Nigel Forteath and his upside down Red Tag
I was born in India in the town of Shillong in Assam province. Assam is a tea growing area in India way up in the hill country near Burma.
My Father was in the British military and my mother was a nurse during the war.
After the war, we moved back to Scotland. Near Edinburgh, in an army training camp, there was a small pond which contained small brown trout. My brother Neil and I, each armed with a tank aerial rod, old reel and line used to fish for them using a worm; a great introduction to trout fishing.
After Edinburgh, the army sent my father up to the north of Scotland. We lived close to the lovely River Beauly. The Beauly flowed into the Murray Firth and was well known for sea-trout. My father, who was a very good salmon fisherman, introduced my brother and I to fly fishing on this river. We would catch many a sea-trout using a Blue and Silver Terror. Sea-trout are known for their fighting quality and some of the fish we landed were five or six pounders. I was hooked on fly fishing from then on.
In the summer months, often we would fish throughout the long twilight. It didn’t really get dark at all in the north of Scotland. The sun might drop down behind a hill but rise again at one in the morning. During these long twilight periods the sea trout would actively feed and it was very exciting fishing for two young boys. It was always river fishing under the supervision of our father.
I can’t remember fishing any of the lochs until I was about ten or twelve. My brother and I were at boarding school and during the August/September holidays the family would go to Ullapool on the West Coast of Scotland.
My father had an ex-army friend who owned a large estate at Ullapool. They had several beautiful lochs we could fish. Some of these lochs were a couple of hours walk for us through the heather and we would frequently see deer and golden eagles. We used flies like the Bloody Butcher and some of these trout were over a kilo which was unusual as the lochs were all known for acidic water which seldom resulted in big fish. My brother and I now became keen loch fishermen. Up in the upper reaches of the River Spey was Loch Inch which contained Arctic Char and Brown Trout. I found Arctic Char were interesting because they were an ancient version of salmonid. We caught them on rather large white flies.
In the marshland around Loch Inch there were pike. These are a very aggressive fish and a vicious predator. Some specimens weigh up to 20 pounds. On one occasion when my brother and I were pike fishing, we noticed a moorhen swimming across some open water. Next, there was a swirl and the moorhen disappeared, as if a crocodile had taken it. My brother was very quick and cast a lure to where the bird had disappeared. The pike took the lure. We netted it and could see a bulge in the pike’s stomach. The unfortunate bird was still moving. We cut open the fish and dragged the poor bird out. Alas the bird died! But I had a great photo to prove the story.
Later, I entered the ‘the pike story’ in a national fishing story competition and won first prize, which was a day on Loch Leven. Loch Leven is famous for its trout. We were lucky! My father, brother and I each caught a trout. The prize also included a bottle of whisky but still a schoolboy it was duly handed over to my father – but I seem to remember a wee dram never the less. I would fish Loch Leven several times later in life with my brother and we caught some magnificent trout.
I gained great experience in those early years fishing both lochs and rivers in Scotland, particularly on the River Spey. The Spey is Europe’s fastest flowing river and well known for salmon and sea trout fishing.
While I was still at school my father retired from the army after 42 years and we moved to Craigellachie a small village on the banks of this mighty river. My father became the Fishery Superintendent of the River Spey. There were many invitations for him and his two sons to fish during school holidays.
One day in particular I will not forget. My father and brother were rowed across the Spey to fish the far bank. I had never caught a salmon and decided I would stick to sea-trout. My mother set up a deck chair close by and I cast out a Bloody Butcher fly on my 9’ trout rod. The next moment was chaos – an eight pound salmon took the fly! It took me over 20 minutes to land the fish and claim my first salmon. My unlucky brother would have to wait for another day.
The River Spey was fantastic flyfishing for sea-trout and salmon. I would tie my own flies and when tube flies became all the rage made some of those too. I still have some of these flies today, after all those years ago. I used to use the black fur cut from my Labrador’s tail and the fly was not dissimilar to the Hairy Mary salmon fly. I used a small version in low water and a larger version when the river was running high.
I fished for salmon with a floating line and always made sure I had a meter of slack line in my hand. The reason for the slack line was the river flowed so fast that without the slack line, when a salmon took, you would pull the fly straight out of its mouth if you did not let go of the slack. It was quite highly skilled fishing that required you to really concentrate on your technique. The rods were nearly eighteen feet long, and you would ‘Spey cast’. Your cast would go across and slightly down river.
