Skating off Oban

We’d a fine day fishing for Common Skate off Oban in early March. Seven fish to 180lb in total.

Wow! Moved from a total of 1 trip in 2 months, to having 2 outings in 1 week. Spring must be on its way! It’s still my first time on a boat since December though.

I met up with Ian at Lochearnhead not long before the sunrise spelt doom for the ice on the car park. Definitely still chilly! A couple of hours later we finished launching at Puffin Divers and headed down the Sound and round the southern end of Kerrera.

We’d a very gentle swell from the SW but no wind, which made for ideal conditions. Anchor down in 520 feet and then we slowly lowered some reluctant coalfish to the seabed, well armed with 12/0 hooks.

Skate on!

Ian had a fish play about with his bait, but I was first to get a decent run. Despite faffing about with harnesses it quickly became obvious that this was a small fish that even I could handle quite easily. 40lbs or so, it was nothing to get too excited about, but it’s always a relief to know that there’s something about.

Ian was next up, with a slightly larger fish

A big girl comes to play

Lazy and inelegant, but it worked – eventually. Pic courtesy of Ian

My next fish was altogether more reluctant to move off the mud and it clung there for a good while, ignoring my puny efforts to shift it. As usual though, persistence pays, and I managed to gain a few feet on the grudging beast. And then a few more. Five hundred feet is a long way so I was extremely glad when a large shape materialised below the boat.

180lb skate. Pic courtesy of Ian

The weight for length scales suggested 180lbs so I was happy to go with that. It’s my heaviest fish for several years so another reason to celebrate, if I’d any energy left.

A rival
Sea lice on a spurdog

Ian was having a shot for spurdog and had some success, albeit with fairly small ones. I’ve not seen one with full blown sea lice before – perhaps it has been playing around the local fish farms?

We carried through the afternoon, with runs appearing every now and again. Thankfully we only had one double hook up, and both fish were well under the ton.

Even this fairly small skate can pulverise and swallow a large bait.

Small skate, big mouth

My final fish of the day put up a good account of itself, so it was no surprise to find it was a large male. This one was towards the top end of the charts, at 126lb. I gave up at this point, as I was getting pretty knackered and it was nearing the end of the day anyway. Ian’s persistence was rewarded with a final skate before we hauled anchor and headed ashore to clean up and get the boat sorted out.

Our final tally was seven skate, biggest 180lb. Five of them were under 100lb but even these gave a decent bend in the rod.

And finally…

Just a wee look at effects of the storms. These are the loos at Puffin, with a nice airy feel about them since the roof blew off. The electrics are particularly charming (centre of the pic).

Loo with a view, Pic courtesy of Ian
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A Chilly Re-run on Etive

Am I an angler or homing pigeon? Out for just the second time this year, and I find my way back to the same spot as last month. I’d a snowy forecast but a rainy reality, which was pretty much as I expected. I do find the forecasts always overstate the likelihood of snow down at sea level.

The little single track road in to Glen Etive was covered with snow, which always makes me think about my chances of getting out again if it gets nasty. However the snow disappeared at about 200 feet above sea level and before I managed to skid off the road, so the last few miles to the car park were uneventful.

Snow covers the road down Glen Etive, making for an interesting drive in slippy conditions
An interesting drive

I was alone at the end of the road so I took my time sorting out my rucksack and gear before starting to splosh my way along the trail. I have to say that this wet and boggy haul along the loch was cheered greatly by white-capped mountains all around.

A snow covered Ben Starav offers a chilly backdrop to my hike along Loch Etive
Chilly background to my hike

Arrival

I arrived at my campsite with plenty of daylight this time, so set up the rods and cast out before sorting out my tent and some extra firewood for the night. Given all the recent rain I was far from confident that the salinity of the loch would still be high enough to attract predators, but I’d plenty to keep me busy with or without actually catching a fish.

My hopes rose dramatically when I reeled in my first rod to find a disembodied whiting on the end. Definitely spurdog about! I quickly rebaited and cast out into the trench again.

Headless

Fortunately for me, the slight wind that was blowing dropped to nothing as I watched some sleet and snow flurries crossing the loch further down.

