Friday, 9 August 2013

Trout Fishing In Shetland Part Two – Enter The Dragon!

A Puffin at Sumburgh Head
A Puffin at
Sumburgh Head
I screeched into the airport and there she was - Mrs Minnikin standing patiently with her bags on the pavement at Sumburgh Airport. I made my excuses for being late (some actually true and beyond my control!) and we drove to the nearby Sumburgh Head. As well as trout fishing Shetland is known for many other things, with wildlife somewhere near the top of the list. Sumburgh Head, as the name suggests, is a headland on the very southern tip of Shetland. The cliffs here are impressive, some of the highest in Shetland, and a great place to take in the view; admire the Puffins, Fulmars, Artic Skuas, Great Skuas (known as Bonxies), Terns, Guillemots; and try spotting whales (including Killer Whales), dolphins and basking sharks, which are regular visitors to the waters around Shetland and frequently seen from Sumburgh Head. The scenery was fantastic and the closeness to the bird-life quite remarkable, but the cetaceans eluded us...

On Vicky's first night in Shetland we stayed at the superb Scalloway Hotel. This is possibly the best hotel in Shetland and the seafood is to die for. It's not cheap, but I certainly recommend it. She was to come down to earth with a bump from here on in, because we were camping for the next three nights, including a wild camp in the Shetland wilderness!

Changing drifts - Loch of Tingwall
Leaving the Scalloway Hotel we drove just up the road to Loch of Tingwall for a spot of boat fishing. Tingwall is a clear loch and known for having trout of a good average size with a few bigger fish to be caught. It is very shallow, fertile and can suffer from weed and algae, which was just starting to show during our visit. Tingwall is one of Shetland’s premier lochs and SAA have a boat for members and visitors to use. The system in use is if boats are not booked and used by 10am then they become available on a first come first served basis, so we tackled up waiting for the time to reach 10am when the boat would be ours for the day. My thinking was that after just 3 brief casting lessons this would be Vicky’s best chance of hooking a trout with minimum help from me (if only)! She could short line a team of 2 bushy flies on a floating line while at the other end of the boat I could merrily fish away in peace  (if only)! Yes, you guessed it, I spent most of the morning unwrapping Vicky’s flies and line from her rod tip. Add to this the fact that this was the leakiest boat I‘ve ever used (you had to spend 10 minutes bailing out water every 30 minutes) and consequently we didn’t see Tingwall in the best light, though Vicky did get a splashy rise to her flies and I landed a small trout.

A few casts on Eela Water
A few casts on Eela Water
We spent some time in Lerwick before heading north in search of a campsite and more fishing, and in readiness for the following 2 days wilderness fishing in the far north. With the events on Tingwall and the time spent in Lerwick I was starting to get very frustrated at the lack of fishing, and finding it difficult not letting my frustration out. I fished briefly on Eela Water for a solitary trout, which was a much needed ‘fix’ before finding our campsite for the night.

The following morning we set out from a remote road in Shetland’s far north to fish the wilderness lochs at the ‘back of Ronas Hill'. This would require a wild camp some 7 miles from the nearest road, which in turn would require us to carry all our food, cookers, fishing tackle, tent, sleeping bags, etc. 

Fishing a small lochan at the 'back of Ronas Hill'.
Fishing a small lochan at the
'back of Ronas Hill'.
Ronas Hill is the highest hill in Shetland at 450m, which might not seem that high, but when you consider how close you are to sea level in Shetland it kind of puts it into perspective. To the north lies the area known as the ‘back of Ronas Hill'; an area that has countless lochs, some quite big, others not much bigger than a village pond. They all have the potential to hold trout, many of the smaller, unnamed lochans, the potential to hold dream trout! It rained hard and blew hard all day. It was cold and miserable, but luckily Vicky had taken my advice and bought decent waterproofs. We caught many fish that day, the highlight a fish of about 1¾lb from an unnamed loch not far from where we made camp on the shores of Birka Water. As if by order, as we dropped our rucksacks blue skies appeared out over the sea and within half an hour the sun was shining above us, the sky was cloudless and there was a rainbow in the sky to the east where the last of the rain was being pushed. That 1¾lb trout made a great starter cooked on the portable grill in the much welcome evening sunlight. It had been a tough day’s walking, made harder by the terrible conditions, but we had fished countless lochs with a near 100% success rate. I think we only failed to catch in 2 lochs from the many we fished. Vicky too had caught a few trout, with me casting and then passing her the rod to fish the flies back.