The other fish that were very common in the Spey were Finnock. These are juvenile sea-trout. After the sea-trout spawn and the eggs hatch the Finnock stay in the river and migrate to the sea in May. They are five hundred to six hundred grams at this stage. They migrate in their thousands. When the duns were hatching the Finnock would feed and we would always try to catch a couple for breakfast with a dry fly.
The Finnock stayed around the Murray Firth and North Sea coast. The salmon would migrate to Greenland and other far-off places. They would return in the Gulf Stream on their way back to the river Spey to breed. Spey fish averaged about ten pounds. The biggest fish I ever caught there was twenty-five pounds. I needed my brother’s help to land it. It took us thirty minutes.
Being brought up near the Spey River was a privilege. It’s not the same now, you would be lucky to get a day’s fishing for under $1000. The salmon stocks are also under immense pressure due to gill netting around the sea feeding grounds.
Other salmon rivers I fished were the Deveron and North Esk. Later on in life I was called as an expert witness to testify on the future of netting on the Deveron and the potential harm it would do to the salmon population. We won the case to restrict the netting season. I was able to give back some joy to a beautiful river and its fish.
I worked at eel fisheries in Denmark and trout farms before coming to Australia in 1969 as a ‘£10 Pom’. After a stint at fruit picking in the Murrumbidgee and chancing my hand at opal mining at Lightning Ridge, I settled for life as a scientist. I graduated from the University of New England at Armidale NSW in 1974 and took my wife to Scotland to meet my family. I then obtained a doctorate degree from the University of Aberdeen. My studies at Aberdeen were on the invertebrate fauna of the Loch of Strathbeg, Britain’s largest sand-dune lake. In 1983 my family and I came to Tasmania and I taught science at the then Tasmanian State Institute of Technology. I would later become Professor of Aquaculture at the University of Tasmania.
My family and I would go to Lake Pedder nearly every summer in the holidays. We thoroughly enjoyed fishing there, although I was somewhat deflated when my daughter caught the biggest trout in the annual fishing competition on one occasion! I enjoyed the lake from a scientific perspective too, especially the animals that lived there. I had never seen a yellow mayfly before the one I and Professor Osborn discovered there. If you went out early in the morning you might see a great many platypuses. Lake Pedder remains a special place for me. It is the largest freshwater body in Australia, seven times the size of Sydney Harbour.
Later, Professor Andrew Osborn and I researched the fauna of Lake Pedder in more detail on behalf of the Hydro. We published eight scientific papers on the invertebrates of the lake and pointing to the effect draining the lake would have on the wildlife there. We found the nymphs (mudeyes) of the Tasmanian Redspot Dragonfly in a waterfall close to the shore of the lake. This beautiful insect is an excellent example of a Continental Drift species – its nearest relative is found in Patagonia, South America. It appears the nymphs of this dragonfly take several years to mature to become a dragonfly. Indeed, this dragonfly and all the others found in Tasmania are the subject of a book about to be published by me, “A Photographic Guide to the Dragonflies and Damselflies of Tasmania,” which I hope will encourage people to understand why our waterways in Tasmania are so important to so many creatures.
A fond memory of the people I have fished with in Tasmania is my good friend Jim Ferrier. A fellow Scotsman, we had lots in common and I have enjoyed his company immensely. Four Springs Lake has been our lake of choice – a black nymph our fly.
Over the years I have been honored to receive several awards. I was Tasmanian of the Year in 1997 and awarded the 2003 Centenary Medal for Services to Australian Society in Marine Science. In 2006 I was made a Member of the Order of Australia for Services to Marine and Freshwater Biology.
My Upside-Down Red Tag
I do have a fly to share with you which I developed while fishing Arthurs Lake. I call it my Upside-down Red Tag. I modified the Red Tag because I had trouble seeing the standard version. This fly sits up much better. The size also matches the duns we have here. It is primitive, but it works. The Upside-down Red Tag is meant to be somewhere between an Emerger and a Non Emerger and I have fun fishing it.
I have also included a few flies I frequently fished very successfully when I fished in Scotland all those years ago.