Loch Lomond Dreams
A lament as Sean Meeghan reflects upon a 25 year obsession with the loch and its inhabitants.
I’m alone on the great waste of the Cromh Mhin, a gentle westerly wind whispers to the reeds and makes the waters of the Endrick chuckle with the timbers of my boat. The midges have driven me early to my tent and I’m dozing in my sleeping bag contemplating an early start in the morning; the silence of the wasteland pulls me deeper into sleep and I dream...
The evening is drawing in and the brisk winds of the day have eased to leave a gentle ripple which is gilded by the light of the setting sun. I lie back in the soft grass to watch the development of a truly spectacular sunset. My reverie is broken as Dave Martin’s drop off goes and I get some atmospheric shots of him playing a good fish. I return to sit by my rod; today’s winds have been warm and pike will have moved on to the shallows to await the arrival of the spawning roach. The pike often travel in small groups, so there’s a good chance that I’ll get a take from one of the companions of Dave’s fish. Sure enough the curve of line at my rod tip twitches and straightens. I pick up the rod and disengage the ratchet on the multiplier, thumbing the spool as the fish takes line steadily. I click the reel into gear and wind, walking backwards at the same time until the rod locks up solidly. The fish realises something is wrong and the rod tip is wrenched round until the clutch starts to give line.
I can do nothing with this fish except increase the drag setting a smidgeon, and watch the curve in the rod edge round further into the red. Dave, Pete and Martin gather round, a Greek chorus for the unfolding drama. I’ve now got over 100 yards of line out, but the fish has hit the far slope of the channel and, not fancying continuing the battle in 18 inches of water, she kites round to the right. This gives me my first opening, but as I start to pump her back towards me she broaches, shaking her head violently. The chorus remarks on her immense size which does nothing for my composure. I ease off the pressure slightly and we both sulk for a while. Night is drawing in and the chorus begin to mutter darkly about lost drinking time. Taking a leaf from a vaguely remembered book on salmon fishing I start to walk the fish, gradually gaining line to encouraging noises from the chorus who can now almost taste the beer.
Disaster strikes when the fish hits the near slope of the channel and shows her displeasure by leaping clear of the water. I bow to the queen, but still the hooks pull free. The chorus gives its verdict:
“You’ve just lost a 30 mate.”
Exodos: we pack up and head for the pub.
It’s hot, an almost tropical heat and the boat is littered with cast off clothing. Pete and I are perch fishing in the harbour at Balmaha. Behind me I hear a babble of voices and the click of camera shutters as a coach load of tourists queue for the mail boat out to the islands. Despite the heat and the brightness we’ve been catching perch steadily from under a large motor launch. The technique is to flick a float up against the hull and wait for her to swing round on her mooring. Just as the floats are about to disappear under the boat they dive under. The perch were all good fish and we’d had half a dozen each up to just over two pounds.
The babble of voices behind me notches up in volume and I turn to watch the tourists board the mail boat.
Pete’s voice brings me back to the fishing and I turn to see his rod take on an alarming curve as he stops a good fish in its dash for the anchor chain. The fish stays under the boat, taking line steadily and Pete plunges his rod tip under the surface to prevent any contact with the keel. The engine note of the mail boat deepens as it pulls away from the jetty, but then it drops back to idle. I turn to check that we’ve left them enough room and see Sandy hanging out of the cabin to watch Pete.
“Good fish Sean?”
I nod. Conversation on the mail boat stills as the passengers come to the side to watch the battle. Pete is gradually gaining the upper hand, but I move to the stern ready to lift the back anchor if the fish decides to go under our boat. Thankfully, it behaves itself and Pete slips the net under it to a round of applause. He takes a quick bow before we set about weighing and photographing the fish. It weighed 2lb 15oz.
Inside the cover of my copy of Thomas McGuane’s The Longest Silence is a cryptic note:
'Lomond 7/6/02 20.04, 15.11, 14.07, 13.05, 10.14, 2 about 10, 1 jack'
I’d meant to get up early, but a late night in the Oak Tree, a warm sleeping bag and a comfortable bunk had put paid to that. The sound of an outboard motor wakes me. I listen carefully: Kerry and Nigel. Then another with a deeper tone this time: Andy Trim. I rise hurriedly, throw on some clothes and set off after them. It’s a beautiful morning with barely a ripple on the loch and the sun just burning off the early mist. I can see Kerry and Nigel anchored up at the mouth of the bay and Andy just positioning his boat in the channel. Then I see a pike strike and another and another. The shallows are alive with roach and dace preparing to spawn and it looks like every pike in the southern basin has arrived to join in the fun.
I gun the engine and soon I’m dropping the anchors about 80 yards away from Andy. This year the weed growth on the shallows is really prolific and I spend a few minutes choosing the best clear areas in which to present baits. I put out two rods, one a float paternostered live roach and the other a float fished dead roach and go back into the cabin to put the kettle on and open a tin of rice pudding for breakfast.
The ratchet screams on the livebait rod and I dash out and pull into a good pike. The fish takes line steadily for a while and when the pressure finally tells she kites round towards the bow of the boat. I grit my teeth and hang on as the 20lb line strims a wide arc of weed. Then comes potential disaster: the ratchet sounds on my deadbait rod. Cursing, I flick the multiplier into free spool, engage the ratchet, drop the rod back into the rest and strike into the fish on the other rod. Luckily the other fish decides to retire to a patch of weed and sulk and I’m left to play in this pike without interruption.
