I say new but the loch at the top of our hill has been there for the 23 years that we have lived in Gravir, South Lochs, Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides. When we moved here I was very hopeful that it would be my home water, less than a ten minute walk and big enough to provide hours, nay days of sport and interest.
I had an opening fish on it (March 15th 94') and saw nothing move and failed to tempt even a half hearted take. At that time the fish farm had smolt cages on it, the small salmon are fed up in freshwater lochs before being moved to saltwater cages and fattened for the supermarkets.
Subsequent sessions produced no fish. As the summer arrived big hatches on midge and Caddis prove that the food supply was not an issue. Then the cages broke and several hundred S1 (salmon around 12oz) escaped into the loch. For a few weeks sport was brisk with 'stocked' small salmon. The general feeling was that it was better to get them out rather than let them loose to mix with their wild cousins. Over night the all went down the small stream that drained the loch and away to the open sea to be never seen again.
The loch returned to its normal fishless state, more than dour, dead. Locals felt that the salmon farm fish had introduced a killer bug that had seen off the wild fish. Another said that the loch had never had many fish in it but they grew to a good size. A picture of a nine pound trout backed this claim and on a few occasions when walking home late you spotted what looked like some large fish cruising down the loch suggested there was some truth in this claim.
So over the past 20 years I have lived with the fact that my local loch was a dud. Last year this changed. Our aging Lab, Indie lost his hill legs so we spent many hours walking roud the 'dud' loch, the road skirks all of one side.
The sight of rising trout was at first a bit of a shock, but on any warm evening they were there, not large numbers of fish but what looked like small shoals of decent (12oz to 2lb) fish were definately there. The start of this trout season in March was a little earler for this large loch. Most of the early season sport is to be had in small, shallow water lochs or in the side arms of larger lochs. the water heats up quickly in the March sun and insects (usually midges) hatch with the least excuse. But come April a short session got two fish to take a dry Caddis, I failed to connect but at least they were there to be caught!
My last session (may) coincided with bright sunlight and no wind. The heather and rocks that surround the loch were littered with Midges, Caddis and the ever present Daddies. Trout rose in small groups along the roadside bank.
It is easy to end up chasing rising trout. What usually happens is by the time you get to were they are rising the fish have moved to the spot you left. I remember the advice from a older a fisherman from my Yorkshire days (Mr Stanyer, definately old school). I did not have the sense to take his advice then but the years have taught me that it always pays to listen. It was osund advice then and it is now and no doubt will be sound in years to come. He had neither the energy or inclination to chase the fish, instead he found a decent sized rock and waited for the fish to come to him. By not casting and splashing about (we have a flat calm loch here and wild fish can be very upset by to much casting and splashing) the fish would eventually swim by, sipping the bugs in as they go. One cast at the right time is worth far more than dozens of chuck and chance it efforts.
I sat on my rock. Sure enough a single fish started to move down towards me, 10 yards out and taking sub surface food as it hung in the film. Midges are nearly always the insect of first choice for rising trout in the Hebrides. Small black in particular. My first cast towards the fishes patrol route fell short by at least a yard, a slight lift of the rod animated the fly enough and fooled my first trout from my 'dud' loch. At just under 1lb it was a specimen well worth the wait.
Changing rocks I had a second fish on a Deer Hair Caddis after spotting a 2lb plus trout intercept a flying caddis as it hovered inches above the calm loch water.
So what has happened to this loch? From being apparently fishless for at least 20 years (30 sounds likely) it know has fish, good sized wild trout in it.
My theory at the minute is this. There is one inlet to this water that comess from a smaller loch in the hills. The smaller loch is full of fish in the 2 to 6oz size range. I suspect some of these have migrated down the wee burn to the larger water and found healthy water full of insects. I am hopeful that we will see an increase in numbers and size of fish over the next few years. However there is just a chance that at some point they will head to the sea. The outlet stream looks like a one way track. Fish can come back up some amazing waterfalls to reach their spawning grounds but this one might just defeat them.
It's a loch/stream sytem that does not quite work. But trout being trout they find a way of spreading their genes whatever the physical obstructions are.
Oh, just a thought but after 23 years I at last have my local loch with plenty of bays and poiunts to explore and with a ten minute walk home ideal for evening/night fishing.
On the night described the Midges were mainly dark/Black so a Black Suspender Buzzer did the job. However there were some bright green ones about so next time I will have some of those in the box.
The Deer Hair CDC Caddis is my all round Caddis/Stonefly imitation, tied in light, olive and dark brown/black #12/14/16.
More details: www.islandflies09.co.uk
Having just discussed how effective small flies can be for salmon during low water in the daytime I will now confuse matters by suggesting the use of outsize flies!
