As is the tradition I set off to spend the first three weeks of September on the Isle of Lewis in the Hebrides. Luckily this year i was able to spend the time in my girlfriend's cottage - Dollag's Cottage - but unfortunately money was tight and so I wasn't able to chase any stags this year. With this in mind I decided to fish for trout on Lewis and try to bag a sika stag in Ireland where I have access to some ground.
Part of the appeal of Lewis for a wandering trout angler is that you can, basically, go anywhere you like and almost all of the trout fishing is free and freely available. In general if you can walk to it then you can fish it. I gain a lot of pleasure from spreading the OS maps out on the floor while I eat breakfast and then picking a loch for the day depending on the wind and how far I feel like walking. The moor is usually empty and can often appear bleak and even rather threatening but on a good day you can't beat it:
Weather and water conditions in the Hebrides have been a little strange this year as they had no rain in the spring and early summer and during my visit the wind was generally quite gusty and cold, autumn has already arrived and by the time I was leaving the colour was going from the heather in some areas. In truth the conditions were less than ideal for trout fishing with little scope for a steady warm breeze. However that was no excuse not to get out on the moor and get at least a few trout in the bag. On my first day out I headed for the sun lochs with a view to walking out to the sheep loch beyond. As I was tying on the flies on the smaller of the sun lochs I spotted an eagle fly past in the distance, a fairly unremarkable incident for Lewis. I fished the sun lochs and, of course made tea. Tea is an important part of my fishing and I like to get a little stove going in a sheltered spot. Often the moor is dotted with old sheilings - old stone buildings where many generations of people in times long past spent their summer. Even better is the fact that there is often an old shelf or two in these buildings to shelter the stove from the breeze:
After tea I headed out towards the sheep loch and spotted this fellow on the moor in front of me:
Of course I had no binos with me, they are not exactly a requirement for trout fishing, but he soon took to the air:
Not exactly what I expected on the moor but a further shock was to come when I rounded a little mound on the moor and put another one up at my feet. In itself quite a remarkable day. I progressed on to the sheep loch and had a nice fish and made more tea in a suitable sheiling, sheltered from the wind and enjoying the peace and quite of a day out.
Over the three weeks I fished a number of lochs, though nowhere near my record of 41 lochs for two weeks, and each offered their own appeal and even the occasional trout or two for the pan.
My girlfriend was keen that I should get her a salmon and, to be honest, I have little or no interest in salmon fishing and the last time I did it was about 11 years ago when I had a fish from Loch Voshimid. None the less as the trout fishing wasn't going as well as usual it seemed like the salmon might offer as much sport as anything, though there hadn't been much water in recent weeks.
With my box of salmon flies in my pocket I headed for the river for what would be my first day for salmon in a long time, and my first cast on a river in a very long time as well. There wasn't a lot of water for salmon and I didn't hold much hope:
However, as ever the conditions for making tea and having lunch behind a peat bank were great with the heather in good colour this year:
On the first day I managed to hook and lose one fish and it wasn't such an impressive performance but there was some rain in the forecast and so I made arrangements to come back at a later date. The rain came as predicted and all the burns were running high plus the river was also well up and so it was with a degree of optimism that I set out for my second day. As it was I had 5 salmon for the day which, for someone who never goes salmon fishing, seems like quite a reasonable total to me. Lewis fish tend not to be big and most of mine were around the 4lb mark I'd guess and despite the strange weather conditions early in the year they were not too coloured so I kept two and they made very good eating indeed:
Between days at salmon there were, of course, days spend on the lochs for trout and while I must be honest and say that this year wasn't a remarkable year for the trout fishing it still gave me a few days, and views, to remember:
As I knew there were fish in the river it was decided to take another day for salmon, even though the water was low, and I fished up the river with much effort and concentration but neither saw nor moved a fish. I decided to work my way back down and to fish a few pools that I was sure were holding fish. Despite more effort nothing moved to my flies:
On the very last good pool, where I'd decided to cut off the flies for the year, I had a head and tail rise from a salmon that put up an almighty fight. The details are a little vague, even to me, but other anglers may understand when I say that somehow in order to get the fish into the net it became necessary for me to end up on my hands and knees in the river. Don't ask me to explain this, but the end result was a nice fish of around 5lb on the bank:
Once I had the salmon on the bank I cut the flies off my cast and that will be my fishing finished for this year - what a way to end the season. I had dinner with my girlfriend and as I returned to Dollag's Cottage the night sky was lit up with Northern Lights adding something special to a day spent on the river listening to the migrating geese flying in overhead and feeling that autumn had once more arrived.