Catch and Release

Last weekend I was on a train from Stirling to Dundee with my wife. As we left Perth I was browsing my phone when my wife said ” oh, look at all the people fishing”. Right enough I just caught, as the train flew by, the sight of a few anglers on a lochan under Friarton Bridge, where the M90 crosses the Tay.

Now I had heard of this place in the past and looked into going once but then discovered it seemed to have closed down. I parked the location in the recesses of my memory and thought to myself that I need to visit here for a spot of Rainbow Trout Catch and Release sometime, if it’s re-opened.

Willowgate

Fishery and Friarton Bridge

View down Willowgate fishery from the far end.

Saturday this week, and after getting a few domestic chores done and it being a beautiful sunny dry ( cold) and wind free day some fishing was hopefully on the cards. I hope to get out on the Grayling next weekend so opted for a few hours of winter ( am I allowed to call it winter yet?) Rainbow fishing. But where to go? I was looking at heading to Orchill when “ping!” into my mind came the place we passed last week on the train. I reckoned I could just about get there for 1pm and get four hours in before dark. A quick Google and I had the information to find Willowgate Trout Fishery near Perth.

My gear went into the car followed by my flask of coffee and I was off up the A9 arriving about 12:45. Finding the entrance was easy enough as its a well sign-posted activities complex, but getting to the actual fishery was a little confusing due to the strange contradictory signage that only makes sense once you understand why. Maybe some indication at the railway bridge indicating they want you to go round a roundabout before trying to access the lane to the fishery would be clearer.

Anyway, I was in time to get a 4-hour ticket of catch and release fishing. The keeper told me things had been very slow and the takes were extremely subtle, but once you hooked one you would soon know about it! I asked if the fish were deep as unlike Stirling, it was grey overcast and a very cold wind was blowing down the river. “It’s only six feet he said so no they aren’t that deep”.

I had my Snowbee XS plus line fitted to my reel so opted just to leave that as I thought maybe distance might be helpful. The water was gin clear and the bed of the lochan seemed to be lush green weed. My three fly cast was two buzzers on droppers and a beaded red buzzer on point. I almost always fish something red on the point in winter fishing. With the water being only 6 feet deep and fishing from a wooden boardwalk though, I soon realised even the brass bead was too heavy for slow retrieves and was collecting weed. Off that came and looking through my box I found one lonely looking red Flexifloss buzzer on a Kamasan B160 hook. I crushed the barb on this and cast it out in front of me. I had been here about 15-20 minutes by now and hadn’t seen any fish caught.

Rainbow trout at Willowgate

First Rainbow netted on the Red flexifloss buzzer

I cast out and as I very slowly figure of 8 retrieved back felt a very gentle resistance. I was sure it might have been a fish but it was soooo slight. I just kept it coming and then it came again, I lifted and indeed a fish was on the point buzzer. After a good scrap from a 2lb fish I was able to net and release the rainbow trout. The keeper was not wrong in his assessment of the takes… it was so slight. I noticed he and a few others were fishing indicators but I was happy to try to use simple straightline techniques.

It went kind of quiet so I decided to take a stroll and passing the bridge to the island came to a more natural looking area with thick marginal weeds curving round to a peninsula. As I walked I noted a few swirls as fish were disturbed by my presence. They were clearly sitting in the shallow water quite close in.  I came back a bit from the water and started moving a bit slower looking for somewhere to cast from. No one seemed to be fishing here but for one guy out on the end of the peninsula and I wasn’t really sure why, I wondered if it was allowed but couldn’t see any signs preventing it, not on my side of the bank anyway. I spotted a break in the grass and approached here to fish, and noticed a fish move about three or four-rod lengths from me slightly to the left of straight out. I cast out and let the point fly sink a little ( bearing in mind it was probably no more than 4 feet deep here.) and as I slowly started to retrieve there was a huge bulge at the flies entry point. I lifted and contacted a fish that pulled for the time you can count 1—2—3   and then it went slack. It never really felt hooked but showed they were interested in the red flexifloss buzzer here too.

  • Finding more fish

    Fishing at Willowgate

    Clear cold skies but the wind had dropped.

