Epona Cottage, Waternish, Isle of Skye, IV55 8GQ (44), 01470 592717
I moved up to Skye in April 2006 and before that I lived in Yorkshire. I used to do a lot of fishing in England on rivers such as the Wharfe and Don and on various canals and lakes. The fishing on Skye is much, much different and although I used to fish in some wonderful countryside in Yorkshire I think anywhere has its work cut out when compared to the untamed beauty of fishing in the Highlands of Scotland.
The fishing I do up here falls into three basic categories: game fishing, pike fishing and sea fishing. On Skye the choice is easier as it consists of just game and sea fishing. If I want to catch pike I have to cross the Skye Bridge back to the mainland as this fish does not live in any waters on Skye.
The game fishing on Skye is brilliant and the surroundings are breathtaking and ensure that even in the fairly rare event that you catch nothing it doesn't matter! I am a member of Portree Angling Association who control the vast majority of fishing at the northern end of the island. The main club water is the Storr Lochs which is actually two lochs, one called Leathen and the other Fada. This hydro loch has lots of native brown trout, some of which grow to a good size and most seasons a few real beauties are boated by the lucky few. There are plenty of boats available to both members and non members and obviously there is bank fishing too. Other stillwaters include the hill lochs on Trotternish (with a few exceptions) and there is also access to some other private lochs in the north end of the island. For example, we can fish Loch Conon on the road between Struan and Portree and as well as bank fishing there is one boat available for hire. All the club's lochs are strictly fly only and the season runs from the 1st April - 30th Sept on the Storr Lochs and from the 15th March - 30th September on the hill lochs. Permits for club controlled lochs and rivers for non members are available from Rod and Reel in Portree and all fish under 10" should be carefully returned. The bag limit for fish over 10" is 6 fish, after which catch and release is permitted. Personally, fly fishing is traditional loch style with a three fly cast - usually a nice bushy fly like a Loch Ordie or a Zulu on the bob and traditional flies like Black Pennel, Grouse and Claret or an Invicta on the point. But as with all fishing, experimentation is the key, and I have probably done more than a fair bit of that myself! For more information please visit the Portree AA website which gives other useful information.
The club also have access to salmon and sea trout fishing on various rivers, particularly in the Trotternish area of Skye. Fly fishing for migratory fish is encouraged on club waters, however the club also allow the use of fair means such as spinning and the use of worm on some rivers when conditions dictate. All the rivers have runs of sea trout and salmon and obviously some have bigger runs than others as with most West Coast rivers and this is why many fishermen lean towards catch and release where salmon and sea trout are concerned in an attempt to conserve stocks for the future. The rivers also contain many brown trout which are just waiting to take your flies and can offer good sport on light fly tackle. These rivers fish best in spate or just on a falling spate as fish will enter the rivers on a high tide in such conditions and also fish already in the river can move onward in their journey. In my brief experience living here I have found that from August until the end of the season (season 15th Feb - 14th October) is the best time. We do not really have a spring run of fish (generally associated with a few famous east coast rivers nowadays) but very occasionally a reported spring fish turns up on the Snizort which most people recognise as the best salmon river on the island. The Snizort is by far the most productive river and the first 8 miles is run by Three Esses Ltd - click here to see their web site. Despite lack of rain, the last two seasons have been extremely encouraging on this river in terms of catches so it's definitely worth consideration. A word of warning though, you may need to book early as this river is very popular with both locals and visiting anglers.
In terms of tackle, if you are targeting brown trout and loch fishing you will need to bring a 6/7 weight rod and a floating line and an intermediate to get you started and cover most bases. If however you fancy fishing the rivers you may prefer a single handed 7/8 weight rod for sea trout and grilse. If you are fishing a bigger river like the Snizort it may well pay to bring a double handed rod to cope with higher water, wind and possibly bigger fish, although usually you can get away with a single handed rod. Personally, for river fishing I use a sink tip line such as Cortland's Ghost Tip line and as I don't fish for salmon in the colder months I usually don't need a sinking line and find that a sink tip is good enough to get the fly working just nicely below the surface. In terms of flies for salmon you can't go far wrong with Cascades or Ally's Shrimp patterns. Anyting with orange usually gets my vote, that's as technical as it gets! For sea trout I always go for something like a Teal Blue and Silver or a Peter Ross first in singles or wee doubles.
