Not Exactly Fishing


In the latest instalment of Not Exactly Fishing, Gordon Mack examines a trout’s stomach and finds an age-old debate among the contents.

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Gordon Mack, in the latest addition to the Not Exactly Fishing series, relates a painful encounter with the gentle Daddy Long-legs and warns of the unseen perils of fly-tying.

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River Snizort - middle beats

Snizort – the cemetery beat

Gordon Mack, in the Not Exactly Fishing series, recounts a recent visit to the River Snizort, the Isle of Skye river where a fascinating renewable energy project sits side-by-side with an environmentally-precious,  successful salmon and sea trout fishery, and relates his high-voltage experience.

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IN THE latest instalment of Not Exactly Fishing, Gordon Mack ponders the values of catch returns and makes his own analysis of a week’s fishing this summer in South Uist. (more…)

In the latest instalment of Not Exactly Fishing, Gordon Mack recalls how his beloved hill loch retreat, tucked away off the beaten track in the foothills of The Cuillin was unexpectedly burgled. (more…)

EVER gone on a fishing trip with the lads and been tempted to run a small sweepstake to liven up proceedings?  Not Exactly Fishing reveals how a smart London coarse angler with an inside knowledge of underworld crime, ran off with the profits on a fly-fishing holiday to the wilds of Scotland’s remote Sutherland. (more…)

SIX weeks in Brazil for anyone with an interest in fishing, seems like too good a chance to miss. The opportunities, like the country itself, stretch far and wide from striped peacock bass and giant catfish in many of the rivers of Amazonia to marlin, tuna, sword and sailfish in the Atlantic coastal waters to the south.

In many of the rivers which network the huge mountain ranges between the states of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, and up into Minas Gerais, trout were introduced during last century and have found the environment very much to their liking. Sounds tempting?

Very. But my Brazilian odyssey fell into the category of road trip with family, as opposed to fishing trip with chums and although I did get on very close terms with dozens of tropical marine species including swimming with greenback turtles on a diving expedition off Ilha Grande, the scale of the recent flooding and ensuing national disaster for many Brazilians did dull my appetite somewhat.

That’s not to say the natives’ enthusiasm for dipping a rod into the nearest river, pond or sea-shore seemed to be in any way muted by the calamities taking place elsewhere in the country. And while enjoying a spot of surfing and generally lazing around in 30 deg heat on a quiet beach at Ubatuba on the Costa Verde I was able to watch some of the locals practising their beach-casting skills. At the end of the day, it was the fishing highlight of my holiday.

If you’ve never witnessed this use of a 5-ft spinning rod for beach-casting before, you’ll enjoy this clip as two Brazilian holidaymakers demonstrate the art of sub-aqua angling . . .

S. Uist sea trout

Specimen S. Uist sea trout . . . a tail the size of a small shovel

IT SEEMED, on the face of it, a fairly innocuous conversation. We were sitting in the conservatory of the Borrodale Hotel on South Uist enjoying one of the chef’s substantial stomach-lining breakfasts in readiness for what was likely to be a fairly challenging day ahead.

Outside, the wind gusted to 35 mph and huge droplets of rain rattled the glass panes with staccato-like machine-gun fire as fierce squalls rushed past. My partner for the week, Richard, was devouring his regular plateful of beans on toast topped off with a fried egg which, rain or shine, was enough to sustain him until evening with only a couple of digestive biscuits for lunch.

Richard likes a challenge and with a formidable track record of relieving the luscious machair lochs of South Uist of some of their fishy bounty over many years, was unfazed by the prospect of tackling Loch Fada’s autumn run of salmon and sea trout, despite the big wind.

The previous day had been particularly tough. Loch Roag is the first major loch on the Howmore River system and is recognised as being in its annual prime in mid-September with runs of double-figure sea trout, grilse and salmon to 20lbs or more. Sensibly, our ghillie wouldn’t risk taking the boat out in the raging storm, so we thrashed away from the bank; me with a hefty 10ft 6in double hander loaded with a 40+ shooting head, Richard with his trusty 11-footer.

It was a tiring but valiant effort and frequently our spirits were renewed when we watched huge fish leaping for joy well out of our reach in the centre of the loch or in quarters in accessible in the relentless wind. Alexander, our lean, youthful ghillie took cover behind whatever bankside shelter he could find as the rainstorms thundered by, sometimes with such intensity that it was almost impossible to see the water beyond the rod end.

As Richard packed away another mouthful of egg and beans, I made the fatal error of checking the geography for the day ahead. We were fishing Roag’s neighbour on the Howmore River system.

River Howmore, S. Uist

. . . a sketch of the Howmore River, S. Uist emerged . . .

“Where’s the inlet for Fada?” I asked. Richard’s answer had me puzzled, describing what sounded like a river that had no connection with either Loch Roag or the Howmore itself. “Don’t the salmon run on into Fada from Roag itself?” I went on.

“Of course they do,” came the reply.

“So where do they come in?”

“Under the road directly from the Howmore.”

“But that’s the inlet to Roag,” I said getting even more confused.

“No that’s the outlet,” said Richard, getting just a little testy. “Salmon do swim upstream you know.” Indeed I did.

“How can the inlet to Fada be at bottom end of Roag. Surely it is more likely to be higher up the loch so the fish pass through it?”

“Because the inlet to Fada is somewhere else,” he replied in suitably enigmatic Hebridean tones.

The conversation stumbled on, fortunately humourously, but with me increasingly perplexed by Richard’s geography which seemed to put our loch for the coming day, lower down the river system than the one which had just fished the day before.

