Thursday, 13 September 2018

School Boy Error No #99 "Wild Camping"



School Boy Error No #99    “Wild camping in the hills”
from Peter Williams

After a miserable trip in 2017 where, ‘never again’ and ‘I don’t want to die of exposure’ were uttered, we were once again planning a trip up into the hills to our favourite loch not a million miles from Tongue. Preparations over the winter at home and prior to the walk to the loch had been meticulous and on a par with the planning for Buzz Aldrins moon walk. I filled my backpack and emptied it on the floor of my study, otherwise known as the nerve centre, and re-packed leaving a couple of items out.

Finally, the day in June had arrived and after a quick de-camp from Thurso campsite and the journey to the Tongue hotel, a quick pint and permits bought, we were off. The weather was mixed but not disastrous, and, with whatever weather website we had on our phones we were able to track the severity of prevailing rain and wind for the next twenty four hours or so. We found out later that, with no surprise to us, that the weather forecast in this part of the world can change often and dramatically.


I turned sixty two this year and maybe another year of abuse must have taken its toll as a note in my diary registers ‘tough walk’.  After the two hour walk we set the tents up half way down the east side of the loch as a moderate south wind blew steadily that evening.




Our Belgium friend fished the west bank carefully and was rewarded with a nice 49cm trout caught close to the bank on a sedge pattern. Graham hooked a reasonable fish in the weeds at the southern end but failed to bring it in after a few challenging minutes.

My efforts were not rewarded and I figured with another evening up here there was always a chance of one of those balmy evenings when the fish are jumping and rising in a way that torments you as though they are saying ‘Well catch me if you can!’. But if you don’t then you have “only yourself to blame”. It was surprisingly cool but with a strengthening wind, so an early night was not a surprise for all three of us.
Overnight the wind began to steadily get worse and early the next morning there was rain according to my brother Graham who was predicting world cup scores at 12.30am. The early weather report indicated that they were going to get stronger and the winds were moving directly from the west. 




By eight o’clock only the west bank was fishable as that bank had some calm water from the bank to about ten metres out. I spent most of the morning avoiding the rain by remaining in my tent whilst the other two fished. Graham had arranged to stay at the hotel that evening and as predicted, as the rain stopped the wind increased whipping the surface into a barrage of waves on a beach.

If there was one lesson from the previous year that we learned, it was use the topography for your comfort and even your survival. With help from my brother and a quick check on the weather, we moved my tent behind a ridge protecting from the now fierce westerly. Graham returned to the hotel. 


Our Belgium friend did not embrace this idea of moving his living accommodation until the last minute when his tent was seconds away to being blown into the kyle, a distance of three miles away and no vegetation to stop its flight.





I had no excuse by three o clock but to go fishing so I clambered from my tent picked up my rod to join Michel on the west bank. My first attempt was halted half way up the knoll we were camped under by gusts that made climbing a danger. So I tried to approach the loch around the other side of our protective hill. This time waves were crashing into the bank threatening to sweep me into the water forever, I gave up. Fish zero due to zero effort. Now for the most irritating part of this story. Breakfast had been a long time ago and Spartan. Michel, I noticed waved to me in a triumphant manor from the far end of the loch signalling yet another success, this time 45cms. (despite Brexit we are metric).




The new site protected from the wind and 30 yards from where we started the night before. 

One tent gone with Graham sipping coctails at the Ben Loyal Hotel Tee hee!






Finally, he came back to camp to find a very grumpy and hungry me. Actually I think those two feelings are somehow linked. I was also cold but after two barbequed burgers and a chocolate bar my spirits were raised just in time to go to bed with a gin and tonic night cap. Having spent most of the day in the tent I had a restless night and at around 3am a further night cap or two was required.
The wind had finally dropped in the early hours of the next morning but it took some time for the sun to warm things up a bit. I finally went fishing after thirty six hours of ‘what ifs’ and ‘why nots’ dreaming and fighting the cold in my tent in a sleeping bag that is to be demoted to a dog blanket. I strolled casually along the path which, the night before had water crashing onto it and proceeded to the far west bank from whence the wind was still blowing but considerably less than twelve hours before.

My go to fly is probably the sedgehog fished on an eighteen-foot leader (not sure how many cms that is). This one I had tied myself with a claret seal fur body and for once a decent amount of coastal deer hair on a barbless size 12 hook. This is going to sound somewhat familiar but there are times when, especially when the wind is behind you, the cast just straightens out perfectly and the fly sits there screaming ‘eat me, eat me’. And that is what happened at 8.15am as a slurp sucked down my offering and a trout was on. The trout was only half asleep but after the time in my tent I was the opposite and the fight was over after five minutes when 55cms lay briefly on the bank and was quickly returned.
The rest of the morning passed without any further of our finny friends being extracted from their watery world and we proceeded back to the hotel for a welcome pint and lunch.


Next year? Will we return? Will we pay any attention to the weather forecasts? What do you think? Of course we will.

Please note the trout I caught had one of those situations where the gill cover did not fully cover the gill on one side and should be easily recognise should someone catch it again. If you were holding the trout with its head pointing away from you then the damaged gill was on the left hand side.