A Scottish sunset 🙂

I got a decent bite not long after dark bite and retrieved a fine looking female spurdog. Nothing like as big as my beastie from last month, but a respectable 6lb plus.

Nice Etive spurdog

I was hungry by now, so chicken, pasta, tomatoes, chorizo and chickpeas all found themselves bedfellows in my pan. I settled down with a coffee and watched the flames as my dinner got under way.

Dinner, and plenty of it!

Pre-dinner drinks were interrupted by a couple more spurdog, but just small males this time.

Last spur of the day

Rain was falling steadily, but I was happy enough chilling out beside the campfire and checking the rods every now and again. Despite the snow covered mountains it wasn’t terribly cold and the flames kept some feeling in my fingers.

Cheery campfire

A final little spurdog and I decided to call it quits and head for the tent as I was getting a little soggy by now. Rain battered away on my tent but didn’t manage to keep me awake for long. The whisky in my coffee probably helped…

A New Dawn

Next morning was cold and grey as I poked my snout out the tent, but at least the rain had stopped. Hopping around in the semi-darkness I managed to pull on enough clothes to avoid hypothermia before casting out again.

Casting out in the dawn light

Eventually the grey-dark improved to being just grey, but without a flicker of interest on the rods. A couple of re-casts later and a new species for 2020 surrendered without much of a fight. A doggie, more of a puppy really. I suppose the only surprise is that it wasn’t my first fish of the year.

Puppy snatching

By now it was definitely time for breakfast, so round one of bacon and eggs went on the rejuvenated campfire.

Winter breakfast

By round two of breakfast I’d attracted this little robin, who had a happy rummage around the seaweed whilst keeping an eye on me. I offered him some mackerel, but he clearly had standards and just ignored it.

The forecast was deteriorating later in the morning, and I needed to get back to do some dog-sitting, so I packed up camp just after breakfast and reeled in the last of the lines. Nothing else showed up, so it was just one little doggie for the morning compared with 4 spurdogs and half a whiting the night before.

Last orders…

Hiking out was easier initially, having burned the wood I took in and eaten a fair percentage of my body weight in dinner and breakfast. Sadly, good things don’t last and the rain caught up with me big time for the last hour. It was a very, very wet fisherman who stripped off in the carpark. Fortunately for them, there were no witnesses around!

Long way home
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Kicking off 2020 with a PB

I hastened along the trail, mindful that darkness would fall before I reached my preferred spot. This was a last minute effort, and I faced a good 2 hours hike down the loch. Bearing in mind that some spots are a little hairy in daylight let alone at night, I was keen to minimise stumbling around!

Almost out of time before darkness falls

Dusk

Arriving just as the last glimmer of light left the sky, I happily dumped my heavy backpack. I quickly collected some dead wood to augment the limited supply I’d carried in. Perhaps not the best quality, but good enough for my purposes tonight. With the basics satisfied it was time to get the fishing up and running!

I cast out a mackerel baited pulley rig on both rods and then sorted out my kit and set up the tent. Recent storms had washed over the site and deposited plenty of seaweed, so I shifted enough out the way to get a decent space for my little tent.

First fish of 2020

Checking the rods after this I saw that both had been stripped. Not so good, as this usually means crabs are about. A quick rebait and recast and I started work to get the fire going, as no fire means no food (and no coffee!). Maybe 15 minutes later however, I heard the noise of a ratchet indicating something was interested in the mackerel. The something turned out to be a small spurdog, welcome enough as a start to the year.

With the fire burning nicely now I got dinner on the go – chilli chicken and pasta, and plenty of it to combat the winter night. There was no-one else about at all, and the loch was completely dark, calm and silent. I drank a whisky fortified coffee and contemplated my surroundings as I waited on dinner.

Dinner on the go

Spurdog

My peace (and dinner) was interrupted by the sound of the ratchet on the reel as something made off with the bait. Striking into the fish I realised immediately that this was a much better beast than the usual small stuff. Not that spurdog fight much, but this was clearly a nice fish. It was a relieved angler who spotted the green reflection of its eyes in my headtorch and guided it gently to shore.

