Brown trout-Assynt Adventures

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Looking West over Coigach, on a blue sky day, Ben More Coigach on right, Stac Pollaidh visible behind Loch Lurgainn and Cul beag on the right.

My compass pointed farther North, so with a fantastic days fishing behind me in Torridon I headed for Assynt; it’s plentiful Lochs and hill lochs, its rugged landscape and wild brownies. Taking the winding coast road North through Gairloch, past Gruinard Bay; where so many WWII Atlantic and artic convoys sailed. Past Little Loch Broom and round and along Loch Broom meeting the main road from Inverness to Ullapool and the ferry to Lewis, but no ferry journey for me. My target is 40miles further North on a road that leads you through a breath taking scenery of rolling moorland and loch, with stepped near vertical mountains of Torridonian sandstone, that pierce the horizon like the fins and backs bones of prehistoric monsters, swimming through a rolling sea of heather and Lewisian gneiss. A scenic wonderland and a geologist’s wet dream!

The road hugs escarpments of Durness limestone and weaves along the shore of Loch Assynt till eventually closely following the River Inver you arrive at the fishing village of LochInver looking Westover the very North of the Isle of Lewis.

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looking South, over Loch Assent with Beinn Gharbh behind, Ardvreck castle on the left bank of the loch.

In the far distance and beyond the Atlantic, behind the village a panorama of epic quality sits waiting to be explored, this was to be my base camp for the next 3 days to reacquaint myself with the lochs, hills and brownies I have neglected somewhat over the last 5 years with the constraints of work and building a house.

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LochInver and East the hills of Assynt, from left to right Quinag, Canisp, Suilven, Cul More, Cul Beag and stac Pollaidh.

Quick stop to sort out boats and permits for the stay (http://www.assyntangling.co.uk) the prices are unbelievably reasonably well priced at about £10 day for a roving ticket that gives you access to a wonderland of over 400 lochs, my mouth salivates at the thought of it. i skipped back to the car giddy with excitement and with in moments I was winding my way up the narrow single track road from the village to Loch Druim Suaralain locally known as the Glen Loch. Parking with permission at Glencanisp lodge (http://www.glencanisp-lodge.co.uk) we made out on the Loch on its only boat a really nice Lomond, stable with a good keel and a total joy to row, that stopping me from pulling what little hair I have left out and swearing like a sailor. A crap unwieldy boat can truly frustrate beyond word and spoil an enjoyable day. The Glen Loch is situated in Glen Canisp, which runs between the ironically beautiful Corbett’s (A mountain of over 2500ft but below the magic 3000ft that defines them as the famous Munros) of Suliven and the sloping ramp of Canisp.

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thick cloud decending over Loch Druim Suardalain

The Glen Loch is fed by the small river of Abhainn Bad na h-Achlaise at the East end and from West end below a small wooden bridge the waters continue Westwards to Loch Culag, better know as the School Loch before a short river section empty’s the peaty waters in to the Loch Inver. A stunning location to fish; surrounded by the rolling Lewisian hills covered in heather and small areas of native woodland comprising Scots Pines and Silver Birch. The heather dotted with white bog cotton swaying in the strengthening Westerly wind. Cold thick cloud descended hiding the surrounding hills and tops producing an oppressive feel as the low cloud hung over us, light drizzle carried on the gusty wind. At times through the day the gusts blew 25mph, but undaunted I rowed in to the wind, and made for the small forested Islands that group around the North shore about half way down this half mile long Loch. Glen Loch offers large numbers of Brown Trout, and with its connection to the sea only a mile odd away, both Salmon and Sea Trout were to be found here and are known to take a well presented small trout fly on occasion, so I hoped to see a mixed bag of fish.

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looking West up glen Canisp, on one of the many drifts of the day.

