Friday, 23 April 2021

The Early Years in Assynt - 1973 to 1984

 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

Further reading:-

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.





Tuesday, 3 November 2020

A fish fit for the walls of the Scourie Hotel Cocktail Bar

 

The story starts back in 1990 and according to my fishing diary I was fishing Airigh Na Beinne as my Scourie Hotel beat that day. I was 30 years old fit from a full rugby season and some sevens and ready to storm up the Nan Uidh track, pass Finlaysons and Buxtons and visit a new secret loch known as Submarine which was east of my beat.

I passed the legendry Fishing aficionado Rosanne Leigh who was taking a friend up to Nan Uidh for some monster fish hunting on some mystery lochs within the beat. I overtook them on the crest of the hill and wished them good fortune and hurried on as I had still an hour to go before reaching my destination.

The day passed by with some stocking of fish into Submarine and then after a fruitless few hours I returned to my stocking area for some light entertainment with fish of around 10oz. I had four nice fish in the collapsible bucket

I managed to cross the stream below Clar Loch More and headed up to 3 lochs which were on my way home but north of the main Nan Uidh lochs. I thought that if they looked deep enough it would be opportune to drop a few in each. As I approached the lochs I luckily spotted Rosanne and kept low in the heather and skirted around to a vantage point where I could watch her fish and slip two of the trout into the mystery loch. Her technique was unusual as although using a dry fly she skidded the fly across the water at different speeds and rarely seemed to leave it stationary for long, something her Grandfather might appreciate possibly. (This fabulous fish in the cocktail bar can confirm that!)

I didn’t dwell long and moved West as the other two lochs looked very shallow and the winter cold would be too much for these trout. After 20 minutes walk I came across a loch at the end of Nan Uidh, it had weed on one side with a deep section that funnelled into a canal which led to a stream into the main loch.  The trout would be happy here I thought and made a few casts to see if there were any fish in here already. I left without a rise and according to my diary had a nightmare climbing down the waterfalls back to the road.

It was nine years later that Peter my brother and I managed to get the Mid Chain beat from the Board Master and I told him the story of Rosanne raising her eyebrow when I mentioned I had stocked this small loch. The new way to mid chain was up the Nan Uidh track cross the river at the lower reaches of the loch and head north where you would pass my new secret loch. We walked with fellow anglers from the hotel that had the Nan Uidh beat and asked if they would be fishing the north side lochs and if we could possibly  make a few casts in this small loch on the north west side. They were happy to let us adventure to the northside lochs as they were not even taking the boat out on the main loch and mainly bank fishing and then concentrating on Buxtons.

It was nearly 10am when we reached the small lochan and tackled up, it is ridiculously small and not bigger than a tennis court. We chose sides with Pete on the north shore and I on the south west area which had a lot of weeds for the first 10 yards. I was dry fly drifting with a small deer hair sedge and covering the water by twitching it in Miss Leigh style. As Peter recounts I announced after 15 minutes “there’s no fish in here” and barely as I finished the sentence a huge head rose out of the water and sunk back down with my fly. I was alert at this time of day and struck well into the fish who then exploded into life and I started to panic at the small size of loch and where he would take me in the oncoming fight. It was ten minutes of furious activity with the gillie of the day Peter sprinting around to support the capture. The fish was not keen to leave the deep water to my relief so he kept away from the weeds and I moved him further east where the bank is steeper and more difficult for netting.

Anyway, after excellent netting technique we had 4lb 14oz of beautiful brown trout on the bank and it was only 10.30am. I took many photos for the glass case man and wrapped the fish in a wet T shirt as it would be another 6 hours before it was back in the hotel tray and then in the freezer. It was a great days fishing and with my largest brown trout in the bag I had a smile on my face all day.



It happened to be Hawaiian night for our group at the hotel that evening and I was astonished to be cheered in and applauded on my entrance to the dining room. Was it my outstanding Hawaiian shirt? No nearly all the guests had become friends over the last ten years of visits and were chuffed that their week would be once again represented in the cocktail bar glass cases from the following year.