I scrambled down onto the rocks and manoeuvered a chunky female spurdog onto the seaweed. A quick measure showed it to be between 107 and 108cm in length and easily my biggest from the shore. Indeed, it’s my best from either boat or shore for several years. Weight for length scales suggest something around the 12lb mark 🙂

A cracking spurdog double

Checking my dinner to make sure it hadn’t burned to a crisp whilst I dealt with madame spurdog, I recast the bait. Finally, I settled down to eat – I was starving by now, not having had anything since early morning.

I fished on for a couple more hours, landing another three small spurries, before calling it a night and curling up in my sleeping bag. I couldn’t hang around too long in the morning, so the idea was to start fishing just before dawn and give it a couple of hours whilst having a lazy breakfast.

Dawn

Up before seven, and it was definitely on the cold and damp side. A decent night’s sleep helps, but it was chilly as I hurried to get baits in the water and then coax my campfire back into life.

Happily, this didn’t take too long and I soon had a morale boosting source of warmth as I waited for water to boil. My coffee was ready just as dawn broke over a flat calm loch, with the moon still shining in the sky.

Coffee bubbling away on my campfire in the dawn of a lovely calm January morning. A half moon is still shining over a very still Loch Etive in the western highlands of Scotland
Early morning coffee

A couple more spurdog put in an appearance as the sun threatened to rise above the mountains. Munching on bacon and eggs, coffee in hand, fish about, and with a view like this – winter perfection!

Just before sunrise, with my rods sitting over a calm Loch Etive and a snow covered Ben Cruachan in the background
Sunrise

Unfortunately this was a rather curtailed little trip and I had the tent packed and camp cleaned up not long after sunrise. I’d lost a fair bit of weight from my rucksack which certainly helps, and there was a cracking view of the mountains as I headed back. It’s still a long haul though!

Beautiful backdrop to my hike

And 2019 stutters to a halt

I feel I should provide a brief finale to 2019. A couple of nice days out but the catching was crap, and I always struggle to get the motivation to write about poor fishing.

St Andrews provided Ian with a decent pollack and a couple of codling on a very cold December day. I just acted as bystander, adding a solitary coalfish to the mix (and a small one at that).

A nice late-season pollack from St Andrews
Nice pollack for Ian

A week or so later I met up with Trevor for the first time in months. After some to-ing and fro-ing over where to fish we settled on Arbroath as the least worst option. If nothing else it’s about equidistant for us, and the forecast did suggest a decent swell.

Wow!

To be fair the swell wasn’t too bad and I thought we’d be in with a shout of codling in the murky water. I think we had three between us, but the specimen Trev’s holding was typical. At least we finished the year with a lovely sunset, but I think we’d really both have preferred a plump codling or two!

A fine winter sunset on the Arbroath cliffs helps offset a poor day's fishing
Fine sunset
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Icy Wild Camp on Etive

Ian and I fished Etive a couple of weeks ago with fairly poor results – maybe 40+ spurs between us, plus a few rays, etc., but nothing of any size. So when I trailed the Longliner across to Etive again last weekend, the plan centred of camping rather than fishing.

First up was a run right down the loch from Taynuilt to try and catch Connel before the Falls of Lora became too much of a torrent in the ebb tide. The ideal time is supposed to be 2 hours after Oban HW, but it was very peaceable at 2 hours 45 minutes, and I cruised through no bother.

I headed down to the fish farm just north of the slips at Gallanach, only to find a set of empty cages and no sign of them having been used for a good while 🙁

I decided to reverse course for a mile or two and try off Dunstaffnage Castle, which has thrown up decent fish from the shore. Anchor down, baits out and then just a case of watch them get shredded by packs of greedy mini-whiting, crabs and other flotsam.

An hour of this and I gave up and moved back into the loch, parking just off the Windsock mark. Here it’s a decent depth of water, at about 70 feet, but you do move around a bit in the eddy. However the result was exactly the same – crabs and tiddly whiting, with no sign of anything bigger.

I stuck at it for a couple of hours until the white water pouring out of Etive slackened a smidgen and then took a run up against the tide. Up close and you feel the huge volume of water pouring out the loch, and it is quite intimidating. Conditions were pretty benign so it wasn’t a problem but it’s not the sort of place to have engine failure, and I wouldn’t want to be there with the tide in full flow. I’d seen kayakers running the falls earlier, but they’d obviously got bored by the time I tried it and I didn’t mow anyone down.

