The Highlander Way   


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This aptly named page gives the fly fisher an insight into trout fishing on our Scottish lochs where sometimes we are at the mercy of the rain  wind & wave. I will briefly show you a few of the flies & tactics for this interesting facet of our sport.

Below left is an example of a tail fly, the Peter Ross  made famous by the Killin man of the same name. Below that a Clan Chief a very popular "modern" top dropper or "bob" fly as it is more commonly known.  The picture below right  shows a typical three fly cast used in our wild waters.  The" bob" fly, a Kate Mc Laren is the first dropper usually a bushy palmer to attract trout to take the surface fly. The second or intermediate dropper is usually an imitative pattern. A Greenwell is very popular as it can imitate many of the darker olives.  Following this is the "tail" fly, the Grouse & Claret shown here is very popular. Its colour combination of claret black & a hint of gold work well in our dark or peaty waters.  

A longer softer action rod is employed  & most loch fishing is done from a drifting boat allowing us to cover as much water as possible. The cast is fished in front of the boat which is generally positioned upwind & allowed to drift by fishy spots such as islands, weedy shorelines, sandy bays, rocky outcrops etc. The cast is retrieved more often than not by the figure of eight method but would depend on conditions at the time. Sometimes trout will come to a "quick" fly or the most gentle of retrieves. The services of a gillie or a kindred spirit who knows not only the water but how to control & position a boat to give the angler the best chance is worth his wait in gold. better than a good women to my mind well maybe not but important never the less. A drogue is often employed to help maintain drift & direction.  The tail fly  is fished a bit deeper down than the others & I find the majority of trout will take this one. Having said that, at the end of the retrieve  just as the top dropper fly breaks surface allow it to "dance" on the water. Many a trout following the other two will take the fly presented in this most attractive manner hence the term bob fly Takes can be quite savage at times so be alert for that possibility & do not be too hasty. Let the fish take the fly & turn, before "setting the hook".

Bank fishing can be productive but prepare to walk some way & remember you have to walk back so pace yourself & remember to let someone know where you are going & importantly when you intend to be back. Safety especially when out alone is paramount.

 For fishing seek out likely holding spots & linger accordingly.

 Peter Ross

"The Cast"           

Hook: 14-8s
Thread:  black pre. waxed
Tail:  G.P. tippets
Body:  rear 1/3rd med flat silver   tinsel
front 2/3rds red seals fur 
Rib:   fine silver wire, full length of body
Hackle: black hen, three turns
Wing:  Teal breast, folded

Many shop bought Peter Ross's have a body off floss, a "dead" material to my mind in many flies. I much prefer natural dyed Seal Fur, has a natural translucence that has never been beaten by  more modern synthetics, such as SLF

Now there is a contradiction in terms SLF (synthetic living fibre) An ad mans dream that one if you ask me & totally useless as a dubbing material. For hooks 12 & above Seal is better. For hook sizes below 12s I recommend dyed Mole or Possum. There are synthetics that no doubt  fit the bill to but I tend to stick to the natural materials .

 Black & red are though by many to be good trigger colours, myself included for trout & it is no coincidence that in  this great traditional pattern from Peter Ross, the Killin Scotland fly fisher has all these features plus that added tinsel flash.  Fished in short erratic pulls it accounts for many fine trout each season.                                 
There is a school of thought that trout take this fly a shrimp imitation. In all my years of inspecting trout's stomachs I have never seen a shrimp that looks remotely like a Peter Ross. But and there is always a but is there not? Trout actively feeding on shrimp do take this fly so who am I to knock this. More likely it is taken for a bait fish but whatever they see it as  it is one of the all time "great" wet flies and will take trout whatever country they swim in. I have always had an inkling for "flies that travel well" A good variation is to tie in a dyed orange hackle to replace the hen black, a very attractive pattern not just to the fly fisher but to the Trout as well. I have never understood why some fly fishers do not rate this fly perhaps a confidence thing or more likely they do not know how to fish it. Still as in all things fishy one's mileage may vary.



