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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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. 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.
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.
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.
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.