This is Peter’s article for 2018 which has some familiar tones to others I have written. What he does not tell us is that 12 days before hand we also spent a night on the hill at “the best loch in Sutherland”. Maybe it was the four hour walk to get there, the howling wind that night and early morning or is it the fact he did very little fishing and caught nought? It was just another SBE but he has vowed to never return and I think he will never reach this loch again unless we fly him up there. I feel with our new Icross water transport we may well not need to camp out overnight in the future see www.icrossflyfish.com. Tight lines this autumn maybe some sewin or salmon next week if it rains?


Friday, 19 January 2018

Success on the Durness Limestone Lochs in 2017

Success on the Durness Limestone Lochs 2017

I had heard about them for the last 30 years, clear water, shallow, very dour at times, some of them only at night, lucky to see a fish let alone catch one and so on. But even the positive comments had always said “you will be pleased if you catch it just right and catch a couple of good two pounders”. Even the Master, Colin had agreed that they were a tough gig but should not be overlooked.

I had met fisherman at Scourie who were used to a short walk to the boats and then spend the day afloat and return to the Cape Wrath Hotel with the odd good fish. But I never dreamt of 12 fighting fish in a day from our boat with fish over 50cm and at least four over 3lb and another day off the shore a 5lb + beauty who was an old boy but over 64cm and much heavier in his prime years.  
  
This story goes back to 12th July 1932 when Sir George Willis was fishing Loch Lanlish with the dry fly. He managed to catch a lovely 9lb 8oz on his annual holiday to the Sutherland highlands while he was home from India. The fish and a photograph of Sir George sits in a bookcase arch in a house in Totnes and is admired by my brothers and myself whenever we get to visit our Sister in Devon. I have dreamt about catching such a fish for the last ten years and have been fascinated with all the stories surrounding Lanlish.



As you can see it is impressive and there must have been plenty of food around to grow this fat but as they say, there always was back in the good old days.








The Big Fish competition in 2016 had taken us much further north than our usual Assynt and Scourie haunts and we had fished from Wick to Tongue to Durness before heading to south west Sutherland. In Durness we fished for just two days and a large fish was seen on Caladail and a few fish of reasonable size were caught on both the main boat fishing lochs. I had fished Lanlish twice and seen good fish but should have taken notice of the advice received from Bruce Sanderson who we had met in Tongue a few days before and that wading was a complete no no as they cruise in the shallows.



I rose nothing, netted 21 golf balls and playing 18 holes one afternoon did not help with my fishing timetable!

Peter here demonstrating my fishing success!!





After this fairly disappointing limestone initiation we allocated & booked two further days in 2017’s trip with 2 boats on Caladail for four fishermen and a day on Lanlish for three of us. After Peter and I had been blown off the hill in Tongue we had headed for a restful afternoon at the Sango Sands campsite and bar. So we were full of enthusiasm as we approached the hill on the golf course leading to Lanlish that next morning, it is a good stroll and you are bankside in under ten minutes. 



We set up by the 6th green and had a very comfortable vantage point to scan the loch for any movement and watch the golfers approach shots across the water to the green.







I don’t remember much of the morning, a good breeze, some sunshine and assorted dry flies from the three of us. We are typical creatures of habit and used our top performers to start with and don’t tend to change flies too many time before lunch. I use some small stimulators of different colourings including black, Michel opts for a Goddards Caddis / deer hair sedge type dry fly while Peter is the master of the Turks Tarantula. The Turks, well maybe not to start with but it doesn’t take him long to abandon the small parachute flies he often uses.

We fished hard though and our flies were on the water a good few hours before a shout from the north bank and Michel was into a good fish. He was fishing the beach bay and a cruiser had taken his floating fly and was on the run to deeper water. Was he broken or did the hook not hold? Well his WhatsApp reply to my question recently was the fish ran to some weeds wrapped around them and he was broken in the process.  He was gutted, angry and even more determined to catch a fish on this loch. Pete and I were just excited that there were fish in the loch and that they could be hooked, I turned to wets and cast into the wind from the south west being aware of the possibility of golf balls flying past on the sixth fairway. I worked my way around the southern end but it was difficult and there are reeds along the shore so side casting helps but does not get the line far out. I wanted to wade but was aware of scaring all the cruising fish especially as I was nearing Michel’s bay of plenty, well one!

Lunch was taken back at the sixth green base and white wine consumed as we considered our tactics for the afternoon. Peter mentioned that he had a rise during the morning but it was well out and no idea of size. We agreed that dries or sub surface flies slowly pulled in was the way forward and we set off to cover the north west shore again for a few hours.

The boys were flagging after an hour and the day seemed to be coming to an end as they sat on the bank of a hill by the shore near the beach bay and the very shallow area that extends way out into the loch. I had put on a fresh fly to fish wet for the last time and cover the water the boys had fished earlier with dry flies. It was a Ke-He size 10 traditional colours with some extra legs, a fly I always have in my box these days as there are so few Wormfly options around.  I cast out with Peter and Michel as a potential audience but they were snoozing after discussing dinner options and aperitif selections.