Falls of Lora

Preparing for a cold night

Stopping off near Airds Point produced a few small spurdog before I headed into the mountains well up the loch to sort myself out before it got too dark. Even so, the light was almost gone by the time the boat was secured on her mooring.

I took a fair bit of wood in with me, so got a fire going for a bit of warmth and to cook dinner, and then chucked out a bait on the shore rod. By now the sand was frozen beneath my feet and my campfire looked even more appealing.

The night was beautiful and full of stars, but really quite cold. Even my poor phone complained it was too cold to charge from my backup battery! I ended up tucking it in to my sleeping bag just to cheer it up. Between feeding the fire and myself I was kept pretty busy. However a few fish were prowling along the beach and I picked up a couple of typical spurries and fluffed another couple of bites.

Frosted

I survived the night without frostbite, although my toes were definitely chilly, and carried on for another hour or two in the morning whilst I sorted out the camp and some breakfast. Not a sniff of fish, although I wasn’t really paying much attention to the rod.

Emerging into the cold
Bacon and eggs. Mmmn!
Fancy some frostbite?

Back on the boat, and out on the loch again, and I hit pack ice that had formed overnight (OK, maybe 2mm thick but it looked good). A slow drift or two produced a handful more small spurdog before it was time to call a halt as I needed to be back home before dark.

Freezing wet ropes. Should’ve remembered the gloves!

So, no surprises on the fishing front except the dearth of anything worthwhile outside the loch, but a fine overnighter from my point of view.

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Nice camp, shame about the fishing…

I keep a good look out for any spots that might combine a good campsite with the chance of decent fishing. That usually means somewhere well out of the way and probably a decent hike too.

This one is near enough a five hour drive from home, so it’s taken a good while for me to organise an expedition and check it out. Late October provided my opportunity for a few days off work.

I marched quickly down a couple of miles from the road, but then stopped dead. Horribly effective barriers comprising of windfall trees and tide-limited rocks blocked access. Quite nerve-wracking as well as exhausting! I was pretty glad to finally scrunch across the shingle and reach my target in one piece. Accessible by boat all right, but if this place sees one visitor a decade hiking in then I’ll be surprised.

I didn’t waste any time in getting set up and powering a mackerel bait seawards into something like 70 feet of water. The tide was falling back and it was easy to find a good stance amongst the barnacles.

Looking around, this spot ticked most of my boxes – beautiful, remote and with camping right alongside the shoreline. A ready supply of dry, dead, wood for a campfire was a distinct bonus.

My tent slotted in neatly on the soft ground between rows of conifers a few yards from the shoreline. Then I dug out the spinning rod for a session before dusk.

I managed plenty hits, but sadly only very small pollack engulfed my lures. Quantity, but if any made it over 1lb I’d be fibbing. My bottom rods faired no better, remaining biteless. At least the ground was rough but not terrible and I only lost a couple of sets of gear on the retrieve.

Campfire Cooking

I sorted out a fire for my dinner, as daylight was fading quickly now. At least this was easy enough, given the amount of dead twigs and branches in the wood. It wasn’t long before I’d my first coffee since leaving Edinburgh, many hours before.

My dinner was chilli chicken, chorizo and pasta all cooked together over the fire. Superb, if I say so myself, and just the thing after a long day outdoors and facing an autumn night under canvas.

The sun was long gone by now, and I just spent a while supping a whisky augmented coffee and watching the afterglow fade. I gave the fire a couple of refills, but otherwise just sat and watched a calm sea reflect the first of the moonlight until the comfort of a warm sleeping bag finally became irresistible.

Next Day

I slept well, only awoken briefly by the noise of a couple of light showers. A few years back I invested in a decent down sleeping bag and proper mat and it’s really transformed my comfort levels in the cooler months. Down needs a bit of tender loving care, but it’s fantastic stuff if you feel the cold!

Anyway, next morning I was feeling sufficiently rested and on top of the world to cast out before getting the coffee and bacon on the go!

