Let’s take a long look at another place that I ,and hundreds, perhaps thousands of people enjoyed, the art of fishing- Loch Fad.
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This beautiful place that nearly cuts Bute into two was, and still is my favourite area to be in. Every spare minute I would head up there with my fishing tackle, Which at the start consisted of a tank ariel which was converted to be my rod, and which cost me ten shillings. (fifty pence). A small brass reel which I got for nothing, twenty five yards of nylon fishing line. (Can’t remember the price), Small hooks to catch Perch, ( a few pennies), a float that once was used to keep a salmon fishers nets at the surface, ( found on the sea shore) a tin of worms which were dug out of my garden(free), and last of all the ever important fishing permit which was purchased from the Bute Estate offices in high street and cost two and sixpence. (twelve and a half pence). That was me ready to get up to the loch and catch fish.
This permit allowed me to fish six days a week, excluding the policies of Woodend House and not on Sundays, which was most annoying as after I left school my job required me to work five and a half days per week, which meant, in the wintertime all I had was Saturday afternoon to fish as it was too dark at nights. Weather would not stop me from going up there as I had my cycling cape and my sou-wester hat and a pair of wellies. the cape was good if you were bait fishing but hopeless if you wanted to spin, so a plastic mac was a good addition to your equipment We did not have the pleasure at that time of the use of ‘Gortex’ to keep us dry. It was either rubber for complete waterproofing, in the outside only but soaking wet on the inside with condensation as you made your way to the south end of the loch. The plastic mac was o.k. for an occasional shower, but not for consistent heavy rain. We did not have waterproof trousers either, we were stuck with ‘Leggings’which were quite effective as they let your legs breathe a bit
It was great when the light nights came as I would be up there all the time. Sheer bliss. Pieces in the pocket, and away I would go, up to the causeway and sit on the rock at the right hand side, tackle up, a worm on the hook, cast out and wait, and wait, and wait. It was at this time that I met another fisherman who had just moved to Bute. He was ledgering for perch, a style that is used for a lot of species, but was not a favourite for perch. It meant that your bait lay on the bottom of the loch and the perch could swallow it and you would not know. It meant then that you may not be able to get the hook out and either had to kill the fish or cut the line as near as to the hook that you could get and hoped that it would survive after you returned it to the water. I was using a float which gave you a quicker warning and resulted in more catches, so he used the same method from there on.
That is what it all about, sharing ideas and thoughts. Well this friendship is still going strong after all these years. At the moment he is on the other end of the earth, but as retiring age looms nearer I hope to see him soon and to take up where we left off. Back to the start. After a few weeks he brought another friend up with him. Another local who enjoyed fishing .So there you have it , Three boys Hell bent on catching monster fish, but more importantly, enjoying each others company. I will not use their names, just in case I say the wrong thing about them. The small reel that I had then could not cope with the fish that I was after, but I was too young to work, and was still at school, money was short. This is where luck game me a big helping hand. I had to go to ‘Ferrari’s Ice-cream shop in High Street for my mother, and at the entrance I found one of those huge Five Pound notes. My mother took me down to the Police Station and we handed it in. Well you had to wait for six months to get it back if it was not claimed. Amazingly it was not claimed at all. So that went into my bank, Which at that time was a tin thing with a red binding that looked like a book, and had a slot for coins and a roud hole for notes, and you could get them from the bank By the time the six months of waiting were up I had a job as a message boy with Jimmy Gillies the fishmonger in High Street after school, and on a Saturday for a couple of hours. One day at Montford I found on the road a gold watch. It was in very poor condition , having been run over by what seemed like Double Decker buses every five minutes. It was also taken to the Police and I got a reward of Two Pounds as it had sentimental value to it’s owner.
Well! that was me elated. For my honesty I had got a total of seven pounds, and the Mitchell reel that I had my heart set on was eight pounds, so only one to get and it was mine. Who says honesty doesn't pay? Also with my part time job, my ‘Tank’ aerial rod was soon replaced with a brand new fibre glass spinning one. Soon to come were a pair of waders, at birthday time, and I was glad of them as I had been using a pair of jeans cut into shorts, and an old pair of sandshoes to wade in the loch. (summers only)and the pleasure of wading without getting covered in leeches was great. That was me ready to emulate Paul Young of the ‘Hooked on fishing fame’who at that time had not even played ‘ Wee Tich Geordie’ in the film ‘Geordie’ yet.
Well my pals and I ventured around the loch catching plenty of perch, then all at once as I was spinning at Barnauld Bay I got into my first pike, It hit my spinner hard and was soon taking out the line from my reel very quickly. A quick tighten of the fixed spool drum and I was on to a good fight, which seemed to last for ages, but in fact was over very quickly. In those days we used a Gaff to land them, but they are taboo now, and you will not see them at all as they could damage the fish. The pike landed, Six and a half pounds, and a mouthful of teeth that would frighten a dentist.
