Realm of the Hebridean Slob Trout - Slobs from the Seaweed
By Robert MacDougall Davis
This article was
originally published in Fly Fishing and Fly Tying Magazine
MacDougall-Davis goes slob hunting in North Uist’s brackish lagoons
stretches far into the distance and a plethora of trout infested lochs lie
amid the heather, dotted puddle-like, beneath an all encompassing backdrop
of gunmetal mountains. This is North Uist, the loch angler’s paradise.
The island is
rightly famous for its trout fishing, which for many conjures up dreamlike
images of peaty lochs, drifting boats, long fly rods and beautiful little
brownies. Now it is true that the majority of water on North Uist is
whiskey-tinged and full of 8 inch tenacious brown trout, but there are also
some very different and expansive waters to explore.
Uist’s saline lagoons bulky slob trout proliferate and it is these
magnificent and challenging fish that have captured my attention in recent
years. Slobs are not only partial to a fly, but are also capable of searing
backing-stripping runs making them superb sport fish.
referred to as sea-lochs, saline lagoons provide a very unusual arena in
which to go in search of trout. Most of the island’s lagoons are isolated
from the sea by a rocky sill over which water ebbs and flows in rhythm with
the tides. Conditions within the lagoons change as the influence of the sea
declines with increasing distance from the rocky sill or ‘tidal entrance’.
Quite a marked saline gradient encompasses most sea lochs, along which there
is a transition from an almost totally marine habitat, to brackish and
finally a virtually freshwater environment at the furthest point from the
harbour a great diversity of life from sponges and seaweeds to gammurus
shrimps, blue mussels, small crabs and the common periwinkle, not to mention
a host of birdlife and an array of unusual organisms. Near the tidal
entrances, bunches of rare seaweed swish with the ebb and flow of the tide
and large sea slaters clamber over the rocky, lichen quilted fringes of the
loch. Various species of snail flourish and sticklebacks and gobies dart,
with lightening speed, in amongst the weed fronds as they dive for cover.
All in all the local trout population must feel bewildered when confronted
with such an exotic and nutritious menu.
With water as
clear as the finest Russian vodka and mysterious sub-surface meadows of lush
green eel-grass, this is an exciting and intriguing venue in which to go
hunting for trout. And here, in this brackish underworld, there be dragons!
exactly are slob trout? Interestingly, there was a time when slob trout, or
bull trout as they are sometimes referred to, were classified as a species
in their own right. Nineteenth century taxonomist William Yarrel classified
them as (Salmo eriox) in A History of British Fish (1841). For some time
after this classification the debate raged between naturalists as to the
exact origin of these fish until, after close observation, it was finally
discovered that they were in fact Salmo trutta. Unlike sea trout, slobs do
not go through a smolt stage, because their physiology enables them to cope
with the brackish waters of estuaries or saline lagoons without making the
adaptations needed for survival in the sea.
name, it is easy to see why these fish might get a reputation for being
stubby, barrel-like and not particularly attractive. Far from it! These
fish are magnificent creatures each equipped with a glistening-gold lame
trimmed wetsuit! They are not only thick set, well proportioned and
superbly conditioned powerhouses, but also have a tendency to reach
monstrous proportions and what’s more they fight like Trojans. Fish in the
2lb–4lb range won’t raise many eyebrows at the local bar and, fuelled by an
ample supply of highly nutritious shrimps, snails and small fry, much bigger
specimens lurk beneath the ripples.
tactics and timing
searching for slobs, I usually reach for my trusty fast-action 9’6 AFTM #6
which enables me throw out large fry patterns as well as open loops and a
team of small singles and doubles. This rod is also a godsend when the wind
howls, the fast action providing the crucial wind-cutting ability. A
floating line covers most eventualities but when there is a bit of a chop,
on goes the intermediate sink tip (i.e. 444SL int. 15ft ghost tip) which
keeps those flies in the fish catching zone.
As far as fly
choice goes there are no real right or wrongs because ultimately these trout
are opportunists and will seize most things that are well presented and
impersonating life at the right depth. That said, some flies always seem to
become favourites, and my Slob Dream Team is made up of flies in which I
have unerring faith. Generally I fish a long 18-20ft seaguar (0.20mm/8.8lb)
leader with a buoyant Daddy Long-Legs or bushy Blue Zulu (size 10-12) on the
bob, a size 14-16 lightly dressed Kate McLaren or my own Magic MacDougall
(size 8-14) in the middle and a double Teal, Blue and Silver or Silver
Invicta (size 14) dangling tantalisingly on the tail.
fishing a large natural Muddler Minnow (size 10) deputises for the Daddy or
Blue Zulu. Behind the muddler goes the trusty Kate McLaren (size 14/16),
and the two fished in tandem can be a deadly duo. The scaled inhabitants
seem to find the allure of a bow-waving muddler, drawn at a steady rate over
the water, irresistible. Fish will frequently pursue the muddler jaws-style
throwing up a heart stopping bow wave in its wake, only to swing round and
snatch the little Kate McLaren trailing behind.
glass minnow stripped at pace close in to the shore can result in a
spectacular hit. Keep your eyes out for any surface disturbance because a
quick fire cast in the path of a fry bashing slob usually has only one
outcome – a savage attack. A team of traditional wet flies will also do the
trick, but look to flies in the smaller sizes as these seem to be
particularly effective. I have had some success using smelt, crab and
shrimp imitations originally conjured up to fool bonefish, but somehow I
always end up back with the faithful Slob Dream Team.
these tidal lagoons have a reputation for being boom or bust waters. Hit
them at the right time and sport can be breathtaking, but get it wrong or
simply be unlucky with your timing and the fishing experience can be dour.
The reason for this boom or bust phenomenon is actually quite
straightforward but some anglers remain mystified by the apparent all or
nothing nature of these waters. As with most trout fishing, observing and
understanding your quarry’s foraging patterns is the key to successful
slobbing. With a glut of food on offer at certain stages of the tide, these
fish feed voraciously in small tidal windows of opportunity, during which
they are eminently accessible to the fly fisherman.
flooding tide pours in, it not only stirs up debris on the bottom, but
carries with it a fresh harvest of tidal treats from the main body of the
sea. Slob trout are highly tuned to tidal fluctuations and materialise like
clockwork in the narrows around the tidal entrances in readiness for the
influx of diurnal rations. Spring tides usually coincide with the best
fishing as they push greater volumes of water over the sill and into the
lagoon, which in turn stirs up more food and enhances the banquet for the
slobs. A flooding spring tide will shunt water hundreds of yards into the
loch so don’t focus too much on the tidal entrance itself. Instead, try to
work out where the water is being funnelled and with luck you will find
fish. Slob trout will in fact congregate up to an hour or so before high
water in anticipation of the spring tide food conveyor and it is often
possible to take a couple of beauties before prime time which generally
falls in the first few hours following the tidal peak.
time it is a more risky game and a solid blank is a real possibility.
Nonetheless, it is still possible to eek out loitering slobs by casting a
fly through the narrows by tidal entrances, along the indented shoreline and
around rocky promontories or islands which can all be productive fishing
grounds irrespective of the stage of the tide or the time of day. Although
the state of the tide seems to be the most important consideration, evening
fishing often coincides with the best sport. A great advantage of being so
far north is the soft lingering light, which can extend an evenings fishing
long after sundown. It is often in these twilight hours of dancing shadows
and eerie noises that things can go crackers!
south-westerly and rising pressure helps things along nicely by promoting
invertebrate activity and adding terrestrial insects to the glut of aquatic
food beneath the surface. A good ripple really helps to mask the presence of
the prospecting fly fisher. Perhaps, most importantly though, a breath of
wind staves off those damn midges, also known as, ‘no-see-ems’, which have
forced many a burly fisherman into taking the plunge. That said if the wind
blows from the Northeast I usually steer clear of loch fishing all together
and instead, try my luck sea pooling for silver or I find a warm fire, a
pint of Guinness and my vice.
In short, aim
to go slobbing when a high tide or even better, a high spring tide, falls in
the evening and cross your fingers for some wind and a fair dose of good
luck because if you hook into one of the finned leviathans, you’re going to
between steep banks of heather, the often windswept saline lagoons are a
magical setting in which to cast a fly and what’s more, a surprise is never
far away. As well as slobs, these brackish waters are home to sea trout,
the occasional grilse, pollack and other sea species, most of which are
partial to a fly, so when you hook-up it is always a guessing game. On a
recent outing I got a thumping pull and lost maybe 40yards of line before I
could say knife. The line suddenly went dead as whatever was appended to my
line sought refuge under a weed swamped rock. After a lot of flapping
around, and a sudden twang, the line pinged free and, after much further
flapping, a brace of decent sized pollack, one on the Zulu and one on the
point fly, came to the shore. The top dropper had been smashed off during
the tussle so I narrowly missed out on a hat-trick.
like to try their luck in the brackish lagoons and many different sea birds
frequent the sea lochs too. Up on the heather-clad hills stags roam as they
keep watch over their harems, whilst on the water flotillas of swans,
including the occasional and rare hooper swan, glide effortlessly over the
ripples. You also don’t need a blue moon to spot a golden eagle, in these
parts and even the white tailed sea eagle too – so cross your fingers on
that front and look to the heavens for a giant flying barn door!
the saline lagoons
lagoons is straightforward. Loch an Duin has two tidal entrances that pass,
in separate places, under a small single track road, which runs alongside
the eastern flank of the loch. A mile or so around the corner is Loch
Strumore, a huge, mysterious and rarely fished loch that again has a tidal
entrance that flows under the road making access to this part of the loch,
at least, very easy. For the mobile angler who fancies a real adventure and
a bog hop, the remote Loch Obisary, which lies at the foot of Eaval
(1138ft), has a very impressive tidal entrance that can, during a low spring
tide turn into a tumbling cascade as water from the main loch drains out and
into the sea.
brackish lagoons fish well throughout the season with August and September,
in my experience, providing the best chance of success. Although there are
many other sea-lochs to explore, the three mentioned here are vast and more
than enough to keep the avid slob hunter occupied until the cows come home.
Although boat access is available and effective for these lochs, shore
fishing is my preferred strategy. Wading, however, can be seriously dodgy
in places due to sudden drops-offs disguised by dense racks of seaweed.
With that in mind a solid wading pole really helps to probe the weedy
fringes of the loch. It is fair to say that experience on these brackish
waters will result in more fish, but slob hunting virgins still have a good
chance of success; so why not venture forth into the realm of the hebridean
slob trout and try your luck?
rarely catch a basket of trout when slob hunting, those fish that you do get
into are likely to be large, broad shouldered and strong. If it is numbers
you are looking for then you will be far better served striding off into the
glorious Hebridean hills in search of wee hard fighting brownies, but that
story will have to wait for another time.
While you are
probing for slobs, long diagonal casts close into the shoreline are a good
bet, but above all, make sure you’re casting across the flow or wave rather
than straight down wind. This helps to avoid lining fish as like other
trout, slobs tend to orientate themselves facing into the current or wave
when on the prowl. Fishing your flies around any features that may provide
cover such as mini-reefs, rocks or banks of seaweed can also draw a slob
from its dark lair. In particular, look out for the extensive meadows of
eel-grass whose tendrils reach skywards, stopping short of the surface by
about 1-3ft. During the summer months the grassy sub-surface meadows are
clearly visible below a boat or from an elevated point on the shore. These
underwater pastures are labyrinths of roots and blades, giving rise to a
great structural diversity, in terms of habitat, that in turn supports a
profusion of invertebrates. The abundance of food and cover that the stands
of eel-grass provide make them favourite haunts and hunting grounds for
large slob trout which lie in wait amongst the lush green fronds. As the
light fades, steadily drawing your muddler minnow above the eel-grass beds
can be lethal, sometimes triggering a ferocious marlin-style mauling of your
Caledonian MacBrayne operate daily sailings from Uig (Skye) to Lochmaddy
(North Uist) or you can sail from Oban (mainland) to Lochboisdale (South
Uist) and drive for a couple of hours up onto North Uist.
British Airways operate regular flights (c. £150 return) between Glasgow and
Benbecula (North Uist).
15th March – 30th September
Licenses and detailed access maps can be obtained from North Uist estate at
the Lochmaddy Hotel (Tel: 01876 500331) or Langass Lodge (Tel: 01876
580285). North Uist Angling Club offer trout permits and boat access for
Loch an Duin which can be purchased from Clachan Stores.
timetables: Accurate seven day advance tide timetables can be obtained
fly patterns and dressing details for the ‘Slob Dream Team’
shank size 6-10
Natural or brown
or flat gold tinsel
or gold oval tinsel
Natural dear hair
deer hair (trimmed)
Hook: Size 10
Pheasant tail fibres
pheasant tail fibres
dubbing, ribbed fine silver tinsel
dubbing, ribbed fine silver tinsel
cock hackle and brown cock hackle
MacDougall (Personal favourite – lightly dressed) Medicine fly variant
feathers of a teal
hackle: Bright blue cock
fine silver tinsel
pheasant topping and tippet
Hook: Size 14
silver tinsel, ribbed fine silver oval
Bright blue cock
feathers of a teal
Hook: Size 14
pheasant centre tail
Take a guided fishing trip with the author by clicking
Robert guiding a
friend, New Zealand (far left), Guiding on the The River Test (centre and