It’s October. edit:In fact no it’s now November. The trout season is over, nights are drawing in, leaves are changing colour and falling off the trees and yet there has been no annual fishing holiday blog. Disgraceful. I’ve definitely been lacking motivation to crack on with it and the feeling that this year’s holiday might not translate well into a written account has bothered me. I can’t even find a theme to bake into this year’s annual holiday writeup. Maybe one will come or maybe I’ll backspace the lot and start again weeks down the line but here goes the 2015 blog…
Once again we can barely muster three of us for the cottage which is actually in Gairloch but the blog is now universally referred to as the ‘Assynt Blog’. There’s myself who has been on every one of these holidays since they began in 1997 and will therefore continue to go on them even if it’s just me. Then there’s Stu who is relentlessly single and consequently free to do as he pleases and last but not least Tom who simply cannot resist the lure of splitting a tank of diesel with a couple of stooges. We examine our options carefully which nowadays seems to actually consist of choosing between our favourite cottage in Assynt and our favourite cottage in Gairloch. Gairloch wins this time round.
Friday morning we assemble at the Yorkshireflyfishing HQ and loll around drinking cups of tea until 11 am when we’re sickened by our own mincing and hit the road. I’m with Stu in his millenium era Vectra which smells of pike and kerb-crawling (the latter from its previous owner I hasten to add). Scared of change we head as always for the promised land of Glencoe to start off the holiday but manage to con Tom into stopping off with us to visit an “Outdoor Clothing” shop near Stirling which has the suspiciously non-outdoor-clothing sounding name of ‘Angling Active’. We get talking to some anglers in the shop who give us some extremely good intel on where to go pike fishing in Stirlingshire and Lochaber. I can see Stu getting more and more agitated that he’s going on a trout fishing and hill walking holiday all the way up in the Northern Highlands. He also buys a jerkbait outfit. Hmm, I think I see what’s coming next. Better buy some pike flies.
I bet you, dear reader, could write the Glencoe part of this holiday by now. We hit Red Squirrel, pitch tents and then roll into the Clachaig like we never left the place. Honestly, we’re never happier than when we poll up at that bar, get that view, and get that round of Tradewind / Cul Fraoch/Leven Blonde etc before excitedly discussing the week ahead.
A steady night is had rounded off with whisky then straight to bed, the weather is not conducive to sitting out drinking round a fire.
Putting the tents down is a fucking ordeal of the highest magnitude as a full Luftflotte of battle hardened midges attacks without mercy but we manage to nurse our microscopic wounds in the Glencoe cafe over a full Scottish breakfast before heading on to dear old Fort William. A familiar procession through the various outdoor shops ensues but nothing is bought until Tom has some kind of retail seizure whilst attempting to walk out of Cotswold Outdoor and buys a £200 GPS watch. With that it’s back on the rails as we work our way up to
Dingbat Dingwall for the big holiday shop which long ago lost all its drama when Phil stopped coming and bossing us around. Finally we arrive at our excellent cottage in Badachro and once again I win the straw-drawing to get the biggest and best room in the house. The next step is to cover every available bit of floor space with our stuff and carpet the lounge in maps so the mission planning can begin. Sadly the ‘first night in the cottage’ BBQ is a non-starter as it’s cold and wet outside – the weather really isn’t looking brilliant. Instead we hit the whisky which fuels some heated discussions around the fishing venues.
We’re up early ( I say early..it’s 8am which isn’t really early but it is for us) as Tom has a long mountain day ahead which involves two separate walks and 3 Munros whilst myself and Stu face a 2 hour drive back ‘down South’. The previous night’s discussions had resulted in some compromises and Stu gets a couple of days pike fishing on the agenda which I don’t have a problem with as I love it myself but it does seem ludicrous to be not spending every day in and around Gairloch.
I knock us up some ham and mustard sarnies then we all vacate the cottage. It’s a long drive and feels weird to be travelling South but hardly a chore as the scenery is so nice. Upon arrival we grab a swift brew and a bacon sarnie from a cafe in the village before paying for our boat and getting some local intel from the guys who run the fishery. It seems the pike are being caught at the bottom end of the loch so we pile all our tackle into the boat and set off rowing with feverish excitement.We get plotted up at the top of a bay and start a drift across an area that shows good features on the fishfinder. Yes, a fishfinder. No, we don’t use it to spot actual fish but it does give you the lay of the land and speed up the process of working out what could be a hot spot.
