We chose a misty day in late summer, arriving at the boat moorings just as the early morning sun rose in the sky, causing the cloud to dissipate in wraith-like fingers around Ben Vorlich and its satellite hills, illuminating the little village of Lochearnhead on the far shore. A ray of sunlight glanced off the walls of the castle on the shores of Edinample, lighting up its whiteness against the surrounding trees. For miles, as far as the eye could see, the surface of the big loch was like a mirror, reflecting images of mountains and wooded slopes. Then, in ever increasing numbers, the dimpled circles of rising trout began to break up the flatness.

" These are the smaller natural brownies youíre seeing," confided Malcolm. "Weíll really need a breeze to get up before we have a chance of contacting the larger fish. But theyíre there all right".

Thanks to the Drummond Estates stocking policy over the last 9 years, Loch Earn, under the right conditions, can produce some of the largest brownies in Scotland, some running to around 10lb. Itís amazing when you think that before the Drummond involvement on the angling side, the average size of brown trout was a mere 5oz. This year, it was over the pound mark. Although the limit is 6 fish per rod, itís quite feasible to boat 30 odd fish in an outing, mainly brown trout but with the occasional escapee rainbow trout also showing up. Some of these have grown on to double figures, and are in amazing condition.

The Scottish internationalist was using small dry flies in an attempt to persuade the browns to ignore the almost impossible angling conditions, though he was obviously on a hiding to nothing. Fishery manager Alex Murray came over in his fast rescue boat to see how things were going. He also just happens to be another of the top anglers on the loch. I left Malcolm to pit his wits against the flat calm while I joined Alex to learn a bit more about the picturesque water.

" The fishing is managed by Loch Earn Fishings, which pursues an active brown trout re-stocking programme. We started stocking 9 years ago, and it has certainly paid dividends in improving the angling. In 1998, for example, we introduced 8000 fish from 12oz to 4lb in weight. 3 to 5lb brown trout are now relatively commonplace, and my own personal best was a fish of 6lb9oz which took a Gosling. The heaviest fish recently was taken in 1998 by Ian Lowe and weighed 9lb14oz, though it actually fell for a Rapala. Also helping the angling is the fact that the loch is covered by the River Earn Catchment Area Protection Order 1990. I know that the place looks huge to the uninitiated, being 6.5 miles long and a mile wide at is widest, and running to great depths. Itís some 287 feet at its deepest. But in fact, itís not hard to find fish, and the golden rule is generally to hug the shoreline. Any more than 6 or 7 boat lengths out and youíre wasting your time. An intermediate or floating line is all youíll need, except in March and April when youíll probably have to go a bit deeper. I donít use anything fancy as far as fly patterns go, either Ė Kate McLaren, Gosling, Black Pennell, Invicta and a Mini Muddler if thereís a chop. Mind you, Malcolm has a few variations up his sleeve, and he certainly knows how to fool the Earn brownies. I should add that there are some excellent char in the loch, though these mainly fall to other methods rather than fly. But they have been caught to 1lb8oz on fly - though John MacArthur of Larbert used bait to tempt a 5lb9oz char in 1998".

Although Edinample Bay remained like glass and unproductive, Malcolm had spotted a ripple on the water on the far shore, where a slight breeze had sprung up. This was a favourite drift for both Malcolm and Alex - from the boat moorings parallel to the shore along the exclusion zone, where bank angling is not permitted.

" We should be in with a chance now, Ian, especially in this area", commented the Crieff angler. " Itís one of the top drifts on the loch, and a lovely spot to fish, with the slopes of Sron Mhor behind us. Above here, towards the Lochearnhead end, I also like the bays around the burn mouth at Edinample and the sandy shallows - chance of a real yellow belly there. Across on the other side off Ardvorlich, the shoreline down towards the caravan site has its productive bays and below here, towards St Fillans, going down towards the sailing club can be good. Nearer St Fillans itself, there are some excellent areas around what we call the Big Rock, and around the little island".

Conversation was suddenly halted as Malcolm bent into a fish, not one of the large browns that weíd hoped for, but a battling pounder, which was carefully returned to the water.

" Not quite up to my Earn personal best of 4lb10oz, Ian, though Iíve also had a superb fully finned rainbow of 8lb10oz. Still, itís a start ".