We have all had those takes that you get after an initial cast and you miss it as you are getting the line sorted and not paying enough attention to the fly at the end of your cast. Well this was a classic as the fly was floating and although a fair way out in shallow water was a temporary cast area before I concentrated on a hot spot. So I was looking of sorts but shocked to see my line straighten, I struck and immediately realized I was into a good fish who was on the move and heading out to the middle and deeper water. The boys woke up in disbelief of my good fortune as they had both fished here within the last twenty minutes and initially were dubious to my appeal for support.

I have just watched my GoPro video of the playing of the fish and had to change my initial typed comments above and what follows  as the truth was told on camera- missed the actual take and boys fast asleep on bank. For some reason I struggled to play it in a calm manner, I was trying to boss it but it was strong and raced towards me a couple of times which throws you a bit. Anyway Michel netted it finally as I held him steady in the shallow water. 64cm and just over 5lb in weight with beautiful colours and spots.



 A broad back but not in best condition as I felt he was an old fish and on the way out with a saggy stomach. He was returned after measuring, weighing and extraction of Red Tag or Ke-He.





It was and is my best Brown Trout in Scotland with a 4lb 15oz being my previous PB to date. I still can’t really take it in that I have had a Lanlish monster on the line and in the net but luckily I will be back there again in 2018 and will endeavor to repeat the experience with a younger fish and preferably a little bit bigger. Maybe with some small nymphs and buzzers hanging in the water, catching the interest of big uns as they cruise around in search of food. After a few more casts from myself the guys were ready for early drinks at the campsite and we headed off down the hill to celebrate.

Caladail from the boats was our appointment the following day and we were up early making up lunch boxes and having a cooked breakfast outside the tent and campervan. Robin was on his way up from Scourie to share a boat with myself and the weather was typically average, grey sky, a bit misty with a very light wind.

We took three cars to the parking spot and unloaded fishing gear only and headed for the short walk to the boats. Peter had his new electric motor which had been a great benefit when fishing Healan and St Johns loch earlier in the week. It proved useful here but mainly to tow the other boat back for a picnic lunch at boat bay.

With the stories of big fish I had advised Robin that strong line would be needed and I repeated the advice given to us at Heilan about using a 10lb minimum   but preferably 12lb. We had heard and seen the big fish up at Wick break fisherman some on the take others playing the fish with all the weed about. We had upped our breaking strain but Robin paid the price and lost two early fish with breaks both in the weeds that are all over the loch.

It was a frantic morning I had two fish over 2lb early on and then had one over 3lb which gave hell of a fight but I was strong with him and he was netted in record time.  We moved the boat and drifted around the southern island and the wall that runs in and across the Loch from South to North.


   Here we once again got into some great fish with another large fish taking my Red Tag and being over 3lb in weight, Rob lost another one to his disgust after a brutal fight and I blamed his knots and weight of line. Probably his skills as well but that’s Brothers for you but we had a challenge to win against the other motorised boat.

As the other boat drifted near us before lunch we found that we were well behind in numbers but they had nothing of the size of our fish caught by me or lost by Rob. Anyway a shout went up and Robin was into another good fish he was careful and played it well and got it up on the top and away from the weeds. It was nearly in my net at one stage but a plunge into the deep started the fight all over again. The other boat was coming too close for comfort and with no attention to our health and safety, we screamed at it’s irresponsible skipper but it was too late the fish broke Robin’s line and another 3lb + fish lost (also his last Ombudsman).


We got a tow back to the boat bay and the gap in the submerged wall and went back to the car for our picnic spread and assorted wine selection. Talk was of the mornings experiences which none of us had expected and of the forthcoming trip to Iceland in August. Further advice was given on knots and breaking strain!!!



The afternoon was quieter but still productive and both of us on our boat managed a few more fish in the 2-3lb category. 



We were thrashed on numbers by Peter and Michel but they could not rise the bigger fish. I think there is another size a step up from these as we have seen them before but I was happy to be connecting with quality fighting fish and one of the best days of boat fishing I have ever had.







We adjourned to the campsite when the clouds got darker and the temperature seemed to be dropping. A satisfied glow surrounded the Limestone loch fisherman as they sipped their gin & tonics in deck chairs within our corral of tents and campervan. We talked of Scourie where we were heading the following day to camp and fish the Scourie and District Angling Club waters with Robin fishing the hotel beats he would select later that night.



On reflection:
  • ·         What a cracking days fishing Caladail can be.
  • ·         Unbelievable success against all the weather gods advice
  • ·         Check your leader for worn areas, knots and breaking strain- don’t just guess yesterday’s leader will be ok
  • ·         Take more white than red wine on your picnics
  • ·         Give good advice on the best picnic deck chairs before you leave home (mine can be used in a boat as well)
  • ·         Reminder to self- always buy a spare double blow-up mattress
  • ·         Don’t spend too long or too many days at Lanlish
  • ·         Take your golf clubs or hire some for £10, breaks up the fishing and drinking and you meet some great people.
     Certainly not a Bob Walker cracker but an effort to bring some life to our trip last year and the great experience of catching fish in Durness. We are back for a whole week here in 2018 and hiring the Balnakeil House to celebrate Robin's 60th with his children and family and friends. I guess we will thrash Croispol and Borralaidh boat fish Caladail, night fish Lanlish as well as play more rounds of golf
      Other than that I am fishng Achiltibuie, Assynt, Scourie, Wick and Dunnet head and all lochs south of Melivich for two weeks from the 1st June. Tight lines out there Cheers Graham


Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Getting Wet and Cold by Peter Williams


It was early June 2017, we are on our annual trip to the far north of Scotland in search of Big Trout and we are already on the fourth day. What had become apparent over the first few days was the realisation that the north east area “Wick, Thurso and Dunnet Head” could have kept us amused for several days. There is so much great fishing to be discovered and engaged with despite the occasional windy day.  
1st Big Fish of 2017 a Heilan small'ish trout


We had great success with the mayfly hatches, 
                                  +
Michel the Big Fish specialist caught this 5lb trout off Heilan 
                                 &
All the pubs of Wick had been frequented.







However, we had booked eight months in advance into the Ben Loyal Hotel in Tongue for a nights break from camping. After a cosy night and venison steaks washed down with assorted ales and red wine we awoke to a wet Tongue morning. The forecast did not look good the south western British Isles were experiencing hurricane conditions and it was on the way north in a milder format. Despite this weather forecast we marched to one of our favourite Tongue lochs. Our Belgium Big Fish specialist decided not to risk wild camping and would make it a day trip there and back. He had an offer of a day salmon and sea trouting the following day and had took notice of the inclement weather on its way.

Even with our camping packs the walk took just over the hour mark. Two tents were erected in a strong wind before fishing commenced. As we started fishing the rain arrived, any sensible fish was not ‘looking up’ but hunkered down weathering the storm. After two hours one solitary small fish had been caught by Graham and the Belgium contingent said ‘au revoir’, and who could blame him?







After a full circular navigation of the loch I joined Graham in his one-man tent, or at least some of my body did whilst my legs were exposed to the downpour. We took solace by having a wee dram or two occasionally noting that ‘it might be clearing to the north’.



It never did. At least not until the following morning. My water-proof leggings did not live up to their description and once in my sleeping bag I could not get warm and shivered through the night. It had been too wet to cook so the liquid diet had sent the pair of us to sleep with a brief respite around 7pm for a few songs and a couple more drams before surviving a night of wind, rain and troubled sleep.


The morning was a drier affair but our spirits had sunk during the previous hours of deluge. We fished halfheartedly for two hours still wet and cold in a wind that still blew strongly. A change of clothes and a hot drink just an hour away was too much temptation away from a loch that did not look like it held any fish.



The small stream which we crossed on the way up was impassable with a torrent of tea coloured water pouring down the side of the hill. The campervan was a welcome sight and dry socks were a tonic. As we drove west and arrived at the small river where our friends were fishing, the day was pleasantly calm and fish were moving with the fresh water that ran down the many streams and ditches. 

Warming up at Sango Sands campsite 

We spent the rest of the day recovering from our ordeal of the previous night and arrived at the Durness camp site mid-afternoon.









Are we getting too old for wild camping? Yes and no. We had planned three “on the hill” camping trips for this holiday and had an awful experience on our first, and ,as it turned out, our last. The idea of wild camping is to be loch side when ‘it’ happens and fish throughout the night to insure you are ready for the ‘it’. We had seen this the previous year and had cashed in on being at the right place at the right time.

Predicting the weather forecast can be very hit and miss in the far north but the storm we camped through was not local but hit a large area so we should have aborted the idea earlier. So more like another ‘School Boy’ error by the Williams boys isn’t our first and won’t be our last!
I am ready to camp again when conditions suit as I have got over the trauma of 2017. Furthermore, I have still yet to use my jet boil which is already two years old!!


Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Iceland 2017 movie link for those interested in what we do outside of Sutherland


Headed to Iceland in late July early August with Robin Williams joining the Big Fish gang.

The northern river is sensational fishing and the 2nd time I have visited we caught over 100 trout and char with the largest being 61cm but the 60cm in the film is  a good representative of the fish in these rivers.

The larger lakes in the south proved a lot harder with my usual tale of fish broken takes etc School boy errors as usual weak leaders and not taking the fish seriously after catching 35 small Char previously.

videos are poor but still learning and editing in Moviemaker very difficult you might have to type the link in

Big fish 2017 articles in progress!!

https://vimeo.com/231674208

Monday, 21 November 2016

‘Going back in time’ to fishing holidays as they were in the seventies

It was 1973 when I was first transported the 700 miles to the West Coast of Sutherland for my first fishing holiday. I was just 13 years old and in an old Mazda with two brothers Pete and Robin, Spence a school chum of Pete’s and our driver and cook Myrtle our mother. In those days it took at least 2 days and we camped somewhere in the Scottish Lowlands on the first night, strangely this year in 2016 I drove back down the west side for the first time in 43 years.

On that first trip we had permission to camp in the school grounds at Lochinver for the first week and then to Achmelvich camp site for the second. We walked miles in the hills in waders and donkey jackets and caught fish all over the place including Fionn, Beannach and the Drumbeg area.
Since that first encounter with North West Sutherland I have been back almost every year for one or two weeks other than when I got married in 1985, in Australia in 1989 and when Peter and I cycled and fished southern Ireland in 1977. It is what I dream about when I can’t sleep, it is what I plan throughout the winter months and sometimes it is what I write about in trying to enthuse fellow fisherman about the area.

This last year in 2016 we went back in time with our planning, no more Scourie hotel for two weeks, no concentration on just one area, no real fixed bookings but an idea of where we wanted to fish and a sketchy timetable of sorts. In the past we have been camping, stayed in static caravans, tried crofts and stayed in a variety of hotels including Scourie for over 25 years. Peter and I even once cycled and camped which was memorable from washing hair under a tap with fairy liquid and then getting spotted dancing at the Lochinver ceilidh in wellies under our Brutus blue jeans.  I ramble but remembering a frustrated Peter hurling his bike to the ground on the Stack Poly road, falling asleep on the way back from the pub and ending up in a bush for the night and living off scotch pies from the Lochinver bakery brings back fond memories. Brothers a few years back looking trim!

Peter started in Wick with his newly purchased VW T6 Bilbo’s campervan here is his report
“My arrival at Wick around 1.30pm on the last day of May was a relief. Fatigue had kicked in some miles before after many miles and little sleep from my Penrith campsite. My journey up the east coast after Inverness had been a surprise to me. I thought I knew Dornoch, Brora and Helmsdale but the truth I had seen the names on traffic signs and buses heading in their direction. I had flown over this part of Sutherland and Caithness a couple of times and from several thousand feet up it looked like a desert but it turned out to be a fertile land supporting crops, animals and trees.

My first port of call was to Hugo Ross (referred to by Mr Sandison as ‘Mr Caithness Fishing’). However his fishing shop was closed for lunch. This gave me some time to look around Wick, which with its grand old buildings reminded me of a miniature Aberdeen. Lunchtime over and I purchased permits for loch Watten for two days off the bank, some flies and the telephone number for a boat on loch Heilen.

I checked into the campsite a stones throw from Wick centre and set off to Watten. I fished loch Watten in wellies which was my first and not last school boy error. The wind pushed the waves over my boots and after an hour I returned to the campsite. That evening I went to the Crown bar followed by a meal at the Norsemen hotel ... all very enjoyable.



Clothed in full chest waders nothing was going to stop your correspondent catching his first Watten trout. A trout just over the pound mark 41cms was landed around 1.30pm just after lunch on a kate mcclaren. Beyond that I saw no fish rise and had no other pulls and by 4.00pm I travelled to find the following days venue loch Heilen and also visited St johns loch near Dunnet Head.


The Crown bar and Norsemen Hotel were my evenings entertainment once again. Loch Heilen is run by and association where some club members have their own boat, bank fishing is available via various means . Our contact was Hamish Pottinger who offered me coffee and having declined both milk and sugar offered a further additive which I thought better of accepting at just after 9.00am !! We enjoyed twenty minutes of great banter and then went off to the loch with Hamish. The wind that had been around for the last two days had not abated and our chance of catching a trout on that rainy Thursday was not looking good. On the Monday a fish of 11lb 2 oz had been extracted!!
I was joined by Michel and John who had travelled over from Tongue, Michel and I took the boat whilst John tried the bank. The north bank is protected from anglers due to nesting birds therefore depending on wind direction bank fishing option is chancy affair. We did a few drifts and got no bites amongst some heavy downpours. However, as I was sorting out a tangle my boat partner saw a fish to my right which in any circumstances would have inspired the lines ‘we gonna need a bigger boat’ 
I guess the lack of Peter’s comments on their catch meant they caught nothing but it was an interesting first for all of them. They then all traveled back to Tongue to convene with myself who had just arrived from Las Vegas the day before and after a three hour stop in Cardiff to pick up all of my gear had driven to the Ben Loyal Hotel and had collapsed in my bed for an afternoon sleep.
Over a fabulous dinner in the bar of the hotel and joined by fisherwoman Sue (John’s better half) we plotted our Tongue campaign for the next three days. Scarrie lochs on the Friday, fishing and camping in the hills Saturday and Sunday and a rendez- vous with Mr B Sandison on the Friday evening at the hotels bar.

The ‘Going back in time’ theme was being held onto with this two night stay in a hotel, after 3 days of travelling I knew I had to book a bed in advance and at £45 a night for B & B compared to $200 in Vegas it had to be done. I had booked it 7 months before hand as they don’t have many single rooms but saying that after only 2 nights in his campervan Peter booked into a delux room probably to keep an eye on me in the late bar.

After a brief visit to the Borgie Hotel and a chat with the Landlord we headed up the hill at the back of the hotel to fish a cluster of lochs that held a range of trout many around the lb mark but some larger. I watched John catch two nice fish from the east bank of the largest loch on a wet fly it gave him an excellent fight but were returned once netted. I was on the west bank but there is a narrow stretch which was ideal for sending a large dry fly out to drift into the deeper parts of the loch. Very little stirred for me until I reached the southern end and the weedy part of the loch, here I put on my newly bought stimulator from the USA. Within seconds of this fly landing a bigger fish snatched the fly and headed under again he was a lot bigger than the few fish I had hooked previously. Soon I had him under control and my first trout over a lb had been achieved. We had more fish off the smaller lochs to the North and they travelled great distances to smash into my semi floating nymphs, you could see the bow wave as they approached the sub surface flies.

