Editor Russell Hill escapes to the Highlands for a hotel break near Loch Awe – home of the British record ferox!
Majestic Ben Lui and a peaceful bay with tree-topped islands provide the view from my hotel window. It’s such a wonderful backdrop and one that the Ardanaiseig Hotel is justly proud of. The luxury accommodation is dwarfed by three mountains of 3,000 feet or more (Munros) and the vast Loch Awe, whose mysterious waters are home to huge pike, salmon, wild browns, ferox trout, perch, roach and many other species. Indeed, the British record, rod-caught ferox trout of 31lb 11oz was taken from Loch Awe by Brian Rutland in 2002. Brian actually then beat his own record by a pound during another session but chose to return the incredible fish. Check fishing season dates for any species you’re after before fishing as they do vary a bit.
Gazing out of my hotel window, the angler in me scans the water for ever-widening circles. There’s one…and another. They have to be wild brown trout. A brief chat with the hotel’s fishing guide and I learn a lot about Loch Awe, and how to approach such a vast water that is 26 miles long with depths of up to 300 feet in places.
The secret is to find the fish and by far the best way to achieve that is by doing something that I’m not used to – trolling from a boat that zigzags close to the bank. Searching tactics with Rapala lures will catch trout and perch to about 1lb 8oz but IN AWE it’s always worth taking a fly rod just in case rising trout are spotted close to the rocky shoreline.
Some guests have hooked salmon while trolling along the edge close to the A85 road that hugs the River Awe area of the loch, just north of the hotel. But landing them is another story.
If salmon is your thing then fishing is available on the nearby River Orchy, which flows into Loch Awe’s northern point near the scenic and historic 17th century Kilchurn Castle. Our guide loads the boat with rods already set up and we’re well equipped with packed lunches from the hotel.
For summer visits beware the midges while making the short walk down to the loch. Repellent is available from the hotel staff but once you’re on the water all is well. Midges only attack on calm days anyway. If a cool breeze greets you, it’s far less of a problem!
On this trip the loch’s water level is down by three feet and rocks never seen before by our guide protrude from the water. As we troll at around 4mph our rod tips bend round to perch, lots of them. Some are well over a pound and very handsome fish they are too.
Hugging the shoreline, our guide zigzags the boat to impart a change of direction in the lures, obviously a sudden turn can entice a fish to take. My partner Sam catches her first fish, a perch, which I’m pleased about (trolling happens to be ideal for newcomers to get into our sport) and I hook two decent brown trout, which I lose close to the boat. A pike, which we estimate to be around 6lb, is also lost after a spirited fight.
Perch dominate this session although we do spot salmon leaping free of the water. Our stay is too short to attempt to catch ferox, which requires many hours on the water with deep-fished lures or rainbow trout deadbaits for success. But it’s worth remembering that the record ferox was caught after only an hour’s trolling!
If boat fishing isn’t for you then there’s always a small brownie loch in the hotel grounds, although you’ll need protection from midges here. The surrounding countryside offers many lochs that are free to fish and which house wild brown trout populations.
“The surrounding countryside offers many lochs that are free to fish and which house wild brown trout.”
The hotel itself is stunning and has won various awards – even voted Scotland’s most romantic hotel! Rooms and food are excellent and the staff second to none. Any pianists among you might like to take advantage of the amazing grand piano in the drawing room where guests retire for drinks and games after evening dinner.
Bashing out a few tunes will earn you a free whisky or two – 35-year-old single malts! The approach road from Taynuilt (brown tourist sign for hotel) is a few miles’ drive but it does provide a sense of getting away from it all. Narrow, it has passing places for vehicles.
You’re well and truly in the wilderness here but the hotel does cater for weddings so it’s not too remote to make it difficult to find. Former owners have been quirky characters and the area’s history can be discovered by mooring the boat at Inishail Island towards the middle of the loch.
You’ll find the burial grounds for the 11th and 12th Dukes of Argyll along with a few more mysterious graves. Other sights worth seeing are ruins of Kilchurn Castle close to the loch and if you miss shops and hordes of people then Oban – the capital of the Western Highlands is the place to go and is only 10 or so miles away.
Enjoy the many boat trips to see seals, fishing trips for kids, restaurants, dockside eateries offering freshly-caught seafood platters, or a tour around the Oban whisky distillery, which I thoroughly recommend. Fancy a road trip? Try the Argyll Coastal Road, located from Oban. Beautiful scenery.