      Rods, are usually longer than  U.S.A. fly fisher's are used to. A 10ft, soft traditional type action is considered normal here. I use a older Daiwa WF98 10ft or a Osprey Professional 11.3"  Both are ideal for this type of fishing. Casts are  short & frequent searching out likely looking spots along the shoreline, near weed beds, rocky outcrops, islands & sandy bays. Anywhere that Trutta may lurk to intercept food. This coupled with a 3. 1/12" single action reel,  I use a 70s J.W.Young Beaudex & a Cortland 444 DT6 floater are all we need here. A couple of spools of Maxima Chameleon 5/6lb.  A box of suitable flies complete the picture. 

 Oh and don't forget the midge repellent a must for summer Scottish highland fly fishing. Popular brands are Shoo, Autan & Jungle Formula though I am told the new Autan is not a patch on the old stuff probably because they are not using DEET as an ingredient . Deet is a horrible chemical,,get it on fly line or spill it on your dash & it is "good bye plastic but if it is a choice between midge & DEET I go with the latter.



The cast as we know it is not to be confused with casting is the traditional method of setting up flies for fishing our northern lochs. It consists of stiff nylon, Maxima is a good choice tapered down from 6lbs to 4lbs,but depends on size of fish expected. A three fly cast would have two droppers, of around 6",5 turn blood knotted is ideal although a lot today use double surgeons but it is your choice. I use "the blood", it has never let me down, so why change?. A good day out would give maybe a  brace or two of fish around the pound mark but there is always the chance of  the big one so the heavier than normal nylon can be desirable. Size for size these trout fight  like no others, in the world & a pound fish, will test the "best" fly fisher man & lady. The Maxima whilst ideal for dark peaty waters can show up in clear water so for that I use a light green or clear nylon. Drennan Sub Surface is good & I seem to have settled on that one,


Brown Trout (Salmo Trutta Fario)

Pictured below is a typical Brown from a Scottish Lowland Loch





A chunky fish well marked with a nice square tail. Fish like this are fairly common in some lochs.

A worthy quarry indeed

      Kate Mac Laren    From the vice of William J. Robertson, the famous Glasgow, tackle dealer. Had its baptism of fire on Loch Maree in Wester Ross in the mid 1900s,where it fished well for Sea Trout. Certainly a variation on the tried & tested Black Pennell

 A popular bob fly much loved by traditional wet fly men has found a "new" popularity with reservoir fly fishers who have "discovered" "loch style" fishing. Now me I have never lost it but such is life. It is a first class summer pattern for Trutta & in its larger sizes will take Sea Trout & Salar. A good variation has it with a tail of  green Glowbright  floss & very popular with Broonies .

Tip: Instead of the usual brown head hackle try a dyed blue Partridge hackle, a nice addition to my mind.

  Dressing:      To tie the Kate Mac Laren, tie in a small G.P. topping as tail. Dub, some black Seal's fur for body. Tie in a black cock hackle from head to tail, palmer fashion. Now rib the body & hackle with fine silver oval tinsel. Finish off with a front hackle of red/brown to give an overall bushy effect to the fly. Hook sizes can vary between 12s & 8s,std wet fly hooks.




Shown above are a brace of large Brown Trout from Calladail in Sutherland.
These are not typical of highland trout but come from limestone lochs in the Cape Wrath area where due to a geological fault these fertile limestone lochs produce beautiful shaped hard fighting fish with small heads. 
A diet of shrimp & mayfly  bring on these fish  & a 4 pound & whilst  "nice" fish are not uncommon. More typical of Highland waters are  the smaller darker Browns which run 2 or 3 to the pound fight like tigers & more importantly rise freely to palmers & flashy wets fished sub surface during the summer months.


The Clan Chief


A modern dressing that has caught on for our wild northern waters. Fairly easy to tie but with its  unusual "double" floss tail which has spawned a few "look a likes" Click on the fly to view more like it & others from around he world.



Hook: 12-8s,std wet fly hook  
Tail:  Red over yellow floss
Body: Black seals fur, ribbed fine silver wire 
Hackle: Red & black cock wound together palmer fashion
Front Hackle:  Black hen, slightly longer than body hackles. 



