Assynt…err..Gairloch blog 2017

 

Last year’s annual fishing holiday blog post kicked off with something about how I’d left it late, the leaves were starting to fall and the fishing was season coming to a close etc but I did at least have it published by this time. Instead I now face the prospect of 2017’s write up not getting out until December which is abysmal. <Did I say December? Ha, it’s now 23rd Dec and I’m still beavering away. And now it’s actually January>. The reasons for such appalling tardiness are legion but chief among them is the fact I have been lacking motivation and at one stage was tempted to not even bother but that just wouldn’t be right- I’ve blogged every fishing holiday since 2009 (and some earlier!) and simply have to keep it up for as long as possible. However,  I reckon this will be a shorter post this year, and maybe a bit shit as well but let’s just crack on anyway.

 

As is now the case, the first hurdle is to work out who the fuck can actually come anymore. Stu and me are usually pretty much nailed on (I am the one true constant – if I missed a holiday then it would finally would make the transition to a Trigger’s Broom situation) but everyone else struggles due to kids, dogs and various other grown up stuff that gets in the way. However, once again Tom manages to somehow persuade his fiance to let him piss off for (nearly) a week in the Highlands with his mates whilst she is quite literally left holding the baby. Outstanding.

 

Stu has sold his Shogun, we now travel in a Freelander. It is significantly quieter due to the presence of a 6th gear and also makes us look slightly less like poachers/sex offenders when we pull up somewhere. We decide to set off at about 6:30am in order to really make the most of day one of our holiday but it comes as no surprise that our actual departure is 10:30 am. Nevertheless good time is made as we plough through the driving rain until, too busy gossiping, we miss the M73 turn off and start heading into Glasgow. Within minutes we are wearing cheap Tam o’ Shanters and addicted to heroin but manage to turn around and get back on track in the direction of Stirling and one of our favourite tackle shops, Angling Active.

I get an absolute bargain synthetic insulated jacket for pike fishing in Winter and a few other bits and bobs but manage to steer away from any outrageously expensive purchases. If you pass this shop, call in, it’s ace.

Glencoe

The rain is ever present as we zig our way over to Glencoe but Stu’s lazy decision to book a room at the Clachaig is now starting to look like an awfully good one! The holiday opening night isn’t quite the same with just two of us but we still sink a few pints and get a good meal down us before retiring to our (not particularly comfy) beds.

Ah the Clachaig

As is often the case when I share a room with Stu, I inexplicably have the same incredibly vivid and terrifying dream about a prolonged prostate exam in the middle of the night. Stu reckons it’s something to do with there being no sparklers on the beer pumps and that I should try not to think about it or indeed tell anyone else about it. He’s probably right. Breakfast at the Clachaig is, I’m sorry to say, awful. I love this place, I’ll never stop going, but ugh that breakfast!! I really hope we just caught them on a bad day or something. My special instructions of “no mushrooms” was translated to “extra mushrooms, with a healthy dollop of mushroom juice and an eyelash on the side”

 

Saturday

 

We resume our journey and zag our way over to Inverness for a visit to tackle shop number 2! Grahams is a mix of shooting and fishing supplies but has some good kit in and it’s worth it just to see a bit of the old town rather than just shooting straight through and over the bridge. The next stop is the obligatory visit to Dingbat Dingwall Tesco where we fill the Freelander with crisps and diesel for the week but then disaster strikes – Tesco doesn’t sell Regain and one of us really needs it to keep his hair from vanishing. It doesn’t matter which one of us that is, I have no need to reveal that information in the blog. So, after we’d bought the crisps, toiletries etc plus  hair gel and shampoo for me, stuff like that,  we headed into Dingwall itself for the first time ever. We managed to find a shop for the Regain and whilst I waited outside I Google’d to see if this place has a fishing tackle shop, or maybe even a model shop as I still have a great fondness for Airfix models and the like. Well wouldn’t you know it, Dingwall has a combined fishing tackle/model shop – result! Another shop well worth a visit instead of just tanking up at Tesco.

The weather over on the East side of Scotland was delightful but as we tracked back over to the West Side (aaayye) it all went to shit again and the drive down the side of Loch Maree was all too reminiscent of the first time we came this way back in 2008. That was our first trip to Wester Ross and it did not stop raining all week,  we didn’t get to see any of the Torridons and probably would have killed each other if our knives and stabbing weapons hadn’t kept slipping out of our rain soaked hands. On a more positive note the new cottage we have booked for this year is great and has a real homely feel apart from the room we choose for Tom (who isn’t arriving until Tuesday) which we suspect is haunted, what with the furniture all being on the ceiling and the hooded figures drifting backwards and forwards across the room. Our first night is a wild one as we indulge in a solitary pint in the Badachro then head back to eat pizza and watch Commando and also knock up a couple of pike flies.