The one that got away!
The one that got away!
Playing a 2lb trout that snapped
off my dropper - entirely my
own fault - bad angling!
Next morning as we rose from the tent there were trout rising right in front of us on Birka Water and it would have been rude not to have a few casts before breakfast. The trout were very obliging for both of us, unlike the previous evening when I'd had a few casts. We fished many small lochans that morning heading for Sandy Water where we'd have lunch. Almost every loch gave up a few fish, some well over a pound, but I was keen to get to a small unnamed loch that Jon Beer had pointed out to me, saying that it contained good trout. He was right. At the far end, in the full force of a strong wind, a good trout hit my Sedgehog as soon as it hit the water. I knew instantly it was a good fish and it went crazy. As it swam by I estimated it to be 2lb, not as big as I first thought but a good fish all the same. Then, in a moment's bad angling I lost it. The air was blue. I haven't sworn so much in ages, but it was entirely my own fault. Thinking the trout was almost played out I held the line tightly, but he had more fight left in him and made another sudden dash for freedom. He was a powerful fish and my dropper snapped off, he was lost and I was gutted. It just shows though what's in these remote lochs if you make the effort.

Eventually, despite having more lochs to fish, we made the decision to call it a day and head back to the car, which was probably still 6 miles away. I knew that Vicky would find it hard walking over such rough ground without the constant stopping here and there to fish. I wasn't far off with my presumption and by the time we reached the car the air was blue again, only this time it wasn't me doing the swearing. It was one of those moments when you haven't fallen-out, had an argument, or stopped speaking; you just feel it is better to say very little, or better still nothing at all! Eventually I did pluck up the courage to say that I’d treat her to a nice lunch the following day! (If you are ever up that way please be warned this is not an expedition to be taken lightly: it is hard walking over very rough ground, very tiring and it is easy to get lost.)

Cliffs at Eshaness
Cliffs at Eshaness
A little further south of Ronas Hill is a peninsular called Eshaness, an interesting area to visit for non-fishing activities with a lighthouse, stunning cliffs, brochs and collapsed sea caves where you can watch the waves crash in hundreds of yards from the sea. Like the rest of Shetland it is scattered with lochs, but these lochs are different to most. They are crystal clear (not all that unusual for Shetland - many are) with the highest pH value of all Shetland lochs. This of course means one thing to anglers: fast growing trout.  Access to the lochs is easy with a road running by most of them and easy walking over short grass - just what was required after the previous 2 days wilderness fishing and yomping. The promise of a nice lunch had relieved the tension and improved the atmosphere in the Minnikin house (tent), so much so that I felt it safe to try a few casts on Loch of Houlland and Loch of Framgord. It took a while but I was eventually rewarded with a lovely trout of around 1¾lb from Houlland right beneath an ancient broch, the feeling of satisfaction was only slightly tarnished when I heard that a local rod in the next bay had just landed a 5 pounder! I lost a good trout in Framgord before it was time for the promised lunch.
A good trout from Loch of Houlland
A good trout from Loch of Houlland

It’s is perhaps lucky that I have an understanding wife. Time had moved at an amazing pace whilst sightseeing and fishing in Eshaness and now everywhere we stopped for lunch was no longer serving food. In the end our “nice lunch” was sandwiches from the Co-op in Brae, though I did treat her to a slice of their finest vanilla cheesecake!

This was Vicky’s last night in Shetland and we stayed in Lerwick at the Alder Lodge Guest House, another highly recommended place. The next morning, following a hearty Scottish breakfast, we headed south towards the airport, stopping off for a walk to St Ninian’s Isle along the lovely beach at Bigton Wick. The highlight here was watching in amazement as a Great Black-backed Gull swallowed whole a small (but not a baby) rabbit! If you’re in South Mainland I would encourage you to visit Bigton Wick and walk across the sand to St Ninian’s Isle. The colours, scenery and wildlife are fantastic and it makes a nice break from constant fishing.
Time out from fishing -
St Ninian's Isle & Bigton Wick

Vicky did get her nice lunch after all – in the Spiggie Hotel. Lunch was excellent, nothing fancy, just good old honest Scottish pub grub, washed down with a couple of pints of local ale. Though I didn’t stay here I certainly would on the evidence of what we saw and the productive Spiggie Loch is just down the road.

And then she was gone! Dropped at the airport, a quick goodbye kiss and my wheels were spinning and burning rubber as I exited the car park in haste… let the serious fishing begin!...

... Trout Fishing In Shetland Part Three – The Islands of Yell & Unst

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

Useful Links:

Scalloway Hotel, Scalloway:
Braewick Cafe & Campsite (Eshaness):
Alder Lodge Guest House, Lerwick:
Shetland Anglers Association: