Last week I returned from our latest trip to Islay. I was joined by a very experienced group of anglers and a number of the group were as eager to give the sea fishing a go as much as the usual loch fishing for wild brown trout. Our bunch of merry men for this trip was made up of master of the dead drift Glen Pointon, John Tyzack, Ron Trevis, Andy Heath and Wesser. Andy was a very welcome member to the group, for along with his trusty hound 'Mooch', he provided much of the meat for the table, which in turn was prepared in such an appetising way by our brilliant chef Wesser.
We arrived on Saturday afternoon leaving mainland on the 1pm ferry having left the Staffordshire Moorlands at 3.30pm. All were tired but we knew that we would have to get a fishing session in on Loch Finlaggan that evening as the weather prospects were not good for Sunday and Monday as the tail end of Hurricane Katia would make a visit to the West Coast of Scotland. All had a fine few hours on the loch, and we caught on all manner of dry flys and one or two traditional wets.
The weather on Sunday wasn't quite as bad as threatened by the BBC but we still thought best to seek a sheltered spot on the Eastern shores of Islay, choosing Bunnahabhain bay as our destination as other anglers on previous trips with us had enjoyed quite a bit of success there.
On the point, just around the bay from the sad wreck of the Wyre Majestic, Pointon, Wesser and JT began to cast and it wasn't long before they were in to fish, mackerel at first, the biggest I've ever seen. It soon became clear that we would not be short of food over the days to come.
Every so often, huge shoals of small silver fish would make massive boils on the surface of the sea, thousands of silvery flecks being chased, cornered up by packs of hunting fish, and occasionally, these predators would leap out of the water, huge olive green pollock feet from the rocks where we stood. Quickly the lads focused their attention on the pollock, casting precisely with their heavy lures, and quite soon, pollock and laithe began to come in to the 3lb mark.
When we first arrived at Bunnahabhain distillery, we were lucky enough to watch a sea otter feeding close in, and earlier in the day, Andy, Ron and I had watched a pair of white tailed sea eagles hunt, kill and eat a hare near to our accommodation at Finlaggan. As if these close encounters with Islay's abundant wildlife were not enough, we were about to experience another of the islands rare inhabitants.
Andy Heath has long been a keen bird enthusiast, and I've never met anybody who knows as much about them, and as much about how to handle them. When we arrived at the rocks, he'd commented about the gannets that he'd seen fishing just a little way out from where we were, and we were all amazed by the way these gigantic birds were making steady rising flights to 80 to 100 feet above the sea then making a short flick of the tail and wings before diving vertically for their prey in the waves beneath.
JT had just made a long arching cast with his lure, a good distance out from the shore, and from nowhere, one of these huge gannets dived into the water, 20 feet into the water according to John, and reappeared seconds later with the lure in its beak. We would all panic, swear, and shuffle about on the rocks where we stood and we wondered how the hell we would avoid hurting this beautiful bird, all that is except Andy. Coolly and calmly, JT and Andy brought the bird in, and after a very careful retrieve (with no side strain), the bird was in Andy's hands and the hooks removed. They look big in the sky but you cannot truly appreciate the size of these graceful hunting birds. An event that I shall never forget, and neither will the gannet.
The gannet safely unhooked by Andy
The gannet takes to the air.
The tail end of the hurricane arrived on Monday and seemed to last most of Tuesday too but a good deal of fly tying, eating, drinking and generally being merry was achieved. I took Andy and Ron on a couple of distillery visits and I managed to make final arrangements for a cask of Bruichladdich Malt Whisky to be bottled in readiness for me to collect later this month. A few drams of this amazing whisky was enjoyed in the evening...more news about this to follow.
On all of the fishing trips I've organised in the last few years, there has always been at least one person who enjoys cooking for the group and the food has always been very good but this time we had Wesser. His attention to detail was amazing, whether he was cooking the brown trout we'd caught that day or local meat, all agreed that his food was incredibly good. All the veg was Islay grown from the walled garden at Islay House, all the meat was local and fresh. All washed down with a good Islay dram made for a truly unforgettable experience.
Well it seems a fair while since I've been to Islay but thankfully, the waiting is now over. I've been over to Islay a couple of times this year which is less than I usually do but now I'm set to visit twice this month. The first of the two trips begins today and is largely a fishing jaunt with pals Pointon, Wesser, JT, Andy and Ron. There is plenty of experience amongst the group and if this bunch can't bag up on the lovely Islay lochs, no one can. We're hoping to fish for Brown Trout, Sea Trout, Salmon and all manner of sea fish.
I'm also there to have a final check on a cask of whisky that we are hoping to bottle in the next couple of weeks for our Queen of the Moorlands Rare Cask range. I've been keeping a close eye on it over the past couple of years, and this stunning Islay sherry matured whisky could be one of our best bottlings yet. If all goes well and It tastes as good as I expect it to from the cask, a few hundred bottles of this amber nectar will be heading back to the Staffordshire Moorlands with me in a couple of weeks time.
I have 5 spare seats in the van so anyone who would like a lift to Islay and back, please let me know...
Keep an eye on this blog, and Glen Pointon's to see how we get on with the fishing and how well we cope with Hurricane Katia and Pointon's bad habits.
I'm a keen angler and whisky enthusiast. I'm lucky enough to have lived and worked on the Isle of Islay in the Scottish Hebrides, angling and dramming paradise! I fish for wild brown trout and sea trout whilst up North, back in Leek in the beautiful Staffordshire Moorlands I like to meet up with my pals and fish for wild brown trout, grayling and other river species in the Dane, Dove, Churnet, Manifold and Wye.
(firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like to contact me)