Robert MacDougall-Davis reveals his top ten North Uist trout lochs.
"Re-produced from an article originally published in Fly Fishing and Fly Tying Magazine."
A labyrinth of vast, mysterious and seldom fished lochs lie hidden away in the watery paradise of North Uist. So where on earth do you start and how does the visiting angler, who may only have 10 days to fish several lifetimesí worth of water, get the best out of this loch fishermanís wonderland?
Well to start with and contrary to popular belief there is a tremendous variety of trout fishing in North Uist. True that the majority of lochs, and some of the finest, are peaty and full of 10 inch pocket rockets, but there are also some very different and intriguing waters to explore. Bulky slob trout proliferate in the many brackish lagoons, while magnificent, leopard-spotted golden trout inhabit the necklace of machair lochs strung along the islandís west coast. Confronted by this bewildering array of top quality and varied trout fishing, the choice has proved to be overwhelming for many a visiting angler. Thus, while I draw the line at playing Ariadne, or the Minotaur for that matter, I hope this Top 10 list serves you, as the ball of thread served Theseus for his navigation of the labyrinth.
So how, I hear you ask, is it possible to pick a Top 10 from Uistís countless trout lochs? The truth is, there is such a wealth of trout-filled lochs and lochans at the fishermanís fingertips that a Top 10 list can only really claim to be a rough guide to good trout water rather than a rigid list of the Ďbestí lochs. Nonetheless, after a certain amount of umming and arring and a few pints of Broadside, I finally managed to put together a list of my top ten lochs which have all, on their day, been the arena for prolific trout fishing. For the most part, the lochs mentioned are seldom fished and one could spend the best part of a lifetime in solitude getting to know the idiosyncrasies of each one. So, please bear with me as I try, in just a few paragraphs, to give you a flavour of the trout fishing available.
A good loch to cut your teeth on and one which I have long had a soft spot for is South Scadavay Ė my number 10. There was a time when the peaty Loch Scadavay was actually the largest body of freshwater on the island, but today the desolate island highway cuts the loch in half giving rise to North and South Scadavay. Both North and South are still enormous in their own right and there are, no doubt, many rarely, if ever fished places within each loch. South Scadavay is not just where I caught my first brown trout on the fly, but is also home to some rather special trout. A perusal of the hotel fishing log will reveal a story of days filled with trout, punctuated by the occasional specimen brownie in the 5-7lb bracket. The loch is branching and has many bays, inlets and islands, most of which are highly productive areas to try your luck. If you are after one of the big boys then a dabble close to the salmon cages is never a bad plan, as a few submarines hoover up unwanted tit-bits that filter down beneath the cages like marine snow.
Barely a stoneís throw away across the highway and Coming in at number 9 we have North Scadavay, which is well worth an expedition. Offering more features and less fished than its southern sister loch, North Scadavay has many overhanging rowan trees, islands and submerged reefs. To my eye, North Western end, is particularly attractive and has yielded many a fine trout from around the islands, bays and narrows that abound in this part of the loch. For both North and South Scadavay, flies with a splash of orange (e.g. Dunkeld) seem to be particularly alluring to the finned inhabitants.
A mile or so round the corner, and my number 8, is the mysterious brackish underworld of Loch Strumore. This saline lagoon receives a diurnal influx of tasty morsels from the sea and it is here, in amongst the bladder wrack and sponges, that large slob trout thrive. Far from being slobs, these magnificent trout are broad shouldered, hard-fighting golden bars and are invariably gorged to the gunnels with gammarus shrimps, tiny porcelain crabs, fry and terrestrials. While baskets of trout are possible, Strumore tends to produce fewer fish than its peaty counterparts. Those fish you do run into, however, are likely to be bicep twitching rod bending beauties! Trout in the 2-4lb range are not unusual and considerably larger specimens are never far from your rod tip.
