A Return to Old Haunts

A View of Asta Loch on the Way Up
A View of Asta Loch on the Way Up the Hill

As this season enters it’s Autumn phase I look back at it and draw from it that fishing is far from predictable. Each season has its highlights as well as the things you would like to forget. As for most of us in the UK months on end of relentless blue skies and sunshine have meant fishing has been far from easy. The cold lingering winter meant that the fish were slow to recover from the rigors of spawning and the scarcity of food in the early spring meant that the fish were lean and harder to catch. Fishing has always been a challenge and those of us who are quick enough to respond to the difficulties that are presented to us will reap the benefits at the end of the day. At the start of the season many days came and went without me bothering to venture outside with a fly rod and when I did my fishing excursions lasted a few hours only. Finally thihngs improved and by mid May the fish responded to the increase in temperatures. My enthusiasm increased and my thoughts turned to older haunts that I frequented  in the past. In a previous blog, I mentioned there are a series of a dozen hill lochs to the south of my house in Whiteness which are approachable either from the Scalloway or the Whiteness ends. I was keen to return to Maggie Black ‘s and Jamie Cheyne’s lochs which involve a fairly strenuous walk across the moor whichever starting point you choose.  I chose to go from Asta Golf Course and followed the small valley past the Mill Loch of Garth which contains brown trout to 3lbs or more. There are fish in all the lochs but the jewels in the crown, Maggie Black’s and Jamie Cheyne’s lochs, contain the biggest fish. They are however very difficult to tempt and if you are fortunate enough to hook any of the real big ones they will make for the weeds. By mid June the weed beds are well developed particularly in Maggie Black’s loch so you need a strong leader if you are going to stand any chance of landing one! I chose a bright day for my visit but there was some cloud covering which raised my hopes. I struggled for a while with the usual  standard traditional flies in size 10s and 12s but to no avail. After a fruitless time on Maggie Black’s Loch I walked the two hundred yards or so through heather and peat bog to Jamie Cheyne’s Loch. After scratching around my fly box I finally spotted a size 10 Murrough  – a fly I had tied up over 30 years ago to imitate a Cinnamon or Great Red Sedge which hatch off the lochs from June onwards. The fly seems to attract the bigger fish when all else fails and became known locally as “Mike’s Murrough”. In the days before Hedgehogs and Sedgehogs it got some attention on the Scottish Mainland and even caught me pike and rainbow trout. Within about ten minutes of tying one on I hooked and landed a lovely wild brownie of 2lb 4oz.

 

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Sea Trout

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Hunting for sea trout in salt water has long been a passion of mine and with this season fast approaching I have tied up some sea trout patterns which will hopefully catch a few in the bays and inlets around Shetland. There is a page on the Shetland Anglers Association website that will give you a few pointers as to where you can try at http://www.shetlandtrout.co.uk/sea-trout-fishing.html We are spoiled for choice up here as there are approximately 1,600 miles of coastline if you add on all the islands however it takes many years to find the real hot spots and I am still looking for them! Sea trout have a habit of disappearing as quickly as when they first came. The well-known locations will been well covered within the first few weeks of the season so the secret is to find somewhere that has been forgotten about over the years. The burn mouths tend to be the place to find the fish that have spawned and are eager to regain their condition so be gentle with these fish and exercise restraint to preserve the dwindling stocks of these beautiful fish. I catch and release around 95% these days and by doing so you not only help to preserve the stocks for the future, if you are a fish lover you will enjoy eating them all the more if you don’t have them too often.

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Sea trout can be fussy about what fly works best and it is often down to your own confidence in what fly will work best on a given day. My “go to” cast would almost always be a Wickham’s Fancy on a single dropper with my White Sand Eel on the tail. It is hard to say that a fly you have fashioned from a variety of materials is your own design but the White Sand Eel came to me more than 20 years ago when most of us were using traditional sea trout patterns. it is not unlike a Clouser Minnow which appeared around 2006, I designed this one to imitate the common sand eel which frequents the sandy bays and voes around Shetland around 2004. It lay in my box for years before I finally decided to try it out one day as a last resort when I failed to catch when it was obvious that sea trout were feeding in the area. There was no tentative half-hearted follow when I tried it out. All takes were positive and I ended up with 5 fish up to 2lbs before the shoal moved on.  Over the years I have tied up many variations of this pattern and all seem to work as well. The old fashioned epoxy resin and rotary driers have given way to fast setting UV resin and UV torches. My original version didn’t even have eyes and were very crude to say the least. The latest ones have realistic eyes and are tied in less than ten minutes. Last year I caught in excess of 200 sea trout on this pattern with 2 over 3lbs and many in the 2lb plus range. If you catch a sea trout in excess of 4lbs in Shetland you are doing extremely well!