The Goat's Toe

Hook: 12-8s 
Tail:  red floss
Body:  bronze Peacock herl
Rib:  red floss or silver oval as variant
Hackle:  Peacock blue neck feather



Was originally thought to be an Irish pattern but  travels well & is more famous here in Scotland than it's country of origin On our Western island lochs is very popular as a Sea Trout & Salmon fly So much so that on Loch Voshimid, it is a "must" pattern. Unusual in he fact that it uses the blue neck feather of the Peacock uncommon in other Trout fly patterns.

The Doobry Variant

Photo by Ed Gallop
I tied this many years ago. Later I gave it's name as originator did as it is very similar to his pattern. Worth an outing when others fail. A good fly on occasion but always the bob.

Hook: 12-8s
Tail: red floss
Body: med gold flat tinsel
Hackle:  black cock, palmer
Rib:  fine gold wire
Front hackle: orange hen, tied longer than body hackle, 2-3 turns  




     Lochan Na H' Achlaise


Lochan Na H'Achlaise on the Rannoch Moor viewed westward across one of its many bays & inlets Here flies such as the Black Pennell, Willie Ross & the Butcher series hold sway. With its heather clad banks & boggy area's it is with caution that we tramp & fish here, places than can trap the unwary & even those in the know have to tread lightly.
      The fish may be small but the scenery is without doubt the finest in the world. It is no wonder why so many people come back again & again to fish its heather clad shores. Trout are free risers pound for pound they will twist jump & run like nothing else that wears an adipose fin. Yes these Highland lochan trout are the finest of fighters & a worthy adversary for those fly fishers that wander it's sometime wild & inhospitable shorelines.


Black Pennell

  Hook: 16-10s                       

  Tail:  Golden Pheasant tippet

  Rib:  fine silver oval    

   Body:  black floss, tied slim                     

   Hackle:  black hen, tied fairly long

 This is one of a whole series of flies, from the great author & sportsman H.Cholmondely Pennell

He insisted that they be dressed with thin floss bodies & long sparse hackles. I prefer a more robust hackling as shown in pattern on right.

Probably the most famous hackled pattern ever. The Pennell has taken countless fish the world over.

Whether in the larger sizes for Salmon, Sea Trout & Browns on our windswept lochs or indeed as a general pattern on stream & smaller still waters where it is more likely  in the smaller hook sizes to be taken as as a midge or a Black Gnat imitation.  When these little black flies appear  this pattern will more than suffice.  For variation change the colour of floss, I suggest a red yellow or green and try a brown hackled version either in the standard hackle or indeed a  palmer. With a front red hen hackle it becomes one of my favourite highland loch flies a suggestive pattern for The Heather Fly, the Willie Ross shown further down the page.

Butcher Family of Flies

Kingfisher Butcher

        Silver Butcher 

A  Kingfisher, version very popular on Loch Leven in Kinross. "The Loch" as it is known, at one time, "The Best Brown Trout Loch" in the world. Sadly now it is a mere shadow of its former glory & has become nothing more than a put & take fishery. The little Kingfisher fished "on the bob" was a great pattern on its hallowed waters. The old time Leven fly fishers used "wee doubles" & their good hooking properties are well documented.  Rainbows now supplement the indigenous Browns & whilst good fish are still to be taken it is lures & other concoctions that are the norm today.  A sad reflection on a once fine Brown Trout water. Loch/Stillwater "modern" fly fisher's have a slightly different outlook than I have & that it their choice but not for this Highlander. I talk of gentler times.                                

The Original "Butcher, I wonder what Messrs Jewhurst & Moon, were thinking when they thought up this pattern. Was originally called The Moon fly, but by 1838,became The Butcher and since Mr. Moon was a butcher to trade it is assumed that it got it's name from that fact rather than from it's fish killing properties. Known throughout the fly fishing world as an extremely good wet fly it accounts for many trout the world over. It does not represent anything in particular but is probably taken as a small bait fish or beetle.  It has the red & black "trigger" colours that Brown trout like & this coupled with a silver tinsel body it is not surprising that it is a killer pattern.