Fishing these hill Lochs can be quite a challenge to the uninitiated as even though these Lochs are small, fish do not lurk everywhere! They hug the margins and the lochs edge, where they have access to shallower water, cover and an easier supply of feed; aquatics and terrestrials, fallen and blown from the surrounding land. In the deeper areas and middles of these Lochs they can be almost barren of fish or apparent life of any sort. to the uninitiated these challenges can often only produce only disappointment and it really can be advantageous to the new come to seek out all the advice they can to boost their chances of making a day amazing and i highly recommend local guide Stewart Yates (http://assyntflyfishing.com)

I aim for  small bays and the outlets and inlets of Rivers and Burns, making drifts along the edges of the islands and main loch-shore. I head for a small bay on the East side of the islands, it just looks fishy and I have learned to listen to my little internal monologue, when it tells me “fish there” and occasionally what fly to use. I listen and do as it tells me, the sub-conscience accessing the deep recesses of my long forgotten knowledge and dropping hints. Rowing in to the narrow mouth of the bay I send out my first cast on Assynt waters in two years, I opted for a similar 2 rod set up than I had in Torridon but decided on a Hardy/Greys streamflex 4WT teamed with the Hardy flyweight reel and Cortland Platinum floating WF floating line instead of the Hardy DT, mainly to allow me to deal better with the wind and allow me to punch casts in to a head wind should I need to. The 4WT was for dry flies. The second rod was old reliable, my 5WT streamflex plus, with the Hardy L.R.H lightweight (http://www.hardyfishing.com/en-gb/home/) with a Cortland camo 5ft ghost tip (http://www.cortlandline.com) just to allow me to put the flies down quicker and on retrieve to maintain a depth rather than pulling the cast to the surface with each strip of line. On this rod I had a team of wets and nymphs similar to Torridon. Gold head Nymph, a personal favorite, is flash back Hares ear I tie myself and has never let me down in the North on point. The 1st and 2nd droppers are a mix of flies usually highland traditional’s, the likes of a Kate McLaren, blue Zulu and Claret Bumble. I do love to use North Country spiders even though most people associate them with river fishing I have found them quite successful on the lochs.

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First cast of the day

My first cast kissed the surface of the water and presented my single dry fly a size 16 pale Olive Para Dun, and it immediately soliciting a take from a hard fighting 9inch wee brownie, small but beautifully formed. The wind was frustrating but could be over come and I continued on the dry, even though there was little surface action from the fish and there was little if any in the way of a noticeable hatch going on. I persevered as it seemed to be drawing fish to the surface with splashy miss takes and the occasional bomber take that confirmed another Assynt brownie was on the end of my line. image I fish a single dry more often than not simply because I believe it presents better, and when you have several dries on I find they can generate unnatural drag and movement, that I feel is a turn off for often weary fish. To be honest having more dries on I’ve found doesn’t generate more takes, often the opposite. The fishing slowed so I changed position and established a drift between two islands fishing the dry fly close to the bank and slowly retrieving it, this seemed to generate fish with in a few feet of the bank, the fish darting out from cover or depth to hammer the fly. Missing as many as hooked which was really quite frustrating. image The wind was driving me crazy! Some folk would argue that I already am, but the wind was trying its best to make sure I was! I had a drogue set mid boat and could have done with another in an attempt to maintain a slower steady drift but the wind kept gusting and I was luck to get 2 or 3 casts before I was having to row the boat back in to position and start a drift over. I spent the next couple of hours exploring the loch in search of shelter and fish, only finding a few. With my patience and my arms falling, I returned to the bay and the islands of the morning producing a few more fish.

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Bring a beautiful Assent Brownie to the Boat the Minnkin para dun visible hooked in its scissors

Thankfully there was a benefit to the wind we occasionally were offered a view down the Loch at Suliven and Canisp. However the summits never escaped their shroud of cloud.

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Suilven on an earlier visit taken from the banks of Cam loch looking West, snow patches still visible

Fishing in Scotland you have to be prepared and able to fish in windy conditions because wind and rain is something we get in bucket load particularly on the West coast but I really could have done with a 2nd fisher to share the rowing or maybe a bloody big anchor. I bemoan the weather! The weather is part of the challenge of the sport but 2015 is a unseasonably crap year, cold to the point where for the first time every we have had the wood burner on in mid June completely unheard of. Maybe its the fact that it is a particularly strong el Niño year in the pacific playing havoc with the jet stream meaning it is sitting South of its seasonal norm, resulting in low pressure after low pressure piling in from the Atlantic and pulling cool air in from the artic North. I saw 20 fish for the day, not a fish over 12inches, but all beautifully marked full fined and hard fighting. less and smaller fish than I had expected, I was also surprised that I did not see much fly life, terrestrial or aquatic life something that has always been quite a abundant and previous visits.   Maybe it was the cold summer or was I out of habit when it came to fishing these Assynt Lochs but I had a couple of more days to reverse my fortune.

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Loch Inver from the mouth of the River Inver looking West

I did however redeem the day when I decided to eat at the Caberfeidh (http://www.thecaberfeidh.co.uk) with great view of the mouth of the River Inver I had expect standard pub grub and was delighted with the exquisite local food we were presented with. What am awesome gem of an eatery recently bought over by the Michelin stared Alabannach Hotel (http://www.thealbannach.co.uk) the food was sublime local seafood and game. It made the miserable weather just vanish and as we sat there eating the sky cleared and the wind dropped. The West coast with blue sky’s and fine food is probably my favorite place on Earth.

Happiness is……Torridon Trout

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Looking East down loch Torridon, and the Glen, Liathach and beinn Eighe behind taken from the Applecross peninsula

Heading North West into the Highlands of Scotland with the ultimate destination being Torridon.  This a pilgrimage I make several times a year but to be honest that still is not often enough for my liking. Torridon is a Glen and sea loch on the North West coast, South of Gairloch and stretching South West from the head of the famous Loch Marie at Kinloch Ewe to the village of Torridon. Its white washed houses dwarfed on the giant alluvial fan that spills down from the buttresses and narrow, jagged ridge of Liathach to the huge Fjord of Loch Torridon. Stretching for miles westward with rugged mountains climbing steeply from waters edge to the clouds. No matter where you look stunningly captivating views catch you and you can lose yourself in for hours.

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Looking South East over loch Torridon, with Loch Damh visible behind

Beautiful and a true outdoor enthusiasts play ground, but I hadn’t come here to climb or mountain bike I had come in search of West coast gold, wild highland brownies. From the winding single track road that hugs the foot of the towering hills on the North side of the glen, Lochs come into view about half way between Torridon village and Kinloch Ewe. These are the Lochs of the Coulin estate (www.coulin.co.uk) Clair, Coulin and Bharranch. Clair and Coulin are joined by tempting looking wee river. These waters ultimately flow North East from Clair in the River Gharbhie for about 5 miles until its junction with the River Kinloch and north-westwards through Loch Marie till it finally meets the sea at Poolewe. A some what circuritise route considering the sea sit only 7 mile westward down Glen Torridon and I am sure it would have once flowed this way, if it hadn’t been for a twist of geological or glacial action that force these peat waters to take the long way to the coast. This distance does little to dissuade the once plentiful sea-trout and the still decent numbers of salmon that fight up-stream to reach the waters of the Coulin estate. I was on a search for their year round guests and having fished on the estate several times over the last couple of years I knew what hard fighting plentiful trout lay ahead for me if I could dial in with fly choice and location.

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Head of Loch Clair looking West, Liathachs ridge visible with broken cloud

Loch Clair was my aim, and having phoned Neil Morrison the head keeper and booking the only boat on the mile and a half long Loch I was like a kid on Christmas eve, excited and chattering at my long-suffering better half, as we head down the Glen from the brilliant Torridon Inn (www.thetorridon.com). Loch Clair sits in the mouth of a spur glen leading due South for Glen Torridon where mixed native woodland of scots pines and silver birch surround the Loch and give way to steep rolling heather that clings to the rugged stepped slops of Torridonian sandstone and quartzite from the Lochs western shore. Sgurr Dhubh looms in the mist, to the North Beinn Eighe menaces in the descending mist and cloud and to the North-West hidden from view waits the razor like ridge of Liathach. A careful drive down the bumpy private estate road we are met by Neil on the wooden bridge that spans the tempting Coulin River.  A quick chat is all we manage as the midges are wild in a cloud as thick as the mist hanging on the hills above us, the little buggers cloud round us and begin their banquet. Beating a retreat to the cars we make for the boat house, waders and lashings of Avon skin so soft, the only thing that seems to deter them then making for the boat at almost a sprint down the pontoon; throwing my kit in the boat like a bank robber fleeing a robbery I start the engine and head out onto the Loch and safety from the midge

