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

Chapter XVII.—Angling in Loch Maree

LOCH Maree reigns supreme amongst the angling waters of the parish of Gairloch, with the exception of course of its outlet the River Ewe.

It is true that the excessive fishing which followed on the opening of the Loch Maree Hotel at Talladale has to some extent injured the angler's chances, especially by diminishing the number of large black trout usually called ferox. But there is still excellent sport to be had with sea-trout and loch trout.

The angling of Loch Maree is open to visitors staying at the hotels at Kenlochewe and Talladale, except the lower part, about two miles in length, which is reserved by the proprietor for himself and his shooting-tenants. The reserved water includes the whole of the narrow part of the loch lying to the north or north-west of Rudha aird an anail on the west side of the loch, and An Fhridh Dhorch on the north-east side.

The best fishing ground is to be found amongst the bays and shallow banks around the islands and off the points.

The fish in the loch are salmon, sea-trout, and brown trout; no doubt there are also char in the loch; I believe they occur in most Highland lochs, but they are very difficult to take. I never heard of one being caught in Loch Maree; but they say the last Lord Seaforth used to visit Loch Maree every autumn to net char in shallow waters, and that he got them of remarkable size running up to 1 lb. weight. The char is a deep-water fish, and only comes towards the shores for about a fortnight at the end of autumn to spawn.
Salmon are but rarely taken in the loch, though they must be numerous in its waters. I have known one taken with a blue artificial minnow off the Fox Point, and two were bagged in Tollie bay in 1882 with ordinary sea-trout flies and a light rod; one of these weighed 15 lbs. I have heard of other instances of salmon being captured in different parts of the loch; several at its very head, others among the islands, and others again at places I need not specify. The statement made by some gillies that salmon are never taken in Loch Maree is a delusion; that they are not generally taken, I admit; but every angler on Loch Maree, at any time of the year, whether throwing the fly or trolling the minnow, has a chance of hooking a specimen of the monarch of fishes.

Sea-trout come next. In some years they are very abundant, in others comparatively scarce. This fish has different names in different parts of the kingdom. Sometimes it is called the white trout; sometimes the salmon trout; sometimes the sewin. Again the term white trout includes the bull-trout, which is an immigrant from the salt water. The sea-trout of Loch Maree appear to be of three distinct species :—

I. The sea-trout or salmon trout {Salmo truttd); II., the bulltrout {Salmo eriox) \ III., the finnock or whitling (scientific name unknown to me). Some say the finnock is a samlet.

Of these No. I. is abundant; No. II., scarce ; and No. III., which never exceeds half a pound in weight, is also abundant. The sea-trout here vary from f lb. to about 6 lbs.; they afford excellent sport, and are good eating. The sea-trout fishing is at its best in the months of July, August, and September. The finnocks are nice little fish, and for their size give pleasant sport. The only bulltrout I have known were taken from the Ewe.

Salmon and sea-trout fishings in Scotland belong exclusively to the crown and its grantees. In Gairloch the fishings are held by Sir Kenneth Mackenzie, Bart, of Gairloch, under an ancient charter from the crown. Any person taking a salmon or sea-trout, without the permission of Sir Kenneth, is simply a poacher.

Brown trout are not so plentiful nor so large as they used to be. In Part IV., chap, xiii., I have mentioned the large trout killed in the bay of Corree, or Ob a Choir T, in the summer of 1878, when I was fishing along with a friend. This splendid fish weighed 21 lbs. when we got it to the nearest railway station, then at Dingwall. It was certainly not a sea-fish, i.e. not a bull-trout, salmon, or sea-trout, and it had not the large head and wild look of the fish usually called ferox; in my opinion it was just a brown trout.

Here I must propound my pet theory, that the so-called ferox and the brown or yellow trout are one and the same species. I have caught, or known caught, a number of large trout out of Loch Maree and other smaller Gairloch lochs, weighing from three to twelve lbs., besides the 21 lb. fish of 1878. I am quite aware of the number of large fish taken during years past in Fionn Loch, and I have shared in the capture of some of them. I know that the greater part of these fish would generally be classed under the head of Salmo ferox. I feel sure they were only ordinary trout which had grown to an extraordinary size; many of them were completely out of condition, like a spent salmon ; one or two, indeed, were not trout at all, but were spent salmon. I have talked with several old anglers, who professed to know the points of a ferox; none of them agreed in their diagnosis, and the characteristics they tried to point out were obscure, and to my mind not distinctive. Everyone knows that trout vary greatly in size, form, and appearance, according to the nature of the water and the bottom, and the quality and quantity of food. Even from the same loch I have seen trout, taken on the same day, so unlike each other that a tyro would have been pardoned for calling them different species. I have noticed no differences between the so-called ferox and any other large brown trout, that have not corresponded with the differences between various specimens of the smaller fish. It seems to me that whenever some anglers capture a trout above 3 lbs. weight they call it a ferox.

The ordinary loch trout are taken with similar flies to the sea-trout, but if you want the big ones you must troll either natural bait or the artificial minnow. The large brown, or rather black, trout (the so-called ferox) are never worth eating, and are rarely beautiful objects to look at; they would be seldom sought for, but that salmon fishing is so costly that many anglers can only realise the excitement of playing a salmon when they succeed in hooking what they call a Salmo ferox.

Sir George Steuart Mackenzie wrote :—"In Loch Maree is that species of trout called the gizzard trout." I suppose he meant the variety commonly called the gilaroo trout, which occurs in a loch near Inchnadamph, in Sutherland. I can only say I never caught one, nor heard of one being caught, in Loch Maree or any other loch in Gairloch.


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