Sunday, 15 September 2013

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

Shetland's Inter-island Ferry
Shetland's Inter-island Ferry
Having left Vicky at the airport I drove north towards Toft for the morning ferry to Yell. A slight detour took me to Loch of Benston where I was to meet Colin for an evening session in his boat. Located roughly in the middle of the Mainland, Benston is another of Shetlend’s premier lochs where many large trout have been caught in the past. Colin had told me about Loch of Benston and its large trout in his e-mails and he talked about it during our day fishing Loch of Clousta. If truth be known he’d have loved to have taken me there on our first day but this is no easy loch. You can fish there many times before connecting with one of its large inhabitants and, therefore, he didn’t deem it suitable for a Shetland rookie like me; rightly so as it turned out. We didn’t get good conditions that evening. There was a big change in weather occurring, from the settled, overcast with sunny spells and the odd shower that Vicky had experienced during most of her trip, to very wet and very windy weather that was to dog me for the next 2 days. That evening we were sandwiched right between both weather fronts. The wind died away to nothing leaving us with a flat-calm loch, it became quite cold and it just felt like time to pack up and go home. Colin’s persistence paid off though, with a trout around the 1lb mark taking his greased up top dropper. Not what you fish Benston for (apparently) but a result in the conditions that faced us...

The next morning I drove off the inter-island ferry onto the island of Yell. I was here for a day’s fishing before heading out to the other islands of Unst and Fetlar. I would have another day on Yell on my return journey to the mainland, giving me 2 days on each island. It was grey, drizzling and windy on Yell. It didn’t look or feel very inviting but I had lochs to fish, Mussel Loch just round the corner being the first. A short walk across rough grazing land and I was at the northern end of this small loch, located adjacent to the sea on Yell’s south coast. It was full of weed, weed that looked like seaweed. In fact I even dipped my finger in the loch and tasted the water to make sure it was freshwater and not saltwater. I fished quickly round the full loch in a strong wind, casting long to get past the weed. I blanked. I didn’t see a sign of a trout nor did it look like it contained trout, though I’m sure it must?

Lochs of Lumbister
I drove north through Mid Yell looking for the Burn of Colvister, which I was to follow up to the loch of the same name. It was just starting to rain so I donned full waterproofs, not realising they wouldn’t be coming off for the next 2 days. I fished Loch of Colvister, the lochs that make up Lochs of Lumbister, a few unnamed lochs and finally Evra Loch – a round trip of about 6 miles. I caught a few trout to around 1lb, mainly from the largest of the Lochs of Lumbister. It never stopped raining all afternoon and driven by a strong wind it penetrated my expensive waterproofs. I don’t think any waterproof clothing would have kept me dry that day. Walking from Evra Loch back to the car I became disorientated and at one point, no exaggeration, I didn’t have a clue in which direction I should be walking. Luckily I had this eventuality covered in the form of Viewranger, a brilliant app that converts a smartphone into a GPS. Getting lost in the Shetland wilderness was always a dangerous possibility, so my mobile phone in a waterproof case with Viewranger installed and the relevant OS maps downloaded was my safety net. It worked brilliantly and I breathed a huge sigh of relief when the car came into view.

The plan was to wild camp on Yell and catch the ferry to Unst first thing in the morning. However, I was so wet that the thought of pitching my tent on the sodden ground, cooking and getting into dry gear in the continuous rain was unappealing to say the least. A quick check of the inter-island ferry timetable showed a ferry for Unst leaving in 20 minutes. I telephoned the youth hostel where I was booked for the following 2 nights to ask if they had a room that night. They did and I was heading for the ferry terminal in a flash, heater on full.

