A Blast from the Past

Yesterday, I fulfilled a longtime promise to myself to visit a water of my youth….. or at least I think it was! I think in my blogs I have mentioned several times, that when in my teens I would sometimes go fish with my dad. We enjoyed our days out, especially in those years, when my mum was seriously ill and then later after she died, as it was an escape from all that was going on at home. Mostly I fished myself, but my Dad would take me places he had heard about at weekends. My Dad basically learned flyfishing from me ( usually it’s the other way round!) and it was a bit like the blind leading the blind at times. Neither of us really knew what we were doing and rarely caught anything, but it was nice being on a loch or the river bank somewhere.

My Dad would get ideas for places to visit from the guys he worked with and we would go explore on a Saturday sometimes. Our favourite place was the Tweed at Peebles, but I seem to recall he took me off to the River Whiteadder. (pronounced “Whit-a-dr” for any non Scots reading this). I had fished the Whiteadder Reservoir, near Gifford in East Lothian ( with some success, with some friends of my Mum’s once) but there is also a river of the same name that ultimately outflows into the River Tweed. I have a feeling the section we visited was around Abbey St Bathans…..and no, we never caught anything.


I have been considering coming back to the river for years, but was put off after a chat with a chap at a fly fishing festival who was from some sort of fly fishing museum based around the Whiteadder “theme”. Not sure if it’s an actual place you can visit but I think this is it’s website. The guy told me that fishing had been poor for several years and you would struggle to find a fish. It’s a long run for me and I decided to keep the place in my bank of fond memories rather than go tarnish them with a dismal outing. Anyway, I stumbled across some throwaway comments on a fly fishing group on Social Media and it mentioned that there were Grayling now in the river….that made my ears perk up ( metaphorically- hopefully my ears stayed where they are!). This shouldn’t be a surprise as the River connects to the Tweed and so they likely will find a route into this tributary.

The Tweed Lady

Grayling simply won’t tolerate poor water and as far as I see it, having two target species doubles your chances of catching, especially at this time of year. Trout are on the feed on the run up to winter and breeding time, and Grayling start to get very active as Autumn begins. Also there is something very nice about smaller rivers, you feel like you can cover the water properly and really make a go of finding the fish. On big Rivers like the Tweed or the Clyde (particularly the lower stretches), you can often fish so far out into the flow and then it gets either too deep or two fast and it leaves you wondering are the fish just one more step across the water! On smaller river the potential is there often to fish bank to bank.

A Long, Long Way to Go

So I set off fairly early on Thursday to revisit the Whiteadder. The weather was abysmal for most of the run across, and I nearly stopped and abandoned my journey as the further east I progressed the heavier it got. I did expect it to be a somewhat unsettled day with heavy showers but for the best part of 90 minutes of my drive the rain literally “stotted” down. My weather app however seemed insistent that it was to be dry at my first destination to get a permit, and indeed it was bone dry and the sky while cloudy was quite bright. With permit in hand…. the last one in the permit book luckily for me, though they had run out of maps of the water, I was on my quest. Looking at the online map I had procured the night before, it seemed that the river had a lot of sections that were out of bounds until you got to one unbroken long stretch. On my drive to the river bank I passed a couple of cars parked by the top section and so this confirmed that I needed to head further along. I couldn’t work out any access from the North bank, though that was the side I could fish from so decided to park near a bend int he river on the South side and walk to the bank and wade over. The river should be low enough to allow that eh?

Stumbling at the first Obstacle- luckily I didn’t stumble over the first obstacle!

All geared up, I had not set my rod up as I could see I would need to work my way through trees and thats a nightmare with a 10ft rod set up, I walked along the fringe of a field to the tree line only to find, there was what looked like a 400feet drop to the river! (OK it was probably about 200feet-60metres)…but how?!

I had literally forded the river not a mile up the road and had not obviously climbed any steep gradients or hills that would put me high above it? I think in fact the river must drop into a wide gorge of sorts, and on this side its near enough unreachable ( at least without abseiling gear!). Back to the car I set off to try to get to the other side. I passed a nice looking bit of water but could not see any obvious place to park though I noticed what appeared to be a stile so I reckoned there was an access, but no where to stop presented itself so I kept going until I found a road that appeared to head off towards the river, and took it. At the bottom was some houses. I did not simply want to stop here, it was clearly peoples household parking, but there was a lady in a garden so I stopped to ask directions. The lady was very helpful and told me her husband was an angler and may be able to help. He came out and told me how to access the river from where I was. I mentioned the bit I had seen and he confirmed you can access it there as well and you can park you just need to tuck right in… so I set off back to hopefully try and park now I knew where the spot was. Indeed approaching from the other direction at dead slow pace, there was a small nook you could edge into just off the road.

Hard Going

Getting down to the river was quite a feat as well though as it was weeds and vegetation up to head height and often higher and a few obstacles to get round. Don’t expect any manicured river banks and stoney walkways, this is pretty much “Combat fishing”, hands and knees and sliding about on your backside through holes and burns, but I made it to the rivers edge. This looked great moderate paced pocket water so I rigged up with a couple of nymphs on my french Leader and opted to start at the bottom and work upstream as the pace and depth looked manageable. I fully expected to contact something fairly quickly so my disappointment was quite tangible when after 15 minutes I had not had so much as a tug. There was a lot of weed getting picked up on the flies though the river itself did not seem that terribly weedy. I think later I worked out what this was!