            Bloody Butcher

Other than the three shown there is a gold bodied version which is relatively unknown & the "Hardy Gold" another good pattern from the famous Alnwick fishing tackle manufacturers of the same name. As in most Butchers the wing come  from "Mallard Blues", bodies, hackle & tails changing to suit pattern type. The Silver version goes back to 1838 with the others coming later on. The exception is "The Hardy Gold" which has a Blae (grey) wing instead of the more usual Mallard Blue.  

The Bloody version on the right is very popular here as a summer pattern. Fish it on the tail or dance it as a bob fly

Blae.....(old Scots word for grey.) (us.gray)

I have seen dressings of Butchers that call for a wing of Crow or Magpie but these I class as variations. The "correct" feather for the wing being the blue primary feather from a male Mallard


If I had to choose one fly for the tail position for Trout & Salmon in peaty highland loch then the one bottom right would be it & it has proved itself time & time again. Has been ascribed to William Murdoch an Aberdeen tier of great repute who is also credited with the Heckham Peckham series. It is a variation of that great favourite the Grouse & Claret & may be his as well but by no means certain as many of our older patterns had their origins in Ireland. More likely he stumbled on it in the course of tying a G. & Claret, as the Grouse feathers are rather short in the web & whilst perfectly suitable for small patterns are not much use for the larger sizes. The Bronze mallard when wet is a good substitute to my mind.


Willie Ross     A good pattern when the Heather Fly appears on the water. An ungainly flier at the best of times but when a wind comes off the heather & they are blown onto the loch trout will feed avidly on them. Other patterns to imitate this fly include Red Legs correctly named as the natural has that distinct colour. I am sure the Irish originated Bibio would serve equally well.

Basically a Pennell with a slightly longer red hackle tied in front of the black but for a variation try a palmer version. When the natural appears you will not be disappointed with this on your cast as Brown Trout have a distinct liking for this fly. I remember a day on Sutherlands Loch Loyal when a fall of Heather Fly had the water boiling with good Trout & this fly took a dozen from a bag of fifteen.





Mallard & Claret

  hook: 12-8s Tail:-4/5 Golden Pheasant tippet  Rib:-fine gold wire  body:-claret seal fur  Hackle:-black hen hackle  Wing:-Grouse in the smaller & bronze Mallard in the larger.

Variations:-A claret or light brown hen hackle can be used, slightly paler than the body .I have also seen it tied in "Peter Ross Style" i.e. with a silver butt, for 1/3 of its length & 2/3 fur. An Irish tier, has given it a tail of yellow Goose & I am told it does well on their waters.

Substitute the Bronze Mallard for Grouse & we have the Grouse & Claret (shown on "The Cast")


Mallard & Claret              

Fished as a tail fly it accounts for more Trout,  in my northern waters than any other pattern, with the possible exception of the Soldier Palmer. Shown here on an old Limerick bend wet fly hook.



A fresh fish from Lomond

Sea lice & a bar of silver. She wears her name well

Salar the Leaper


                                                                                                                                          A Calm Day on Lomond, the fly fishers await a wind or maybe just taking in the breathtaking scenery.

Wets will be sufficient for any  wild  Brown  Trout. Three size 12s,of the types shown above, will more than suffice. Generally a bushy "bob" fly, an imitative intermediate on the first dropper & a flashy tail fly suffices. Fished quickly through the waves working the bob & watch out. For all you will see sometimes is the flash as the trout takes the fly. A quick lift & she may be yours. More often than not she is gone as they are by far the quickest of fins.

 Picture shown is a calm day on Lomond.  Salar can be taken close in but Sea Trout prefer a bit of water below & above them,10/15ft  being about right. One of the finest Salmon Sea Trout & Trout waters in Scotland controlled by  Loch Lomond Angling Improvement Association (The Lomond System Managed by Anglers for Anglers). For further information on available fishing accommodation  maps & general permit inquiries click on link below.                                                                            

                                                                                   Sea Trout 



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  Selected Bibliography

              Lawrie   Scottish Trout Flies   Muller  1966 

              Bruce Sandison  Trout Lochs of Scotland    Unwin Hyman  1987 (revised)