I remember the Bay City rollers had topped the charts and we were traveling north to Scotland in 1973 the home of the Scottish tartan. We were five in total in the Mazda, older brother Peter (age 17) and his friend Spence, other brother Robin (age 15) and my Mother Myrtle (age 47). I was just 13 and in between schools so glad to leave one but nervous about heading to join my brothers at Cheltenham College in September.
It took us two days to get to Lochinver in Assynt and we set up camp in a field with a toilet in Achmelvich for the first week. It was an easy drive to the harbour to fish for mackerel and possibly hit a salmon on his way up the Culag. But we were here for the wild brown trout within the lochs of Assynt.
There were no permits, no online maps showing which were the best lochs, no books by Callum Mcleod describing in detail all his favourite places to fish but we had inside information from Peter who had been up in 1972 on a Duke of Edinburgh projec on trout and what they eat.
I remember fishing Beannach, the dog and cat lochs near the Kirkaig and we definitely caught a fair few fish in the rain and in the sunshine. Nothing big but happy enough and the sea fishing was brilliant with pollock and mackerel. I even hooked a salmon one evening but it leapt clear of the water and took my toby with it as the line snapped.
Peter with some nice trout circa 1980
Every year after that we drove the 700 miles from Wales to fish the Assynt waters and gained knowledge of the lochs and the walks into the hills. We discovered Fionn, Cam, Assynt at night and the lochs near Clachtoll.
But it was in 1976 that I was in my element as Peter and I took the train to Inverness and picked up the bikes that we had posted ahead of us. Rods were strapped to the cross bar of the bikes and we headed for Assynt via beer stops at every bar we came across. Luckily there are not that many, and we settled into Big John’s camp site on the road to Stoer with it’s extensive facilities of one cold tap.
I remember cycling the 2 miles into town for the toilet, the shops, the Culag bar and the cailees. I never got invited back by girls for fried egg sandwiches like my miserable brother who left me fend for myself and ended up sleeping in a ditch on a few occasions after falling asleep on my bike on the way home. We cycled one evening to the Inchnadamph hotel and after a few beers in the public bar bubbled floated the bay by Ardvreck Castle. We had great success and kept a few fish for the pot but after a few beers, tangles in the dark are impossible to sort out so my luck ran out after a few hours. We headed back at 1pm and then the heavens opened with torrential rain and we got soaked on this 10 mile slog back to the tent, we must have been mad!
I remember washing my hair with fairy liquid under the freezing cold tap, dancing in wellies under my jeans and this girl going bonkers after dancing with me for half the night. I redeemed myself explaining that I was cycling and the camp site was very muddy. I still remember that girl from Buckie who had come over to pick her father up from the fishing boats.
Photo here of Graham in the 70’s pre beret so I was 15’ish
We moved to a static caravan on Inverkircaig bay for the next two years after our cycling jaunt to Southern Ireland which was a fishing disaster but a drinking success. The caravan was cosy and at times we had five of us in there, but the fishing was up a level. We fished Fionn, Na Tri Lochan, Graham’s loch, Na Barrach and many more over the two weeks. 2lb fish were tempted out of these lochs but not much bigger. Robin had a 3lb+ fish from the north lochs around Nedd but that was rare. We ate a number of them and on the last day took the whole catch back to Wales but typically on the last day we all struggled but Myrtle was happy with whatever we brought back.
We travelled in style from Aylesbury in our Mum’s Triumph Dolimite
and were introduced to the delight that is Mcewans Export
During this period, we ventured up to Kylesku and took the ferry across as Peter had been taken to some secret lochs there many years before. Three of us headed up hill to the first lochan after about a 20 minute walk and after only about an hours fishing we were turfed off by a Gentleman from the Scourie Hotel and he explained that it was his beat for the day. We were only young and in his tweeds he was a formidable character but instead of heading further up the track we went back and spent the day at the Kylesku bar. What is funny is that we spent 30 years at the Scourie hotel and were on Hush 1 but Hush 2 and Hush 3 were probably empty. So for 30+ years we were the tweedy chaps politely asking poachers to bugger off our beat, too be fair it only happened twice in my Scourie lifetime.
