Stunning scenery, solitude, surrounded by wildlife and a few Silver Tourists from across the Atlantic taking our well swung flies. Throw in a stunning 16 bedroom lodge and you have the right blend for a perfect Scottish Fishing trip.
This is what we were looking forward to for three days at the start of March 2018. A visit to the Scottish Highlands chasing fresh run Springers on the iconic Upper Brora.
It was booked in the diary for the first full week of March but due to work commitments, our fishing group of four could only manage to fish for the first few days. We knew it would be tough as it was really early in the season and our best chances of a springer would be to cover as much water for as long as possible.
We were hoping that the Fishing Gods would be on our side though and we would get the right conditions for those few days that would help our cause.
We made our plans, topped up our Spring flies and tackle. Our reserves of optimism, which are the most important part of any Salmon Fishing adventure, were full to the brim.
In the week leading up to the trip though things were taken out of the hands of the Fishing Gods as the worst weather front in a generation to hit the UK, aptly named the "Beast from the East" had literally brought the country to a standstill.
Ice accumulating on one of the sweeping bends on the Brora
Following the first ever Red Alert warnings for Snow, people were stranded on Motorways and in Airports. Flights and trains were cancelled all over the country amongst 15 foot snow drifts in some places and I was stranded in England due to the Snow Storms battering just about every corner of the British Isles.
Naturally, my thoughts were on the days ahead and those reserves of optimism were starting to leak heavily as we all feared the worst for our chances of even making it North yet alone catching any fish.
When I finally made it back home on the Friday night, the weather was still terribly difficult so on the Saturday before leaving, our WhatsApp group chat was busy with messages of doubt and concern about whether we should venture out as although the worst of the storm seemed to have passed, there were still weather warnings in place for exactly where we were heading.
As passionate and dedicated Fly Fishers though, what do you do when the Beast from the East is in town?
You go fishing.
So off we set, my friends Callum and Robert were heading off in the afternoon and would be first to arrive. My friend Terry and I then set off later in the evening but as we lost the daylight, our journey North was becoming more perilous. As we travelled through the Cairngorms, Snow Blizzards were reducing visibility and the road conditions were worsening.
I'll admit it was a bit nerve wracking but we knew that once we reached Inverness and drove down out of the heights of the Cairngorms then the weather should improve. And it did, so we stopped to pick up supplies and stretch the legs as it had already been a 4 hour drive to this point.
When we set off again, we literally drove out of Inverness and as we turned to head for Brora, a snow storm kicked in that was so heavy our visibility was only 10 feet and the roads were filling up fast with snow. After having the nerves shredded through the hills on the way up we threw in the towel, decided on safety first and made our way back to Inverness to find a hotel to shack up for the evening to try again in the morning.
After having spent the week already stuck south of the border, this was not a welcome pit stop.
When we phoned Callum and Robert to tell them our plans, they told us that from what they could see of the river it was completely frozen and certainly unfishable.
Our reserves of optimism were just about pouring away by this point. We discussed abandoning the trip and heading for home and cutting our losses.
When we were ready to set off on the Monday morning, the weather looked as if it might improve and as all Fly Fishers know...it doesn't take much to get you going again.
You will literally look for the positives in anything to get fishing so we set off for Brora and the Struan lodge and when we arrived, I was blown away by the breathtaking beauty of this place.
The Brora River setting off the stunning backdrop
Rolling hills, winding rivers and the stunning Brora loch placed right in the middle like nature's centre piece.
The river we had booked for our trip was the Upper Brora but this was unfortunately unfishable on the Monday as my friends reports of a mainly Frozen river were not exaggerated or even a cruel joke as I had privately hoped, but it was a landscape unlike anything I had ever seen before.
It was hard to be too disappointed when you are in a place as stunning as this and there was a constant driving shower of sleet which we hoped may begin to soften the ice.
Just as close to our lodge though was the lower Brora, this was not frozen however and we managed to secure ourselves an afternoon's fishing on this river. The river levels were a bit low but we were just delighted that it was flowing, and we could get our lines out and swing some flies.
Finding some flowing water on the lower Brora
The tactics in these conditions were floating lines and stealthy wading but although we battled against the wind, the sleet and the -12 windchill...the day would end without a fish but we were here, and embracing the challenge.
The lower Brora has a SEPA gauge on it and we did not take our eyes off of that on the Monday night as we were hoping to see the river levels rising which would indicate a thaw was on. And it was.
We went a scouting mission on the Tuesday morning and found that there were now parts of the Upper Brora which were flowing and were fishing. It was still the harshest conditions any of us had faced before but we were determined to fish any area that wasn't covered in Ice.
A lovely run on the Upper Brora, it opened up just enough to allow me to cast to the far bank and swing the fly in the hope of a pull from a Springer
So we set about our task and we covered every section of the river we could with Ice literally bashing into our legs and the strongest wind I have personally ever fished in.
The Snow had also returned in place of Monday's sleet and it was really tough going and without a tug on any of our lines, we called it a day in the fading winter light.
To ensure a safe trip through the Cairngorms on the way back, we felt our best option was to head home on the Wednesday morning and as fishing all too often goes, we were leaving at the best time as the weather had improved tremendously.
With the wind gone, the temperatures up and the river levels higher we felt that we were walking away at the worst possible time and that the best chance of a fish that week was in the few days we had booked but wouldn't use.
We had embraced the challenge that the Beast from the East had thrown at us and although it made fishing for "Spring" Salmon incredibly tough and we ended without a fish, I still felt a real sense of personal reward from this trip.
We had got to know the Brora River and if I were to describe it in one word it would be...Fishy. In fact, I would describe it in two words, Very Fishy!
You only have to spend some time reading the catch records in the Struan lodge (Which is an excellent source of information on fly choice and which pools have fished well in the past) to know that this place can be absolutely prolific.
Reading the catch records in front of the welcome respite of the log burner from the living room of the lodge.
The river has some amazing pools and runs and I particularly love the way the river bends and turns so often creating some lovely channels that you just know will hold fish in the right conditions.
We left Brora with a sense of a mission only just started not completed, and the start of a relationship with this wonderful place where we will be back to get our Brora Springers.
If you are looking to book a holiday or trip for some Scottish Salmon Fishing then I would highly recommend that you visit the Struan lodge and fish this incredible run of water.
In the right conditions you will get fish, I have no doubt of that and in the toughest of conditions you will still be rewarded with a trip to the serenity of the Highlands with breathtaking scenery and wildlife encounters that you may not have experienced before.
We shared our location with the local herds of deer of which I have never seen so many in such close proximity to you but if you are driving here then you need to keep a sharp eye out on the roads in and out of the lodge. Especially at night as they are literally everywhere and it really is an amazing sight to see.
If you wanted to mix your fishing up though, right on the doorstep is the Lower Brora and not too far away again is the Helmsdale both of which are famous Salmon rivers so you have options nearby if you wanted to venture out.
Overall it was a tough but brilliant few days away even in the conditions we faced and I am already looking forward to getting back there and finding those coveted Silver Tourists.
The Roxton's website has a great video on the water which is well worth a watch and you can visit their dedicated page here: https://vimeo.com/236713599