Fly Fishing for Wild Brown Trout

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This trip was planned for last year but, through illness, I didn't mange to go. This year was different; the only thing that worried me was fitness.

The drive up the A9 was as interesting as usual, the road works every so often to slow everyone down and cause even more congestion for the holiday maker. I still made my usual stop at North Kessock in three and a half hours and the Torridon car park in a little over five, which were my estimates.

It had been warm when I left home and had reached twenty five degrees Celsius by the time I reached Inverness, and that was only just after eleven in the morning. It had dropped to nineteen degrees by the time I reached the car park at the east end of Liathach, at the start of the path that would take me between it and Beinn Eighe. As soon as I stepped out of the car I felt the humidity. I had been running the air conditioning in the car off and on all the way up and it felt as if I had stepped out of the plane into some tropical holiday resort. This was no holiday resort as I looked up at the massive cliffs that seemed to surround me on all sides.

Torridon, Liathach and Beinn Eighe

The car park was full and it took a bit of manoeuvring to get the car parked where it wouldn't be in the way for the seven days it would be there. I pulled my gear from the boot of the car. Boots on and gaiters zipped up, GPS switched on to get the satellites, then the rucksack. Everything I needed for seven nights in the hills, all 18 Kilos of it. I settled it on my back, hung the camera and GPS round my neck, closed and locked the car making sure I put the keys in the zip pocket of my trousers, and set off

Never an easy moment this; the bag feels like lead; legs are stiff from driving and no idea what the path is like. I knew it rose eight hundred feet in the first mile then five hundred in the next mile and a half but you also have all the ups and down bits in between that don't show up on Anquet (mapping software). It is a well made up path that is well used, I met a lot of walkers on their way down, but some of it is like climbing stairs. Give me deer paths any day. Unlike humans they tend to take the least line of resistance to save energy, human path makers tend to think we should go straight up. By the time I reached the levelling out point I had had more stops than the local bus and I felt as if I had just stepped out of the shower, but I had made it.

Level is a bit of a misnomer, it was more down a bit, up a bit, a level bit before the next up bit and down bit. This area was heavily glaciated during the last ice age with loads of glaciers leaving debris behind in great heaps called moraines as if a giant mole family had run riot. I finally reached the area I had chosen to find a camp site, just where the path divided into two; the right path going on up to Coire Mhic Fhearchair and the Triple Buttress, more of which later; the left path going on to the West end of Liathach and Torridon village. Finding a camp site wasn't easy amongst all the rocks; big ones, little ones and gravel interspersed with rough grass and heather. Eventually I saw a likely spot on top of a hillock with two large rocks shielding it from the path; I wasn't looking for unwanted guests. It also caught the wind which would help if there were any midges about. There weren't any as it turned out. There was also a convenient loch for water and, more important, fish, some of which were obligingly rising as if to welcome me.

My campsite behind Liathach

By the time I got the tent up and everything out of the rucksack that wasn't needed for a days fishing I was absolutely done in. I did manage a few half hearted casts when I went to the loch for water but my heart wasn't in it. I walked back up to the tent, had dinner and sat about watching the stream of walkers heading back to their warm hotels and BandB's then turned in for the night. I had noticed that the fish were rising to Claret Duns so that was a good sign.


Today I had decided to fish Loch Coire Mhic Fhearchair as I thought it would be not too bad a walk. Looking at the map it was just over two miles in eight hundred feet of ascent, a long steady climb. The path is well made and the start is not too bad but again it is up and down and some parts are like climbing the Scott Monument in Edinburgh. As I turned the buttress of Sail Mhor into what I thought would be the corrie I looked up at the last quarter of a mile. A great rock cliff faced me with a waterfall cascading down it.

All the way up the mist had been up and down obscuring the glen floor but now that it had lifted I stopped and drank in the view, had a rest in other words, before tackling this last obstacle and headed into the corrie itself.

Although the air temperature was at 14ºC and the water at 10ºC, I fished right down the right hand side but neither saw nor caught anything. A spectacular place to wet a line but whether there are any fish in the loch I will leave it up to someone else to find out.

On the way down I marked on the GPS a waypoint for the closest loch to the Torridon path, Loch nan Cabar, so that I could make my way to it when the time came. I reached the tent exhausted again and decided that the next day would be a rest day to let the tension out of leg muscles which had become unaccustomed to hard walking, it was Sunday after all.