We had weird instruments to retrieve spinners and dead bait hooks in those days. One was a spring loaded thing that you squeezed to make it smaller and you put it into the fishes mouth and let it go, it then it would force open it’s mouth wide and let you use your next tool which was a long screwdriver with a ‘V’ cut at the end of it. This you would put down the throat and push it onto your hook whilst holding on to you line, keep on pushing and your hook would come out.If the pike threshed about as you were doing this, then you had a job keeping the teeth away from your hands. The whole mouth is festooned with razor sharp ones that incline inwards, so if it got a hold of you it was natural to pull away quickly, this in turn got you hand torn to bits. You had to keep calm and push your hand inwards ( you must be joking) and at the same time try to get it’s mouth open again, which was near impossible on your own. Well this went on for the summer season with a catch and release all the time, and the pike got bigger and bigger, as did the perch and also the roach which at that time seemed to frequent the south end of the loch. The average size of pike was about five pounds. perch about six ounces, and roach , about four ounces.
In the winters it was a different approach to the loch. As the water was cold, the fish were very lethargic and would not chase after spinners or plugs, so we used dead bait, which could be bits and pieces that we got out of the fishmongers, or at the very best we would purchase salt herring. We would feed a wire trace with treble hook attached through the herrings mouth with the aid of that screwdriver with the ‘v ‘ cut in it, out through the tail area and tied with a piece of string at the tail and neck to stop us from losing it when we cast the lot as far as we could. This time we were ledge ring as floats were no good as the pike were at the bottom. As the bait settled we would pluck a leaf from a tree or bush that did not shed them, split it the outside to the centre on both sides and fit it on the line at the top of the rod. Pull over the bail arm so as to let the line run free, and then the waiting started.
Electronic Bite Detectors were not invented yet. The leaves let us have time to start up a fire for a brew up. One eye on what you were doing, the other on each others rod. We did not even have those new fangled things called ‘Thermos Flasks’, no it was out with the black encrusted ‘Billy Can’. We were quite cute for our age, we would find a big flat stone that we could use for years and build the fire on top of it, and as the tea was made and cooling down, (lips on the rim of a boiling hot can is not recomended) we would brush the hot embers aside and in the middle of the red hot stone we would place one of Mc Kenzie the bakers in high street mutton pies, what we now call mince or scotch pies. The heat from the stone and the side heat from the embers soon had the pies ready for eating. Sheer enjoyment on a Saturday morning. It was it seemed that at this time as we were ready to eat we would get ‘a run’, which means that a pike had taken the bait and was taking it to a spot to eat it. We left it for about a minute, giving it time to turn the fish to eat it head first the we would strike, and then the fun began as we endeavoured to bring it ashore. Time and time again , just as it seemed to be exhausted and was nearly at your feet , it would once again make a run for freedom.
This may happen many times depending on it’s size and how strong your rod and line were. Eventually it would be hauled ashore, weighed, and sized and returned to the loch. Sometimes it would required to be held in a a horizontal position and pushed in a forward position so as to force water into it’s mouth so that it could breathe, this may take a few minutes as the poor thing was exhausted, then with a quick flip of it’s tail it was gone. So back to the pie and tea that by this time had cooled down and just right for consuming. You have never lived until you have tasted a cup of tea made from an open fire built from pine branches. It has an amazing flavour, enhanced with the addition of sugar and condensed milk, which at that time could be bought in tubes,which was a boon to us, as if we had taken a whole tin we would have drunk the lot of it or put it on our pieces. Also we would put a headless match in the can to absorb the smoke. If we wanted a change of food, then it was down to the ‘Maypole’ or ‘Liptons’ for pork sausages. These would have a stick pushed through them and roasted over the pine branch fire that we were brewing up on. Roasted and smoked at the same time, a flavour never to be equalled.
As we moved round the loch we would arrive at the 'Des res’, a shelter that was built many years before we arrived. We enlarged it to accommodate the three of us, and this is where we have at times stayed overnight on some occasions, usually at new year, when we would set up camp and then have a days fishing, pick up loads of firewood and get dug in at dusk, ready for a nights fishing and a wee swally of the new year liquid.(No further comments of those escapades).
Heading further round, we would come to what we called ‘the big rock’ this is at the lochs narrowest part and gives you a marvellous view up and down the loch. Not a good spot for fishing as if you got onto a big pike, you would have a hard job landing it. It was and is a place to sit and relax, and in later years and at the present time, take out your flask and sarnie and take in the view and the peacefulness. Round a bit more and you were in ‘woodend house’ territory, and at times this could be a big problem depending who the tenant was at that time. We have had dogs set upon us, which became our friends with the use of an unused sausage. And at other times the tenant was no problem as long as you caused him no problems. We are now back at the rock where I first started fishing and is the same rock that I learnt to swim from. The water in those days was about a foot to two foot higher than at the present time, and times of heavy rain, you could not reach it.
So there you have it ,a wee stroll round loch fad with a good bit of fishing thrown in, and also some culinary delights.
The next time I will tell you of the changes to the loch, and about the arrival of the fish that we don’t return to the loch, namely ‘Rainbow and Brown Trout’. Delicious.
First published in the Buteman October 2003