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Andrew Ayres fishing trip to the Highlands

Highland Fishing Trip 2017

 

This year’s trip was again split into two: the first at the 39,000 acre Altnaharra Estate in Sutherland; the second Whitebridge Hotel and Lochs in Inverness-shire. Both hotels were old hunting lodges from years gone by.

Having completed 11 hours of a 12 hour journey, I turned off the Lairg road on to the 21miles of single track road across open wind swept moors, and it reminded me of a Mel Gibson film from the Mad Max Series. Where once stood beautiful tall green pine trees as far as the eye could see, now the land has been savaged/raped of those wonderful trees; and only the odd tree stands.  It is a land of turned up earth, tree stumps, roots upturned and just left a mess.   They cannot replant for 3 years due to the Canadian Beetle that caused the disease and it has to be left fallow for this length of time.  We drove through the mist, the rain was endless and the car was being buffeted by the wind.  As we rose over one of the many crests, in the road there was a stag standing motionless in front of us.  We stopped the engine and switched lights off for a moment.   It was a standoff.  Nowhere else would you get this sight in the UK; and then it had gone.  Lost in the mist to wander his moor.

There was so much water everywhere. Down every hill and gully crack, water cascades.  The streams were raging foaming rivers where once water gently trickled over the stones; now there are thundering waterfalls.  All the land looked so rich and green, unlike the normal barren colour you see in June.

As we arrived at the Hotel we were greeted with a welcome, ‘we are just about to light a coal/log fire in your bedroom’. I did say we were back in Victorian times!

My next job was to find Walter the Gillie and enquire the fishing situation. The salmon guys were not very happy since the water was too high to fish.  It may be 2 or3 days if the rain stops. Since I shall be on the Lochs I am OK

Day 1 Fishing

 

Loch Meadie

I am fishing Loch Meadie this year from a boat. Last year was from the bank.  My choice is a 10ft rod, 4lb nylon, 3 flies using the Scottish dropper style, Stoats Tail, Blue-Zulu and Kate McLaren.  I changed flies during the day to Alexandra, Loch Ordie and Red-Zulu.   On average the fish caught were small 8 to 10oz and caught on all flies where ever positioned.  The trout colours and markings were brilliant.  Loch Meadie is one of the late Bruce Sanderson favourite fishing Lochs.  It’s 4 miles long and ½ mile wide.  As you arrive it looks a modest Loch, but once you get out of the mooring loch through the channel you see the extent of it.  It’s a shallow loch with many bays, little Islands, fishing peninsulas and fishy shallow corners. I caught 15 and returned them all.  It was wet and windy all day.

Day 2 Fishing

 

Loch Naver

I was fishing the main hotel’s Loch Naver, 7miles long and ¾ mile wide, and very deep in the middle. I fished it for 5 hours. Very wet and windy again!  On one occasion during a heavy storm when the boat was heading into the waves, I had to stop fishing and bail out! Scary! I used a 10ft rod, 8lb nylon, 3 flies: Invicita, Black Pennel and Clan Chief.  Followed with Loch Ordie, Alexandra and Butcher.  I tried dapping with a 18ft rod and spinning as the only method to use when it’s too rough for the flies. I caught fish all day on all flies and all methods.  I also caught my first Sea Trout, too small at 14oz, so it was returned.  The colours and markings were fantastic.

Another highlight of the day was during one of the many storms when Walter got my attention; 40ft away on our right were 2 Black Throated Divers watching us and not bothered by the engine on tick over.   And above circling were 2 Osprey’s – a truly wonderful sight.   We lost 8 fish mainly due to being too slow to retrieve, and landed 21 fish.  Only those over 1lb weight were taken to the hotel to cook.  It’s interesting that the colours and marking of these Trout do differ a lot.

 

Two Good Fish

Walter explained the colour difference between the moor lochs and the deep glen lochs – Meadie and Naver. It was because of the depth and bed surface.   The light brightly spotted markings were always from the shallow gravel lochs.

Now back to base, all the Kit in the drying room, then for a Guinness, hot bath and dinner.

 

The next Location is the Whitebridge Lochs situated approx. 3 miles off the East side of Loch Ness. My base is The Whitebridge Hotel, built in 1890 as a shooting Lodge for the local estates.  Now under new owners of less than a year; so its early days!  At least they still have the trout in glass cases, flies, and catch records.

There are several lochs in the area – Loch Knockie, Killin, and Ruthven. If you plan visiting, the Lesley Crawford book – Scotlands Classic Trout Waters is worth reading.  Inverness-shire is a completely different land; rich green pasture in the valleys, Red Deer everywhere on the high ground, and they have only just started removing the trees.

 

Day 3 Fishing

 

I fished Loch Killin.   A grim and deep forbidding Loch, with no boats, no wading as the sides are sheer since it is trapped deep in a valley.  I tried many selected flys’ but could not raise a single fish.  However, in the past good catches have been recorded, and a few char in the very deep section. The only boats allowed on this Loch are from the two estates which are at each end of the Loch. I lost my complete leader and fly’s in the afternoon so this was time to pack up and head back.   As I climbed up the valley road, Ravens circled me and Red deer watched on.

Day 4 Fishing

I fished Loch Knockie for half a day with Alex the Gillie. Again, no bank fishing due to the undergrowth down to the Loch edge, overhanging trees and branches.  Reeds and Lilly bed also prevented wading.  The Loch is only 30ft deep with a very rich insect life. Fishing from a boat is very good, with many nooks and bays, channels, islands, and shallows.  I fished a 10ft rod, 4lb line on 3 flies down size to 16 and 18, Dunkfield, March Brown and a Grouse and Claret; changing them many times to Spiders, Greenwells etc. I caught and landed on all flies although better on size 16.   From the East bay’s side, fish were rising when the wind dropped and the fish were taking insects off the trees as they fell into water. With an accurate cast and a quick retrieve they were hooked. 18 Trout were landed (lost 4) with only 2 over 1lb kept; the rest were returned.

This was a dryer day although the most testing. But also the most challenging and rewarding of them all with ever changing conditions.  All told, a very pleasant day.

Over dinner that evening I told Elaine to mark the calendar so as to book again in February 2018 since Altnaharra is closed for the Winter.   I may try the Whitebridge Lochs again as there are at least 3 left to try!

On the whole a very good trip, with good Gillies, good hotels, good food, wine and company, despite very challenging weather – gales and rain, while the South were basking in a heat wave!

Caught and Landed 54; lost 12.

Lesson learnt – never fish the wild highland hill Lochs without a Gillie!

Total miles 1650

 

Andrew Ayres

FDG, WFD, CFD and Grayling Society member.