Saturday, 2 November 2013

Trout Fishing In Shetland – A Summary

It's a few months now since my return from trout fishing Shetland, in which time I've had chance to reflect on the experience. It was by no means an easy trip with long walks over rough ground, some pretty horrendous weather conditions at times, hard fishing, camping and fending for myself most of the time, to name but a few of the hardships. I was certainly ready for home by the time my trip came to an end. Clearly there were many high points as well, which will live long in my memory. The question is would I return to fish in Shetland again?…

Shetland is a very bleak place, though most people would expect that of a collection of small islands sandwiched between the North Atlantic, North Sea, the Artic Circle and Scotland. I like wilderness and bleakness, the more so the better when fishing, so I loved that aspect of the trip. Imagine fishing all day every day for over 2 weeks and seeing less than 10 other anglers! And they tended to be around the popular lochs near Lerwick, Shetland’s capital. The remote emptiness of the landscape is beautiful if you like that sort of thing, but I can understand that not everyone would and some might feel quite lonely, isolated and intimidated by it. If I was to return it would be one of my main reasons for doing so.

Oystercatcher near Loch of Tingwall
Oystercatcher near
Loch of Tingwall
The wildlife, while not exactly spectacular, is splendid and amazingly abundant. The moors are home to the same birds we get throughout the upland areas of the UK, just in much higher numbers. Golden Plover, Dunlin, Snipe and Red Shank are everywhere. Then you get other birds that are rare in this country outside Shetland, such as the plentiful and menacing Great Skua, impressive Red Throated Divers and dainty Red Necked Pharalope that pull bird watchers from all over the UK. The colonies of sea birds need to be seen to be believed. Then there are otters, seals, whales, dolphins... So yes, as many do, it is worth a trip for the wildlife alone.

You expect 'weather' in Shetland, at any time of year. But go prepared and equipped and make the most of it. As quick as it blows in it's usually gone again. But then there's the wind! Unfortunately the same can't be said of the wind - it is almost always windy in Shetland, very windy, even on a 'calm' day. In my time in Shetland I only witnessed two flat calms, and they were very short lived. In such an open and exposed place there's usually no escaping the wind either. You just have to put up with it and adjust your casting accordingly. My advice if you are planning a trip to Shetland (or similar places such as Orkney) would be to get some casting lessons aimed at coping with the wind from all directions. Then go to the most exposed field you can find on a windy day and practice casting in all directions (i.e. into wind, wind behind and from both sides). That said it wasn't really casting in the wind that caused most of my problems, it was tying up the leader, tying on flies, getting the line on the water without tangling to make the first cast, etc. Once fishing I didn't have many problems with the wind and often felt it helped the fishing as long as it wasn't bright. I found the fishing hard in bright conditions and uncomfortable in the wind and rain, but I'd rather be uncomfortable and catching fish than comfortable and not! So weather is part and parcel of fishing in Shetland, I just feel I was particularly unlucky with what I got this year.

Fly selection was a bit of a headache before I went. I did go over the top with the variety of flies I took and the numbers to a certain extent. I read about 'must have' flies for Shetland that simply didn't work for me and other tried and tested flies from home that did the business. Looking back at my experience I would say that the more coloured (peat stained) lochs fished better to traditional wets flies - flies with flash and colour (e.g. Butchers and Bloody Butchers) on the point, teamed with bushy and bright flies (e.g. Ke-He, Clan Chief, Claret Bumble) further up the leader. The clear/er lochs were best tackled with sparser, more imitative wets and even nymphs (Black Pennel, Hutch's Pennel, Black Diawl Bach, Kate McLaren). It is also worth mentioning that ALL my biggest fish took a floating top dropper pattern, by far the best pattern for the big trout was a Kate McLaren Muddler (all my 2lb plus trout took it) and Sedgehog patterns were useful too. Only once did I get the chance to fish dries through a hatch and I filled my boots on Skutes Water with a deer hair sedge imitation - fantastic fishing, one of the highlights of the trip. So I wouldn't go to Shetland without a selection of dries: sedges, hoppers, daddies, midge patterns, etc.

Wilderness Fishing
"Wilderness Fishing"
Sand Water with Ronas Hill
(Shetland's highest point)
in the distance
And then of course there's the trout fishing. There can't be many places world over with so much fishing! You read phrases such as, "enough lochs to fish a different one every day of the year"; "don't change your fly if you're not catching, change lochs"; all very true. The lochs give a terrific variety of fishing from crystal clear lochs to peat stained; small fish lochs to specimen lochs and lochs with mostly small fish but with the chance of a ‘good un’. Even neighbouring lochs and connected lochs can vary enormously in character and the trout they hold. That is one of the things I found most exciting about trout fishing in Shetland, i.e. not knowing what you’re going to catch next. If you can brave the elements then Shetland is an angler’s paradise. If you’re fit and energetic you can walk miles fishing wilderness lochs hoping for a specimen trout. If you’re not so fit and energetic you can fish roadside lochs that still feel (and are) remote, or boat fish, or float-tube – still with the chance of a specimen…the fishing opportunities are virtually endless in Shetland! So although I found it tough going at times the fishing was superb. It doesn’t matter where you go in the world, if the conditions aren't right you’re going to struggle! My choice of lochs didn't make it easy either. I could have fished lochs with small trout where success is almost guaranteed, but instead I had elected to concentrate mainly on the dour, big fish lochs. This was always going to mean tough fishing so I can't then complain at the lack of fish I caught. If you bet on the outsider you can't expect to win every race!
Heading Home
"Heading Home"
Leaving Shetland behind sailing to
Aberdeen and onwards home.

So would I return to Shetland? Well as you’ve probably gathered by now the answer to that is a resounding YES, the sooner the better! In fact as I write I am planning next year's fishing trip, to the Galicia region of Spain, and I am already starting to feel slightly sad that I won't be returning to Shetland next year. But I will return and I won't leave it too long!

I do hope you’ve enjoyed my Shetland blog posts and that they inspire you to venture there one day. It is of those places you’ve just got to visit before you die, or perhaps become too old to get the best from it. If you’re interested in an escorted trip I have given some thought to taking a large cottage in Shetland for a couple of weeks, using it as a base and doing a bit of guiding/escorted fishing. If this interests you please do get in touch to register your interest.