“Behind every man now alive stand thirty ghosts, for that is the ratio by which the dead outnumber the living. Since the dawn of time, roughly a hundred billion human beings have walked the planet Earth. Now that is an interesting number, for by a curious coincidence there are approximately a hundred billion stars in our ‘local’ universe, the Milky Way. So for every man who has ever lived, in this universe, there shines a star”
Arthur C Clarke
I cannot believe a year has passed since I wrote the blog for our 2009 fishing holiday. Like many people, I am of the opinion that the rules of time and space conspire to consume your latter years exponentially faster than those of childhood. My only hope is that the exponential graph peaks sometime soon then goes t’other way, but I dare not run this theory past an old person in case they bring me crashing down to earth. But one thing I do know – before I become my 31st ghost I will try my best to ensure that every year is punctuated with holidays and adventures of this caliber, because Assynt 2010 was another belter! Read on for more tales of hill lochs, wild browns, peaty single malts, sheep bothering and gradual disintegration of human decency.
On a side note, we decided to spend much of this year’s Assynt fishing holiday targeting lochs highlighted in Cathel McLeod’s new book ‘Trout Fishing in Assynt’. If you’re going fishing in Assynt, you’d be mad not to buy it. You can get it mail order it from here http://www.scotbooks.freeuk.com/index.html.
Friday 4th June
“No, last year’s trainers”
The 5th member of our crack squad, Phil’s Land Rover Discovery, only just makes it in time due to monstrously lengthy and expensive repairs. Added drama caused by fact that this year all four of us are travelling up to Lochinver in said vehicle – strict luggage rationing in place. Estimated departure time of 10 am slips inexorably towards midday, allowing plenty of time for my £5 Tesco value trainers to be ribbed mercilessly.
12:00 noon…ish. On the road. Just before we hit the A1 we cross the bows of an Alfa, driven by a black guy, sporting the registration N11 GGA. Now that’s what I call a sense of humour. I think.
7pm. Arrive Red Squirrel campsite, Glencoe. We bomb-burst outta Phil’s Disco like grunts on a hot LZ and erect tents in minutes. Straight over to Clacaig Inn.
Much to our surprise, the food has improved since last year. The midges however, remain as persistent as ever. We polish off a few beers (Tradewind proving to be the best) then head back to campsite for a good ol’ booze up round a fire.
11:15. A sad-faced Ukranian extinguishes our fire with a watering can then departs, still muttering apologies
11:20. Fire up and running again. Communal 10 year old Jura decimated by Phil and Bob
Saturday 5th June
“ No way. I’m sorry, but crisps are personal”
8am. Red Squirrel campsite reverberates to the noise of Tradewind induced farts, providing a valuable insight into where the name came from.
We make our customary visit to Fort William and the legendary Rod and Gun shop. As always, I have to buy another midge net because , as always, I’m not 100% sure I’ve packed any of my extensive midge net collection. We also buy a cheap spinning outfit to capitalise on the fact our cottage is next to the sea. Pollack for tea? Swift pint in the Ben Nevis bar overlooking the sea loch then onwards and upwards towards Lochinver.
16:45; Dingbat, Dingwall Tesco’s
Controversy over communal food usage once again leads to a complicated shopping arrangement. A communal trolley is filled, then each person pays for an additional separate basket containing items for personal use. Between us, the four of us spend nearly £350 for a week’s booze and sandwich fillings. On way out of Tesco’s we tank up, I have to nip into the Tesco garage shop to buy a sandwich because we don’t actually have much to eat.
19:30. Arive Tigh A Chladaich cottage, Lochinver
Cottage surpasses even last year’s haven. Huge split level lounge/dining area, 4 bedrooms (2 with balconies), sea view, dishwasher, you name it. Ritual drawing of straws results in yours truly coming second. No losers in this cottage though, all rooms are spot on. Our first evening is spent driving a substantial wedge into our provisions as we engage in a BBQ with plenty of beers and whisky.
Sunday 6th June
“Can we go yet?”
Awake at 8am and an astonishing display of enthusiasm, discipline and co-ordination unfolds. By 10:30am packed lunches and flasks are made, rucksacks loaded up and we’re off! Unprecedented!
We call in to the Assynt Visitor Centre (http://www.assynt.info/page8.html) to buy our weekly permits for the Eastern Zone then drive out to the Inchnadamph Hotel, the starting point for our 1st mission. It’s a steady 1hr 45 walk up to Bealach na h-Uidhe but well worth the effort. Here’s an action photo I took on our way up, crossing the outflow of Fleodach, hoping to catch Smithers getting a dunking.
A cursory perusal of Google images suggests I’m not the 1st to do this. Anyway, he didn’t fall in and we arrived at Bealach eager to get stuck in.
The loch sits in a corrie, which is a Gaelic term to describe a kind of bowl shape formed in a valley head. Corrie lochs are always easy on the eye, they can’t fail to be, and this one has the added bonus of a reputation for bigger fish than your standard hill-loch! We spread out along the Eastern shore and began fishing.
I was keen to christen my all-new new outfit (for you dirty tackle tarts – a 6 piece 9ft #6 Wychwood Quest rod, Enigma M3 reel, Snowbee XS floater) but within minutes Smithers drew 1st blood by landing a nice brownie, quite a bit bigger than your average hill loch resident (although looking at the pictures now, it seemed bigger at the time). That’s me holding his fish for him, cos I’m good like that. Look how pleased I am for him….
Anyway it was a fine opening to our holiday! Before the hour was up, a fish apiece for Phil and Stu followed, but nothing for me. I looked at my new rod forlornly, wondering when it would bring me some action. In a flash of inspiration I tied on a big, buoyant daddy long legs and put out a nice long line into a fishy ripple. Instant response! A big swirl swamps the fly but no hook up. Nothing else stirs for a few minutes until I spot a fish feeding in the margins 30 yards away. I quietly move nearer and cover him with the big terrestrial but to no avail so I strip back a couple of feet to try wind him up. Result! Upon landing the fish I quickly realise I’ve landed my biggest ever wild Scottish trout, not far off 1 ½ pounds. I’m not keen on laying fish out on the bank for a photo, so I tried to keep a gentle grip whilst taking a hurried snap with a phone camera then returned him to the water. Just look at those spots!
I’m pleased to say I had a whale of a time on here , again having good sport on a daddy long legs pattern. Here’s one of them, caught near where Bealach flows in.
The persistent rain was however beginning to chip away at our chirpy optimism and our beautiful cottage with its bulging fridge(s) seemed ever more appealing. Myself, Phil and Smithers felt it was time to leave but the 1st cracks in our coalition began to appear round about this time, Stu’s “Right, well, fine , we’ll just do what you want to do then” not really hiding his disapproval very well! All’s well that ends well though, returning to the cottage facilitated much beer, whisky, pizza and a highbrow Van Damme movie.
Monday 7th June
“Gimmee that Tick-Twister”
Another shop required, this time at the local Spa, we were dangerously low on provisions having foolishly only spent £350 on provisions at Tesco’s 2 days earlier.
Today’s destination Loch a Ghlinnen. We parked in the (wrong) layby near Little Assynt, crossed the River Inver and headed up the side of a gully to reach the loch – all in all a 50 minute walk which nevertheless required a food and hip flask stop along the way.
Upon arrival lochside we see 2 anglers already out on the water in a boat. The scoundrels, how dare they fish the same loch as us?
We spread out along the Southern shore and within 2 casts I’d landed a cheeky little brownie. As all anglers know, catching fish so soon is a dreadful omen and true to form we struggled for a long time after that. After a while we all migrated to a large rock and sat stuffing our greedy little faces whilst the ticks followed suit.
It was only when I moved round to the Eastern shore for the last hour or so that things picked up again. I caught 4 or 5 ‘handsome fish, handsome fish’ as Paul Young would say.
Before leaving I spoke to the 2 anglers who’d been out in the boat who hailed from York, I think. They’d caught plenty of fish and of a larger stamp than ours, so perhaps this place fishes best from the boat?!
Not the most successful day in terms of fishing but we all caught something, and the walk back was accentuated by some great views.
Tuesday 8th June
“Bob. Can you see the summitt from up there?”
All the walking and fishing is catching up on us, it seems. We move around the cottage like grumbling slugs, guzzling tea and begrudgingly making another round of packed lunches. Finally, our mission to Loch Fada gets under way as we head out to Ledmore junction, take a right turn (Clyde) and park up to begin a walk that Cathel describes as “moderate” in his book. The route takes you along the shore of Cam Loch, pictured below with Stu indicating the size of something, not sure what.
At some point the acknowledged route strikes a path to the right and we did just that, but unfortunately at completely the wrong place due to an uncharacteristic map reading error from Junior Ranger Phil
The route we chose took in a ferociously unnecessary hill populated by adders, lizards and false summitts, and added another 45 minutes to the walk. So once were up, we had to go down again, via a dainty little lochan pictured below, with a dainty little Stu for scale.
Upon arrival, Phil scampered off on a solo ascent of Canisp whilst we got stuck into the fishing. I caught a couple of nice fish off the beach at the eastern end then worked along the Northern shoreline under the shadow of Canisp with a deerhair olive imitation on point (primarily because I like the commotion it makes in the water)and the legendary Bob’ bob fly on…bob. I landed 9 fish, all around standard hill loch size, and must’ve lost another 10 or so. With numbers like this I didn’t feel too bothered about converting these 2 into food when Phil returned with his formidably expensive camping stove of justice.