This fish trashes the weed beds on the other side of the boat before I manage to net it. A quick weigh at 20lb 4oz and she’s returned, leaving me to deal with the other fish. She weighs 14lb 7oz.
I stop for a well deserved cuppa and a can of cold rice pudding, before sorting out my gear and recasting; with one rod this time! I catch fish steadily through the morning before the action tails off at around 1 o’clock. By this time the sun is beating down from a cloudless sky and the temperature in my cabin is 35C. The boat is now surrounded by a wide area of weed-free water and clumps of floating weed are drifting towards the shore. I up anchor and head off for the islands and Ross Dhu.
Another year. Matt Green and I have been up for a week but the weather has been terrible with gales and torrential rain. Despite fishing hard we’ve only a couple of jacks to show for all our effort. It’s our last full day and we’ve decided to throw everything at one last spot. We’re fishing the drop off on the Clairiach side of the channel between Clairiach and Inch Cailloch. Not far from the crannog at the tip of Clairiach there’s a slight bay in the drop off with a little underwater cliff. We’ve got 2 baits at the bottom of the drop off in about 18ft of water and two baits at the top in around 8ft of water.
By mid afternoon we’ve doubled our jack count and then the dead roach on my rod at the bottom of the drop off is taken. A long fight ends with me drawing a very long fish over the net. Unfortunately it doesn’t have the depth to give it the weight I thought it might have. On unhooking it I find a second trace in its throat which I manage to remove. She weighs just over 23lb and hopefully will recover now that she can feed properly. We give it a couple more hours then head off to the Oak Tree to celebrate.
A lovely late spring day somewhere on the Endrick. The boat is snugged up against the bank; to our right a backdrop of Ben Lomond and the Arochar Alps painted in the palest pastels, to our left a cool green tunnel. Pete and I are roach fishing but, lulled by the sultry heat of the day, our hearts aren't really in it. Still, we're catching the occasional plump beauty, whiling away the time until the cool of the evening. I've just made a brew and I'm sipping from the cup in one hand whilst fishing with the other. The float slides slowly under and a routine lift of the rod results in a solid resistance. I place my mug of tea on the thwart.
"Bigger one this Pete."
A heavy thump is felt through the rod and it pulls round even more.
Pete refuses to be drawn and sips his tea.
A few minute later a broad grey back wallows on the surface.
"Chub?" I enquire.
Pete maintains a dignified silence.
I draw the mystery fish towards the boat.
Too late, I realise what I've hooked and the fish senses danger. An explosion of spray and a silver blur hurdles Pete's rod and heads for Glasgow causing load complaints from my reel.
"Salmon!" We exclaim in unison.
We cleared the decks and battle commenced. I was fishing 4lb line straight through so I managed to stop the fish long before it reached Drymen. After that it was a war of attrition with me exerting as much pressure as I dared, praying that the tiny hook would hold fast. The fish tired and sulked deep as I coaxed another smidgeon of pressure from the creaking carbon. Slowly, slowly I gained line, keeping everything calm and smooth, lulling the fish into submission. A flash of tarnished silver is our first sight of the fish and then it lies in the net.
A quick snap and the salmon is carefully returned. Pete turns and looks at me.
"That would have been nice with some crispy bacon"
I check my line, impale another couple of maggots on the hook and recast.
When I get home I examine the pictures and realize that the fish was actually a sea trout.
Something disturbs the geese roosting on the Endrick shore and the cacophony of their alarm calls drag me into wakefulness. A pale grey light seeps through the canvas of the tent and I clamber from the warmth of my sleeping bag into the cold dawn. I down a quick cup of tea and a bowl of cereal before breaking camp and loading my gear into the boat. The wind has risen and as I leave the shelter of the river I see a big wave has got up overnight. I carefully negotiate the shallows and punch out through the breakers into deeper water. I contemplate heading into the bay for a few hours’ fishing but my heart isn’t in it and I head off for Balmaha and home.
This article tells of my farewell to Loch Lomond. The ban on rough camping on many parts of the loch, increasingly difficult access and tighter regulation of the fishing itself has now made it increasingly difficult, and expensive, for anglers like myself. So ended a twenty five year obsession with the loch and its fish and I shall probably never return.
We can debate the reasons: the piles of litter and excrement, the drunken behaviour, the poaching, the introduction of carp, the animosity of the game anglers and the national park authorities to coarse anglers. These all played their part, but whatever the cause the fishing is now effectively lost to all who don’t have access to a boat. The PAC and the Scottish pike anglers fought a rearguard action, but once an idea like this is mooted the battle is already lost and resistance only delays the inevitable.
The sad tale of Loch Lomond will be repeated again and again if we coarse anglers don’t get our act together and secure our own future.
By the Same Author
- Book review - Memories of the Yorkshire Fishing Industry
- Winter Fishing – A Wandering Session
- Barbel Fishing - Floodwater Tactics on Big Rivers
- Nash PegOne Tackle ‘n’ Bait Caddy
- Loch Lomond Dreams
- River Fishing - The Last Hurrah
- Cold Water Chub
- Chub Fishing on a Rising River
- Grayling Fishing - Between Times
- Book Review - The Lambton Worm by Pete McParlin