Gardiesfauld Youth Hostel - Unst
The view from the conservatory.
Gardiesfauld Youth Hostel on the island of Unst is the most northerly youth hostel in the UK. Now I have never in my life stayed in a youth hostel so didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t really care what it was like as long as it was warm and dry, in fact just dry! It turned out to be more than I ever could have hoped for. It was a complete godsend! Had I driven straight there from the luxury of the Scalloway Hotel I’d still have been happy with what awaited me: massive kitchen with full facilities; large bedroom to myself; heated conservatory overlooking the sea where you could dine; drying room – everything you could ever need, cheap and spotlessly clean. If you are ever on the island of Unst this place is a must!

I woke the next morning and it was still raining but the wind had strengthened. I stuck with my plan and headed out to fish. My first port of call was Loch of Belmont, located adjacent to the ferry terminal where I’d arrived the night before. The wind was a nightmare but I got a line out across the waves without too much problem. My slow intermediate was put to use - a floater would have been useless in those conditions with my team of flies bouncing all over the place. I didn’t catch at Belmont. You could of course blame the windy conditions, it had stirred up the loch and made it very coloured, but I did have a confident feeling while fishing there. The only interesting thing to happen here was a couple of Terns dive-bombing my flies as I retrieved them just sub-surface. They were literally being driven mad by them and I was worried in case they took them!

Next stop was Loch of Snarravoe. It was much the same story as Belmont with the wind stirring up the water making it practically unfishable so I didn’t hang around long.

Conditions were so bad I returned to the youth hostel to make lunch and dry out before venturing out to fish Loch of Watlee. Again conditions were terrible but I found shelter from the wind and waves at the back of a promontory at the southern end where I’d parked. I caught 2 trout here that lifted my spirits no end before moving to one of Shetland’s fishing crown jewels: Loch of Cliff.

Loch of Cliff in recent years has seen a massive explosion in big fish being caught. This is due to a fish farm located towards the southern end and now 3lb and 4lb fish are common. This is THE place to come for big trout, however, it is a large loch, over 2 miles from north to south, so where do you start? Colin has a contact on Unst who knows Cliff very well. He’d given me his phone number so I parked at the north end and rang him for advice, which was:

If fishing the west shore, fish from the north end; and if fishing the east shore, fish from the south end. He advised that I fish the east shore because it has a series of bays that would provide shelter from the wind. He then went on… walk about 100yds past the fish cages to a gravel/sand bank sticking out into the loch. There is a weed bed off here and there are good fish in there feeding on snails. Don’t wade because the fish are close in. Use a Sedgehog or similar because the fish were now on Sedges.

So off I drove to the south end and walked as instructed past the fish cages to said gravel bank. I flicked my flies into the water near the aforementioned weed-bed and before I knew what was happening I was attached to a rather large trout. It pulled the scale down to 2¼lb! Talk about good advice and knowing your stuff!
A 2¼lb Loch of Cliff trout

This was a game changer for me. With the 2 trout from Watlee, which weren’t a bad size, and now a 2¼lb trout from Cliff, the day didn’t seem so bad after all. I fished all the bays on my way back to the car and caught numerous trout of varying sizes, though nothing approaching the size of my first Loch of Cliff trout. All’s well that ends well as they say!

The next day dawned much brighter and the wind had dropped. In fact the weather was perhaps too good for good fishing. I fished the west shore of Loch of Cliff from the north end as advised. Access was much harder due to a sheer bank but I caught 2 trout about 1lb each and saw a few others move.

After my evening meal I had a session on Loch of Hoversta and Loch of Vatnagarth. Bruce Sandison's book (Rivers & Lochs Of Scotland: The Angler's Complete Guide) says not to wade because it’s dangerous, but I fail to see how you could fish either of these lochs without wading. They are crystal clear but only inches deep as far as you can see or cast. The bottom was made up of small stones so I see no reason why it would be dangerous. Wearing just walking boots I was just p*****g in the wind so I headed back to the youth hostel via a few Viking ruins on a nearby beach...

...Trout Fishing In Shetland Part Four – The Island of Fetlar & A Return To Yell

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

Useful Links:
Gardiesfauld Youth Hostel:
Shetland Anglers Association: