Loch Fad Re-Visited.
As we grow up, we change, and the lochs and their surroundings change as well, but normally they change very slowly, the trees get bigger, and some reach the end of their life and fall down, some do not get to that time, as they are blown over with the winter gales The small bushes that we pushed aside many years ago now block our way and tower over us and have to be side stepped, the paths that we walked on for many years have all but disappeared through the present generation not using them.
If I try to walk down the west side of Loch Fad, then I have to fight my way through undergrowth that myself and other kept trimmed over the years so that we could get to our favourite fishing areas. One fisherman a few years older than myself, fished the loch long before I started and he had a pair of secateurs that he used to clear the way of obstacles each time he was up there. When he left Bute for South Africa he gave them to me, and I carried on where he left off, keeping the paths clear so that we had no problems going through the woods with our rods set up, which made life a lot easier. Any branches that had grown too thick for the scecators would be left till the time that I would bring up a small saw to deal with them. This idyllic existence carried on for years and years and we had many good days , bad days , and some great days, fishing. It was not all fishing that we used the area for, as there was the great Douglas Fir Trees on the west side of the loch to be climbed. These enormous trees gave us wood for the fires, shelter from the elements and lots of fun trying to get to the top. It was not too hard to do this as the lower limbs were easy to reach and well spaced out like a large pair of ladders making access to the higher reaches quite easy. This gave us a problem though, as I have said in other stories, trying to find your way down again. We had many many mishaps due to our being young and adventurous, but we survived, and as we were very fit, this helped us from having any serious problems cause by our enthusiasm to explore.
Then as the years flew by, the big changes started. In 1977 ‘Rothesay Seafoods’ based at Ardmaleish, which processed Clams and Queenies, now started on ‘Rainbow Trout’ on Loch Fad . Trout were reared and farmed in cages on a commercial basis for supermarkets. This went on until 1992 when the name was changed to ‘The Isle of Bute Trout Company’, and once again in 1999 to ‘Loch Fad Fisheries Ltd’ and is still called that at the present time, but no longer sells to supermarkets. They now rear the rainbows, for stocking the loch for Fishermen/women and also supply the local fish shops. Later on they added the ‘Brown Trout’ to the loch. An interesting fact is that in the early 80s, mixed sex fish were all that were available for the loch, so they were added, in the hope that they would breed, and breed they did which is highly unusual, and Loch Fad is one of the few lochs in Scotland to have achieved this distinction, and this was proved to be so by Stirling University. . Nowadays the fish that are put into the loch are classed as ‘Triploid’ and they are sexless and sterile. The six large cages that were used to store many thousands of trout in the early years, have been retained and are used today to give the fish plenty of room to move about. Not now are the fish crammed in elbow to elbow, or, fin to fin, In the early 80s, at any given time there were up to two million trout in these cages. That was a lot of fish. Now with numbers drastically reduced, they can move about at will and this also helps at feeding time as all food that is thrown to them, will be eaten and not lost to the waiting fish that lurk below the cages. They will have to look elsewhere for their tea .
At the early stages of fish farming on the loch I was devastated. All I thought of was the pollution that these millions of fish may cause in the loch. With stories of mounds of uneaten food and waste from these fish causing problems in many other areas. This was ‘my’ loch and this should not happen to it. Cages appeared, then more and more of them arrived. soon the loch was a hive of industry. All went well for a while, then they added eels. Not just a few eels but one and a half million of them! These were not kept in cages, they were just tipped into the loch to grow and fend for themselves until the were big enough to eat, then they were caught in traps an sold on the mainland. This was unfair as, when I fished around the loch, I counted great numbers of them at the waters edge, and as they needed food to survive, it put a strain on the indigenous fish in the loch in their search for food. Eels were a thing that I never encountered before any time in the past in the loch, and as pike like eels, a great deal of them never made it to the table. This practise has long since stopped, as no more of them have been added to the loch for years ,and no longer will be. Years ago, strong winds battered the cages and pulled their anchors from the bed of the loch. This in turn caused the nets to burst and released thousands of small rainbows into the loch. This gave myself and plenty of others the chance to catch and eat them, at no extra charge on the permit. This however did not last long, (as good things don’t), as the permit went sky high. This cut my fishing days in a year to just a few as I grudged paying inflated prices just to catch a few fish. For a good while. I reverted to Loch Ascog and went back to pike and perch, on a catch and release basis, and only fished Fad occasionally. I still have an occasional half day spinning on the loch, but not very often as I have plenty of other interests to keep me going and Loch Fad is still included in them, in a big way.
The loch is designated as ( A Site of Special Scientific Interest). Which simply means that it is an exemplary place in Scotland. They are ‘special’ for their plants, bird life, animals or habitats, their rocks or landforms, or a combination of these. Loch Fad , and the other lochs on the island are an international important roosting area for wintering Greylag Geese. The other lochs seem to get a lot more than Fad , but it gets enough to keep the farmers happy. Now! We come to the most important thing of all for the Loch, and it comes in the shape of a small thalloid liverwart, called, A Violet Crystalwort. This Plant is classified as vulnerable in Britain, and it occurs on one place only in Scotland, and Loch Fad is where it is ! Can you just imagine it, a wee plant that puts Bute and Loch Fad on the map! Well! they have to be protected and preserved for the future, so if any party disobeys the laid down rules for these designated areas they are sure to get their knuckles rapped, and rightly so.
