Saturday, 19 September 2009

The Isle of Islay, Angling and Dramming Paradise

The Isle of Jura and the Paps from Islay, looking across the Sound of Islay. Loch Inver can be seen on the left below the Paps on Jura.

I'm just back from the best angling trip I've ever embarked upon. It was the best angling trip for a number of reasons....the weather was stunning, the food was great, the wine and whisky flowed, the company couldn't have been better and the scenery, as is always the case with the Isle of Islay in the Hebrides, was nothing short of utterly breathtaking.....oh....and the fish were up for it too.

For months I've been pestering my mate Glen to join me on a trip to my second home, the Isle of Islay. I'd told him about the people, the stupendous whiskies, the massive skys, the mountains, the deer, the soaring eagles, the dolphins, the sea otters, the eerie black lochs, the rivers, the Salmon, the real, unpretentious men that he'd fish with, and the plentiful, and beautiful wild Brown and Sea Trout....Islay is a truly wild place I'd told him, the fishing would be very different from our semi-wild rivers at home...and all the more satisfying when catching and eating these lovely specimens....eventually he agreed, and although he couldn't make the whole week, he managed to squeeze a good months fishing into three glorious days.

I advertised the trip on our fishing forum, and was fortunate to get a response from one Mr Peter Dracup from Rutland, and we chatted briefly before hand over the phone of what fishing adventures lay ahead for us and how the trip might pan out...we all looked forward to it greatly.
Finally, we were also to be joined for two nights by none other than my mate Iain Banks, who, whilst not fishing, enjoyed the islands many malt whiskies and bountiful cakes....oh the hardship.

So, at 7am on Thursday the 10th September, Peter arrived at Wood Acres, and we made our way towards the M6, and on to the Ms 73, 74 and 8 around Glasgow. Our trip to the ferry at Kennacraig on the Mull of Kintyre was to be an hour longer today as another landslide had closed 'The Rest and Be Thankful', so we didn't spare the horses and arrived at Tarbert in plenty of time to meet Iain and polish off a few mugs of coffee and sticky cakes.

We made our way to Kennacraig, and had a chat with Jackie Thomson of Ardbeg distillery while we waited to board. After a calm and sunny ferry crossing on Calmac's Hebridean Isles, and after delivering some Queen of the Moorlands Rare Cask whiskies to various outlets along the way, we arrived at our desination...the cottages at Bunnahabhain Distillery. A couple of drams were had, a plan was made for the next day and we all retired, sleeping easily after the long day's journey. (The dram was a Bruichladdich Valinch from about 5 years ago, cask 451, a lovely dark, sherry matured whisky. The beer was 'Undertaker' from our local Wincle Brewery.)

Friday 11th Sept - Finlaggan and Duffies Bar, Bowmore

After a large breakfast, kindly rustled up by our head chef, Mr Dracup, we made our way up to Finlaggan for our first fishing outing. Iain went off to visit Kilchoman Distillery and Bruichladdich Distillery to pick up samples from a few of our casks of whisky. At Finlaggan, conditions were very calm and many rises could be seen but we were concerned at the lack of ripple and realised that our presentation would have to be perfect if we were to catch fish.

Finlaggan is a beautiful place. A large loch, it was once home to the Lord of the Isles, who ruled the whole of the Western Isles of Scotland, and it's shipping routes, from a small castle on an island in the loch. A new visitor centre welcomes those interested in the history of the area, and the castle and various tombstones can be visited at any can be an eerie place at dusk.

I last fished here at the end of May during the Islay Festival of Malt and Music (Feis Ile), I had entered a fishing competition organised by the Port Ellen Angling Club. The Loch fished incredibly well that day, my mate David Morris winning the competition easily with 37 fish in 4 hours, winning trophies for both heaviest catch and biggest fish.

I was determined to catch as many fish as possible on the dry fly during this trip as so few of the local fishermen use them. I tied on a size 22 'F' fly, and, using my 9Ft 6" Orvis (later to be renamed "Pike") rod, made my first cast....wollop...he was on...and so the day continued. These were only small fish, but they amazed me in the way that they fought. I think I had around 8 fish in that session. Our catches were put together, and a fine feast of wild Brown Trout, fried in garlic and crispy bacon was had, all washed down with the finest of New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs.

We left the cottage at 7pm and went to pick up Mark Unsworth (of Islay Studios) from Bruichladdich and met up with (Long) John MacGillivary at Duffies bar...many drams, including the Kilchoman Inaugural Release was had, washed down with one or two pints of various Islay Ales. All in all and excellent first day.

Saturday 12th September - Loch a' Chnuic Bhric (Inver) The Isle of Jura

Saturday was to be one of the highlights of the whole trip. Peter and I set off early for the Jura ferry and met David Morris, Callum MacAffer and Kevin Morrison. Three very good local fishermen, with whom I had fished Inver before, finding it pretty hard going. I was hoping that this year would be a little easier and I'd stocked up with a few recomended Sea Trout and Salmon flies, including 'Ally's Shrimps' and 'Thunder and Lightenings'.

Inver is another 5 miles up a rough track from Feolin, where the Jura ferry terminates. We were met by the Gamekeepers son who kindly drove us up to Inver in a long wheel base landrover.

David Morris was the first to catch (as ever), landing a nice 1.5 lb Sea Trout. Callum and Kevin also managed a Sea Trout each throughout the day but, although we all saw many big fish moving, noone managed to hook a Salmon. I landed a good few, pretty small but beautiful brownies throughout the day.

Inver is an amazing place to fish. It is one of the most remote parts of Britain that I have visited, and certainly the most remote that I have fished. It is always a pleasure to visit it. I particularly enjoyed climbing the hill a little and looking up and down the Sound and seeing Rhuuval lighthouse, Bunnahabhain Distillery, and Caol Ila Distillery all in the same panorama.

Mark joined us for a few drams on Saturday night, all slumped in front of the fire after a long day of fishing on Jura. He was to be up at 5am to walk up the hill beyond the Margadale River to photograph the sun rising behind the Paps of Jura. (A picture that is now available at the Islay Studios website...please see link on right had side of this blog) You can also see the picture by following this link:

Sunday 13th September - Caledonian MacBrayne gets the Glen Pointon Treatment

Glen had driven up to Kennacraig and kipped in his car, boarding the ferry, the Isle of Arran and departing at 7am. I drove down to Port Ellen to meet him. I knew he would be 'buzzin man' about the trip and looked forward to seeing how excited he was. I wondered what the crew and passengers would make of him...and how he and Peter might get on later in the day. Peter had decided that he would like to go and try the sea fishing, and would endeavour to catch us something for our tea.

I saw the ship coming around the point for the port and as it reached the port I could here a distant "WWWoooodddddddyyyyy!"...Pointon was arriving on Islay...and didn't we know it. He'd made friends with the crew, crashing fags off them and sipping tea in their crew room. He'd got to know all the passengers on the boat, mostly Ileachs, natives of Islay. As he got off the boat, all of the crew were shouting good lucks to him and the passengers all wished him well for the fishing trip..

We drove off towards the River Laggan, two miles Port Ellen side of Bowmore and headed off towards beats 1 and 2. The river looked lovely and we even saw a couple of Salmon jumping. Laggan Estate had kindly given us the option to fish these beats on Monday and were alowing us to assess the conditions before commiting to a full days fishing, and a full £50 per head. Conditions were looking good though, and Glen looked more excitited by the minute. There was talk of Lunkers, Clunkers, Proper Lunkers and the sorts...and the prospect of a good day's fishing was to follow. I noticed that Glen was wearing shorts and told him that he would need to wear long trausers because of the ticks, at which he laughed, thinking that I was joking. (Please see next post for details of how the ticks developed over the next few days...)