Stu fishes his newly purchased jerkbait outfit whilst I use my most powerful fly rod to chuck out some ginormous pike flies. Half way across the bay Stu thinks he’s had a knock on his lure and as he continues the retrieve towards the boat I glance over to watch it in the water. Is that? Is it?! F*cK! A big pike appears from nowhere like it’s just come out of hyperspace and trails the lure. I open my mouth to speak but the pike beats me too it and crashes into the lure. Fish on! It makes big, big, powerful runs despite Stu fishing with what’s basically a broom handle which gives me time to get everything ready for unhooking. I manage to net the beast and oh my it’s a big pike.
We have some scales but they only go up to 15lbs and this leviathan bottoms them out! What a magnificent fish.
After that I have a go with his jerkbait rod and manage to get an offer as my lure hits the water. I retrieve then recast and this time it’s properly nailed and I land a nice little pike of about 5 or 6 pounds – maybe more.
Bearing in mind it’s a pretty small pike, just look at those teeth!
I was extremely happy not to have blanked and Stu was absolutely made up he’d finally caught a big double. We managed one more small pike to the boat and another offer but that was it for Sunday. A long row back to shore and a very long drive back did nothing to dampen our spirits but when we finally got back to the cottage there was no sign of Tom. Hmmm. I was struggling to remember which route he said he was doing and of course being out in the middle of nowhere he had no signal. It was approaching midnight and I decided to start packing a few bits in the car to go drive down to where I thought he would be parked but thankfully he turned up before I’d actually got off the sofa to do anything.
It’s not a bad for’cast so I decide to make this a mountain day! Stu is off to fish Loch Tollaidh whilst myself and Tom decide to have a crack at Liathac, rated as one of the best mountain days you can have without needing ropes. Some bacon sarnies are consumed then we drive out to the start of our walk which is a pull-in off the A896. We are starting from the Eastern end of the mountain and follow a relentlessly steep path up the side of the Allt an Doire Ghairbh before cutting across then up onto the ridge.
My pictures from the DSLR were very hit and miss from this holiday as I’d stupidly left it in AI Servo mode from when I last used it at an airshow which means it’s constantly trying to track a moving object only the mountains are not moving! On top of that, we were cloud free until we got onto the ridge at which point we were definitely not cloud free :-(. Nevertheless we made our way first East to pick up Stuc a Choire Dhuibh Bhig then back East to do the main ridge and its Munros.
In terms of technical stuff it’s all pretty straightforward until you get to the pinnacles but navigation up on the ridge requires care when you can’t see what the chuff you’re doing. The pinnacles themselves have a fearsome reputation but again fairly straightforward as long as you are okay with heights and it’s not too windy although we did meet one section that got spicy. We could have bypassed it but decided to have a crack, I went first and decided it was too narrow to stand up and walk across so got a leg either side and shuffled across. Someone else described this section quite nicely as a “bit like walking along a 10 foot ironing board with a 1000 foot drop either side.” To be fair I’d say it’s narrower than an ironing board! I got across then Tom had a crack but wasn’t sure about my a’ cheval method so came around the outside and began edging his feet along a very narrow ledge and grasping onto the rock. When the rock began to overhang meaning his fingers were struggling for grip on the top and his feet clinging to a few inch ledge below, whilst facing a vertical 1000 foot drop he wisely came back round and took my option – albeit backwards for some Tom-reason.
Don’t get me wrong, you’d have to do something pretty daft to actually fall off, it’s just the fact that the consequences of falling off are very bad that really focus the mind on stuff like this. I’ve seen videos of people strolling along this bit – rather them than me! We made our way to the second Munro, Mullach an Rathain then descended down a relentless scree ‘path’ before picking up a much better maintained path down to the road where followed a trudge back to the car. It’s such a shame we got socked in with cloud because the views from Liathac are some of the best in Scotland but it was still a good adventure tackling the pinnacles and picking up 2 more Munros.
