It’s the start of a new year, and I have been reflecting over the past year. What a year 2022 has been.
After leaving my old job and becoming a full-time guide for Alba game fishing Ltd, I have become happier, more confident with myself.
I reflect back on all the jobs Alba delivered last year.
It was certainly and unusual one, apart from being busy, we had to squeeze in two years of Covid reschedules.
It’s great to see international travel come back again with guests all over the world . I have met so many great people along the way. Ghillies, guests, and other guides. I’ve made a few friends too.
My introduction to fishing on the River Tweed
I have been very fortunate to be brought up right next to the river banks of the famous River Tweed. I first learned to fish there, when I was 18 years old.
I watched my brothers, catching small fish on their trout rods and thought that looks like fun, so ended up buying a fishing permit and giving it a try.
I was friendly with a neighbour in our village, who give me a fly rod and fly tying kit. This helped me get started into fly fishing.
I remember using this rod and I was fishing 2 spider flies and I swung them round under a bush, and then the line locked tight, and I connected with a fish . It was an amazing feeling because I had never experienced anything like it before, and couldn’t believe how hard these wild fish fight, and how much fun it was.
As I got more into the Fishing on my local river, I bumped into a few members from the local Angling club. They had fished internationally for Scotland numerous times and I didn’t realise there was such thing as competition river fishing.
Introduction to competition fishing
I went out with one of the guys in the club, who showed me some new techniques ,methods and set ups. I was amazed how many fish you could catch in a day. It was good to see what flies he used, compare to those in my own fly box.
After going out on the river with an internationalist, I then started looking at better rods, reels and lines. I wanted to improve my casting, distance and presentation. I also wanted a rod that was more balanced for me. I ended up getting rid of the heavy 11ft #8 weight rod I was given by my neighbour. It was far too heavy for river fishing. After advice from our local fishing tackle shop the Border Gunroom, I opted for a lighter set up, more suited to river fishing, a 9ft #5 weight.
Scottish National Flyfishing league
Once I had built up my skills and experience over a few years fly fishing for trout, I then decided to trial the Scottish National Flyfishing league, and entered as a guest rod to experience the competition.
The competition was held on the river tweed and it was local to me, so I was familiar with some of the pools. I remember being very nervous because I had never competed in a competition before.
I finish the competition in second place with seven fish. I managed to catch six in the morning and just one in the afternoon. That was a great result and I was really chuffed, so I decided to enter the Scottish National flyfishing league. I’m still in the league to this date.
European Fly Fishing Championships 2018
In 2018 I fished in my first European competition in France, called the Five Nations. In 2022 I fished in the world fly fishing, championship in Asturias, Spain. I think after doing the world fly fishing championship, I am very keen to do another one again. Competition fishing has definitely helped me to think a lot more on fly selection, and set ups to help result in a better day is fishing to suite the conditions.
I’m thinking about things like, on a bright day when the water is low, fish a longer leader and also downsize the tippet and flies to avoid spooking any fish. Or even a simple thing, like instead of using a bright silver, tungsten bead ,changing to a black or a coffee coloured bead.
From retail to the river bank
I used to work in fishing retail. This is where I was able to build up good general knowledge on angling as a sport. I worked for Orvis in Kelso for two years, and also worked for Edinburgh Angling Center for a couple of years too.
All of these stores sold a lot of Salmon gear too. Here I learnt a lot more about the different lines used for salmon fishing the difference between the Spey lines, Scandi lines and Skagit lines.
During my spell working for Orvis, I took a few “learn how to fly fish” courses there and also a few fly tying courses too. That in a way, was my first taste of guiding. I enjoyed learning new skills in the outdoors.
You meet the strangest folk
Whilst working in Orvis Edinburgh, I met Stewart Collingswood from Alba Game Fishing Limited. We got on well, and struck up a friendship. We also fished together a few times, and he once asked me if I ever considered doing some part time guiding.
I started guiding part time with Alba, to see what it was like and I really enjoyed the experience. I was working full time in retail, and guiding for Alba game fishing on my days off. Having the experience of doing both jobs side by side, cemented my desire to give guiding a try. I felt like I needed to be outdoors again and really enjoyed the days as I was given the opportunity to guide for Alba Game Fishing.
A full time position as a guide – a new opportunity
In the September after Covid, an opportunity came along and I was offered a full position as a guide with Alba. I was a bit sceptical at first because I wasn’t sure if there was enough work for me. I felt like it was a bit of a gamble.
Now when I look back at this. I realise that was a very good move and it was good to move away from retail and work in the outdoors.
I really enjoy seeing the clients using my flies, learning new skills, look after them and keeping them safe and make sure they have enjoyable experience.
The challenges of being a guide
There have been many challenges I have overcome when Guiding. Time is critical, and punctuality and being organised are vital to the job. When it comes to time, I’ve worked hard to be as punctual as possible. Working out how long a journey to a fishing venue takes, then adding in extra, in case of road snags.
Also allowing time to set up rods, so when the guest arrives, it saves them time and hassle. By doing this, you feel more relaxed in your job. You might have to get up an hour earlier, to arrive an hour before the guests arrive.
The river is in spate, what do we do?
The River is in spate – what to do now?
There are many challenges. None more so than when the rivers are flooded. You need to quickly come up with an alternative plan to still give your clients the best experience out on the water.
I sometimes watch the online river levels like a hawk during the night, planning ahead for any change in conditions. On those occasions, when the river is unfishable we can sometimes shift to another river, still water fishery or reschedule.