I introduced Peter to Glen at the distillery cottages and it was clear that he had been having a great time fishing from the rocks as he had a huge bag of Pollock to show for it. All in all he had 30 fish in 2 hours, 6 of which he had saved for our tea. We made our way to Finlaggan, fishing the visitor centre and castle side of the loch. We started to take a few fish, Peter netting the most on traditional wets, and I had a few on the 'LTD' sedge.

After an hour or so, we decided to leave and travel down to Islay's most famous Trout water, the huge Machir Loch of Loch Gorm. I'd fished Gorm before, the last time being pretty scarry, being caught in a storm coming off the Atlantic, in near enough pitch black conditions with David Morris. As the Wine Shop van made it's way carefully down the narrow track to the Loch, both Peter and Glen remarked on how good and how fishy the water looked...

Glen caught a good fish early on and we all had a few fish during the evening...mostly on the 'LTD' sedge, twitched across the surface of the water. The sunset that evening was amazing, the sky huge and deep red. It was like fishing in an impressionist's oil painting and a sunset that I will never forget.

We headed home in the dark, put a huge fire in and had a dram or two. Glen was clearly impressed with the whole experience and we ate his fish fried in garlic and bacon and served up with the half dozen pollock that Peter had caught off the rocks earlier and a dram..perfect. (The dram was Queen of the Moorlands Rare Cask Bunnahabhain 1976.....nectar).

The cottages at Bunnahabhain are right on the shore and overlook the Sound of Islay and the Isle of Jura. Many fishing boats travel up and down the sound and plentiful seabirds and creatures can be seen thereabouts. That evening we sat in the dark overlooking the sea with the air filled with distant eerie calls from the seal collony towards Rhuuval.

The next day we were to fish the Laggan Estate stretch of the river Laggan (post and pics to follow), and we were all very excited, we set our alarms for 6am with a view to leaving Bunnahabhain at 7am. We dreamed of the monster fish that we might catch in the morn, the run that they'd give us and of another fine day's angling to come.

To be continued......

Useful info...

Calmac Ferries : 08000 665 000
Bunnahabhain Distillery : 01496 840646
Maps, Islay Landranger 60, Jura and Colonsay Landranger 61

I will be arranging fishing trips and dsitillery trips to Islay and Jura in 2010. Please get in touch with me if you are interested in joining us on a tour.




  1. Dave,

    Same as with Glen's blog account of the trip, really enjoying reading how it went and it sounds great. You'll have to keep me posted on next years visits ;)) not sure I can handle the dramming though !!


  2. Hi Gary,

    Cheers for that...over the next week or so I will be putting an itinerary together for a trip early season next year. You would be welcome to come along!

    Glen was buzzin man....but not so buzzin when he had a run in with 20 or deer ticks...see my next post in a couple of days time!



  3. AnonymousJune 21, 2011

    Hi Dave,

    I'm after some help. I'm only a novice fisherman but i'm in islay for a few days this summer and was thinking of maybe doing a bit of spinning from the coast for my tea. Do you know exactly where Peter caught all his pollock or any marks that'd be any good?

    Kind regards,

    p.s. Lovely reading your insight into fishing the island.

  4. Hi Sean,

    Thanks for the kind comments. Peter caught most of his pollock and some of his sea trout at Bunnahabhain. Drive up the 3 or 4 mile road to Bunnahabbhain and straight through the distillery and park up at the end of the road in front of the last cottage there. Jump over the 5 bar gate and walk up the grassy bank to a rocky point. This is where Peter fished. It is quite snaggy and you need to fish at high tide. Don't fall in or you'll end up in Belfast.

    Further up the shore, the other side of the distillery, i.e. North of the distillery, the river Margadale spills into the sea. At high tide, fish where it joins the sea and you will catch sea trout.

    Have an ace time on Islay!