On The Hunt for Harris Trout, fell in love with Harris Sea Trout

I never expected this article to be one of the hardest to write, this the fourth rewrite and it has got no easier! The problem is I just don’t feel like I can do the Island of Harris justice, certainly not without sounding gushing and clichéd…it really was that good a trip! To what is truly one of the most beautiful locations Scotland has to offer, look I’ve started with the gushing already! So maybe I should apologize now for the clichés and moments of gushing that are inevitable in trying to describe Harris, the welcome and the fishing.
Its almost 20 years since my last visit to these Islands of Scotland’s western frontier, I was but a chubby school boy with a tent, a good friend and a couple of fly rods. The trip had been great but we were beaten by glorious blue skies, sunshine and the worst sunburn I’ve ever had. The midges rose as the baking August sun set every night, so we turned tail and made for the ferry having only sipped from the over full glass of fine hill lochs and fishing that Harris has to offer, with literally hundreds of lochs most filled with hard fighting wild brown trout and many with sea-trout and the occasional salmon it a fly-fishers paradise.


I had always said that I would return to Harris but had lacked any real commitment ’til last summer when I discovered a tweet by Gail Tunnah who runs Finsbay Fishing’s. What sealed the deal was the January morning that the brochure for the fishing’s and their holiday cottages landed on the door mat, a cold January morning spent leafing through it dreaming of wild brownies, it had me hooked! It was all just a matter of finding the time so when the opportunity arose and ten days became free in my diary at the start of June I began planning an adventure and immediately Harris came to mind. Spending a few day pouring over maps and noting how accessible the lochs and fishing’s were, I had the hair brained notion that this adventure would be on foot. I am happy to admit that having once been a keen mountaineer I have softened with age and wisdom and enjoy the comforts of a nice hotel and clean bed after a day or nights fishing.  But I was feeling bold for this trip. Maybe it was a reniessounce, a reliving of younger days. Exploring on foot just seemed the best way to immerses myself in the plentiful and accessible fishing plus the public transport links on and to Harris really are very good, putting many on the mainland to shame. So I packed the rucksack with a lightweight one man tent, sleeping bag, stove and freeze dried meals, lightweight is ………well a figurative term because once you have packed every thing you need to survive for seven days without visiting a shop it weights alot more than you would imagine, nearly 14kg. The fly-fishing tackle the cherry on top.

With space and weight at a premium I opted to take only 1 rod and reel and a fairly lightweight set up

• Greys/Hardy 9’6 Streanflex Plus 5wt Rod

• Hardy LHR Reel & Spare spool

• Cortland Platinum Precision WTF Floating line

• Cortland Precision WTF 15’ Ghost tip

The 1st of June saw me heading westwards by bus from Aberdeenshire to Uig the ferry port in Northern Skye and the link to Tarbert on Harris. As we drew ever nearer Skye the clouds cleared and from horizon to horizon pale blue sky and warm early summer sunshine, little did I know then that this perfect beach weather was to follow me from the day I arrived on the island till the very hour I climbed on the ferry and sailed south for North Uist seven days later. The weather was almost identical to 20 years earlier, had I stumbled on a well-kept secret about Harris? That from May till September these Isles where bathed in Mediteraining sunshine? Alas apparently that’s not the case and by pure luck Mother Nature was playing a cruel joke on this hapless fisher.

Harris is one of the chain of Islands that make up the Western Isles, and are the first real land fall for the worst that the Northern Atlantic weather systems can throw. Really I shouldn’t complain I should shut up and make the most of the stunning weather but as an A-typical fly-fisher much like the stereotypical farmer; one is never happy with the weather.


I was heading for the Finsbay Fishings (http://finsbaycottages.co.uk) a group of over a 100 lochs divided into 3 areas, Stockinish; the northern group of lochs, Flodabay the middle group of lochs and Finsbay the southern group comprising of nearly 50 lochs. With boats on 20 of the 100 lochs and fantastic sea pools the fishing can be as diverse as you want from classic highland boat drifts to a day exploring hill loch on foot, some not much bigger than a bathtub but still containing wild brownies.  Some of the Finsbay fishings lochs have produced some real lunkers; brownies over 11lb and sea trout over 14lb. So you never know your first or your last cast may produce a beautifully marked hard fighting fish of a lifetime but aside from the monsters there are plenty of free rising hard fighting brownies that inhabit these lochs.

Over every rise and in every hollow there seemed to be a loch, it’s a smorgus board of choice, you could spend a life time exploring these lochs and still not fish them all. I began my adventure on the stockanish lochs. Having got the permits at the crack of dawn, I had my tent pitched by lunch time and was off with rod in hand exploring loch Creebhat and loch Glumradh Mor, managing to produce a couple of fish from shady nooks but I was fast discovery what was to be my nemesis for the duration of the trip. The bright warm sunshine putting paid to anything but morning and late evening fishing, which could be exploited by camping,  able to move from loch to loch and only have a short distance to stumble from sleeping bag to bank or boat. Every night as the sun set an hour or two of a rise would ensued, producing a few fish to the traditional highland wets.

