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A favourite loch

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While it undoubtedly gives us great plea sure to be afloat on the waters of some unknown loch, a pleasure born of a love for experimenting with different types and sizes of flies, for studying the configuration of the shores and deducing therefrom the nature of what lies hidden beneath the surface, we are equally keen to revisit familiar haunts, scenes of past triumphs.

Of course speculation and experiment can never be entirely absent from a day's fishing, for the trout in a loch vary their moods from day to day and seldom exhibit the same behaviour, although conditions may be to all appearance precisely similar, but it is a considerable advantage to be able to commence operations armed with some previous knowledge; without hesitation we select a bay and drift across it full of hope, well knowing that, if the fish are in the humour which most strongly appeals to us, we shall be amply rewarded. We know the flies most in favour, and moreover we can with confidence predict the species which will ride the wave if wind and weather are such as are likely to tempt them forth.

Continually we are reminded of the past; off that low-lying ledge of rock we hooked and after a fight of long-doubtful issue landed our best fish for many a year; on that drift we took on one great day the record basket of the season; down yonder bed of swaying reeds once we on a calm windless evening had one memorable hour after sundown, when the trout found the seductive floating fly completely irresistible.

With such thoughts crowding upon us we stand impatiently by the shore of Loch Dochart, waiting for the completion of the preparations necessary before we may embark. We seem to be fortunate in the weather, for the sun, long absent, promises to shine through at intervals, and a fair breeze from the West raises a good fishing ripple, and yet we dare not allow ourselves to become too sanguine of success. Autumn is fast approaching, while still snow gleams white on Ben More, conclusive evidence of the untoward conditions which have prevailed during the season. The long-continued rains confer one benefit in that the too abundant weeds are well covered, and consequently the extent of fishing area is greatly increased.

It is not until we row out that we realise to what degree the loch has lately been flooded; the reeds show that they have been entirely submerged, and now the points, projecting a foot or more, display an incrustation of fine dry mud, from which we deduce that the rise in the water had been very sudden and its subsidence equally rapid.

We decide to try first the lagoon at the mouth of the river Fillan, a usually fruitful part characterised by deep water bordered by sandy shallows, on which fish love to rest. It was formerly, and most probably still is, tenanted by trout of grand average weight, but only one condescends to accept our lures, and we change to that belt which lies between the Castle Island and the south shore.

We arrive there in time to welcome the fore runners of a hatch of Medium Olives, for which Loch Dochart is justly famed, and which t seldom fails to produce. A resounding splash here and there shows that the trout are as pleased to see them as we are, and we lay whenever possible our floating representation where a worthy trout is found to be waiting. For a time the sport is sufficiently fast and furious, and the quality of the fish coming aboard quite good enough to satisfy the. most exacting of anglers, but there is one requirement above all that must be possessed if a rise is to terminate in a kill; and that is ability to strike quickly.

We have never in all our wanderings encountered trout which are so quick in their movements as are those of Loch Dochart; the speed with which they can accept and then reject a fly is astonishing, so that the answering strike must be very quick indeed. After they are hooked they show an equal agility in enveloping themselves in weeds, unless they are held firmly and worked smartly into the net.

To be successful with these nimble trout a vigilant, ever-watchful eye is necessary, especially when the lure employed is the floating fly, for they, the larger fish in particular, can and do frequently suck it down almost without betraying the fact. The sudden disappearance of the fly is all that indicates the event, and should the attention waver for an instant the longed-for opportunity of dealing with a fish may be gone for ever.

Up to the present we have been doing so well that we complain bitterly when we are compelled to change our methods and resort to the wet-fly. The reason is that the wind has risen to a gale, which drives the boat at great pace before it, so that we cannot keep our line and flies floating to our satisfaction. The hatch, however, continues as merrily as ever, a matter for surprise in this cold windy weather, and swallows and trout alike are feasting to their hearts' content. It is therefore no wonder that we are annoyed at being forced to diminish our chances of sport, however unavoidable the change of lure may be.

Now we are on the long drift between the island and the out-flowing river, sheltered slightly from the gale, and by keeping the rod point low and dragging the flies across the path of the boat we manage to circumvent the gusts. Sport is being fairly well maintained, the credit of which belongs partly to the willingness of the trout themselves, perhaps also partly to the tactics employed, but chiefly to the efficiency of the boatman, whose services we are decidedly fortunate to secure.

His knowledge of the loch is complete; he lets slip no opportunity of putting us within reach of a rising trout, which is accomplished neatly and quickly by a deft touch of an oar; he shows his satisfaction when his and our united efforts result in a capture, but the gale prevents him showing the finer points of his skin. In a gentle breeze he would as of yore work the boat in and out the edge of the reeds, the floating Olive would vanish from sight, and the air would be filled with the music of the reel. Still in the adverse conditions he works wonders, and the creel begins to bear witness to the fact.

Now with every sense alert we approach, expectantly the most critical point, the entrance to the river. There the wise, old, wary trout are gathered together waiting for what the wind and the wave and the current will bring, and there many of them have in past days fallen to our fly. To-day there is no exception to the rule, for the instant the tail-fly alights it is seized, and a fine fish wildly leaps in a vain endeavour to shake free the piercing hook. We have some anxious moments before it is safely In the boat, but then we see that it is the finest trout of the day, a beauty in every respect.

All too soon the day passes, and we seek the shore again, there to arrange but first admire our thoroughly satisfactory basket of twenty-five lovely trout. What more could anyone desire, a day in the fresh, keen air amid the picturesque surroundings of Loch Dochart, a fair measure of sport, and a dish of really handsome trout to distribute among one's friends? Surely that is enough to please and satisfy anyone, and yet the results are mediocre and serve only to indicate what great sport could be obtained tin a favourable day.

Loch Dochart stands pre-eminently our first favourite among lochs, and our reasons for putting it in this high position are many and varied. It is easily reached; a blank day on il is unthinkable, except when a terrific storm makes it impossible to launch or manage a boat; the trout are of excellent quality, full of sport, numerous and of good average size; boats and capable men are usually if not always available; the loch itself is generally acknowledged to be of surpassing beauty. We have frequently heard anglers complain that the loch is scarcely worth visiting, and the reason they give is that the trout arc diminutive specimens, but they would in ail likelihood be readily persuaded to alter their opinions if they would take pains to develop an increased readiness in responding to a rise, for we confidently assert that it will be only on an extremely bad fishing day that the fish basketed will average less than one-third of a pound.

Of course it must be carefully pointed out that the most effective lure there is without doubt the; floating fly, the truth of which statement will be rendered apparent to anyone who cares to use his powers of observation. On no loch known to us is there such a superabundance of insect life, consisting, too, principally of Ephemeridae; almost even-day in the season they are in evidence, and never have we seen a hatch unaccompanied by a corresponding activity on the part of the trout. This fact alone is sufficient inducement to us to visit it and to regard it in the highest esteem.

The fish are accustomed from almost daily experience to see flies sailing on the surface, and they rise, we venture to affirm, invariably with serious intent. Even when we have repeatedly failed to hook rising fish, we have never felt inclined to comfort ourselves with the inference that they are indulging in that irritation known as short-rising, but rather have we blamed ourselves for being guilty of tardiness in our actions. The only point against the loch that we can admit is the prevalence of weeds, which, especially in a dry season, may become a positive nuisance to the boatman who has to propel his craft through them, no light task against a strong wind, hut to the angler they should cause little annoyance except in so far as they curtail the amount of fishing water.

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