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Gairloch in North-West Ross-Shire
Part IV.—Guide to Gairloch and Loch Maree

Chapter XVI.—Angling in Sea Lochs


THE north-west Highlands of Scotland are a favourite resort of many anglers. Here the accomplished veteran of the gentle art can find full scope for his consummate skill, and the tyro may often obtain fair sport, inexperienced though he be. There are several classes of anglers who visit the Highlands,—the wealthy man with ample leisure, who takes salmon or trout fishing on lease, together with or apart from shootings and a house or lodge; the determined angler, who spends his annual holiday in this delightful recreation, and usually settles down for several weeks or even months at a hotel at some well-known centre; the less persistent and less fortunate brother of the craft, who in a more desultory manner devotes to it a part or the whole of his briefer holiday; and the tourist, who scarcely claims the name of angler, but carries a rod about with him in his peregrinations, and occasionally takes ad van tage of such opportunities as may present themselves. For each of these classes there is ample scope in the parish of Gairloch, and my remarks are addressed to all of them.

The angler visiting this country should be provided with at least two rods, viz., first, a trolling rod, strong enough for the powerful lythe of the sea lochs, and yet light enough to be used when trying for the so-called ferox, or large trout of the fresh-water lochs; and secondly, a light single-handed rod, to be used in fly-fishing for the lively sea-trout, or the brown or yellow trout which are to be found in almost all the fresh water in the district. These rods, with a supply of guttapercha sand-eels and strong traces for lythe fishing, lighter traces and artificial minnows for the ferox, and fine gut casts and a variety of flies for trout-fishing, will suffice for all ordinary purposes. The sand-eels and strong traces for the sea can generally be had at the Gairloch Hotel, or may be procured before hand from Messrs Brooks, Stonehouse, Plymouth. The artificial minnows, and the traces for them and the artificial trout flies, may, of course, be purchased from any good fishing-tackle maker. I recommend Mr W. A. M'Leay and Messrs Graham & Son, both of Inverness, as being well acquainted with local requirements. Perhaps two or three flights of hooks for spinning natural bait for ferox may prove a useful addition. The tackle necessary for salmon fishing is not described, as the visitor to Gairloch is hardly likely to get a chance of this noble sport, unless he has arranged for it before his arrival, or unless he be personally acquainted with those who have rights of salmon fishing in the parish. Waders are not required, except perhaps for trout-fishing in some lochs which have no boat.

With these equipments the angler, or even the tyro, staying at any of the hotels, or taking a lodging, may meet with fair fishing, and ought to be able to keep the table supplied.

Let us begin with a visitor to Gairloch, Poolewe, or Aultbea, who wishes to "sniff the briny," and become acquainted with some of its inhabitants. By arranging the day before, a boat with boatmen may be procured, and they will know the best places to be tried. There are two usual modes of sea-fishing for anglers, viz., trolling for lythe, and hand-line fishing for smaller specimens of the finny tribes of the salt water. For lythe the artificial sand-eels recommended above seem to be the best lure. As a rule the smaller sized sand-eel is the most killing, and the pattern coloured red often beats the white. There is a nearly black form of the artificial sand-eel which is sometimes very attractive. Occasionally the sand-eel answers better with the bright metal spinner at the head. Take care that your trace (which ought to be of very stout triple gut) is sound, and that the swivels on it are working freely. The lead weight, about a yard from the sand-eel, should not be a heavy one. The lythe, which is called the whiting-pollack in England, varies in weight from half a pound to 16 lbs., at least that is the greatest weight up to which I have taken them in Gairloch waters. Many of them run from four to seven pounds, and these are the best fish for the table. The lythe is rather soft, but is an excellent breakfast fish when properly fried, and is sometimes firm enough to boil well. It is a very game fish, and is therefore called by some the salmon of sea fishing. If you hook a good one, be hard upon him at first, for if he once gets down to the sea-weed you will probably lose him and your sand-eel and trace into the bargain. This fish appears to be in season from June to December, but it is not always to be met with, at least in any number. I have had splendid sport with them in June, and equally good in November. On 31st October 1879 we captured (two rods) in Loch Ewe, in an hour and a half, twenty-seven lythe weighing 176 lbs., and a good cod weighing 17 lbs., being a total of 193 lbs.; but this was an exceptionally good bag. Sometimes a cod or coal-fish (saythe) takes the sand-eel, when, if the fish be a large one, the captor thinks he has caught a whale. The lythe are generally found near rocky headlands or round island rocks.

-Hand-line fishing is not to be compared with rod fishing for lythe, and therefore I have not recommended the angler to carry hand-lines about with him, but they can generally be borrowed if desired. The boatmen know the best " scalps," or banks, and can also obtain mussels for bait. The fish most commonly taken are whiting, haddocks, gurnard, millers or "goldfish," sea-bream or "Jerusalem haddies," and rarely rock-cod and flounders. For sea-bream you must go further out than for the others. Mackerel are not plentiful in Gairloch waters, and are generally taken with spinning bait Hand-line fishing requires very close attention and a light touch. If you are not smart the smaller fish will continually get away with your bait. For all kinds of sea-fishing the evening is the best, and a half-tide, either rising or falling, is considered most favourable. It is little use fishing where there are many jelly-fish about.

Sometimes the hand-lines will capture a specimen of the larger fishes (more usually taken by the professional fishermen, who set long lines), such as cod, ling, conger-eel, skate, and even the halibut, locally termed turbot. The conger-eel, as well as the fresh-water eel, are not eaten by the natives, who regard them as allied to the serpent tribe, and therefore related to the tempter! The halibut here frequently attain a large size. In January 1885 I purchased from a fisher-lad his one-third share of a halibut. On arriving at home with my prize I found it scaled fully thirty-three pounds, so that the fish when entire must have weighed 100 lbs. Wonderful stories are told of enormous skate taken on this coast. I have heard 2 cwt. stated as the weight of a single skate! Dr Mackenzie mentions john-dory and mullet as being sometimes captured in Gairloch, but not with bait.


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