H2O Magazine

Wild fishing in Scotland



Ok, let’s get one thing straight: although this piece is about Scotland there is absolutely (well, hardly any) no mention of Salmon. I can almost hear the shocks and gasps of horror from some readers who have already put two and two together and created the inevitable conclusion that Scotland and Salmon are compulsory partners.

I beg to differ and urge you to consider what I tell all of my clients who venture as far as it is humanly possible to go in the North West of Scotland. What is there to consider? Well, think about it. Scotland is a land of great contrast.

We have an enviable amount of space compared to other countries in the E.U. The Czech Republic, for example, has roughly the same land surface area as Scotland but also roughly twice the population living on it. We have most of the last true wilderness left in the U.K and a great deal of this is made up from water, both moving and static.

The moving water is the stuff that everyone knows about. It is the water that is supposedly full of salm…(nearly said it!) but what about the water that sits and refuses to run? We have over 31,000 lochs in Scotland and a great part of them lie in the North West of the country.

What could be so interesting in these lochs? Wild brown trout that have practically nobody fishing for them is the answer!


Wild brown trout are abundant in Scotland. This is also in contrast with quite a lot of countries in the E.U. where the genetics have been infiltrated with those of stocked fish. I currently live in Austria and the evidence of stocking affecting wild trout populations can be readily seen.

With many of the lochs in Scotland being so far off the beaten track it is of little surprise that the genetic values have been left intact. Who is going to stock them and why should they? The lochs vary in terms of productivity with some being deep, black, oligotrophic trenches which, although often contain large numbers of trout, very rarely produce the angler with the rewards they have been seeking.

Others though, are shallow, eutrophic, nutrient rich trout paradises and can give an angler with determination the fishing experience of a lifetime. These diamonds in the rough are what hill loch anglers dream of and once one is found it is instantly marked down on the map for future visits.

Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that the lochs are sometimes so closely grouped together that you could easily be trying your luck out in five or ten lochs in a day’s fishing.


This is part of the fun i the Highlands. You pick a group of lochs and fish your way through them to see what you can find. Sometimes it brings small fry to the net, other times Captain Ahab himself would be proud of what shows up.

So , now you have found your group of lochs on the map. The banks have all the small twists and bends that make every trout feel happy to call them home and you are ready to head off into the great wide beyond, armed with a 5/6wt rod, floating line and a bag full of high hopes.

How do you catch them though? With dries, wets, nymphs or streamers? This is where things can all go so easily wrong for the visiting angler and many lochs which seemed dead when being fished incorrectly can suddenly open up and cause you to doubt your eyes when fished with the right methods.


To sum it up quickly: fish up high and try to work your flies between the surface and the first 30 cm. of water. Wild brown trout feed in a horizontal fashion and it stands to reason that your flies should be up there for them to see.

We fish a leader with either two or three flies and we normally approach lochs with wet flies. They are the bob, dropper and tail flies: the classic loch style method. A general rule is stick to two from the bank and three from the boat.

The bob fly sits the highest up the leader and should be bushy and eye catching. The majority of takes will come o this fly and classic patterns such as Black Zulu, Kate Mclaren Muddler, Claret Bumble or Hedgehogs will take fish all year round.

The dropper and tail flies fish a little bit deeper behind the bob. Butcher, Peter Ross, Goat’s Toe, Silver Invicta and Black Pennel are all reliable patterns that won’t let you down in a hurry. A word of advice about the dropper on a three fly leader : never put your favourite fly on this position as it works more as a balancing point for the leader than a fish catching magnet. Dry flies are also great but this deserves a more dedicated article in itself. The streamers and nymphs can be left at home.

The next most important ingredient to success in the hill lochs is wind. From both the bank and the boat you will need wind to catch fish on a regular basis. Repeated casting over a flat calm will simply put fish down and drive you crazy.

Casting to rising fish with dries is an option but this is only possible if you can also withstand the instant assault of our resident biting midges, which come out in millions when the wind drops. Bring a micro midge net with you: You have been warned!


The last really important thing to remember is that the trout will not come to you, you need to go to them. Standing still or using an anchor are sure fire ways to reduce the number of fish you catch. Use the wind to your advantage.

Drift with the boat and walk round the bank as you retrieve with the wind at your back. Don’t fish too far out as the best fish are often found in the first few metres of water.

The zone where the sunlight (yes, we do have some in Scotland!) penetrates to the bottom the easiest will hold the largest amount of aquatic life. This equates to food for the trout and this is where they’ll be. A great way to fish from the bank is to wade out to knee depth and fish along the bank.

You can always cast back into the bank or further out with this position. It certainly pays to stay flexible and it is worthwhile remembering that not every loch will have a boat for you to use.


Make sure you have the correct clothing with you. Scotland is known for weather that is, how shall I put it?, changeable at best. Rain and wind can suddenly arrive or depart in a matter of minutes and the angler has to be prepared. I have had snow showers in June and sunbathed in March.

Plenty thin, waterproof layers are essential for comfort and whatever you take out with you, try and make sure that it is in some way protected against the rain. It makes a day suddenly become so much nicer when your rucksack is dry on the inside!

For the truly adventurous angler, a small one or two men tent will open up a whole new world. It is still legal to camp wild in much of Scotland and the sensible thing to do is ask if you can camp at the lochs when you purchase your fishing licence.

Being at the waterside at the time when most people are going to bed or still dreaming can bring you fishing experiences that will burn holes into your memory banks  and provide you with the best of the fishing available.

So few people do this and therefore very few ever get to make the experience and I urge you to do this if you have the  possibility. You will not regret it.

Bring determination, bring an adventurous spirit, bring a desire for solitude, bring a will to discover new techniques, bring an open mind for more than salmon (there, I finally said that word!), bring a strong pair of legs for the best of our hill lochs, bring an internal urge to find water that might not have seen a fly for the last 10 years, bring taste buds ready to sample a few drinks of funny light brown water and bring the headache tablets for the next day. Bring all of this and the hill lochs of the Highlands will become an addiction that will be hard to shift. I’ve tried for years and I still can’t get them out of my head.

Andrew Hogg

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