S. Uist sea trout

Specimen S. Uist sea trout . . . a tail the size of a small shovel

IT SEEMED, on the face of it, a fairly innocuous conversation. We were sitting in the conservatory of the Borrodale Hotel on South Uist enjoying one of the chef’s substantial stomach-lining breakfasts in readiness for what was likely to be a fairly challenging day ahead.

Outside, the wind gusted to 35 mph and huge droplets of rain rattled the glass panes with staccato-like machine-gun fire as fierce squalls rushed past. My partner for the week, Richard, was devouring his regular plateful of beans on toast topped off with a fried egg which, rain or shine, was enough to sustain him until evening with only a couple of digestive biscuits for lunch.

Richard likes a challenge and with a formidable track record of relieving the luscious machair lochs of South Uist of some of their fishy bounty over many years, was unfazed by the prospect of tackling Loch Fada’s autumn run of salmon and sea trout, despite the big wind.

The previous day had been particularly tough. Loch Roag is the first major loch on the Howmore River system and is recognised as being in its annual prime in mid-September with runs of double-figure sea trout, grilse and salmon to 20lbs or more. Sensibly, our ghillie wouldn’t risk taking the boat out in the raging storm, so we thrashed away from the bank; me with a hefty 10ft 6in double hander loaded with a 40+ shooting head, Richard with his trusty 11-footer.

It was a tiring but valiant effort and frequently our spirits were renewed when we watched huge fish leaping for joy well out of our reach in the centre of the loch or in quarters in accessible in the relentless wind. Alexander, our lean, youthful ghillie took cover behind whatever bankside shelter he could find as the rainstorms thundered by, sometimes with such intensity that it was almost impossible to see the water beyond the rod end.

As Richard packed away another mouthful of egg and beans, I made the fatal error of checking the geography for the day ahead. We were fishing Roag’s neighbour on the Howmore River system.

River Howmore, S. Uist

. . . a sketch of the Howmore River, S. Uist emerged . . .

“Where’s the inlet for Fada?” I asked. Richard’s answer had me puzzled, describing what sounded like a river that had no connection with either Loch Roag or the Howmore itself. “Don’t the salmon run on into Fada from Roag itself?” I went on.

“Of course they do,” came the reply.

“So where do they come in?”

“Under the road directly from the Howmore.”

“But that’s the inlet to Roag,” I said getting even more confused.

“No that’s the outlet,” said Richard, getting just a little testy. “Salmon do swim upstream you know.” Indeed I did.

“How can the inlet to Fada be at bottom end of Roag. Surely it is more likely to be higher up the loch so the fish pass through it?”

“Because the inlet to Fada is somewhere else,” he replied in suitably enigmatic Hebridean tones.

The conversation stumbled on, fortunately humourously, but with me increasingly perplexed by Richard’s geography which seemed to put our loch for the coming day, lower down the river system than the one which had just fished the day before.

I could have understood the confusion if we had just spent several hours in the bar, but this discussion was taking place over the breakfast table. Worse we entered into a side debate about what defines the “top” and “bottom” of a loch.

There was only one way to sort this out: I sought out a paper napkin and a pen.

A sketch of the Howmore river, Loch Roag, and Loch Fada emerged and I and joined them up with little connecting burns.

Aha, the problem was solved. My inlets were Richard’s outlets. Simples. I was talking about inlets and outlets for migratory fish moving upriver; he was taking about water flows moving down stream.

Just as well neither of us has to run a fisheries trust on the western seaboard of Scotland.

We did agree that the “top” of a loch was usually geographically the north end and the “bottom” at the south. Unless it lay east-west in which case the “top” lay to the west and the “bottom” at the east. Or unless the salmon inlet, or the water’s outlet – depending on your terminology – was at the opposite point of the compass. In which case the whole thing might be different.

I think.

I didn’t fish that morning. I was lucky to be fishing at all having suffered a broken right elbow just four weeks earlier. My arm was starting to complain and I took a few hours out before joining Richard and Alexander, the ghillie at lunchtime. By which time both were looking a little smug.

“OK where are they?” I asked, fearing the worst.

“Have a look under the duckboard,” Alexander suggested.

There in the bottom of the boat lay a 4.5lb grilse and a 10.25lb cock seatrout – one of the finest specimens you are likely to set eyes on.

It had taken my chum 20 minutes to land and Richard beamed with some justification.

“Was it at the top or bottom of the loch?” I asked.

“Just over there,” he said gesturing with the tail of the fish that looked like a small shovel. “And that’s all I’m telling you.”

But I knew where there was to be no further confusion; one sea trout outlet from Loch Fada led directly into Richard’s bass bag and his personal record book.

Of course we didn’t touch another fish all day, but I did get my own back two days later with the best brown of the week, a handsome three pounder taken on a home-tied Black Pennell.

Suddenly the ins and outs of angling all seemed to make sense.

S. Uist brown trout

. . . a handsome 3lb S. Uist brown

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