Over on the West and coming in at number 7, the peaty water of Loch Vausary can provide excellent sport. Some distance from the road, this loch is tucked away in the heather below the MOD early warning system dome. Large numbers of average size trout prosper in Vausaryís shallow, rock studded waters and an action packed day is always a possibility. On the Eastern shore one or two rocky outcrops jut out into the loch, and raking your flies along the fringes of these, more often than not, triggers a response. It is also well worth having a flutter around the islands and offshore reefs where some of the better fish lie. After heavy rain, working your flies right up to the mouth of the burn, which flows in from Loch Stephainn, is a good move, as a cluster of fish often gather to intercept food drifting in from the moor. At the end of the Locheport road is perhaps the most challenging and secluded loch in the Top 10. At number 6, the colossal Loch Obisary, is not for the fainthearted. In dire weather, dark clouds and blasting winds pour over the summit of Eaval (1138ft) and plunge onto the isolated and windswept Obisary. Stories of broken oars and drifting boats are not unheard of, and with scant shelter, this is a loch to avoid in a howling noríester. Nonetheless, for those who do venture forth in more benign conditions, Obisary has its rewards. With a tidal entrance and saline gradient the loch is again home to slob trout as well as a large population of good sized brown trout. The cluster of islands on the east coast is a good area but on this loch, exploring is the name of the game.
Rolling in at number 5, we have Loch an Aongais. Straddling peat and shell sand, this eutrophic (nutrient rich) loch offers a very intimate fishing experience and has a very high population of brownies. A sprawling forest of reeds (Phragmites australis) dominates much of the water and a small Duin stands as sentinel to the loch. As a result of elevated calcium levels, the loch is home to an abundance of snails which provides the rocket fuel for some sizeable trout. Later in the season weed growth makes fishing tricky, although trout still willingly come to the fly in the open water around the forest of reeds. Muddlerís and Daddyís fish well here and sometimes bring up the better fish. This is a loch were you can rapidly be into double figures although, being surrounded by houses on one side and sheltered by Crogary Mor on the other, it is in stark contrast to the isolated abyss of Loch Obisary.
At number 4, Geirreann Mill is an expansive and superb oligotrophic (nutrient poor) peaty loch. Somehow, this loch always seems very different every time I fish it, and while it generally fishes well throughout, fortunes are harder to predict than some. It is not that it is a temperamental loch, as such, it just has a habit of throwing up surprises in terms of wildlife, hatches and catches. Much of Geirreann Millís coastline is indented and punctuated with a plethora of rocky promontories, sandy bays and inlets. These areas are always worth a pop. In particular, the skerries and narrows at the South Western end of the loch are home to some good fish, and have been particularly productive for me in recent years.
Moving back over to the Atlantic pummelled west coast, we have a pair of absolute gems in Lochs Hosta and Eaval. At number 3 and 2 respectively, both lie nestling in the machair, encircled by a blanket of wild flowers. Here, in water as clear as the finest Russian Vodka, large bars of machair gold flourish. These lochs represent superb fisheries and, in my view, offer some of the premier brown trout fishing in Britain. Hosta harbours some very large browns which, when conditions are right, will readily come to the fly. The loch has no islands and is relatively featureless on the face of it, but look beneath the ripples and the water springs to life. Wading small sandy bottomed bays and flicking your flies alongside giant submerged boulders and weed racks can offer great sport. The northern shore shelves off quite sharply and bank fishing along this drop-off can sometimes produce a string of fish and some gut wrenching-pulls from the larger inhabitants. Over on the Southern shore the reedy areas are also worth probing, as large fish linger in wait for stray sticklebacks or a flailing Daddy Long-Legs.
Although very weedy during the summer months, the Northern arm of Eaval holds plenty of good fish. Fishing in the open water, between weed patches, can be highly productive and large fish are present. For both of these lochs, small, lightly dressed flies like a size 18 Teal Blue and Silver, Bloody Butcher, Peter Ross, Kate McLaren, or MacDougallís Saphire and Silver, are usually the order of the day, although fishing natural terrestrials, snail and fry imitations can also be extremely effective. In particular donít go to the machair lochs, or any other for that matter, without a red and black ant imitation as these little snacks can appear in droves around August and, at times, drive the trout completely bonkers!
Well here we are, at number 1. So is this really the best loch in North Uist where bumper catches are guaranteed? Probably not! It is, however, top of my list and it is here that you will find me fishing to my heartís content under the Hebridean sky. The only way to get to this peaty water is via a stiff walk and a good bog hop. Wading through knee-high heather, the lucky angler who approaches this loch will be greeted by a silver horizon that stretches out as far as the eye can see. This is Fada, the loch fisherís paradise.