Sunday

An early start as it’s a long drive back down South to a dark Scottish loch with pike in it. We tackle up fly, jerk and spin outfits and have 2 big leisure batteries in the boat to keep us going for hours- we are not fucking around. As it’s Summer and we’re in the Highlands it’s about 12 or 13 degrees, raining and windy – to the point where I actually need to deploy my newly purchased Winter jacket! Better for fishing than blazing sunshine and blue skies though and on our first drift I manage to catch 2 small pike on the fly I tied last night. It could actually be a good day for trout as well as there are some ginormous sedge flies about.

The action subsides for a while then  as we near the end of another drift Stu hits the big time.

“I’m in…feels good”

I look up and see the rod bent and yards of line get taken. “Get in!” I exclaim, through seething, jealous, gritted teeth. It’s a pike alright and it’s leading Stu a merry dance with long runs circling around and around the boat. Ooh this must be a decent fish but it’s still not shown. “Go Pro on Bob?”

“Yup”

(don’t worry, it really was on!)

Finally the pike breaks the water. Good job we had the Go Pro because what happened next was possibly the most spectacular pike fishing scene we’ll ever capture on camera. Stu’s pike comes out vertical.  20+ pounds of shining, silver green muscle erupts like a Polaris fucking missile, we can actually see Stu’s fly wedged in it’s mouth. It’s like a tarpon, I’ve never seen anything like it.

 

Stu’s pike

“It’s off”

“No, no, no, no, no” I cried with genuine dismay, secretly thinking it wouldn’t really be off and he’d just get back in touch but no, it really was off. Our hearts sank.  Yes we’d got some amazing footage but we really wanted that monster pike in the boat to see how much it actually weighed and for Stu to get another trophy shot! We persevered. I carried on catching small jacks on the fly whilst Stu got a decent jack on the the jerkbait outfit (pictured below).

Still smarting…

Not a spectacular day but enjoyable nevertheless. We got back to the cottage for a slap up meal of Bombay Bad Boys and beer then rigged up the Go Pro to the TV so we could re-live the day’s excitement. Thankfully the camera had indeed been on! “Oh boy oh boy Stu, I sure can’t wait to relive the exciting things we saw today” I probably said as we eagerly settled down to watch. It was all there, Stu hooking into the pike, the blistering runs,  the excitement as it circles the boat, the giant fucking sedge which had been perched off-camera now deciding to move on-camera. Wait..what..no, surely not? We watched in horror are the sedge which had been perfectly happy keeping out of the action decided to scuttle across the lens and place itself perfectly over the pike as it cleared the water (see clip below). Once the action had finished, the sedge then happily continued on it’s way, exit stage right. The final insult has been delivered and it was now official, Stu’s relentless onanism had clearly placed him at the top of some higher power’s hitlist.

 

Monday

A lie-in followed by a 2 breakfast kinda morning as we mull over where to go today. I retreat to what is known as Bob’s corner, a phenomena whereby I manage to create a ring of debris around me if I spend more than an hour or two somewhere.

Bob’s corner

Here, with Bruce’s Bible and a clutch of OS maps I settle upon a destination for the day, a decent sized hill loch which I figure should have some pretty special views as a backdrop. This is because it is on the opposite side of the glen to some of Torridon’s finest which I’m hankering to get up but will have to wait until fellow mountain obsessive Tom joins us…with car number 2!

We drop anchor in a busy car park mainly full of mountain walkers and cross over the road to start the slow steady climb into the (other) hills. As suspected, the more height we gain the better  the views over to the Munros get

 

The clouds found us after a while and it started pissing down with poor visibility but when I got to the point I knew we should start turning off I could see our target for the day. Let’s call it Heavenly Loch.

 

For you to be reading this blog post you there’s a good chance you share our passion for hill loch fishing in which case you know only too well the feeling experienced upon catching that first glimpse. Tired legs come alive again, eyes widen, pace quickens. Here we go! Now then, which way’s the wind coming from? Westerly – to the South shore we go then. Which flies shall I put on? How many – 2 or 3? Maybe a tea first. I should actually have a sandwich first. Maybe tackle up, a sandwich then a biscuit. Hmm tackle up, sandwich, crisps then biscuit. Then tea. Then fish. Ah decisions decisions.

