You may be surprised by what takes your fly on Loch Obisary in the Outer Hebrides, writes Finlay Wilson
Finlay Wilson has mixed sport on Loch Obisary, where you may be surprised by what grabs your fly
THE LOCHS THAT MAKE up so much of the Outer Hebrides are as complex as they are intriguing. Saltwater meets fresh through a dizzying network of inlets and outflows in a constant state of flux as tides ebb and flow and weather-fronts pitch in driven by the untethered power of the Atlantic Ocean. Rain is never far away, rapidly lifting the levels of countless streams and lochans: dynamic, unpredictable and utterly absorbing. One loch that sums up the astonishing diversity is Obisary. A whole lifetime could be spent trying to fathom its secrets. On the more mountainous east coast of Benbecula, between North and South Uist, its numerous bays, islands and large expanses of open water wrap around the 347m peak of Eaval and smaller Burabhal (140m). The scenery is breathtaking. Obisary is big, two miles from north to south and nearly the same from west to east at its widest point. Saltwater enters in the north from Loch Eport, making the water there brackish and bringing in extra nutrients and food. It is an SSSI due to its rich flora and fauna. In form it resembles a classic highland loch – steep banks, islands and skerries dotted around – a spectacular wilderness. Where the sea runs in there are stepping stones that can be crossed at the right time, but which on a high tide will disappear and leave you stranded on the eastern shore – though there are worse places to be stuck if the weather’s fine. I first fished the northern end in 2014, spending an enjoyable sunny afternoon on the bank, picking away at quality ½lb-¾lb trout. Sport was intermittent, but whenever cloud scudded overhead, dimming the harsh light, and a team of traditional wet-flies was presented beyond boulders tight to the shore, the trout would take them. It’s fascinating fishing: plummeting depths below steep rocky shorelines, bladderwrack and knotted wrack and luminous green algae mixing up the palette. A return to investigate extensively from a boat had always been planned and last June the chance arrived in the company of my friend Euan Myles. A 12-hour front hit on the day we had planned to fish, which meant a 24-hour postponement. You don’t want to be in a boat on Obisary when high winds whip in from the west. The next day we were in luck, the wind had dropped and although blustery, at times it was manageable and set to lighten. The perceived wisdom is to fish around the inflow one hour either side of high tide if targeting visitors from the salt. It can also be when the resident trout come on the feed. Unfortunately, the tides weren’t high that week, but casting speculatively is always worthwhile – you just don’t know what you might catch. And so it proved. Despite battling unpredictable gusts and trying unsuccessfully to get the boat to drift evenly, fish were caught. They weren’t big, but their variety more than made up for their lack of size. Small trout, mackerel and pollack all came to the fly. All were taken on small fish or shrimp imitations: Octopus, Kingfisher Cormorants, bead-head Invictas and the good old Peter Ross. Just when we reckoned we’d covered the water, something considerably larger flattened the
“Something considerably larger flattened the water as Euan swung his flies at the end of the drift”
water as Euan swung his flies at the end of a drift. A big sea-trout? A salmon? We’ll never know. One final drift over the same area produced no more evidence of what might be lurking in this mercurial habitat. It was time to move on – there was a big old loch out there to investigate. From Obisary’s meeting place with the sea, the loch is a narrow finger that extends southwards, opening wide over depths that reach 150ft, according to the old bathymetric maps. Beyond, further south, there are three main islands – Mor, Fada and Leathann – but there are countless other outcrops, bays and skerries and once you’re in and about these you’ll find it hard to drag yourself away. This is classic boat fishing for wild trout in the most seductive setting. The fish are free-rising and don’t seem overly fussy. One of the many attractions of Obisary is its many features and likely “fish markers” where, if you follow the rules of thumb, you’ll find the fish: drop-offs, shallow bays, shorelines with vegetation for windblown terrestrials… Hence islands and skerries tend to provide the perfect combination and whenever the prevailing wind allowed steady drifts around or on to these features we’d enjoy fine sport. We also discovered that wherever there was long, grass-like vegetation, sparse and swaying eerily in the pristine, clear water below, greater concentrations of trout seemed to be present. One area in particular where these features converged was halfway down the loch. Here it screamed ideal trout habitat. Our efforts were concentrated and our time monopolised enjoying one ideal drift after another. We had most success east of the biggest island, Leathann, and around the smaller islands and skerries that stretch from Leathann to the eastern shoreline. In any open expanse, the fishing would be slow. As soon as a skerry, island or the transition to a shallower bay was neared, more often than not, trout would hit our flies. Many fish were caught, although none were big. They averaged ½lb-¾lb, but were in perfect condition and fighting fit. As we explored further down the loch, deeper water was again encountered and the action dried up. Eaval dominated the view and on the horizon to the east what looked at first to be a small plane glided into
view. We soon realised it was a sea eagle, soaring effortlessly back and forth, its vast wingspan unwavering in the breeze. Days on the water don’t get much better. Another plan for the day was to reach the south-east shore, beach the boat and walk the short distance further south and east to wet a line on Loch an Tomain. In a land of intriguing waters, this is another worthy of attention. Its unique selling point, other than appealing remoteness, is that it is home to a large colony of cormorants – usually one of our arch enemies. In theory the amount of guano produced by the seabirds provides better feeding than would otherwise be the case and the trout thrive. Whether you believe that or not, John, proprietor at The Lochmaddy Hotel where we were staying, had informed us that it was a favourite place of local fishermen and good-sized trout. There’s only ever one way to find out. Nowhere near as large as Obisary, Tomain is a sprawling, intricate and downright awkward loch to navigate, all rocky promontories, dog-legs and troublesome bays to negotiate: classic hill loch terrain. Unfortunately, it soon became apparent that we hadn’t left nearly enough time to do this water justice. The cormorant colony was on the far side of the loch, out of sight (and smell, fortunately). If we were to hike around the miles of meandering shoreline to find it and fish in that area, we wouldn’t have a hope in hell of making it all the way back to the boat mooring on the northern fringes of Obisary this side of nightfall. Skerries, boats and a big unknown loch in the dark do not make for happy bedfellows. Tomain had a melancholy air. This may have been due to the low light levels and the chill breeze coming off the sea, but there could be a macabre explanation. It’s believed executions were carried out on one of the islands, where victims were dropped into a deep hole and left to perish. We fished a few promising western bays and, inevitably, picked up modest-sized trout. But the temperature was dipping and the journey back was lengthy. Reluctantly, we left this fascinating place and retraced our steps. After making good progress back up the length of Obisary, we had time to stop at another tastylooking bay where trout could be seen “popping” on the surface. We took a number on the dry-fly before the breeze died and the game was up. We realised another 12 hours on the water had passed in the blink of an eye.
LEFT A young pollack that took Fin's beaded Invicta from around the inflow.
BELOW This mackerel took an Octopus. "They'll take anything," said Fin.
ABOVE Wading and casting in Tomain's little bays.
RIGHT Fin beaches the boat on Obisary's sandy southern shore before the hike to Tomain.
LEFT Back on Obisary in time for an evening rise.
RIGHT Just look at those spots and colours.