This is a method to try on the same river, on the same day but not at the same time. As the light fades in the evening try a #4/6 single or double, such as 'The New Elver Fly', the 'Big Blue' or a Zero Muddler. Use a 11ft wetfly rod AFTM #6/7 and a DT5 floating line. Work the fly across the current rather than downstream and across. Short casts are often more productive than long, you can use the rod to bring the fly across most currents as well as a figure of eight retrieve. The trick is to keep the fly constantly moving rather than the stop/start action stripping produces. Use the doubles in fast water, on slower pools a single is better. The Zero Muddler fishes very near the surface, these are not overdressed so they skate cleanly, creating the 'V' in the water that many fish respond to (not just Salmon). Use heavier than usual nylon as smash takes are common especially when the fly is moving quickly. Keeping the rod tip up is often enough to hook the fish, a gentle tighten is better than any sort of a strike.
When you meet a flyfisher who has caught 59 fish in a season on public water it pays to listen. For some years I have been in the lucky position of meeting 100's of anglers of all ages, abilities and most are more than happy to discuss their experiences. Most of the flies I tie are a combination of what appeals to me but is that is heavily influenced by the opinions and experiences of others, what one pe erson thinks is possibly not that important but when more people agree then it is worth checking out. The 59 fish chap was kind enough to show me his fly box and it soon became apparent that in the warmer months in low water he was getting his fish on small flies, mainly doubles, tied in bright colours, at the backend the coneheads and the like came out but through the summer it was #14/16 doubles that took his fish. Most salmon anglers have heard the story about fish taking trout flies so this is nothing new but how many set out with a small fly from the start? THe fish might just prefer smaller flies but I suspect that there are other factors. In the legendary Greased Line Fishing for Salmon tome Arthur Wood in the 20's outlined his technique of fishing a lightly dressed fly near the surface and fishing across the stream rather than down and across, this might be the real reason for the success of smaller flies, they fish near the surface?
Time to put theory into practice on an Hebridean small river. The Creed offers locals and visiters alike an excellant chance of sport from June onwards. A variety of pools on all types are available from the slow canal like type to the bubbling rapid and small pocket water thgat fish also love. I used to think taht the slower pools looked unlikely but have soon learned that they often have more fish in them than anywhere else and as long as there is some wind can be fished with confidence. There is actually moer current than you would think at first glance. Like most public water the bit near the car park is the most popular, on the Creed this is also attractive as some of the best pools are near it. The wild August night I fished I had the river to myself but as the trodden banks showed others had fished the lower pools I marched upstream to find virgin water. The path peters out after 10 minutes and you soon find yourself on banks that do not see many anglers, the ground is very wet and although going carefully its still easy to go down a pot hole, which I did. How ever the tramp is well worth it when you find yourself next to a lovely pool, fast water heading into a bend with what looks like holding water under the near bank. I use a 11ft wetfly rod for small rivers, a Double Taper #5 floating line and a 12ft 8lb leader, other than a box of flies net and priest you do not need much else. On goes a small Flamethrower, dressing:
Wee Double Flamethrower
Hook: Partridge Big Mouth Doubles #14/16 - Partridge Double Wilson #16,18,20.
Silk: 6/0 Uni Thread - Red
Tag: Gold tinsel
Tail: Yellow & red cock hackle fibres
Rib: Gold wire
Body: Tying silk
Body hackle: Sunburst, orange/yellow soft cock or hen
Wing: Orange and yellow Fox tail with red flashabou sides with pearl crystal hair toppings
Hackle: Full wound red soft cock or hen
Try this dressing if you want a lighter dressed pattern:
JUNGLE COCK FLAMETHROWER
Hook: as above
Tail: Orange/Yellow marabou off the base of a saddle hackle and two strands of red flashabou
Body: Pearl mylar
Rib: Red wire
Wing: A single Jungle cock feather
The usual problem when the salmon season starts on June 1st is the rivers are bone dry and the fish are in the sea. Despite what people think it doesn't rain all the time in the Hebrides, that is until 2015. We have had a wet, windy cold year the likes of which I can not remember in the last 20 years.
The trout fishing has been a very hit and miss affair with limited hatches and rising fish, and not much incentive to head out over water logged moors. However the rain has resulted in the spate rivers being in permanent spate, which, if popular book lore is right means fish. Not so, all the islands rivers are producing salmon but not that many, it looks like the salmon have entered the river systems and with nothing to stop them (ie, low water) have headed upstream and into the lochs and hills beyond the reach of most flyfishers (even the ones who can walk)
On a happier note, there have been no hatches of the biting midges that can drive anyone off the water, the best bet is to walk to a outpoint with a breeze to fish in comfort, avoid corners and underbank areas where the wind does not reach,and also buy the Boots anti midge roll on deodrant style reppelant, the best by a mile.
