Shetland Fishing Adventure
Marc MacMillan, June 17, 2011
As James Reddey and I cut through the crowds of tourists decked out in union jack paraphernalia on the London Underground, we were armed with fishing rod tubes and backpacks in our bid to escape the royal wedding chaos that was descending on the capital. Rather than stay in the city and wrestle with the masses we had decided to fling ourselves to the furthest point of the British Isles, the Shetland Islands.The morning after the wedding we celebrated our arrival at 7am as we disembarked the ferry at Lerwick, ending our 24-hour shuffle north.
The train leg to Aberdeen via Edinburgh had gone smoothly, as had the overnight ferry crossing from Aberdeen to the Islands. In an effort to save money by not booking a cabin we slept on the available sofas – a tactic that succeeded until our 2am wake-up when the cleaner went to town on the small piece of carpet below my head with the vacuum cleaner. However bright-eyed and bushy-tailed we walked into town, picking up some fuel for our camping stove and our ongoing adventure.
Over the week we aimed to explore this remote group of islands whilst fly fishing, hiking and camping between locations. At 60 degrees North the Shetland Islands lie closer to Norway than mainland Scotland and consist of approximately 100 islands of which only 16 are inhabited. The largest island is called Mainland and is where the capital Lerwick is located.
With a relatively short amount of time on the islands we decided to concentrate on two different locations on the mainland. We picked out the western mainland to begin our adventure, an area that looked good on the map with plenty of fishy looking lochs and an easy bus journey from Lerwick to the town of Walls sealed the deal. For the second half of the trip we opted for the wilder area north of Ronas Hill, Shetland’s highest hill. Located further from the road here we only had the mountain hares, birdlife and fish for company.
A quick note on the bus service in Shetland: we travelled all over the north and west of the mainland and had superb service. A 40 mile bus journey cost just a couple quid which really impressed me being a Londoner.
Fishing was the primary focus of the trip, the Shetlands being well suited to this activity with a magnitude of lochs which are filled with hard fighting wild brown trout, sea-trout and the occasional salmon. With the trout being our main target species we hiked from loch to loch fishing seemingly endless series of small lochs where the trout took both wet flies and spinners with great gusto.
Although most of the fish we caught were on the small side, averaging about 4-6 to a pound, we did connect with a number of ½-1 pound trout which were terrific sport and James landed a beauty at 2.25 lbs, the largest of the trip. The most successful tactics of the week were fishing a floating line with a 2 fly cast or 3 if the wind died down (which it seldom did). On the top dropper we employed bushy flies such as Black Zulus to great success as well as Blue Zulus and Claret Bumbles in sizes 12-18. On point the most successful patterns were Black Ke-He, Kate MacLaren, Gold Invicta and Black Pennel in the same sizes. Still being slightly early in the season we didn’t see many fish rising and therefore didn’t succeed on the few occasions we fished a dry fly. We quickly found out that the larger lakes didn’t always give up the bigger fish, with many good fish coming from the smallest unnamed waters.
To fish on the Mainland a Shetland Anglers Association fishing permit which can be bought from the tourist office for £25. The permit allows the travelling angler to fish a magnitude of lakes over the season, and for an extra £30 you can buy a boat permit with unlimited access to SAA boats on 7 lochs. On our trip we opted to fish the more remote smaller lochs rather than the larger waters which we found slightly intimidating, however looking at the results on the SAA website the boat fishing scene on the Mainland offers fantastic fishing. The SAA also publish a guide to fishing the most of the main lochs on the Mainland and surrounding islands, we found this an invaluable resource as the sheer number of lochs in the Shetlands can be daunting. We did find a few lochs which weren’t mentioned in the guide to have excellent fishing so I would definately recommend doing your own exploration on the islands.
For 7 straight days in April we had clear skies and no rain, possibly a record for the Shetland Islands. We did however have strong winds for most the trip which is fairly normal for the Islands. On the odd occasion the wind stopped, replacing the morning ground with a heavy frost. Although the weather made fishing slightly more challenging it provided perfect visibility for enhancing the surroundings. The coastline north of Ronas hill is the most spectacular I’ve seen in the UK. The weathered cliffs towering over the sea made an impressive backdrop as I stood waist deep, casting flies to hungry trout in a tiny lake balanced precariously on the cliff edge. You can walk for miles along the cliffs in the Shetlands without seeing another person, path or car. Most of the people visiting the island take in the cliffs further south at Eshaness which are apparently equally impressive and nearer the main road.
On our last night we sampled the thriving cultural scene in Lerwick, a testing that coincided with a folk music festival that was so popular all the events were sold-out when we tried to buy tickets on the day. Luckily that night many enthusiasts took to the town and we were treated to impromptu performances in a couple of the lively taverns and bars in the town centre. The locals were all extremely friendly and made us feel very welcome, we even went to the local nightclub and taught everybody a few dance moves from down south.
Highlights for me included climbing out of my sleeping bag in the early hours to find the tent sheeted in ice and looking up to a sky heaving with stars. Then there was sitting of the cliffs at sunset and watching the skuas and fulmars kiting below us. As the train sped along towards King’s Cross I had time to reflect on a spectacular trip in what has to be one of the wildest parts of the UK, crossing a further destination off my want-to-go-to list and adding yet another to my list of must-return-to-destinations.
I can highly recommend the Shetland Islands as an adventure destination for people wanting to experience a wild Britain. For anyone planning a trip to the Shetlands and wanting to do something similar as we did feel to contact Magnetic Junction and myself through the contact page, we have plenty of recommendations and are more than willing to help.