In the summer months salmon and grilse can turn up in the voes and bays around Shetland. Sometimes their visits are fleeting as they make their way from the feeding grounds back to the rivers or streams of their birth. I have encountered shoals of large salmon as the tide advances on a Shetland voe. With fish leaping and nosing their way into the burn mouths to smell the fresh water they quickly disappear on the ebbing tide. In those situations you rarely get any interest from them as they are on the move the whole time. Their minds are focused on locating the streams and rivers of their birth. If you are fortunate enough to hook one of these fish they can empty your reel in a matter of seconds so be prepared by having plenty of backing. It is difficult to offer any advice about catching a salmon in salt water because the opportunities are few and far between. Those fish that I have hooked over the years have tended to be on smallish flies when I have been targeting sea trout. Of all the flies I have used in the sea it is perhaps the Wickham’s Fancy that I have been most successful with. Perhaps it is the shrimp-like appearance of the fly that triggers a response from the fish.

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The start of the 2018 season unfortunately coincided with some very snowy weather throughout the United Kingdom. As I write this blog on 6th March there is still much snow around so any fishing will have to be curtailed until things warm up a bit.

 

 

 

Winter Fly Tying

Winter nights in Shetland can be long drawn out affairs and more often than not the weather can be extreme with force 8 plus gales and lashing rain being commonplace. It is easy on those occasions to migrate to the warm fire and the TV. I like to find a little time to replenish my ever-depleting fly boxes with my favourite patterns for the coming season and to tie some experimental ones. There is nothing more satisfying than to catch on a recently tied experimental pattern.

We are blessed in Shetland with some lovely still, clear nights and it is on some of these ocasions that the Aurora Borealis can put in an appearance. Where I live in Whiteness there are very little artificial lights to spoil the northern skies except perhaps a low orange glow from the Sullom Voe Oil Terminal flare stack.

Here are two photographs I took from my garden on two separate occasions.

TOOL STAND

This year I vowed to sort out my fly tying equipment and thanks to my son-in-law Jonathan who gave me a nice piece of beechwood offcut, I made myself a tool stand to hold and organise my most often used fly tying tools.

Tools

Bobbin holders, scissors, tweezers, dubbing needles, hackle pliers and my hair stacker are now more easily accessed. Tying a fly is now no longer hampered by the misplacing of tools during the fly tying process.

PURN STAND

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I am a firm believer in keeping things organised and ready at hand when tying flies. I knocked up this little purn stand in about an hour. It allows me to keep 15 of my most used tinsels, tying threads and wires close by me.

All set for some winter fly tying before the rapidly approaching season!

 

Loch of Cliff

LOCH OF CLIFF

The Loch of Cliff is the most northerly sizeable fishing loch in the UK and is located on the Island of Unst which is the most northerly inhabited island of the Shetland archipelago. It has a surface area of 105 ha (260 acres) and is relatively shallow with a maximum depth of 6.4 m (21 feet).From an angling point of view I can only speak from my own personal experiences and having fished the Loch of Cliff on perhaps less than a dozen occasions I am only just beginning to scratch the surface of what this loch has to offer.

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Boat fishing on Loch of Cliff Unst

The Loch is by far the biggest loch on Unst stretching some 2 miles in a north to south direction. It is narrow averaging only about two to three hundred yards across. There are wild sea trout, salmon and brown trout here but it is mostly the large resident brown trout that anglers fish for. Sea Trout and the occasional salmon tend to run from August onwards if there is sufficient rain. Smolt cages are anchored in the middle of the loch which has resulted in the resident brown trout population finding a high protein diet which falls through the cages. Not all resident trout feed beneath the cages but those that do develop into strong fully finned athletic trout that test the skills of anglers who dare to challenge them. The loch is not particularly deep 15 to 20 feet so there is no great call for using hi-d lines. I have caught most of my fish on a floater although in times of little surface activity a medium sinker or intermediate has brought me success.

