Friday, 4 October 2013

Trout Fishing In Shetland Part Five – Return To The Mainland

Mill Loch, Mainland
Mill Loch, Mainland
From the ferry I drove to Collafirth in the north east of the Mainland. In the hills above this tiny fishing village and sheltered inlet are 2 lochs that hold good trout. Typically the book described them as “not easy”. Neither are they easy to get to with a very steep uphill walk required to get to them. I elected to fish Mill Loch first, the furthest of the 2 and then on my way back fish Clubba Water. The view from the top of Collafirth Hill looking north east was amazing. Below me was Mill Loch, a sizeable piece of water, and beyond was island scattered blue seas, in fact the very islands I’d just returned from...

Great Skua or "Bonxie"
Great Skua or "Bonxie"
Throughout my trip I’d encountered Great Skuas and Mill Loch was no different. Known as Bonxies, Great Skuas, which can look remarkably like a Buzzard, are everywhere in Shetland. Virtually every walk you make to a loch has them swooping towards you in an attempt to divert you from their nesting site. They are a majestic bird that on first glimpse look like a big, stocky, immature gull, with their drab, speckled, brown, colouration. Closer inspection reveals a beautifully marked bird and a skillful flyer, swooping low over the loch or hovering motionless over your head making definite eye contact.

I was faced with the same conditions that I had on Yell, i.e. cloudless sky (and therefore very bright) and a strong wind. It was warm too and the first time during the trip that I’d fish in a T-shirt. I fished around the nearest shore, passing the inlet stream from Clubba Water. The loch looked perfect and on a better day I’m sure I’d have connected with a few trout, but not today. I returned to the inlet stream and made my way uphill to Clubba Water. Here the loch was more sheltered and almost flat calm. The margins had large numbers of adult sedges flying about, hatching occasionally and egg laying. Below the surface the rocks were littered with cased sedge larva crawling around. This loch was a real larder for trout, coupled with the remote location, not to mention the tough hike to get there, and you could imagine there being some serious trout under the surface that rarely see a fly. I tried a floating line and sedge imitations, and a DI3 with lures but to no avail – at least I was keeping fit!

So it was back to the campsite at Eshaness where I’d stayed with Vicky in my first week. I’d stay the night here and fish the Eshaness Lochs the next day. I enjoyed my earlier brief visit here and felt it was my time to catch a good trout from one of the fertile Eshaness lochs. After pitching the tent and cooking my supper I drove the short distance to the lochs for an evening session. Arriving at the first (Loch of Breckon) it was flat calm in the beautiful evening sunset and there were plenty of trout rising to Caenis that quickly littered my clothing. Rises were a bit sporadic so targeting an individual fish would be difficult, and all the fish appeared to be on the small side so I opted to continue driving to the other lochs further along the peninsular. I parked at the roadside near Loch of Framgord which was flat calm also, but here there were no rising trout. I grabbed my rod and walked across the short grass to the nearby Loch of Houlland.
Flat calm Loch of Houlland
Flat calm Loch of Houlland
Houlland sits in a slight depression and only comes into view when you get quite close, but as it did I could see that it too was flat calm and there were fish rising everywhere. At the water’s edge I stood and watched for a while, looking for bigger fish and trying to deduce a pattern to the rises. These fish were also taking Caenis, which typically were hatching in their millions. Most of the better fish were out in deeper water so despite the flat calm I would have to wade. This would of course create waves and likely put the fish down but there was no other option. The trout did indeed stop rising as I entered the water and waded out from the bank, but I knew they would come back on if I waited patiently without casting. Gradually the rises returned, some remarkably close to where I was stood waist deep in the loch. Amongst the rises there were some good fish head and tailing; I saw one fish that I would have put somewhere near 5lb! I tied on my leader a single CDC Upwing and cast it out as far as I could (it’s strange how you can never cast as far in flat calm conditions!) and played the waiting game. I had a few sub-surface swirls to my dry and a single splashy rise but no hook-ups. Tough conditions but an interesting experience all the same.

There is something different about these Eshaness Lochs to the rest of Shetland. They are surrounded by short grass and grazing land, and the area is relatively flat, rather than the more usual heather and hilly bleakness of the rest of Shetland. They resemble English small stillwaters and they are relaxing to fish. The plan was to return in the morning and hopefully there’d be a wind and ripple making things easier.

This would be the last time I would wish for wind in Shetland! I was rudely woken at about 4am with my tent violently rippling in the wind. A weather front had moved in and the exposed campsite at Eshaness and my tent were baring the brunt of it. The wind was so strong and loud that it, and the accompanying torrential rain, kept me awake for the remainder of the night. I lay there thinking about how I could possibly cook my breakfast. My tent was too small to cook in and there was no chance of cooking outside the tent in that weather. Eventually I decided to remove my inner tent and cook under the fly sheet, which worked remarkably well. I sent a text to my wife as I had breakfast telling her about the terrible conditions and I said that I couldn’t bring myself to fish. I took down the tent and got into the car. The Eshaness Lochs were out of the question with their exposed cliff-top position but just down the road and up a rough moorland track was a loch I’d yet to fish that was reputed to hold good trout – Gluss Water. It was worth a look at least, what else did I have to do?

The rough track turned out rougher than expected, certainly more suited to a proper 4X4 than my 4X4 estate car. I had to turn back twice and find alternative routes before I eventually arrived at the rain lashed Gluss Water. The rain was so heavy that the track I parked on had become a small stream. Rain water was pouring out of the saturated peat into the loch, visibility through the rain was down to a couple of hundred metres and the wind raged – proper Shetland weather! Weather so bad that I even took a video to try and relay how bad it was (see below). Parking the car into the wind I got shelter from my raised tailgate as I prepared to enter the monsoon. I set up a typical 3 fly cast and prepared to go through the motions again. Surely no trout could even see a fly in that!