Fada is a giant, sprawling and diverse loch which has it all. Here, the roving fisherman will find islands, reefs, boulders, mini cliff faces, sandy beaches, rocky coves, narrows, large basins and even bays studded with lily-pads. Add to this, trout eager to take the fly, and you have a mouth-watering combination. Every year I explore new areas of this loch, making some swashbuckling discoveries! Artic Char, who are partial to a fly, also swim in these waters and it is thought that ferox trout inhabit the deeper holes too. As with many of the Top 10 lochs the best places to fish on Fada probably remain undiscovered or at least seldom fished. That said, towards the far end of this loch lies an archipelago of heather-clad islands and submerged mini-reefs, and it is whilst wading in this maze of features that I have had most luck.
Now I know I said this was just a top ten, but a top ten would not be the same without a wild card. Loch an Duin has long had a reputation as a hit or miss all or nothing water. In this loch, hefty slob trout lurk. The local slobs, eager for their dinner, congregate around the narrows and tidal entrances in anticipation of the high tide which spills in over the rocky sills, inundating the Loch with a host of coastal delicacies. Vast underwater meadows of lush green eel-grass reach towards the surface and in this web of weed fronds, monsters stir. Scraping a Muddler Minnow, late in the evening above these submerged pastures can trigger spectacular white-shark style attacks from fish that, nourished on a rich sea food diet, reach specimen proportions.
Well there you have it, my Top 10 North Uist trout lochs - for the moment. You can see photograph of the lochs mentioned in this article by visiting my website www.wildaboutfishing.co.uk. I am forever exploring new water in this area and the more I explore and the more I discover about the trout fishing, the more I realise how little I know! A quick glance at the OS map confirms that, in all these years, I have fished only a fraction of the islandís trout-filled lochs and lochans. And what a blessing that is, because searching for beautiful wild trout, while exploring new water on North Uist, has got to be one of the most enjoyable forms of fly fishing in Britain.
Tackle, tactics and timing
A fast-actioned 9í6 AFTM #6 is my weapon of choice for trouting on Uist, as this rod easily throws an open looped team of traditional wets while also having the backbone to whirl a glass minnow through a howling wind. Floating lines cover most eventualities, but when white horses leap from the crests of waves, I switch to an intermediate sink tip that keeps those flies fishing.
While a profusion of wet flies and natural imitations are effective on the island, over the years and with help from many local friends, my father and I have assembled our Uist Dream Team in which we have faith. Our set-up consists of a 20ft leader (seaguar fluoro 0.18mm 6.6lb) with a team of three evenly spaced flies. On the bob we tend to fish a well ginked Daddy Long-Legs (size 10) or perhaps a bushy Claret and Bumble (size 10-12), followed by a lightly dressed size 12-14 Blue Zulu, Kate McLaren, Soldier Palmer or my favourite Blue Zulu inspired, MacDougallís Saphire and Silver on the middle dropper. On the tail we usually deploy a small (size 14-18) Bloody Butcher, Teal, Blue and Silver, Soldier Palmer or Black Pennel. Aside from the Dream Team, I always carry ant patterns, CdC emergers, buzzers, muddler minnows, fry imitations, f-lies and a host of other naturals all of which have, on occasion, come up trumps.
Although boats are available on all the above lochs I find a combination of boat, bank and wading yields the most trout and if you have a float-tube, that is also a possibility. As far as timing your trip goes, the islandís lochs fish well from April onwards with, in my experience, September providing the peak of the fishing. Mornings tend to fish well and sport generally seems to tail off from late tea time onwards which is convenient really when a glowing fire, square meal and whisky beckon!
Authors website: www.wildaboutfishing.co.uk
Ferry: Caledonian MacBrayne operate daily sailings from Uig (Skye) to Lochmaddy (North Uist) or you can sail from Oban (mainland) to Lochboisdale (South Uist) and drive up and onto North Uist (www.calmac.co.uk).
Plane: British Airways operate regular flights (c. £150 return) between Glasgow and Benbecula (North Uist).
Season: The trout season runs March 15th Ė September 30th
Licence: Licences and detailed access maps for all of the lochs, and information on the boat availability, can be obtained from North Uist estate at the Lochmaddy Hotel (Tel: 01876 500331) or estate office in Lochmaddy. The excellent North Uist Angling Club (www.nuac.co.uk) also offer day and weekly tickets on some of the waters mentioned. Tickets can be obtained from Clachan Stores.
Tide timetables: If you try your luck slob fishing, accurate seven day advance tide timetables can be obtained from: http://easytide.ukho.gov.uk/Easytide/EasyTide/index.aspx (listed as: Loch Maddy)