Up early for the 10 hour drive to the wild moonscape of north-west Sutherland for four days of intensive fishing. For several months I’ve been rehearsing in my mind exactly how I’ll go about nailing a number of large trout. Now to put the plans into action. My weapon of attack will be the Chas Burns 10ft 5wt. I’ve tied some multi-section 18ft leaders, running from 20lb down to a 5lb tippet. The fly pattern I’ll use is the one that gave me my best results ever last year: a size 10 parachute emerger with a big foam head to keep it aloft on the top of the water and with a body of various hues, some gaudy – lime green, scarlet – some more restrained. I’ll fish with just the one dry – no droppers. These fish aren’t professors of entomology and something that looks vaguely edible and creates a bit of a stir on the surface should do the trick:
After a tiresome but relatively uneventful journey I pitched up at the Scourie Hotel at around 6pm and my name went onto the board. For anyone who doesn’t know the system, here’s how it works. The hotel has around 40 named beats, mostly consisting of clusters of lochs. Some beats are more popular than others and every angler has their favourite. To ensure a fair crack of the whip, there is a blackboard in the hotel lounge and when you arrive you add your name to the bottom of the list. After dinner the ‘boardmaster’ – a knowledgeable hotel guest who has volunteered for the role – will ask the person whose name is at the top of the list where he/she (frankly he) would like to fish the next day. That beat is then allocated. The boardmaster works his way down the list. So when your turn comes you select your beat from what remains. The next day, the name that had been at the top of the board gets put to the bottom and everyone moves up a slot. So as the week progresses, your name rises up the board. It is an eminently fair way to allocate the waters. Any suggestion that ‘you are told where you will fish’ is incorrect.
Anyhow, I managed to bag possibly my favourite beat, Sedgwicks – I’d picked up a couple of pound-plus fish here last year and was confident I could do the same tomorrow…
The wind was horrendous – gusts of up to 50 mph and intermittent showers. It’s a great walk up the lochs, along the inky black River Laxford before a sharp turn to the left and a steep, lung-busting slog into the hills where the scene resembles some kind of petrified lumpy porridge. I headed towards a chain of small lochans where I’d scored last year. The weather was crackers – it simply doesn’t obey the laws of meteorology up here. One minute the wind is howling from your left, then it does a sharp about turn and is coming from your right. You can stand on the bank of a loch and the wind will be coming in two directions simultaneously, presumably because of the eddies and vortices created by the surrounding hills. It made for an uncomfortable session verging on the hazardous. You’re standing on a steep ledge over the water and suddenly you get a serious shove in your back from a hefty gust. It was like having a sparring session with some kind of invisible Mike Tyson. Then it would start to rain and you have to get your waterproofs on sharpish or risk a drenching; two minutes later the sky has cleared and the sun has come out and you are slogging around in sweaty Goretex. Ditch the waterproofs and five minutes later it’s raining again. A typical little Sedgwick’s lochan:
I was pleased I’d opted only for the single fly – the line was performing crazy aerobatics in the gale and the fly landing more or less at random on furious water with six inch waves. Well, I staggered and wrestled my way around several lochans without any success before picking up my first little fish:
Given the conditions I was thankful for that. Brought in another three of similar size and that was it for the day. No big ‘uns but no blank either. A tough day of merciless buffeting by the wind.
I managed to bag the Mid-Chain beat. This consists of many small lochans far up in the hills and is notorious for its big fish. The forecast was marginally better than yesterday, with the wind dropping to a stiff but manageable 20 mph and some rain predicted. It was cold though, around 12C. After 40 minutes’ hard hiking I came to the first lochan, named Pudding on account of its roughly triangular shape. Nothing doing, so I moved along to a famous big-fish water, Quaky Banks, where I’d pulled out a 2lb-plus fish last year:
The banks are true to their name – they vibrate underfoot like school blancmange. Stealth is the name of the game, so 15 yards from the bank I got down on hands and knees and edged my way within casting distance. My idea was to drop a fly a foot in from the bank, but predictably I underestimated and instead caught a piece of heather just shy of the water. So that plan went to pot as I was forced to crawl up to the waterside and unhitch the fly. But I’d evidently been sneaky enough because a big, black polaris submarine broke the surface a few feet to my left. With heart thumping I covered the rise but to no avail. Another monster rose to my right and I covered that too. Nothing. I flogged away for another half hour or so but the fish had got wise. Not to worry, plenty more productive water to cover elsewhere, so off I set.
