Highland Wild Trout Fishing

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Experience the best of wild trout fishing at the Reay Lochs in west Caithness as featured in Trout & Salmon magazine. 

The Reay Lochs enjoy a secluded setting 200 feet above sea level to the south east of the village of Reay in Caithness. They comprise two shallow spring fed moorland waters lying over a rich limestone base and they have been affording quality wild trout fishing to the visitor periodically over the last one hundred years. The lochs are the haunt of black throated divers, otters, short eared owls and hen harriers and they offer a tranquil escape for both the visiting and local angler.

The Trout of the Reay Lochs are descended from some of the oldest strains of wild trout in the UK. The fish you are likely to catch show either Leven characteristics i.e. have a silvery appearance and leap like sea trout when caught or have more Ferox characteristics i.e. deep gold in colour with a faint green sheen on upper flank and these fight deep and hard when caught. Occasionally a type of trout known as the ‘Parr Marked Trout’ is taken and this is recognised by grey fingerprint markings along the lower flank. All the fish show excellent sporting qualities coming in at an average weight of between 3/4 to 1lb though at certain times of the year much larger can be caught.

Trout Habitat and Feeding is quite exceptional in the Reay Lochs. Both are highly productive being limestone and alkaline in nature with bases of glacial shell sand, old sandstone, marl (a clay like limestone) boulder rocks and gravel. There are numerous weed beds lying over underground springs in both waters and these provide shelter and invertebrates and fish. The rich environment of the Reay Lochs produce abundant hatches of all kinds including mayfly, midges, sedges, heather fly, olives, corixia beetle and some Daddies. Snails, shrimps, caddis, pea mussel, a wide variety of nymphs and sticklebacks are also profuse.

Angling Tactics are principally based around dry fly with some wet and nymph fishing. Angling here starts on March 15 and ends October 6. If the preceding winter has been mild, good fly angling can be had from late March on and proceeds well through out the season with the better months normally being May, June, July and early September. Tactics for the lochs vary according to the conditions though note because of their shallow waters, floating line, 4lb nylon and 10ft rod is usually used. Dry fly on medium to slow retrieve is often preferred over wet. – If fish are visible on the surface try dry Green Drakes, Sedges, Wickhams Fancy, Grey Wulff, March Brown or similar. If no fish are showing use wet fly like Zulu, Bibio, Soldier Palmer, Bumbles, Silver Invicta, Red Invicta, Brora Ranger or Fiery Brown on a medium to fast retrieve. Nymphs like Hares Ear or Pheasant Tail can also be used on slow retrieve to good effect. Fly sizes vary from 10’s to 16’s according to the conditions.

Top tactics

  1. Flexibility is the key to success here. Try wet fly, dry or nymph and be prepared to alter your tactics according to the conditions.
  2. We fish fast and rhythmically, lingering too long in the one spot will not catch wild trout. You must find and cover their territories, they will not come to you.
  3. Fish down a bank as fast as the drifting boat.
  4. Do not underestimate the water quality and general fertility of highland lochs and rivers. Many contain outcrops of limestone or lie over an alkaline base. Highland limestone comes in many forms from pale hard rock to soft marl (a pale clay like mud).
  5. Be prepared for mega hatches not only of midge but also sedge, olive, damsel, stonefly and mayfly. Shrimp are also common in the more alkaline waters. Do not let bogs, mountains and peat fool you. Highland hatches may happen a little later than in the south but they are highly abundant especially after a rain shower.
  6. Take time to ‘recce’ loch or river before starting to fish – forearmed is forewarned. A lot of trout water will be too deep or cold to hold many fish, up to about 12ft is generally good. Look for weed beds, skerries, boulders, promontories, shelves and ledges and any other feature which breaks up the water surface and provides food and shelter for the trout.
  7. Choose flies according to a) the colour of the water and b) the weather conditions.
  8. Old wives tales like bright water bright fly and dark day dark fly sometimes work.
  9. When approaching unfamiliar lochs select a black and red fly first as these are the two most productive colours for wild trout in the North.
  10. If first choices aren’t working change your flies every 15 minutes until you hit on a successful pattern. Be flexible in your approach. If a fly does attract but fails to hook, go down one or two sizes.
  11. Remember that you are often fishing in very exposed areas and therefore be prepared for rapidly changing weather conditions.

Originally written for wildtroutfisher.co.uk. Please take the time to verify the availability of permits. Photo by flyfishing.co.uk.

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