Having had a taste of what this little Loch Lomond tributary could offer, I joined the Loch Lomond Angling Improvement Association the following year. This gave me access to several miles of fishing on the River Leven, the whole of Loch Lomond and, most importantly, to the larger part of the River Endrick, with its potentially fabulous sea trout fishing.
1984, my first year as an association member, was more exploratory than productive. I sought the solitude of the less popular pools, in the vain hope of instant success. Only later, after becoming better acquainted with the river, did I realise that there were very few pools which were consistently productive. Consequently, in my first year, despite many nocturnal hours by the river, there was little to record. I tried a variety of pools in the many miles of fishing between Fintry and Gartness and had very limited success. Indeed, catches were registered from only three pools. The Wheel, where I fished most often, yielded three fish, the Cement Wall at Gartness, two and Coolies Lynn, one. All fish were in the two to three pound range and all were taken, at night, during the months of August and September, on fly and maggot fished on a floating line. I had merely scratched the surface.
During 1985, my second year as an Association member, I continued to explore the river, not in any really constructive or organised way, finding new pools, where the odd fish might be caught on favourable nights. I was intent on exploring the river on my own, seeking out the quieter, less popular pools and avoiding the busier pools, clearly marked by a number of cars parked by the roadside on favourable nights. But the less popular pools on association water are less popular for a good reason…. they are generally less productive. I did catch a few fish but my success was modest in comparison to what might be achieved on the best night pools, and I had many a blank night.
Trial and error, however, along with information gained from customers and riverside conversation with fellow association members, eventually focussed my attention on the better known pools, such as Netherton, Coolies Lynn, The Oak Tree, The Meetings Lynn and Drumtian. My diary shows that, in early July, I had two sea trout of 1 1/4 lbs each at Netherton, taken just after dark on a floating line with the river above summer level but dropping. The successful pattern was a Mallard and Claret, size eight, with two or three maggots on the bend of the hook. I should say at this point that the night fishing on the Endrick was mainly done with maggots attached to the fly. The main reason for this was that the main sea trout pools, at summer level, had very little flow. Much of the fishing was done on very slow, almost dead, water, where it was difficult to give life to a fly. I gave the conventional fly, without maggots, a fair go. I even heard of fishers having some success with it but I cannot recall, in ten years of fishing on the Endrick, having caught a sea trout in the hours of darkness with a bare fly.
My diary of 1985 also records the following successes: Mid July – Drumtian – Afternoon ( 1 grilse 4.5 lbs); Mid July – Drumtian – 11 pm to 1 am ( 1 sea trout, 3 lbs); Late July – Oak Tree – 11 pm (sea trout 1 1/2 pounds); August 19th – Coolies Lynn – 7.30 am ( sea trout 5 lbs 6 ozs); August 25th – Coolies – 11 pm to 1 am (sea trout 3 lbs 13 ozs); August 26th – Drumtian – 10 pm to 1 am (sea trout 1 1/2 pounds)
More and more often though, as the season progressed, the name “Cowden Mill Dam” would crop up. The dam, as it was referred to, had been built by association members in the nineteen sixties, creating a holding pool of around a hundred yards in length and twenty yards wide, with a maximum depth of perhaps ten feet at the lower end near the dam. Enclosed by trees on both sides, it provided sanctuary for the shoals of large sea trout which, every year, made their way up from Loch Lomond. But it was not until the late summer of 1985 that I was to fish “the Dam” for the first time. Prior to 1985, although the association had access to both banks, it was only ever fished from the left bank. Throughout the short season, often not properly underway until August, the regulars would assemble at the damside and while away the time in fishing talk until the fall of darkness. One by one, in order of arrival, they would then wade slowly and quietly down the edge of the pool, pausing only to unhook a fish. Fantastic catches were made in those days, through the sixties, seventies and even into the eighties, though with less regularity than in the old days.
In September 1985, due to a disagreement between the Association and the riparian owner, we lost the Claylands fishing, comprising the left bank of the Dam along with about two miles of good water immediately downstream. A heavy blow, which would result in the loss of many members, prompt a re-examination of the running of the association and ultimately rock its very foundations. To allow new access to the Dam, the trees on the right bank were immediately cleared and fishing continued more or less as before. The clearing of the trees seemed to have little effect on the fish and, fortunately, the new owners of the lease on the left bank rarely fished at night. They did, however, fish during the day in high water and, unlike the association members, did not restrict themselves to fly fishing. Understandably, this led to some ill feeling and tempers would flare from time to time.
It was, in fact, on the first night after the clearing of the right bank that I first fished the Dam. I recall it well. Half a dozen members had gathered to sample the “new” fishing. It was not going to be easy, as the branches from the felled trees and bushes littered the riverbank, both in and out of the water. All we could do was choose a gap in the debris, clear a space as best we could and get on with it, fishing from the one spot. The river was falling and clearing nicely after a small spate and, as I recall, I managed to land two nice fish, of one and a half and three pounds. Not at all bad under the circumstances. For close on a decade, I was to become one of the regulars on the Dam. My diary records the next few weeks as follows:
That September was fantastic. I would fish usually four nights a week, sometimes arriving early to avoid the inevitable queue of fishers, or perhaps arriving at 11 or 12, by which time the queue had hopefully diminished. Either way, I would fish for at least five hours. One “run” down the pool would take 2 to 3 hours, fishing the fly and maggot as slowly as possible down the length of the pool. The dam was fishable on most nights, the exception being when it was high and coloured after a late summer spate. If the river was highish, but clear with a fairly good flow, I would fish the sink tip, two size eight flies with perhaps 6 to 8 maggots. In low water, it might be necessary to fish a single size 10 fly on a short leader with only two or three maggots, to avoid snagging on the riverbed. I caught my share of fish. One Monday morning, i.e. 12 midnight till dawn, using a sink tip line and long shank size eight flies loaded with maggots, I caught seven sea trout for 26 lbs. The following night the river had dropped back to normal level and I had nine sea trout for 27 lbs on the floating line….. needless to say, my best two consecutive nights ever! But there were many other good, though less spectacular, nights and I finished that season with 49 sea trout, a total which I have since been unable to equal.