Lochs, lochs and more lochs. There are over 800 lochs on South Uist and Benbencula, two windswept islands off the coast of Scotland.
The lochs have world-class brown trout fishing from March to September, with sea trout and an occasional salmon available July to September. In late June I joined four friends for a week of brown trout fishing after a 12 year absence. Our party included three Americans and Neil Patterson, Flyfishing and Flytying columnist and author of Chalkstream Chronicle and Flyfisher’s Chronicle.
We stayed at Kinloch, a B&B on the shores of Loch Druidebeg about halfway down South Uist. Here’s the view out my bedroom window.
On the first night of our stay I snuck out to catch a trout for breakfast. Kinloch’s proprietor Wegg Kimball is aptly described in the September 2010 issue of Fly Fishing and Fly Tying as “a man of fine intelligence and understanding and a friend of Bacchus who feels perhaps more keenly than most of us the slings, arrows and general cock-ups of everyday life.”
Wegg can arrange the fishing permits and ghillies. He makes a terrific apple chutney to accompany your ham sandwich and will clean and grill your catch for breakfast or lend you any of the 200 plus books in his angling library. Just don’t in pain of banishment bring an iphone or computer to the dining table.
Each day started with tea, coffee, fruit and yogurt, eggs and toast, scrambled eggs with chives from the garden, grilled trout or kippers. Then we packed ham and chutney sandwiches and headed to the lochs. Wegg also cooks dinner. My favorite was smoked salmon, scallops and bacon, broccoli and potatoes.
Fishing on the island is controlled either by the South Uist Estate or South Uist Angling Club. The estate lochs are regarded as the best on the island. Our ghillie Alister O’Henley took us to three estate lochs: Mid Loch Ollay, Loch Altabrug and Loch Dun na Cille. The estate lochs have boats and the estate limits traffic to two boats a day to promote quality fishing.
Much dismay when we found the Estate’s famed Loch Bornish blown out by winds which churned up the marl flats. Our ghillie Alister pivoted like a savvy entrepreneur to a series of hill lochs for a terrific day of fishing. We enjoyed the experience so much that we went back there the next day. Our biggest fish of the week took a size 14 Butcher on a non-estate loch. Don’t let anyone tell you that the non-estate lochs are subpar.
This is traditional loch fishing. Leave the small rods at home. A 9ft to 11ft 6 weight fly rod is necessary in the wind. The long rod also minimizes false casts and allows you to dibble your dropper fly tantalizingly in the surface at the end of the retrieve.
We fished three size 12-14 wet flies on 12 foot 6 pound test Maxima leaders. A bushy palmered fly or a muddler on the top dropper makes a disturbance in the surface to attract fish. Our best dropper flies were the Soldier Palmer, Claret Bumble, Zulu and a Magenta Muddler.
Hook size: 10-14
Tail Golden Pheasant Tippet
Body: Claret seals fur.
Ribbing: Golden Olive Tinsel
Hackles: One claret and one black hackle, wound together, 1 turn at head and three turns town the body.
Facing Hackle: Blue jay, slightly longer than body hackle.
The middle fly can be an old standby like Mallard and Claret or Golden Olive Dabbler. A bright slim fly like a Butcher or Peter Ross or Alexandra or Pearly Invicta on the tail will fish slightly deeper and may attract a fish which is drawn to the dropper but doesn’t take. Start with size 12 flies. Increase to size 10 in a big wave and go to size 14 in a calm or if fish are coming short.
A floating line is fine because the lochs are shallow and the browns are looking up. About 60% of my fish took the dropper with a splash and a swirl. I averaged 10 well-proportioned browns a day of 0.5 to 2 pounds.
A quiet afternoon. Water laps the boat. The oyster catchers and terns chatter. I see a melancholy estate house against the horizon and wonder what life was like here in bygone days. A brown trout splashes and the line pulls and Alister says “are you in” and I snap out of my daydreams. I’ll come back to South Uist.
Parting Words – June in the Hebrides means temperatures in the 50’s so dress in layers with a hat and wool gloves. Expect some wind. It rained every day on our trip. This is what wader jackets are made for. Waders will keep out the rain and will allow you to fish from shore around burn mouths, in sheltered bays and on hill lochs without a boat. We weren’t bothered by midges but they can be fierce if the wind dies. Skin So Soft is a great repellant.
Accomodations – Kinloch Uist is an angling oriented bed and breakfast operated by Wegg Kimball.
Fishing – The best island sea trout lochs as well as some of the best brown trout lochs are controlled by the South Uist Estate which permits only 2 boats or four rods a day on each loch to manage the pressure.
Ghillies – I can vouch for two of the island’s ghillies. Ian Kennedy is the most experienced. Ian has good blood lines. His father John Kennedy ghillied for 20 years and is the author of 70 Lochs – A Guide to Trout Fishing in South Uist – a valuable guidebook to trout fishing in Bebencula and South Uist. Ian ghillies on the Estate waters from mid-March to October. He’ll spot the fish coming to your fly before you do and can cast an entire fly line. I know because I lost a bet with him over that.
Alister O’Henley has a great knowledge of both the Estate and South Uist Angling loch. He can take you in a boat or guide you through the bogs to wild hill loch fishing. And if you make nice he just may bring some of his partner Donna’s home-made lemon cake or rocky road candy to supplement lunch.
Books – Anglers have been coming to South Uist for almost 200 years. Here’s a list of helpful books on the island’s fishing, listed chronologically.
Flyfisher’s Chronicle (2015) by Neil Patterson. Has a delightful chapter on fishing for trout and sea trout in South Uist.
The Loch Fishers Bible by Stan Headley. Bornish is one of Headley’s favorite brown trout lochs and his books talks about Bornish, Fada and Roag.
70 Lochs A Guide to Trout Fishing in South Uist (2009 is most recent reprint) by John Kennedy. A slim little pamphlet detailing access, boats and how to fish 70 lochs in Bebencula and South Uist. Includes maps of 28 of the lochs.