Lewis has always been a fantastic fishing destination for brown trout, salmon and sea trout but until recent years it has also been something of a secret destination attracting a small and loyal band of regular visitors but, generally, avoiding the fishing limelight. In recent years, however, there seem to be more and more people visiting the island for fishing and word has got out that it is probably the best fishing destination in Europe.
So, what should you expect when fishing on Lewis and what do you need to know?
The first thing to highlight is that the fishing on Lewis is all "wild fishing" in almost every sense. The brown trout in the Lewis lochs have been there since the last ice age and while it is impossible to rule out "bucket biology" for the most part there has been no stocking or other interference in all of those 10,000 odd years. The angler on Lewis will be fishing for wild trout that have a lineage going back to the time when the ice was retreating from the island. For many people this is part of the attraction of the Lewis brown trout fishing and even where the fish are small there is a certain satisfaction in taking a fish and knowing that its distant relatives have been there since before man set foot on Lewis. On the other hand, of course, this means that the lochs are not stocked with extremely large and stupid fish that left their stew pond only 24 hours before they saw your fly swim over their heads. My belief is that many lochs hold a small number of very big fish but on average most of the fish you will catch from a Lewis loch will weigh in at less than 1lb. There are some lochs with a reputation for big fish but in Lewis terms a big fish is probably anything over 2lb and on most lochs 5 - 6lb is about the maximum size that a brown trout can hope to attain. There is a loch close to Dollag's Cottage which holds the occasional double figure brown trout but this is very much the exception and you will fish long and hard to catch one. The image below shows a good Lewis brown trout with wonderful markings which was taken from a very remote loch many miles from the road. The sand on which it was photographed showed the evidence of a number of red deer which had crossed it the night before.
Dollag's Cottage @ 7 South Shawbost
Lewis fishing is also wild in terms of both the landscape and the weather. There are a very many Lewis trout lochs right by the roadside and a quick look at any map reveals that there is enough fishing for a lifetime within half a mile of where you can get your car parked. However, for many anglers the chance to walk the moor and fish a loch that sees few anglers in a decade is part of the attraction of any trip to the island. For many visitors it is a whole new fishing experience to spread the map out, pick a loch and then head out across the moor to see how it performs on the day. The absolute truth is that there are many good lochs producing quality fish right by the road and if you want to catch the most and biggest fish in the shortest time possible then there is little requirement to walk very far. If you want the best possible experience I really would suggest that you plan at least one day on a more remote loch a little way from the road. The photo below shows a Dollag's Cottage guest who was extremely nervous about walking the moor alone but who, with some help and encouragement, made her way out to this hill loch and had a great day on the moor fishing a number of interesting and productive lochs in the process.
Anglers often ask when is the best time to come to Lewis for fishing and this is a difficult question to answer as different years and different weather conditions can have a big impact on catches. Most people are of the view that the brown trout fishing is best in May, June and September but I've never found that I can tell any difference between my catches in September and my catches in July or August and it is often the case that the best fish of the season are caught in March or April well before most visitors arrive for trout. For salmon and sea trout July and August are probably the prime months but I personally prefer September with its prospects for more changeable weather. Some Lewis waters fish well for salmon right to, for most waters, the end of the season on 15th of October, though many of the fish may be coloured at this time of year. My general advice would be that if you are coming for salmon or sea trout then try not to come before the 2nd week in July and if you are coming for brown trout then any month from April until the end of September can produce good fishing.
Below: September lunch from a loch close to the cottage and some cottage guests fishing for trout in difficult conditions in July
Although the Lewis moor makes for fantastic walking and will provide the angler who is keen to walk with an almost infinite selection of waters to fish it is also important to realise that walking on the moor can be quite hard work and although most of it is relatively flat it is not like walking on a prepared path. With this in mind it is often best to start with lochs close to the road and get a feel for the walking and how far you might like to walk in a day, with such a huge selection of lochs there is no need to walk any further than you feel comfortable with. If you are planning on coming to fish the more remote lochs then the fitter you are the more able you will be to walk the moor and also the more days you will be able to walk. The image below is of some lochs and a little bit of the Lewis moorland just to give you some idea of the ground you might be wandering across to your lochs.
The Lewis weather will also have a significant impact upon your fishing and your tactics and is, in part, what makes Lewis so great for fishing. Many people who have not been on Lewis are somewhat surprised to find that most Lewis anglers will use an 11 foot rod in a 7 weight line even when fishing for small brown trout. I'm given to believe that the maximum windspeed recorded in the Hebrides was 193mph and it is said to be the most windy inhabited place on earth. I don't know if that is true but what I do know is that during a recent storm the Met Office had to admit that they didn't know the windspeed because their weather station was blown away. Of course not all days are wild but the angler is best to use a rod and line that can cope with the conditions on the island. I own a 10 foot 4 weight rod which is lovely to fish and provides great fun with brown trout on the lochs but it really restricts the places I can fish, where I can drop my cast and so on and it is simply not practical to use on most days. The wind is also a factor when walking the moor and it is very easy indeed to walk with the wind on your back however when you have to turn around and walk for home into the wind it can sometimes prove impossible to make any headway. This is always worth bearing in mind, especially if you intend on walking a long way. The two images below were taken a few minutes apart on a very good trout loch only a short distance from Dollag's Cottage. As you can see it was a lovely, and relatively calm, Autumn day until a squall hit at which point I could only barely stand in the wind. A short and lightweight rod will severely limit your fishing in these conditons.