It was an interesting hour spent with Mr Sandison at the Hotel on that early Friday evening he advised us on lochs we were to fish in the coming days including Loch Lanlish in Durness, Scourie lochs, Assynt waters and his memories of the Caithness lochs Peter had fished that week. We may have been fishing up here for 40+ years for two to three weeks a year while he has lived and fished up here for many many years with further knowledge gained from so many other local fisherman.
Never miss a ceilidh if you can walk to one is my mantra, so that night we hit the Tongue Hotel bar which had a band on. Not sure if we danced much but Peter did a turn on the mandolin for a Rod Stewart solo intro and exit, we met lovely girls from Thurso and Tongue and drank whisky with the staff from our hotel. A late night for the Williams boys but not as late as the night to come when the big fish were rising!

With permits purchased from the hotel, rucksacs packed in the car park and the obligatory photos taken of Ben Loyal we set off for our overnight fishing trip into the hills. There is a good selection of fishing with the Tongue permits with a range of lochs on either side of the Kyle but also permission to fish the Kyle itself for Sea Trout, Salmon and Sea Bass.


The weather was good with light winds little cloud and a warmth which you don’t get very often up here. We walked the 4 miles in about an hour and a half and dumped our heavy packs into the prospective camping ground ¾ of the way down the loch. John and Sue had come up for the day only and were fishing with a few sightings but no tugs. We set up our lunch spot overlooking the loch from a hill on the north west corner, it has a great view of the loch and views of Ben Hope in the distance.

Now to put the record straight I had fished this loch 3 times over the last 3 years and caught nothing, Peter has had a 3lb, a 4lb and a 2 1/2lb all on separate visits. It is one of those lochs that you rarely catch small ones and rarely see fish at all. You do hear them though, big thumps and splashes like someone has thrown a boulder in off a high bank. Well I am going to cut this short as it is worth a chapter in a book itself, broken twice both on the take, a 9-10lb fish on a huge (while sinking) orange stimulator (about 8pm), a big fish on a beaded black nymph (about 5am) possible school boy errors but leaders just not good enough.



The better news was that Peter had a 4lb 12oz (54cm) early afternoon and then went to his tent for the rest of the day/evening confident of the Big Fish Trophy we were competing for. But after reporting back to the campsite at 7am after losing the early morning big fish as well as hearing many more Michel emerged from his tent ready to fish. On my advice he went over to the south side and keeping his body low fished the areas I had lost trout. It was about 9am when I heard him shout “fish on” but when asked if he needed help he replied that he didn’t think it was that big. Anyway after 5-10 minutes it became obvious that he was struggling with something large and it took me another 5 minutes to reach him with my camera in hand.

He attempted to use his enormous wooden net but the fish was a handful and I screamed at him to wait for my arrival. I grabbed the net and he brought him round for a run at the net, it was huge! a great big flank on him and he darted for the underside of the bank. Luckily we slid the net under him and I brought him onto the bank. Unbelievable, simply unbelievable the fish was a healthy 6lb+ (61cm) with incredible spots and Michel was exhausted and ecstatic at the experience. After a photo call he swam back out like a torpedo and caught on video looked even bigger than on the bank.
 


What an adventure, I did catch a fish over a lb but it was such an anticlimax it is best forgotten and looking at my fishing diary it didn’t even make an entry. In great spirits we walked down the hill for a few drinks by the cars and headed south to Durness for some limestone action over the next few days.
The Durness campsite sango sands oasis is brilliant, plenty of room, loads of facilities, pub and restaurant on site, helpful attendant and owner/manager who will sort out your battery if you’ve been stupid. We had emailed in advance about the fishing about 8 months previous but had sent a reminder a few weeks before that we required a boat on Caladail and Borralie as well as one of us fishing Lanlish over the next two days. I have read lots of articles and books over the years but had never fished any of these Durness lochs before. 

This is a photo of a 11lb trout caught on Lanlish by Mike’s our sisters partner Grandfather….
   


Loch Lanlish is difficult and best fished at night according to the experts, I fished it over two days during the sunny periods as you can see and saw very few fish rise but some large fish definitely reside and there were some largish splashes. After picking up 21 golf balls that did not make the 6th green I waded out to the left of this picture below and you can nearly reach the middle which was great for drifting the dry fly across the lake even to the far bank.



I even managed 18 holes on the second day with some fellow visitors who fancied a knock on the most northerly golf course in mainland Britain. I had a few birdies and managed a 9 iron shot across the loch onto the green at the sixth as seen here.

The boys fished Caladail and saw a huge fish early on but caught some smaller ones. They fished Borralie the next day while I was golfing, fishing Lanlish again and then walked over the hill to fish Borralie from the bank which was very tough going but managed to catch a few tiddlers from the bank.
MC holding a nice fish from Borralie


After three nights and two full days fishing in Durness it was time to move on but we will definitely be back. We headed south to pass the Dionard and the Laxford before arriving at the Scourie campsite and set up camp so that we could get fishing on some Scourie and District Angling Club lochs that day.



