Tackle and Techniques

For Loch Fishing.

Traditional Loch Style Fishing.

A simple technique that is as effective today as it has always been.

Fishing from either bank or drifting boat, with a long rod (10 ft+), with a team of 3 or 4 flies. Cast short finishing with the rod low to the water. Lift the rod to move the flies, when the rod is upright make the next cast.

Fishing from the bank is a mobile technique. All your tackle should be carried on your person. After you have made the cast, but before you start to lift the rod, take a good pace along the bank. In a day’s cast and pace fishing many miles of bank can be covered.

The boat can be slowed with a drogue. A large underwater parachute. Which is trailed behind the boat. It helps you to cover the water more effectively in a wind, which is most of the time in the Highlands.

There are many traditional and modern flies for this style of fishing. The bushiest fly is placed on the top dropper getting slimmer in profile to the point fly on the very tip of the cast. Below is the set up of my typical 3 fly cast.

Dibbling the Dropper

When the top or “Bob” fly wakes across the surface this is known as dibbling the dropper. It is a deadly technique. Often the fish will come to the dibbled fly, but not take it. As they turn away they will regularly take one of the slimmer flies fishing below. This is a case of a team of flies working together to produce more than the sum of its parts. When this is happening do not change the bob fly for something slimmer. It doesn’t work! I know, I’ve tried it!


Notice from the photo (above) how much water the dibbled clan Chief is moving. This screams “food” to a hungry trout.

Modern Loch Style.

Modern techniques can be used to modify traditional loch style. It can extend the season at both ends, and produce fish in conditions when pure traditional techniques will not work well. The tackle set up is similar. Long rod and floating line will cover 99% of conditions. Very occasionally an intermediate or sinking line will give you an advantage. From late spring to early September I do not even carry a sinking line of any kind. Our lochs are not very deep and can be covered well with a floating line.

This technique involves casting the line further than the traditional method. The line is retrieved. Towards the end of the retrieve lift the rod to dibble the dropper, and bring the flies up in the water, ready to make the next cast. Make sure you bring your flies right in to the bank before lifting off. Trout will sometimes take within inches of the bank.

Weighted flies are often used in this style of fishing. Most often on the point. Usually the flies are lightly weighted, with a few turns of lead wire under the dressing, a copper wire body or a small brass bead. We do not use tungsten beads and multiple layers of lead as we do on rivers. If you do you will loose a lot of flies on the bottom. Even a heavier wire hook will give enough weight. To get our favourite Orange Rough Fly down I will often dress it on Mustad R90 3x heavy hook. Here it is compared to a size 12 Black Pennel. It has become our go to attractor for the odd times we fish for rainbow trout.

This isn’t “International Rules Loch Style”. The only competitions we enter are social events run by DADAA. Other than that you may hear one of us call “tanners” at the start of a days fishing. One of our fishing friends learned to fish in the dim and distant past, when we used “real money” Pounds Shillings and Pence. His mentor would challenge him to a tanner (sixpence) bet for the first fish, the biggest fish, and the most variety. Hence, Tanner for the first, tanner, for the biggest, and tanner for the most variety.

Rods Reels and Lines.

“You’ll need at least an 8 weight to cope with the wind here.”

I was told when I first came to the area.

“Tosh!” I said. “You need to learn how to cast.”

These days my “weapon of choice” is a 10 foot 5/6 weight rod. I would like a longer one, perhaps 11 feet long, but not enough to pay the £600 Mr Hardy wants for one! A five six weight will handle the fish well, while letting a small wild brown trout show off it’s tenacity. It is also less effort to cast. In a long days fishing that is important.

The length is required purely to enable you to dibble your dropper, and because boat fishing is carried out from a sitting position. For safety you do not stand in a drifting boat. If you do you will find yourself walking back to the bank!

The tackle trade makes millions out of anglers desire to cast further. Probably 99% of this money is wasted. I have seen Hewel Morgan cast over 30 yards using a 1970's fibreglass rod bought from Woolworths. The ferrule was so loose it had to be held together with plastic tape.

Rods do not cast line! Anglers cast line using a rod. Most of the time it is not the rod where the problem is. It is the way the angler is using it. Spending £30 on an hours casting instruction will improve your casting more than spending £1000 on a new rod. A few hours practicing what you learned will yield even greater returns for your outlay.

Reels.  How much do you want to spend? The sky really is the limit. I have seen some beautiful examples of the reel makers art. If you want to spend your children’s inheritance on a posh reel feel free. I don’t.

Many people consider the reel “just somewhere to store line while you are not fishing”. A reel does more than this. It is best to play fish off the reel. If you hand line fish in you need to drop the line on the floor of the boat or the ground. The boat is full of bits and pieces just waiting to snag your line when the best fish of the day makes a run. The lochs we fish are wild places, No one takes a lawnmower to the banks. Heather reeds and gorse predominate, and they all love to grab loose fly line.

If you do not wish to feel the ping as a good trout takes off with your fly then get your loose line under control as quickly as possible. The best way to do this is to get the line onto the reel.

The best kind of reel to play a fish off is one equipped with a disc drag. It doesn’t have to be the train stopping drag of a salt water fly reel, but one will make playing a fish easier. You could “palm the reel” as you play the fish. It is difficult to apply even steady pressure this way, especially if you have to move along the bank.

Good disc drag reels are available cheaply today. The ones I use are less than £30 each. Fishing in wild places means stumbles and trips are common. I am not worried about these reels when I have to throw my rod clear, as I would be if I was paying fortunes for one.

Your reel should hold your fly line and around 75 yards of backing. 20lb backing is sufficient, even if you should hook into one of the salmon that frequent some of our lochs.

