Even the rivers are losing their mystery to some extent, many of the big fish in them having a 'name and address' and being caught time and time again by anglers who camp in the swims, then parade their photographs in weekly angling papers. There are of course exceptions, particularly with big rivers such as the Thames. I am sure there are many very big fish in that river which live out their lives without ever seeing a hook. But the practical problems of fishing the Thames properly seem almost insurmountable in some areas when you consider the amount of boat traffic on the river. However, if you have an interest in catching trout, not stocked rainbows, but beautifully marked native brown trout, then there is a wealth of wild fishing north of the border, in Scotland, and much of it is largely ignored, priority often being given to the trout's larger relative, the salmon.

I was on a salmon fishing holiday at the time. The river was in the doldrums and sorely in need of some rain. The salmon were very lethargic - it hardly seemed worth fishing for them. We had heard talk from one of the local anglers of a remote loch containing fish far larger than any of the other surrounding waters, all brown trout, some reaching 5 or 6 lbs. With the river in such a hopeless state my companion and I decided to spend a day after these trout. Taking directions from the hotel at which we were based, we set off across the sparsely populated countryside, and soon found ourselves at the start of the long track leading to the loch. All we could see around us were the heather clad moors, the pine forests and the great mountains rising grey and purple in the distance - as far as the eye could see there were neither people, nor buildings. The track was narrow, full of potholes, and the car suspension complained every inch of the way.

We made very slow progress, and it wasn't until an hour later we reached the halfway point, marked by an impressive, if somewhat draconian building which had been built as a shooting lodge in Victorian times. It looked most sinister, appearing out of the mist like a small version of Dracula's castle, with its pointed turrets and heavy, arched doors. There was no-one in residence, and the windows were boarded up. I believe it now belongs to a group of German businessmen, who use it as a base for their grouse shooting and deer stalking. Anyone familiar with my writing may have an idea that I am sometimes guilty of living in the past. On seeing this magnificent, if somewhat spooky building, I immediately imagined it in its heyday, on a hot August morning in the early 1900's, all a bustle with tweeds, beaters, game-carts, twelve-bores and excited springer spaniels. No doubt it had had some very important and distinguished guests in its time, in the years prior to World War 1, a golden age, lost forever. I think I must have had a previous life in that time, for I have very strong feelings about it. Perhaps I fought in that war - I know that haunting anti-war song 'Green Fields of France', which relates to that conflict (and is surely the best anti-war song ever) almost moves me to tears. Listen to it.

I wish I had taken a photograph of the lodge, but for reasons which I can't remember, I didn't. How often do we not bother to take a picture, then regret it ever after? If I ever go back I shall certainly take several. We stopped for some minutes outside the lodge. My friend and I, being on similar wavelengths, were both thinking of the same things. We hardly spoke. Then we were on our way again, David's little XR3 making hard work of the track, which had now become even worse. We passed through some magnificent countryside, looking down on the upper reaches of the salmon river as it twisted its way out of the hills, its banks up here not trodden by anglers, but by the splendid red deer, of which we saw two herds. They frequently sniffed the air, watching our progress nervously, and from a very safe distance indeed; no Richmond Park this! There were otters too, and I was fortunate to see one whilst fishing on the river later that week, the only one I have ever seen in the wild during a lifetime of fishing.

Eventually we arrived at the parking area for the loch - at least it had been described to us as such, but it was so small we doubted whether we were in the right place. The track became wider by about a yard, and for the length of two cars. Of the loch there was no sign, though we knew in which direction it lay. One of the blessings of fly-fishing is how light you can travel. One rod, one reel, or perhaps two, each containing different lines, a small shoulder bag of odds and ends and a light folding landing net; which was just as well - the loch lay some 3 miles across the hills! We pushed along the very sparse track, occasionally disturbing grouse, which would rise up noisily, then lazily glide across the top of the heather, settling some thirty or forty yards further on.

This was late April, and the grouse were courting. Their short and lazy flights now would in no way resemble their speedy departures when put up by the beaters in August. Not that I'm ever likely to find out! It took us almost an hour to reach the loch, but when we saw it, we knew it had been worth it. Cradled among the banks of heather was a jewel of a water, about 6 acres, crystal clear, and obviously, for some reason which I know not, alkaline, which is very unusual in such an area. Most of the hill lochs are acid, and not at all rich, the majority of trout in them being very cheerful, but of no great size. On one bank was a small, weather-beaten hut. On entering this we were disappointed to find a gaping hole in the roof. Inside was a small table, and two chairs which had probably been brought up from the lodge decades ago, and which at one time had been of very high quality. Even in their present state they would probably have commanded a good price in a Chelsea antique shop - especially if it was mentioned that at one time King George might have used them to lunch upon! After a thorough investigation of the rather decayed contents of the hut (entertaining perhaps the forlorn hope of finding some long lost treasure!) we ventured outside and began to tackle up. The loch looked to be a maximum of eight feet deep so we both set up with floating lines. Choice of fly was difficult. Traditions are ingrained in many Scottish anglers. If you ask them for advice they will invariably tell you to use a traditional pattern such as the Mallard and Claret, Peter Ross or Teal Blue & Silver. No doubt these catch many fish, but sometimes I think it's because everybody uses them, though I do concede that some of these patterns may, at times represent a reasonable imitation of a hatching fly. In a previous year when David and I went to fish a loch with the two Scots lads who ran the hotel at which we were staying, we proved the worth of our imitative patterns, thrashing the locals and their traditionals by catching 32 fish to their 9.

