The following article has been very kindly written for us by the late Graham Priestley. Graham for anyone who did not know him, worked in conjunction with the Water of Leith Conservation Trust who do sterling work on the river. He was the high Bailiff for the last 14 years and knew every inch of the river.
An author on the subject his books "Angling in the Lothians" have been very popular over the years going to 5 editions. He informs me that they are no longer in print which is a shame as it was a very informative source of information on a wide variety of fishing in the area,so if you have a copy all the better!
A keen fly tying enthusiast who likes to pass on his knowledge through evening classes details of which are at the end of the article. I know several people who have learned to "Roll their own" as Graham likes to put it and all said they enjoyed the evenings very much. My thanks to Graham for taking the time to provide us with some fantastic information on our little river. He will be sorely missed. I hope you all enjoy it.
Few British cities offer citizens and visitors stream fishing for brown trout, but Edinburgh's Water of Leith passes just half a mile north of the shoppers on Princes Street. Small boys armed with a few worms from the garden or a tin of sweetcorn from the corner shop can be as happy, and sometimes as successful, as grey bearded veterans delicately whisking a size 20 dry fly over a dimpling rise.
The river rises way out West in the Pentland Hills and rushes and gurgles it's way at first through open moorland, then fields of sheep and cattle, and reaches the outer suburbs in it's wooded and secluded valley. It emerges at Slateford and becomes a city river, darting and twisting round sharp bends, over weirs and under many bridges to slide into the Forth estuary at Leith after a journey of 24 miles (38 km) and a fall of 1000 feet (305 m). It is accompanied from Balerno by the newly-completed Water of Leith Walkway, which provides access for much of the fishing.
The river is home to thousands of brown trout, the wild stock being supplemented each year with over a thousand stock fish. Grayling have appeared in the last 10 years and have spread throughout the lower river. A few rainbow trout can escape from Harlaw Reservoir to join them. There are also eels,minnows, stickleback, stone loach, bullhead and Lampreys. Odd flounders, sea trout, and salmon occasionally enter the river by dodging through the lock gates on the docks as they open for shipping but upstream passage is blocked by the high weirs at Dean Village.
There is no legal right to fish for the migratory fish and although 4 salmon parr were encountered on a survey in 2002 the salmon are probably strays from other rivers in the Forth system or further afield. Indeed an 8-pounder found dead at bonnington in 1999 bore a tag from the river Wear in England.
Public fishing begins at Balerno and continues down to Leith about 14 miles of river, with only short interruptions from private gardens. It is covered by a single permit issued by the City of Edinburgh's Culture & Leisure Department, but also available from Post Offices along the upper river, the Water of Leith Visitor Centre at Slateford, fishing tackle shops and Council offices at Waterloo Place. The permit covers the whole season and is free of charge.
A committee of Honorary Bailiffs advise the Council on regulations, assist with stocking and fish surveys and provide a presence on the water. The Bailiffs run a fly fishing competition, open to all comers, at Harperrig reservoir, near the headwaters of the river on a Saturday each May or June (the date is printed on the permit) which serves to publicise the fishing and raises funds for management. Many competitors return year after year despite the fact that the Harperrig browns are small and hard to catch, they see the contest as a pleasant day out with the possibility of a tackle prize, a trophy, or as a consolation, a raffle prize to take home as a souvenir.
The river from Balerno to Slateford Bridge (A70 Lanark Road) is reserved for fly fishing. It is a succession of runs and pools, the water peat-tinged from it's birthplace in the Pentland heather. Both wet and dry flies are successful. Small sizes (14-18) are essential as is fine nylon. Popular dry patterns include Adams, Grey Duster, Olive Quill, Rough Olive, and Klinkhammer, while wet flies are Black Spider, Greenwels Spider, Coch-y-Bondoh, Pheasant Tail Nymph and Gold- Ribbed Hare's Ear Nymph. Stealth and caution are necessary and in midsummer the fishing can be best at dusk or after, when the bats come out.
Despite the occasional efforts of the Bailiffs the upper river is well guarded by trees and bushes. Keep a watch behind, be resigned to losing a few flies and don't expect the fishing to be easy!
Below Slateford bait fishing is permitted, with maggots, worm, sweetcorn, as popular baits. Spinning is banned for safety's sake. Other regulations are simple. The season is April 1 to September 30. The size limit is 10 inches or 25 cm (raised from 8 inches in 2003) and the bag limit 4 trout (dropped from 6 in 2003). Children under 12 years should be accompanied by an adult, again for safety's sake, though the river is mostly shallow.
Almost the only thing asked of the river anglers, other than responsible behaviour, is to fill in and return the pre- paid season permit as a catch return in October. Most are strangely reluctant to comply, but the 30 or so returns each year(from about 600 permits) show that some regular fishers who are on the water every week catch more than 100 trout in their season and their best fish may weigh 2-3lb.Commendably, around 70% of the fish caught are returned, either because they are undersized or because the angler practices catch- and- release, a policy much encouraged by the Bailiffs (and the lively nine-incher in our photograph was returned after his photo session!). Over the last few years a few much larger and quite exceptional trout, the latest over 6lb have been caught at Leith. Surveys using electrofishing have also encountered brown trout of over 3lb.
Some of us are lucky enough to be able to walk to our little river and enjoy a few hours of concentrated pleasure trying to outwit its trout, surrounded by bird song and wild flowers,sharing the water with Dippers, Heron and just occasionally a Kingfisher! It can make you feel, just for a moment a King fisher yourself!