I could have understood the confusion if we had just spent several hours in the bar, but this discussion was taking place over the breakfast table. Worse we entered into a side debate about what defines the “top” and “bottom” of a loch.

There was only one way to sort this out: I sought out a paper napkin and a pen.

A sketch of the Howmore river, Loch Roag, and Loch Fada emerged and I and joined them up with little connecting burns.

Aha, the problem was solved. My inlets were Richard’s outlets. Simples. I was talking about inlets and outlets for migratory fish moving upriver; he was taking about water flows moving down stream.

Just as well neither of us has to run a fisheries trust on the western seaboard of Scotland.

We did agree that the “top” of a loch was usually geographically the north end and the “bottom” at the south. Unless it lay east-west in which case the “top” lay to the west and the “bottom” at the east. Or unless the salmon inlet, or the water’s outlet – depending on your terminology – was at the opposite point of the compass. In which case the whole thing might be different.

I think.

I didn’t fish that morning. I was lucky to be fishing at all having suffered a broken right elbow just four weeks earlier. My arm was starting to complain and I took a few hours out before joining Richard and Alexander, the ghillie at lunchtime. By which time both were looking a little smug.

“OK where are they?” I asked, fearing the worst.

“Have a look under the duckboard,” Alexander suggested.

There in the bottom of the boat lay a 4.5lb grilse and a 10.25lb cock seatrout – one of the finest specimens you are likely to set eyes on.

It had taken my chum 20 minutes to land and Richard beamed with some justification.

“Was it at the top or bottom of the loch?” I asked.

“Just over there,” he said gesturing with the tail of the fish that looked like a small shovel. “And that’s all I’m telling you.”

But I knew where there was to be no further confusion; one sea trout outlet from Loch Fada led directly into Richard’s bass bag and his personal record book.

Of course we didn’t touch another fish all day, but I did get my own back two days later with the best brown of the week, a handsome three pounder taken on a home-tied Black Pennell.

Suddenly the ins and outs of angling all seemed to make sense.

S. Uist brown trout

. . . a handsome 3lb S. Uist brown

IT started out as a simple cycle run from Glasgow to Kirkintilloch along the towpath of the Forth and Clyde canal.  A glorious day we thought, and a chance for an easy pedal with the occasional opportunity to find out how the regular small groups of anglers were faring in the bright sunshine.

For the most part the anglers were glum, including members of a club whose sole return for several hours of hard work, were a few measly dace,  a couple of roach and a solitary perch.  Attempts at conversation produced grunts of displeasure, but little by way of insight into the day’s activities.  The pike brigade, particularly those in the nice shady stretches east of Bishopbriggs, were taking a little liquid refreshment and waiting for sun down.

Still, it was heartening to see the number of youngsters receiving careful tuition at Auchenstarry.  Just a simple small rod with a fixed line and no reel, a short length of monofilament, a hook and some carefully-chosen bait was enough to raise excited spirits of anticipation in up to a dozen children, whose afternoon might otherwise have been spent in less productive pursuits.

 

Fishing the Forth & Clyde canal at Kilsyth

Coarse fishing: a great entry method for younsters into angling

 

One of the joys of coarse fishing is that it offers a great entry into angling for youngsters.  Kit can be acquired cheaply and there is little need to learn sophisticated casting.

My cycling companions, including The Ghillie Herself, could see the immediate appeal of not having to learn anything other than a couple of elementary knots and the chances of frustrating fankles and wind-blown loops of gossamer-like fluorocarbon were much reduced.  My witterings about knots and loops were to return to haunt me very soon.

We cycled on, admiring the glistening, but largely unoccupied new marina at Kirkintilloch before retracing our route back towards Glasgow. Less than half a mile before our destination at the Maryhill locks we had to negotiate a short section along the roadway and approached with some caution.

I stopped on the pavement, but as I put my right foot down to balance the bike, the loop of my shoelace caught in one of the teeth of the front crankset and I crashed over with my full weight, bike on top, into the roadway. The embarrassment of falling off was completely overtaken by a searing pain in my knee but somewhat lessened by the realisation that I had not been run over by a passing car.  And my cycling partners quickly mopped up the cuts and grazes. No great damage seemed done and we made it home safely, stowing both bike and bike rack for another day.

With in an hour any worries about a badly bruised knee [a joint already well past its prime due to previous surgery] faded quickly, to be replaced by rapidly multiplying pain in my right elbow.  This continued to worsen and swell overnight until I showed up early next morning at Glasgow’s Western Infirmary, where an X-ray suggested to the duty doctor that the elbow was broken.

My spirits sank.  I am due to spend a week’s salmon, sea trout and brown trout fishing in Uist later this month. It’s been planned for a year, but at a stroke seemed to be seriously at risk. A plastercast for six weeks would effectively write off not just the Hebridean trip, but the remainder of the season.  Attendance was demanded at a fracture clinic the following day where, to my relief, the specialist was less certain about a positive break and packed me off with a light sling and instructions for gentle exercise as the swelling subsided.

Daily exercises are now in place and a glimmer of hope exists that the Uist trip is still possible.  If not, I’ll be joining the kids at Auchenstarry on foot with a simple wand in my left hand and the prospect of a small dace at the end of the day.   Someone else can tie up the knots and who knows, I might have to take solace with a few swigs of whatever it is that some of the canal crew seem to add to their Irn Bru bottles of an afternoon.

IT all started simply enough.  Difficulty in seeing the end of the fly rod never mind a head-and-tail rise 40 metres away, meant it was time for a new pair of glasses. That’s when the trouble started, as the next episode of Not Exactly Fishing reveals. (more…)

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