Fly Fishing in Scotland
Scotland gave the world many great things like; the poet Robert Burns, haggis, the architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the Glasgow School of Art, 15-year old single malt, golf, the kilt, the deep-fried Mars Bar, tartan, tossing the caber, Angus and Malcome Young of AC/DC fame, the rock band Zero-Zero, curling, the Bay City Rollers ("S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y Night!") and last but not least fly fishing. Fly fishing and Scotland go hand-in-hand so if you are heading to Scotland for a holiday, take a fly rod with you because the fishing is a wee bit better than you may think.

It's not just Atlantic salmon
There can be little doubt that Scotland is well known for Atlantic salmon, brown trout and more recently rainbow trout fishing, but anglers often overlook grayling and pike. I grew up catching, or rather trying to catch, grayling on the River Clyde. You can have some spectacular days fishing for grayling with small dries, wet flies and nymphs. Unfortunately on my last three trips back to "The Motherland," I was there at the wrong time of the year to go after them. The same holds true for Atlantic salmon, I always get there in November just as the season is closing.

Most fly fishermen who wet a line in Scotland never even think about chasing Northern pike when they are there. For the record, Scotland has Northern pike and England has a sub species called funnily enough, Southern pike. An angler can take their trout rod and use it to chase down pike.

It's hard to beat fishing in Scotland. The mountains, the heather, the pheasants - note I said pheasants and not peasants - deep, dark and crystal clear waters, the fresh air, the Royal Air Force jets screaming down the glens below the level of the mountain tops ... it's all good. Most folk think that the jets are on a NATO training mission, but the pilots are simply checking things out to see which fly you are using. To the non-Scotsman the angling rules and laws can be a bit tricky to understand. Grayling, trout and salmon rivers require a licence, the licence fees vary and even finding the place to buy the license can be tricky. Some can be purchased on line, some have to be purchased directly from land owners and some are issued from hotels, the local post office or the local pub. However if you are pike fishing, you don't need a licence of any kind.

Take a look
If you take a look at the picture of the barn, you will see that the road is wet. It always rains in Scotland. Even when its not raining, the sky is always thinking about it. With the rain there is wind. When I was over there in November of 2006, Tony Donnelly and I were fishing in 60 mph winds. Yes, that is miles per hour. Part of the fun of being there in the early winter, or even over the winter is watching the weather forecaster on TV, "There will be driving rain and gale force winds across much of the central lowlands, reaching up to 70 miles per hour."

It's said with such complacency, and inevitability, that most folk watching the forecast tune it out after they hear "gale force." So if you go, you may want to leave your 4-weight at home and take along a 5-weight and a 7-weight.

In order to gain access to the river we had to cut through the edge of the farmers buildings and then follow a fence line out to the river. There is something magical about walking across a filed with just a hint of dawn creeping over the mountains as the last stars fade away. When you throw in a few pheasants busting out of the grass in front of you ... it sure is something.

Scottish fishing licenses.
This is tricky to explain.
Trout and grayling permits are usually easy to obtain and its getting easier on the famous rivers like the River Tweed and the River Spey etc. However, post offices and pubs usually only sell tickets for association water which are well defined sections of river, but they can be a pain in the butt to find and to navigate. Gaining permits for remote lochs and reservoirs can also be difficult as they are often usually sold from small local shops. Well established lochs and fisheries will have tickets sales on site.
River trout fishing £5-10 per day
Hill loch/reservoir fishing £5-15 per day
Loch/fishery £15-25 day

Salmon fishing
Salmon fishing is entirely different. Well known rivers are always going to be busy but there can be good fishing on some of the lesser known rivers, with good beats, for around £40 per person day. Remember that salmon fishing is dependant on water levels both on the day and in the previous weeks. No water means no fish. If you are planning on trying some salmon fishing I would always recommend leaving booking some fishing until a couple days before the trip.

Salmon beats are strictly defined and if you fish the wrong section you can expect some abuse. Never, ever fish a salmon river without a permit, you'll risk losing your gear and get a strict telling off from the baliff. Ignorance is no excuse in this circumstance.

Accessing the river
This can be tricky but as long as you are "passing through" you can just about walk where ever you please - I believe the act is called Ramblers Rights. Accessing the correct section of river can therefore be done without fear of angry land owners approaching you. However you still have to ensure you are fishing the correct section of water.

Atlantic salmon seasons
With all things Salmo salar related it depends on the river. All salmon rivers are legally bound, by an act past in the mid 1800s I think?, to have a certain number of closed days to both rods and netting operations in estuaries each year. However, people who own the fishing rights to a salmon river can choose when the river is open for fishing and when it is closed. So, some rivers open in January and close on October 31st, while others will open in February or March and close in mid/late November. It changes from river to river and is influenced by management strategies and traditional fishing dates.

What this means
If you are willing to travel you can, with a bit of luck and some forward planning, fish for salmon all year round by hitting different rivers as they open and close.

