The Realm of the Hebridean Slob Trout
Robert MacDougall-Davis (www.wildaboutfishing.co.uk) goes slob hunting in North Uist’s brackish lagoons
Re-produced from an article originally published in Fly Fishing and Fly Tying Magazine
Deep purple 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.
In North Uist’s saline lagoons bulky slob trout proliferate and it is these magnificent and challenging fish that have captured my imagination 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.
Commonly 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 straddles 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 sea.
Life in the lagoons
The lagoons 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. 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.
So what 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 Yarrell 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 (also Salmo trutta), 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.
Given their 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.