This season at Soval was one of the wettest on record with the gauge remaining high at over 30” for most weeks. Indeed it was only in the last few weeks of October, in complete contrast to normal that we had a sustained dry period. As a consequence a lot of salmon and sea trout ran straight up through the upper river and into Trealaval.
We had a good season, in total catching 86 salmon, 55 sea trout and 826 brown trout. The sea trips were again popular, not only catching a large number of mackerel but also to enjoy the wildlife where it is common to see whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals and a whole host of sea birds.
We had left a large stock of grouse the previous year which bred surprisingly well considering the very wet conditions. We therefore saw some good sized covies which we shot lightly, shooting all of our ground, which consists of 75,000 acres, once. We have shot so far 155 brace of grouse and 10 brace of snipe and are looking again to leave a good stock. We’ve only had a few evenings flighting so far on the two flight ponds.
We brought in another new pointer this season called Gonzo, who joins Oscar from last year. Both dogs had a good first season and along with Lewis and Harris make up our team of four working pointers.
Our woodcock numbers again last winter were high, shooting 226. We shoot the open moor once and the four driven woods a maximum of twice. We now have an excellent package of 4 guns for 3 days, enjoying walked up woodcock shooting and 2 people hind stalking, followed by all 6 guns shooting driven woodcock for the last two days.
The stalking on Hamanavay proved popular with a number of successful stalks which often involved going in by boat along Loch Suinival. Stalking is on the West side of the Island and provides wonderful views over the Atlantic and large parts of the Island. In total we have had 13 stags and 7 hinds so far. This season we are expecting to shoot 20 hinds.
The biologist from the District Fisheries Board undertook a number of counts on the Laxay River system this summer which they do approximately every 5 years. They were delighted with the results which showed excellent numbers of young fry and parr which were all up on previous figures. As you may be aware we have recently fenced in the Fiasgan burn where it flows down to the Laxay River at Reedy pool. We have now planted more trees in this enclosed area to provide shelter and food in the burn. We will also fence and plant trees around the Deasport burn this winter.
Michael MacKenzie, our Head Keeper and his team of Murdo and Tim looked after guests during this season, whilst the inside staff of Neen, Mairi, Annette, Heather, Colleen and Catriona all helped provide excellent food in the very comfortable Soval Lodge which enjoys stunning views over the sea Loch.
This season on Lewis we experienced one of the wettest springs and early summers in living memory. As a consequence we had an early run of salmon in June with many running straight up into the upper river and into Trealaval. The gauge remained at over 30 for most of July. Sea trout numbers were quite encouraging and the weights continued to rise. In total we caught 51 salmon, 93 sea trout and 975 brown trout. In addition a number of sea trips were organised to not only catch a large number of mackerel but also see the fantastic array of whales and dolphins and other sea life.
Two new trout boats were added this season, one of these was placed on Loch Sandavat at Leurbost which is now producing some excellent trout.
We left a large stock of grouse last year after an excellent breeding season. This year considering the wet spring, numbers have held up extremely well and has provided plenty of shooting for each party. In total our bag is 301 grouse and 22 snipe, while the two flight ponds produced 11 duck and 10 geese. This season marked the arrival of a new 2 year old English pointer called Oscar to join Lewis and Harris. We will continue with our programme of putting out grit, selective burning and operating a large number of traps, all of which is starting to pay dividends.
We had a successful season stalking on Hamanavay, often going in by boat down Loch Suinival or going in from Breamish with its wonderful views over the Atlantic and St Kilda. In total we had 8 stags and have had 7 hinds so far.
The woodcock numbers have continued to climb, with our counts this year the best ever. We shoot all of the moor only once and the four driven woods a maximum of twice. We now combine a mixed week of walked up and driven which produces some excellent sport. In total we shot 260 woodcock which is our best bag in over 30 years. You will be aware that you can sponsor a woodcock through the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust http://www.gwct.org.uk/blogs/woodcock-watch-blog/2015/august/new-woodcock-location-data-for-august/ and in particular you will see that there is now a woodcock named Soval whom you can monitor on their website.
Michael MacKenzie, our Head Keeper and his team of Murdo and Tim provided some great help and support during this season, whilst in the Lodge, Neen our Housekeeper and her team of Mairi, Annette and Heather provided excellent food and very comfy surroundings in our spectacular Lodge overlooking the Sea Loch and the Harris hills beyond.
In common with the rest of Scotland, we had a light run of fish entering the Laxay River this season. This was not helped by the extremely dry weather in the first part of the season, prior to the tail end of Hurricane Bertha rescuing us in August.
Guests are kindly returning over 75% of the salmon we catch, and all sea trout. This policy will help us in future years when I hope we will return an even higher percentage. In total we caught 51 salmon, 89 sea trout and 996 brown trout.
The grouse numbers and covey sizes are the best we have seen for at least 10 years. This was helped not only by the very dry spring but also by the very large amount of trapping we have been doing over the last couple of years.
We have also been carrying out a selective burning programme as well as putting grit out on the moor. We still shot the ground lightly and left a good stock for next season with, where possible, taking out the old birds. In total we shot 371 grouse, 11 snipe, while the flighting produced 16 duck and 29 geese.
