Vauhan Smith fishes the ‘tip on Loch Ken

5 River Teme

The loch is about ten miles long and half a mile at its widest; its fishing potential is largely untapped, but The Boulders is noted for its big roach. About 50m (55yd) from the bank the bottom shelves away steeply to a depth of about 7.6m (25ft) – it is just beyond the ledge that Vauhan expects to find the fish.

Long-range swingtipping is the method and you need powerful rods. ‘In the past I’ve used converted carp rods but now you can buy multi-quivertip feeder rods – such as my Tri-Cast – which convert equally well,’ says Vauhan.

It is March the 15th and in many areas the first day of the close season. Up in Scotland, though, coarse fishing is available all year round. We join Vauhan in Dumfriesshire – on the waters of Loch Ken. He’s on the western shore on a stretch known as ‘Boulder Bay’.

It’s a dour day. The loch-side road is covered by a green umbrella of mighty pines but the incessant rain has found a way through. A lively stream gurgles between sopping bracken and moss-clad rocks before passing under the road and finally emptying into the loch at Vauhan’s peg. In spite of a light south-easterly wind — which sends a steady succession of grey waves up the loch – it isn’t cold and Vauhan is optimistic that we’ll catch.

He sets up two rods – one with a block-end feeder and one with a straight lead. The feeder has a 1/soz (35g) bomb glued into the end and is used for picking off a few fish beyond the groundbait area (while waiting for a shoal to move in). As soon as the roach arrive Vauhan switches to the straight lead over the groundbait. Only lead bombs above loz (28g) are allowed – that’s why Vauhan uses a 1/soz (35g) one.

Roach usually prefer loosefeed but for long range fishing you have to use groundbait to carry the feed out. Concentrating about 5-6lb (2.3-2.7kg) of bait into an area 3-4m (10-13ft) square, in 7.6m (25ft) of water and at a range of 50-60m (55-65yd) means the mix has to be right. The balls mustn’t split up in mid-air and should be heavy enough to go straight down to the bottom -quickly.

For this type of fishing Vauhan favours heavy groundbaits — such as Van den Eynde Colant and Turbo which he mixes with a lighter bait – such as Secret – to improve the texture. A bag of each is added to half a bag of damp leam to make the mix even heavier. Vauhan believes that the texture, binding and clouding properties are more important than the smell.

Usually he’d mix it at home the night before, spending 15-20 minutes slowly adding water. He puts the bait through a large maggot riddle to get rid of any lumps and then adds the loosefeed – 2 pints of casters, VA pints of hemp and a pint of pinkies. Having squeezed together 20 or so balls of bait he’s ready to go. so that the bomb sinks vertically. Then he tightens up to it with a turn or so of the reel handle, sits on his platform and rests the rod on his knee and a rod rest.

The rain has thickened and the skies darkened – Ringbane is no longer visible. Vauhan watches the tip. Not only does it bounce as each wave passes but it swings from side to side too – buffeted by the wind. Vauhan concentrates hard. The tip bounces up and then, instead of dropping as the wave passes underneath, hovers and rises by a further 2cm (lin).

Vauhan strikes, sweeping the rod back to pick up the line. He stands up, keeping the rod high to lift the fish away from the snaggy ledge.

Even this sturdy rod assumes a healthy bend as the fish tries doggedly to bury itself among the weeds on the loch bottom. Vauhan pumps the fish steadily towards him and it swirls in the clear water. It’s a roach of about 8oz (220g) and a pink one at that!

Over on the far bank a white house — Ringbane – occasionally appears and then vanishes as sheets of rain sweep across the loch. This is Vauhan’s marker. He puts a groundbait sausage in the catapult pouch, pulls back the powerful elastic, points the frame at the house and lets fly. The sausage spins out over the water and lands in one piece with a satisfying ‘gloop’ – right on the target. About 20 more sausages follow -some to the right, others to the left, some farther, others a little shorter — but most land within a 4m (13ft) square.

Vauhan is going to start on the straight bomb —just to see whether there are already any fish where he’s put his feed. He is using a two-hook rig for speed and baits the top hook with two red maggots and the bottom hook with two disco reds. (Here Vauhan passes on a helpful hint: ‘I write the colour of the maggots on the side of my boxes so that I know what they are.’ This is worthwhile only if, like Vauhan, you are colour blind.)

He lets the bomb hang directly behind him so that the rod points back – almost resting on his head – and, pulling the rod butt smoothly with his left hand and pushing with his right, sends the bomb whizzing out into the loch. It touches down pretty well on the mark. He keeps the bail arm off ‘They’re bonny fish these,’ says Vauhan slipping it gently into the keepnet.

There’s a well-tested and proven theory among anglers that you can encourage fish to bite by not fishing for them. Turning your back on a float to take out a flask, or momentarily looking away from a quivertip to open a box of sandwiches is guaranteed to produce a real rod-wrencher – which you invariably miss! Vauhan uses this knowledge to good effect. He lets his hand wander from the rod to his ground bait tray where it starts to squeeze up some fresh sausages. The tip flies up – but he is prepared for it and the fish is on. It looks as though the trick has worked until the fish breaks free.

Unperturbed, Vauhan rebaits, casts out and soon has another on. That one bumps against the underwater ledge and comes off too. ‘That’s why you have to bully ‘em,’ says Vauhan. Next cast and third time lucky, he hooks a roach and manages to keep it on. It’s a typical Ken roach – about 10oz (280g), deep-bodied, not a scale out of place, bright silver but with a pinkish tinge and blood- red fins. ‘We’ll start baggin’ now,’ he says confidently. ‘When the fish are really coming you just have to feed whenever you can,’ says Vauhan and that’s what he is having to do now. He casts, the bomb settles, the tip flies, he strikes but misses, the tip flies again, he strikes and misses, it goes again, he strikes and the rod bends over. Another roach goes into the keepnet. ‘That’s an advantage with double hooking – you can afford to leave the bait in after a bite and have another go,’ says Vauhan.

Of course there’s another advantage too: you can do what Vauhan is doing now -catching two fish at the same time – a ‘double header’.

A homeward-bound cormorant flies low and straight up the middle of the loch, passing in and out of the mist like a black dart. Water drips from everything — from the silver birch, brambles and heather, and from Vauhan’s nose and moustache as he concentrates on the tip for the last time.

He pops the last roach in the net and pulls it out to have a look. He’s got about 18lb (8kg) of prime roach – not bad for 2/2 hours’ fishing! Leaving a peg full of fish is always hard but it’s time to get back to the other pleasures that go with an afternoon’s fishing – a hot bath and a hearty meal.

Anyone interested in fishing the loch should enquire for further information at the Kenmure Arms Hotel in New Galloway. The waters are controlled by New Galloway Angling Association and day tickets are available from the hotel. Where space is available, you can park at the side of the loch-side road.

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