“Well this could be the last time
This could be the last time
Maybe the last time
I don’t know.”
Once again I find myself finally getting round to documenting this year’s annual
Assynt Gairloch fishing holiday whilst the leaves are falling from the trees and the trout fishing season draws to a close. It’s nearly 5 months since we were sat in that amazing cottage, drinking endless cups of tea, planning each day’s activities and generally ripping the shit out of each other and only now do I find the time to put fingers to my grubby little keyboard and tell you all about the kerr-azy things we got up to.
Trying to assemble a team of 4 (approaching) middle age men for an entire week away is becoming ridiculously difficult. Myself and Stu were up for it as always but who else would, as Jeremy Kyle would say, step up to the plate? Another stalwart is Tom but his life has got an awful lot busier of late and we had our concerns about his ability to join us but when push came to shove he made the right call and chose his mates over his pregnant wife. More good fortune came our way when the two-time Assynt veteran known as ‘Smithers’ decided to come out of retirement and spend another week up in Scotland with us. Regular readers may recall his last appearance on a full week’s fishing holiday was back in 2010 when he ripped the heart out of our bacon supplies then had a mental breakdown and stopped speaking to us. A vintage year indeed. So we had the crew now we just had to decide when and where which these days ends up being a choice between our favourite cottage in Gairloch or our favourite cottage in Lochinver. As Tom still had some mountains left to climb in the Torridons it was decided we would go to Gairloch, first week in June.
Of course, things are never straightforward now and the days of all piling up in one motor are long gone. The first wave was myself and Stu in his new piking vehicle, a roomy 4×4 that desperately needs a 6th gear. We took the A65 and as usual got punished for doing so, this time by an elderly lady in a Micra who repeatedly brought the 60mph traffic to a halt to let every single driver on to the carriage way. Another mistake was deciding to go through Glasgow so we could check out Glasgow Angling which turned out to be a very large, well stocked but strangely soulless angling store. There was nothing wrong with it, I’ll still be using their website to order stuff but for last minute purchases on the way up I think we’ll stick to Angling Active near Stirling. By the time we got to Red Squirrel it was 7:30 but we quickly banged the tents up (in lovely dry weather) and scurried along to the Highland Mecca they call the Clachaig where we steamed straight into the ales.
Sometime during the evening Stu tells me his father had an imaginary friend when he was younger that went by the name of Nutwood. This malevolent character told his father to carry out allsorts of terrible things including setting fire to the family home. And lo it came to pass a new phrase “Nutwood told me to do it” entered our lexicon.
I awake at 6am with an unfair hangover and roiling bowels, forcing me to mince my self over to the toilets at the far end of the campsite and void myself of everything inside me. The hangover doesn’t leave me all day and it makes putting down the tents surrounded by clouds of midges horrendous. Glencoe cafe was closed when we got there so it was on to Fort William to our backup cafe where incredibly I can’t even face a full fry up and resort to porridge – almost unprecedented! During breakfast Tom joins us here having set off from Leeds at 4:30 in the morning, good effort! The weather is still glorious as we work our way up the Highlands to
Dingbat Dingwall for the almighty shop then onto Badachro to our by now very familiar cottage.Straws are drawn and for once I come off bad, I haven’t drawn badly since 2006 when I spent the entire week sleeping in a truncated fucking corridor. To be fair though, there’s no real bad room in this cottage. We rounded off the day with a top notch BBQ, with yours truly still on the soft drinks.
I slept right through without needing an ‘old man piss’ – I must have been in a bad way. Refreshed I get some sarnie making out of the way and knock up some delightful chciken, lettuce and Peri Peri rolls. You don’t want to know about our sandwiches, but I’m telling you anyway. Tom collects his packed lunch and departs to go climb some Munros whilst we fanny around then take the long drive back down South to our pike loch from last year. The drive is full of anticipation as we reminisce over last year’s action on this loch and by the time we get there we have planned the day out including where we will fish, what tactics, flies, lines etc to use. Mice, men, plans…all that shit. Our first view of Loch ***** reveals the water level is down and the weed looks pretty bad. We motor out to our hotpsot from last year and try fish it again but it’s pretty obvious that it’s unfishable so we change tack and start drifting some deeper water. I am using a John Norris P3 Big Fly Twin Colour intermediate WF10 through my 9 foot #9 Guideline blue water rod, a tapered leader down to 15lb tippet and then Rio Bite Wire ‘trace’. I have linked to the fly line as it’s now on offer for 8 quid, a ridiculous bargain! Several drifts were without even a sniff of a pull but then finally, I dropped my <home tied> fly quite near to the bank and after a long pause started my retrieve straight into an angry snatch (!). Have you ever felt an angry snatch? You really should. The runs were incredible, I couldn’t stop the fish, I just had to keep giving it line until it tired and I could keep hauling onto the surface with side strain at which point Stu got the net under it. A beautifully marked fish as ever, maybe around 7lb? The fly was in there pretty hard and getting it out, even with tools, was difficult and I managed to just catch my thumb along its teeth with vivid consequences – all the blood you see in the picture is mine!