Halfway through my first coffee of the day I got a lovely, slow, ray-style bite. Which I managed to fluff badly and thereby miss my best chance so far. Aagh! Fishing was slow, and I couldn’t really afford such silly mistakes!

Breakfast cooked and wolfed down, I hit the spinning for a little while. And with the same result as last night – little pollack. I’ve had 6lb+ fish hammer into lures from not too far from here, so this was disappointing.

By late morning, with nothing else showing up, it was time to move. My next spot was several miles away and I risked getting caught out by nightfall if I wasn’t careful.

After an equally horrible struggle over decaying, fallen, timber to get back to the track and then my car, I headed along the road for another 30 minutes or so.

The End of the Road – Again

Quite literally at the end of the road, I hit the trail again. This time the path was pretty good, being a real testament to the efforts of generations of crofters.

A few miles further, and beyond the “quality” section of path, I headed down the hillside and onto the shoreline. Luckily I managed to find a little flat spot that others had used before me and pitched my tent just as the heavens opened.

Only 20 minutes worth, but everything got pretty wet in the downpour. Fortunately I still managed to locate some tinder and dry wood, otherwise it’d have been a pretty limited dinner tonight.

I managed a couple of casts out into the loch, and it was pretty deep water – perhaps 120-130 feet. Then it was time to get the campfire going and to cook some dinner.

I’d company this time, with a red deer and youngster approaching within 30 yards or so of my camp. The young deer seemed much more nervous of me than his mum, who just munched away regardless.

I left them to it as I popped a steak on for my dinner, alongside the obligatory campfire coffee. It was fully dark by the time the sirloin was ready and I chilled out by watching the stars coming out as the fire crackled away.

My last act of the evening was to lose two more sets of gear. The bottom here seems muddy, but there is a rocky ledge half-way in where I locked solid 🙁

Tonight wasn’t quite as peaceful as my sleep the previous evening either. Over-confident deer kept munching very noisily close to my tent, and didn’t seem too bothered by my loud cursing. At least there aren’t any bears in Scotland… (yet!)

Last Fling

The next day dawned bright and sunny, so I packed up camp and made my way back along the trail for a couple of miles before settling down at a headland for a final couple of hours fishing.

As I’d hoped, this had the hallmarks of a decent mark – deep (60-70 feet +) and a softish bottom. Sadly, all my mackerel baits produced was this nice edible crab (returned, albeit with some reluctance). Coming in with a good collection of weed I harboured the hope that it might be a thornback ray, but that was too much to hope for this weekend!

By lunchtime I’d had enough, with a fair hike back to the car and then a good few hours drive home facing me.

Overall an excellent camp but quite frustrating fishing. I reckon a bit more fishing effort on at least two of these marks should produce something, so it may be question of persistence. Next year though, I think.

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Etive Whiting

The east coast was storm bound and the west looked much the same. Not very encouraging if you’re the skipper of a small dinghy! However, the deep waters of Loch Etive looked a little more encouraging, and plans were duly made.

Tides were small and we had a relatively late start, dropping the boat into the start of the flood sometime after nine. Typically dour autumn weather, with light rain and wall to wall grey cloud, but at least it wasn’t windy.

Nice sized Grey Gurnard from Loch Etive
Nice Grey Gurnard

We had a slow start, although Ian picked up a nice spurdog and a large-for-Etive grey gurnard. The spurrie went back without much ceremony because “we’re bound to get a better one”. No prizes for guessing the result…

Meantime, I concentrated on my crabs. I’m really quite good at this.

One of the hordes of crabs blanketing part of the Etive seafloor. They strip the bait in minutes.
A pain in the ass…

We both managed some whiting, and I added a thornback to the collection. Quite a few whiting were good quality by Etive standards and Ian kept a couple for tea.

Ian holds a good sized Whiting from Loch Etive
Nice whiting for Etive

However, between the crabs and the whiting, not much else was getting a look in. We up anchored and headed northwards, just as every other boat made their way south – perhaps not a great omen.

It was windy and very unpleasant around the quarry area, but calmed down greatly when we reached the more open water of the upper loch. Anchor dropped, and we settled down to fish.