Loch beside campsite

Day 3

Sunday and I lazed about the camp area all day watching a steady stream of walkers heading up the path to Coire Mhic Fhearchair. I thought it might be a Covenanters outing it being Sunday. I eventually walked down to the loch below the camp site to have a serious fish at it; the water temperature was 12ºC and the air was 14ºC. I saw Claret and Olive Duns and Spinners and fish rising

It was a long thin loch, one hundred to one hundred and fifty yards long and thirty yards wide, and looked quite deep, with the wind blowing down its length from West to East. I started in the quiet area where the river ran out and was soon into my first fish of the outing, only 4oz but very welcome. I had another two fish from this area before moving down the bank back towards the tent. I had a few more fish and knocks, all three flies catching their share of fish. My Dry Fly #14 on the top, Iron Blue Dun #12 on the middle dropper and my HillLoch Nymph #12 on the tail. It was my usual setup, WF#7 floating line, braided loop (home made using braided backing), Airflo intermediate braided leader and ten feet of 5Lb Maxima Chameleon nylon with two droppers. The braided leader I coat with Muclin and it either floats on the surface, in the surface or just sub-surface depending on the last time it was coated. As I neared the other end of the loch I spotted a small fish throwing itself out of the water right in at the edge. I covered it and it missed the flies three times before giving up. I cast again into the area and as I retrieved the flies there was a subtle sip and the dry fly disappeared under the surface, I raised the rod and was suddenly aware I was playing the best fish of the day. After a fairly long struggle I brought in a fish of between 6 and 8oz bringing my tally for the day to seven fish returned. I would have had a picture of it but it jumped from my hand just as I pressed the shutter button on the camera. I had a few more casts then stopped for the day.

Day 4

It had rained heavily overnight and there was even more standing water than there had been when I arrived with puddles and rivulets everywhere. There was a definite change on and the wind had strengthened and moved from the West to nearer the North with a bite to it that cut through the two t-shirts and fleece jumper that I was wearing at breakfast.

I had decided that today I would head out into the wilds that stretched from where I was to Loch Maree to the North. I walked down the Torridon path and past the lochs that lie along side of it. This path isn't as well made up or maintained as the other path with some parts either under water, mud holes or eroded away at burns. I was negotiating one of these eroded parts and as I returned to the path which I could clearly see I went up to my thigh in black stinking peat; right in the middle of the bloody path. The hand holding the rod went in to the wrist and the reel disappeared with it. I pulled the hand and reel out and extricated my leg. It was lucky that a shower of heavy rain had come on a few minutes earlier and I had on my waterproofs or my trousers would have been covered in slime. I was only a few yards from a loch at this point so fifteen minutes in the water up to the top of my boots and judicious use of a piece of heather I had most of it cleaned off. I also washed the reel and handle of the rod and got rid of all the muck from them too; nothing like a bit of excitement on a walk in the wilds.

Picture of me and the view from the edge of Coire Mhic Fhearchair

I continued up the path for a few hundred yards then checked the GPS for the waypoint I had added for Loch nan Cabar, as I thought it was directly off to my right I had a look around for an easy route off the path choosing to walk up the ridge back of one of the moraines. I found a deer path to follow which made it a bit easier to navigate the giant mole hills that obscured my view of anything more than a few feet ahead. After a lot of circumnavigating these mounds and avoiding the bits in between, they were either, small weedy lochans, swamps or small rivulets; I eventually crested a rise to see my destination right in front of me.

The view wasn't the only thing that struck me; there was a freezing North wind right in my face. I walked round to a large promontory that nearly turns the loch into two and had a bite to eat in the calm area behind it. I checked temperatures air, 10ºC and water 14ºC, I would be cold but the fish should still be feeding. I also noticed a fair number of shucks floating about and the odd Claret Dun on the surface so it looked promising. I moved up to the point and cast out across the wind into the scum lanes that were streaming past hoping to pick up any fish following them. With nothing showing any interest I moved down and into the quieter water in the lea of the promontory. I felt a pluck, pluck, pluck then everything went tight and I brought a nice four ounce fish into the bank on the Iron Blue Dun. I had another two fish as I moved to the bay in the corner, one on the dry and the other on the nymph as it hit the water. I also missed and dropped a few in between times.

My intentions had been to move on to the next loch, Lochan Carn na Feola, but having looked at the terrain and with the thought of having to walk to the far side of it I decided just to fish down the other side of Loch nan Cabar. It was very productive with another five fish to all three flies; a couple on the surface and the rest just below.

On my walk to Loch Coire Mhic Fhearchair I had considered the prospect of walking down off the path to fish the loch. With this in mind I found a convenient deer path that was heading up the hill and followed it. As it turned out this was a good move as I came across another path lower than the main one that contoured the hill and took me right back to the junction of the main paths right across from my tent. A total of three and a half miles and five hundred feet of climbing for the day wasn't too bad.

Picture of snow on Liathach

As the sun went down I lay in the tent and could feel the temperature dropping fast, I could smell the cold in the air and surmised I would be in for a frosty rise in the morning. A call of nature rose me at a quarter to five and as I surveyed the hills around me I could see the white tops through the patches in the cloud, snow. I climbed back into the tent and sleeping bag and decided if it was like that in the morning I would head home.

I got out of the tent next morning and the snow line was about two thousand feet. I was camped just below thirteen hundred and it was sleet and cold rain. I had a quick breakfast as I packed the tent and rucksack, checked the area for missed rubbish and headed back down the path with nearly as much weight on my back as I had started off with; I hate carrying uneaten food back off the hill.

I met a few walkers coming up the path and they were quite surprised when I told them that there was snow farther up. No wonder as by the time I reached the car the wind was light and it felt really quite warm. I stuck everything in the car and drove home, the end of another, shorter than planned, trek into the wilds and another area knocked off a still very long list.