Scale it Down

A Small Brown Trout
One of about 10 Brown trout caught on the day, they weren’t big, this was about average but they fought incredibly hard.

I changed to much smaller patterns and scaled down to finer 3lb stroft from the 4lb Fluorocarbon I started with; a small black perdigone with a silver bead and a red collar and an even tinier hot orange beaded nymph on the dropper. Almost right away I hooked my first Brown Trout of the day. Just a small one no more than about 5 inchesin length on the black perdigone but nonetheless welcome. Next cast another slightly bigger. All the way up in between the rocks of the main flow I was getting wee knocks or Small Brown Trout about the size of your outstretched hand. Though they were small though, they didn’t half fight hard! And jumping as well! I also had one small Grayling, probably one of this years fish, about 4″. Grayling are funny fish, they come in fairly clear size bands especially fish up to about 3 years old. You can pretty well guesstimate when that fish was born. I then contacted something much bigger, a lovely Grayling in the pound and a half range I would guess, that as soon as I hooked it took off like a torpedo right across and down the river. Just the angle it went and the way I connected with it, I was pretty sure I was going to lose it, but for now things held. I saw the fish pretty clearly so am fairly confident of the species and size of the fish, it stopped for a second in the current on the far side of the river and I checked I had a good bend in the rod as I went to try maneuver down beneath the fish to get it upstream of me, then just like that, it was free and the line went slack, all flies intact. Disappointing but plenty more fish in the river …..hopefully.

By now it was about 12:30 and after a bit of a downpour the sun endeavoured to make an appearance and I thought it was a good time to stop for a bite to eat. On resumption moving on up the section I only contacted one more Brown trout before activity definitely subsided.

The Return from Lunch

When I restarted things were definitely quieter, and I picked up one Brownie in a corner pool that looked at the face of it, extremely promising. Further up I never touched anything and then the heavens really opened and a deluge lasting about 30 minutes began. The river noticeably picked up the pace and I decided to play safe and get out, and take a “wander” further upstream to see what lay ahead. Wander maybe infers ambling along, frankly at times it was down on the hands and knees, stepping in holes up to my waist, and at one point stepping on some grass only to discover the only thing it covered was the river below. It was a bit of an assault course but I noticed in some flats ahead definite fish activity and decided that if the rain stopped I would maybe give a dry fly a go.

Dries in the Wet

The rain eventually stopped and out came the sun again and I rigged for dries, though by the time the reel was changed and a fly was on the end I wasn’t seeing any fish activity. Never say never, I decided to start big, a dry Daddy as there wer eplenty about getting kicked up as you walked the banks.

Not a sniff did this get so I dropped a bit smaller to a CDC and Deerhair, but this still wasn’t doing the business. By the time I reached what appeared to be the start of the flat section I was down to a miniscule Black F Fly, that looked a wee bit like the size of the small black midges I was seeing dance under an over hanging tree. Right away I got a rise, then another,but they were seemingly small fish, the rises seemed to indicate at least.

Too Small and the Weed source

A Whiteadder Grayling
A lovely wee Grayling from the Whiteadder

Eventually one took and initially I thought a tiddler, but in fact it was another hand sized Brownie. They were sitting out in the fast streamy water. I decided initially to stick with this fly as I fished up into faster water but frankly couldnt see my fly at all in the maelstrom. I still managed to pick out another tiddler, a small juvenile Brownie, but thought maybe a Klink and Dink (Dry Dropper or New Zealand Style if you are Stateside), approach might be better. On went a rather battered Deer hair, foam bodied Daddy/sedge type pattern ( it started as a Daddy but had lost its tail and legs a while back and now looked a passable Sedge! ) and below I put the wee black perdigone again. I could at least see this now, which was a good thing, as pretty soon the fly bobbed under and I was into a slightly bigger Grayling that put up a good fight in the fast water before I netted it. I never managed any more fish from this run, but did spot the reason for the weeding up of flies, there was a raft of short “cuttings” of weed lying in slicks in the side of the river and evidently clumps of this was breaking off and finding its way into the current downstream to be snagged by flies… as leaves do in autumn.

On the way back ( I was feeling a bit chilled; as in cold, now’ as I had been out in heavy rain all day and the sun wasn’t making a reappearance) I tried the klink and dink on some water I had fished on the way up and managed one more small Brown. Never managed to get any reaction from a couple of spots I had witnessed fish rise at under an overhanging tree and actually managed to lose my flies in the same tree so it seemed a good time to stop, it was after 6pm by now and its a good 100mile drive home, but a brilliant day. Nothing really big but good fun, Browns (just) into double figures I reckoned and a couple of Graying. A couple of the “browns” did have some of the markings characteristic of Salmon Parr, but if they were Parr they were amongst the biggest I have seen and were otherwise like Brownies in colouring, but maybe they need to think about heading to sea!

Will definitely not wait another 40 odd years for a revisit if I can help it.