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A Hebridean Fishing Adventure: SACS Blog by Will Marshall

A Hebridean Fishing Adventure: SACS Blog by Will Marshall

Mistakes, Misadventure and the Odd Decent Fish

by Will Marshall

Shooting, fishing and farming connect you directly to the landscape and anything that affects it. This is particularly true of the weather! We seem to have had a distinct absence of much in the way of weather this year (2018). The Jetstream has settled into a big oscillation leaving us with record-breaking temperatures all summer and no rain. This has played havoc with the anadromous fish migrations and led to an apathetic ennui in this fisherman. Pondering the situation with my fishing companion Shaun, we decided the only solution was to go searching for these fish where they were, not where they weren’t! The idea we came to was to visit the tidal sea pools of the Uist’s and Harris. So off we set....

Our preferred method of exploring the finer fishing locations in Scotland is camping. To be more specific, we take the roof-tent on my ancient Landrover. This has the advantage of allowing you to get right to the fishing marks and have a pretty flexible plan of attack. The major disadvantage is Shaun’s snoring; I have recorded it at 94 Decibels, earplugs a must! Nevertheless, pros ever so slightly outweigh cons.

One of the great pleasures of a fishing trip is the anticipation and planning. Many an evening can be spent pawing over Ordnance Survey maps and browsing the internet for leads and opportunities. Sadly my other commitments and Shaun‘s current work in Japan meant we never got together for a proper session on the 1:25000’s and indeed the first time we managed to lay out the cartography was on the ferry from Uig to Lochmaddy. Thankfully, for this weak-stomached seafarer, the ferry crossing was calm enough to get a good feel for the fishing marks and enjoy a fish supper! Most of the fishing on the Uist’s and Harris is pretty accessible and a few Google searches should direct you to the tickets and permissions required so I won’t go into them here. Our strategy was to concentrate on the sea pools of North and South Uist and Benbecula, and if that failed go to Harris and fish a few secret spots we knew there from past sorties that were usually worth a fish or two. Side dishes to the main menu would include finding a really good Pollock mark and getting stuck into the wild brownies. This would also hopefully form the main dishes for our evening meals!

Through SACS, we were put in touch with a local fisherman to give us an insight into some of Uist’s Lochs. Despite the mobile reception being admirably patchy, Stevie got in touch with us and we met up to scribble more unintelligible pencil on our maps. It seems the lochs had also suffered from low water levels and Stevie said the fishing was a little off, but he did offer to take us out after work one evening. I think it would be pretty to hard to find a more generous fisherman than Stevie, who was happy to share his knowledge, flies and time with us and expected nothing in return. Naturally, he is slightly fishing-bonkers, and has given up a 'normal' life on the mainland to move to South Uist for the fishing. His first winter on the Island was spent in a static caravan, which is wild living in winds up to 87mph. I suppose most people would find his eschewing of ties and worldly ways bizarre, but as a slight fishing-nut myself I didn’t find it so hard to put myself in his shoes.

The evening Stevie took us fishing was quite an education. We went to the North of Loch Fada. This area consists of a series of shallow bays with rocky outcrops punctuating the waters' surface making the bays seem much shallower than they were. Equipped with the killer fly courtesy of Stevie, I got to work. The fly, for the record, had a thin pearl body, golden pheasant tippet and wispy spider-like hackle of reddish brown.

The nice thing about a loch that is formed of semi-circular bays joined by little channels is that you can choose a bank that is favourable to the wind's direction. Consequently, I was feeling quite pleased by how far I could chuck my little 5 weight line into the loch. I persisted for about 3 hours and had a couple of knocks and a 6 inch fish for my troubles. Stevie spent most of the time chatting to Shaun who is not as mad about brown trout fishing as I am. Finally I caught up with the pair and asked how they were getting on. Stevie had had 4 with the biggest at 1 ¼ lbs and the rest at ¾ lb. Shaun later told me Stevie had fished for about 25 minutes in total. Next time I get the offer to fish first from a local I shall decline and spend more time watching them fish. Not for the first time, I was going about it all the wrong way. All trout are territorial and it turns out in these lochs they used the rocks breaching the surface as lies. The technique required was to wade carefully, and cast a short line, delicately, right at the rocks, literally hitting the rocks if you could. Each rock was worth a couple of casts then you move on. The trout would smash the flies just as they hit the water and if not, then a much faster retrieve than I was used to did the damage.

I returned to Loch Fada a couple of times later in the week to see if the lessons I learnt would actually work. They did, and I managed half a dozen trout or so up to about a 1lb by employing a more tactical “Stevie” like approach. Sometimes my ignorance of this sport never ceases to amaze me!

We were fortunate enough to find a fantastic Pollock mark, where we struggled to catch Pollock less than 3lbs and caught fish up to around 6lb, spectacular sport on a fly rod. However, most of our efforts were focused on searching for anadromous fish in the sea.

Fishing for seatrout in the Atlantic ocean is an acquired taste. At its best its pretty hard to beat but after a few hours up to your waist in the Atlantic in a bone-chilling wind and horizontal rain, losing gear on seaweed and never seeing a fish let alone hooking one takes a bit of the shine off the comparisons many make to bonefishing. In my experience bonefishing is usually carried out in a tropical paradise, albeit a windy one, and mostly you will actually catch something! Nevertheless the pursuit of this wily quarry takes you to some spectacular places. Large tidal sandy bays are the usual hunting grounds and the fishing is immensely varied. One minute it is like fishing a river as the tide flows and next its like fishing a loch. You can also 'sight fish' as it is very common to see fish in the water or breaching the surface. Putting a fly in the front of the nose of a passing seatrout is rarely rejected. Working your lure round features like rocky outcrops or bladder wrack can also prove productive. Much depends on the tide though; usually the last couple of hours of ebb and first couple of the flow seem to be the most productive. The tidal movement concentrates both the feeding and the fish, although fish can and are caught at all states of the tide, depending on the location.

We parked up one evening by a large sandy bay intending to camp for the night among the dunes. Soon a couple of locals turned up and enquired what we were doing. Now lets be clear we were not discreet, at the time we had 6 fully rigged rods on the racks on my Landrover. After some conversation around the issue we established that they were going fishing for Bass, but if a seatrout got caught so much the better. To explain, when hardened seatrout fishermen meet there is a delicate dance around the subject of seatrout marks and whether or not to share the hard-won information. We obviously convinced the locals of our 'real’ fisherman’s credentials and they insisted we join them for a cast or two which 'reluctantly' we did.

One of the locals hooked and lost what he described as the fish of the season, a seatrout of around 4 lbs. He said he was using a local fly called the Clan Chieftain, and he duly dug one out of his fly box to give it to me. Of course the ideal end to this tale would be me hooking the same 4lb seatrout still with his fly in its jaws. I would pluck out the fly with a flourish return to him. Sadly life is never that predicable, I did catch a 4” Weever fish, a silvery little sand-dwelling thing that has deadly venom in its three spines on its back. I quickly identified it and placed it on the sand gently under my boot to secure it while I took the fly out, and giving the leader a tug the fish shot out from under my foot, sailed through the air and impaled itself on my finger with its venomous spines. In case this happens to you, the advice is to dip the affected area in scalding water that 'may' neutralise the toxins. Otherwise, you can take it from me it hurts like hell for about two hours at the site of injection and travels up to the joints of affected limb.

We fished a lot of different sea pools, hooked and lost a lot of seatrout and landed a few up to about 3lbs; most memorable were a couple of pools that were stuffed with the salmon, perhaps destined for some of our rivers at home? The salmon were not shy about throwing themselves out of the water, but try as we may we could not get anything but plucks and tugs from them, truly frustrating fishing. On the last day we went to our secret spot on Harris and landed two really good seatrout. Shaun had one at about 3lbs and I had one close to 5lbs which for a while I was convinced was a salmon, still a lovely fish, and a fitting end to a wild and wonderful trip. That night the storm came in: I’m not certain what sleeping in a tumble drier is like, but a rooftent in 67mph winds must be pretty similar, or perhaps a static caravan at 87mph? Thanks Stevie!

Text: Will Marshall Photo: Shaun Burnie, with thanks

Posted by: / 16 November 2018 at 14:06 / Comment

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