Following a count by Scottish Natural Heritage, we were asked by Hamanaway for a limited period to try and select older beasts to stalk. We also did less stalking this season with the result that we had 2 stags and have shot 5 hinds so far.
The woodcock numbers last season were again encouraging, aided by the four different days driven sport we can now produce, with care being taken to only shoot these woods twice. In total we had 193 woodcock and have another full
programme this winter.
Michael Mackenzie our Head Keeper, along with his team of Murdo and Tim provided excellent support throughout the season, while Neen and her team of Mairi, Margaret and Annette provided excellent food and comfort in the spectacular new Lodge.
Our average bags for the last five years up to and including this season are 102 salmon, 93 sea trout, 1113 brown trout, 15 stags and 350 grouse.
In common with the rest of the Isle of Lewis, and pretty much the whole of Scotland, the run of salmon on the Laxay this season was down on previous years. This was not helped by some dry conditions in July, but when the rain came on the 26th an amazing storm caused the gauge to rise 17 inches in four hours.
Sea trout numbers in contrast were more encouraging as we recorded the second highest catch since 2000 with a number of larger sea trout also being taken. We are now releasing all sea trout caught and this would appear to be paying dividends. We also returned this season over 75% of the salmon we caught. Guests may keep up to two cock salmon a week, providing they are under 10lbs, and asked to return any above this weight, along with all hens caught. In total for the season we ended up with 67 salmon, 136 sea trout and 1483 brown trout. The sea fishing also provided good fun with 772 fish caught.
The grouse benefitted from the good breeding conditions and numbers were generally encouraging, although a few of the areas on the 75,000 acres we shoot were more sparse. However, the great advantage of shooting such a large acreage is that we can rest these areas. In the main good covey sizes were recorded, although the grouse did pair up very early this year which was very evident throughout October. In total 263 grouse were shot which is a very similar number to last year, along with 7 snipe, while the flighting produced 18 duck and 14 geese.
The stalking on Hamanway was again successful and involves a great day out, often going in by boat. In total 13 stags were shot along with 7 hinds so far.
The woodcock numbers were again excellent. We always shoot the ground carefully but our bag of 235 woodcock was our highest total in the last 30 years. We have developed four different driven days along with some excellent walked up woodcock shooting.
Michael Mackenzie our Head Keeper along with his team of Malcolm and Murdo will again organise some further heather burning this winter as well as continuing to place additional grit on the moor. Trapping has been highly successful with over 160 crows taken already this year.
We purchased a new Rib this season to help patrol the sea loch and this has been of considerable benefit.
The new Lodge with its spectacular views of the sea loch again proved popular where guests were looked after extremely well by Emia and her team.
The Isle of Lewis is normally out of kilter with the rest of the country and this season was no exception as we experienced at Soval this summer the worst drought we have seen for 40 years, having no rain from late April until the end of August when it then came with a vengeance. The result was although we were able to use the water we had stored up through the five principal dams we operate on the Laxay system, the salmon still delayed entering the river and the overall run we saw was not as large as last year. We caught in total 97 salmon, 71 sea trout and 867 brown trout. We are returning more and more salmon which is definitely having a positive impact on numbers and indeed the size of fish. Guests may keep up to two cock salmon a week providing they are under 10lbs., and all sea trout are now being returned.
The dry weather certainly had a positive impact on the grouse which we were able to resume shooting this year, having not shot last season for the first time in 16 years. Ironically this was due in 2011 to the freakish amount of rain we received during the hatch. We therefore shot the 70,000 acres of moor very carefully this year, taking out the old birds where possible. This has resulted in us shooting 130 brace of grouse, 10 brace of snipe along with the flighting we are developing, which produced 13 geese and 9 ducks.
Stalking on Hamanaway again proved very popular and often involves a fun day out going in by boat along Loch Suineval which runs parallel with the stalking ground. We shot 9 stags during the season and the hind stalking is just getting under way.
We had an excellent migration of woodcock last season with 207 being shot and for this coming winter we have now developed four different driven days with two of these also featuring driven grouse.
A number of sea trips on the speedboat were organised for guests this season with large numbers of mackerel being caught and fun had by young and old alike.
Michael MacKenzie our Head Keeper, along with his team of Malcolm and Murdo, will be organising some patchwork burning on the moor this winter and to this end we have purchased a heather shredding machine which we can tow behind the new Argocat so that we can cut the perimeter of these strips. We have also been gritting certain areas of the moor as well as operating a large number of traps in which we have caught 126 hooded crows so far this year.
The silver lining to the dry summer was that we were able to put 7.5 tonnes of cement into repairing the dams at Valtos, Trealeval and Fiasgan, as well as extending the slipway at the Trealeval boathouse.
The Lewis Mink Project has now caught in total 1588 mink but interestingly only 32 so far this year as they begin to be eradicated.
Emia and her team produced some excellent food in the new, very comfortable Soval Lodge with its spectacular views over the sea loch and the Harris hills beyond.