FLIES

The water is normally peat stained and successful flies for me include Loch Ordie, Black Zulu, Soldier Palmer, Dunkeld Muddler and White Tag. Sedge flies abound during the summer months so any sedge pattern should be worth a shot. I have found that flies with magenta in them seem to attract the bigger fish and I have had a lot of success with a size 8 Black Zulu with a magenta tail and a large Clan Chief with a ribbing of UV Fritz- a fly that my friend Paul Bloomer created.

 

Successful Flies on Loch of Cliff
Brown Headed Dunkeld Muddler, White Tag, Clan Chief  and Magenta Zulu

 

Davy Pottinger hooks and successfully lands a Loch of Cliff brown trout of about 5 pounds
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The author with a 7.5 pounder caught on a size 8 Clan Chief
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An 8 pounder taken on a size 8 Magenta Zulu
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One caught on a sparkler
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5 pounder caught on a White Tag

As these fish have a diet of pellets they do not make good eating and most anglers return them to the water.

If the fishing is not good Unst is a great place to go walking and sightseeing.

Griesta Loch

Griesta Loch lies in a fertile hollow near Griesta Farm. It used to get a small run of sea trout which ascended the small burn that drains into Loch of Strand which is a small brackish loch on the old road north. Brown trout average about 6oz to 8oz although there are a few far larger fish to be had. My best this year from this loch weighed 1lb 10oz.The Loch lies to the north west of Tingwall Loch and is easily accessed by taking the single track road on the bend of the road next to the Law Ting Holm at the north end of Tingwall Loch. It is best fished early season between March and June before the green algae has had an affect on the water clarity. The loch contains a good stock of fish between half and three quarters of a pound with occasional fish between one and four pounds.

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Griesta Loch looking South

 

Brown Trout 13oz Greista Loch-medium
One on the Daddy Longlegs

This year there I caught a lot on versions of Brian Leadbetter’s foam Suspender Buzzers in sizes 10 – 12. The ones that worked best for me were tied as follows:-

SUSPENDER BUZZER

  1. Hook – Kamasan B175 in sizes 10 or 12;

  2. Tail – Two small strands of Flexi-Floss in either red or white;

  3. Body – Peacock Herl;

  4. Ribbing – Pearl Lurex Medium;

  5. Head – Strip of dyed black ethafoam sheet doubled up with whip finish behind the head.

The whole fly takes a matter of minutes to tie but is a very effective buzzer pattern.

For access to Greista Farm – Don’t park within the farm yard as you may inconvenience the farm activities. There is a “pull-off” just before you reach the farm buildings. Walk up the farm road into the farm yard and walk through the gate where there is a sign post directing you to the loch.

Brown Trout 1.75lbs Griesta Loch Tingwall Shetland
Brown Trout 1lb 10oz caught on a Claret Bumble

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jamie Cheyne’s and Maggie Black’s Lochs

These two lochs hold some of the most beautifully coloured brown trout in Shetland and have the reputation of producing large fish particularly in the early season. As the season progresses Maggie Black’s Loch weeds up so if you are fortunate enough to hook a big fish you are likely to lose them in the weedbeds. The lochs are best approached by walking up the small stream adjacent to the Asta Golf Course car park. If it is not busy with golfers you may be able to seek permission to park there, otherwise you can park on the land opposite the small wooden hut beside Asta Loch. Seeking permission first is always a good plan and you normally find that the locals are very obliging.

The walk takes you past the Mill Loch of Garth and Loch of Garth before ascending the hill to the west up to Jamie Cheyne’s Loch. Maggie Black’s Loch is a five to ten minute “sprint” up the hill from Jamie Cheyne’s. The whole walk from the car park at Asta Loch takes around half an hour for the fittest and three quarters of an hour for me!