I was very honoured to have the loch named after me by Patrick on the giant map as he was keen to have one of his guest’s names on the map. Four Williams brothers had been visiting the hotel since 1985 and the number of days they have collectively fished the Scourie waters must be astronomical. Two glass cases were ordered and as my Beat that day was Mid Chain it should have that within the capture description. So naturally it creates confusion that a Loch Williams caught fish is on Mid Chain and not Nan Uidhe, something for the Boardmaster to tackle each week I guess!!

My glass case is on the wall in our dining room and is in full view from the kitchen which keeps a smile on my face in these dark days of lockdown. I just redecorated the room and brought down the case while painting and this inspired the story. The other case is in the Scourie Hotel cocktail bar, the new bar iis a great improvement and my fish sits low down on the short wall. It had its pride of place directly above the bar for 15 years, I just wished it was open in July as we passed as the grand range of cased fish here is very inspiring and we were thirsty.

THOUGHTS:

·       9 years too long to be the fish I had stocked?  a nice thought though

·       Why did it take me 9 years to return? My diary shows I was too busy fishing other beats

·       Was it a known big fish loch previously? Rosanne knew about the possibility of it but I had not heard any other rumours. Fish over 5lb have been lost in here since!

·       Size of the loch! Amazing how a fish can grow so big in such a space

·       Applauding a big fish became customary in our Hotel week after this surprising occasion and I miss the camaraderie we had in the 90’s and 00’s

·       The Board Master knows nothing! But I’m happy with that fact 😁

Saturday, 15 August 2020

The Early Days

The year was 1983 and I was twenty seven years old, single and a proud house owner. I had been coming to Sutherland for over ten years in pursuit of the brown trout and now it was time to say goodbye to camping and static caravans and stay at the famous Scourie Hotel. A visit a few years earlier which went as far as the entrance of the hotel where six huge stuffed trout adorned the walls of the entrance, and were all caught by the same angler, from the same loch, on the same day! I knew this was the place for me.

My brother Robin and I booked bed and breakfast, but it soon became apparent that there were few other choices for dinner, so we ate in the hotel that first night. Dress code was relatively formal, a blazer and tie were respectable enough for our fellow guests which included a couple of reverends and a handful of ex military personnel. Our first night was eventful, the gentleman who served us wine was a little shocked when we requested a second bottle of Valpolicella, at £3.30! I wished we had drunk even more at that price! It turned out that our wine waiter was in fact the proprietor Mr Ian Hay who over many years, became a great friend.

Many writers including Negley Farson, Jon Beer, Bruce Sandison, James Babb and Roger Pierce have their own take on this fishing oasis in the far north of Scotland. I cannot compete with their brilliant writing ability so I will just tell you my story as it is.

After our second bottle of red wine on our first evening we were summoned to the map situated in the main lounge as it was our turn to choose a beat for our first days fishing. The Board Master, let’s call him Bob , was an austere character who had sat at dinner immersed in a book in between courses, of soup, melon and mutton with capers followed by queen of puds (a favourite at that time). The Board Master demanded that we showed him our fly boxes, which were full of size 12 & 14 traditional wet flies to which he declared “useless, last week in the terrible gales we were fishing with size two salmon flies !”.  We were stunned and after some issues over our fitness which seemed unnecessary, we were allocated a beat with a short stiff climb and a fly which Bob called his green squirrel tail fly size six, as the weather was looking more favourable. We were prepared for our first day at this auspicious place with a preferred beat and THE fly despite its size, we retired to bed.


 

I would love to skip the next part of our evening but even today I shudder at my stupidity when in the middle of the night I left my single room for a nature break in the shared toilet on the landing only to hear my bedroom door close behind me.

It was late May, very light, and I was naked without my key. At least my bladder was empty. I went slowly downstairs to reception, what did I expect? Twenty-four-hour service? This was not a London hotel with 24 hour service! What sort of a hotel would be prepared for a  stupid and slightly inebriated person who had locked themselves out of their room? I returned upstairs to my brothers’ room and knocked on his door explaining the predicament. I spent the rest of my night on his floor which was cold, and I remained sleepless.

After breakfast we travelled to our beat which was indeed a short but tiring walk. Robin caught the best fish of the day after a matter of minutes on the fly which he had been given the night before in a cloudless sunny day.

People who visit the hotel tended to book the same week or fortnight every year and we got to know Bob over the years, and he became slightly less scary and more friendly year after year. Unbeknown to us some years later he had been tying a selection of his favourite flies for our group and gave us all a small packet of them.

They were beautifully created traditional flies, Silver Invicta, soldier palmers, butchers, red and silver and guess what? All size 12 & 14.

A few years on, he sadly left the hotel in tears as his permanent job had gone and he was reduced to a pension to pay for his fishing outings. His choice was Scourie or his other love Lough Corrib in Ireland. He chose Corrib but as it turned out he passed away six months later never to revisit either place.

If you are reading this then you know what I am saying, it is not a dress rehearsal so fish, fish and fish and enjoy every day because .......?


 


Peter, Michel and our dear departed friend Nigel enjoying a pint at the Scourie Hotel 2005


A letter to Michel

 

We all know the reasons that you were unable to join Graham and myself on our jaunt to Sutherland. In a way something positive had to come out of it and we believe that for future years our research in 2020 will benefit forth-coming trips. We had already realised that the Forsinard Flyfishers had enough interesting water to keep us occupied for two weeks of trouting. What we discovered this year that beyond the ‘big fish lochs’ there were lochs which I no longer classify as a 1,2 or 3 but FFF ! Yes the Fun, Fun, Fun lochs where it was possible to catch a dozen fish rise and lose that number again and hook some good fish of over a pound and some closer to two.



Every fishing day can be affected by the weather and there will be lochs where on one occasion there seemed fishless and left a feeling of never wanting to re-visit. There were a couple of examples of this, firstly Graham had a raw day on Skyline in 2018 neither catching or rising a fish all day. I persuaded him to re-visit this year and I had a nice fish but he pulled out three cracking specimens whilst on the boat. On Clach Geala I blanked as Graham landed two good fish. The Cross lochs provided us with a spectacle as we sat chomping our lunch a very large trout came into less than a foot of water in search of sticklebacks or tadpoles within ten feet from where we were sitting.

There were also of a couple of places that we probably won’t revisit ,one in particular as it was firstly ,a long bumpy drive, secondly when we arrived at the parking spot the van was covered in clegs(horse flies) , thirdly the fishing was good but the trout were small, fourthly I discovered a puncture the following morning in one of my tyres.


We have six days fishing at this location next year and my brother and I might not agree on each of our daily destination but we won’t differ much either. We are already looking forward to showing you some new and some old fishing spots in 2021.

Stay safe, Stay well


Peter

Friday, 16 August 2019

Best days fishing


The best days fishing.
On Christmas morning I unwrapped a present of three miniature bottles of port. I saw an opportunity for a port, cheese and crackers style picnic for three anglers in June. Five months to go and a lot of winter evenings looking at the OS maps and finally planning some days in search of trout. Fly boxes were re-loaded with freshly created designs and plenty of old favourites.


In 2018 my brother Graham and I had fished four days on the lochs looked after by the Forsinard Flyfishers. We sensed that this was an area of immense potential and were returning for six or seven days and staying locally in a cottage overlooking the river
Halladale.
Our friend Michel from Belgium who has accompanied us on many holidays was joining us. We booked our six days online with the Forsinard Flyfishers and looked forward to some new waters. We arrived on the first day of June and it looked as though the weather was getting better towards the end of the week and so Friday was nominated as our cheese and port picnic day.


 The forecast proved correct; it was warm, sunny with a gentle southern breeze. The week up until Friday had been a bag of mixed fortunes. Eight trout over a pound with half of these, two pound plus, a lost salmon and some very lively trout that decided to release themselves early! 

The plan was to fish up to four medium size lochs with a round trip of just under five miles. Many of the lochs in this area have boggy areas near the edge of the loch, so much so that I had lost the entire sole of one of my wading boots earlier in the week. Our starter loch was no exception to this trait. Graham headed to the north end, myself in the middle whilst Michel chose the southern end. I cast out a trusty sedgehog and on the second cast on the edge of the ripple it was ‘fish on’. The trout powered its way across the loch and I was convinced that I had hooked a glass case. My ghillies arrived as the fish tired and was coaxed into the net. The hook was in the gill plate which explained the ferocity of the fight.

First fish of the day at 50cm





Peter with his Gillie “Michel”






What a great start. Graham tempted three nice size trout to bushy wets whilst Michel, an expert with a muddler landed another three respectable fish. I had one 10cm smaller than my first and so with eight fish all over a pound we decided to move on and visit loch two. 
It was lunchtime as we arrived on what was the smallest loch of our chosen four. In the Highlands there are plenty of days when a sandwich and a beer suffice, but today pate, soft cheese crackers and tomatoes washed down with my miniature ports was just the ticket. In fact could the day get any better?

After lunch Graham decided to push on and fish the loch furthest south while our friend and I fished the ‘picnic loch’. During lunch we had seen no activity but as we started fishing Michel had spotted a feeding fish. It rose to his muddler but missed it, he attached a medium sized stimulator and cast it and this seemed to be the filet steak the trout was looking for. At once I realised that this was a good fish and assumed the position of ghillie. Having once seen the fish jump clear we both knew it needed to be played and netted expertly. After one or two tense moments it was in the net, measured, a couple of quick photos and returned. 57cm and my estimate was 4lbs 8oz or thereabouts. I saw one other rise very close to the bank and I wondered whether I had hooked a feeding fish near the bank?




Michel with his 4 ½ lb trout at 57cm “fantastic and worthy of the Big Fish title”










“I left the guys at Lochside and trudged across the burnt landscape, we had thought that the fire had been some months before but was told in the bar that evening that the whole area was burning for days and only three weeks ago. The blackened heather stalks scratched the hell out of my boots and gaiters but also left a small loch look very daunting with all its banks black as coal. I fished it as there was an amazing amount of fly life on the water but no sign of any fish.


The 3rd loch had a different look to it with reedy banks and no fire damage around the fringes. Fish were rising all over the place and I changed my bushy flies for something a lot smaller to imitate the nymphs they seem to be chasing.


 It was difficult fishing as they were fussier than your average riser but tempted a very fat 38cm fish at a corner hot spot. I hooked many more of a similar size over the next hour and netted a further three fish all 38cm and around the 2lb mark. They were all well fed, plump and gave one hell of a fight. The ¾ bottle of port and cheese that I had brought up for lunch was finished so I headed back to Loch 4 and join the boys for a beer. Graham”

The two of us headed towards our final loch where we were due to meet my brother and hear of his exploits on the loch furthest south. On arrival at the loch the wind had increased so I changed from my single dry to a couple of bushy numbers. We both had takes and fish including my capture of the smallest fish of the day a trout of three quarters of a pound. As we were approaching the end of the loch in the direction of our transport, Graham appeared, walked to the loch side had a few casts and hooked a nice 42cm trout and lost another good fish off the opposite bank from where Michel and I were tackling down ready for departure. 




The last loch of the day and Peter ready for the 50 minute walk back to the van






It was getting late in the day and Graham joined us keen to tell us of the loch he had visited with rising fish that were keen to take his fly if he could only match the hatch.




I was exhausted after such a long eventful day and struggled over the last mile. But it was all worthwhile in discovering such wonderful new lochs.






The walk back was a real trudge, so we were pleased that there were three cold beers in my campervan fridge which were dispensed with on arrival. It was during our walk back that it started to dawn us just how good a day it had been. Seventeen trout with just one under a pound and a trophy fish to top it off. Great fishing on lochs we had not visited before, a special lunch with great company, probably the best days fishing ..... so far .



Loch1


Loch2
Loch3



Loch4
Fisherman









Graham
37cm
47cm
43cm

38cm
38cm
38cm
38cm
42cm
Michel
45cm
35cm
38cm
57cm




34cm
Peter
50cm
40cm






20 & 35cm



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?