More positive thoughts - bought a new Aircel DT4 Floating line to replace a well used Cortland which is now my salmon line (DT5, another story there), used it on a wee loch nearby, the sun was out and plenty of fish were rising in the ripple. Enjoyed fishing the hatch of Grey Midges with a smattering of Caddis flies about as well and the first Daddies of the year. The line was smooth as silk and floated in the way that brand new ones do (American ones at any rate).
Summer at last? No way back to cold wet and windy this week.
As mentioned spring can be a hit or miss affair up here. All of May was wet windy and cold and one of the best flyfishing months was lost until next year.
All was not lost as I damaged the tendons in my right hand (roof related injury), something I dread as tying flies without it is no fun. For the record I have good stocks which has
kept the the orders fulfilled but there is always something to tie.. (12 flies in over an hour is slow by any standards) Hand recovered well enough to tie but casting
is not possible, first proper test next week. In the future will be more grateful for all bits working.
Dryfly in April
Given that spring can arrive in The Outer Hebrides at any time between the beginning of March to the end of May it should be no surprise (after 20years) that the hope of an after 6 o’clock session coinciding with ideal conditions is a little optimistic. You live in hope.
Waiting for ideal conditions can be just an excuse for not bothering. So I went. The cold east wind had done it’s job of stifling any chance of an early season Midge hatch, and the grey rippled water looked devoid of any insect life let alone feeding trout. It is probably best in these conditions to fish a sunk fly, a leaded Caddis Larva inched back near the bottom, a flashy wetfly fly fished briskly through the waves might have been the best bet. But at the end of the day my preferred method is to fish a surface Dry/Emerger, the thrill of the rise is worth more that the temptation of more fish using more suitable methods to fit the conditions.
Because of the wind a shorter 9ft leader is best, along with an extra bushy Deer Bump Tenkara #14, tied with an off white wing so you can spot it in the waves. Because of the cold water I fish in shallow water, depths up to 2ft warm up far faster than deeper spots so always head for the shallows in the spring. How do you know it’s shallow? Look for any weeds or reeds that break the surface, plants only grow in the shallows, rocks showing also suggest shallow water. Casting a short line down the bank a small 6” trout hits the fly with real purpose, at least something is about. Small fish can be a nuisance on many lochs, they are often found near the edge of the bank, if you get 2 or 3 in succession move on. Also (I am reluctant to say this as it can suggest the biggest fish live in the middle, which is not true) try a cast further away from the bank. This I try and am rewarded with a cracking 12” wild brown trout that fights all the way to the net in a manner that only Hebridean Trout do.
There is something about bringing fish up that is far more pleasing than chuck it out and pull it back methods. It might mean a lighter basket, but is more than compensated with the pleasure you get from catching fish (as daft as you are want to be out on a cold spring evening) the way you like to.
It would have been better to fish at 1 o’clock, better than working but what the hec not a bad session after all.
The Opening Day - Trout Fishing in the Outer Hebrides – Part 2
Monday 9th Of March saw the islands hit by wind up to 100 mph and sheets of hail and rain.
Wednesday we were hit again. The roof on my old Bothy Workshop was flipped over (2 tons of iron and wood) which was not altogether a bad thing as I had planned to remove it and re build through 2015.
It was very difficult to envisage anything other than a difficult opening day session.
Then as it does up here the weather flipped on a sixpence. Friday 13th we were walking on a Harris beach at tea time in bright sunshine and a pleasant breeze of clean air clearing the winter cobwebs out of the system. I started the season on the 16th as although not religious I have always liked the Sunday thing that we still cling onto (not all) up here, one day that is different has more value than many realise.
The bright early morning sunshine instantly tells me that the shallow water of Caversta Lochan will be heating up as the morning progresses and the strong breeze which will ripple the water’s surface creates ideal conditions. I opt for a simple fixed line Tenkara 4m Pole technique, no need to cast far so the fly rod is left at home, the fish rise close in on this water and after of 20 years of opening days (bar one, foot and mouth) on Caversta Lochan I set off with confidence.
Complacency is best avoided in all walks of life.
Had the wind blown from the North, East or West there would have not been a problem. The stiff southerly although warm meant that the area of water where the fish fed greedily on hatching midges could not be reached with the 4m pole and line. Had the wind been from any other direction the fly could have been drifted out to the fish but the Tenkara Bump Dry Fly resisted all my attempts to be flicked, swung or catapulted out further than 1 metre or so. Fish rising 3m could not be covered, the #4 weight fly rod would have solved the problem, but it was some miles away.
The simplicity of Tenkara is very pleasing when it works, there is definitely a more than a bit of Zen about it. When the fish rise out of reach it is anything but Zen, limiting annoying and frustrating are the words that spring to mind. However the word challenging springs to mind, being beat by a 4oz trout puts things into perspective.
