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29 April 2021
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Kim Pierce

A Guide To Fly Fishing Along the NC500

A Guide to Poolewe, Gairloch & Ullapool Region

So much has been written about fly fishing in Scotland, particularly in the Highlands. A small blog can’t do any of this justice but hopefully can impart some of the basics we have learnt over the years so that you can make the most of a weeks getaway along the North Coast 500 and easy access to some brilliant wild fishing.

We are focusing on day ticket water, not prime fishing spots booked out years in advance, but little gems that time poor fly fishers can get access too easily on affordable day permits.  We can’t even scratch the surface, so have picked our favorites in each region based on easy permission, scenery, fishing and wilderness.   

All waters have been fished by us or our friends recently, but permits and permissions change so do double check before you head out to explore! We have deliberately excluded the famous Scottish salmon rivers that you can’t get access to as a visitor as there is no point teasing you; an hour or two on the Spey is not going to happen but we hope to show you the gems where you may well hook something special for a tenner one afternoon.

At Highland Overland we love the wild, these are mainly wild fish lochs where you pit yourself against nature.  We encourage catch and release and conversation of what is a wonderful sport, we custodians of these treasures for our children. Remember the basic rules of enjoying the wild, take litter home, respect the area, take only photos and leave only footprints.

A 3, 4 or 5wt rod is all you’ll ever need for the fiery trout of a highland loch and if you can’t bring yours, get in touch – we can arrange everything you need for a weeks fishing along the North Coast 500. We also have some great partners specialising in guided fishing in the highlands, so grab your friends, book one of our trucks and enjoy some time by the water this summer.

Get in touch, we’d love to help.

Fly Fishing – Image by @timfoster via Unsplash

Poolewe Region

Famous among fisherman for the river Ewe and the fabulous trout of the Fionn loch – both not readily accessible for the passing visitor ( though try your luck, why not!).

There is however a wonderful collection of hill lochs around Cove and Inverasdale that contain wonderful, fiesty wild brownies and reportedly some sea trout in Loch Squod – though this never produced much for us!

Flies, who am I to comment; buy Bruce Sandisons epic guide, link above and heed his advice well. The usual team of wetflies, blue zulu, black pennells, black zulus all seemed to do well. Perhaps a PTN for the deeper lochs, maybe a gold head daddy and with a bit of luck the odd small dry, we found smaller the better – perhaps even darker the better.  

Permits from Gairloch Petrol station or Poolewe Post office.

Gairloch Region

Arguably the home of the hill loch; Gariloch and district is a gold mine.

A good starting point is Loch Tollie (Tollaidh)A great, easy access loch from the road. Drive your car right down to the boat ramp and wonder amongst the heather on the far shore.  Those in the know suggest Soldier Plamer, Peter Ross, Black Pennel and Greenwalls spider. Permits from Gairloch Petrol station. 

For those with more time on their hands get onto the Gariloch Hill lochs, a collection of wonderful little lochs with everything from buttery, golden ten-a-pennys to the occasional glass caser.  Permits from Gairloch post office and various shops in the area.  

A brilliant fishing hotel is the Shieldaig Lodge Hotel, which has the fishing on the famous Fairy lochs – endowed with spooky remnents of a US air force bomber! Permits and post fishing dram (beware drink driving rules in Scotland!) available from the Sheildaig hotel. Some of the Gairloch hill lochs and the Sheildag hotel run lochs are a hike up the hills but well worth it for the spectacular views. 

Loch Maree is of course famous in yester year, the heydey of Victorian sea trout fishing. Permits for some beats are available from the Loch Maree hotel, but worth a call in advance. We have hooked some wonderful little brownies and finnick in here, as well as the odd grilse and sadly, the ever so rare sea trout that this once world famous loch got its fame from. 

Side note: sea fishing charters from Gariloch are well worth doing. They can be really pricey for one or two people as the charter organisations need to cover boat costs – however, team up with another family, friends or join an existing boat going out and you’re in for a brilliant day. We did it on a day when the weather was so bad we couldn’t leave the harbour but managed a huge haul of mackerel, pollock and various. For the sea fishing novice like us, this was a perfect little intro. 

Image by @highlandoverland

Aultbea

A little further up the coast from Gairloch you open up a lifetime of fishing, rumors, hidden beaches and wilderness. It’s the top of the list for us in terms of beauty and wilderness.

Permits for the glorious Aultbea Estates lochs are available from the Laide Post Office – covering a vast array of lochs across the peninsula. Some are pretty accessible from the road on foot, some are across a lengthy estate track an very mountain bikeable paths, but as always the best fishing is to be had by those with the will to get out there, go exploring and get hiking.  

Side note: there are two amazing beaches up here that are a great distraction and keep the family occupied whilst you head off with a fly rod. The white sands of Mellon Udrigle are Caribbean esque until you dip your toe in the water and the hidden beach at Slaggan bay is a private gem, surrounded by lochs and lochans on the Aultbea estates permit. 

Ullapool

The town itself is close to many a famous salmon river, the Gruinard, the Dundonnell, the Broom, the Kainard (pronounced like the French duck) to name a few but the visiting angler has to be very lucky to gain access for the odd afternoon. There are however a smattering of wonderful lochs which can be great fun and in which the ethereal Scottish Salmon can be touched. 

Loch Achall is a good start, buy your permits from the Loch Broom hardware store. Park at the bottom by the quarry and take the hike up the smooth track. Tired legs will be rewarded by baskets of free rising small trout, the occasional salmon near the river mouth (but please respect the rules on the permit re fishing methods, catch and release and target species) and the odd glass case trout for the lucky few. 

The Dam lochs above Ullapool are well worth a fish and can be very rewarding day by the water, though these ones can be very dour. Reportedly they hold the odd rainbow, again – best point for starting off fishing around Ullapool is a chat with the wonderful people in the Loch Broom hardware store.  There isn’t anything you can think of that you cant buy in that shop! A great place to stock up your Navara for the journey into Assynt. 

Trout fishing – image by @highlandoverland

Additional Reading

Another great book to check out is Rivers and Lochs of Scotland; “Rivers and Lochs of Scotland: Bruce Sandison”

A really useful little book is “Fishing in the Gariloch area by Harry Davis, Les Lamb & Stan Frost”

We’ll be adding more blogs on fly fishing around the North Coast 500. Next time… Assynt, the home of fly fishing. Sea trout, salmon and salt water fly fishing await in blissful serenity.

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