More little lochans, but no fish showing and nothing coming to my fly:
After three hours hard fishing I was getting a little despondent and my concentration was wavering when suddenly there was a tug on the line – I confess I hadn’t seen the take. Anyway I brought in a stunningly coloured 12oz brown:
That was a big relief and my confidence was restored. On to the Canal – a long, thin lochan, as you might expect from its name – where I hit a nice fish of probably a pound-and-a-quarter:
I hooked another probably of similar size, but by the time I’d taken in the slack line and got the disc drag on it threw the hook and came off. Disappointing, but I’d kept the fish under pressure and no knots had failed so it was just one of those things – I can’t berate myself too much over that.
The day was drawing to a close, so I decided to have another quick look at Quaky. I saw fish move once more and covered them but they were being too canny so I called it a day. Still, two nice fish and a superb day in a stunning landscape.
To the Crocach beat. ‘Crocach’ rhymes with ‘joker’, aptly as it turned out. There is one large, busy loch with many islands and inlets but the real attraction of the beat is three or four small satellite lochans that contain big, big fish. One of 6lb was taken in recent years. The day started with some welcome warmth – for the first time it felt a little like summer and there was a useful little breeze to put a riffle on the surface. Back on my hands and knees for the first little loch, but nothing showed. On to the next one:
I worked my way quietly and methodically up the water, systematically putting the fly in the margins and across the middle as best I could. Towards the far end of the loch a couple of feet in from the bank I had a take. The rod bent for a nanosecond and then went slack – it was off. Ah well. Nothing more on the small waters so down to the big loch where I should at least have a chance of a small fish or two:
I had one small splashy take which didn’t connect and turned a better fish of maybe a pound but it didn’t touch the fly. And that was it – a blank day for the first time in a long time up here. To make matters worse, ten minutes from the car the heavens opened with a vengeance and I got wet.
After yesterday’s disappointment I was looking to redress the balance. I chose the Mhuirt beat, mainly because it has a famous little pond on it – McKay’s – high in the hills where large fish are known reside:
I’d moved one last year but it didn’t stick. I was determined to give it a really serious go, stealth, careful casting and covering as much of the water as I could. There was a stiff north-westerly breeze as I came towards the lochan and tackled up behind a rocky outcrop. I abandoned my rucksack to allow me to have a lower profile and decided it might be wise to detach the landing net from the pack and take it with me just in case. I hoped that wasn’t hubris and that the God’s wouldn’t punish me for my presumptiousness. The water looked really tasty as I gingerly picked my way towards it, crouching. Surely there was a monster in there with my name on it?
The pond is maybe 100 yards long and 40 wide with sheer drop from the banks into crystal clear water. It’s small and the fish can hear you coming. I worked my way slowly around the bankside covering as much water as I could. I was concentrating hard, determined not to risk losing a fish because of a wandering mind. After about 20 minutes there was a swirl at the fly and a fish was on! I played it hard and brought it to the net. It was a beauty which I am calling 2lb. In reality maybe a fraction less, but I’m sticking with 2lb:
I’d covered only about a third of the water so continued upwards. Towards the top end of the loch there was another slash at the fly but I’d only pricked the fish. Oh well, mustn’t be greedy.
Buoyed with that success I made my way to some of the the satellites around the main loch. On one long, cigar-shaped water I began to pick up small fish like this:
Ended up with eight of these, with about another dozen missed takes.
Well, that was it for the day and indeed for the trip. A great antidote to yesterday’s disappointment and a brill way to finish my four days up here. Special thanks to fellow guest David Forrest, who is generous in the extreme with his extensive knowledge of the Scourie waters and who gave me invaluable information and pointers.