Fishing this past season on Loch Leven was at times very challenging, at times just plain difficult and at times reassuringly ‘busy’! In truth, the fishing did not perhaps live up to expectations after the success of the 2011 season which had seen a number of bumper baskets of fish caught, topped off towards the end of that season by the landing of the largest trout on Loch Leven for a hundred years (9 lbs 6 ¼ ozs caught by Michael Mackenzie). It was perhaps always going to be difficult to follow that but we lived in hope!
April started promisingly with a week of almost summer-like weather and the fish did indeed respond with a number of good baskets of well-conditioned fish being recorded. It prompted expectations of a good buzzer hatch and hopefully good buzzer fishing. However hopes were dashed when the weather broke and and became unstable with an extended spell of cold north easterly winds which was to last for 6-7 weeks. Temperatures during this period remained unseasonably low with high levels of rainfall. It was these late spring weather conditions, which were unusually testing even for Scotland, that we think lay largely behind the relative failure of buzzer fishing last season – it never really got off the ground, which came as a surprise to us and many anglers as buzzer fishing methods had been relatively successful over the previous three seasons.
May & June went before we really saw any meaningful hatches of buzzers – Yellow Owl – and even then, the weather was very changeable and as a result such hatches proved both sporadic and sparse. However, during July and August, some very good rises of fish were seen. Encouragingly, these rises were seen just about anywhere on the loch where good hatches of flies were taking place. August in particular saw some good surface activity with nice baskets of fish being caught during this spell. However, September perhaps proved the biggest disappointment with the weather again becoming very unstable and this was probably the main factor behind the fishing becoming particularly difficult towards the end of the season – which was a shame. Indeed, trout were spotted in streams as early as mid September to start their spawning activities, much earlier than we would normally expect here at Loch Leven.
Despite the generally testing conditions and difficult fishing last season, there are still real grounds for optimism for the future. Fish numbers appear to be holding up well and there is a feeling amongst many closely connected with the loch that the overall fish population in the loch is as healthy as it has been for a long time, both in numbers and in condition. Equally encouraging is the number of year classes of fish being seen which seems to support the feeling that the burns flowing into the loch are working well once again from a spawning / rearing point of view. Whilst the last 3 summers have been wet and seemingly getting progressively more so, the one silver lining has been that the burns have consistently enjoyed good water levels (farmers have not needed to extract water from them to irrigate crops) and conditions have been arguably ideal for rearing fry. In the loch itself, we did see large numbers of fish in the 7-10 inch range which augurs well for the coming seasons. These youngsters were in lovely condition and seemingly distributed throughout the loch, especially in the open water drifts.
Throughout the season, there were some lovely big fish caught but nothing to compare with Michael Mackenzie’s monster the previous September. Most were caught and released. Although he is far too bashful to mention it in his report, the highlight for us last season was Willie Wilson catching a brownie at 6 lbs 2 ozs in early August which was the biggest he had ever caught on Loch Leven in over 50 years of trying. As if that wasn’t enough, five weeks later he pushed his lifetime record even higher, catching and releasing an even bigger specimen measuring 650 mm and weighing an estimated 6 ½ – 7 lbs. Semi-retirement is obviously suiting him well and who dares think what next season might bring!
Catch & Release is now commonplace at Loch Leven and we would like to thank all anglers who have carefully returned fish during the season. The emphasis obviously is on ‘carefully’ and the hope is that most, if not all, of those fish returned lived to fight another day. That said, we remain very relaxed about anglers who want to take a fish or two home ‘for the pot’ – indeed we would encourage them to do so because Loch Leven trout are particularly good to eat.
Another encouraging factor for Loch Leven is that water quality continues to improve and there are now areas where weed growth is prolific. Weed beds are particularly important in a brown trout fishery. They provide the perfect environment for the lower life forms on which the trout feed over the summer months. Although high winds and spates caused by periods of heavy rain did muddy things up around the fringes on occasions, water clarity during the season continues to improve year on year, with depths up to 4 metres being reported in May & June which in turn allows good light penetration and in turn good weed growth.
At the time of writing, fish are still entering the burns to lay down hopefully the foundations of the next generation of young trout. We are very fortunate at Loch Leven to have plenty of stream bed habitat to allow fish to spawn and the resulting juveniles to grow until they are recruited into the loch after a year or two.
It would be a mug’s game to try to predict the fortunes of the season to come because we are in the hands of the weather gods and the wonderfully complex ecosystem that Mother Nature has endowed Loch Leven with. However, the numbers of fish seen in the loch at times last season give us considerable confidence that Loch Leven continues on a recovery track and that, given reasonable weather conditions, we might expect very good fishing at times both next season and beyond.
Finally, we would like very much to take this opportunity to thank all of the diligent anglers who took time out to fish Loch Leven this past season and to wish you all the ‘tightest of lines’ for next season.