In April 2016 I was contacted by Dominik Fleischmann, an extremely talented professional photographer and writer, with a request to ‘shadow me’ for a few days with a view to possibly writing a piece for the German fishing magazine ‘Blinker’. As it turned out, the article was so well received by the staff at Blinker that they published it in their 2017 Special Travel Edition of FliegenFischen Magazine. Not only that … We graced the FRONT COVER! My wonderful Austrian wife translated the entire article for me and, with the kind permission from both Dominik and FliegenFischen Magazin I am able to publish the translated article here for your enjoyment.
If you would like to have a copy, or subscribe to this excellent fly fishing magazine, please visit:
Please also have a look at Dominik’s website, where you will find some truly amazing images and stories of his world-wide explorations:
Stewart stands straight as a candle amidst the barren bushes whose yellow flowers are the only indication that, in a few weeks time, the rugged landscape in Scotland’s rough north will soon emerge in lush green of pastures and leaves from the depths of winter. At his side is his faithful dog ‘Geo’ and together they regard the grey wall of clouds which, on this cool early Spring afternoon, are building above Lochinver harbour. The two of them are no their way home after a short angling trip in their home area of Assynt. Behind them is a small path, meandering between the rocks and heather, leading them back from one of their favourite lochs.
The lochs (the Scottish Gaelic term for lakes) characterise the landscape of the Northwest Highlands and even Stewart, who has been fishing here for over thirty years has to laugh when asked if he ‘knows’ all of the lochs in Assynt. There are well over three hundred lochs between the striking mountains and rocky coast. They have names that are hard to pronounce – such as “Loch nan Uidean Beaga” – but they give the region it’s unique character and offer fly fishers a unparalleled playground.
Coffee, pancakes and White Spots on the Map
In the morning, over coffee and pancakes, Stewart willingly tells what makes his home so unique and his passion for this land is quickly apparent. Just a glance at the map shows a mosaic of lochs, connected by a labyrinth of streams and rivers which has emerged after thousands of years. A geological maze which could easily intimidate a newcomer. To protect the delicate eco-systems of some locations, Stewart has come up with his own ‘code names’ for some of these lochs – The Dolphin Loch and the White Goat Loch are not to be found on any map, but are the favoured haunts of the informed angler.
Five years ago, Stewart decided to quit his successful job and make his passion for fly fishing his profession. After his time in the military he started to reacquaint himself with those places that gave him such a wonderful childhood. On the first day of his 2012 season, he caught a four-pound trout. This was the start of a season through which it seemed he could not stop catching big fish! Then came the realisation that, despite this fly fishing paradise, there was no professional fly fishing guide in the region.
Stewart decided to fulfill this role and since then he shows fly fishers the small streams, wild Salmon rivers and renowned lochs. One of his highlights are Multi-day Fly Fishing Safaris, where he takes his guests to some of the most remote areas. Only very few parts of Britain are as wild, lonely and untouched as here. Nestling within ancient rock formations, these great lochs and hidden lochans are the home of the Wild Brown Trout.
“The Brown Trout Deserves Respect”
Erosion and glacial movements have shaped the glens and mountains. When the ice retreated, some ten thousand years ago, it left behind this network of lochs which the Wild Brown Trout now calls its home. The term “Brook Trout” does not particularly fit, as the Brown Trout here live in lochs as well as the streams. The fish can live for over twenty years and as Stewart related battles with some of these larger specimens he concludes, “The Brown Trout deserves respect!” Although he has caught Trout up to eight pounds and over 60cm, the average size is closer to 20cm.The Highland lochs are still the refuge of these native Wild Brown Trout. It is the last area in which you can find waters ‘unpolluted’ by introduced non-native species.
A scary story and The Truth Stone
One of the most beautiful spots in Assynt where you can hunt for the Wild Brown Trout is a spot with a dark past. Geo rushes along a narrow path with his tail wagging, not far from the meandering road. You can tell that the young dog is as familiar with this place as his owner.
Along an unassuming small stream, we walk for a few minutes under a grey cliff until suddenly, around a sharp bend, a picturesque waterfall appears. Cascading past moss-covered rocks and twisted branches, the water reaches the gorge floor thirty meters below. Here it collects in a deep, swirling pool before continuing quieter as a small stream. Legend has it that a hunter died on this very spot after chasing a deer over the cliff edge during a thunderstorm. The next morning his concerned mother set out to look for him and sees his body from the clifftop. Unable to bear the pain, she instantly throws herself into the gorge and falls with a desperate cry of anguish. Many say that if you sit in the gorge on a stormy night, those cries can still be heard. This tale gives the name of this spot – ‘The Wailing Widows Falls’.
But, not all the tales of this mystical region are so scary. Another tale is of ‘The Truth Stones’. Every so often, as if they had been placed there deliberately, these often monstrous rocks appear in the landscape. These rocks are split down the middle and legend has it that, should you place your hand in the cleft and tell a lie, it will close.
To prove this legend, Stewart confidently places his arm into the rock and proclaims that he is the finest fishing guide in Assynt. As the rock shows no intention to close even a few millimeters, one has to accept the credibility of this statement. A statement also supported by the fact that Stewart is the only fly fishing guide in the region! Because although the Highlands are popular with tourists, only relatively few angles make the long journey so far north.
Surrounded by Three-Billion-Year-Old Rocks
The unique attraction of this area called Assynt is not only the Trout, or the Wild Atlantic Salmon found in the Rivers Inver and Kirkaig. Mountains with unique profiles, such as Suilven, emerge majestically from the surrounding land of hills. Formed from Torridonian Sandstone, these mountains sit on a throne of Lewisian Gniess. This layer of three-billion-year-old rock is the oldest surface rock in Europe and among the oldest in the world. It is no surprise that in the 19th century geologists from all over the world came here to eventually decipher the formation of the continents.
Stewart knows how special his home is. Every so often he takes a moment to stand still and examine the landscape, just as if he can’t quite believe that he is able to call this his home. Even the grey clouds cannot dampen his spirit, he knows how changeable the Highland weather can be a reiterates – “If you don’t like our weather… Just wait five minutes!” With a smile, Stewart turns to Geo and a look is enough for him to get the message. They continue their journey home, wandering through the timeless rocks and the kingdom of the Wild Brown Trout – Assynt.