The reality, I think, was that I banged down a Lucozade and got straight into the fishing because I wanted to get that first fish under my belt so to speak. I didn’t have to wait long. A stunning little Highland trout reminded me that yes, pike fishing is awesome but this is where my heart is.

We began to work our way along the shore leapfrogging each other. At times the wind made casting difficult but the fish were thankfully not too far out.

I’ll tell you now there were no monsters in here but you know as well as I do that doesn’t matter (up to a point 🙂 ) I love just looking at these fish. Ever since I was a kid, damming streams up so I could fertle under stones to find bullheads and minnows, I’ve wanted to know what’s in there, what’s in that water, I want to hold the fish, look at the colours and feel the textures. That desire to be able to literally connect with what lies beneath the surface has been at the root of angling for me. Maybe in my past life I was a fish! Maybe in my next life I’ll be a ladies bicycle seat? I keep my fingers crossed on that one, dear reader.

Ding. A notification on my phone, must have hit a window of signal. Ah, it’s a voicemail. Let’s have a listen “Hello. This is a Dr <garbled>, I’m ringing about your father. He’s <garbled><garbled> please return my call as soon as you can.

“Fuck”

My dad has not been well of late, I ring him every day but it’s not easy ringing anyone in this part of the world. I try ring him from the lochside but I have zero signal. Hmm. I gain a little height. No signal. I climb higher, and higher. as does my blood pressure. Every now and again, I get tantalising corridors of signal, just enough for me to connect to voice mail and half hear the already garbled message but frustratingly I cannot connect a call home to my dad. Fuck sake! Relax I tell myself, all will be fine you are probably fretting over nothing but it’s not that easy. I carry on fishing this beautiful loch catching stunning fish whilst fending off rising anxiety.

Stu in front of ‘Heavenly Loch’

The burn that drains out of Heavenly Loch is not short on small but ravenous brownies and I did manage to distract myself for a while yanking them out of there two at a time but the worries kept returning. Didn’t stop me taking plenty of pictures though, this place is definitely a spectacular location even with Stu in front of it.

We crossed over the burn (bootfull) and worked the Northern shore where it seemed to me the brownies were a touch bigger but still on the small side compared to other lochs in the area.

 

After fishing all the way around ‘Heavenly Loch’ we decided to call it a day and ascended back up to the stalker’s path that had brought us here. It was only when we were half way back that I actually managed to achieve a reliable mobile signal and could get in touch with my dad to confirm all was ok and that the garbled message from his GP was nothing to worry about. So maybe at some point I need to go back to this stunning little loch in a better frame of mind!

We return to a hot nourishing meal of half a pizza each, with pot noodle, crisps, beer and whisky and a bright red Tom in the cottage. He appears to have lost all sense having flown back from New York, had a couple of hours sleep then done a 6 hour drive to Glencoe, bagged some Munros in baking heat then continued on to Badachro to the cottage.

Tuesday

A dour, fishless day on a pike loch. I haven’t the heart to try and spin this day as anything else. We spent all day out on a boat catching fuck all and saw no sign of fish apart from Stu losing a pike towards the end of the day and nearly throwing himself in with despair.  What did we do in the evening? I can’t even remember and by now, the note taking had been abandoned. This always happens. Monday to maybe Wednesday I get in from whatever fun-filled activity we’ve been up to and write extensive notes in my little blog book which are then used in conjunction with my photos to write these blog posts. Thursday onward it’s memory and photos only but this year a creeping malaise meant Monday was the last properly recorded day, shameful.

 

Wednesday

Today we are going to fish a loch which has a reputation for BIG browns It is a significant bit of water and the advice is to hire a guide so we book the services of one who has fished this loch for many years and knows it inside out. The drive out takes us along Glen Torridon and beyond before climbing slightly to give stunning views back over to Beinn Alligin which is currently cloud free. As we get our first view of the loch I put aside my concerns over fishing somewhere that has been aesthetically altered by the presence of fish cages and concentrate on the exciting prospect of catching a giant brown trout. When we finally park up our ghillie came over to introduce himself wearing yellow wellington boots and I am immediately reminded of Tom Bombadil from Lord of the Rings!

Old Tom Bombadil is a merry fellow;Bright blue his jacket is, and his boots are yellow.

