Wester Ross, on the North-West coast of Scotland has been long known as an angler’s paradise. The area includes Inverewe and Gairloch, which are the principle settings of Osgood Mackenzie’s ‘A Hundred Years in the Highlands’ -a wonderful book worth reading by anyone who wishes to savour the history behind these wild lands. Chapter eleven alone, which covers the phenomenal baskets taken in yesteryear from the renowned Fionn Loch, makes the book worth reading if you are an angler.
Inspired by having just read this work, and by reports of fine fishing for the local wild brown trout, I recently made contact with Duncan MacKenzie – relative of the late Osgood – and made plans for a three day assault on some of the finest and most remote lochs of the Flowerdale and Sheildaig Forests: Loch na h Oidhche, the Gorm Lochs and Loch a Bhealaich. If remote wilderness fishing in the most wonderful of surroundings is for you, then this area and these lochs will not disappoint.
Bruce Sandison in his seminal work ‘The Rivers and Lochs of Scotland’ describes a trip to Loch na h Oidhche as “…one of the ‘great’ fishing adventures of Wester Ross and one of the finest places to fish in all of Scotland…” I cannot disagree, for whilst my companion and I, preferring to sleep under canvas, did not stay in the famous Poca Buidhe (The Yellow Bothy – now no longer yellow) which sits above Loch na h Oidhche, the scenery we enjoyed whilst casting our lines on these lochs was as fabulous as I have experienced in these Isles of ours. One look at the1:50,000 scale Ordnance Survey Map Sheet 19 Gairloch and Ullapool will show you just how ruggedly splendid this land is. I cannot better Bruce’s description which notes that the bothy is “…surrounded by a cathedral-like array of splendid mountains…” It is all too easy to spend your time looking upwards away from the loch surface such is the majesty of the surrounding peaks.
My trip, made in mid July, coincided with the heat-wave that others so clearly craved. In common with so many other anglers the weather would not have been my first choice, but we set off from Inverness early on the Friday morning determined to enjoy the scenery if the fishing proved impossible in the forecast hot, bright conditions. Our walk in was southwards along the well established track from the parking area by the Am Feur loch, just off the A832, and took us two and a half hours in the sweltering heat. We were travelling as light as we could with just enough provisions for our three days but the conditions made it a tough slog. Where were the clouds we so badly needed?
Within two hours Loch na h Oidhche (Loch of the night) and its boathouse lay before us, surrounded by a vista of magnificent peaks. The remaining half hour’s trek up the East shore to our chosen campsite above the Gorm Lochs passed in an instant as our angler’s eyes explored every feature of the water which added to our considerable anticipation. We admired the Poca Buidhe, nestled into the hill side and noted that it is now kept strictly private for the fishing and shooting parties of the Estate. Having set up our camp we wasted no time in wetting our lines on Gorm Loch na Beinne. Unlike their bigger neighbour, the Gorm lochs are reputed to fish better during daylight, and we hoped that this extended to bright conditions under a cloudless sky…
The one saving grace for our fishing – and indeed staying midge free – was the wind, which was blowing at a steady speed if not direction.
We did not expect this small loch to give up its treasures easily, and this was indeed the case. Deep but apparently fertile given the volume of ephemera and sedge dancing above its surface, we managed to tempt only one solitary fish to our flies on this first acquaintance. However, the solid fish of over a pound that fell to my dry sedge within the first half hour certainly confirmed why the loch is held in high regard. Suitably enthused, we took in sustenance and then set about Loch na h Oidhche, me taking the West bank, Stewart on the East both fishing South to North to make use of the prevailing wind direction.
Again, only modest success came our way – undoubtedly due to the overly bright conditions but the loch was enchanting nevertheless, and with a further two fish of circa a pound coming to my rod. Sadly, our plan of testing the name of the loch by having an all-nighter was foiled by the strengthening wind and a sudden drop in temperature which had us return to our tents and – in my case – a rather cold night in my ultra-light sleeping bag. A late night squall of heavy rain completed the meteorological transition from the afternoon’s heat -wave.
The next day dawned cold but dry although we had no doubt that the sun would soon be warming us again. The best feature, however, was that we now had some cloud to work with, which allowed us to set off Westwards to fish Loch a Bhealaich with much greater optimism than the previous day.
The wind, having now swung through 180 degrees, meant that we walked to the far end of the loch to use the wind to work our way back to base and in doing so we crossed many small burns and passed many scenic little bays which suggested we would have lots of action – albeit with perhaps smaller fish given the undoubtedly high spawning potential of the loch. This was to be the case, and by the end of the day we had accounted for and returned seventy five fish to our wet and dry flies, all in the quarter to half pound bracket barring three of mine which sat around the pound mark (including the fish I took on my first cast of the day of over a pound which skewed my expectation somewhat!). Again a dry sedge again accounted for the majority – and all the bigger fish. Is there a better fly to fish in the Highlands after June?
Our final day dawned with the wind blowing ever more strongly. We resolved to give the Gorm Lochs our full attention until we had to leave at midday. The wind made for uncomfortable casting and ensured no fish were showing. I stuck with my two fly cast of a dry sedge on the top dropper and a drowned sedge on the point, determined to persevere. My view was that the dry sedge would eventually tempt a taking fish from the depths even though there were no obvious signs of activity. In the way of so many days’ fishing it came to pass that, following hours of inaction, a twenty minute frenzy of activity saw me hook, land and release four cracking fish – the best at around two pounds. I have yet to fathom out why the fish suddenly ‘came up’ but was certainly very grateful. The fight these well proportioned and fine-conditioned fish gave on my five-weight outfit was as powerful as I can ever recall.
With the splendid vistas embedded in my memory and with the fight of such cracking fish still so fresh in my mind I can confirm that I was a very happy man walking back to civilisation. Isn’t wilderness trouting just great?