As well as the Geese, there are lots of other birds to see at various seasons, like lots of Teal, Mallard,Goosanders, Comorants,Herons, Shellducks and a flying visit one year from a Gannet that seemed to fancy some freshwater fish for a change and caught six in the short time that I was observing it. There are also many others species of birds to be seen, depending on the time that you visit the loch. We also have had for many years, visits from that rare bird that is becoming common place in many areas the ‘Osprey’. They arrive at springtime time each year, have a look about and do some fishing for a few weeks, or sometimes a few months, waiting for another of the opposite sex to appear, and if none appear they look for pastures new. One year a pair will arrive, and they will click, then they both may stay for the whole season and bring up a family? (here's hoping) The birds that I have spoken about depend on the loch for their food, but there are plenty to see in the trees and bushes all around you, Like, Bull finches, Chaffinches, Wood peckers, Ravens, Buzzards, and now we are seeing, or ,more so, hearing ‘Jays, which are the most colourful member of the crow family which are very noisy. There is an abundance of wildlife to keep you interested for a long while if you look for it. It is there! But be respectful, there are areas that are no-go, like Woodend House area. It is private, so obey the signs and all will be okay
Back to the fishing. Unlike the Pike, Perch and Roach, which are returned to the loch the trout are not , they taste too good to do that. But there is now an element of fishermen that think that, as they have paid for a day’ fishing, and may catch rainbow and brownies, they are not pleased when they catch perch or roach, and will kill them, or throw them amongst the bushes and left to die. Others will carefully remove the hooks and return them alive to the water,(rightly so). The ones that end up in the bushes will be retrieved by that grey haired youthful person who cleans up the fishing area every Monday during the fishing season. (Me) He retrieves them plus a multitude of other things that have been discarded without complaining (you must be joking).
The Fishermen/Women of today arrive up at the loch loaded to the gunnels. Not for them are the flask and sarnies, and one rod and reel. Some appear with enough food to feed the multitude. Pasta, roast chicken legs and breasts, boiled eggs, whole loaves,( to go with the fish no doubt), packets of rolls, packets of butter and margarine, and last but not least sarnies. Also instant barbecues ( as open fires are not allowed as they were in my day) , and some even arrive with calor gas cookers that have two burners on them. On a weekend day if you walk up the loch side, you would think that you were outside Macdonalds or Burger King as the aroma of cooking wafts up your nostrils. Now we come to the liquid refreshment. There are flask of both varieties, thermos and hip, multipacks of lager and beer, fortified wine, vodka, whisky, you name it and you will see it there at sometime during the season. The bait fishers come to enjoy not only the fishing but the days or weekends outing, and do so with great gusto. I don’t know what the fly fishers do for food or drink as they have it packed away in their tackle boxes and as I have never heard songs coming from any boat, I take it that the fly fishers are a staid lot, keeping their dram till the evening ? There are plenty of drums at the loch side for the bait fishers to put their rubbish in, and they are spaced out so that they don’t have far to travel to use them. They are well used, but there is still an element of people that will not use them at all, preferring to drop their litter where they stand, or even worse, throw it far into the woods and bushes, making it very hard to keep the place clean.
The fishing tackle next. They come with tents, mega size umbrellas,tackle boxes that weigh a great deal,at least two rods, ( one prepared for bait and one for spinning), daily papers and the compulsory mobile phone to keep in touch with ‘her indoors’, or to find out how the fishing is at other parts of the loch, and last but not least to phone for a taxi at the end of the day. In the mornings the 07.50 boat from Wemyss Bay has a good amount of fishermen/women (mostly men) all racing to the taxi rank to get up to the loch as quick as they can. This in turn brings a lot of revenue to Bute, as does the sale of liquid refreshment for during the day and fish suppers and the like at the days end. Cal-Mac does well out of this pastime, as they have the revenue from the passengers for travelling , and also for any food or drink supplied, and at many times, from the cars and people carriers that the fishermen bring with them on the ferries, and, possibly the car park at Wemyss Bay may make a bob or two as well, so there is plenty of businesses making from it which is good. And as Loch Fad Fisheries Ltd is owned by local businessmen. the money goes round and round on Bute, and not overseas to some absent owner. It is well run by Jimmy, Alister and Suzie. They are professional in their outlook and professional in their way that each of them tackle their respective jobs, and each others jobs as well, when required. There is not a lazy bone in any one of their bodies, and this is reflected in the success of the business. All three of them are there, not only during the fishing season but all the year round, as there is plenty of work for them to do, Like overhauling 30 outboard engines. Also, haul out of the water 30 boats, that have to be repaired and re-painted, and these are not light boats as they have a great amount of water in them as ballast, so that fly fishermen don’t rock the boat easily and fall overboard. This water has to be drained out before the boats can be pulled fully out of the water to the prearranged site for them to be serviced and repaired during the winter months. Repairs to the cages is an ongoing thing as they get a severe bashing from high winds, and take up a great deal of their time.
They also have to supply and look after another 5 boats that are on the Quien Loch, which is just south of the south end of Loch Fad. This is a fly only loch for brown trout compared to fly and bait and spinning with imitation lures on loch fad.
This is not an advert for the loch, it is just that I care about it, and I am pleased that the three of them care about it also, so I am happy to mention them in dispatches.
Let us leave the fishing side of the loch for a moment and look at the geology side of this area. The ‘Highland Boundary Fault’, runs the length of the loch, from the east side of the causeway, at the place where the boats are moored, it travels south, and hits land once more at the Southwest end at Barmore wood. On the east side of the loch, you have Old red sandstone, Sediments, And Loch Fad Conglomerate, plus others, and on the west side, you have The Dalradian Schists and Grits. Two parts of our earth pushed together a very long time ago, giving you a good mixture to keep you interested.
So there you have it! A lovely loch that has so much to offer to a wide proportion of the public.
Important for it’s Wildlife, Florae and Fauna, and Geology, and for the Fish in it, and also very important to me.
First Published in the Buteman 13-02-2004