Don’t worry, the blood is all mine!
The same fly went on to catch me another 3 or 4 smaller (a lot smaller!) jacks during the course of the day and if you want to tie one yourself have a look here. No other bigger fish were encountered though, and Stu only managed to catch one very small jack for his efforts – one could argue it’s a long way to go for not a lot of reward but it was still a cracking day out in amazing weather. By the time we got back to Badachro it was very late and consequently tea was a bowl of Shreddies and beer.
It’s another beautiful day with lots of sunshine and blue skies so I opt to join Tom on a walk whilst Stu goes fishing in almost unfishable conditions. Stu probably doesn’t want to join us for a walk because as a friend once put it “the problem with going for a walk with Tom is that it’s never just a walk is it” and this was no exception. Today we were doing the Eastern Fannichs in Ullapool which is a 16 miler with over 4000 feet of ascent taking in 4 Munros. We parked up just off the A835 near Glascarnoch and set off in the blazing sunshine already dripping sweat and factor 50 to make our way through a mini plantation before heading up Creag Dubh Fannaich which leads you up to the first Munro of the day, Beinn Liath Mhor Fannaich.
It’s a long slog up to the top of that first Munro but as always it’s worth it for the views, especially on a day like this. Even though a road winds its way through the scene it still looks like a true wilderness and of course you have the all seeing eyes of the An Teallach pinnacles watching you from afar.
From the first Munro you then have to descend about 300 feet before climbing back up to the top of the biggest hill of the day, Sgurr Mor at 3642 feet.
We were also pleasantly surprised to discover we could see the magnificent hills of Assynt from here. It’s pretty telling isn’t – we’re having an amazing day on spectacular Munros but start getting giddy when we spot the comparatively diminutive Suilven, Stac Pollaidh, Canisp and Quinag in the far distance.
From here it’s more down then back up to reach the penultimate Munro of the day, Meall Gorm then along to the final one, An Coileachan.
As this was a big day solely focused on climbing hills there was no time to do any fishing but I’d be intrigued to find out if there are any trout in Loch Gorm. There’s no mention of it in Bruce’s bible but it could still be worth a visit? The walk back to the car was the trade off for such an epic day and my feet were sore by the time we got back to the car although this was primarily down to damage done earlier in the year. Indeed, when I got back to the cottage and removed my boots and socks a whole black toenail came off in my hands, which was nice. Tea tonight was a King Size Bombay Bad Boy washed down with beer and just as I was shoveling down the last forkful Stu turned up with ol ‘Rum Face’ Smithers himself (pictured below from a previous fishing holiday) after collecting him at Inverness airport. He had decided to fly up rather than endure a 10 hour drive on his own but in retrospect airport delays made it just as much of a ballache. Besides, driving up to Assynt isn’t exactly a chore, the closer you get the more excited you get. Driving back down to Leeds, yeah that’s a different matter.
In my notebook I have described the morning as ‘slow, with much mincing’. Tom finally gets going to go pick up a single Munro somewhere whilst we work out where we fancy fishing and decide on An Slaggan. We pile into Stu’s 4×4 and head into Gairloch for supplies then out to Laide for our permits before finally making full use of his vehicle to get us out to the ruined croft at Slaggan Bay. Before tackling up we go inspect said bay which we’ve never bothered to look at despite coming here twice before. I’m glad we did as it’s another example of Scotland’s amazing hidden gems. Look at that beach, that’s a lot of sand. How many grains? There are more stars in space than all the grains of sand on that beach, every other beach in Scotland and in fact every other beach, sand dune and desert in the whole…fucking…world put together. Aaaarrrgh!!
