No Reay of Sunshine..

Well, that’s me back from my annual week in Assynt – this year spent wilderness camping in order to explore the remote lochs near Glen Coul on the Reay Forest Estate.

It rained for five days. Almost non-stop. Oh, and we had the high winds which were the pre-cursor to the post Katia hurricane…

So not quite the week Sean Elliott and I would have picked for our main fishing holiday of the year – but, as we had already dubbed the trip as our ‘Vincemus Tour’, we were indeed, determined to prevail; whatever the weather.

I must firstly thank Blacks (tent), Mountain Equipment (waterproofs) and Greys (waders) for keeping me dry for the whole period – this proved the vital ingredient for ensuring that, despite the conditions, the week was a resounding success. We banked 264 fish, the best at 2lbs, returned 261 of them to fight another day (and fight these wild fish most certainly do) and enjoyed superb, captivating and supremely rugged terrain where we did not come across any other homo sapiens for a whole week. This is not something that is done very often in this overcrowded isle of ours.

For those of you who may have read my previous blog, my pack ended up being 70lbs in weight and not the 50lbs I had hoped for. Not the weight I would have wanted for six-hours of walking from Inchnadamph to Loch an Eircill, at the head of Glen Coul traversing rock, peatbog and heather – but in our post trip analysis I would not have left anything significant behind. A robust, roomy and dependably waterproof tent, high-spec waterproofs and waders, as previously mentioned, were vital in ensuring that comfort and morale were maintained but along with our various angling paraphernalia and six-days worth of fuel, food (and drink) meant that we would not be travelling light.

Our trip started early and in reasonable weather on Sunday morning, with me travelling up the A9 to pick Sean up at Inverness airport at 0830am prior to taking the road for Ullapool and ultimately Inchnadamph. Having shared out the equipment and provisions to ensure our packs were of equal weight, we set out from the car park by the hotel at 1130am to make for Gorm Loch Mor and Camp One.

The 600m ascent over the 5km from Inchnadamph to Loch Loch nan Cuaran certainly got our hearts pumping despite the good path and we were rewarded with fine views north, west and south with a vista that took in Stac Pollaidh, Cul Mor, Suilven and Canisp as well as Glas Bheinn and Quanag – magical, even with the first dark clouds looming on the horizon. The next section of our walk-in saw us past eastwards through the bealach and then contour round the south-eastern end of the Mullach an Leathaid Riabhaich ridge which then afforded us equally spectacular views eastwards over Gorm Loch Mor and Fionn Loch Mor towards Loch Dubh a’ Chuail – simply superb!

The ascent nearly over - looking West from Loch nan Cuaran, Quinag, Glas Bheinn and Loch Assynt in the background.

The ascent nearly over - looking West from Loch nan Cuaran, Quinag, Glas Bheinn and Loch Assynt in the background.

We arrived at our chosen camp site by Gorm Loch Mor and had ourselves duly established by 4pm. Our permits from the Reay Forest Estate allowed us to fish the north bank of Gorm Loch Mor and this we did by early evening to reasonably good effect, the light westerly wind allowing us to cover plenty of fish holding water, our traditional wet flies attracting the attention of 15 fish, all comfortably at the higher end of the ¼- ½ lb bracket. Not a huge bag by highland loch standards, but certainly enough to whet our appetites for what we hoped would be five more days of piscatorial exploration. With it getting dark at approximately 8.30pm we retired to the tent for a well-earned meal and dram, brimming with enjoyment of our first day in such surroundings.

Sean covering good water on Gorm Loch Mor in between showers

Sean covering good water on Gorm Loch Mor in between showers

Making the most of a gap in the clouds - preparing a brew by the lochside

Making the most of a gap in the clouds - preparing a brew by the lochside

Day two dawned flat calm – and with these conditions we were faced by ‘the multitude’ as we ate breakfast at 6.30am. How the splendour of the Highlands can be transformed by the devil’s fairies! It’s difficult to enjoy the view from underneath a midge net. Such were the disappointing conditions we decided on a leisurely start and retired back to our sleeping bags until 9am.

