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We were warned, before leaving for Scotland in mid-September, that it was going to be late in the season for trout fishing, that a dry summer had left the streams too low, and that generally speaking the fishing had been poor. But the idea of fishing in Scotland was too appealing to resist and, besides, fishing isn’t just about catching fish, is it? So we decided we would fish, but we took a minimum of equipment (no waders, which turned out to be no handicap) and put a lot of hiking, battlefields and castles in our itinerary. Fishing became somewhat peripheral in our plans to spend three weeks in Scotland, but nevertheless we looked forward to that part of the trip. If the rivers were still dry we would fish in the lochs.
My wife, Pat, and I are only moderately experienced as fly fishers but we have fished in the West, in New England and in Patagonia, so we have some basis for comparison. We can report that although the fish may not have been abundant in Scotland, it is a beautiful and idiosyncratically charming place to fish. For example, you cannot fish on Sundays, except in water that has no access to the sea. You are allowed to play golf on Sundays, which seems unfair to those who think that fishing is holier than golfing. The reasons for these distinctions are probably perfectly clear to those who have figured out how many angels fit on the head of a pin. Except for the great rivers, such as the Tweed and the Tay, the access to fishing in Scotland is easy and cheap. People are helpful and friendly, prudent with their advice, but not intrusive or condescending towards the uninformed. You don’t need a license, but you do need the permission of whoever has the fishing rights to the waters you want fish. If your lodge or hotel doesn’t have its own fishing rights, the local tackle shop, fishing club, newsstand, post office or even grocer can probably rent you a day’s fishing on a nearby loch or stream for 15 pounds or so (about $24).
After a couple of days spent sightseeing in and around Edinburgh, we started our fishing in central Scotland near Pitlochry in Perthshire. At the Queens View Hotel (*). Standard rooms with private bath run 58 pounds (about $93) and up per day per person, based on double occupancy, includes breakfast and dinner. Richard Tomlinson, the proprietor, told us the streams were dry and Loch Tummel, stretching out below his excellent hotel, might have that legendary, dreamy Scottish beauty, but fishwise it is a desert. He said he had arranged for us to fish the next day on a small loch nearby. It would be a Sunday, but Loch Bahc is landlocked, so we wouldn’t be violating God’s will. After a late breakfast the next day – no one in Scotland seems in a hurry to start fishing and indeed most hotels don’t serve breakfast before 8 a.m. – we went to Mitchell’s, the tackle shop in Pitlochry, to pay our 15 pound fee and pick up advice and instructions. I showed Mr. Mitchell the small collection of flies I had brought over from the US and he said they would do fine. He specially recommended the Adams, the Zug Bug and several wet flies. He didn’t try to sell me any of his flies. He gave us precise instructions to get to Loch Bahc, high up in a national forest, and two keys, one to open a forestry gate and one to unlock the rowboat waiting for us. Loch Bahc turned out to be an unspoiled lake about one-third of a mile long, 30 feet deep, bounded by woods on three sides and moorland on the other. Our boat was sturdy enough to allow two to cast safely. Its oars must have come from a slave galley. They were so heavy that I had to carry them one at a time from a little shed to the boat.
It was a cool, breezy day, partly cloudy and we got some nice drifts across the lake. The Zug Bug and the wet flies aroused some interest in the water, but no serious strikes. But when Pat switched to an Adams she hooked and landed a beautiful 14-inch rainbow, which we released. That was the end of the action for the day. We ate ou