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Loch Clair, looking East, sheets of rain carried in on the wind

Having fished the Loch before I knew my destination and I motored North to the head of the Loch which sits in an almost amphitheatre as the wooded banks on the West and South banks shelter you from the now gusty wind bring incessant rain that varied between light drizzle to fat drops of rain that poured down, drumming on the hood of my Gore-tex jacket.  I didn’t care, I love Torridon! Come rain or shine, bobbing there in the boat surrounded by the fortress like walls of the mountains and the sound of a calling birds and the distinctive coo-coo of a cuckoo drifting from the trees. Fish were rising all around the boat I was in heaven! Shelter from the guesting wind  in the Bay allowed me to target the rising fish on the dry, my favourite way to fish and I had tackled up with 2 rod a 9ft 3wt greys/hardy streamflex with a hardy flyweight reel and a hardy 3wt double tapered floating line and a 14ft tapered leader with a single fly. To provide options the other rod was a 9.6ft 5wt greys/hardy streamflex plus with a hardy ultra light reel with cortland platinum floating line, a 15ft leader with 2 droppers about 6ft between them. This second rod would allow me to go subsurface with tradition highland wets and nymph if the dries didn’t go so well.

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Liathach veiled in could and rain looming over the Head of the Loch

The head of the Loch has a nice bank of reeds along the North shore, pockets of weed dotted among deeper pots, offering a real varied habitat perfect for trout. Many would anchor but drifting allows more water to be covered, the key when boat fishing on the drift is to position the boat and have your Drogues set to allow the drift to carry the boat and you within casting range or even over those trout lies. But remember don’t row straight back over them! and expect the fish to still be there, quick to spook slow to return. Row out and around where you want to drift, otherwise the fish are spooked and you are wasting your time!

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Wild Torridon Brownie show its Beautiful markings and colours

Taking the boat to within inches of the bank I began a first drift of many for the day, almost immediately I was into a trout falling to a size 14 quill ,emerger- hopper with a Cdc wing, the fly retrieved in quick short bursts seem to enduce hard splashy takes as the fly came to a stop brilliantly visual and exciting fishing.   This continued for the next couple of hours, fish after fish coming to the net.  By no measure were they monsters, half pound to a pound at best but they hammered the fly and fought like fish three times their size, and that is why I love Highland Brownies, they offer a fantastic fight and sport that not many fish can match for their size. By fishing on light tackle the excitement and challenge is ever-present with every fish hooked. As quickly as the fish were taking the dry, the rise had died! After a fruitless drift I opt to go on to the heavier rod and the wet flies; a size 12 hares ear nymph on the point, a peacock and black, size 14 spider next and a Kate Maclaren, size 14 on the top dropper.

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Kate Maclaren waiting to be wetted, the traditionals always produce fish.

Casting out and letting the gold-headed nymph sink and carry the cast downwards in to the peaty dark water and beginning a slow jerky retrieve produced four fish in quick succession, three of which were on the peacock and black spider all from quite deep and a fit as a fiddle, one noticeably drawing the boat across the water, brilliant sport!

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Hard fighting brownie

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Bringing yet another Beautiful Torrid0n Brownie to the net

Again another change and the fish are back, splashy rises all around, a quick change back on the dry rod and I decide to target what looks like a better sized fish that was rising off some rock.  A well placed cast, a single draw of the line to straighten the leader and I am into a cracking fish of about a pound.  A few more fish fall to the dry but the day is drawing on, the wind is picking up, it’s still raining and one look at a half drown Jenni and I decide its time to call it a day.  Six hours of brilliant sport in a location that words just do not do justice to.

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Torridon Trout taking to the Air.

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West coast rain didn’t give up all day

I row out of the bay and in to the main loch, but before I start the engine I cast a long line out the back of the boat with a classic bloody butcher on point. I start the engine and begin trolling behind the boat we hadn’t moved any distance before the line was streaming from the reel and the rod was doubled over as I fought to bring the best fish of the day to the surface and ultimately to the net a beautiful one and half pound brown trout. Motyoring down the loch I was really quite contented with my day the 4 hour drive north had been totally worth it but it was time for a warm shower in the hotel and a hot cup of tea to toast the beauty of torridon its brilliant brown trout and the superb coulin estate