Permission is always required to fish for trout, salmon or sea trout and all the fishing rights to all the lochs on the island are owned by someone. The angler should talk to Dollanna about permission and access to fishing as a considerable number of trout lochs are considered "free fishing."
Dollanna usually has up to date information on the lochs that are fishing well and also on how things are changing over time as nothing, not even the quality of trout in the lochs, stays static for long. The angler staying in the cottage should always have a word with her about their plans as she may have some suggestions of lochs worth a cast, or lochs to avoid and, clearly, she isn't going to give away all of her secrets on an open internet page. The lochs listed below are merely a guide to get you started.
In general the brown trout on Lewis are not large, though large fish are caught every year and I suspect one or two lurk in nearly every loch. The first Stornoway Angling Association competition of 2015 saw 22 anglers fishing for trout and there were 4 fish of around 4lb caught plus one of 8lb 4 ounces so the big fish are there if you can catch them. The fish are all wild and, for the most part, have been in their lochs since the end of the last ice age and this alone makes it interesting to see the variations in size, shape and colour. It is also the case that the quality of fish in a given loch can change quite markedly with time and because there are so many lochs and some are so remote it is common that the reputation and reports for a specific loch are out of date.
What is also important when visiting Lewis for trout fishing is that part of the fun is in exploring and there are literally hundreds of lochs within a short drive of the cottage. There are many lochs close to the road but it is also fun to walk to more remote lochs, in fact for many this is an important part of the Lewis trout fishing experience. If you don't have any previous experience of walking the moorland then start close to the road and work your way out as your confidence builds, you are sure to find the trip rewarding and there will be lots to see on the moor.
Below: maps spread on the floor of the cottage planning the fishing for the afternoon ahead
Dollag's Cottage @ 7 South Shawbost
So far most of the lochs mentioned have been near to the road but part of the fun of Lewis trout fishing is getting out onto the moor and exploring and so I am going to make some suggestions for days out. Often these will mean fishing more than one loch and, in general, you will walk about 6 or so miles for the day. You need to be aware that walking on the Lewis moor is not like walking on your local high street and so 6 miles requires a reasonable level of fitness and will probably take somewhat longer than you might expect. It is important that you take great care on the moor as some areas are very soft and can be very dangerous and it is also important that you can navigate. Many parts of the Lewis moor are relatively flat and featureless and in less than ideal conditions navigation can be a considerble challenge. If you have concerns about your ability to navigate then start close to the road and build your skills and confidence, the walk out along Loch Urrahag to Breibhat detailed above might make a good starting point for example.
Loch an Tuim.
As you drive from Barvas to Stornoway on the main road you will notice that there is a cell phone mast on your left about half way across the moor. Just past the mast the road goes down into a dip and there is a sort of disused quarry which has recently been fenced off and trees have been planted. There is also a good spot by the road for you to park and this makes the starting point for a walk out to Loch an Tuim. The newly planted forestry is not marked on the OS maps I have but you will see that there is a deer fence around the trees and so it is necessary to climb up the hill and go around the top of the deer fence, to the north of where you have parked. As you will see from your OS map there is a little burn running in a shallow valley and this will be to the south of you once you clear the forestry. This burn runs out of Loch a' Ghainmhich (which means sandy though it is more a gravel bottom) and if you want you could visit it on the way out to Loch an Tuim. If you intend following the burn out to Loch a' Ghainmhich then the technique is to stay relatively high up the valley side. If you walk along the bottom of the valley close to the course of the burn then the ground is very boggy and dangerous and this will slow progress significantly. It is also important that you stay out of the area called Blar nam Faoileag which looks like a lot of little puddles or very tiny lochs on your map. Blar nam Faoileag is to the north of your route along the side of the valley.
Loch a' Ghainmhich is a long loch which holds a good head of relatively small but good quality trout and I've always found it interesting as the fish come in a wide range of colours and shapes. On most lochs the fish tend to be of a similar colour and shape though this can differ between lochs but on Loch a' Ghainmhich you can get silver fish and butter coloured fish and dark fish all within a few yards. Although the fish are not big they come readily to the fly and can provide good sport.
Loch an Tuim is a short walk over from Loch a' Ghainmhich or if you decide to go direct to Loch an Tuim from your car then I always think it is best to go to the north of Tom Trosdain on the walk out. The northern part of Loch an Tuim (Tuim is a small hill or a rise so the loch is probably named after Tom Trosdain) has very soft and boggy banks which require a little bit of care. The southern part of the loch has more solid banks that are heather covered and quite high in some spots and there is even a nice little beach at the southern end. Loch an Tuim has a good head of quality trout of about a quarter pound but it also holds some bigger trout of very high quality that can go over a pound in weight. If you get one of the bigger trout you might think it was worth the walk.
A quick look at the map reveals that there are a few more lochs just beyond Loch an Tuim. The smallest of these lochs, to the east of Loch an Tuim at approx 449434, is interesting because sometimes there is no water in it at all. I suspect that the little burn that flows out of it gets blocked and the loch fills with water until the blockage gives and all the water rushes down the burn. Needless to say there is no point fishing this loch even if it does have water in it. Beyond this small loch is Lochan a' Sgeil. I've visited this loch on a number of occasions and never caught any fish but I do hear reports that it is well worth a cast should you be in the area. To the south of Lochan a' Sgeil, down the burn that flows from the loch, are some shielings marked on the map (1:25000 OS) as Airighean Torrie and these can provide a good spot for a picnic or making some tea. Shielings are where the local crofters used to spend the summer and although most are disused the walls are often still standing providing good shelter from the wind. The photographs below show Lochan a' Sgeil and making lunch in one of the shielings below the loch.
Loch an Tobair.
Loch an Tobair means the well loch and when you get to this loch you will find the waters crystal clear. If you are fit and keen you can fish 10 lochs on your trip to Loch an Tobair as there are quite a few lochs in the area and some can provide good sport.
Probably the best way to access Loch an Tobair is to drive out the track that runs along the west side of the Gress River. The Gress gets a small run of salmon and sea trout but it is necessary to have a permit if you wish to fish the river though if you were to get the right day you could potentially catch brown trout from 10 different lochs and then take a salmon and sea trout from the Gress, it would be a long walk and a long day but quite an achievement. The Gress track is relatively good with the worst part being the big bumps and holes around the cattle grid and the recycling area at the Bac end of the track. A 4 wheel drive is probably now necessary and as the state of any track can change after heavy rain or if it gets heavy use from agricultural vehicles so you should exercise caution on any moorland track and make sure it will be passable in your vehicle. You can park at the junction of several tracks just beyond the gate you have to pass through or it is possible to drive further up the track and park right at the end, be aware that turning options are limited on the track so if you meet someone be prepared to reverse. Be careful to park so that you don't restrict access and ensure you close the gate after you.
Now that you've parked the difficult part of the trip is over and it is simply a matter of picking the loch you want to fish and walking out to it. There are a good number of lochs to your west and north west and in this case we are going to head for Loch an Tobair. Although it isn't steep the walk out is uphill almost all the way and it can start to feel like something of a slog if you do it in one stage so it is probably wise, and fun, to fish a few lochs on your way. First walk up the Gress track until it starts to turn to the east and head down to the river. At about grid ref 461443 you want to take to the moor and start heading west to Loch Eagisgra. This is a shallow loch and in very dry years it doesn't hold much water and I have my doubts as to whether there are any fish in it, however a very knowledgable angler suggested that I should always give my flies a swim as I was passing.
Once you have tired of the attractions of Loch Eagisgra the next hop should be to Loch na Ciste at grid ref 452450. You might be tempted to head straight for Loch an Tobair at this stage but it is important to be aware that the ground in the triangle formed by Loch Eagisgra, Loch na Ciste and Loch na Laig is very boggy indeed and you must stay out of this area, it is much safer to head directly north from Loch Eagisgra aiming to hit the bottom of Loch na Ciste. Loch na Ciste holds a head of small fish which are not great quality but it is worth a cast to break up the journey.
The next hop on our epic loch trotting day out is to Loch na Fola and from Loch na Ciste you should aim for the most southerly point of Loch na Fola. Again this loch holds relatively small fish but they can provide good sport and it offers the ideal chance to break up the walking stages of the trip.
After Loch na Fola we move on to our goal which is Loch an Tobair. This is a relatively large loch with very clear water and it seems to hold two populations of trout. The loch is shallow for maybe 20 yards along the shoreline but then it falls off very rapidly and is very deep in the middle. In the shallow areas the trout tend to be good quality and very silver and range up to maybe just under the 1lb in weight. After the drop off into the deeper water, however, the fish become larger but it can be hard work getting a cast out there and they can be hard to catch. On the right day Loch an Tobair can provide some good fishing but on other occasions it can look like there are no fish in the loch.
To return from Loch an Tobair you can retrace your steps or you can head directly south to pick up Loch Fada Caol and work your way along the south bank of this loch until you reach the east point when you can head for Loch an Eilein. Loch Fada Caol may hold some sea trout and also has a head of reasonable brown trout while Loch an Eilein holds mostly small brown trout but must also get the sea trout that run into Fada Caol. The ground to the south and south east of Loch an Eilein is very boggy and should be avoided so it is best to leave the most easterly point of Loch an Eilein and walk directly to the east to the most westerly point of Loch Ullabhat a Cli. Once you reach Loch Ullabhat a Cli you can fish around it and Loch Ullabhat a Deas. Both these lochs hold reasonable brown trout in good numbers. From the Ullabhats it is but a short walk over the hil to the Gress track and back to your car. The Photograph below shows Loch an Tobair
Maps and boots and gear.
You really don't need to be a gear junkie to walk the Lewis moor but a good map and compass and a sound grounding in how to use them are important and will also add to your enjoyment of the trip. Although the 1:50,000 OS maps are great and I almost always have one in my bag in my view the 1:25,000 are even better as they show much more detail. When you are trying to avoid boggy bits of the moor the 1:25,000 map can often give you clues that are missing from the 1:50,000. That is not to say that you can't walk the Lewis moor with the 1:50,000 but just to point out that if you have the choice then the 1:25,000 maps are a worthwhile investment.
One of the features of any trip to Lewis is not only rain but wind and paper maps don't last long in this environment and so I can recommend the maps sold by Aqua3 who coat their maps in a plastic film. Not only does this make them waterproof and means that they will not get torn apart in the wind the first time you try to unfold one but it has the added advantage that you can write on them with a Sharpie type permanent marker pen and then remove the makings later with a suitable solvent. This allows you to mark up maps and make notes and then remove these afterwards. Aqua3 will also print maps centred on any point of your choosing so if a particular area of interest happens to fall across 3 or 4 of the 1:25,000 maps Aqua3 can print you a custom waterproof map centred on the particular point of interest so you have it, and all its surroundings, on one map. The Aqua3 maps cost a little more and the custom ones are considerably more expensive than a standard OS map but my experience over quite a number of years now is that they are well worth the money, especially in the wind and rain on the Lewis moor.
The Lewis moor is hard walking and very wet and so decent walking boots are a requirement if you are to enjoy your day out. It may be possible to make do with wellingtons or trainers for a short walk but if you intend to cover many miles to your trout fishing then decent boots are well worth the investment. Most people have preferences of their own, for example some like Goretex lined boots while others hate them, and so this is an area best left to personal choice but if you are coming to Lewis intending to walk the moor then be sure to arrive with a well broken in pair of boots.
Fishing on Lewis doesn't require a lot of gear and if you have your rod and reel then all you need is a box of flies, some leader material and, perhaps, a good knife to gut any fish you catch. A plastic shopping bag to carry your catch back home in is also a good addition but beyond that don't carry any more than you have to as after a few miles the weight all adds up. I usually carry a rucksack with my tea making gear and lunch hidden inside and I also carry a few odds and ends for use in an emergency such as a torch and one of those silver "space blankets" which stand out well against the moor should someone need to come looking for you. My rucksack also always holds a spare map (usually the 1:50,000 for the area I am in) and a spare compass. Cell phone coverage is generally good right across the island which adds an extra layer of safety to any trip across the moor but, of course, it is wise to ensure that someone knows your exact route, your intended time of return, any planned escape routes and what to do if you don't return. In over 20 years of fishing nearly every loch on Lewis and walking many miles I've never been in trouble, never needed assistance and never met or known of anyone else who did.
I'm a big fan of hand held GPS units for naviation, especially the ones that can be loaded with mapping for the area you are walking in. I appreciate that there is a hardened band of safety weenies who despise the handheld GPS based on a wide range of "what if" scenarios which usually involve the batteries failing at the same time as a metorite lands on your head. However, I've been using handheld GPS for navigation since they first became available and I've never had one fail on me. I find the GPS good for "local" navigation while the paper map is used to give the bigger picture and to act as a back up in case the safety weenies are proven right some day and my batteries do fail. I just hope the metorite doesn't get me before I have time to get my map out. A handheld GPS really is a gift on the Lewis moor and allows you to wander from loch to loch with the minimum of effort while you are always sure of exactly where you are. While you don't need one to go trout fishing on Lewis if you happen to have one then be sure to bring it along as it will make your life a little easier.
As this little guide is written for the angler visiting Dollag's Cottage I will focus on lochs close to the cottage. You should note that I fish with the wet fly and so all my remarks are based upon this, in general the worm and spinner will tend to take the bigger fish than the fly but I would expect that my general comments will apply no matter what method you use.
Loch na Muilne.
This loch is located just a short walk from the front door of Dollag's Cottage and so makes the ideal location for a cast or two first thing in the morning or in the evening. Loch na Muilne is very shallow along the north shore and at some points along the other sides as well but locally it has a reputation for producing good fish. My experience has always been that I've not been able to get decent fish from it but that the best spot has always been the big "point" on the south side. This loch also gets a few salmon that run up the small burn though I've never known anyone to catch one and suspect that they move on up fairly quickly.
Loch a' Bhaile.
Loch a' Bhaile is located at the shore and can be reached by walking down the road signposted to the shore. It is only a few minutes walk from the cottage. A narrow bank of boulders and sand seperates it from the sea and there is a good burn at the east side that runs out to the sea. Salmon run into this loch through the burn and for some reason it usually gets larger than average fish. The loch also holds good numbers of relatively small brown trout and decent fish are taken on occasions. Fishing from the north shore, along the beach, can be difficult as the angler must stand on the boulders and these move about a lot making considerable noise which must scare the fish. The south westerly and south easterly banks seem to be better for trout fishing with the south east seeming to produce the better fish. Bellow: Dollanna, your host at Dollag's Cottage, fishing the spinner on Loch a'Bhaile.
You can walk to this loch from Dollag's Cottage by going around the south east of Loch na Muilne, there is a gate in the corner so you don't even need to climb the fence. It is probably about 10 or 15 minutes walk from the cottage or you can drive around and park by the loch either at the parking place created for the Norse Mill or in the various bits of old, disused, road along the southern shore of Loch Raoinebhat. Raoinebhat will also occasionally produce a hatch of upwinged flies and so might produce fish to the dry fly though such hatches are usually short lived. This loch attracts quite a few anglers as access is easy and the fishing can be good and so you may have to share it with others but it is a large loch so this shouldn't be much of a problem though the angler may care to conserve the trout in the loch by returning all, or most, of the fish caught. My experience has been that the eastern half of the loch produces the better fish. The loch also gets some salmon which run up through Loch na Muilne though I've never known any to be caught. There is no need to wade this loch. For reasons unknown it is now common to find visiting anglers standing in the loch up to their waist flailing away. This is counterproductive as the wading angler is standing where the fish would normally be lying plus the loch has a lot of big boulders, and big holes, with some areas close to the shore over 60 feet in depth.
Loch an Duna.
