both standing right on the edge and the fly was directly in front of us under his rod tip with only his cast outside the top ring. The water was as clear as gin so why they ignored us is anyone's guess.

We continued on up the river fishing the slower areas as it exited the loch. In one pool George had upwards of twenty fish all in the 4-6oz size and I managed 6 or 7 from the same pool.

Day 5 Heading back to the tents

I moved on round George and headed for the reedy area at this end of the loch. I had to watch where I put my feet though as it has areas of floating bog here. I fished into a clear area between the reeds, had six fish, and missed a few more. All the flies took fish, Dry Fly, Iron Blue Dun and HillLoch Nymph. Not exactly a fish a cast but close. George ambled up after catching another load of fish in the next pool up and he succeeded in getting another couple of fish from the reeds.

We went back to the tents exhausted with the four-mile walk and fishing in the high temperatures. We had a visitor though. A tent was pitched up beside the bothy and the owner came down for a chat. It turns out she was a Californian lady walking to Cape Wrath, she had attempted it last year but gave up because of the bad weather. Going by the weather she should make it this year.

End Day 5

Day 6

Pack-up day, we aren't heading home just yet though. The sun and high temperatures, 21ºC at 06:00am, are still with us so having breakfast while the dew dries off the tents before packing them was a pleasure, rather than grumbling because it is raining and they are being packed wet.

Packs filled, water bottle filled and site checked, you wouldn't know we had been there; we set off down the path to cross the river at the stepping-stones. Here we met another walker, only the second person we have seen all week, with a young Labrador. It seems he was walking from Lands End to John O'Groats and this was his 54th day with only ten days to go. He set off in front of us and was soon up the hill and out of site as I hobbled along behind George.

Day 6 Looking along the glen as we gained height

We gained some height and then traversed around the hill at the 300 metre contour as this would bring us level with the bridge crossing over the river at the end of the loch. It was getting warmer as we climbed but that wasn't my main concern. Trying to find a way to walk without the pain from my heels or damaging them anymore was my main concern.

We eventually reached the loch; 600 feet of climbing over rough hill ground; just over a mile and a half in one and a half hours; the temperature up at 23ºC and my legs aching and feet throbbing.

I had a seat for fifteen minutes or so then got the rod and started fishing.

This is a big loch. It lies in the glen between a Munro on one side and a Corbet on the other at 1200 feet. The sun was shining although a strong breeze was blowing down its length. There was plenty of fly life about and we had spotted an empty stonefly nymph casing on a rock in the river as we crossed. The water temperature was showing 20ºC.

We leapfrogged down the loch moving the rucksack, fishing up to and past it, then retrieving it and carrying it some distance past where we had stopped fishing.

My first fish was on the HillLoch Nymph at around 8oz, then I lost one on the nymph, then a 6oz one on the Iron Blue Dun, then another of 8oz on the nymph; all this before lunch. They were taking just on the edge of the drop-off where the darker water met the lighter pebbles and shingle only twenty to thirty feet out.

After lunch I had another fish of 6oz on the HillLoch nymph. We continued down the loch fishing most of its mile length before we decided, as we still had two miles to go to the bothy, we would stop and head off up the track. Only the first half mile is actually up, but it was a long half mile for my feet and legs.

With another eight miles to go we spent the night in the bothy. I slept in my socks again; the heels would have to keep 'till I got home.

End Day 6

Day 7

What a night. The ground isn't as hard as the floorboards in the bothy. Sore back, sore legs and sore feet and still eight miles walking and then a five hour drive home today.

We set off after breakfast into another beautiful morning with no cloud and the mist clearing off the tops and out of the narrow glens. The temperature was already high at 23ºC. I think my feet must be swollen too as I had difficulty in getting the boots on but I have the laces as tight as I can and the heels, although painful, are bearable.

The first two miles for the most part are pretty level with only a few climbs so we made good time. The next two miles are all uphill and I felt that I was holding George back and he couldn't get into a walking rhythm so I told him just to push on and I would meet him at the halfway loch.

Being on my own meant that I could get into my own rhythm without feeling the need to push myself to keep up with George. The climb in the heat and the gait I had to use to preserve the heels began to tell on my legs. George never seemed to get that far in front of me and, as I topped the last rise, I just saw him heading off the path to the loch so I was only minutes behind him. We rested there for a little while eating and drinking what would be our last meal in the hills. We had intended fishing this loch and one farther in but, checking the times and taking the drive home into consideration, we pushed on.

Day 7 Looking down on our destination only another four miles to go

Four miles from here but downhill, well for the most part. The first two miles on a steep descent and then it flattens into a more or less flat two miles to the car. Once we had passed the holiday cottages and onto the tar road the pain in the feet began to get worse so we tried walking on the grass which wasn't much better. It was here we had the most trouble. There were a lot of people about and a few stopped to ask us where we had been and if we had caught much. Standing talking to them was torture on the legs, feet and back but rather than be ignorant we passed a few minutes with each request. Eventually we reached the car and it was good to get the rucksacks off and change from boots to shoes. The temperature by now had reached 30ºC yet again and I flopped under a tree and finished off the little food and drink I had left. I also checked the GPS; average walking speed 2.3 MPH so even in the condition my feet were in I still managed to maintain my predicted speed for the walk.

The drive home in the sun with the views changing with every mile was breathtaking. If only we had weather like that more often. A stop in The Garrison for George's MacDonald fix, then home.

It was too late to do anything with my heels so I slept another night in my socks so that the plasters would stay in place. The next day I stripped them off, showered and applied more plasters. My feet and ankles were all puffed and swollen too and it took a week for them to get back to normal.

With 2-300 fish each, at least, for the week, the weather, the scenery and the pain it was worth every step.

End Day 7