Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Trout Fishing In Shetland Part One – A Two Day Introduction

Welcome to ShetlandI've long wanted to fish in Shetland, Britain's most northern outpost. I was drawn by its remoteness, beauty and the almost endless wilderness loch fishing available. A series of articles in Fly Fishing & Fly Tying magazine last year was the deciding factor and plans were made for a trip there in June...

Shetland is made up of the Mainland and 5 large islands, plus a vast number of smaller islands. It is so far north that it is nearer to the Arctic Circle than it is to London and closer to Norway than Edinburgh. Being so far north means that it doesn't get dark around mid-summer - exactly when I'd be there, but how would this affect the fishing?

So off I set on the long drive from the Yorkshire Dales to Aberdeen, where I was booked on the overnight ferry to Lerwick, Shetland's capital. I'd worked out an itinerary that over 15 days would take me across the Mainland and to 3 islands: Yell, Unst and Fetlar. I'd be fishing everyday in as many different lochs as possible, camping next to the car mostly, but with some wild camping and making use of youth hostels and camping bods whenever possible.

In Shetland there are over 300 lochs and lochans to fish and explore. Shetland Anglers Association (SAA) sell permits for visiting anglers for the extremely good value sum of £25 for the season. On some lochs they have a boat available for hire at a further £30 for the season. They produce a fantastic guide to over 70 of the best fishing locations, which along with Bruce Sandison's invaluable book "Rivers & Lochs Of Scotland: The Angler's Complete Guide" provided the foundation of all my research, though often they gave conflicting information! I also exchanged e-mails and spoke to Trout & Salmon contributor Jon Beer, who has visited, fished and written about Shetland many times. He provided me with some very useful and accurate information.

Loch of Clousta
Loch of Clousta
I had been in touch with the SAA about using a guide on my first day to show me the 'ropes' and hopefully glean some information that would help me throughout my trip, e.g. local speciality flies and secret lochs. There are no 'professional' guides in Shetland but the SAA put me in touch with Colin Wiseman, a native Shetlander who has fished for 42 years and tied flies for 43 years. Colin and his wife Lindsay couldn't have made me feel more welcome during my time in Shetland. I visited them often and had further fishing trips with Colin as fishing buddies. We met over breakfast on the ferry in Lerwick where I sat and listened attentively at all the information that was coming my way, trying my hardest to remember all the little nuggets of information that scattered the conversation. After much deliberation he decided to take me to Loch of Clousta on my first day. Reading between the lines I suspect he was playing it safe, choosing a loch where we were sure to catch fish, though nothing big. Much as he probably wanted to go somewhere that offered the chance of a good 'troot', this would increase our chances of failure and he daren't take the risk through not knowing me and the sort of angler I was. I was happy to go with his choice and experience - there'd be plenty of opportunities for big troots later in my trip! Colin took the scenic route to Clousta describing in detail all the lochs we passed. My research had covered every one of them and now I was seeing them first hand and being given the local expert's run down.

Once at Clousta we launched Colin's boat and I quickly learnt my first lesson about boat fishing in Shetland: waders are required! Mine were still in my car back at Colin's house! Now I've done a lot of boat fishing in my time but it wasn't until this moment that I realised that every boat I've ever used was moored to a pontoon and I'd just stepped into them in a pair of boots. Shetland isn't like that. Here boats are left pulled up onto the bank and pushed into the water... by an angler wearing waders! Basic error, but I managed to push the boat off without getting wet feet, though the same cannot be said about getting out of the boat at the end of the day!

A trout on my first cast in Shetland - you can't better that!
A trout on my first cast in
Shetland - you can't better that!
So minor embarrassing crisis over it was time to fish and would you believe I hooked and landed a trout on my very first cast in Shetland! I unhooked my flies from my rod, made a short first cast and there hanging onto one of my 3 flies was a trout, small admittedly, but a trout on my first cast in Shetland. Colin had been playing it very safe! Clousta is reasonably small, as are most Shetland Lochs, and it is very peaty. Therefore, bushy, brightly coloured flies, were the order of the day. This was a good day's fishing, I think we had 17 fish to the boat, pretty equally split between us, nothing big, but a good introduction to trout fishing in Shetland and more importantly I had made a new friend.