Sightseeing over, we made our way back to the loch and tackled up and I decided to make the effort to float tube. It’s a faff of the highest order and you can bet your bottom dollar that once you’re in and ready to deploy yourself you’ll suddenly need to go wee wee but that aside it’s a great way to fish. Whilst Stu and Smithers worked their way around the shore line I paddled myself out into the loch and started fishing the bits they couldn’t reach.
It didn’t take long before I started getting into fish. I really should endeavour to use the tube at least once every year because catching fish this way is immense fun and when you’re not catching you can just break out the flask and drift around drinking tea.
After landing a few fish I felt like I’d done what I’d needed to and was a lot more relaxed about catching any more. Rain showers began to pepper the water and a cold breeze picked up forcing my mind to wander to alternative pastimes that might involve, say, the Badachro Inn. I sauntered my way back to the bank where Smithers was polishing off his packed lunch and before I’d even got out of the water I could see he was in the same ‘swim lane’ as me. I can’t recall the exact conversation but it would have been along the lines of (loudly, enough to drift across the loch)
“Getting cold isn’t it Smithers?”
“Yes Bob, certainly is and that rain’s not easing up is it?”
“No not at all. Brrr. At least we’ve all had some fish, that’s the main thing”
“Yeah we’ve had a good couple of hours. Look at those clouds”
Before long Stu was working his way back. “You pair of c***s aren’t gonna rest until we go are you….”
The chatter was all about nice warm cosy pubs, and food, and pints and oh what fun we were having discussing the night when someone casually raised the thorny subject of keys. There is only one key for the cottage. We have it. We were supposed to leave it in the key safe for Tom. Oh dear, I hope he’s not been waiting long…what time do you think he would have got back from his walk?
We pulled into the driveway, silent, fixated on the Audi already parked there with completely steamed up windows apart from a couple of forlon portholes.
“This doesn’t look good”
When we began to apologise to Tom he told us he’d been waiting 3 and a half hours for us, soaking wet and cold and that what’s done was done or something along those lines and it was best not to mention it again. I for one felt there was a good chance I’d be getting a pillow over my face that night. To top it all off when we got down to the Badachro Inn they had no real ale on due to a technical problem!
Stu is off pike fishing again whereas myself, Tom and Smithers decide to hit the mountains. We pack for a day in the hills and set off in Tom’s car (surprisingly he’s still speaking to us) to the Torridons. Our plan keeps changing en route – first we think about doing the Black Carls on Beinn Eighe but the tops are permananently in cloud so we push further on and park up at the car park at the start of the walk up Beinn Alligin. We admire the waterfall and mill around waiting for a different set of clouds to scud off but they are not shifting either so we turn around and head back with a view to finding another mountain to climb but decide to stop off at a convenient viewpoint to admire the view, as you do at viewpoints, which have a nice view.
None of us are shy of a bit of exercise and we were all committed to getting up in the mountains that day but our enthusiasm was beginning to melt, especially with the fact that any Munro we wanted to climb seemed to have a permanent cloud hat on. Packed lunches and flasks came out whilst we admired the scenery and in the blink of an eye I’d boxed off half my sandwiches. “Well that’s that then” we agreed. You cannot venture up a mountain with just 2 sandwiches, any fool knows that. We would have to eat the rest of our packed lunch there and then and form a new plan. Tom suggestion of a beach day down at Red Point won the day and verily it came to be we found ourselves lolling around on a heathery ‘cnoc’ overlooking the bay drinking beer and soaking up the sun.
Something caught my eye. An adder? Slow worm? Wait, no it’s an eel slithering through the grass. Why is there an eel slithering through the grass?
I ran over and spotted more movement as something else scampered away – a mink! I’d clearly interrupted him trying to carry off the eel. I carried the indigenous species down to the sea away from the non-indigenous species then went and sat back down again to be subjected to prolonged glowering by the mink . I eventually ran off down to the beach to avoid getting my throat ripped out and had a quick swim in the freezing cold sea.
After my dip I returned to the hillock to dry off. As I once again lolled around in the sun something caught my eye. An adder? Slow worm? Wait, no it’s some young fellow-me-lad bringing his girlfriend down to the beach to take photos of her in her bikini. Interesting. We glanced over awkwardly, unsure of the young lady’s age. Fearing she may have been under 25 we quickly began discussing armoured fighting vehicles of the Second World War to divert our attention. The tactic worked and we felt cleansed of our sins, what better way to celebrate such restraint than a trip to the pub? We trooped down off our hill and crossed the beach on our way back to the car where it quickly became clear our fears were unfounded as the young lady was clearly of an age to flash an ankle. Curses, what are we doing? Imagine then our further dismay when Smithers, on one of his many ‘last glances’ noticed they had now entered the ‘topless’ phase of their photoshoot just as we were leaving the beach. Strangely, it later transpired that Nutwood had visited each of us individually to suggest we turn around and walk back….