This loch is located in the nearby village of Bragar and is just a short drive from the cottage. There is a good parking spot at the western end of the loch where some of the old road may still be seen. There is also a "peat road" which heads out along the loch here and this is not suitable for any vehicle other than a tractor. Loch an Duna holds some nice trout which are usually less than 1lb in weight. However they can be very hard to catch. On the west side of the loch there are often large stones along the shoreline and the fish are often lying in tight to these stones so it is worth trying a few short casts while standing well back from the water before you move up to the shoreline. I suspect that a worm would produce much better results on this loch than the fly as although the fish are in there it is rare to see a decent number rising even on a flat calm evening when all the other lochs in the area appear alive with fish.
Loch Urrahag (Urghag on some maps) comes right up to the road just beyond the village of Arnol and about 10 minutes from the cottage by car. This is a very long loch and I've grouped these lochs together as they can make an ideal day out for the wandering angler. Urrahag should be fished on the west bank as there are frequently cattle, including a large bull, on the east side making fishing potentially dangerous. The angler can park up at the cattle grid on the main road taking care not to block access. Loch Urrahag contains a huge number of relatively small fish up to around half an pound but although the fish are not big they can provide great sport and on a good day it is possible to catch 10 or more per hour. Like every loch it also has its bad days when getting fish can be more difficult but with being so handy to the road this is the ideal loch for a quick cast of an evening. Urrahag is also the ideal launching spot for a day out as the angler can fish along Loch Urrahag and then continue along the connected Loch Bhruthadail. Loch Bhruthadail holds a head of similar fish to Urrahag and while they are not large they can provide good sport. It is then possible to head out across the moor to Loch Breibhat. Be aware that the little river that is marked on the map flowing into Loch Bhruthadail is impossible to cross in most places as it runs very slow and deep like a canal. Loch Breibhat is another very large loch by Lewis standards and it is also very shallow. If you are going alone then I would not recommend wading but if you are with someone then it would be worth considering taking some waders along as even a long cast can leave you fishing in just a few inches of water. Breibhat holds a good head of fish of a similar size to Urrahag and I have seen a good rise on this loch so the dry fly might produce some action on the right day. Walking around Breibhat on either the shoreline or up on the moor is hard going and will take much longer than you might expect so it is worth bearing this in mind.
Loch na Geadh.
The name of this loch means the goose loch and I've seen neither geese nor trout on this loch. In the past this loch had a good reputation for producing larger than average trout but I've fished it almost every year for over 20 years now and never seen a fish on it, nor have I caught one. It seems unlikely that there are no fish in the loch and so it is possible that it is home to a few monster trout and that is why I decided to list it here as any trip to Loch nan Geadh is likely to be a voyage of discovery. The loch sits above the Pentland road about 8 miles out of Carloway and on the side of a hill called Stacaiseal. There is a good parking space covered in tarmac that would hold several cars to the left of the road and before you come to Loch an Tobair on your right. Loch nan Geadh is about 20 minutes up the hill from the parking spot and can be found at grid ref NB306363. It sits on the shoulder of the hill and on a clear day the view into the Uig and Harris hills is wonderful. I've flogged it with just about every fly I own, plus I've also tried the spinner on it on one occasion, and I've never seen a fish on it. Even in a flat calm there isn't a single rise on the surface. The banks on the south and south west sides can be very soft indeed and so great care must be taken when fishing. When at the loch it is but a short climb to the top of Stacaiseal and so if you are not getting any fish it is worth taking the time to climb to the top. There is the remains of a disused shieling near to the top that is an ideal spot for making tea or a picnic lunch and the views are wonderful. If you climb to the top of Stacaiseal or fish right to the eastern end of the loch you will notice a number of lochs down in the valley to the east with the closest being Loch nan Stearnag. I have fished all of these lochs and they hold large numbers of extremely small trout and are most certainly not worth the walk. Below: view from Stacaiseal.
Below: a brace of trout for dinner from a loch close to Dollag's Cottage.
Below: Don't overlook the huge amount of salmon and sea trout fishing also available.