    I checked the flies, all good, and cast out again, fishing round in an arc I increased the range over about three or four casts until I was reaching some water with a ripple on quite a way out. By now the cold wind had dropped a lot and it was now quite calm and the sun even made an appearance, though it remained very cold. Again, let it sink a little then a slow recovery. A gentle pull and yes I lifted into a fish. It leapt maybe three times, it was a good 25 yards out and then it decided to kite round to my left where I touched the last fish. Again more jumps, and then just like that, the line went slack! Whit!? Flies in, all looked fine. Another ten minutes and a fish slowed again to my near right, I flicked the flies over the area and was rewarded with a pluck and again I lifted into another fish. It was the same as the last one, it leapt two or three times. The angler on the peninsula turned to see the commotion as the fish took off again kiting off round to the left. I am not sure what the attraction was there, was there a Hook Release Shop hidden sub surface?I think so, as it seemed to be doing very good business in front of me. Once again with no warning or obvious reason, the fish “let go”. I couldn’t believe it! The angler to my left looked over and signalled “was that two that came off?” Three I replied back!

    I kept fishing and again another fish to my right, This one took on the drop before I even started to recover line and I seen the tip of the line move causing me to lift into a bulge of water as another fish was hooked. This one again headed for the Hook Release Shop. I double checked everything that I was keeping the line tight, the rod was bent into the fish and the tip high. All seemed to be going well despite the fish again leaping a few times and I was starting to bring it closer in ready for netting when…….. nooooooo! it came off. WTF!????

    I took the hook in again and could see absolutely nothing wrong with it, it was even plenty sharp and not bent or opened or anything, after all it was new out the box.

    Slack time

    After this, the fishing slackened off and it went very quiet. The angler on the peninsula hooked into a fish under a bung just after my last dropped fish and that was the only one I seen caught besides my own. With about an hour and a half left I went around the far bank but didn’t touch anything there despite presenting my flies over two or three rises so as by now I seemed to be the last person there with about 45 minutes left I decided to head back around and give the island a go as there seemed to be the odd fish showing near there.

    Fish on

    What was to be my 7th fish hooked ( or not) and played, comes to the net…… then not.

    As I wandered around I run into the keeper who I think was doing his final patrol of the day. He stopped to ask how I was getting on and he laughed when I said I had hooked 4 more fish ( he knew I had one earlier as he was standing nearby when I caught it) and lost them all. He told me another angler had left earlier and blanked having dropped 7 fish….. so it wasn’t just me.

    I indicated I was going to have a few more casts on the island then call it a night so he wished me tight lines and went on his way. On the island as I spooled out my line a fish rose to my left. I cast over it and the first cast the fish was on. Again it leapt clear of the water a few times and again I had it tight and the fish on its way in….. when it came off too! I was baffled.

    While I battled that fish another rose to my right. I immediately targetted this one. The first two casts were ignored it seemed then the next had a grabbing hard take. I lifted into it. This time I got the fish on the reel, set the drag slightly and when it run it was against the drag. Gradually I was gaining line on it and got it round in front of me, I could see it subsurface right in front, trying to run left then right but it all seemed under control. I had the net ready and I was maybe 10 feet from netting it when you just know what happened next……. Distraught barely describes it. I was actually laughing, this was mad, what could be the problem? Do Rainbows get soft mouths?

  • Final Fishy Tale

    With the light almost gone a few final casts. I covered one more rising fish I seen swirl a few times in front of me. As soon as I got my fly in front of it, it was on. Once again I got it on the reel after it rather obligingly took a run pulling out all the slack line. I started to gain line on it and it took another short run when  I couldn’t believe my eyes. Another fish came head out the water and grabbed the dropper buzzer. This fish looked bigger too, and suddenly I felt like I was attached to a Blue Marlin. There was a colossal amount of power and weight on the line. The pair of fish ( I suspect the larger one was dragging the other as it had been on a few runs of it’s own already) headed out across the lochan. I was taken right down to the backing in seconds, the entire line and a good 5 metres or more of backing was out, when they finally tired of pulling against the drag. I have no clear picture of what happened subsurface but can only assume that the pair of fish somehow got themselves wrapped in the line as they went in different directions. Now I was retrieving what felt like a total dead weight. I was reeling in line and the fish were now on the surface, I could see the head of one and what appeared to be the tail end of the other coming in sort of sideways like a log. It felt like a log too, they weighed a lot. However, I tried to keep things steady and not get too ambitious. The pair were about 2 rod lengths out and I was just thinking it was time to reach for the net…….. ping! The 6lb leader snapped.

    Well, they call it Catch and Release.