We have been big fans of the SDAC water over the last 20 years and I even keep a club map and leaflet in my Filofax at all times. 36 lochs with three that have boats and very reasonably priced.
We entered the main system from two directions with Peter climbing the reservoir hill while M and I cut into some initially smaller lochs from the main road. There are some wonderful looking lochs as you trek from East to West with Mackay’s loch being deep and mysterious.
It was classic loch style fishing as we fished and walked from loch to loch usually taking one step after each cast. We were heading for a lunch time rendezvous with Peter at no 22, Loch Laicheard Beg and the sun was just beginning to get through the clouds and the temperature by lunch time was getting extreme. It was hard fishing but we all had something but nothing to boast about in the Scourie bar that night.

After a sweltering afternoon we headed back to my car for some refreshment and hopefully to catch up with our many friends who were staying in the hotel that week. A glorious evening was had by all as we drank, ate and chatted in the Eagles Eyrie bar, they had not had a successful week so far with the sunny weather

We then spent a great day on a road side loch in a boat taking turns to gillie the other two around loch no 32 (an damh mor). Over the years we have fished this with wives and children and had some interesting trout of all sizes up to about 2lb. It did not disappoint, dry flies of many varieties were used but with few changes and fish would take all over the loch but you had to work hard for them on each drift. A lunch time break to the Kylesku Hotel probably did not help with the score but we had well over 30 trout between us the best being a 1lb 10oz to my small black stimulator.

The following day we headed for the croft at Achmelvich as I had arranged a BBQ party with Jerome and his Paris friends who were fishing in Assynt that week. Jerome an Assynt regular over the last few years had been in contact with me for some time and we had fished some Scourie lochs in 2013 and had a drink/bbq in 2014. We also invited Stewart Yates and family of Assynt Fly Fishing who we were keen to meet in person rather than thru social media etc. It was great to catch up with everyone but also just meet so many like-minded people.

Over the next few days we were led astray a bit by the Lochinver bars and having to change a tyre for some holiday makers who had taken the Kirkgaig road from the Summer Isles Hotel. But did manage some fishing trips with little success. The picture here was from the Baddidarach peninsular and an interesting loch (na gobha) where I rose a very large fish who was feeding on something very near the bank, he followed my fly but never really seemed to snatch at it after he missed the initial take when it dropped in the water.


A boat was taken on the Monday on Loch Fraoich from Assynt Angling near the mission in Lochinver by Peter and I. IT was a weird day with the wind changing direction frequently and sometimes dying completely which was midge madness!!! Many fish were caught but none of anything above a lb and I am not convinced there are bigger ones here compared to its sister loch which has some whoppers in it.

One occasion I need to tell you about was one lunchtime we had delayed our fishing with a visit to Peet’s bar by the harbour. This is the old Culag bar from my youth when at the age of 15 I was drinking in the bar and trying to enter the under 16 fly fishing tournament at the Lochinver highland games. Not a good idea. Anyway we decided to head up to the town reservoir and give it a whirl, we parked at the old quarry and a fellow angler also parked at the same time. I went over and explained what our intentions were and introduced myself only to be told he already knew who I was and of my brother Peter from my blog account. It was great to meet someone who had followed my stories and visited many of the places I had talked about. Gijs was from the Netherlands and chatted with Michel while on the loch during the afternoon. I hope he reads this and takes some interest and enjoyment from the article which is getting too long and running out of steam.

Thanks to you who made it down this far but I have enjoyed many posts from fellow fisherman but they do tend to end too quickly. I tired a bit as well as the memories were fading but a great two weeks in my dreamland. Now planning next year with more of the same but spending more time around  Scourie area after Durness days. Look foward to meeting you on the hills if you are about in June. Cheers Graham
 




Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Toughest days fishing in Sutherland

Toughest days fishing in Sutherland


While completing an application form for a BBC fishing programme I was asked about the toughest fishing I had experienced. I did not take it as the toughest days to catch a fish but more on the brutal days we go through to catch a fish or just to travel to a faraway loch in pursuit of those mystery fish. I told of one story but it is actually parts of two adventures in the hills both with my old friend and now departed Vince Kerr.

Both were in the mountains north of the Laxford, Stack & Merkland, all on the Westminster estate waters and of course all with permission from the Factor at the time. This is a longer version and is all fact but covers at least two outings in these mountains and lochans.

It always starts in the south, usually around 3am when the car is packed and an early night has been taken.

Coffee, flasks, sandwiches and 695 miles. Nine hours is my record but those were the days when we all drove at 115 miles an hour and more.

Preparation for the walk ahead


On this trip it was limited with speed cameras so a stop south of Inverness was required, Moy campsite is perfect, small, few campers and great showers. It would be my last for three days.  The campsite also gives you that holiday buzz feeling, out in the open drinking beer, wine and cheap brandy a bit of a calm before the storm/pain.

The South had been in a heatwave for weeks but as soon as I passed Lairg the sky was dark with cloud and the rain started as I neared my parking spot on the banks of Loch Merkland. I stopped immediately and thought bugger it lets get the wet gear and boots on now rather than in the pouring rain five miles further on. Luckily no one is on the road at six in the morning up here so I changed in the middle of the road on the shores of Loch Shin.

