Fish-finding in a Scottish loch might seem a bit like trying to find a needle in a haystack – until you know where to look.
What kind of picture does the phrase ‘Scottish loch’ conjure up for you? The scene that probably comes to mind is a vast expanse of cold, dark water, unfathomably deep and surrounded on all sides by soaring mountain slopes (perhaps with a brooding castle and a couple of monsters thrown in for good measure). Even if most lochs don’t live up to their legendary reputations, they do have their fair share of monsters – monster pike that is (and some pretty big perch too). The problem is — where and how do you find them?
Fish location can be a problem when you consider the size of some of these lochs. Loch Lomond is perhaps the best known pike water. According to the most reliable survey – made by Murray and Pullar in 1910 – the loch is 22’A miles long and over 600ft (183m) at its deepest. Even though Lomond ranks among the ‘biggies’, the smaller lochs still put to shame a great many pike waters south of the border. Leviathans The size of loch pike is legendary too. There’s John Murray’s ‘Kenmure pike’ which was taken from Loch Ken in about 1774 and reputed to weigh 72 lbs (32.6kg). Then there is the carcass of the famous ‘Endrick pike’ which was found in the River Endrick (although the fish almost certainly originated from Lomond). greater degree of freedom than fishing from the bank but don’t worry if you haven’t access to a boat – plenty of good fish are taken from the bank. Hazards Unless you are experienced, or accompanied by someone who is, don’t attempt to fish a loch by boat during the winter. Storms blowing in from the Atlantic regularly hit without warning: waves can capsize a boat, rain can fill it, wind can make rowing impossible and ice can completely immobilize it.
Even in spring and summer the weather often deteriorates with alarming rapidity. Make sure the boat is up to the job – an outboard will quickly get you out of trouble and a small cuddy offers shelter. In any case don’t go too far out; wear a life jacket; never wear waders; always keep a spare set of warm dry clothing in the boat and check the weather forecast.
It wasn’t weighed but estimates based on the size of the head put the weight at around 70 lbs (31.7kg).
Perch don’t reach the same size and therefore capture the imagination less, but waters south of Loch Rannoch certainly contain fish to 4 lb (1.8kg). Mystery Don’t imagine that lochs are heaving with gigantic fish, though. For example, most produce a great many jack pike before throwing up the occasional thirty pounder (13.6kg). The habits of really big loch pike are something of a mystery. Perch, on the other hand, are more predictable.
A chuck-it-and-chance-it approach is bound to fail on a big water. You need to take your bait to the fish. Boat fishing allows you a
Firm ground You may not be able to cover so much water from the land but at least you aren’t at the mercy of the elements so much. In any case, loch margins are always a naturally productive area.
A basic understanding of the physical make-up of large, deep waters helps to locate the fish.
In winter, the temperature of the water -from surface to the bottom of deep lochs (like Lomond, for example) – is uniform. In summer, however, lakes with a depth of more than 10m (33ft) or so become stratified into two distinct temperature layers: a warmer, upper layer (epilimnion) and a colder, lower layer (hypolimnion).
The warmer layer is where all plants, and the majority of insects, live. So for example, insects lay their eggs among the weeds, brown trout feed on the hatching larvae and pike move in to feed on the trout.
In general, perch of all sizes prefer the margins to the open water. Marginal weed, reed beds, landing stage piles and moored boats provide shelter from pike and cover from which to ambush their own prey.
Because fish are cold-blooded and take on the temperature of their surroundings, fish in warmer water tend to be more active and therefore willing to follow a bait. Unfortunately, young pike have an energetic lifestyle while adults prefer a more sedentary existence, so many ‘shallow water’ pike are jacks.
The cool, deep layer is too dark to support plant life. Dead plankton and debris accumulate on the bottom and support minimal insect life. Don’t write off the deeps altogether, though. Big (female) pike often lie well down, their gently kneading fins keeping them suspended above the underwater valleys. With their metabolisms slowed down they come up only occasionally to take a big trout or perhaps a salmon before returning to the depths to digest their meal (which may take a week or more).
Pike are often thought of as solitary fish. Certainly this is not true of loch pike which often hunt in packs, driving shoals of prey fish into a corner and then slashing into them. This phenomenon can sometimes be seen at the mouth of feeder streams or rivers in spate. Floodwater washes dead and injured fish down river and into the loch, where pike packs gather for an easy feed.
Rather sadly, pike and perch are treated with contempt by some who see them as vermin – rivals of the noble trout and salmon. But it may take 18 years for a pike to reach 30 lbs (13.6kg) and a 2 lb (0.9kg) perch is a rare and handsome fish too. So unless you intend to take your catch home to eat, you should safeguard the future of your sport by returning it.