We hand over our money then I excitedly inquire about recent catches of big fish. There haven’t been any. Oh dear. He goes on to explain the big fish have not been seen for 2 or 3 years now although evidence suggests they may still be in there albeit hard on the bottom which in places is 200 feet away from the, err, top. Our faces momentarily crinkle, like the notes we’ve just handed over. Hey ho, at least it’s a nice day although actually, it’s not really – it’s cold, windy and wet, Very windy in fact, Our ghillie motors us out to a hot spot on the far bank then gets on the oars to keep us in position whilst we fish and feel guilty for fishing whilst an elderly man gets on the oars to keep us in position. The boat is bobbing up and down relentlessly to an extent where I genuinely wonder if I might get seasick (I’ve deliberately not straightened the horizon in my pics just to demonstrate the motion!) but our guide remains unflappable and says little about the conditions. In fact he says very little about anything! The brief insights we get into some of his exploits suggest there are no doubt some fascinating stories to be told but try as we might we are unable to tease them out.

We eventually start getting into fish and they are typical of the wild brownies we would expect to catch on a big Scottish loch i.e 2 or 3 to the pound. I really struggled with trying to get any pictures of them what with the boat going up and down, the wind battering us and buckets of icy cold loch water getting sloshed around.

Wet and windy loch with fish farming paraphernalia

Stu got the best fish of the day on the last drift which was heading towards the pound mark.

By about 5pm the wind had picked up enough for Alistair to make the call that there was not much point in staying out much longer. To be honest I wasn’t exactly gutted and was already allowing my mind to drift off on thoughts of sinking a few pints in the Badachro and some proper grub. You win some you lose some, I’ve subsequently browsed the forums to see what other people say about the loch and while most say the big fish are no longer getting caught a minority say otherwise so who knows.

After a quick turnaround in the cottage we made our way down to the pub for those well earned pints only to be alerted to the presence of a Highland Beastie calf  behind us, closely followed by a wildly gesticulating farmer. Fear not dear farmer for we are country folk at heart and know what is expected of us. We blocked the calf’s path, this beast was not getting past us no matter what and eventually it recognised this fact and veered off to its left. The farmer’s arms were windmilling wildly, he seemed to be shouting now – was it at us or the calf? A glance behind revealed an open gate to a field to which the farmer had been directing his furry friend to. Alas our efforts had now redirected him elsewhere which just happened to be the sea. We lowered our heads in shame and quickened the pace

Thursday

Fionn Loch. The jewel of Gairloch. Alongside the Poc a’ Bhuidhe bothy experience it was one of the main reasons we decided to give the area a go back in 2008 after reading that book about fishing Gairloch. On a good day several fish in excess of a pound in weight can be taken. A trip to Fionn will long be remembered. The abundance of fish together with their fighting qualities and the chance of a huge wild brownie taking one’s fly combine to offer excellent fishing. The experience is further enhanced by the remote nature of the loch which is situated in an amphitheatre of superb mountain scenery. I seem to recall us getting all ‘it’s gripped, it’s sorted, let’s offroad’ in Phil’s newly purchased Land Rover Discovery but barely making half a mile before being turned back and told in no uncertain terms Fionn was for local people only.

9 years later we still hadn’t seen the damn place so decided to take the long walk in. Our understanding is that you have to be either staying at the Letterewe Lodge as guests of the estate or a member of the local angling club to fish it so did not take any tackle with us which was a shame. We parked at Drumchork and began the 6 mile walk down a proper track which took us past an oil storage depot which is presumably linked to the NATO submarine refuelling point down in Loch Ewe. The area has quite a wartime history being used as an alternative anchorage in the first world war for our Grand Fleet and then an assembly point in the second world war for Arctic convoys heading to Russia. The bay was protected by coastal AA batteries of which the remains can still be seen today. Notable events include the battleship HMS Nelson getting damaged by a German sea mine, numerous Luftwaffe air raids by Ju88s out of Norway and the tragic loss of the Liberty ship SS William H Welch. As I type this, aargh,  I hear my voice in my head and it’s becoming that of a waffling history teacher.

6 miles is a long way when you know you’ve got it all to do again in a few hours especially without any fishing to be had. It was a fairly pleasant couple of hours though and took us past a loch I think we have fished before, Loch a Bhaid Luachraich.

Loch a Bhaid Luachraich

Coming from this direction the final stretch takes you past Loch na Moine Buige which is nearly but not quite part of the main loch and the views were certainly impressive but my immediate thought was that you really needed to be at the Southern end of Fionn to truly appreciate its beauty.

