Welcome to the Scottish Heritage Home Page!





Guddling for Trout

Catching 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.

I've read articles by others about guddling but I know that while they knew the word and wrote about it they had no idea  how to do it.

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 cottage.

A burn trout is a noble fish that prefers clear tumbling water that cascades over boulders and rocks. 

To guddle 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 hiding places.

From now on you're going to get wet and cold.  Very wet and very cold. 


But the reward----


From several yards downstream from 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 boulder lay 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 it's belly. 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 trout 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 bye fish. 

That old 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.