Finally we retired to the Badachro Inn (again) to sit out on the decking in the blazing sun drinking ice cold beer, where my impromptu swimming shorts didn’t really matter.
Where they did matter however was a few hours later when we were sat inside, the casually dressed daytime trade left and the evening diners arrived. We roll in to the cottage half cut to find Stu has returned from a ball-breaking day catching no pike and Smithers takes immense satisfaction regailing him with the details of our awesome day out. What a rotter.
Stu is quite rightly sick of not catching pike and needs to get back to basics in terms of what these holidays used to be about, namely walking into the hills to fish remote lochs with awesome views. Although, thinking about it, they actually used to be about drinking Skol in a caravan and visiting various rainbow trout fisheries in the Borders of Scotland with one solitary wild brownie mission to round it off. We want to fish somewhere with amazing scenery so Bruce’s Bible is consulted and OS maps are literally crawled over before we come up with a destination. It is going to be a long walk in but when Bruce uses phrases such as ‘utterly splendid’ and ‘unimaginably wonderful surroundings’ you know it’s going to be worth it.
Myself, Stu and Smithers are on this one – Tom is off to visit a Victorian doll museum or something, or maybe climbing a hill – it’s one of the two, I can’t remember now. The walk in is going to take us a good couple of hours and takes us past some good lochs that are themselves worthy of a day’s fishing but we crack on to get to our destination. Early on Stu uses a rickety bridge and Smithers and I stand there like seedy paparazzi waiting to capture the glorious moment but it never happens.
There’s not an awful lot I can write about a 6 mile walk in to a loch. It’s very warm and sunny and without my Buff acting as a headband I’d be blinded by my own sweat. We can see our ultimate destination in the distance as the loch begins half way along the Suilven-esque mountain in the distance
Looking back, we’ve already come a looong way, and as a bonus we can even see the sea…
Passing the loch pictured above seemed insane, just look at that backdrop but we knew the views at our target loch were supposed to be even better so it had to be done. I was the first to get there and it does indeed rank with the best – particularly as you can see bits of Beinn Eighe, Beinn Alligin, Beinn Dearg and Liathac in the distance. I’m dry as a nun’s tit as they say so decide to fire up the stove to brew some tea then sit back and take in the full experience, all the sounds and aromas of a Highland idyll. It is one of those occasions where a cigarette still wouldn’t go amiss after all these years.
I can’t sit here drinking tea all day, let’s get fishing. I put up my #6 weight with a team of 2 and begin working round the bank paying particular attention to promontories. For me, certainly, there are some pretty consistent ‘golden rules’ for targeting wild brown trout in a Scottish hill loch and fishing promontories is definitely one of them, along with keep moving if you’re not catching, stay fairly close to shore when boat fishing and never rock the mic with the pantyhose. I began catching fish on that rock solid favourite the Black Pennell and, look, I know I always do this but those markings, aren’t they just incredible?! Those red spots for example. Why has evolution resulted in those? Is it for attracting a mate? Can’t be camouflage!
Stu starts getting into fish and even Smithers does. I say ‘even’ because he’s not a fully paid up fish botherer like us. Despite this I have on occasion seen him out there still fishing when so called diehards like us are sat on the bank fucking around drinking tea and losing interest because it’s too windy, not windy enough, wrong light, too sunny, we need more sun etc etc. As the fishing picks up those two start up the bickering which has become a feature of late, with Smithers keen to catch more fish than Stu so as to have another banter stick to beat him with but really we’re all doing very well and that’s all that matters.
I know for a fact that Phil would have really wanted to be with us on this particular day as not only does he love hill lochs but he had been keen to fish this very one on a previous holiday. Well Phil, you’re lucky I’m such an expert with photo editing because I’ve managed to seamlessly put together a magnificent imagining of you, in your typical angling pose, with us on that very day.
We worked our way along maybe a quarter of the Southern shore before heading back and moving to the previous loch in the chain which was also a spectacular place to fish because of its proximity to the mountain. We barely scratched the surface to be honest, these lochs deserve a prolonged return visit and if you look at an OS map you can very quickly start planning some incredible overnighters. Hmmm, the cogs are already grinding.