We spent some time looking around the loch for signs of fish, or fly life, but were disappointed to find neither. In this case, a shrimp imitation, which can also, by some stretch of the imagination, represent a sedge pupa, is often a good bet, and I decided to try one of these. David tied on a small midge pupa, and we then set off in opposite directions around the lake. It had taken so long to get there, and would take us an equally long time to get back again, so we only had a few hours to fish. After about half an hour, David called across the lake and signalled he had had a pull (a gesture which could quite easily be mistaken for something quite different in other circumstances!). Just then a trout rose in front of me, about 20 yards out. I immediately cast ahead of it, and drew the fly across its nose with a steady continuous pull. The trout came at it with a huge bow-wave, but turned away at the last minute. I re-cast, but this time the fish ignored the fly completely. I decided to try something different. Still I could see no flies on the water, but presuming David had his take on midge pupa, I tied on one of these. The trout was not impressed, and nor were 2 or 3 others that had now begun to show in the same area. I quickly changed to a dry fly, a small sedge that I inched across the trout's noses. No response. Then a shout from David, and I looked up to see his rod arched round, and a lively bar of gold and silver skating the surface at the end of his line.

"What did you get that on" I called. "Wickham's Fancy" he replied.

I might have known - I never did quite get David fully converted to imitative fishing! Swallowing my pride I looked in my box for a Wickham's. I didn't have one. Swallowing my pride even further, I went and nicked one from David's fly box, though it must be said it made a change for me to be nicking his flies! In the meantime he had landed the fish, which was an absolute picture, a lovely buttery gold trout with huge red and black spots, and weighing about 3lbs. Normally trout get a quick bang on the head, but in this place, and with a fish so beautiful, so noble, it didn't seem at all appropriate to kill it. It was part of that landscape, and belonged there, not lying glass-eyed in a hotel deep freeze. For a short while we admired its beauty, then gently slipped it back.

Armed with my Wickham's fancy, I returned to the trout rising on the far bank. Third cast, and as I was inching the line back, I saw the leader dart downwards. I tightened and a powerful fish went hurtling across the loch. It made runs all over the place, and frequently jumped clear of the water. After almost 5 minutes of this lively play, I had him in the net, and couldn't wait to lift him out for a closer look. I was not disappointed - there lay the most beautiful of wild trout, around 4lbs and, like David's, pure gold with spots the colour of rubies. Again, killing the fish was out of the question, so after 'spooning' him (this is not so drastic as it sounds, a mild suction device being used to remove some of the stomach contents) to see what he had been eating, and taking a quick photograph, I slipped him back. Examining the contents of my 'spoon' I wasn't surprised to find the fish had been feeding on midge, and apparently taking them just as they were on the point of hatching. This is a difficult stage to imitate though many of the traditionals, particularly the Wickham's, do suggest a fair representation of it. To the trout some traditionals may well represent the confusion of legs, wings and silver oxygen bubbles that attend fly hatches. After this success, I joined David for a welcome cup of coffee from the flask. We sat together in the heather. The only sound to break the silence was the occasional plop of a rising trout. As far as you could see there was nothing but heather, hills and mountains. It's hard to describe the atmosphere of the place - total silence is most unusual - it's difficult to get away from noise, even if it's only a far off jet plane, or the hum of a distant motorway. It makes you feel somehow small and insignificant, a temporary dot in time and space, with the knowledge that this place existed long before you came there, and long after you depart this world, it will still be there, dwelling quietly among the hills and mountains, and fostering its pretty trout. Such thoughts can make you reluctant to break the silence even by speaking to your companion. If you can clear your mind of other things, then sitting rod in hand by one of these lovely lochs, surrounded only by truly wild nature is probably as close to peace as an angler will get in this life. I can easily see how a man could spend his lifetime fishing these lochs.

A slight increase in the amount of trout activity broke this reverie, and prematurely ended our coffee break. This time we fished together, often casting for the same fish. We had long since given up worrying who caught the most, and at times it was great fun to cover a rising trout from both sides, to see whose fly it would take. For all our efforts though, we had only one more fish apiece, but beauties weighing between 3 and 4lbs. Both were returned, and swam off strongly. Then it was time to leave. It was still early, but we had a long way to go, and didn't fancy the trek across the moors in darkness - you could wander around out there for days if you got lost! Still the occasional grouse exploded from the heather to scald us as we came too close to its roosting place. We greatly appreciated the sight of these birds, something not often seen by southerners of limited means!

We reached the car just as dusk fell, and commenced the long and bumpy ride back to the hotel. The shooting lodge looked even spookier in the fading light, and I shouldn't have fancied being stranded there! As we approached the hotel, large spots of rain began to hit the car windscreen. We turned on the radio, and heard the forecast - heavy overnight rain, especially in the Highlands. This was just what the river needed to liven up the fish. Tomorrow we would fish for salmon. All was right with the world.

Footnote: Scotland is full of these small hill lochs - virtually all of which contain beautifully marked wild brown trout, many of which are not difficult to catch. Much of the fishing is free, or can be had for a very small charge, and many of the lochs remain unfished. Many are fly only, and in any case you will get more enjoyment out of fishing them that way, which is not, despite what some game anglers wishing to perpetuate the myth that fly fishing is a far more skilful art than other types of angling would have you believe, too difficult to learn. Many of the lochs around the more famous salmon rivers are totally ignored, so if you want to look for them, that's a good place to start. Failing this, the Scots are a most helpful people, especially when it comes to angling, so call in at any tackle shop, or hotel near water, where I am sure you will find out all you need to know. There used to be an excellent publication called "Fishing in Scotland". I don't know if it's still in print, but probably the Scottish Tourist Board will be able to help you obtain a copy. Why chase around looking for some debatably immoral close season coarse fishing on some tired old pit which has been hammered all year long when you can get out among the mountains, moors and heather and seek out a new challenge.