Robin & Graham on the Inchnadamph track, Rob fishing with his 2 piece roach pole
The next episode in this yearly adventure was discovering Graham’s loch, we were always late getting going as we had to visit the bakers in Lochinver for our lunch and so headed up, the Kirkaig track around midday. It is a monster of a walk and I was looking at it this year from the top of the Kirkaig stream as it enters Fionn and cannot believe we did it in waders and Donkey jackets while only 18. Anyway, we were a lot fitter as all of us played rugby regularly and there was a degree or two of stamina in those bodies.
The walk takes you up to the very front end of Suilven and you start fishing the Na Barrach lochs from west to east. There are many lochs and many bays to fish, on this first visit we caught a number of nice trout but nothing over a lb. We had our late lunch at the far end by the walking path up the mountain with its great views of Canisp and the full north side of Suilven. I describe the walk back from here in “The best loch in Sutherland” and the four of us fished and walked using the plateaux to guide us around the mountain.
After the last Na Barrach loch there is a gap and as you descend directly in front of Suilven’s mitre you come across two lochs one small with weeds and another larger loch with a small spit coming out from the south. The other guys tried the first loch while I fancied a big cast into the Un-named loch as its now often called in the guidebooks. My first thought was that I snagged a rock on the bottom despite casting 20ft out but when it happened on the second cast the rock jumped and there was a screaming reel.
A 2 1/2lb was netted shortly afterwards and although we didn’t stay long that day we regularly visited in the following years with some great successes. Hence my 2014 article the best Loch in Sutherland which tells further tales from the banks of this interesting loch.
The early years in Assynt is also the foundation of “The Myrtle Williams G.F.R. Trophy” a trophy that came about after Sir Gareth Edwards made a fishing programme called the Fishing Race in the 70’s. It was linked to a trophy called the Golden Maggot but had two formats, point for species and a point for largest in species. Clive Gammon and Gareth were heroes of ours, so it was only natural for us to make up our own competition each holiday and Myrtle provided the perfect Trophy. It was a pewter food cover with a silver plated handle from our Dad’s shop T M’S in Llandeilo.
I have the Trophy in front of me as I type and the first date is 1976 (TGW) when we cycled up to Lochinver and there was mainly trout fishing but in 1977(TGW) Peter and I cycled through southern Ireland and the rules were a point for 1st to catch a species, point for each species and a point for largest. Fisherman running to the pier, beach, loch-side and rivers were seen that year which was hilarious.
I won the first three years of the competition 76, 77 & 79 (1lb 11oz) but Peter came good in 1980 (GPW 1lb 6 oz) with his first solo win. After 40 years we have had 11 different winners with up to 16 competitors in any one holiday.
For the last 35 years it has been the winner of the largest brown trout caught on fly generally during a specific week in June and mainly within the Scourie area. The only hattrick of wins was 91 to 93 by AML with Andrew our dear friend catching some great trout on various green and black bushy flies in between snoozing on the bank and applying copious amounts of sunscreen. But our fishing is not really about trophies and this was just a fun way of looking forward to the holiday and each year someone would produce a programme of the runners and riders for the race which gave great amusement for those who could make it but also the others who had to stay behind their desks or go on honeymoon.
The early years in Assynt was a good training ground for us as wild brown trout fisherman, we learnt the basic needs that are required up here and it was often weather permitting to experiment with dry flies. I certainly realised that cast, retrieve, take one step and repeat was the way forward.
We would cover so much more water and were always moving quickly to search out new water and new lochs. We did not change flies too often but stuck with the winners of that particular year.
But I have said in previous articles that the flies we used in the 70’s are still the same as we favour now. The classic Goddards dear hare sedge I used in Forsinard in 2020 was the exact same dry fly I used in 1975 but with better results in 2020 on a calm day.