I soon moved south loaded like a pack mule, walking the coast road I soaked in the stunning scenery that was putting on a real show in the beaming June sunshine, I was heading south for Finsbay, a group of 50 lochs and sea pools. Alistair Mackinnon the Ghillie found me slouched, parr boiled by the roadside south of foldaway and took pity on me offering me a lift and a quick tour of some of the lochs and sea pool, local knowledge truly is invaluable especially in trying conditions. Setting up camp in the ruins of an old fishing lodge; 2min walk from the sea pools and 5mins from the hill lochs this was to be home for the next  four days with views eastwards over Skye and the jagged teeth of the Cullin Ridge. I could have stayed there forever, perched on the rocks above Loch Fhionnsabaigh (Gaelic for Finsbay) the pale blue sky above and the shimmering Turquoise waters of the Minch below its hard to describe other than Stunning

Over dinner I sat watching the tide surge into the sea pools creping ever higher from one pool to the next and with it sea trout, topping and showing tantalizing splashes drawing you to the water like the sirens song. I set up a cast with just a single dropper about 6-7ft back from the point fly I opted for a classic sz12 teal and blue on point and a size 12 Claret Bumble on the dropper. As the tide peaked I began sending out casts landing the fly tight to the rocks across the pool, giving them to the count of 8 to sink and then a fairly fast retrieve. It produced instant results Bang! a 1.5lb sea trout takes me on a trip up and down the pool fighting me for every inch of line as I retrieve it to the net and then almost every second cast produces a take providing a very enjoyable hour of sport over the tide turning.

The finnock and sea trout hitting the flies hard and fighting like monsters, the sort of sport that you can often only dream of, double hook ups, loosing as many as you land in a frantic hour of mesmerizing fun. Nothing over 1.5lbs but that didn’t matter as they felt like monsters on the 5wt 9.6ft rod, almost pulling it from your hand and as the sun began kissing the hills to the West the action tailed off and I returned to my tent buzzing. I had landed more sea trout in that frenetic hour than I had seen in the previous four seasons.

I will admit I favour Brown Trout fishing over all other but Harris sea trout had hooked me and three of the next four days I spent on the hunt for Harris Sea Trout. The tides played ball with high tide arriving between 6 and 10 pm and allowing some great sport to while away my evenings producing; finnock, sea trout, slob trout and much to my surprise Pollock. A 1lb seat trout on the point fly and half pound Pollock on the dropper every cast a surprise.

I hadn’t forgotten about the bars of gold I had come in search of, venturing out in the mornings exploring the nearby lochs of Holmasaig, Dempster and Humabhat all of which lie on the same system as the sea pools of my first nights fun. Saturday morning I wasn’t feeling too optimistic, the the warm morning sun seemed already high in the sky as I stumbled over heather and peat hag before 7am making my way round the east bank of Dempster but the sound of fish freely rising around the reeds and margins greets me, a real surprise! The lochs where showing the effects of nearly a months warm and very dry weather and I was worrieed that in these kind of conditions the fish had become stressed with lower water levels and reduced oxygen levels, switching off from feeding and had disappeared into deeper waters. However it appears Harris trout are made of sterner stuff ; oblivious to the bright sunshine even with the clear lightly peated water giving little protection, they were feeding on the surface!

A dry fly fishers dream I opt for a light cast of about 2.4lbs and a single fly to reduce any drag. I throw on a fly I tie at size  16; Quill and elk hair midge on a light Grub hook which sits right in and through the surface film, mimicking the large midge that were occasionally hatching and the main attention of the rising trout. Making a long cast I let the wind drift the fly over the rising fish, a breathless wait willing a take soon rewarded with a strong splashy hit, striking as much out of instinct as a reaction in fright at the sudden splashy. A quick reaction imperative as these wild beauties discard the fly as quickly as they strike. An hour and a half of brilliant surface action, having to replace the fly several time as the vicious takes soon took their toll on the small flies, these the tattered reminants in the fly patch serve a a reminder of some fantastic sport.

I would have loved to fish from dawn till dusk but the glorius weather put paid to that, but when it did allow the sport was spectactular, exciting and varied. I honestly cannot express how much I enjoy my time on the island and the rugged beauty of Harris,  a landscape that can make you feel like the only person alive. The people are warm, friendly and welcoming. And of course the great fishing, Harris has it in bucket fulls! You could write and article about everyday and every loch each would be quite a different story.  I wanted to give you a taste, but the only way to truely experince it is to go!

I was genuinely sad the morning I packed up and headed for Leverburgh and on to North Uist, Harris has a lot more fishing  to offer and I guarantee it will not be another 20 years till I next wet a fly on Harris. I can’t thank Gail Tunnah who runs Finsbay, and Alistair Mackinnon the Ghillie enough for the friendly welcome and all the help, I hope to see you all again soon.

I strongely recommend that you plan a fishing trip soon to Harris the transport links are good, the people are welcoming, the fishing is world class. And I think that the sun is always shining………

Useful Links;

Ferry times and Bookings;  https://www.calmac.co.uk/

Finsbay
Fishings; http://www.finsbaycottages.co.uk/uk/

Buses times and Booking; http://www.citylink.co.uk/

Scotrail; https://www.scotrail.co.uk/

Harris bus timetable; http://www.cne-siar.gov.uk/travel/busservice/current/indexlh.asp

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