After booking the annual trip to the Isle of Bute this summer, my mind turns to thoughts of spinning for Pike on Loch Fad or trying for wrasse off the rocks. Plugs, spoons, jerk baits, streamer flies, shooting heads and multipliers, the fishing bag is going a little more modern as I will be spinning and fly fishing for a week on the west coast in August.
Surprisingly, travelling to the Isle of Bute in February brought a taste of spring, double figure temperatures greeted us, with no wind and no rain. The visit was more to meet extended family but I did manage to post two old fibreglass carp rods up to Bute on the previous week. They would now stay in the house near Port Bannatyne for future pike and sea exploits.
Monday morning saw me picking the rods up from the Post Office in Rothesay, the main town on Bute. I then ventured down to Bute Angling Centre for a ticket to fish Loch Ascog and get some sound local advice. The town of Rothesay has a sense of past grandeur that still remains in its heavy stone granite architecture and gothic detailing, but in more recent times, Rothesay has taken on a run down charm, left over from the ice cream parlours of the 1950’s.
Loaded with some local knowledge, a landing net and a few frozen smelts, lunch was next on the agenda, so a ten minute drive took us to Ettrick Bay on the west coast of Bute, where after a game of football on the beach we ventured into the lowly and isolated beach-side cafe. For such a remote cafe on a Monday lunchtime this place was busy and for good reason, the menu was quite extensive, and the food was well made. I soon understood why it was so popular, my prawn cocktail salad was almost as big as the views that were framed at each table setting.
After a fine lunch I managed to persuade two from the eleven to venture forth to Loch Ascog in search of a Argyll pike, just a short drive away from Ettrick Bay.
The loch lay in a soft valley with some managed forest and fenced fields of winter crops, the banks gently sloping into to the peaty, dark waters. With one of my fellow piscators being ten years old I knew our time was limited, spinning with Toby’s and dead-baiting brought us no rewards, our first attempt for a pike here on Bute was a little half-hearted and unsuccessful, but we shall return with a little more knowledge, hopefully more time and bucket loads of enthusiasm!
The next two days were spent eating, drinking, sleeping while the rooks engaged in their gothic squawks and dog walking on the beaches.
I just got off the phone to Bute Outdoor Angling and the word on the quayside is pike! So my bags are packed with the usual piking gear, a hat, a selection of reels and some rods all heading for Loch Ascog and possibly a boat on Loch Fad. The report is, slow and cold but some large ladies are showing themselves….
My current read is Jon Berry’s Beneath the Black Water a book that logs Jon’s pursuit and obsession of the ferox trout, one of Britain’s true mystical and wild fish. A large proportion of the book talks of the Alness boys and the surrounding area, coincidently the river Alness was the location were I first hooked a salmon. Before my first salmon trip my fishing partner Tony and I spent few long lunches in the St James area of London talking tactics and tackle after an expensive shop in Farlow’s of Pall Mall for various tube flies. Tube flies were unfamiliar to me and like most fishermen, shiny fishing tackle brings on the magpie effect, the Visa card probably came out too many times. The advice that came from Tony, who had regularly fished the Alness for ten years, was all new, but the unknown is what makes fishing such an exciting pursuit. One of my questions before the trip was “is it worth taking a fly rod for trout or spinning gear?” The answer was flatly “no, there’s no point when there is salmon in the river!”
On arriving in Scotland (with only one double-handed salmon rod) I was seduced by my quarry, the salmon, I was absorbed in my new surroundings, a complete contrast to the gentler southern english rivers I was used to. The Alness which runs for only twelve miles cuts its way through dark gullies with high cliffs of dark stone on one side, the other side covered with gravel banks and high trees of the Ardross forest. The river is spotted with huge boulders that takes the river on a fast flowing course occasionally broken with slower runs. The water was dark but clear like stewed tea without the milk.
As our week progressed the penultimate day was spent on the upper beat which was unlike all the other beats, no longer were we surrounded by forest and high cliffs but instead the landscape opened up to reveal heather and gorse. This upper beat (number six) ran slowly after flowing out of Loch Morie. With four days behind us of wading in fast flowing water this was a pleasant break, the sky was bigger and a sense of space gave way to a more relaxed approach, salmon fishing can get quite intense at times!
Above beat six was Loch Morie itself and at this point I wished that I had brought a spinning outfit or trout fly rod and ignored the advice given to me back in St James the previous month. Saying that, ferox hunting should not be taken lightly and stealing a day on Loch Morie to catch a ferox was fairly unrealistic, specialist down riggers, fish finders, weighted lures and most importantly a boat is needed and at that point in time I was unaware that ferox roamed the loch, but casting a trout fly would have been a welcome break. So back to the salmon fishing I went and finally at the end of my week a grilse was caught, small but my salmon rod had been bloodied.
While writing this piece I have come to the end of ‘Beneath the Black Water’ and now I have another piscatorial seed planted in my head. Not this year, perhaps not next year but at some time in the future I shall troll the depths of Scotland or Ireland and seek out the ferox trout.