This fish was caught on a dry fly by Barry Ord-Clarke on a cloudless day with very little wind. 
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One caught on a Dry Caddis

I have caught brownies in these lochs on Ace of Spades (size 12), Brown Headed Dunkeld Muddler (size10) , Shetland Beetle , Red Soldier Palmer and Lite Brite Shrimp. The smallest fish I have had in Maggies was over the pound but don’t expect them to give themselves up easily, it is a very dour loch at the best of times!

You can make a real day of it fishing the lochs of Ustaness, Brow, Garth and Houlland. It is possible to approach the lochs from five different vantage points –

  1. Driving up the track to Burwick through Berry Farm . This track serves the two houses at Burwick so you should seek permission from them and park where you would least inconvenience them.

  2. Asta Golf Course car park – Again seek permission as to where you can park. 

  3. Greista Farm – Don’t park within the farm yard as you may inconvenience the farm activities. There is a “pull-off” just before you reach the farm buildings. 

  4. Whiteness View point – You can park in the layby at the top of Wormadale Hill and walk through the gate near the Waters of Wormadale and walk in a southerly direction following the ridge. Be warned that this is strenuous as the heather is dense and there are no proper paths. 

  5. The Nesbister Bod – Follow the road down to the head of Whiteness Voe down to the Bod of Nesbister. There is a car park at the end of the road belonging to the Water Board who unfortunately keep the gate locked. You can park off the road and follow the path along the side of Whiteness Voe before striking out in a south easterly direction up a fairly steep hill to the Loch of Ustaness. Take a map and compass with you as it is easy to get lost if the mist closes in. Care should be taken when visiting these remote hill lochs that you do not disturb  nesting birds. 

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    Red Throated Diver – Maggie Black’s Loch

Red Throated Divers sometimes nest on the shore line of Both Maggie Black’s and Jamie Cheyne’s Lochs and lay their eggs where you would stand. If the birds are scared off their nests their eggs will become chilled and they may not hatch. They lay their eggs usually between early May through to June so you should avoid disturbing them during this period.

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A pound and a half brown trout from Maggie Black’s Loch about to be returned. Beautiful colours don’t you think? Sorry about the quality of this photo but the fish was anxious to go back. The fly it took was a size 10 Shetland Beetle. Black Beetle2 (640x515)

Shetland Beetle (Colin Wiseman)

Hook–  B175 12-8 with lead wire wound on
Tag– Glo Brite 10 or yellow primrose floss
Body– Black Chenille ribbed with silver oval palmered with dyed black cock.
Head Hackle -Black hen 
I tie this fly up with a lead underbody which seems to help especially in the early season. It has caught me my biggest wild brown trout of 8.5 lbs and many other good specimens besides.

FOOTNOTE:-I have hooked a fish in each of these lochs that would have been destined for a glass case had it not been for my carelessness and impatience so be warned and be prepared – the big ones do not give themselves up easily.

The Waters of Wormadale

If you want some light hearted fun fishing for Brown Trout in the 4oz to 3/4lb range you can park in the scenic layby at the top of Wormadale Hill and walk down to the two small lochans that you can see from the road.

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The fish are not big here but fun to catch and can be caught fairly easily on buzzers, Black Penel and other conventional flies in sizes 10-12.

The lochs lie at the side of the A971 just past Tingwall Airport and can be seen from the road before it reaches the top of Wormadale Hill heading West. The one nearest the road offers the best chances.

 

Asta Loch

ASTA LOCH

Asta Loch lies in the Tingwall valley to the south of Tingwall Loch. It is a clear limestone loch with good spawning burns flowing both into and out of the loch. There is a small 9 hole golf course adjacent to the loch so one has to be careful and not disturb the golfers when you are fishing the side adjacent to the course. Sometimes you can come across some golf balls when wading. I collect these and leave them at the club house which does wonders for good relationships between the golfers and anglers! The fish average about 3/4lb although there are a good number between 1 and 2 lbs as well. They are bright and colourful fish which feed mainly on a healthy diet of shrimp, stickleback, buzzers and caddis fly.

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A brace of brown trout caught from Asta Loch
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Leaded Lite Brite Shrimp size 10

LITE BRITE SHRIMP

This fly is one of my favourite tail patterns which works at any time of the year. Works best in the eutrophic lochs in Shetland and  I have also had success amongst the Rainbows in lochs south. You can tie them in different colours and it works best if you add feelers back and front by tying in a few fibres of dark partridge hackles. The original shown here has accounted for brown trout of over five pounds and even works in the sea for sea trout!

