And then it happened…

11 min read

Fin Wilson and his friend Euan Myles have been chasing big loch trout for decades. In June, they arrived on the shores of Loch Heilen in Caithness

WHAT FOLLOWS IS A story about big fish, fishing and friendship.

On June 3 this year, I achieved one of my lifetime goals, landing a double-figure wild brown trout from a Scottish loch. The fact it was marginally closer to 20lb than 10lb has taken a while to sink in, and it already feels like a distant dream. Which is partly why, of course, this fine sport of ours is so addictive. The pull to do it again is strong.

For now, though, it is enough to look back and ponder, to relive the experience and consider the long road — sometimes tortuous but invariably rewarding — that led to this special moment. The end destination is a unique loch in Caithness, but the journey spans decades.

Loch Heilen: incredibly shallow and fertile.

We all have particular fishing obsessions. There are so many strands to the sport and so many intriguing aspects that divert us. My first love was chasing perch as a wide-eyed five-year-old on my local loch. I spent whole summer holidays there and on two other lochs in the village, watching a float for hours on end, or legering and using a swimfeeder. Perch, roach and big bream would fill my keepnet, large eels would swallow my bait whole, and even the occasional gudgeon would crop up. Big pike on spinner or dead bait (or live) was another diversion. But in my early teens I discovered fly-fishing, courtesy of a school friend, the splendidly named Alexander Norman Birkett Rudd — whom you might expect to be a coarse fisherman.

We were lucky to have the River Annan on our doorstep, and two of its tributaries, the Ae and the Kinnel. Wild river trout and grayling became the quarry and then sea-trout on the fly at night developed into a more antisocial obsession.

Even then, however, and despite only having a few decent stillwaters closer to home, fishing for loch trout was never far from my mind. The late Bruce Sandison’s Trout Lochs of Scotland was my bible and I’d spend hours reading through the brief, enigmatic entries on many hundreds of waters from John o’Groats to the Whins of Galloway: Loch Dee in the Galloway Hills; the mighty Leven; the machair lochs of South Uist; the limestone lochs of Durness; and the countless waters of Wester Ross, Sutherland and Caithness — the further flung the better.

Euan making friends with angler Caspar Killick’s dog Toby.
Getting ready to face the challenge of Heilen.
James Learmonth fished Heilen for many years and his ashes were scattered on the loch.
Orchids can be found around many Caithness lochs.
Red Night Hottie lure: