Monday, August 8, 2016

a voyageur abroad - Water of Leith

We took a family holiday with 2 weeks in Scotland. There wasn't any dedicated fishing time, but I snuck out early and late whenever possible. Here's the first episode.

or the fly rod, I packed only a Fenwick FF75-4 Voyageur, 7.5' for 6wt. A graphite Redington 9' 5wt in seven pieces would have been a more rational choice, but given that I barely restrained myself from taking a split cane rod, it was clear I was operating outside the consensus reality anyway. As the trip approached I realized I'd never actually fished the rod. Close inspection found a couple of contusions in the glass in the first section and another in the second. These were re-inforced with an overwrap of Gudebrod brown thread. The color didn't match the original wraps, but blends with the rod quite nicely. For stress testing, we went after some carp of 8-10lbs, just to make sure nothing was going to disintegrate. Here the overwraps can be seen just below the ferrule, with a carp at the other end, about fifty yards out. Stress was applied without problems.


Some fisherfolk call the carp a trash fish. This broad tail in beautiful colors doesn't look like trash to me. Long may they believe it though, it reduces the competition on the carp waters. I've largely given up on trout fishing in Colorado. To get to a relatively uncrowded water with decent fishing is a 6 to 8 hour round trip from Denver. The travel time may be by car or on foot - one hour driving and three hours hiking, or four hours driving, etcetera - but the time itself is constant. This means a dedicated weekend or more which is seldom available.
My first plan was to use a Hardy Viscount 140 for the reel. A lucky bid on ebay secured this fine Hardy-made Orvis Battenkill Mk III, which is my new favorite trout reel. The Hardy-made Orvis CFO III was my previous preference, but it is in fact a little small for a DT5 line. As a result I've lost several good fish as they ran, the reel emptied, and the drag increased due to the small spool diameter. The Battenkill's click/pawl is lighter in action, and the reel just enough larger to fit the DT5 with a comfortable amount of backing: so the effective drag when a fish runs into the backing is significantly less.

This line though is a WF6 Scientific Anglers Mastery in good condition. I detest orange lines, but it seemed a shame to throw away a perfectly good line just because of my color prejudice. Follow that link for an explanation of the prejudice (note that I am still irrationally irked at Kirk for not awarding me a line, as I'd answered his original contest post with effectively the same answer he gives here).

Also, I have never bought a flyline as expensive as this, and wanted to fish it for a while to see if there was any detectable difference between this and my usual lines (nope). Later in the vacation the family was out in a rowing boat on a loch where I was fishing for pike. My wife commented on the line, "I've never seen you fish with an orange line before." I had no idea that she noticed the color of my fly lines.. must be true love I guess. 

Finding fishing in Scotland is a trap for the unwary. They have laws of open access, also known by the charmingly evocative term 'freedom to roam', which allow you to walk about nearly anywhere (do however read that website as there are all kinds of caveats). There is no fishing license required. This sounded like glorious freedom to fish, until the discovery that all fishing is by permission only. Fishing on a Sunday used to be agin the law, and is still frowned upon in the remoter locations. On the isle of Mull it is not possible to get a permit to fish on a Sunday, except in a stocked pond.

Figuring out where and how to get the permission is non-obvious as all such knowledge is local. The best information I found on the internet was to buy the book 'Rivers and Lochs of Scotland' by Bruce Sandison. It has all the details. The 2013/2014 edition is the latest, available on horrible old Kindle for $8. It was accurate for all the waters I got to. Thank you Bruce, the information was invaluable. Edinburgh has the Water of Leith right in town, with a few small brown trout remaining from earlier stocking efforts. There may also be the odd salmon and seatrout which you aren't allowed to fish for, £100 fine if you are caught pestering them. This was one of the things I learned from the Sandison book.

There are also salmon returning to the Clyde in Glasgow, as it has de-industrialised. It is possible now to fish for salmon in the suburbs of Glasgow where my ancestors lived. Of course such fishing is unaffordable for me, still it made me unreasonably happy to know the beleaguered Atlantic salmon is getting a fin back into Scottish water. The sadness is all the Scots who used to have decent jobs building ships, now gone forever.

Brown trout fishing on Leith is free with a permit, obtainable from fishing shops or post offices in town. I got my permit at an Orvis shop selling mostly globalised clothes with a few oddments of fishing tackle in the back. This seemed to be all wrong somehow, would have much preferred a permit from a cheerful Scots post office lady; but time pressed and the shop was right by our hotel.

It is a pretty stream, in this section running through a kind of green canyon of vegetation. No idea what the statuary is about in this picture, though it certainly contributed to the feeling that we were not in Colorado anymore. The book had suggested tiny dry flies or nymphs. Given the stream conditions, strong flows of unclear water, I thought these would not be useful. Actually throughout this trip I fished with a team of traditional patterns, Invicta and Peter Ross, everywhere, and caught fish everywhere.

Both of these are tied with seal's fur, which is now illegal and unobtainable in the US. My stash came (legally) from Veniard's in the 1970s. There's nothing quite like it for translucency once wet, plus the spiky ends capture little air bubbles that both mimic emerging caddis and mayflies as well as adding sparkle. The usual substitute for seal is sustainably harvested angora goat fur. What I have will last to the end of my fly-tying years though, so I haven't experimented with goat or the other synthetic replacements.

The Peter Ross also has a dark iridescent blue/green pheasant neck hackle in place of the usual black hen. This hackle came from one of the birds shot at Ken's farm, a little bit of Asia via Wyoming in the Scottish waters. The Invicta uses a brown hen hackle in place of the beard of blue jay or blue-dyed guinea fowl, and a red tail instead of golden pheasant. The red allows this tie to suggest both caddis ('sedge fly' in English) and hoppers. It's likely the catching would have been better with more modern patterns, still that was hardly the point of my sentimental journey.

The look of the stream made me hopeful - in my experience a river that is dropping in level and slowly clearing after rains is optimal for fishing. What I didn't reckon with is that it is always raining here and the fish are thoroughly used to freshets. Here I had the first of several encounters with stinging nettle. It's not nearly as bad as poison oak or poison ivy, an immediate sharp tingling pain that is almost bracing, and only lasts a day. 

Thus quivering with expectation and the nettle stimulus, stepped into the river and began. Quite soon I was encouraged by this wee fish.

Fished carefully on for 2 hours through some handsome pools and runs, to no effect. Nonetheless I was delighted to find a Scottish brown trout in the heart of Edinburgh. He vanished with a wink of his tail back into Leith water.