We made our way back to the cottage to find Stu had had a day of mixed fortunes, catching plenty of brownies out on loch ??? but forgetting to put milk in his flask and falling into the stagnant bilge water in the bottom of his boat, causing him to have a heated stand up row with said boat.
Options. I’m in no rush to go up another mountain and besides this is still technically a fishing holiday! We could go yomp into the hills and fish for wee brownies in 10 degrees wind and rain or we can drive back down South for a couple of hours and go fish for pike in 10 degrees wind and rain. Fuck it, it’s only petrol and a couple hundred mile round trip!
Back out on the boat I decide to have a go with Stu’s heavy jerkbait outfit, a real powerhouse setup, with a Savage Gear Soft 4Play lip scull kit on the end. Second cast the lure is taken as it hits the water. Knock knock knock. “Doesn’t feel very big Stu”. I start playing it and work to bring the fish closer to the boat. My first glimpse of what I’m connected to comes when a big angry pike breaks the surface complete with flared gills. Ooh this is big. The heavy duty broom handle rod is taking some abuse as is the powerful drag and we start pike-jibber-jabbering. After a good fight we net my PB pike into the boat but immediately the moment is soured slightly when I catch sight of how deep the lure is in my fish. Long forceps are deployed and we manage to get it out but there’s quite a lot of blood. I get a couple of pics then get her straight back in the loch. I’ve been assured by very experienced pike anglers that this does happen occasionally and isn’t too alarming as the blood soon clots up. Fingers crossed! It certainly went back in with much vigour.
Through the afternoon I concentrate on flyfishing for pike and catch a goodly amount of small jacks on my homemade red holo-fibre and and artificial peacock herl creation which could I suppose look a bit like a badly injured baby pike!
Stu gets a nice pike on the jerkbait in the evening and I round off events by catching a brownie on a pike fly that keels over and dies on me.
We arrive back at the cottage very late but I’m keen to ensure the brownie doesn’t go to waste so whip up a feast consisting of pan-fried wild brown trout in butter followed by Bombay Bad Boy washed down with Peroni and a chaser of Talisker.
A very special day indeed. Count von Titten-Klink of Tittenstein is also staying up in Gairloch this week in a cottage with his wife and very young child and they swing by to visit us. Phil has brought his fishing gear with him although we do wonder if he still knows which end to hold. His wife shows remarkable understanding by volunteering to look after said child and two dogs (one manic, one poorly) whilst he joins us for a day up in the hills. Yay, we’re pretty excited, it’s 3 years since he last came on a fishing holiday with us!
3 years since he came on a fishing holiday with us and yet everything is as it was. Within 5 minutes Stu is relegated to the back of his own car and the venue for the day is changed as Corporal Klink seamlessly takes charge. We’re off to fish Loch nam Buainichean up in the hills West of Loch Maree which isn’t too far from the road but still a bit of a pull to get up to. Upon arrival we break out the Smidge and get dosed up as the midges are out in force already. I love the smell of this stuff, reminds me of Scotland
So for the first time in a long time we are all three fishing a Scottish hill loch and jolly good it is to have the team back although I get the feeling this loch isn’t alive today so sack them off and make my way up to the loch above called Loch Dubh Dughaill. First cast and an angry little brown trout crashes into my fly, wahey I’m in! Good old Blae and Black does the business again, a definite favourite point fly of mine.
This little loch has a good head of diminutive brownies and I really settle into the vibe of being on my own and savouring the moment until I hear sweary Stu coming round the corner with Corporal Klink. Never mind, we all get into the action.
We go on to catch a goodly amount of small but perfectly formed fish from this little loch . It’s the perfect way to spend an afternoon apart from the midges which although aren’t biting us because of the Smidge are still very distracting as they swarm and cloud around us, angry at the world and us it seems.
** Hang on a fekin minute. I’ve just come back in to post up a picture of another brownie from that loch and upon doing so realised they all 3 only have red spots on the rear third of their flank. What is that all about then?**
Eventually the call of the Badachro Inn coupled with the infernal midges drags us back down off the hill. It’s very wet and slippy as we make our way down and Phil takes a bad fall and struggles to get back up, maybe he’s hurt? We laugh and point at him. As I said, plus ca change.