For the bulk of my trip I'd now be fishing alone, though Colin and I did have 2 further fishing sessions together. I'd be mostly bank fishing with the option of a boat on the lochs where the SAA had one available and I had a float-tube in the car. Despite being probably the perfect location for float-tubing I never put it to use. I don't know why, it just didn't happen, but I don't feel that I missed out by not using it. Trout in Shetland average around 8oz but there are fish of a lifetime there to be caught. Many of the lochs (and lochans) are capable of producing fish of 3lb plus, some lochs obviously more than others. My route around Shetland and the islands of Yell, Unst and Fetlar was planned to take in lochs which are capable of producing such fish; the trade off is usually that there are either fewer fish in such lochs, or the big fish lochs are known to be dour. Big fish lochs are often very remote - the trout get big because no-one ever fishes for them. This meant that I was in for some serious walking, or yomping to be more accurate. In the Yorkshire Dales we have some wild and rugged moorland, but nothing in comparison to Shetland. A walk to a remote loch often had me scratching my head about how to proceed. The ground would just open up into deep pits of soft peat or a literal maze of deep bog that caused a detour of some distance. From the moment you leave the road your boots are squelching through sodden ground virtually constantly, unless you are walking on rock. If you ever go to Shetland put on top of your shopping list the best pair of walking boots you can find. I used and thoroughly recommend the Scarpa SL Active boot which took everything that was thrown at them with ease.

Loch of Ustaness, Shetland
Loch of Ustaness, Shetland
My biggest trout of the trip came on only my second day. My wife Vicky, was flying up to spend a few days with me and I had to pick her up from the airport late afternoon. This gave me time for a full day's walking and fishing round Loch of Griesta and the surrounding lochs, not far from Loch of Tingwall, one of the best known lochs in Shetland.  The first 2 lochs (Loch of Griesta and Broo Loch) gave nothing away, but on arriving at Loch of Ustaness there were fish rising in the flat calm conditions that greeted me (and, therefore, midges that were so minute they got through my midge net!). It wasn't long before the wind returned and I set about fishing with confidence knowing there were fish to be caught, progressing along the bank with every cast, heading towards the next lochs. I filled my boots here with trout averaging 10oz and could have stayed all day, but the next 2 lochs were reputed to be big fish lochs and I had a wife to pick up!

Biggest trout of the trip
Biggest trout of the trip - A 2.75lb
trout from Jamie Cheyne's Loch
in Shetland. Caught on only my
second day it was to be my
biggest trout of the trip.
Just over the hill lay Jamie Cheyne’s Loch and a little further Maggie Black's Loch, both quite small, but with a reputation for producing big fish. The crystal clear Jamie Cheyne's Loch came first where there was a resident pair of Red Throated Divers to greet me. In fact from this point forward virtually every loch I visited had these amazing, handsome birds. I started fishing from distance, casting across the grassy bank with just the tip of my line and leader on the water, fishing the margins before approaching the loch and extending my line to fish at range - it's funny how the prospect of big fish can focus your concentration and approach! I then fished round the loch, my confidence diminishing with the more water I covered. It's hard to imagine when you first fish in Shetland that some of these tiny clear lochs hold the biggest fish, but they do. There's no point fishing them hard, you have a few casts here and there then move to the next loch. After I'd fished about half the way round I spooked a fish from the margins; I didn't see it, just the wake it produced. Then I spotted a rise in the water I was approaching and my confidence began to return - there were definitely fish in the loch. I had no feeling for how big the fish I'd seen move could be but I was excited all the same. There was no crawling up the bank, stalking, or ambush tactics, despite the clear and fairly shallow water. I just cast my team of 3 in the area, there was a large splashy take of the Kate McLaren Muddler on my top dropper and I was connected to a trout. Then it swam by me in the clear water and I realised that I was into a good fish, and on the very loch where my research had predicted. This was going to be a good trip! After a few nervous moments it took my scales down to 2¾lb - what a start! Maggie Black's Loch produced nothing despite seeing a fish rise and I caught one more trout from Loch of Garth on my return to the car; it was time to pick the wife up… well in actual fact that was 45 minutes earlier!...

... Trout Fishing In Shetland Part Two – Enter The Dragon!

You can view all the images from my trip on my flickr album.

Useful Links:

Shetland Anglers Association:
Shetland Camping Bods: