I called Viv at about 10am on a Wednesday morning after seeing an advertisement in the window of the Mallaig tourist bureau. The advertisement for ‘local guided loch fishing’ was similar to Mallaig; quaint and decrepit in places, but seemingly honest and real. At 60 pounds for a half-day trip, I was thinking that I might get to sit in a powered boat and go trolling for a few hours. Even if I didn’t so much as sniff a fish, it would be a cheap way to spend a few hours on the water.
I didn’t expect to be able to understand Viv much on the phone. Anyone who’s spoken to Scottish folk in person knows that you need to concentrate intently while watching the lips move for it to translate into English. Even then it can be a struggle. I was pleasantly surprised when I could understand Viv clearly, even with the ‘ayes’ and the ‘dunnaes’, and we agreed to meet on the shores of Loch Morar at 1pm for a wee spot of loch fishing. I had never had the pleasure of fishing on a loch, so was feeling like a kid on Christmas eve as we made our way there in the hire car.
Viv introduced himself with a broad grin and a twinkle in the eye, and I knew that he’d be a good companion for the afternoon. He had already started to manage my expectations on the phone earlier in the day. ‘Tha fishen could be a li-ool toof tooday’. The morning was still and clear, but by the time we arrived at the loch the sun had been covered in misty cloud, the wind had sprung up and it was altogether classicly dismal Scottish (‘Scaw-ish’) weather; perfect for trout fishing.
I forget the name of Viv’s loch boat, but she was beautiful. If I had to pick a name, I’d call her something like Carolyn, but embellish the spelling to something fancy like Carolynne. Fancy names always look better in that cursive font that boat painters love. We loaded a few flyrods and Viv’s wicker basket into Carolynne and set off across the Loch. She was a moody old thing – the loch, that is – with a slick, almost oily appearance created by the deeply stained waters, into which I could only see a foot or so. I could almost imagine her having her own ‘Nessie’, but joked with Viv that the only monsters I would see today were the brown trout.
I think Viv was simultaneously relived and horrified when we started casting. I was fishing a nice 9 weight and instantly found the sweet spot. Rache was fishing a similar setup but was a bit out of practice. I think fishing guides are incredibly tolerant; the fact Viv didn’t turn the boat around and head back after understanding that he’d spend much of the afternoon ducking tiny sharp flying needles is testament to his evidently stoic character.
We started fishing over a shallow weedbed. It felt fishy, and it wasn’t long before my rod loaded up and I had a nice little brown troot on the line. Viv had mentioned that the fish in this loch were good fighters, and he wasn’t wrong. Despite the sturdy 9 weight, which I secretly believed was overkill in pretty much all situations involving trout, my little fish put a nice bend in the rod. I plucked it from the water and felt incredibly content. My first Scottish fish, and a native trout at that. Another one followed shortly after, about the same size as the first. I had figured out that they were hitting a short-strip retrieve, and was starting to find that rhythm of casting and fishing that only lure and fly fishers know. It’s a good feeling.
I caught one more small fish and missed another from that weedbed before it went a bit quiet. We tried a few different spots around the loch. Even though the fish had gone a bit quiet, it was beautiful to be so close to the water, sometimes using the small outboard to motor to a new spot, but under Viv’s methodical and quiet rowing while fishing. It’s a magical way to fish. We eventually moved to a more sheltered bay back towards the jetty, with the plan to slowly drift back towards it to conclude the day at around 4.30pm.
The fish were present, but I kept missing them. I think I would have missed three or four in a row. Immensely frustrating, but that’s fishing. I kept casting, almost robotically now, while watching the jetty getting closer and closer. I was a bit sad that I could see the conclusion of the day and was almost willing a fish to hit the fly. And then it happened. A big boil on the water, and I was connected to another fish. A good fish. This fish might have eaten some of the smaller fish for breakfast. As it took off quickly away from Carolynne, I raised the rod to secure the hook. And then nothing.
The line had snapped.
I looked at Viv, and for a short moment, wondered whether he was at fault. He had tied the knots. Did he expect me to hook a big trout? When was the last time he’d checked his knots? A second or two transpired as we looked at each other; we both knew exactly what the other was thinking. I said, completely honestly, ‘that was awesome!’. And it was. I was disappointed, but I’d had a great time and the loss of that fish seemed to make it even more memorable. It was those few seconds while the fish was on, and then off, and then the unspoken conversation I’d had with Viv’s steely eyes, that made it an unforgettable moment. And that’s what fishing is all about.
We fished all the way back to the jetty. I think Viv was excited by the big trout, as I was, and as 4.30pm came and went I wondered whether he might start up the outboard and motor on home. It was starting to rain, and his girlfriend and hound were waiting patiently at the jetty. Viv was fishing now, seemingly enthused by the big trout, and we slowly drifted towards his evidently tolerant entourage. We made it back a little after 5pm, and said cordial hellos to Viv’s much younger (and better looking) girlfriend and hound, who by now were dripping with rain. Shaking hands, we said our goodbyes and headed back to Mallaig, eager for a wee dram of whiskey. It was a good day out on the water.