The main town, Rothesay, was once know as Scotlandís Blackpool, and was a major holiday resort, especially during Victorian times. And though it is no longer the bustling resort of those heady days, it is still very much a vacation centred place, much loved as a stopping-off point for the legion of small yachts and cruisers which ply this beautiful coast. However, in recent years, it has been the rainbow trout angling on Loch Fad which has been the major attraction. The ferries are now often festooned with rods and tackle boxes, while a thriving taxi service operates from the ferry landing, to and from the loch. There are other angling opportunities on the island Ė brown trout fishing on Loch Quien, pike angling on Loch Ascog and some decent shore angling from various parts of Bute's coastline. But it is the sport provided by Loch Fad Fisheries that is the number one angling attraction.
In the last few years, the loch has gained a major reputation for providing the chance of landing the rainbow of a lifetime Ė a big double! In fact, itís true to say that this 175 acre fishery is one of Scotlandís leading specimen rainbow trout boat fisheries, and when you bear in mind that the rules dictate fly only from the boats, thatís quite a reputation. Bank anglers can use bait or spinning tactics from the shore, though only between March 15 and October 6. The fly fishing season lasts from March 1 to December 19. Most of the doubles have come from the boats, with R. Allan holding the record at 18lb14oz on a Yellow Fritz.
So, October is a top month on the loch if your main interest is fly angling, since not only can you wander the banks at will and fish some of the places you couldnít normally approach, but even from the boats, you can anchor up near - or drift close to - the shoreline, without interfering with the bait boys. Itís also a time when Fad is at its most colourful, with a riot of autumn shades pervading the surrounding woodland, highlighting the spectacular background of the "Sleeping Warrior", the nickname given to the mountain range of Goat Fell on the Isle of Arran. Several angling clubs, my own included, visit the fishery at this time to enjoy the final outing of the season, and most of them make a weekend of it. We travel across to the island on the early ferry on a Saturday morning, fishing the day session, enjoying the Rothesay hospitality on the Saturday evening, and fishing again on the Sunday, returning to the mainland on the evening boat that day. Last year, this was exactly what our club members had in mind when we arrived at the loch on a soft autumn day, with the mists rolling around the hillsides. Our last trip of the season, and my brother and I were lying neck and neck as far as club championship points were concerned. My boat partner and I motored out from the harbour and anchored up between the cliffs on the far shore and the cages. On my very first cast Ė more a tentative line stretcher Ė my Orange Fritz was engulfed by a huge silvery shape as I was lifting it off the water, and I knew that I was in for real battle. These Fad jumbos are real tackle busters, and there is always many a hairy moment before they come to the net. This one was no exception, but everything held together, and I was eventually able to land a leviathan of 15lb. My brotherís face was a picture as I hoisted the trout for inspection Ė game, set and match on the first cast. Mind you, you can never tell at Loch Fad, and though the fish did win the trophies on this occasion, I was on tenterhooks all day just in case he was able to top it.
I always think of Loch Fad as a two part fishery, both pretty different in scenic and angling opportunities. When you arrive at the loch, you drive along the dam wall to the car park. This is sited at the northern end, the most popular area with bank and boat anglers, and usually busy. Here, the fleet of boats nestles in the harbour in front of the reception area, and out in the middle of the loch is the line of cages. Some of the major boat and bank marks are in this northern section, and a weekend tends to be a hive of activity. However, take your boat up past the cages and through the narrows, and the loch opens up into an even more spectacular vista, with lovely mixed woodland sweeping down to the waterís edge, often with buzzards wheeling above the tree tops. Approach the southern end, and here is a much more tranquil Loch Fad, with pretty bays which are not heavily fished but are certainly capable of producing decent baskets. The bottom here is mainly sand, and it is a top area for brown trout, though their season ends on October 6. Because of Fadís rainbow trout fame, anglers tend to forget that there is some excellent brown trout angling to be enjoyed too, with the loch record standing at 7lb 9oz, caught by Alex Jamieson. The loch is stocked several times a week, mainly with " normal " rainbows in the 1lb 8oz to 3lb class, though a few of the giants are introduced with each stocking. Brown trout too are put in on a regular basis. All stock is home grown, with no buying in of fish.
So what about the main hotspots in the loch ? Well, the shallows in front of the dam wall are normally productive, from close in to the wall itself to well out. The little reeded bays on the far shore directly opposite the harbour are also worth a try, and again, the water is shallow here. But I reckon that the near shore working up from the reception area is probably my favourite mark in the north, and you want to be casting from the boat almost on to the bank before retrieving. Of course, this can really only happen before March 15 or after October 6, since this stretch is also number one with the shore anglers, and you canít really get close enough when they are out in force. If youíre looking for a double figure rainbow, Iíd go for the deeper water between either bank and the cages. The large jumbos often hang around these pens looking for free handouts in the form of escaped fish food, and tend to patrol the area between cage and shore. Heading south, itís quite feasible to pick up trout all the way to the other end, though I like to go right down to the bottom, where thereís a secluded bay on the right, marked by a stream and a fence. Again, youíre working shallow water here, but itís a very pleasant spot. The other top trout producing region here is the large bay on the left - pretty weedy in the warmer months, but much of the vegetation has died back by the autumn.