LITE BRITE SHRIMP

Hook Size 10 Kamasan B175
Thread – Fine/clear Uni-Mono Size 4m
Underbody – Build up a hump profile of lead wire in ever decreasing lengths one on top of the other. This allows the fly to swim upside down which is natural for a shrimp.

Body – Attach a 5mm strip of  Virtual Nymph Flexi-Body in Dark Tan at the rear of the hook. Cut a V-shape to help locate the strip evenly so that it will be even on each side of the shrimp. At this point tie in a clear piece of  Monofilament with a diameter of around 0.25mm ( I use Airflow 12lb Platinum but you can use anything which helps to give good segmentation).
Dubbing – Dub on some yellow Lite Brite or Angelina Fibres and wind up to the eye having first applied a little superglue to the body – This will help it stick to the body as there is a tendency for the dubbing to slip on the humpy body without it.
Bring the strip up to the eye applying a fair amount of tension and secure it. Rib the body with the monofil and whip finish.
Finally pick out some of the dubbing with a dubbing needle.

 

Loch of Strom & The Sandwater Burn

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The Mouth of the Burn of Sandwater

Sandwater Burn Mouth

No one would ever have thought that it would be possible to catch salmon in Shetland however one of Shetland’s best kept secrets is that salmon run the Loch of Strom and the Burn of Sandwater. Small shoals of mainly grilse can sometimes appear around the beginning of July and will run the Burn of Sandwater if the highest of tides coincide with a summer spate. If the rains are late, the fish will hang around in the loch which is mainly salt water and as is typical with salmon they are hard to catch in salt water. There are times however when a fish or two will be tempted to take a well-presented fly. Local knowledge of their lies and the best way to catch them may be hard to come by but with a kind word or two you may be able to persuade a local to point you in the right direction.

The salmon do not run big which is perhaps a reflection of the size of the burn they run. The grilse are between 2.5 and 7lbs with the occasional adult salmon of 8lbs to 15lbs showing up occasionally. I have fished here for at least 25years and up until I retired I averaged about one per year however retirement has afforded me a little more time and living above the adjacent Whiteness Voe which is about 3.5 miles from Strom, it has allowed me to choose times when the tide coincides with the best taking times.

Here are some fish I caught in 2017. As Shetland is currently a category 3 area in terms of the salmon conservation legislation all these salmon were returned to the water.

Loch of Strom

Loch of Strom, otherwise known as Stromfirth, is a narrow brackish loch extending to about 2.5 miles long and only 4 miles or so from my house. I fish there for Sea Trout more often than anywhere else in Shetland and on its day it is capable of producing Sea Trout to 5lbs and the occasional salmon and grilse. Sea trout may be in the loch from the start of the season in February and will run the Burn of Sandwater at any time depending on the amount of water and tidal influence . Fish tend to congregate at the head of the loch where the water deepens. The loch has a visible line where the water shelves off. It is possible to fish this area in most wind directions provided you have chest waders. The preferred direction is probably North or North West which allows the angler to fish the “drop-off” area by standing in relatively shallow water. Many fish may still be caught in this area when the wind is from South West or South by deep wading and casting onto or over the ledge when the tide is flowing but great care should be taken particularly in strong southerly winds. If there are any salmon or grilse they tend to arrive from late June or more normally July – August but won’t run the burn unless there is a high tide. It pays therefore to use tide prediction tables if you are to stand any chance of connecting with a fish particularly in the lower tidal reaches of the Burn of Sandwater.

The arial view below shows the top end of Loch of Strom. The “drop-off” area can be clearly seen at the bottom of the picture.

