Guddling for Trout
a trout by hand is an art form. Like dry fly fishing it
requires a combination of skill, stealth, patience, and most of
all sensitivity and know-how.
articles by others about guddling but I know that while they
knew the word and wrote about it they had no idea how to
I've never in my life met anyone who knew how to do
it and has
done it, except one old man that I met quite by chance. At the time,
I'd be about twelve years old. I was fishing a hillside burn
that meandered through tall trees and flowed into a pond on the
Bandirran Estate near the town of Balbeggie in Perthshire.
(Where the burn flows into the pond was a wooden foot bridge.
Under the planking of the bridge lived an extra big and well
educated trout that made this place it's home.) From the end of a short rod
I was dangling a line with a single hook, baited with a small
worm, into the deeper of the pools. As I slowly made my way
upstream, here, standing beside a big tree, was the old man.
All he was doing was looking intently at the water. He called
to me as I approached and we talked a bit. Then he looked me in
the eye and asked me, "Know how to guddle laddie?" I told him I
didn't know what the word meant. He then proceeded to let me in
on his secret.
My shady hillside burn flows into
this pond in front of, the added-on-to,
what was in the 30's, the Bandirran gardener's
A burn trout is a noble fish that prefers clear tumbling
water that cascades over boulders and rocks.
for trout: First you need a shady hillside burn. A good sized
one. One with a good flow of water. One with good sized
boulders in it and with water about knee deep. Under the ledges
of these boulders are where trout lay. You can scan the water
for ages and not see a thing but they're there. They're
shielded from over-flying predator birds like herons that would scoop them
up in a heartbeat. As they lay under the ledges of the boulders
they're always facing upstream. As a morsel comes down with the
current they dart out to get it and as quickly return to their
From now on
you're going to get wet and cold. Very wet and very cold.
several yards downstream of your chosen boulder very quietly and
an tip-toe wade into the burn. Absolute silence and slow
movement are musts. A stumble or a fast movement and your
quarry is gone. Slowly, and I mean by this, inches at a time,
move towards the boulder. When you get right behind the
forward till your chest is supported by the boulder. Now
you're really wet. At this point do nothing. Take several deep
breaths. Now imagine that if a trout is laying under your
boulder just where it's head is
and where it's tail is. Your quarry is facing upstream just gently fanning
to stay on station. Now slowly slide your hand and arm down in
to the water to where you think the fish's tail is. Now slowly move
your fingertips under the ledge. This is the all important
moment. Touch the fish too hard and it's off. Ever so lightly
with the fingertips make contact with the fish. It will
cautiously accept your touch or it's gone. Now move the
fingertips slightly and in a tickling motion increase the
contact with the fish. Move the fingertips a fraction of an
inch forward along the fish's side. If you sense an uneasiness
of the fish by any movement of it immediately move the
fingertips backwards. Slowly increase the tickling motion and
move your hand slightly ahead. The fish will now either accept your touch
or its gone. Slightly increase the scratching on it's side to a
rubbing motion. Now gently move your hand under to tickle
You're now in full communication with your trout. At this point
gently rub forwards and backwards while all the time moving your
hand slightly ahead. Now with your hand under the fish's
body you can gently grasp the fish and move it
slightly forward and backward. You just can't believe that
a fish will allow you to do this. The fish seems to be in a
mesmerized state of euphoria. Now comes the moment of betrayal.
As your fingertips come close to its gills, thrust your
fingertips in, grasp and heave. You've done it. You're cold. You're soaking wet. Your heart is pounding.
Now a strange
thing happened to me. No longer was the fish in my hand just a fish, something to
kill, clean and put in my bag. Something for me to take home and
eat. I couldn't do it. That fish accepted me. Like
me, it was a
living creature just trying to survive. As I admired its form,
its beautiful markings and colours I slid it back in. In a flash it was gone. Sayonara. Good
man did more than just teach me how to guddle for trout. He helped me to see a new
light and a whole new dimension. My experience of connecting and communicating with
that first trout that I caught by hand gave me a whole new perspective and outlook on the
world. Over time I caught several others by hand but never one
of these did I take.
Man is a
predator, a hunter------ but we also have compassion.