The mighty Grayling
Grayling, although a salmonid, is classed as a coarse fish. This stems from angler snobbery and highlights what a bunch of twits some anglers can be. Because they are a coarse fish, just like the mighty carp, there is no closed season for grayling. If you wanted to, you could fish for grayling 365 days a year. However for you ethical fly fishermen reading this, grayling spawn in the spring, April and May, so they are best left alone around this time.

Before you go
If you are planning a holiday or a trip to Scotland, especially to the Glasgow, Stirling or Edinburgh areas, you should contact Tony Donnelly before you go. He knows some cracking spots and he can help you get the proper licence.

About Tony Donnelly
With the exception of Gordon Michie, the ex captain of the Scottish Fly Fishing Team and the man who was crowned Scotlands fly fishing champion of champions, or Ally Gowns the man who invented the Ally's Shrimp fly, Tony Donnelly has the potential to be one of the best fly fishermen in Scotland. He is, as they say, "mad keen," and he knows his stuff. I have fished with him many times and I can vouch for his skills.

Sadly he is a Heart of Midlothian fan, but putting that aside, Tony spends "a lot" of time fishing so he knows where to fish, what to fish and how to fish. Tony has taken several of my clients out fishing when they were in Scotland, they caught fish and they had a good time doing it. When I am heading over to Scotland, after a few e-mails to Tony I am all set to go. Tony holds a Higher National Diploma in Fishery Management and he is in his the 3rd year of a Bsc honours degree in Aquaculture at Stirling University, which is a stones throw from some cracking trout, salmon, grayling and Northern pike fishing.
E-mail: Tony

A word about haggis
Many years ago haggis, much like the east coast cod fishery, were almost harvested into extinction. Luckily in the early 1800s some Scottish farmers in the Great Glen near Inverness, managed to domesticate a few haggis. Luckily, over the years, "escaped" offspring from those domesticated haggis have repopulated much of Scotland. It's illegal to hunt haggis in Scotland. Further, if you happen to hit one while driving through the countryside, you must report it to the nearest police station. Also, if the roadkilled haggis has a bright yellow or an orange identification tag in its left ear, you are obliged to collect the tag and deliver it to the police station when you report the accident. Sadly, all haggis are killed on impact, so you don't have to worry about being bitten or scratched when you approach one at the side of the road. Haggis do not carry any transmittable diseases, fleas, ticks, mites or other parasites.
























... "Art is the flower - Life is the green leaf.
Let every artist strive to make his flower a
beautiful living thing - something that will
convince the world that there may be - there
are - things more precious - more beautiful -
more lasting than life." ...

Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928)

From the CD ROM:
Charles Rennie Mackintosh: Art. Architecture & Design
© Wigwam Digital., 1997
Used with permission.

What if Robert Burns had been a fly fisherman?
Robert Burns: The National Poet of Scotland.
Born: 25th of January, 1759, in a cottage south of the town of Ayr.
Died: July 21st, 1796, in the town of Dumfries. Age 37.

Robert Burns was a man of no common stamp. For over two hundred years his poetical lines have stood the test of time and are frequently used to day. However, most folk don't realise it was Burns who penned the words. We are all familiar with the phrase "the best laid plans of mice and men" but few know it is a variation on a line Burns wrote in his poem: "To a Mouse."

On a cold November day in 1785, John Blane a farm servant of Burns, was ploughing and dug up a mouse nest. Blane turned on the mouse and began chasing it across the field with a plough-share scraper. Burns stopped him and told him to leave the poor creature alone.

"But Mousie, thou art no thy lane
In proving forsight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o' mice and men Gang aft a-gley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief and pain For promis'd joy!"

There are few poets who have written verse for a mouse, a wounded hare, a louse, a mountain daisy, a flock of water fowl he disturbed on a walk or book worms he found munching through a volume of Shakespeare. His sensitivity to nature, and to the environment, would have made Burns an excellent catch and release fly fisherman. Being a common, salt-of-the-earth type of man, it would be hard to imagine him fishing for Loch Leven trout, or the king of fish, the mighty Atlantic salmon. I believe that Burns would have been a carp fisherman and his prose may have been...
On catching a carp from the Nith River, near Dumfries on a size #16 Gravelbed fly.

Amang the moorhens, ducks n' coots,
I cast my fly tae ya massive brutes.
Thro' flooded brook where torrent's roar,
I'll fish fir thee, all Scotland o'er.
Thou are a wise n' mighty fish,
Tae capture you, I hope n' wish.

Wi polish'd sides o' gold'n yellow,
Majestic, n'a bonie fellow.
Against thy beauty nane can endure,
All other fish are doited, dour.
And I can only wonner why,
Your skunnerd wi ma best weet fly.

'Weel, weel' says I, Ho now I ken,
Ya grabbed the Gravelbed again!
So shake yir head, n' skelp yir tail,
This time I'll land ye, I'll no fail!
From Megs grey tail this line wis made,
I twistl'd it n' tae a braid.

Ya shouldna wurry at yer strife,
I'll let ye go, n' hain yir life.
Ther' in the wat'r gie a pause,
'T reflect upon new Nature's laws.
From this day forth thou'll be the wiser,
'N tell the school, be the'r adviser!

© Ian Colin James. January 1999.