On re-awakening and despite it remaining windless, we donned waders and set off to continue our pursuit of the local finned residents. Thankfully by 11am the wind had risen and the loch had become a much better fishing proposition and thereafter we enjoyed steady sport for the remainder of the day as we explored the numerous bays and points of the loch punctuated only by numerous halts for cups of tea courtesy of our faithful Kelly kettle. My angling diary notes that – surprise, surprise – it was ‘small black flies’ that took the majority of our 79 fish.

The biggest excitement of the day involved the ‘return fixture’ with a large fish lost previously in a tiny lochan near to Gorm Loch Mor. Sadly it also won this leg and swims there still. However, in a bizarre twist my most exotic ‘catch’ of the day was a large dragonfly which took a clear liking to my sedge fly; attacking it repeatedly as I stood discussing tactics with Sean – very much a unique occurrence for me in 35 years of angling.

A better fish of well over a pound from ‘a secret lochan’

A better fish of well over a pound from ‘a secret lochan’

On awaking the next morning, and steeled for the move of our base camp 5km north-west to Loch an Eircill, we were faced with a blanket of low cloud – harbinger for what we thought would be a single day of rain. Little did we realise that the rain wasn’t effectively to stop for the next three days. We broke camp by 8.30am and arrived at our campsite by 10.30am having made the walk through the tough broken terrain in driving rain.

The camping gods shone and gave us half an hour’s break in the rain in order to set up camp in good order. Sadly, by this time Sean had discovered his waterproof wasn’t.

I had fished Loch an Eircill twice before and knew it held a good head of well shaped, attractive and feisty ½ lb fish and so it proved again, even in the unceasing rain. With a lunch stop taken in the tent to temporarily escape the deluge, the loch proved bountiful with the trout responding best to sedge-style wets. We returned to our camp in the gloaming wet and ravenous for supper but satisfied that we had very much prevailed on a day where we could so easily have decided to sit it out in the tent. With my 35 and Sean’s 50 fish – all safely returned none the worse the wear for their brief encounter with us – we felt honour had been satisfied even though none were more than 3/4lb. Our fabulous evening meal was spoilt only by the strengthening wind which, even with additional guy-ropes placed, threatened to end our expedition by removing our tent. However, it was a happy duo that drifted off to sleep just after 9pm helped off with a warming dram of The Macallan.

Sean into a big fish, which eventually won the bout and gained its freedom.

Sean into a big fish, which eventually won the bout and gained its freedom.

The remainder of the trip followed the same pattern – only the magnitude of the rain changed; from drizzle to downpour to hail and back again. Nevertheless, encased in Gore-tex as we were, we kept our collective sense of humour as we walked in all compass directions to explore the fabulous (and not so fabulous fishing) available in the area. Memorable highlights included our best two fish of the trip – at circa 2lbs each but as nothing can be guaranteed in these wild parts, our lowest point was a half day trip out to some remote lochans where we resoundingly blanked with no signs of fish life evident at all. We encountered no other humans, but frogs, newts and voles abounded and our sense of remoteness endured throughout the trip.

Loch an Eircill, looking eastwards during a rare break in the rain – note the amount of water

Loch an Eircill, looking eastwards during a rare break in the rain – note the amount of water tumbling down the burn half-way along the north-side of the loch to where our campsite was.

Rather perversely the weather dried to a light, intermittent drizzle on Friday for our five hour return trip to Inchnadamph. The wind had dropped to nothing and so we consoled ourselves that the conditions were not likely to have led to a huge increase in our bag for the week as we had to spend our time walking rather than fishing. The drier conditions did however let us to make it back in good fettle and allowed us to reflect on what had truly lived up to being the ‘We will prevail’ tour.

If it’s wilderness you want and/or truly wild fishing then Assynt may be the place for you – just don’t expect it to be a Reay of sunshine…

A weary but happy camper safe back at Inchnadamph

A weary but happy camper safe back at Inchnadamph

By Anthony Glasgow

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