A hungry whiting from Loch Etive
Hungry whiting

I don’t often fish this mark, but it can throw up a bit of variety. Less so today, as we hit more of the same – whiting and doggies. A single hectic minute saw a couple of respectable spurdog and a thornie boated, but apart from that, all was quiet

A thornback ray and spurdog from Loch Etive
A double

We’d a final shot just off the moorings at Taynuilt, which produced more whiting and a little thornback for Ian. So plenty of whiting through the loch, which will hopefully attract some bigger predators in for their dinner. Next time. maybe!

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Kayak Camp

I’ve been wanting to try out a kayak camp for a while now, and I finally got my act together last week. Just a short trip but with the promise of a fine evening.

Paddling along in my kayak on a Scottish sea loch

I didn’t actually hit the water until after 5 in the afternoon, which gave around 3 hours or so before it got dark. Happily, the initially gusty wind fairly soon gave way to calmer conditions and I made good progress towards my planned site.

The loch calms down as the breeze dies away in the early evening
Early evening

I bought the kayak with a bias towards touring/camping rather than all out fishing, but it’s still kitted out with rod holders and most of the gubbins that a typical angler might want. In line with that philosophy I trailed a small rapala lure behind the ‘yak as I made my way along. A hit rate of one fish every two miles might not sound great but I was happy enough with a couple of trout. Both returned – fortunately for them I already had more than enough food for the night!

A good looking, silvery coloured, brown trout taken from a sea loch
Brown trout from the salt

A good few miles of paddling later I pulled in to a nice stretch of gravelly sand where I planned to set up camp.

My kayak glides in to the beach at my campsite
Gliding ashore at my campsite

I’d taken along a beachcaster and some mackerel bait, so I sorted that out before pitching the tent and getting some dinner prepared. There’s a reasonable depth of water here, and I’ve had fish from the shore before, so it seemed worth a try.

Crab bait!

I sorted out the tent quickly and turned my attention to starting a campfire for the evening. I’d taken a decent supply of wood in with me as there’s little along this part of the shore. Dry wood is very easy to work with, and I soon had a fire going. Coffee on, and then a nice bit of steak to follow!

Steak and mushrooms cook over an open fire as night falls
Camp cooking

I fished and ate until after 10. The food was good, the fishing rather less so! A few crabs and one missed bite was the sum total. However I was happy enough to bed down for the night and some well-earned rest.

la mañana

Next morning saw me cast out again before reviving the fire for more coffee and a couple of chunky bacon and egg rolls.

Casting out a mackerel bait to feed a few crabs
Early morning optimism

I swigged away but sadly my coffee failed to evoke its usual response and there was no savage take. I just had to contemplate my surroundings in the early morning calm.

Munching a bacon roll as I fish the sea loch in the calm of an early September morning
A fine start to the day

With a rapidly rising wind forecast for later in the morning I couldn’t afford to hang around too long. Striking camp, I loaded the kayak with the fishing and camping gear and re-distributed my little fire circle around the beach before paddling off.

Reloading my kayak for the trip back up the loch
Reloading my kayak

I stopped off in a couple of spots on my way back, partly to scout out new campsites, partly just for a little break from the paddling. By the time I neared the car the forecast had caught up with me and tranquillity was replaced by a howling wind. Chuck in some well-whipped white water when the squalls ripped through and I was quite glad to get ashore. Calm weather rarely lasts around these parts!

Late summer, or early autumn? Either way, my bright orange and yellow kayak adds additional colour to the scene
Splash of colour
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Fogbound at Dunbar

I’ve not been out much over the summer, with a trip up to St. Andrews and a couple of excursions from Dunbar.

Haar

No-one likes it, but haar is a fact of life for anyone boating on the east coast. It wasn’t too bad though, and you could still make out a horizon when headed out just after six in the morning. Two miles out, and a dozen mackerel later, and visibility disappeared.

Thick fog cuts visibility to a few tens of metres a few miles off Dunbar.
Keeping a good lookout

Maybe 30-50 metres at best, and as thick as I’ve seen it. Not good, so I edged my way down to an inshore mark and stuck it out for the rest of the morning.

Pollack

There were a few fish going about, and I’d cod, ling and pollack to supplement my mackerel. However, the tide was small and drift non-existent, so it was hard going.