Back to our cottage, drinking outfits on then down to the Badachro where we proceed to get stuck into some fine Scottish Ales (sparkler wouldn’t go amiss though) and have some good ol’ banter although it never reaches the dark seam of humour we hit in this same pub a couple of years ago, where discussion of how we would vigorously ‘romance’ Kate Middleton hit a new low.
A slow start. I took a picture of my room because it suddenly struck me how quickly I’d deteriorated into teenager mode and was sleeping in a tiny sliver of my big comfy bed, surrounded by kit.
I make the packed lunches again but I’m really sick of the sight of cheese now. I think Stu may have made sarnies one day, to be fair, and Tom was asked to help but the withering look he gave us contained such wither it was not pursued. Today we are going to fish one of Gairloch’s more famous lochs, let’s just call it Flower loch from now onwards. We park up and set off on a significant yomp up into the hills which actually coincides with some half decent weather for once although the temperature is still very poor for summer. In fact, we had a few days at the end of October in Leeds that were probably warmer than most of this year’s fishing holiday! Out in the distance we can see Slioch which resembles some kind of massive super-fortress from this angle, I can’t stop looking at it!
After half an hour or so we complete a pre-arranged rendezvous with the Von Tittenstein clan who are on the same route as us albeit a shorter, sedate version involving a relaxing picnic. I immediately make baby Otto cry uncontrollably by jokingly threatening to take away his sweets – I’m a natural with kids! My work there was indeed done and we pushed on for the remaining hour and a half walk which now rewards us with views of more Torridon giants including Ben Alligin although the weather has deteriorated again. My pictures really do not do this place justice at all.
We head down the track which runs alongside Flower Loch until we reach the bothy which is sadly no longer available for use by the public as some troglodytes wrecked it whilst staying there and ruined it for the rest of us. Wankers.It looks a fine bothy as well! I believe you can use the bothy if you are a paying guest of the estate who own it but as you may imagine that is not cheap (and there is apparently CCTV inside it so if you do stay there – no dancing round wearing nothing but your waders with mud smeared over your face like some filthy Pict)
Here our team split, Tom set off to go do Beinn Alligin then walk out to Torridon village whilst we headed down to the water’s edge to start fishing – finally!
What a backdrop, such a shame I wasn’t able to do it justice with my camera but actually, I reckon to really do it justice you need to take an easel and some brushes. Hmm, another hobby to get into. The walk down to the water’s edge was fraught with mild peril as frogs hurled themselves at your feet then sprang away just before you nearly squished them. Nobody wants to kill a frog, that’s not cricket! I put up my 4 piece and began working around the bottom end of the loch which has lots of features and I hit some fantastic little bits of water but saw very little in the way of piscatorial activity. I finally witnessed a good splashy rise whilst fishing off a little spit of land and with my next cast dropped a Mallard & Claret where I reckoned the trout would have moved onto. Yank! The fight told me this was not a fish finger and it was indeed a lovely solid fish that came to the net.
I carried on fishing around the features and bays and managed another good, solid brownie (to a Bob’s Bob Fly) but after 3 hours our time was up, we had set off too late in the day and time was now catching up on us. I know it’s good to leave a place wanting more but this was taking the piss, I’d barely got going. The 2 hour walk back to the car in relentless rain still didn’t dampen our spirits after fishing such a lovely day. No, it would take something a lot worse than that! It sure was good to be back in the car and we fired up the heater (it’s mid June for f*ck’s sake) to warm ourselves up whilst driving the long drive to go pickup the Munro Machine.
We bundled a very wet Tom into the Kerb Crawling battle wagon and finally set off back to our cottage, it was going to a very late night, but we laughed and joked and bantered our way along the windy wet Scottish roads until **BANG**. I’d seen what had happened unfolding before my very eyes but there wasn’t even time to utter much beyond a half-syllable. Bambi (and I mean Bambi, really young) darted out from behind a fence at the roadside and got Vectra’d at 60mph. There was absolutely nothing Stu could have done, and more to the point if he had tried to avoid it we could have ended up in a real mess at the side of the road ourselves. We were however all gutted. We drove on for a few hundred yards in shock then spun round to go look for Bambi but there was absolutely no trace. Personally, I don’t think I could’ve done the deed if it was needed even if we had found it, armed only with a pocket knife. That would be some dark shit right there. After a fruitless search we got back into the killing machine and set off with the rest of our journey home in a very sombre mood although it wasn’t long before Tom started up with the cruel deer-related jokes at Stu’s expense.