Lines A floating line is going to be your work horse. Get a good one. I have had many many lines and the best, by a country mile, I have ever used is the Barrio GT90. My current 6 weight is now in its third season, and showing none of the problems old lines often suffer. They are soft and supple, have very little memory, and float well. The “Mushy Pea” colour is also great. Visible to the angler yet nicely subdued. The taper shoots, and shoots and shoots! It is also, frankly, cheap! How other makes are still in business I don’t know. You can order yourself one of Mike Barrio’s excellent lines here.

As I have discussed before I rarely use sunk lines. Most of the lochs we fish are not more than an average of 6 feet deep. For this reason I have mill end lines in intermediate and full sinking. I just don’t consider it worth the expense of buying expensive sinking lines.

Casts (Leaders)Nothing fancy here, Maxima has been popular here for so long it is almost traditional. My preference is for clear leader material. Some people like the green some the brown. It is entirely up to you. Your leader should be quite stiff. You do not need the advantages of drag free drift that you want from a dry fly leader you would use on rivers. Limp materials will only result in tangles.

Start with a knot less tapered leader attached to your fly line, then add your tippet and droppers to that. Here is the set up I use for most of my loch fishing. The loops and droppers are formed using “figure of eight” knots. The Knot less tapered leader is inserted into the end of the fly line and secured with a drop of quality super glue. This gives the smoothest connection possible.

Knot less tapered  leaders are also available from Barrio Fly Lines. Mikes are the best I have found and are good value.

Clothing. If you fish with us we do insist that you wear some! Often you will want to wear quite a lot. In May we have fished in snow (see the blog). The dark patches in the photo to the left are rain storms heading our way. Waterproofs should always be worn or carried.

Waders are worn by most people fishing the lochs, even if they are not planning to wade. They will enable you to move around the, often very soggy, banks and to sit down. Breathables are the most comfy. Neoprene (a gift from the gods), are the warmest . And for the sadist, there are rubber and nylon ones available.

In the height of summer Wellington boots or walking boots can be worn, but the days when these are appropriate are few and far between.

Fly fishing clothing is generally very expensive. Many of the lochs are at altitude in the mountains. Often a walk in to the loch is needed. For these reasons clothing designed for mountain climbing is better for the job than dedicated fishing clothing. The jacket I wear is a three in one. A fleece jacket and a waterproof outer jacket. I can wear either or both as conditions dictate. The waterproof outer packs up small, so is easy to carry when not being worn.

Gloves are a pain! If they are thick enough to be warm they are impossible to fish in. This season I have discovered Ice Behr gloves. They are not the warmest, but are the best compromise for fishing in. Even when wet they will keep your hands bearably cold!

Also very useful is the hand warmer from Zippo. These run for hours and provide welcome relief on cold days.

It is said that one third of the heat you loose goes out through your head. Cover it! I could write a book on fishing hats. You need one. I’ll make only two points about them. I was told many years ago by a river keeper on the Chatsworth estate that “If a gentleman has a fly in his hat it is due to an accident with the wind while casting”. Baseball caps are not appropriate. Especially if you have your head on backwards! (Well the hat surely isn’t the wrong way around).

Carrying Gear. Where to put all those extras like spare mono, floatant, sinkant, flask, gloves, waterproofs, fly boxes etc., is an eternal problem. Over the years I’ve tried lanyards, waistcoats, chest packs, waste packs and rucksacks. None of them are a solution for all situations. Here are some of the things I have discovered about them.

Waistcoats. Now which pocket is it in? Some of them need a “vest index”. Where do you put your flask and butties? Two things are important when you choose one. Make sure you can open one pocket at a time. If opening a zip or flap means more than one pocket is open when you put your hand in something will fall out of one of the others. Also how the waistcoat fits is important. Take something heavy, like a flask with you. Put the waistcoat on and zip it up. Put the flask in the back and move around. Some waistcoats will move, falling at the back. If this happens the front of the collar will throttle you. I know I had a very expensive waistcoat that did just this.

Lanyards. Ideal for all those little bits and pieces. For safety’s sake make sure you can break it! Anglers have been drowned by their lanyard becoming stuck in a rising river.

Chest packs. These are just for those essential items that you will need frequently. You will need to have another way to carry large items.

Waste Packs, or bum bags. Are a really handy way to carry your gear. Out of the way while you are fishing but can be swung around to give you good access when you need to. My only problem is I can’t find one big enough to take my camera as well.

Rucksack. This is what I use most. For short days a day sack is ideal, Plenty of room for everything and it is well out of the way. Make sure when you go to buy one it gives you enough freedom to cast. For longer trips a larger one may be needed. My large rucksack will take a 2hp outboard in addition to my gear.

Stripping Basket. This is an item I never really thought much about using. Frustration with line getting caught on heather and reeds at the waters edge convinced me that it was a good idea to try one. The short video shows what I mean. A similar amount of line is shot first from the ground and second from a stripping basket.

You can buy them, there are lots of good ones out there. The ones we use I made myself, from a child’s plastic step available from Ikea. It is a good size and has a concave back edge. Yes I need to paint it, but otherwise it is ideal. The spikes in the bottom are made from mastic gun nozzles filled with Gorilla Glue and screwed into place through the bottom. Simple and effective it is  above all inexpensive. The two I made for Mike and myself cost less than £15 to make. It is now an essential piece of equipment for bank fishing. I will modify them soon putting two slots in the bottom. These will act as drain holes, and also enable the waist belt to be fitted in such a way that the baskets can be mounted in front of the angler on a thwart board for when we are boat fishing.

One thing I have noticed is that I shoot much more line using it. I think this is because I am not having to lift the line as far to shoot it. It may look stupid but it works!

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