Thick fog cuts visibility to a few tens of metres a few miles off Dunbar.
Thick Fog!

Hearing other boats moving around, and the thump of lobster creels hitting the decks close by, meant that it was a fairly nervous session. Fortunately only one boat emerged out the haar and she was going slowly so we avoided each other without any drama.

Dinner

I wasn’t really sorry to head back in – although the sun was now rapidly clearing away the haar and the horizon was visible again by the time I arrived back at the harbour.

Fishless Wrecks

Every now and again I let heart rule head, and set up for a day trying the many wrecks that litter the seabed of the Firth of Forth. Other than one or two piles of scrap close inshore I’ve never had a successful trip doing this, although it’s always a buzz to see a wreck materialise on the sonar.

It was a fine morning as I drove along to Dunbar, with little wind and small tides forecast, so it was as good a set of conditions as I’m ever likely to get. No sign of haar, unlike my earlier trip.

Lovely early morning light as I drive along to Dunbar in the first few days of September.
Dawn light

Edging out of the harbour just as the sun rose, I encountered a reasonable NE swell, which would add to the fun of fishing a snaggy wreck but otherwise wasn’t an issue.

The remains of the old castle on the cliff guard the narrow entrance to Dunbar harbour
Harbour mouth
The sun is just appearing above the horizon as I pass the Yett rocks which line the approach to Dunbar harbour
Sunrise

I spent the next few hours working round in a large semi-circle about 7-10 miles out. A variety of WW1 and WW2 merchant ships and a U-boat all duly appeared on the sounder, in depths of 130-210 feet. A few drifts on each with bait and lures – and leaving some gear behind on most of them. Total catch zero, except on my reliable inshore friend which threw up a couple of pollack

Small pollack

I did get a partial success, but on an offshore reef rather than a wreck. It’s been a few years since I was last here, but there were plenty mackerel for the bait freezer and a little codling. Species of the day was this little Redfish (or Norway Haddock, I’m never 100% sure), which seem to inhabit this particular mark. Certainly, it’s the only place near here that I’ve encountered them.

A redfish, or Norway Haddock, taken from a reef a few miles NE of Dunbar
Redfish

So, a top up for winter bait and a bonus species, but otherwise a fairly predictable disappointment. Enough to cure me of wreck fishing for a season or two, probably.

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50,000 Acres of Wrath

Raw coastal wilderness is a rare beast, even in the remoter parts of mainland Scotland, and the magnificent isolation surrounding Cape Wrath is now almost unique. It’s one of my go-to places when I need to escape my fellow humans for a day or three.

Sandwood Bay can be pretty popular at times, but very few people venture beyond it and I’ve never actually come face to face with anyone. The odd hiker on the Cape Wrath trail perhaps, but they tend to take a more inland route. Anyway, early evening at the end of June saw me arriving at the bay just after the last of the day trippers had left. Just one tent nestled in the dunes, and I soon left it behind as I strode down to the shoreline.

A fish hits my toby lure in the Sandwood Bay surf, putting a nice bend in the rod
Fish from the surf

I made a few casts in the more likely areas as I wandered casually along the beach. My 20g silver and white Toby aimed to replicate the sandeel that shoal along these sands, tumbling through light surf and shallow water that was near tropical in clarity (maybe not so close in terms of temperature!)

Strands of weed along the strand line were a bit of pain, but easily manageable. My first take was a quick hit and run effort, with a decent tug and then nothing. A few minutes later and there was no missing this one, as my rod tip heeled over and battle commenced. Although not particularly big, this well conditioned sea trout gave a decent account of itself before a quick photo and return. And not a sea louse in sight – quite a contrast to the fish I saw last year, which were in a sorry state.

A respectable seatrout graces the sand. Caught on a silver and white toby lure
Respectable seatrout

I’d pretty much run out of fishable beach by now, so made my way up the soft sand and steep hills that mark the northern end of Sandwood and headed on towards my pitch for the night. Plenty of ghosts and shipwrecked mariners are reputed to haunt this area, and a bit of night fog coupled with the roar of a good going surf would definitely generate a slightly spooky aura. Happily, this solo camper was facing a short, calm summer evening with the main threat coming from the local bug life.

