Photography by Pauline Dunning
David Heseltine teams up with fly fishing legend and former Wychwood team-mate Brian Peterson to sample the tranquillity and quality fishing offered at New Haylie Loch.
To really get a ‘feel’ for the history of this picture-postcard corner of the world I’d have to be heavily clad in old tartan, topped off with a Viking helmet. But here I stand to do battle of an altogether gentler nature, armed only with rod and line, spending a few minutes to fully admire the lovely backdrop of sweeping craggy hills that conveniently fall away and open wide to spectacular views of the isles of Bute and Arran.
Originally known as The Slopes, this is Largs, in Scotland… and I can see the sea from here!
New Haylie Fishing Loch
Contact: 01475 676005
New Haylie Fishery is tucked in beautifully at the coastal edge of Largs, on the Firth of Clyde. And it’s so, so inviting, I can virtually smell the TLC so willingly applied by owners Senga and George Murray. But then of course, when your water is manned 24/7 and open for business every day, including Christmas Day, this is not just a job but a complete way of life.
Haylie is a small hillside loch of some 3.6 acres and as I already know the water’s head of wild browns is well pumped up with rainbows, blues, tiger trout and more browns, who could ask for anything more? But yes, just for once I do… and there is.
Tackling up for the day ahead as David (left, Brian (right) and Alan all opt for floating lines.
A Venue For All
On my brief ‘all our yesterdays’ tour of the west of Scotland (God’s own country as they call it, being just a wee ferry ride across the Clyde) I’ve stopped off here for a day with my old friend and mentor, Brian Peterson. I’ve seen the pictures and heard the stories of this place. And now that I’m actually here for the proof of the pudding, one single word seems to cover all: Quality – the surroundings, the peace and quiet, the warm welcome and of course the water itself. And to think my old Wychwood team-mate lives just a hop, skip and jump away!
My twinge of envy is already present because now I get it. I understand why a thoroughbred Scot with a top-drawer fly fishing CV as long as my leg comes here every week. And the other guys wandering the shoreline can be anyone from a couple of beginners to a bunch of the Scottish national men’s, ladies or youth team. They all come to this tiny pocket of water within the hills for a little tranquillity and seclusion.
I can hardly wait to put my line out, but before diving headlong into the fishing itself, I must say I’m learning another lesson already. My first lesson in these parts many years ago was to realise that a ‘mad’ (unknown) Scot attaching a couple of maggots to his fly during a very hard day (on another hill loch), wasn’t so mad after all. And now, probably as per many flyfishers no doubt, I must admit I’ve previously screwed up my face a little when presented with a trout fishery that also permits bait fishing. But here we have it for very good reason, with both methods living in perfect harmony. The bait fishing here is ‘contained’ within a small corner of the loch and it’s really for the kids, says George. “They come for a little dabble in their school holidays and after watching the big guys, many of them soon turn to fly fishing.” Now is that forward thinking or what!
The loch also stages various fund-raising events, always on a catch and release basis, in support of all national fly fishing sectors.
Flies For Haylie - Black Sussy Fly - It's not pretty but it's very effective; Brian's Black Sussy!
Dries are the way as this stunning box of dry flies tied by local expert Alistair Murphy shows.
Dry Fly Throughout The Year
This water invites all styles of fly fishing, from lures to buzzers and nymphs, to excellent dry fly. We have depths ranging from two feet, shallows to 20 feet, the deepest area of the loch around the L-shaped dam wall, and there are more than enough small bays with tidy little peninsulas and platforms to make for a very interesting and comfortable day. The waterside lodge is also permanently open to provide refreshment and a ‘square slice’ (yummy Scottish sausage) so obviously I tested that too.
The natural fly life at New Haylie is of a certain quality also. There’s the all-year-round black midge, so buzzer fishing is high on the list, but the water also gives up an abundant supply of pond olives, and then come the varied terrestrials including plenty of daddies. All of this natural mix encourages dry-fly fishing throughout the year, even during the seriously cold winter months.