As for tactics and techniques, much depends on the time of year and the weather. During the early part of the season, sinking lines and lures are the norm, with black a killing colour. Patterns such as the Viva, Ace of Spades, Black Zonker and Black/Green Tadpole are recommended. On the warmer days, youíll get away with an intermediate and traditionals, though again, the darker flies are best Ė Black Pennell, Connemara Black, Kate McLaren and Zulu. As summer progresses, so does the surface sport, especially on those warm evenings. Then, dry fly sport can be enjoyed with Hoppers and Emergers, while Buzzer tactics can be successful during the day. Nymph enthusiasts also fare well, with Damsel Nymph, Montana Nymph, Pheasant Tail and Gold Ribbed Hareís Ear all capable of putting fish in the bag. The approach of autumn tends to herald a return to the sinking lines and lures again, and orange and yellow are colours which seem to do the trick. Iíve had a lot of success at this time of year using Orange Fritz, Orange Gladiator, Yellow Zonker and Yellow Fritz. But many anglers go with black again, and Black/Green Fritz, Black Cat and Ace of Spades are in constant use. If youíd rather fish the smaller patterns, go for the flashier flies such as the Dunkeld or Butcher family. Alister McFarlane of the fishery management team, is a fine angler in his own right, and he reckons that a slow figure of eight retrieve using an intermediate line and a Zonker is a deadly autumn method.
In fact, the Fad management team is an integral part of the whole experience, with manager Jimmy Poole and Alister providing a warm friendly welcome and sound advice. And of course, Susie makes sure the administrative machine runs efficiently and adds the glamour. This year, they have resurrected the highly popular doubles competition, the Loch Fad Autumn Doubles, run over the weekend of Saturday 16 and Sunday 17 October, in association with Guide Flyfishing Ltd. The total value of prizes is £2500, but the event is just as much of a social experience as an angling one, with a meal and guest speaker in one of the Rothesay hotels on the Saturday evening.
Ticket prices and other information
From the bank, a day permit costs £14.00 for a 10 fish limit ( OAPís £9.00 for 6 fish ) ; an evening or half day permit, £9.00 for 6 fish ( OAPís £6.00 for 4 fish ) ; a junior day permit, £6.00 for 4 fish ; a junior evening or half day permit, £4.00 for 2 fish. Boats with outboard motors can be hired at the weekend for £13.00 per day, during the week at £11.00. Evening and half day boats can be hired at £10.00 on a weekend, £8.00 during the week. Remember to add fishing permit prices to the boat charges.
Hours are from 8.00 a.m. until dusk or 6.00 p.m., whichever is earlier. During May, June, July and August, the fishery is open to 8.00 p.m.
Bookings can be made by contacting Loch Fad Fisheries, Loch Fad, Isle of Bute, PA20 9PA ; telephone/fax 01700 504871. For ferry times, contact Caledonian MacBrayne on 01700 502707 ( Rothesay ), 01700 841235 ( Colintraive ) or 01475 520521 ( Wemyss Bay ).
Another handy number is that of the Tourist Information Centre Ė 01700 502151.
Where to stay/eat and drink
Rothesay and Port Bannatyne have no shortage of excellent accommodation, hotels and pubs, most of which are used to catering for anglers. The Ardyne-St Ebba Hotel ( 01700 502052 ) is my clubís normal base, but we also use Ardbeg Lodge ( 01700 505448 ) and the Palmyra Hotel ( 01700 502929 ). A pub serving fine fare is the Black Bull in Rothesay, and for an entertaining evening, visit the Golferís and the Taverna.
Other hotel numbers :
Ardmory House Hotel, 01700 502346 ; Kingarth Hotel, 01700 831662 ; St Blanes Hotel ,01700 831224 ; Bayview Hotel, 01700 505411 ; Craigmore Hotel, 01700 503533 ; Cannon House Hotel, 01700 502819 ; Esplanade Hotel, 01700 502001 ; and Invercraig Hotel, 01700 502323.
How to get there
The Isle of Bute is only 75 minutes by road and ferry from Glasgow. Take the scenic A78 after travelling from Glasgow to Greenock. This takes you along the Clyde coast to Wemyss Bay, where you catch the ferry for Rothesay. Express trains also run from all parts of Glasgow to Wemyss Bay to connect with car and passenger ferries.