I was literally just going through the motions, casting out, head down under my hood away from the rain, retrieving robotically, moving a few steps and repeating. I hadn’t gone far when… surely that wasn’t a pluck on my line! I looked up and there was the telltale rings – yes I’d missed a fish… then another… and another. OK 3 fished missed so enough is enough, time to concentrate and turn the day around. It worked! I quickly released 3 fish, which in those conditions I thought was remarkable, but then I suppose Shetland trout are used to it so maybe not!

Driving back down the track was worse than driving up it. It was hard finding the route I’d used and now there were puddles so deep that you hardly dare drive through them, fearing how deep they actually were. The weather was still too rough to cook lunch so I decided that I would treat myself to fish and chips in the cafe at the award winning Frankie’s Fish and Chips in Brae, Britain’s most northerly fish and chip shop. Fish and chips have never tasted so good! Washed down with copious amounts of tea! Over lunch I pondered my afternoon plan. I needed to camp back in Lerwick that night so I’d end the day at Loch of Asta, near neighbour to Loch of Tingwall and close to Lerwick. Rather than head straight there I’d fish somewhere en-route and I remembered a loch not far away that Colin had recommended – Loch of Lunnister.

Improving weather at
Loch of Lunnister
Emerging from the fish and chip shop there had been a slight improvement in the weather. The wind had eased and the rain could now be described as light. I fished the semicircle that is the southern shore of Lunnister, but the wind was wrong for this loch. The westerly wind was blowing across the loch rather than down the loch and it just didn’t suit. I still felt confident because Lunnister looks quite fishy with a good depth of water close in, but it wasn’t to be so I was back in the car and heading south for Loch of Asta.

By the time I reached Asta it was like a different day. The wind was now probably less than moderate and the sky was blue with fluffy white clouds. Out on the
Loch of Asta - you wouldn't
believe it was the same day!
loch was an angler fishing from his boat and below me on the western shore was a bank angler. I dropped down through the fields to join the angler on the western shore but quickly moved to the other side. The wind was from the west so the upwind shore was calm, though fish could be seen rising on the ripple line. The east bank felt much better and long casting 45° across the wind with a team of 3 and varying the retrieve I felt confident. I landed a good trout and missed 3 others that I felt came short. Loch of Asta is crystal clear and pretty fertile. The trout I’d landed took a Hutch’s Pennel, a slim, natural looking, buzzer like fly. The missed fish appeared to go for my bushy top dropper – this was to be a very important lesson for the next day when I was to return to Loch of Asta with Colin, fishing from his boat for my last day’s fishing.

My last day dawned bright and a little breezy. I felt mixed emotions; I was ready for home after over 2 weeks of solid fishing, walking, camping, fighting the elements, etc. but equally I’d miss the daily fishing and the pleasant problem of which loch to fish next. I helped Colin launch the boat onto the loch from the fairway of a golf course. Colin has a soft spot for Asta; it was here that he’d first cast a fly 42 years earlier, the one where he caught his first trout and it was his local loch - the one he’d call home from the hundreds of others in Shetland. You could say then that I was in good hands in a boat with someone with 42 years experience fishing the loch where we were drifting. But I had a theory from my previous evening's fishing: with Asta being fertile and crystal clear, it being a bright day, and the fish I caught taking a sparse fly while others splashed at a bushy fly I had a hunch that nymphs might just out-fish wets. While Colin set up with his tried and trusted Shetland traditionals and variations, I elected to fish the Hutch’s Pennel on the top dropper, a Black Diawl Bach with red rib in the middle and a standard Black Diawl Bach on the point. Colin fished his flies back at his usual fast pace while I figure of eighted mine back just faster than the drift of the boat. The result was immediate with a good trout first drift to my end of the boat. This continued all morning and past lunch. I offered Colin one of my “English” Diawl Bachs that were doing the damage, but he persevered with his wets (Shetland stubborn pride I reckon). Fish just kept coming to my flies; it was one of those days when I could do no wrong.

Drifting onto the eastern shore I cast close to the bank and commenced my retrieve. With the sun shining and the water so clear I could see every stone; one ‘stone’ stood out from the others for some reason. During the retrieve everything went tight and I lifted into a good fish. The stone I could see was attached to my line. It wasn’t a stone at all; it was the best fish of the day, about 1¾lb. It had been following my fly for what seemed like an age before deciding to take and I played it in amazement at what had happened.
Loch of Asta
Last day in Shetland - Colin
changing drifts on Loch of Asta

Eventually Colin could take no more and asked for a Diawl Bach. It gave him almost immediate success, but old habits die hard as they say and he just couldn’t slow down his retrieve sufficiently to what I was doing. The day ended with 17 fish to my rod and a single fish to Colin’s rod. Loch of Asta had given me a great farewell to Shetland but I felt for Colin. We’ve all had days like that when one can do no wrong and the other can do no right; this was my day and not Colin’s. Next time I’m sure our fortunes will be reversed. Colin is a great, thinking, fisherman, constantly changing his flies, tweaking things, adjusting the drift of the boat, etc. We were now firmly good friends and I can’t wait to meet him again.

After a quick cup of tea at Colin’s house I was on the overnight ferry for Aberdeen and my trip was over. I now had the time to reflect and gather my thoughts about my experiences in Shetland…

...Trout Fishing In Shetland – A Summary

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

Useful Links:
Frankie’s Fish and Chips:
Braewick Cafe & Campsite (Eshaness):
Shetland Anglers Association: