Jonny Muir looks ahead to this year’s loch fishing season and as Scotland is home to over 30,000 lochs, it’s time to tick a few off your list! Check out his top tips in this guide to loch style trout fishing.
Despite our delayed spring and the continuing wintry weather, most lochs in Scotland are now open to trout anglers and it’s a great time of year to look forward to the wonderful sport they provide. April might prove to be tough going this year, but May and June are undoubtedly the best times to head north and explore our wilder waters before the summer heat makes the fishing tricky again.
Successful loch style trout fishing is dependent on the weather. I’ve caught plenty of fish during the height of summer in flat calm conditions, but ideally I would be looking for a mild, overcast day with a decent breeze blowing. Concealed somewhat by the waves, trout will usually take a fly more confidently in these conditions, especially considering the movement of the water’s surface makes your flies behave more enticingly and helps to disguise your leader and fly line. A decent breeze also enables you to cover more water from a drifting boat, if indeed you decide to go afloat.
Jonny's Favourite Lochs to Fish
Two of my favourite Scottish trout lochs, both very different in character, are Loch Badanloch in Sutherland and the world-famous Loch Leven in Kinross.
Loch Badanloch Brown Trout
Two seasons ago, a couple of friends and I journeyed up to Sutherland and Caithness to fish several lochs, including Loch Heilen, Watten and Calder, but it was on Loch Badanloch that we had our most memorable day of the trip.
Feeding into the headwaters of the River Helmsdale, Loch Badanloch is a huge expanse of water and is home to an equally huge population of hungry trout. As we set our first drift down the north shore, I unhooked the point fly from my reel seat and flicked it over the side. It was gobbled up in an instant and I brought a small fish to the net but it was only after I went to unhook the fish that I realised what it was. On my first cast of the day I had caught a fish that had been on my bucket list for years, a wild British Arctic char. At about half a pound, it wasn’t going to break any records, but I was over the moon to have encountered one and it was a great way to start the day. It was to be the only char of the day, and indeed remains the only char I have ever caught. The deeper parts of the loch do hold a population of char, though they only show up in the catch returns once or twice a season.
As we fished loch-style from a drifting boat, almost every other cast seemed to be met with a sharp tug on the line. We hooked far more fish than we landed, as small wild brown trout can be lightning-fast takers at times, but we still managed to land around fifty or so, with the largest around a pound and a half in weight – not bad at all for a wild loch brownie! Some limestone lochs in Caithness are home to truly massive fish, though catching one is another story! Loch Heilen in Caithness yields some huge fish each season, but it’s not for the faint-hearted. Expect a blank and you might be pleasantly surprised.
The beauty of fishing for wild brown trout in lochs is that you can target them with very simple tackle, making them a great quarry for kids and adults alike on a Scottish family holiday. Coupled with cheap and easy access in most cases, it’s the perfect entry point to get youngsters into the sport. Pack a rod, reel, line and a small box of flies in the boot of the car and you’re good to go!
Jonny's Recommended Loch Style Trout Fishing Tackle
For most loch fishing I’d recommend a 9ft or 10ft 6wt fly rod rod set up with a floating fly line, but kids may be better off with something shorter. Go lighter if you wish but bear in mind that you’ll often be fishing in a stiff breeze and a heavier line will help you get your flies out and the extra length a 10ft rod provides helps you to control the flies from a drifting boat. A floating line is best for pulling your flies through the top layer of water and this is usually where the trout are looking for food. Many highland lochs located on peaty, acidic soil do not support a great degree of invertebrate life, so trout are always on the hunt for food items that might have blown onto the surface and I seldom feel the need to go deeper, though there are instances where an intermediate line might be useful, on a hot, bright day for example.
I usually set up with a 12-15ft leader of 5lb fluorocarbon and a three-fly cast, with the bushiest fly on the top dropper. Anything small, black and spidery-looking will usually do the trick. Patterns such as the Bibio, Black Pennell and Zulu usually appear on the point and middle positions on my cast. For the top dropper, a big Lochordie, Clan Chief or Muddler Minnow creates a wake that attracts fish to your team of flies. As a general rule, the bigger the waves, the bushier the fly you should use. If the surface is calm and still, try some slimmer-dressed wet flies like the Silver Invicta or Dunkeld to cut through the surface tension quicker. During the warmer months, evening rises can be things of beauty and in this case I’ll usually make the switch to a single dry fly, such as a Hopper or Klinkhammer.
Loch Leven Brown Trout
For those of you not heading as far north as the Highlands but still looking to sample some wild brown trout fishing, Loch Leven down in Kinross, only about an hour’s drive from Edinburgh, requires an altogether different approach. The average size of a Loch Leven brown trout is exceptional and it’s no wonder these fish were transplanted all over the world, from South America to New Zealand.
The Leven strain of trout is a beautiful yellow-bellied variety and grows quickly in the loch’s fertile, insect-rich waters. There seems to be so much feeding available to the trout that they can most often be located deeper in the water column gorging on insect larvae. Indeed, Loch Leven experiences enormous buzzer hatches and reservoir buzzer tactics are effective here. I like to fish with an intermediate line on a 10ft 7wt rod, with my leader usually populated with mini-lures like the Cormorant, with something acting as an attractor on the top dropper. Heavier sinking lines and bigger lures also work well for Leven’s larger trout, so don’t be afraid to approach it as you would a typical reservoir. It’s hard to find a more accessible loch that holds such incredible wild fish.
Wherever you look on a map of Scotland, you will see lochs which almost certainly hold trout. Each one is a new opportunity, a new place to explore and a new story to be told. Scotland is home to over 30,000 lochs, so If you’re planning a camping tour, road trip, family getaway or a business trip this year, make sure you take a rod and tick a couple off your list!