However, that fickle wind disappeared just as quickly as it had arisen, and once again, we were left with flat calm conditions. Magic for the photographer, with those mountains showing their mirror images on the unbroken surface Ė but for the angler, time to retire to the comfortable lodge for a brew.

At least that gave me a chance to pick the brains of Malcolm and Alex on how to find success on the loch throughout the season, and they gave me a most helpful breakdown. In March and April, the fishing depends on weather and temperature, but small weighted black flies and lures on slow sink or intermediate lines normally work. Malcolmís favourite pattern at this time is the Shimmy. May is the month when the loch comes alive, bursting with surface activity. Then, itís either an intermediate or floater, with Black Muddler, Black Hopper, Claret Hopper, Gosling, Claret Bumble and Bibio. In June and July, the evening sessions are more profitable. Dry fly sport can be phenomenal at this time, with black or claret dries. " Donít be afraid to twitch them ", advises Malcolm.

As the year progresses through August and September, sport tends to quieten down, though this is the time when some very large brownies to double figures are on the prowl, and can often be seen fry-bashing. At all times, a west wind is best, though an easterly can be useful if itís not too fresh. As long as thereís ripple, fish will be taken, and if it is calm, pray for cloud cover. Then, fish can be picked off using dries. If itís calm and thereís no cloud cover, well, itís such a beautiful spot to be on a lovely summerís day! On a wild and windy day, like many of the larger Scottish lochs, Earn can be a dangerous prospect, with waves more reminiscent of the North Sea than of a Perthshire inland water. However, there are a few spots close to the moorings which are normally pretty sheltered and usually fishable, and they also produce their fair share of trout. It is advisable to wear the lifejackets provided by the management at all times, since the climate can change very quickly. Lochearnhead is a water ski centre, and very popular with skiers in the summer. However, these participants tend to stick to the deeper central waters and donít provide a problem to the anglers, who are normally close to the shoreline.

Recommended pubs/eateries : There are several places in which to find refreshment and sustenance on Loch Earn, and all command some lovely views of the water and its surrounding scenery. At the St Fillans end, I normally visit the Four Seasons ( 01764 685333 ), where you can sit outside, weather permitting. But also worth a visit are the Achray House Hotel ( 01764 685231 ) and the Drummond Arms ( 01764 685212 ). At the other end of the loch, the village of Lochearnhead sprawls along the waterfront. Here, the Clachan Cottage ( 01567 830247 ) is popular with anglers, ramblers, water skiers, boaters. Also sited in the village is the Lochearnhead Hotel ( 01567 830229 ).

Loch Earn Factfile

Season Ė March 15 to October 6. Both bank and boat angling is permitted.

The boats are 15í in length, and are equipped with 4 hp longshaft engines; lifejackets are provided.

Charges : boats cost £15 for 4 hours, £22 for 6 hours and £29 for 8 hours. Fishing permits cost £5 per adult, and £1 per under 16.

There are no fixed sessions in operation and boats will be available from 9.00 a.m throughout the season and extend into dusk in the longer days. Clubs and individual members registered with SANA are eligible for 25 % discount on the boat charges.

Bookings can be made by writing to Drummond Estates Boat Hire, Ardveich Bay, Lochearnhead, FK19 8PZ ; telephone 01567 830400.

Travel tips

Loch Earn is within easy reach of many town centres Ė 58 miles from Glasgow, 67 miles from Edinburgh, 36 miles from Perth, 57 miles from Dundee. The A85 from Perth runs through Crieff and Comrie before reaching the loch at St Fillans, when it runs right along the north shore to Lochearnhead. The boats are based at Drummond Fish Farm, 1.5 miles from Lochearnhead.

Loch Earn Factfile

Season Ė March 15 to October 6. Both bank and boat angling is permitted.

The boats are 15í in length, and are equipped with 4 hp longshaft engines ; lifejackets are provided.

Charges : boats cost £15 for 4 hours, £22 for 6 hours and £29 for 8 hours. Fishing permits cost £6 per adult for a 6 fish limit, and £2 per under 16. Weekly tickets cost £15 for an adult, £5 for a junior.

Lifejackets are compulsory