Getting permission to fish on Lewis, and organising fishing, is always something of a problem area for visitors. The first thing to say is that you will never have problems finding somewhere to fish or getting access to fishing but the process on Lewis tends to be a little more relaxed than in some other areas. All of the fishing on Lewis is owned by someone and so requires permission. Salmon and sea trout fishing tends to be closely guarded, though day and weekly tickets on very good water are readily available to the visitor, but for most of the brown trout fishing permission is assumed by default. The catch with this, of course, is that in some areas permission is not given by default and so a permit is required or access is not available. There are probably hundreds of lochs on Lewis which are considered "free fishing" so the angler will not be short of places to go but it is best to check with Dollanna to ensure that you are not on a loch which requires a permit. To give you some indication of the scale of things I fished on Lewis for around 10 years before the first time that I paid for fishing, and that was for a day at salmon. I've now been fishing on Lewis for nearly 25 years and that I can recall have never paid for brown trout fishing.
Many anglers like to have their holiday fishing well planned out in advance and it is easy to understand this however especially with the brown trout my advice is to get up in the morning, check the weather and then decide where you are going to fish. With salmon and sea trout, where you usually require a permit, it isn't quite so easy to operate in this way. Some anglers like to book their fishing months in advance and there are, of course, advantages with this. However it you decide to go this route you have to accept the very real risk that your booking will leave you fishing in unsuitable conditions. On Lewis it is almost always possible to get salmon and sea trout fishing and so my advice is that anglers should consider waiting until a weather forecast is available for the days when they wish to fish before they make any decisions or bookings. The risk with this is that you might not get the fishing you want and so might end up fishing your 2nd or 3rd choice water. In the end only you can decide on how your priorities stack up in this area, I personally always wait until I have some idea of the conditions before making a booking on the basis that even my 2nd or 3rd choices are better than standing beside a river with no water that the salmon haven't started to run up yet.
Anglers should also consider their priorities in terms of what they will fish for. If you absolutely must catch a salmon then, clearly, it makes sense to devote all your time to fishing for salmon no matter how unfavourable conditions might be, you might get lucky and the diligent salmon angler can usually manage a few salmon even in the worst of weeks. Lewis is one of the best salmon fishing destinations in the world but even so there are times when the water and weather makes the chances of a fish fairly low. If, on the other hand, you are on Lewis to enjoy your fishing and are relaxed about what you catch then I would suggest that if conditions are unsuitable for salmon or sea trout then you should devote your time to brown trout. The brown trout fishing on Lewis is fantastic and varied and fish can be caught in almost all conditions so for many visitors it is better to have a great time catching brown trout than to flog away at some water with a very, very small chance of a salmon. Again only you can say how your priorities stack up in this area but it is worth considering devoting your time to whatever you think will give you best sport on any given day.
The cost of salmon and sea trout fishing on Lewis varies greatly. Right at the top end of the scale comes the very famous Grimersta fishery which can very occasionally provide visitors day tickets for around £260 per day. In the range from about £15 to £100 per day come the various estates across the island who will occasionally be able to provide a day to the visiting angler, the visitor should talk to Dollanna about where she might recommend fishing. There are also a number of association and club waters available on the island with the most famous being the River Creed which usually produces a good run of salmon and sea trout and can be fished on a day ticket at a cost of £25. Also worth looking into are the Carloway, Gress and Fideach clubs which issue day tickets for visiting anglers with charges around £10 - £15.
Below: Fishing on a local estate and a Lewis angler battling a fresh grilse on the River Creed
Physical access to some fishing is by way of rather remote and rough tracks and visitors should be aware that for a few very specific lochs a 4X4 vehicle with good road clearance is a necessity. This only applies to a very limited number of lochs on the island and, in general, a 4X4 does not give the angler an advantage as you are either on the road, where a car would do fine, or in the bog, where even a quad bike might struggle. However, if you have a 4X4, even a pretend one like my X-Trail, it will give you a slight advantage and open up some fishing to you that would otherwise be impossible to reach in a normal road car. Again, to put this into perspective, we are talking maybe 10 lochs from a total of hundreds.
Below: heading out the track to some fishing. Parts of this track are just beyond the capabilities of most normal cars but are easy going in even the softest of 4X4s
Navigation on the Lewis moorland, especially if walking alone, is worth taking a little care over as the ground can often be quite featureless and rolling meaning that your local horizon may be only a few hundred yards away and may look like every other bit of bog for 10 miles in every direction. With this in mind it is helpful to have a suitable OS map for the area you are walking in and a compass and if you have one then be sure to bring your GPS unit as well. I've never been lost nor known anyone who got lost while fishing on Lewis so the risk is very small indeed but it is worth being aware that there will be no paths or tracks to guide you and so you will have to take the usual precautions.