How far would you travel to catch the trout of your dreams? New Zealand? Alaska? Finlay Wilson discovered that perfection swims closer to home, in the Orkneys
THERE ARE A fair few trophy trout lochs around Scotland that have taken up an unhealthy amount of my time. But then there isn’t a wild trout obsessive I know who doesn’t spend a sizeable chunk of their life contemplating their brownie Shangri-La. The machair waters of the Hebrides often feature in my mind’s eye, enveloped in warm westerlies and overcast skies, and where beautiful fish engulf my cunningly selected flies. As they do at other hidden oases, such as the fertile waters in Caithness, Sutherland and Wester Ross, some of which will appear on these pages in the months ahead.
One loch that’s taken up far too much head space over the years is Bea on Sanday, one of the North Isles. Bea has been on my mental map for decades due to the size and quality of its fish, but it wasn’t until recently, despite several previous trips to Orkney mainland, that I managed to make the pilgrimage that bit further north.
After my friends and former Borders neighbours Gwyd and Jayne moved to Harray on the mainland, it was only a matter of time before I hit Sanday. In May 2015 Gwyd and Jayne considerately booked self-catering there, just five minutes from Bea. Finally, the loch was there to behold in the flesh.
Bowl-shaped, about 70 acres, in a dip, a field or so beyond the sand dunes, Bea is just a few hundred yards from the turquoise sea. At first sight it doesn’t exactly grab you with obvious features or starting points, other than a telltale colour change in the water, which is common on machair lochs and denotes a drop-off or the cover of weed.
The western shore is sandy and fringed with weed; the northern and eastern shores are stonier. Gwyd and I started on the south-western shore, out from the reed bed, and worked our way eastwards along the drop-off to the south-eastern “corner”.
Weather, of course, is always an important factor for success on difficult waters – ie waters where large trout swim – and on Sanday this uncontrollable variable can be particularly fickle. As with many shallow, mostly sandy-bottomed machair lochs, Bea can suffer from turbid water in strong winds. The excellent Orkney Trout Fishing Association, which controls the fishing, states on its website that in “April and May, you can confidently fish from dawn to dusk in anything other than a combination of sun and wind, and be successful at any time of the day”.
We were met, of course, by a combination of sun and blustery wind. However, the water, although tinged with sand churned up by the wind, was mercifully clear.
Fishing these waters can require a leap of faith. It involves wading out on the sandy bottom, often 100 yards or more, to reach the drop-off points. The depth tends to be uniform but care is always needed: dips or holes can be encountered and softer patches of the bottom can be disconcerting, especially when you’re almost chest deep. The fish usually only hunt in the shallows at more anti-social times.
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