So that's the first of our Fly Fish Islay trips of 2012 complete and what a way to start the season. We had 6 guests, all eager to catch a few wild broonies, one guest who had never caught a fish before and it looked set to be challenging conditions. I'd been checking various weather websites only to see that the week ahead saw temperature predictions of - 6c!
Glen and I decided to drive up to the ferry through the night. We were originally booked on the 1pm ferry on the Friday which would mean that we would leave North Staffordshire at 4am. I was working at a wine tasting on the Thursday night and we thought that it might be a good idea to leave straight after that. It was a clear night as we belted up the motorway and Glen and I shared ideas about the week to come and wondered what the fishing would be like. If it was anything like as poor as it was at home then we'd be in for a tough week for sure. Would they be rising? What would they take? Was the trip too early in the season? What would the guests be like?
We arrived at the ferry at about 4.30am and tried to get a little kip to no avail. At about 6am the ferry office at Kennacraig opened and we enjoyed freshly brewed coffee and waited for the boat, once aboard, we would grab a little rest.
We boarded the ferry and eventually we made our way up the Sound of Islay and Port Askaig came in to view. Islay was enjoying a spell of stunning weather and the sky was cloud free and there was a real warmth in the air, quite different to the dull and drizzly weather we were leaving way behind us back home.
We arrived at our lodgings at Octovullin Farmhouse by Loch Skerrols and, still with the intent of trying to catch up on our sleep, we noticed dozens of rising fish on the beautiful loch before us and Glen and I just couldn't resist launching the boat from the pier and getting amongst the trout.
Although the rises had been plentiful, once in the boat we struggled to hook up with any, trying a few different fly patterns that we had specially chosen for the trip. During the weeks previous to the trip, we had given much thought about flys, stretching the fly budget this way and that over numerous currys, arguing about which would work and which wouldn't.
Initially we became worried, why were they not taking? Why had the rises stopped? Was it too early in the season? Would our guests go home having caught no fish? Were we looking at a multiple guest blanking situation?!
We moved a little further into the loch and over the weed bed and selected hoppers and LTDs and the fish began to take them confidently. Fly life was abundant and we noticed dozens of fish feeding in the margins under overhanging trees and bushes, smashing insects falling from the branches and quite undisturbed by our presence. It was a joy to see so many fish moving and feeding and we knew that we were in for a cracking week ahead.
The following day, having arrived on the 3pm ferry, we were joined by Tim, Peter, Fred, Wayne, Harrison and John. All had fished before excepting John. Wayne and Harrison were new to fly fishing but were long time carp anglers. Tim, Peter and Fred had fly fished before and had extensive fishing experience. Glen was really looking forward to helping John land his first fish, and what a place to do it, wild fish on a wild loch on the Hebridean Isle of Islay...doesn't get much better than that!
Our accommodation was at Octovullin Farmhouse which was perfect for a large group of anglers. A huge drying room was available and each evening after fishing, the guests would rack their boots and waders and by the morning they would be dry. The large living room had a huge open fire with plentiful logs supplied and each evening we would retire in front of it, drams in hand and have good fun filling in the days catch returns and having the craic.
As a nice touch to our itinerary, Tim (who works for Cellar Trends, agent for Bowmore Islay Single Malt) had kindly arranged a tour at Bowmore distillery which was greatly enjoyed by all. Glen in particular enjoyed the nosing session at the end of the tour. He employed all of his skills that he has learnt of late and was nosing and tasting like the best of them....his little finger up in the air he was clearly enjoying the session, but I knew that he just wanted to get the guests back out on the loch and in amongst the fish. Cheers Tim for a great tour and tasting.
The weather during the week was quite amazing. Clear blue skies with a stiff Northerly breeze made a welcoming change from the poor weather at home and every time we saw the weather forecast on TV, we saw that our friends and families down South were getting a pounding by the elements.
Glen gave John a few casting lessons early in the week and he was soon out and about fishing from both bank and boat. We'd kitted John's fly box out with all the fly patterns that we think he might need...hoppers, bibios, zulus, snatchers and the trusty LTD. Right from the first session John was attracting fish to the fly but he failed to hook up with them and started to get more and more down and frustrated as the days went on. Glen took him out on the loch, determined that he would catch a fish, and guided him as he waded up a tree lined bank on Loch Skerrols. After an hour or so, there was a huge shout, accompanied by laughter and swearing and John had landed his first ever fish, and one that was as wild as the hills at that, all were chuffed to bits and later, in front of a roaring, spitting fire, we drank whisky to John's health as he sat and ate his catch. Magic.
John's week didn't end with his first ever fish. He's a keen birder and had a long list of birds of prey that he wanted to see, and he wasn't disappointed as during the week he managed to tick off both male and female hen harriers, golden eagle, merlin and sea eagle amongst others.
Towards the end of the week, Glen decided that we ought to have a fishing competition on Loch Skerrols and things started to get very serious indeed. Each angler seemed determined to employ all of the tactics and skills that they had picked up from Glen during the week. Fly sales rocketed and I sold out of tapered leaders! oops.
At 1pm, "All in" echoed around the tree lined loch and each angler entered the water and began to cast their chosen fly. The wind had changed to a South Westerly during the night and this had knocked all of the rises off and made the fishing very difficult indeed. Wayne (above), dropped a couple of fish early in the match and Tim had caught a couple, but we knew from the banter on our walkie talkies that landed fish were certainly not plentiful. Fred and Peter elected to use the boat and Glen volunteered to Ghillie and row for them, something that he deeply regretted later on as he battled against the waves, out of breath and sweat pouring from his forehead. Peter and Fred took the opportunity to change flies etc whilst Glen set each new drift, and once the drift was set, Glen enjoyed a well earned fag and relayed Peter and Fred's abuse over the radios to the other, it has to be said, struggling anglers.
At the end of the match the catch was weighed and all had a good laugh as the winning bag came in at 8oz. Tim Roberts won the day and was congratulated by all. Tim's name will go on to Fly Fish Islay Quaich trophy and will be joined by the names of other winners from competitions to come, all taking place on the last day of our future trips.
The guests enjoyed a cracking week of weather, fishing, whisky and having good craic with the lads. I'm hoping that they will join us again on one of our trips because they were a great group of people. They had over 100 fish between them quite a few of which they dined on throughout the week washed down with quality single malt whisky.
The pic above was taken on Saturday morning. As the guests headed off for their ferry, it was time for Glen to put the boat back into it's moorings, always a sad moment as it signifies the end of another trip. Glen managed to squeeze in a few casts though and he landed a couple of lovely wee brownies. We were sad that the trip was over but have our May trip to look forward to which will be an absolute cracker!
In a few weeks time we meet up with good old Terry "Ten Men", Ozzy Mark, the two Jameses, Bassy, Snapey, Wesser, Richie and Kev....lets hope we once again enjoy great weather...a little warmer maybe!
If you would like to join us on one of our trips we are now taking bookings for our July and September trips. Please get in touch as soon as possible if you would like a chat about our trips, the costs and whats involved...search for 'Fly Fish Islay' on Facebook and ask other people who have been on our trips whether they have enjoyed them...........
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)