Loch na Moine Buige

Fionn

Whilst sitting down for a well deserved lochside picnic two friendly local anglers came over to briefly chat to us about the loch and how they had been getting on today etc. Luckily for this blog one of them was kind enough to take my email address and send me some pictures of the trout they had caught from the loch. Apparently the good ol’ Sedgehog was an absolute killer fly on here, the fish would hurl themselves out of the water to batter it thereby providing them with excellent sport. Thanks guys!

 

No big fish but each one an absolutely perfect specimen!

Our hike to Fionn barely scratched the surface, it’s a huge loch to cover on foot. Next time I will definitely come at it from the other end perhaps combined with an overnight camp somewhere around the Fisherfield Forest. The walk back was a bit of a grind but at least we’d now ticked the Fionn box. Not far from the loch we found a strange fenced off patch, maybe a couple of square metres with a sheet of aluminium on it – Tom later suggested it could be some sort of man-made lizard habitat.

A Common lizard, yesterday

Tea, for a change, was a hearty slap up meal of Bombay Bad Boy with Boddingtons.

Friday

I need to get up a hill tout bloody suite. Tom is planning to do Ben Wyvis which is a long way from where we are staying but the mountain mad fucker has climbed everything above 3000ft within remotely sensible distance of Gairloch. We decide to add to the 2 hour drive by calling in on a great little exhibition in Aultbea about the Arctic Convoys. The start of the walk is a car park near Garbat and when we get there it’s actually a pretty splendid sort of day. Like this year’s holiday though (and by association this year’s blog post), the walk up this Munro is a little..how can I describe it..stolid? This simply did not matter though. There may have been a lack of jagged rock pinnacles or sheer cliff walls but it was still very enjoyable. We sweated our way through a plantation and out onto some heath before beginning a fairly steep pull up the hill. When we crested the temperature plummeted as we were hit by a stout breeze (the kind that can make breathing difficult). Within moments I had to deploy all my warm clothing, it was bastard freezing!

The views would probably have been pretty outstanding on a less hazy day but we could still see over to Cromarty Firth and what looked like a V1 launch ramp but I could be mistaken, what with the war ending over 70 years ago and it not being occupied Europe.

Tom on a windy Wyvis. I had to fill his pockets with rocks.

We retraced our route for the return leg and in doing so ended up coming between a mother grouse and its chicks,  causing the latter to bomburst all over the shop and much confusion seemed to ensue! Upon returning to our cottage we then faced the miserable task of packing and cleaning the cottage which as always looked like a bomb had gone off in a combined grocery/tackle shop. We at least managed to find some comfort with a few pints in the Badachro.

 

As I write these last bits now I have one broken hand and a leg which I’ve ragged to bits to the point I’m on crutches following an unfortunate bicycle / black ice incident. Overnight I went from a dashing round here there everywhere sort of person to being virtually housebound. To my right, in the ‘study’, sits an unused custom made pair of Altberg walking boots. Behind them lies a crumpled Airflo vest / backpack thing I got on Black Friday complete with a set of new tools – again unused. Knowing I can’t get in my car and drive out to do some hills, wild camp or go down on the river to wet a line is a bitter blow. I’m hoping to make a full recovery and eventually get back to my pursuits and should be bloody well grateful that it’s not permanent but it’s not always that easy is it!

That’s your lot really and I almost feel like apologising as it’s a fairly tame write-up this year but it is what it is and will hopefully still give some of you ideas and inspiration for your own wild fishing adventures 🙂 Will there be another week long lads fishing holiday in Scotland? It doesn’t look good although I’ve said this for the past 2 or 3 years. There was a glimmer of hope that Count von Tittenstein would be able to join us next year giving us a scraper 3 but he once again mislaid his trusty French Letter and is now expecting another child. The demise of this tradition which began in 1997 in a rain battered caravan in Moffat (the fishing holiday, not the procreation) would be a great shame but the silver lining is that we will probably now morph it into 2 x extra-long fishing / walking lads weekends in the Highlands. This of course will translate into 2 shorter but hopefully more action packed blog posts.

 

3 thoughts on “Assynt…err..Gairloch blog 2017

  1. Henry

    Superb. I like this v much. True blogging style. Just like being there. Please drop me an email!

    Ps cannot believe the sedge on the camera lens obscuring the big pike jump.. :O

  2. Ross

    Thanks again for a brilliant read; sorry to hear of your recent injuries, hope your recovery goes well.

    A handy blog for me on this occasion, as had been planning to fish Fionn (and the 3 or 4 southerly lochs on the walk in) later this year but just double checked and yes, you need to have a local address to be able to fish there. Oh well, good job there’s one or two other lochs to pick from!

    Cheers

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