The walk back was more direct but still a struggle for me as I appeared to have picked up a ‘downhill-only” stabbing pain in my knee…one of those random pains that become ever more prolific the older you get. Meh.
Wednesday 9th June
“F*** sake. What f***ing fly are you getting them all on?”
Unbeknown to us, Smithers had grown weary of walking up and down Scottish hills, so today was going to be his relaxation day, spent cooking and cleaning. The rest of us, to be fair, also fancied a more easy going day so attempted to get a boat on Sionnascaig but no-one was home at Inverpolly Lodge. Next, we went to get permits to boat-fish Borralan from the eponymous Motel but the outboard wasn’t available (beer was though, thankfully). Eventually, we ended up fishing on Loch Awe which is almost literally a stone’s throw from the A837.
3 in a boat meant 1 person had to be ghillie whilst the other 2 fished and it could be argued that some were more successful than others at this task. From the moment we setup the first drift, there were fish showing at the surface albeit in small numbers, but it was unclear as to whether or not they were taking the olives we could see hatching off. Only a couple of brownies were caught on this first drift, but on the next one Stu struck gold , landing fish every few minutes. You can see how happy he is in this picture. You can also see Phil as he looks on..silently.
Fortunately, when questioned by his glum-faced brother on what was bringing such startling success, , Stu provided him with a fly similar to the Soldier Palmer he was catching on. It was similar enough to catch a few fish for Phil, as demonstrated below.
I too did pretty well with a Soldier Palmer, although mine had a muddled head (as do I). The highlight for me though was probably when 2 Tornado GR4s came belting down the valley. Sport eventually slowed down as a cold wind put down the fish so we finished early to neck a couple of pints in the Caberfeidh. Returning to the cottage, Smithers’ homemade curry was a spectacular success but did manage to write-off the most expensive table-cloth in Scotland.
Thursday 10th June
“So..let me get this right… he’s taken 10 of the 16 best bits of bacon for himself?…..”
A bright start to the day, sunshine and wispy clouds, but there’s another controversial incident with the communal supplies as it becomes clear some people are more equal than others. BLTs never tasted so bitter.
Stu and the Baconator are having another easy day, fishing Loch Beanach because they’re both now fed up of long walks and hills. Myself and Phil drop them off at the roadside and drive along the A894 until we reach a layby at the Northern end of Loch na Gainmhich. Rucksacks on, hydration bladders deployed, trousers tucked in socks…yeah, we’re loaded for bear.
We powered up the track which initially runs alongside Gainmhich then heads steeply up to Bealach a’ Bhurich. We didn’t fish this as there was already an angler there.
At the highest point of this path we turned right and made our way up to the loch known locally as ‘Little Green’ but horror of horrors, not only was there another angler on here but it also looked as if he was spinning. Not wanting to cause an incident, and unsure of how strictly the fly-only rule is enforced, we broke out the sandwiches and hip flasks to take our mind off it.
Snackage consumed, we reseated our moist backpacks and resumed the walk, carrying on in roughly the same direction which led us to the main target for today, Lochan Choire Ghuirn (Green Corrie Loch). After 15 minutes we crested the last little hump and there she was, looking like a big rock potty. But in a more spectacular, wilderness, kinda way. Obviously.
But shock horror, again, there were other anglers!! Two guys were already fishing the loch and were no doubt momentarily unsettled in the same selfish way we were to have to share. Taking careful note of Cathel’s advice to be stealthy on lochs like this that have BIG fish, I tackled up well back from the water’s edge then bent my 6’5” frame double as I moved down to flick out my first cast., still a couple of yards from the water. I used a relatively light rod with a nice long leader, casting delicately into the margins at first then out into the main loch with small flies, big flies, one fly, three flies . Nowt. Neither of us got a sniff during the hour and half we fished there. Time to move on
We followed the contour around the northern foot of Glas Bheinn to find Loch a Choire Dheirg (Red Corrie). Along the way though,we stopped to take some pictures of a view that in my opinion is quintessential Assynt.
The route we took to Red Corrie was just that, a route, not a path. There was no path. It was hard going, scrambling over rocks with heavy rucksacks and tackled up rods to contend with, whilst struggling along at that annoying 45-degree-ankles-and-one-foot-higher-than-the-other Assynt pace. As usual though it was all worth it. Red Corrie is another beautiful place.
But this loch was even harder than the last one. The water was extremely clear, and shallow until at least 15 yards out in many places.
Again, not a touch for either of us but by now there was a definite bite to the air as the temperature dropped, and experience tends to suggest this can be the kiss of death. Not long before leaving Red Corrie, the RAF sent up 2 Tornados to give us another holiday flypast which was most appreciated.
