Wild brown trout are probably the easiest of all freshwater fish to catch. They can be caught by numerous methods including the use of the worm and spinner; the latter methods are permitted on some Scottish waters and the amount of skill required is limited. On the whole anglers derive far more satisfaction from catching trout on an artificial fly. Flyfishing for trout has long been known as the 'gentle art' and this method of fishing is acceptable anywhere in Scotland. Flyfishing is defined as the presentation (by means of casting a line) of a 'fly', usually the artificial imitation of an insect, designed to fool a fish. The advice on this page is aimed at the beginner seeking to learn to flyfish on Scottish lochs which are far more suitable than rivers for the inexperienced. In addition access to lochs is much more readily available.
Before you reach your destination
Read a basic book on trout fishing. Understanding the basic principles and practicalities of the sport will give you a head-start before you arrive. It is also an advantage to know two or three elementary fishing knots. Try and arrange some tuition in casting technique from a qualified instructor (this may well be available at your destination); even just a couple of hours should prove invaluable and enable the beginner to start fishing with a fair degree of both competence and confidence. Casting a fly is not difficult but proficiency will be attained much more quickly with the assistance of a professional instructor.
Trout fishing requires far less equipment than most forms of angling. For loch fishing a rod of at least 9 ft (shorter for children), a suitable fly reel, a floating line (rated no more than AFTM 6; the rating should match that of the rod) and backing line, a landing net, a box of flies, leader material, a few relevant accessories (such as scissor pliers, clippers and priest) and a fishing bag. Complete outfits may be seen advertised for under £100. Tackle shops are ideally placed to advise. It may well be possible to hire equipment at your holiday destination.
A selection of the following flies should be more than adequate: Alexandra, Zulu, Butcher, Black Pennel, Dunkeld, Grouse and Claret, Soldier Palmer, Cinnamon and Gold, Invicta, March Brown, Teal, Blue and Silver, Peter Ross.
Polarised glasses provide important eye protection from hooks; they can also help with spotting fish in difficult light. As far as possible avoid standing up in a boat on a loch. Always treat lochs, particularly larger waters, with respect. Strong winds can develop within a few minutes; a life jacket is strongly recommended.
It is important to emphasise that one cannot simply fish anywhere. Permission and/or permits must be obtained. The latter are available from an array of sources. Loch fishing represents truly amazingly good value. Bank fishing is usually around £5 per rod per day whilst boats (accommodating two or three rods) generally cost between £15 and £25 per day.
A good waterproof jacket and overtrousers (preferably in a subdued natural shade of brown or green) are essential together with suitable footwear (normally thigh waders).
Before venturing out in a boat on a loch, spend a little time practising your casting from the bank; your instructor, if you have engaged one, will probably insist on this. Once out in a boat, try and develop a steady rhythm of casting out and retrieving the line with steady pulls so that the fly or flies move through the water enticingly. Initially fishing with one fly will lead to far fewer tangles.
In traditional loch-style fishing the boat is allowed to drift broadside to the wind with the angler casting downwind. There is no need to be over ambitious in terms of distance; trout will often take a fly within just a few feet of the boat. It is always a great advantage to have an experienced boatman on the oars; he will be able to keep the boat moving steadily at the same angle and in all probability he will know the best areas of a loch.
'Reading' a loch
One of the most important skills is the ability to 'read' a Highland loch and this is easily done with a large-scale map or indeed by simple observation of the pattern of contours close to the loch. Although inevitably there are exceptions, generally speaking the shallower lochs contain far better trout. Such lochs provide a far more generous food supply for trout of insects and invertebrates than those with deep cold water. Obviously some lochs contain both deep and shallow water, in which case angling effort should be concentrated on the shallower water or its margins.
Red letter days
There are times when lochs come alive with taking fish. In these conditions it is possible to catch a great many fish. Only retain a modest number. The rest should be released; before unhooking the fish, always wet your hands to avoid removing the fish's protective slime.
Whilst it is legal to fish for brown trout on Sundays in Scotland, in some areas it is frowned upon; do show sensitivity in these circumstances.
Fishing the River Kelvin, with the tower at Glasgow University in the background