Last day in the cottage 🙁
Tom has finally run out juice and is having a well-earned relaxing day whilst the 2 pike obsessed idiots take another 2 and half hour drive back down Scotland to have one more day of expensive boat-based pike fishing. The petrol bill for this week was quite, quite something. There’s deer hair sticking out of what’s left of Stu’s grille but I refrain from asking if he minds me using it to tie some muddlers. Fact is we’re all gutted about what happened last night but there’s nothing we can do about it and like all these things it gets masked behind dark humour.
Loch ****** part 3. We setup some drifts on what is by now our favourite bay and start working hard with our pike flies. It’s the same story as the other 2 visits, nothing, nothing, nothing, features, features fish fish fish! I have my fritzy-fake-peacock-herl-holo-red fly on and boy does it hit the spot. The pike are hurling themselves at it! Admittedly they are all jacks but it’s still immense fun! Meanwhile Stu cannot get a bite no matter what he tries and as luck would have it I only have one of these flies. He starts off enthusiastic for me, after all any pike in the boat is a team effort as I kept telling him. “Whoa whey another one Stu!”
“Nice one Bob”
“Ha, bloody hell Stu another one!”
“Good work Bob”
“Oooooh he really nailed that eh Stu?”
“Hoo hoo look at this, bit bigger this one eh Stu? Stu. Look, bit bigger I said. Over here. Look. Aaaah you missed it”
By now he couldn’t even stomach turning around to look at me or my catches so I stopped the running commentary before it could cause him to snap.
Early evening the situation had got pretty bad and Stu was visibly, and very audibly, glum. He then compounded matters by declaring he wasn’t going until he caught a pike. Shiiit we could be here for hours but I want to get a cheeky pint in 🙁 I knew I had to concentrate now on him getting a fish so I got on the oars and declared I was going to put him on a fish. I actually knew I would as well, it felt 100% right I would.
Aha sounds like he’s in! I turn around and see Stu bent into a good fish.
“Told you I’d put you onto a pike”
We quickly realise this is no jack pike. A solid 10 minute fight ensues despite Stu playing it hard on his beefy 9 weight – when this lady wanted to go there was nothing that could be done to prevent it. I watched with a mixture of excitement, mild jealousy, and a touch of nerves as I felt the pressure of knowing I had to net this big b*stard. Thankfully I was able to get it in the net without too much difficulty and onto the boat where the benefits of fly fishing (with a single hook) compared to lure/deadbait were immediately obvious. The fly was quite far down but nothing a pair of forceps couldn’t fettle – unlike the trace + a load of nylon belonging to another angler we found emanating from its stomach which presumably meant hooks in the stomach as well. Neither of us felt confident about attempting the advanced methods needed to resolve such a situation, it’s almost certain we would have done more harm than good so we snipped off and removed everything we could before getting a few quick pictures and then returning the pike from whence she came.
What a magnificent fish, what a way to catch it! Fly fishing for pike really is the way forward. The last fish of the 2015 annual
trout fishing trout fishing and walking trout, pike fishing and walking holiday is a beast and rounds off the holiday nicely. What remains is the despair of packing, saying goodbye to Scotland and driving home to face the reality of work and the even harsher realities of life outside the alternate microcosm of the North West Highlands of Scotland. You don’t want to hear about that do you?
Because of the arse about face way I’ve kept up with the blog you will have already read about how much I missed Gairloch after getting back in my ‘Return to Gairloch’ post . If you didn’t, well…I returned to Gairloch! I went back up in August for a last weekend of wilderness, mountains and wild brown trout before the season ended and Winter descended. I was already planning that weekend before I’d left Gairloch in June, I knew, I just knew I had unfinished business and had to get back somehow before the crushing misery of Winter. To be fair though Winter isn’t all bad these days, I do a bit of deadbaiting for pike, nymphing for grayling, and even a bit of Winter Munro bagging to keep me occupied. Just enough to keep my head out of the oven.