Keep calm and carry on fishing
The good thing about this job as it has built up my confidence. I now make my own decisions and take control of the day. It can get challenging, especially when a client is not enjoying an experience. The best thing is to remain calm, and find out what the client is looking for, to change the day around. It is not easy hooking fish for everyone, especially when you get novices. However with care, patience and persistence, we usually do well.
A lot of the rivers in Scotland, have wild fish and wild fish can be spooked easily. It;’s worth starting the day with a few lessons. Educating guests to stay quiet when climbing into the water. The aim not to spook fish.
Highlights of guiding in 2022 in Scotland
I had a father and son out on the River Tay. The river was quite high that day, so they had to fish off the bank. Wading in flooded water is never a safe option.
The story behind this fishing trip was quite special as the Son was a recovering cancer patient. The cancer charity has paid for him to go out Salmon Fishing with his dad. I got the Son casting in no time at all and they both were using fly rods at the time. The fly swung around close to the bank, then locked tight. He ended up catching the salmon off the banking. I remember his Dad saying that was amazing. The Charity was called “Dreams come true” Ut certainly did for them.
Once I was Guiding for American guest, who was himself a fishing guide in the States. This made me a little nervous. I felt a little bit of pressure on this job. I picked the client up from Gleneagles and when I turned up there, I was surprised to see another Alba guide John who was also doing a pick up at Gleneagles.
We both laughed and said what are you doing here? John’s reply was I was going to ask you the same question? We both had separate jobs from the same hotel. I picked up the client and I drove him to a beautiful that river runs through Glen Lyon .
I looked off the bridge and seen the water was starting to colour up a little bit. I set him up with a streamer, not long after starting, he said he had a couple of follows. We moved down river and to some faster flowing water where I changed his tactics and give him a Vision Nymphmaniac Euronymph Rod .
First trout on a Euronymph set up for the guest
He had never used this set up before, I showed him how to cast flies and also follow the indicator. He then cast in the pool where I said, there might be a fish sitting and connected with a beautiful trout which he used the photo I took on his website.
After fishing the pool we moved back up to where he had started. I said to him the river is now really changing colour, so I got him to fish the streamer again. I noticed there was a fish rising near some overhanging trees along the bank, but not up enough times for a dry fly. I then got him to cross the bridge and fish the streamer on that bank near the overhanging trees, and right at the tail end of the pool. He ended up landing five trout on the streamer. What a day he had.
I also remember taking out a mother and a son for a trout fishing experience on my home water. The water conditions were very low and I was a bit worried how my fish for my clients. I walked up to a pool that I have fished numerous times and had good success in there.
I started one of the clients with the dry dropper method, and let the son fish that method as I could see he was a better caster. I then got the mother into the pool and I decided to put on a couple of spiders for her to swing, as I noticed she couldn’t cast quite as far.
Didn’t take long till they both caught fish. They went up and down the same pool so many times and still caught fresh throughout the day. Was amazing to see how many fish were actually in that pool.
Later on that day near the end of the afternoon the rain poured down and we all ended up hiding under a tree. At the end of the day, they thanked me, for making this on wonderful experience. They said they really enjoyed their day and it was good fun. I loved to hear that feedback, and it made me happy that I had made a memory for them.
Highlights of working as a fishing guide
There has been a few things that has been really enjoyable about this job and here are some of the things that I think make this job great. I really enjoy meeting clients from all over the world, and then helping them to make memories of their experiences.
I get to travel to new locations and every day is different, some of the scenery and landscapes you come across can be really amazing. You get a chance to see new rivers all over Scotland, and in hidden and private location sometimes too. I really enjoy meeting some of the Gillies on different beats of the river, and also working with other guides in the team.
I have enjoyed hearing clients say that they have never caught certain fish before like the grayling. And sometimes hear them say that is the biggest grayling they have caught too. I really enjoy seeing clients catch the Atlantic salmon and for me that is the most valuable fish species on the list.
I have enjoyed getting some more time off at weekends with this job, so I can spend time with my partner which I didn’t get in my old retail job.
There is also some parts that I might not enjoy as much. I find during the summer it can get tiring, when having to get up early and coming home late. A 13 to 14 hour days can be standard, with all the travelling included on the day. I feel like you do lose your evening when you get back, and there is not much time to tie flies, or spend time with your partner.
I also find if you don’t sleep well the night before and then having to get up early , I can find it hard to function, especially when it is 5 am or 6 am in the morning. I suppose I have to balance this with the understanding that between November and March, there is less pressure and a lot of extra time off, a lot of time to sleep, and relax, and between the two it balances out.
Leaky Waders, broken rods, all in a days work
There is nothing worse when you’re out on the water and gear fails on the day. Definitely when the rod breaks or waders leak. I’ve learned to take plenty of spare gear with you.
It’s challenging when the fish are not cooperating and you can see the clients morale drop. This is when you draw on your experience and keep trying new methods and experimenting. Having confidence in my own fly patterns is key, and believing in the techniques.
There are jobs, where the clients are challenging and have expectations that are not aligned with reality. My skill has been to learn how to manage this, and to communicate with the guests, and perhaps change direction and offer something else, if things are not working out.
After all these challenges and experiences working full time for Alba Game Fishing, I’m excited to see what the future brings for me and looking forward to this new season ahead. I have definitely made the right career path, and I am certainly not looking back.
Cuillin Rae is a full time fly fishing guide with Alba Game Fishing Ltd and current member of the Scotland Fly Fishing Team.