I perservered. The fish continued to rise out of reach. Standing Heron like facing the stiff breeze and flicking the fly as far as possible started to test my patience. I started to really regret leaving the #4 weight outfit at home. Eyes fixed to the water now the odd fish started to rise under the bank to my left, still out of reach but if he headed my way I might just get the fly near enough to tempt him. Flick the free lined offering out for who knows the one hundredth time, the wind dragged it back under my feet, then a sudden gust from the right and the leader was propelled further down the bank, a bit of luck plus some nifty pole work and the fly was near the feeding trout, slight pole end movement gave the Bump Dry fly some life and a slashing rise completed the equation. Lift the pole top and let the fish do the rest and the short skittering fight of a 10” wild brown trout is over. Fish from this shallow weedy loch are not the best to eat, the golden yellow bellied half pounders that await us in the warmer months are, so the barbless fly is removed while thefish is in the net and then returned.
The challenge had been the real objective, 40 minutes to catch a fish in difficult conditions is in my books worth far more than any amount of easy fish, and it pays to remember a good fish is one you enjoy catching.
TENKARA BUMP DRYFLY
This is just about the most effective floating fly I have ever used for wild brown trout.
Hook: Fine wire Buzzer/Emerger #14,16,18
Silk: 6/0 or 8/0 Uni Thread, Yellow, Olive or Red
Body: Tying thread, close or open turns I quite like to leave some hook showing, a ‘ribbed’ hook
Wing case and forward facing wing: Natural Deer hair
Hackle: hen or cock whatever colour you fancy, white looks good as does black.
The Opening Day - Trout Fishing in the Outer Hebrides (Part 1)
March 15th may seem too early to start the trout season, but after a hard Hebridean winter it’s not a day too soon. Despite popular opinion, spring starts to spring far earlier than many suppose; the first lamb of 2015 was spotted on the Clisham on the 20th of February, daffodils are pushing through before the end of February, and the days lengthening all give plenty of encouragement for the off. There is only one opening day, so rather than make excuses about the condition of the fish (6oz wild trout gain weight by grams not ounces as the season progresses); the weather (it can be cold and vile but the last 20 years of opening days by and large have not been); and the lack of activity (pick the right loch and you will see rising trout); just venture out on the 15th and be prepared for more sport than you might imagine.
Pick a small loch or side arm of a larger one that in the summer is choked with weeds and water lilies - this indicates shallow water. The key to success is the shallow water which heats up in the spring sunshine very quickly, and results in Midge (black & grey) hatches and rising trout, especially around midday - although be prepared for an ‘evening rise’ as the light goes.
Fish a single dry Midge pattern on light #4 weight tackle for maximum fun, cast at rising trout as they cruise through open water, or fish the water, paying close attention to the edges of the old weed beds and under your own bank. A cast down the bank is often better than a cast to the middle, as scared trout will live close in on most waters. If a stiff wind prevails try a small Deer Hair Caddis; this can be worked with a small rod tip movement to bring the fish up. If the fish will not come up a small #14 Black spider or Weighted Caddis Larva left to sink and retrieved slowly are worth a cast. Remember – short, well controlled casts are the order of the day. If you’ve picked the right water a single fly is often the best bet as droppers and old weed beds can result in lost fish, especially if a larger than average specimen is hooked.
So let’s all make our way to our favourite small water on the 15th. One thing is certain – our wet winters always result in the all lochs, lochans and streams being full to the brim with clean clear water, which is a luxury many cannot take advantage of. And finally – always remember that a good fish is one you enjoyed catching.
Long Legged Black Gnat ( works well in calm water)
Hook: Fulling Mill or PMG Fine wire #14, 16, 18 (larger than the size suggests, medium shank length hooks that are easy to unhook.)
Silk: 8/0 Uni thread black
Body: tying silk
Wing: CDC plume tied flat
Hackle: Long fibred black cock
Deer Spider (Use in a ripple)
Hook: Buzzer size 14,16,18
Silk: 6/0 Uni thread, Light or Dark Olive or whatever you fancy
Body: tying silk
Head and wing: Deer hair
As above with a cdc plume wing tied flat
Hook: Buzzer #14,16
Silk: 8/0 Uni thread Black
Body: tying silk
Rib: fine silver wire
Hackle: 2 turns of black hen
Hook: Caddis #12,14
Underbody: lead wire
Rib: wire, gold, red or green
Body: Dubbed rabbit or hare, natural or dyed
Hackle: Partridge, grey or brown
Head: Peacock herl
I use Caddis or Buzzer hooks for most sinking flies, they look right and are very good hookers, brand is very much down to personal taste. Gink is the best flotant. Mucilin ledasink the best bet to sink nylon. For short line work on a small loch use a 9ft AFTM 4 rod with a floating DT5 line, Cortland and Aircel (American) lines are best and always have been.