If you are coming up to stay at Epona Cottage and enjoy fly fishing then I hope this gives you an idea of what's on offer. I can help you to arrange tickets or boats for fishing and give you advise where possible. I am not a Ghillie though! Feel free to contact me before your visit.
Sea fishing is an area where I feel that I have most to learn, having said that, in all aspects of fishing you always still tend to have a lot to learn! I bought a 14' Orkney Coastliner last year and this allows me to do a fair bit of inshore sea fishing on calm days. I tend to fish the waters of Loch Snizort and round the Ascrib Islands from the boat. Luckily there are at least two slip ways within 20 minutes - one at Stein (10 mins) and another at Greshornish (20 mins). The latter slipway is private although launching on a weekend is possible as quite often it is used by the fish farmers through the week. Both are easy slipways and with a 4x4 you can launch at any stage of the tide. If you are bringing your own boat obviously great care should be taken and you should bring all the necessary equipment in the event that things go wrong. Although I only have experience in these waters since last summer I have maps and I can help point out the places you should avoid!
From late May through until say October, mackerel are present in large numbers. They are pretty easy to catch and many people fishing from boats favour using feathers and catching say three or five at a time. Without wanting to get on my soap box I would say that even though they appear plentiful please don't take more than you need. Just take ones you are definitely going to eat or use for bait. A far more sporting method is to spin for them and catch them one at a time. These fish fight really well and personally, if I don't need to catch many fast I will spin for them. Looking for usual signs such as diving Gannets can help you find the fish. There are lots of Pollock in these waters and usually if you can find rough ground or a reef then they won't be far away. Again, you can catch these fish spinning, using feathers, bait fishing or trolling just to name a few. I've caught Pollock up to 8lb from inshore reefs and my best results have come from trolling behind the boat with eddystone eels. Other species I've caught (more by luck I think!) are Ling and they have come on mackerel baits on long flowing traces off paternoster rigs. All these fish are lovely to eat especially Ling. There are undoubtedly more species out there, such as dogfish and rays, but as I've said I'm still learning about sea fishing so maybe I will catch these some time in the future.
Before you begin to think you need a boat to enjoy some great sea fishing, fear not! There are a number of good shore fishing locations on the north of the island and again great care should be taken and don't fish when the waves threaten to wash you out to sea (also make sure you know the tides)! One of my favourite spots is to fish off the rocks at Neist Point Lighthouse. It's a steep walk down, and even steeper back up with the fish, but well worth it and the path is very good. The wildlife you see here is second to none, especially in summer. Basking Sharks, whales, dolphins, you name it, just meters off the shore. Then there's the sea birds and the sunset view over to the outer isles. The fishing's not bad either, mackerel can be caught easily off the rocks and as it's deep water snagging is not too much of a problem so long as care is taken. Spinning with Toby's and feathering both work, it depends on which you prefer. There's some big pollock out there too. There are some other good spots, the other one I have fished with any regularity is the pier near the Talisker Distillery. Again, a great mackerel catching area on an incoming tide. For the more experienced and adventurous sea fishers the shore fishing possibilities are endless and you hardly ever see anyone fishing off the shore so it's all there for you alone. That isn't because it's no good, just because quite a few people have boats or head to the main mackerel marks such as those mentioned previously. There are some sandy bays too (e.g Camas Ban beach near Portree), so I don't see why flatfish amongst other species cannot be caught. If you are a competent beach caster/sea fisher then you might just be pleasantly surprised! In recent times I've also heard of Bass being caught.....