After a tiring descent down another awkward slope of rocks, bogs, and tussocks we stopped off to fish the final loch for Thursday, Loch a Choire Dhuibh. This loch has a lot of fish, and a lot of midges. Like every loch in Assynt, the fish are so pretty it’s sometimes a waste of time digging around for new superlatives.
Phil and I could’ve stayed a lot longer on here, the fish were definitely up for it, but we had to go collect Morecambe and Not-so-Wise from Beanach so it was more cross-country bog-hopping then back onto the path we originally started the day on. We picked up the other two who had a creel full of fish, with a sprig of heather placed carefully atop. Well, I say creel, more of a Spa carrier bag with 6 randomly sized brown trout but anyway. They all got chucked on a BBQ when we got back and (with a coating of lemon and black pepper found in the cottage kitchen) tasted seriously good.
Friday 11th June
I grew weary of writing down all our movements by Friday so my recollections will be drawn purely from my memory. Oh dear.
Smithers had clearly had enough of anything and everything to do with fishing holidays by now, and once again decided to spend the day on his own. He’s not a fishing fanatic like us though, so I can’t blame him really. We nipped into Lochinver to buy more supplies including PIES from the PIE shop then drove out to the car park near the road bridge over the River Kirkaig to set off on another mission up to Fionn Loch, one of our favourite lochs in the area.
The 2 and a half mile walk up was fairly easy this time, it’s much less strenuous when you’ve not got a baking hot day bearing down on you, but the 1st peek at Suilven was no less inspiring when it came into view. Perhaps not as impressive as Phil’s vintage hat though.
We’d got the key for the outboard so had the luxury of a boat again and I motored over to the Northern (‘Suilven’) shore to drop Phil off for another solo mission, this time to a secret squirrel loch in the vicinity of that big ‘ol rock. Is it just me or can none of us stand the sight of each other for more than an hour? Whilst Corporal Klink yomped off towards a secret loch, I set myself and Stu up on a drift down the said same shore. The wind made it difficult, and seeing as both of us were too keen to fish neither could be bothered to stay on the oars, meaning drifts started out in the middle and came in on a fast diagonal. Once again the ‘boat fishing a loch’ rule proved entirely correct. We hit no fish until about 15 – 20 yards yards from the bank at which point my silver dabbler became a fish-magnet. There actually was a period where every single cast resulted in an offer from these voracious little sods! You know, I read forum posts where granite-faced, sour-scrotumed killjoys will tell you it’s best to go home when you’re catching loads and loads of fish because it’s ‘no fun’, ‘too easy’, ‘not what it’s all about’. Complete gash. Make the most of it because next time you might not get a sniff of piscatorial pleasure…you know I speak the truth.
We caught a lot of fish drifting down the loch, which is just over 2 miles long, always close in. Seriously good fun! Even angling Gods have to eat though, so we moored up in the bay where the river flows in from Veyatie, and ate our pies, amongst other things. Deep filled? So they should be for a fiver!
Plenty more fish were caught from the bank at this bay as well, Bob’s bob-fly proving its worth once again.
We had to leave the fish in order to go find out what had happened to angler number 3, otherwise I suspect we’d’ve caught fish until we dropped dead. As we motored up the loch, a solitary figure came skipping down the hillside waving like a lunatic. My heart sank, this wasn’t just signalling our attention. There was far too much enthusiasm, I knew instantly my “record-breaking fish” had been trumped, the horrible b*stard had clearly caught something special.
Phil had certainly earnt it. A long yomp over to a tiny loch followed by 2 hours without a single offer. At pretty much his last cast he spotted a moving fish and covered it. When netted the full size became apparent, a good 2 and a half pounds at least. Recent lean times had dictated a long, slim body (the fish, not Phil) otherwise it would’ve been over 3lb at least. And yes, in case you’re wondering, he certainly did go back in the loch, to hopefully go pack on some more weight.
And so ended our last fishing mission of the holiday. We moored the boat up, collected up some litter carelessly left behind by others, polished off our hip-flasks and headed back down the path.
That wasn’t quite the end of the holiday though. Although the weather was pretty grim, we still managed a BBQ when we got back to our homely little cottage, and tore through our remaining provisions like foxes in a chicken coop.
Next day we did made the best attempt at cleaning a cottage that 4 lads can do (pretty rubbish, it later transpired) then drove back down to Fort William where we were staying for the last night of the holiday. The campsite was very nice but by God, the midges were severe, even for battle hardened veterans like us. Tents up, we got a taxi into town and proceeded to watch the England Team play USA, then drowned our sorrows in beer and curry, all topped off with the worst night’s sleep imaginable. DO NOT eat a curry just before trying to sleep in a tent.
Here’s a montage of fish from Assynt 2010 to close things off because quite frankly I’m all blogged out