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The Top End of Loch of Strom and The Burn of Sandwater

Sometimes fish will remain in the first hundred yards or so of the burn and at times will return to the sanctuary of the deeper water of the loch on the next suitable tide. If there is a spate fish will tend to vacate the lower pools and head up the burn sometimes as far as Sand Water and beyond. By the end of September they may be up the system as far as Petta Water which can be seen on the left hand side of the A970 between Sand Water and the Laxo Junction. The salmon and grilse runs both here and anywhere else in Shetland are subject to the conservation measures introduced on 1st April 2016. Under The Conservation of Salmon (Scotland) Regulations 2016 the whole of Shetland has been assigned Category 3 status which requires that ALL WILD SALMON CAUGHT MUST BE RETURNED. The Regulations makes it a CRIMINAL OFFENCE TO KILL AND RETAIN ANY WILD SALMON. Catch and release measures are therefore in place so any salmon caught must be played carefully and returned safely to the water.

Hopefully these measures will help to ensure that future anglers will be able to enjoy catching these wild salmon well into the future. We are extremely fortunate to have this fishery on our doorstep and I cannot emphasise strongly enough how important it is to conserve these dwindling fish stocks for the future benefit of anglers.

 

SOME FOOTAGE OF FISH FROM LOCH OF STROM

Connel’s Grilse

Davy’s Salmon From Loch of Strom

Davy’s 4.5lb Sea Trout from Loch of Strom

Returned
A small grilse being released in Loch of Strom

Sea trout may sometimes be caught at the seaward end of the loch especially around the islands and the channel where the sea water enters and leaves the loch. Sea trout are attracted to fresh water so it is always worth trying where a small stream enters the loch. Catching a salmon in salt water is a challenge probably not unlike climbing the north face of the Eiger but it is possible and when you achieve it the sense of achievement is second to none! The path to success is perseverence. If you see one jump and it is within casting range, don’t miss the opportunity. One of the best patterns is a Wickham’s Fancy in sizes 6 to 10 and, believe it or not a March Brown in similar sizes. Quite what tempts them to take such flies, one can only guess. A Wickhams may look like a shrimp to them and triggers something in its memory….Who knows!!

Hopefully these measures will help to ensure that future anglers will be able to enjoy catching these wild salmon well into the future. We are extremely fortunate to have this fishery on our doorstep and I cannot emphasise strongly enough how important it is to conserve these dwindling fish stocks for the future benefit of anglers.

 

SOME RECOMMENDED FLIES

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Detached Bodied Daddy Longlegs (Size 10)
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Magenta Tailed Zulu (Size 10)
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Wickham’s Fancy (Size 8 to 10)
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Fluo Red Soldier Palmer (Size 10)
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Blue Jay (Size 8 – 10)
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White Sand Eel (Size 8 – 10)

Warning – The White Sand Eel is lethal and should be banned by law!!!

Dalsa Waters Shetland

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Jonathan at the first of the Dalsa Waters

A Trip to the Dalsa Waters Shetland  (HU236552)

Summer has apparently arrived in Britain but up here in Shetland there has been little evidence of it! The months of May and June have been the wettest on record here in Shetland however my spirits have not been dampened and I have managed a few eventful fishing trips into the wilds of Shetland. For once the sun shone for this particular trip.

I was a little apprehensive when Jonathan and I set off from the Sandness road as I didn’t think my hip would cope with the rough terrain. Having had a partially successful hip operation some time ago I struggle to walk overy rough terrain.  Anyway I had little to fear and the walk in didn’t cause me too much pain and was in fact very pleasant.

Parking adjacent to the southern end of Stanevatstoe and striking out across the hills between Mousavord and Burga Waters we stopped off to tie up a cast whilst Jonathan tried for a fish in Mousavord. Before I was able to tie my first dropper Jonathan was into a lovely fish of a pound which he returned.

Continuing our journey we arrived at the first of the Dalsa Waters with Jonathan fishing the North side and me the South side. Beautiful scenery and well worth the hike across the hills. We were tracked by a Common Gull and countless Curlews and Oystercatchers tracked our journey least we should disturb their chicks which were taking refuge in the heather. Jonathan saw the first fish which swirled at his Muddler on the top dropper but failed to connect. About half way down  my side I hooked a fish of around the 2lb mark which after a powerful run it jumped in the air and broke off at the dropper knot! The wind fell away and more decent sized fish rose in the middle of the loch well out of casting range. We saw little in the other three lochs which were more weedy than the first but we made a mental note to return to these lovely lochs at a later date. The sunset was awesome on the way back to the car which more than made up for the lack of fish. Next time we will be prepared with dry fly as well as some nymphs.