Again there were plenty of obliging trout, I even had two on at once, always a good sign although also a bit of a worry when you’re trying to play them! Of note, the fish in here had quite different markings to the first loch. Neither loch produced anything over the half pound mark but nor would we expect to catch anything much bigger that that anyway.
The long walk back was ..well, long. As we left the loch we were accompanied for a while by (I think) a diver of some description, red, black or Holy I know not -’twas a mournful song though! It seemed pretty distressed by our presence, not sure if there would have been chicks on the ground at this time of year?
Final day of the holiday. It’s that same feeling you get on a Sunday. You wake up Sunday morning and whereas yesterday 2 days was the yardstick for getting you excited, now it’s re-calibrated to a day. Yeah I’ve got the whole day ahead of me, it’s an eternity! By teatime, you’re grasping at the last morsels of freedom. Still got all evening. All evening. That’s like tea, Top Gear, a film, maybe a bit of Family Guy. Then before you know it you’ve got maybe an hour left before you have to face reality the weekend is over and you climb into bed to sleep yourself another step closer to death. Or is that just me? 😀
Tom’s staying at the cottage whilst we go pike fishing. I think he did anyway, I stopped taking notes on the Wednesday so am relying on my memory. Tom should write his own blog on these holidays to cover off his solo exploits, although he’s a man of few words so I suspect it would not get much beyond:
Drove to Scotland
Bagged x Munros
Saved x pounds on diesel by 4-way split
Drove home from Scotland
The rest of us find ourselves squeezed into a boat at our usual loch to spend the day pike fishing. The weather is actually a lot better than it has been all week for pike fishing as it’s overcast (with showers) but it’s still not an easy day. I’m really struggling to remember this day in full but then again it was 5 months ago which hammers home the fact that when you read a biography, unless they kept an incredibly verbose journal every day 95% of ‘remembered’ dialogue is ‘best guess’…at best. This day I’m writing about now for example. I can be pretty sure each of us would have called one another a c*** a couple of times, and Smithers would have asked what time we were off to the pub, but the rest is a bit hazy because as mentioned earlier I stopped taking notes C.O.B Wednesday.
Still on the John Norris intermediate I manage to hook into another hard fighting Scottish pike on another of my home-tied flies. Again, not a monster at maybe 7 or 8 lbs but I was over the moon to get another nice pike on the fly.
Stu netted it for me but during the process he must have moved his lifejacket (which he should have been wearing!) out of the way and dumped it in a corner of the boat. After I’d finished returning my fish I saw where it was and realised a fair bit of water had collected in that area so went to snatch it out. Too late. I would say the the photo below speaks a thousand words. A cruel blow after a pike-less week! It was however nice to know his lifejacket still worked after 12 years without a service.
Later in the afternoon I catch a couple of diminutive jack pike on the fly whilst Smithers has a crack with a lure rod and starts catching small jack pike on a spinner of mine until Stu gets his hands on the spinner and it mysteriously goes overboard. As the temperature gets colder and the rain gets worse the call of the Badachro Inn grows ever louder. There are competing priorities in the boat as 2 of us have been lucky enough to catch and now and we’re really up for finishing the holiday off with a good ol’ session but Stu (understandably) wants to stay out until last knockings. Good sense eventually prevails though and we call it a day to get back at a reasonable hour which facilitates one last piss up in the Badachro.
Saturday is just the long drive home, making that transition from Highland Heaven to Lower Northern Misery (it’s a terrible thing to say but whereas we get giddy with excitement approaching the Welcome to Scotland sign it’s a deflated mood when we hit the Welcome to England equivalent coming home on the M6). We no longer have the enthusiasm to bolt on another night and do Glencoe on the way back like we have done in the past because it’s just a massive anti-climax which is where this blog post is heading if I’m not careful. Indeed, on a grander scale, I’m not sure where the annual fishing holiday itself is going after this one. Despite 2017 being the 20th anniversary of the first ever one (I really must do a blog post on 1997 annual fishing holiday!!) there’s now a very real chance we will not be able to muster a crew for a full week. We shall see dear reader….
I should end this blog post with a pictorial tribute to Bruce Sandison who died a few days ago, a man who must have inspired and facilitated more awesome Scottish fishing missions then anyone else. They are places he liked and we like too.