But to be clear, New Haylie isn’t a ’doddle’. No, this is not one of those over-easy waters where almost any old fly will do. Some small fisheries do get the balance just right with a sensible stocking routine and constant effort – this is one of them. Although catch and release is permitted within a sensible day-ticket structure, New Haylie has a good regular turnover of fish so George likes to stock on a weekly basis with fish averaging 2lb plus, and the occasional injection of biggies.
While hoping not to hear those twisted words of wisdom “You should have been here yesterday…” I am genuinely listening, talking and watching all at the same time; listening and talking to Brian and George while watching over the loch. Noticeably no doubt, my concentration wavers a little each time I see a good fish rise. So in no time at all the conversation is in complete disarray as the residents with fins start showing here there and everywhere.
A local guy hits into a good fish on the opposite bank and then, among all of this distraction, I spot the unusual posture of another man I know only too well. My regular fishing mate, Alan, is already set up and sneakily waddling off to a likely spot. The temptation of rising fish versus polite conversation is no contest for him.
Brian makes a start with his Black Sussy Fly...
Flies For Haylie
The favourite recommended flies for New Haylie include small CDCs and Sussy (Suspender) Buzzers in sizes 16 to 14, and many local anglers really favour the exquisite quality of the patterns produced by local expert Alistair Murphy. So it’s of little or no surprise that a box of this man’s perfected flies can fetch up to £250 at a fund-raising event.
But it’s not entirely about tiny stuff. Brian, being Brian, swears by his Sussy Rabbit, which (in English terms) is a rabbit (zonker) strip tied on a size 10 with a ‘sugar lump’ of foam at the head. This lure works like a single-breasted booby (which are wisely banned), sitting right in the surface with its tantalising tail pulsating gently away just below. The occasional tweak is all that’s required to bring the fish up for a solid hit.
I think the fly is as ugly as a baboon’s bum but that misses the point and I’d still put money on it. I’ve experienced this Brian Peterson scenario a few times before.
On To The Fishing
... and it's not long before a 3lb rainbow makes it to the net.
Although I never ignore local advice from the guys that know (and I make sure I have a couple of Brian’s Sussys in my pocket), my thoughts are elsewhere, but while I’m pondering over my fly box Alan is quick to take the first fish of the day.
I watch my line and keep an eye on Brian at the same time. He knows what he’s doing and the magic touch certainly hasn’t deserted him just yet, as his black Sussy is taken with a stonking big wallop at the surface. This rainbow believes it’s a fresh-run salmon and fights like a bull at a gate for some considerable time, and although I catch a glimpse to see a 3lb fish that simply oozes health and fitness, after such a lengthy battle Brian is anxious for a quick revival and return to the water undamaged.
Meanwhile, Alan has spotted a few hefty fish, including a sizeable tiger trout, sauntering right in at the edge of the dam wall but the call for lunch postpones our intentions of a little stalking – mistake! Unfortunately, having allowed my belly to overrule my brain, although I returned to the hotspot three times, the bigger specimens were nowhere to be found.
So after hooking (and losing) a couple of fish on Brian’s Sussy, and because I keep on seeing fish cruising the top level of this slightly brackish but clear water, I just have to switch to small flies. A small CDC eventually takes two fish and while I’m still not entirely happy with my success rate against so many rising fish, this leads me to switch again to another of very similar dressing.
My new Olive Cruncher Quill (see the September 2016 issue) has produced fairly rapidly at home on Draycote and once again this little beauty did the trick for me. But at the end of the day, I have a feeling that fish numbers are far from the main vein of this loch.
Most mature flyfishers are wonderers by nature and every now and then, purposely or incidentally, we happen upon a real jewel in the crown. Well, this quite unique tiny dot on our planet is within that minority list of places: fisheries that we sincerely hope and pray never change, because of course, we want to come back and do it all again and again. But at least my real haggis from the local butcher and (yet another) special bottle of single malt will help see me through, until the next time.
With the Firth of Clyde as the backdrop, is there anywher more scenic to cast a line?