Nestled deep in the cols and ice-gouged corries of the North-West Highlands of Scotland are a myriad of wild lochs waiting to be discovered by the adventurous fly angler. Away from their roadside brethren who can offer great sport, but also often suffer from summertime assaults by day-trippers and holiday-makers armed with spinners and worms, a hike over the hills and peat-bogs will reveal hidden lochs and lochans glistening like jewels amongst the sombre tones of heather, bog-grass, granite and gneiss for those willing to get tired and dirty in pursuit of truly wild fish in wild places.
I took one such trip right at the end of the season last September up into the mountains of Wester Ross. It was probably less than an hours hike from the small single-track road where I left my car, but a steep ascent over rough lichen-covered rocky outcrops and the soft boggy ground in-between, flecked with the white heads of cotton-grass, soon had this Sussex sassenach huffing and puffing. The views from the high points along the way though were worth the effort and of course the first site of water glinting down in one of the hollows was enough to give me a boost of energy once more and I scrambled on with a renewed vigour and excitement.
The majority of the trout in these waters are small but on the right day can be very willing as they are often hungry and looking out for any terrestrial food items falling on the water. In amongst them though there is always the chance of one or two larger fish so be prepared. It is the beauty of the different markings of these native brown trout that fascinate me and I know many others too. Even between neighbouring waters they can often look strikingly different with hardly any red spots or lots of them, small spots or large, and can be anywhere from quite silvery in appearance to my favourite, the beautiful butter-bellied and olive-brown backed variety, to almost completely dark.
As it was just a day hike I was travelling with a sling-pack (have to say I am a big fan of my Orvis one as it is so easy to access everything in it without having to keep taking it off each time) my rod and a net, thats it. Waders and a waterproof fishing jacket are necessities of course, both for the inevitable rain and mist at that time of year as well as the yomping over the sodden peat bogs and a little wading in the larger lochs if necessary. In terms of flies, big and bushy often works a treat if there is a little breeze and the fish are looking up – I was using a sedge-hog which you can just make out in the photo above. Otherwise a good selection of traditional wet flies like zulus, invictas and mallard and clarets still work just as they have always done, either singly or as a team of 2 or 3. If you are fishing a team of flies it is not unusual to get some competition for the flies if you find some fish and a double or even a triple hookup is possible.
This is pure fun fishing, the epitome of ‘getting away from it all’ whether fishing solo like me or sharing the experience with a friend or two. It is likely you will have your water all to yourself but in the (very) unlikely event someone else has beaten you to it, where there is one hill loch there are likely to be others in close proximity so do your homework before and go prepared with a map. Talking about preparation, safety is key also – so particularly if you are heading out alone, be sure to let someone know where you are going in case of any mishap. It is easy to slip, trip or fall on such treacherous ground – I’ve done it and had a very lucky escape in the past which brought home to me how important it was. Be safe!
Also, please be legal. Although many of these hill lochs look like they are on open ground they are in fact on sporting estates, and/or perhaps a local fishing association has the fishing rights so be sure to check locally first whether you need to buy a ticket or seek permission from the landowner before fishing. Most of this information can be found online these days with a search, but of course you have two of the best fly fishing information resources at your fingertips – our UK Fly Fishing Forums at www.flyfishing.co.uk where it is very likely someone will know about the area you want to fish and can fill you in on the details you need to know, and our Where To Fish resource which has a great starting point for your research with a listing of estates with fishing in the Highlands.
Best of luck and tight lines for 2017.