Flies I’ve used have got bigger for sure as Peter said in his recent article and bushier flies seem to stimulate a rise fished dry or wet. I have always fished with just two flies in Sutherland unless on a boat when I may add a middle dropper. I prefer a heavier fly on the point and a bushy fly on the drop. Perfect pairs are Black Pennel & soldier palmer, wormfly & blue zulu, Watson’s fancy and the teal and green. But newer flies from Ireland such as the Claret Bumble, Brown Dabbler and Yellow Octopus are a favourite these days in the waters of Sutherland.
My dry fly selections have also gone full circle as I now use bigger bushier flies on the surface and very rarely use small cdc patterns. My eyesight has deteriorated so partially a reason but I am happiest with a stimulator or two on the end of my line with one smaller than the other.
In 1982 I got myself a proper job for the first time and after my last term at Thames Poly I thought that Assynt was a journey too far as I signed on the dole only to go and get a job selling “greeting cards” within days of my first cheque. The boys went to Lewis instead in 1982 and then Mr Morrison and the Inchnadamph Hotel in 1983 for one week with the 2nd week at Scourie. 1984 to 2014 at Scourie is another long chapter in our fishing history but I used to visit Assynt and especially Suilven either prior to Scourie or even for a week afterwards in a cottage on the Stoer road.
There is nothing better than walking down Knightsbridge after your last sales visit to Harrods leaving the crowds behind you and driving 693 miles to the Kirkaig path car park putting a light pack on your back and heading into the hills for two nights and three days fishing.
You might see the odd couple going to the waterfall and back but once past that turning you won’t see or meet a soul in three days, total bliss. These days you might meet Tony Cave in his compact tent up on Na Barrach!! The occasional walker going up the steep north side of Suilven after seeing Edie the 2017 film with Sheila Hancock.
Back in the day I saw a few geologists in the middle of the rockscape and I am not sure who was more surprised. But they used to spend days out on the hills over a six-month period. Camping was easy and ticks were rare back then even though deer would be around. Port with brandy and whiskey got you through the evenings but generally I would only sleep from 1am to 5am as if the weather was ok it was best to be fishing.
One foolish holiday trip I walked from the Knockan Crag Geology park on the Ullapool road and in between Cul Mor and Cul Beag past Loch Sionascaig across to Veyatte. On the first day I fished Lochan Dearg a Chuil Mhoir on the south slopes of Cul Mor and must be one of the few who have ever fished it and even caught a few tiddlers.My camping spot is the red dot right of Shiela H!
I camped above the end of Veyatte on the side of a small loch and was awoken by the noise of a boat engine as someone had come to fish the river between Fionn Loch and Veyatte.
After breakfast and coffee, I appeared which gave these two guys the shock of a lifetime but I left them to their river and headed off up the slopes of Suilven to fish the “Best Loch in Sutherland”.
I spent two nights up there and fished all the lochs and ate well. I was due to head over to Inchnadamph but twisted my ankle with my full pack on. I headed to the surgery at Lochinver got it strapped up and hitched two lifts to Scourie campsite until my room was available on the Saturday night.
The Title of this article was the Early Years at Assynt so I won’t drag on any further, but as you can tell I still have a love for the area and happy to spend days out here if allowed in my busy calendar. The fishing is as good as it has ever been, and you only have to see the Frenchman’s Flicker account https://www.flickr.com/photos/94195153@N08/ to prove that. Stewart at Assynt Angling https://assyntflyfishing.com/ has shown the fun that can be had from the streams as well as the lochs. Even the sea pollack fishing is excellent on the fly if you can find the right spots.
Assynt goals for the future:-
• Day out on Loch Beinne Reidhe
• Fish the Gillaroo loch one last time
• Night out at Graham’s loch with lots of booze and disco
• Buy or borrow a drone to film these lochs
• Take scales and check age of fish caught
• Wanderings by the Lochs and Streams of Assynt by J. Hicks esq My edition is 1855
• In Scotland with a fishing rod by R Macdonald Robertson 1935
• Going Fishing by Negley Farson 1943
• The Adventures of a Sporting Angler by V Carron Wellington 1952 (but born supposedly Tredwell Williams from the Valleys) my favourite escapism.