The rain poured down as I reached the end of my 700 mile journey, the pack had been filled and checked over the previous weeks I strapped two rods cases on either side and started the ascent. It should have been a two hour stiff uphill walk up Sail Na Glaise with a walk along Creag na h Uidhe ridge before a descent of Carn an Tionail to a campsite location next to Lochan a Bhealaich. But as I climbed the weather got worse the cloud dropped and the wind really whipped up as I reached the first plateau.

At times I could only see a few yards ahead of me and my nerves were shattered when I realised there was a cliff edge to my right which I had not expected to see. I had drifted to the East but looking at the map in the dry that is where the plateau starts. In my concerned state I took compass bearings and headed directly North but with the wind blowing from the East and there being a slope to the West I kept drifting off line. It was crazy I knew the correct direction but the weather and contours just kept pulling me to the North West. Within half an hour I knew I was in trouble I had ended up on the cliff edges on the other side totally disorientated and doubting my location.

For the next hour I walked all over the place trying to relocate my actual position on top of this hill, I must have traveled some of it North as I was still using my compass. You start to wonder why you go on these wild walks on your precious ten days holiday on such occasions. I even bumped into a flock of ptarmigan who were surprised to see me, they jumped up into the air and then tumbled to the ground in distress - very strange stuff.

I got to a point that I needed to act fast before something serious occurred, this may sound dramatic but I had been walking lost for quite some time and the weather wasn’t improving. I decided to head West and descend the slope and hope that I had passed the steepest of the cliff edges.  It was hopeless I could not see anything more than a few yards ahead. Then suddenly I felt the gradient change and the cloud appeared to brighten a bit, I prayed a bit and then in frustration called out to God and asked him for some help.

All I can say is that it was an epiphany and surreal moment for me, suddenly the cloud lifted and then parted ever so briefly to give me a view of the loch below. I had my location and within seconds the cloud covered my view and I was back in dark cloud again. The rest of the hike took another hour but I at least knew where I was going and I dropped towards the valley floor at an angle and reached the campsite with Vince appearing out of the mist which surrounded his tent.


Vince fishing on my arrival at the campsite in the mist.

A two hour walk had taken me nearly five hours I had started at 6.30 am and it was nearly twelve as we boiled the kettle for a brew. We were at the loch we had visited the year before with a recommendation from the Factor and had caught seven trout all over a pound in weight and nothing had been seen smaller that day.


It was very clear water and you could see the trout coming out of the depths to take your dry fly and with a wet fly they would often smash into it on the initial drop. Of course so far Vince had not seen anything the night before or early this morning but the cloud/mist was to blame for that.

Coire Loch is another twenty minute walk from the campsite we had chosen so after a full recovery and some whiskey we set off and fished the west bank of the campsite loch with a few takes abut no real serious fish showing themselves to us. You descend a steep hill and then traverse some barren ground before this amazing loch appears.



It can be just another corrie loch but with the cloud the drizzle and the wind sweeping waves onto the shore it is an impressive sight. It looks very deep at one end with the cliffs above and the other end becomes a beach like affair as the outlet stream heads down the valley to the northern oceans.

Vince chose his bank and direction and the contest began. We all know that there is a contest but it is not spoken off or inferred but just talked about after the day or event, fisherman’s hunter gatherer prowess is still important in this day and age.

It was tough the odd tug on the line but obviously nothing showing. I was on an old favourite combo of wormfly point and black pennell on the first and only dropper with a floating line but letting it drop low in the water before retrieval.


 I had a lovely fish of 2lb after an hour but a bit thin as you will see from the photo, it was returned as far as I can remember as we had hoped it would grow a bit fatter latter on in the summer. 1-0 was the final score that afternoon and port, curry and some whiskey were had to celebrate back at the camp that night.





 We fished it hard the following day and pulled some beauties out in the cloud and rain but it was far from ideal conditions.


I have been back there twice and fished on lovely sunny afternoons but there is nothing quite like fishing in the rain and wind when you are soaked through and only have a tent to go back to that afternoon /night.

I always have some sort of contingency pj’s in the pack so that at least when back in the tent I am dry and cosy when brewing up my next curry. I always have a litre of port sometimes mixed with brandy and usually a 75cl plastic bottle of some blended whiskey. (75cl or a litre but always some!!)


This is a classic curry cooked under canvas as it was tipping it outside and was for two as my fellow camper’s tent was not trustworthy enough to cook in.  











His was delivered with the use of gut and his mettle dish as you will see from this photo.






But this toughest experience did not end there as on the way back to the cars on a slightly different route so as to get back to Vince’s car at Lone we trekked once again in the wind, no rain but a lot colder than before. I was tired from two days walking, fishing and camping but Vince had been up there for three days. I noticed he was slowing his pace and kept stopping for a rest but then he asked to take of his jacket and closing his eyes all the time, he had got totally exhausted and I began to realise that he was suffering from hypothermia and just wanted to take off his waterproofs and go to sleep.

It took me an hour to go 100 yards with him. Luckily I had plenty of gas left and cooked him up some soup and found some chocolate. As we dropped altitude it got warmer and he managed to recover enough to complete the walk back to the car and the safety of the Scourie Hotel.




Here is a great picture of my old buddy and fishing pal above the falls at Kirkaig on the way to fish a mystery loch in the hills- never forgotten always remembered, especially on the loch side.