William and Alastair Peake experience breathtaking sport with shoals of salmon in Sutherland
MY BROTHER WILLIAM, Eoin Fairgrieve and I were on the fishing expedition of a lifetime in the extreme south of Patagonia. At the end of the adventure we were already planning our next trip. We wanted to find and experience Scotland in its wildest form. We pored over the map, searching endless rivers in search of a true Scottish wilderness experience to produce our next fishing-and-filming fix.
We found vast wild landscapes in Sutherland, the host of so many fabled rivers – Naver, Helmsdale, Gruinard, Oykel – so many choices, and then we discovered the Hope system. A place we had heard much about but had never fished. It felt right. We’d give it a go.
The Hope system is in the far north of Sutherland and is fed by the Strathmore River, which is supplied by numerous hill lochs. It flows into the six-mile long Loch Hope, which empties into the River Hope. Our journey to its banks was fantastic. We took the long route, driving beside the Helmsdale for many miles, then the River Naver came into view and we followed it to its headwaters and Loch Naver. A majestic, beautiful mountain then broke the barren landscape – Ben Loyal is one of the highest of the northern Munros and towers over the rolling moorland.
We were greeted by the gillies-cum-stalkers Ian Smart of Ben Loyal Estate and Ian Macdonald of Hope Estate. Both have worked here for many years and their knowledge of the region is unparalleled. We were shown to the idyllic Ferryman’s Cottage, our base for the week, beside Loch Hope, close enough to hear the splash of fresh salmon leaping.
That first evening, fuelled by Scotland’s finest nectar, we told fishing stories deep into the night.
The alarm sounded at 5am and I peered through the window at a vast expanse of water, dark and gloomy with mist clinging to the shores. My gaze followed the loch up into the glen, where the moody red glow of daybreak was creeping down from the summit of Ben Hope, the magnificent Munro that gives the loch and river their name. We filled the coffee pot, shook off the cobwebs and headed out.
At the lower river, we looked towards the sea. Towering sea cliffs on the right and breaking waves to the left. We could see salmon leaping as they came in on the tide. Eoin and I set up cameras and sent Will ahead to fish.
No more than five minutes passed before we saw an excited figure coming back to meet us.
“Guys! I had three casts and had two different fish rise to the hitch fly!”
We set off, cameras and rods in hand, to watch the hitch fly skate across the pool. Four casts later we saw a nose and dorsal fin slip through the water and roll over the fly. It was enchanting to watch and as Will made his next cast all eyes were fixed on the riffle created by the little tube-fly.
“There he is!” shouted Will.
The take was subtle and if you blinked you could have missed it, but the eruption of water that followed was spectacular. The line tightened, the rod went up and the fish leapt into the air, repeatedly trying to throw the hook. Eventually the fish succeeded and the line went slack.
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