If you've been following along here for any length of time then it will come as no surprise that we as a business and a family host a trip to Scotland for the wonderful warm hospitality and sporting opportunities that the Scottish highlands offers. I say those two things in that order specifically because many times the former outweighs the later, not because the sporting opportunities are not top notch, they are, it's that the company and the accommodations are just so good it would be hard to top them.
My new saying to that effect is, "come for the fishing, stay for the food."
(More on the food at a later date.)
The Lodge itself was once the hunting lodge for the Duke of Sutherland and has been acquired alongside other adjacent properties under the Wildland umbrella operation to encompass close to 122,000 contiguous acres and our group, at that time, are essentially the only people there. Think you can find that kind of exclusion and solitude on an Alaskan trip? Probably not.
This was our first trip back to the UK since COVID happened and as such was a welcome respite from the version of crazy we live everyday in the SmithFly life in the States. I love building rafts for people and making customers happy but getting away, and I mean really away, from it all once in a while is important to me and the family.
The Kinloch property gets us access to some pretty amazing fishing scenarios. We have exclusive access to the River Hope one of the top sea trout rivers in the UK and an incredible place to swing flies for Atlantics. In the river Hope we use small light two handed and single handed rods. We swing flies for fresh chrome bright fish and we soak up the salty air of the breeze blowing over the sea pools. We have exclusive access to the entirety of the Kinloch River right out the back door of the lodge. In addition to phenominal river fishing we have access to boats on Loch Hope, and a slew of high wild hill lochs filled with wild and feisty brown trout whose ancestors have been there for millennia.
The fishing is not easy. Some people even think that Atlantic Salmon and sea trout might be the most difficult fish to catch on the fly, ok maybe not sea trout, but you get the idea. Troublesome wind and frequent rain, persnickety fish and wild places make you work for every fish on every cast. In the birthplace of golf, there are no gimmie puts. Even sometimes just walking to where you want to be is tough enough. The bogs and moors of the highlands in general are not really that hospitable to humans let alone those who aim to be successful at sporting endeavors. But that's why we do it right? For the challenge? If it was easy, everyone would do it.
This year was no exception. Early in the week we had winds gusting to over 40 mph accompanied by short periods of pounding rain and mist rolling in on top of us. We faced low hanging clouds, flat light with spotty sun. The bright side is that the rain helped bring some water to the rivers and some fresh fish from the sea. A bit of a spate as they like to call it.
The constantly changing environment force everyone out of the comfort zones. Those crazy ever changing conditions make the fish more suspicious of all but the most perfect presentations. These end of the world conditions make you work harder for everything but when you do connect with something, it becomes that much more rewarding and meaningful and memorable.
We had a number of good bright Atlantic and Grilse come to hand in the group but most of those fish somehow escaped the camera. C'est La Vie. We had a few real chonkers that came unbuttoned. We saw more big fish in the Kinloch than we've ever seen in years past. We saw plenty of fish over 20 pounds and some probably pushing 30. Proper fish to be sure that keep us wanting to come back. I hooked one mega-tron and it spit the hook due to a my hook set. I know, I know.
We had a very nice wild Brown Trout on a hopper in the Hill Lochs that we kept and ate with dinner in a traditional salt bake. (Don't worry the game keeper told us to keep it because it was too big to stay in the small loch and needed to come out.) So we obliged and enjoyed the rare treat for our all catch and release oriented group.
We had plenty of chrome bright sea trout caught on proper swung files. The muddler was the magic for most of the week as it always seems to be for some reason. I'm a muddler convert, it just needs to be smallish, brownish and swinging, that's the way they like it and when they take it, look out!
I'll be breaking down the fishing and the accommodations in more detail, hopefully, more in the next couple blog posts. But overall, it was FANTASTIC to get back up there and do our thing among the scenery and the wildlife and to feel connected to the wilderness in such a deep meaningful way. It is such a special place and I can't overemphasize how much you just need to see it in order to believe it.Pictures honestly don't even come close to accounting for the jaw dropping beauty that exists there and what it feels like to be right there in the middle of it.