Again, if you want guidance and advise on sea fishing if you've never tried it before just ask.
Pike fishing is not available on Skye, with the closest water holding these fish being over an hours drive. Pike fishing in the highlands is still very much untapped and in a way that's what makes it so magical. Pike live in many lochs and some of these waters are simply huge and the pike in there can be, quite simply, huge! On many waters though, boats are unavailable and by bank fishing you are not generally covering much water but still one day when the bite alarm goes you just may be bending into the fish of a lifetime. Invariably you have a loch of many miles all to yourself! It always pays to try and find features such as weedy areas, islands, sharp drops offs or plateaus, anywhere 'interesting' in such that it will help pike ambush and find their prey. Areas where rivers enter lochs are also worth attention due to being areas where prey fish may congregate near more oxygented/food rich water. Also there can be associated drops off in such areas, it always pays to spend time plumbing the depth to see what's in front of you first when in a new area. The dreaded 'blank' session is something dedicated pike anglers are all too aware of and this is always a distinct possibility when first trying to understand a large water. All I and others would say is stick at it and a blank is not necessarily a day wasted as you always learn something each time you go.
The largest pike I have caught up here is 18lb 6oz and usually I fish for them over a number of days taking shelter in my bivvy. I have fished over half a dozen waters in my first couple of years up here and caught pike in all bar one of them, so the fish are definitely there if I catch them, albeit I am still patiently seeking my first 20lb pike. I tend to fish with sea deadbaits such as mackerel, sardines and herring, the more oily the better as the scent trail will spread for quite a significant distance. I also use dead trout, lamprey, eels, smelt etc especially now as live bait is illegal in Scotland (but not in England and Wales). The methods I use are very similar to those I used in England such as running legers (usually with bait pop ups as it can be weedy/snaggy), float legering, and sunk float paternosters. Using paternoster rigs is often necessary where the loch is very snaggy as the submerged float (or on the surface) helps to keep the line up and away from any rocks that would weaken it through abrasion. It also pays to use weak links attached to weights so that if the weight gets stuck, the lighter breaking strain link will break before the stronger mainline thus meaning you get your bait and hooks back rather than leaving it on the loch bed for a pike or other animal to pick up later. I also spin for pike at various times so the usual array of plugs and jerkbaits etc can work. The mobile spinning approach is often a good way to search out a water before you then target it with a more static approach. Fly fishing for them is also gaining popularity although I have as yet to really try this.
Obviously, pike have sharp teeth and, regardless of method, you should always use a wire trace of at least 18" and mainline of at least 15lb/20lb breaking strain when tackling these fish. They will simply bite through or break anything else and invariably this will leave hooks in a fish and that will kill it slowly. Rods need to be made for the job so 2.25-3.25lb test curve are the way forward. If you are doing anything other than spinning or float fishing (assuming you watch your float at all times) you should always use a secondary form of bite indication and always strike as early as possible to avoid deep hooking (wait no longer than 5-10 seconds after initial indication of bite). This usually consists of a drop off indicator and/or an audible alarm. Contrary to the thinking of a minority of folk, this set up is not lazy or skill removing, it is used for the welfare of the fish. Using a combination of both is highly recommended so that you can see fish running away from you as well as those that run towards you. You should never fish for pike if you do not think you have enough experience to handle and unhook these fish alone. If not, you should try to fish with someone who does and get them to show you or at the very least check out a website that will show you. There is nothing to be afraid of and learning how to handle them in a way that is safe for you and this fish is quite simple. It is essential that you have a large landing net (e.g. 40") and the following tools; medium and large forceps, wire cutters and a padded unhooking mat to protect the fish from stones etc. It isn't my intention to go into rigs etc in depth as this is not what is intended and I would direct people to the HPAC, PAC and PAAS web sites where more information can be found.
© Mathew Bradshaw 2007
This site was last updated 03/15/10