And so the annual pilgrimage to the desolate beauty of north-west Sutherland comes around again. The ten-hour drive up to the Scourie hotel allows plenty of time for the expectation to build. Weatherwise the portents weren’t fantastic: cold, wet and windy. Still, you take what you’re given and make the best of it. This is not fishing for the faint of heart.
The hotel was as warm and inviting as ever, with the usual fire crackling in the grate despite this being mid-June, and many familiar faces. After dinner the sense of anticipation rose as the fishing beats were sorted out. By the time my name came round I was happy to see that Mid-chain hadn’t been nabbed, so I snapped it up. The beat consists of a dozen or so small lochans that hold some mighty fish and I’d had a good two-pounder from there in the past. That night I drifted off to sleep dreaming of what the following day would produce…
Day 1: Mid-chain
At breakfast the rain slapping against the windows pointed to a wet old slog and it was still raining steadily when I parked the car, pulled on the waterproofs, slung the rucksack on my back and set off through the heather and bracken up into the hills. There was a briskish breeze, but despite the temperature hovering at only around 11C the air didn’t feel too cold.
After hiking mostly upwards for the better part of an hour I came to the first lochan. I tackled up with the Burns 10ft 5wt, floating line, 5ft furled leader (a generous gift from George at traditionalfloats.blogspot.com), 8ft of tippet and a roughly tied deer hair sedge on the end.
No fish were moving as I sneaked up to the water and plopped the fly over the edge. No take. I started to cover the water methodically. Nothing. I moved on the the next water. Same thing. Nothing.
After more than two hours and having covered three or four lochans without the merest sniff I was beginning to get a little disheartened.
The considerable wave on the surface of the water was rather drowning my sedge, so as predicted I switched to a foam-headed emerger which is unsinkable. Yes, its an excrescence and an abomination of a fly that has traditionalists muttering but I don’t care. It floats all day and that suits me.
Anyhow, eventually I had a small splash at the fly and pulled in a little fish. That restored my faith. Which was justified, because a few casts later there was a swirl at the fly and a good fish was on. I groped around for the landing net that I had borrowed from the hotel (all that planning and I had forgotten my own) but it was no longer on my belt and must have fallen off en route. A bit embarrassing (fortunately it was found by another angler the next day, which saved my blushes).
I managed to get the fish banked. A beauty of maybe 2lb:
Delighted with that. I had a few more smaller fish, with a total of five for the day. Success.
Day 2: Strathain
I’d not fished this beat before, but it has produced some specimens over the years. There are four lochs on the beat, but only two of them, relatively small, hold fish of any size. It’s big advantage for me was that you don’t have to hike too far to get there – I was knackered after yesterday’s efforts.
It was windy but not freezing and thankfully the rain largely held off. Anyhow, to cut a long story short I moved two fish but connected with neither. So a blank day. To be honest if you’re targeting the better fish you have to expect that on some days you won’t catch. It’s all part of the parcel up here. If you are not too bothered about the prospect of landing a big fish, there is plenty of water that will produce literally scores of small ones. So a minor disappointment but c’est la vie. There is always tomorrow!
Day 3: Sedgewicks
Probably my favourite beat with many small lochans in the starkest of landscapes. Again only 11C on the thermometer as I trudged up into the hills, stiff breeze and the odd heavy shower.
Incidentally, a feature of this landscape is the presence of large boulders balancing precariously on the top of the rocky ridges. They look as if they must have been placed there deliberately by some mythological giant, but it turns out they were dragged along by the ice sheets back in prehistory and deposited when the ice receded. Well, I find that sort of thing interesting anyway.
To the fishing. On the first loch I saw many dibbly rises, which were clearly small fish but I had a crack at them in any event just to remind myself what it felt like to catch a fish. I pulled out three of inconsequential size.
After that I headed for the more likely waters – a big fish had been taken on the beat the previous day. It was hard work. No fish were showing and again I plugged away for a couple of hours fruitlessly. I then did move what was clearly a big trout, but it didn’t connect with the hook. I cursed but did not weep and carried on. In the same water, unexpectedly I had another take. The fish broke the surface like a Polaris missile and took the fly. The rod bent alarmingly and it was on. A good two pounds, who knows maybe more. But after three seconds it was off again. I very nearly did weep that time.
Somewhat disconsolate made my way down to a loch that has produced fish for me in the past of up to 12 oz. It obliged once more and on that loch and the next I managed eight or nine fish of a up to maybe half a pound:
Weirdest specimen of the day was this one, which looked more like an eel than a trout:
I think I ended up with a Baker’s dozen. So although the big ones did not cooperate I was happy enough with the day’s effort.
Day 4: Crocach
This beat consists of one large loch and four satellites each of which is known to contain good fish. A six pounder was taken from one of these a few years ago. Again, it’s a kind of all-or-nothing endeavour. You might get a really nice fish or, more likely, you might get nothing.
I headed up a steep hillside to the first lochan that holds big fish but where I’ve had no success in the past:
I put on this fly, only a size 14 (I think), so quite small in the scheme of things:
I was determined to do things properly. I’d tackled up well away from the water and I crept towards the bank like a thief in the night. When I was still seven or eight yards from the bank, and still in a crouching position, I cast the fly so that it dropped into the water about a couple of feet from the bank. I wasn’t really expecting anything because local intelligence says that the big fish hang around under the cliff face on the top right side of the lochan.
But despite my lack of expectation I was pleased that I was concentrating, because about three seconds after the fly had alighted on the surface of the water there was a swirl and I struck. Praise be the fish did not slip the hook and I managed to net it (with a second net that I had borrowed from the hotel). It was a beauty, not huge but deep in the belly and nicely spotted. I’m going to say it was 2lb:
That set me up for the day. The session would be a success come what may. Which is just as well, because for the next six hours of so I flogged my way across the moorland, through knee-deep bogs, shinning along rock faces, sliding down escarpements, falling over in the heather. I fished the remaining three satellite lochans without moving a fish and without seeing one. Still, I had that nice one in the bag as it were so I was happy.
And that was that. I’d had my four days in the hills and caught two respectable wild highland trout. Next year I’ll catch a bigger one.