A lovely little wildcamping spot, with a view over the clear surf rolling in to Sandwood Bay
Wildcamping

It’s a little ironic that it can be difficult to find water at times, despite Scotland’s generally soggy image. Even the water flowing out of Sandwood Loch looked pretty uninviting, with some dubious looking algae growing on the stones. Fortunately the burn at Strath Chailleach looked a lot healthier and I topped up there for the night before returning to my little tent and a warm sleeping bag.

Collecting fresh water from the peaty burn at Strath Chailleach, near Cape Wrath, NW Scotland
Time for a drink

Day 2 – Heading Northwards

I awoke to find my tent still in the shade at 6 in the morning, whilst the sun was rapidly burning off the remaining overnight mist along the beach. Dodging the midges, I hastened down to the surf and along to my chosen fishing mark.

Early morning sun and mist light up the sand as a small surf hits the beach near Sandwood, Scotland
Small surf

I tackled up initially with a spinner on one rod and crab on the other, hoping to tease out a bass. Spinning proved pretty fruitless, and my patience for chucking out lumps of metal is limited, so I eventually switched over to a sandeel bait.

Tackling up for a light sea fishing session with a spinning rod, a few miles south of Cape Wrath, Scotland
Tackling Up

I contrived to miss a decent bite on the crab, very likely from one of the small bass that hunt along the beaches. Another smash and grab bite produced a sea trout to the sandeel bait. A nice enough fish, but a little smaller than its cousin from yesterday, and soon returned to play with the local seals.

Another fish hits in the very shallow, clear, surf of the NW coast of Scotland
Another fish on

I followed the falling tide along the beach but had no more interest to my bait, apart from gazillions of little shrimp-like creatures that started to shred baits rapidly.

Fishing light in shallow surf near Sandwood Bay, NW Scotland
Fishing light in shallow surf

By mid-morning I’d had enough, and was starting to bake gently in the clear sunshine. I struck camp and headed north across the bare hillsides.

Crossing the rocky burn Strath Chailleach, between Sandwood Bay and Cape Wrath, NW Scotland
Crossing Strath Chailleach

I made a few casts across one of the many lochs around this area but without result. A mirror like calm coupled with a very half-hearted approach isn’t a recipe for success, so I was neither surprised nor too downhearted either. Freshwater’s not really my thing these days, to be honest.

A pretty unproductive session on a shallow little loch in hot, sunny and flat calm weather.
Too hot, sunny and calm!

However, I did notice a set of tracks along the beach that belonged to a much more skillful hunter – an otter had clearly been here very recently.

Otter tracks in the sand alongside a small loch near Cape Wrath, NW Scotland
Otter tracks

I wandered along slowly, baking quietly in the hot sun. Across into the army range and up over the line of hills that present a fine view of the north coast as far as Whiten Head.

Looking north, towards Cape Wrath and Kervaig and across the rock, peat and bogs of the Parph
Looking north, towards Cape Wrath and Kervaig

Crossing this ground isn’t as easy as it seems, even with dry weather, as the greenery hides plenty of peat bog. Even short, stubby vegetation is harder on the legs than a half-formed trail, so it was pretty hard work. Or possibly this adventurer is just a little overfed and under-exercised these days!

Eventually I did reach the small gorge that signalled I was close to my campsite. Perhaps only 80-90 feet deep, but steep-sided, it presents a decent barrier to a heavily laden and hot hiker.

Crossing the small. steep gorge that forms the last obstacle to reaching my campsite for the night. Near Cape Wrath, NW Scotland
A final crossing

A Fine and Lonely Camp

I was therefore pretty happy to reach my destination, and set up my tent for the night. I’ve been around here before, but never for an overnight stay, and it’s a fine spot to pitch up. Flat, machair grass and a clifftop view over the Atlantic 🙂

The flat, grassy machair right on the cliffline makes a brilliant pitch for my little tent. Just south of Cape Wrath in NW Scotland.
A brilliant pitch for my tent

My original plan was for a spot of fishing around the cliffs here, but I was knackered. There are accessible marks around here, but they do involve bouncing around fairly chunky cliffs. I chickened out and just watched the surf rolling in, and the sun dropping slowly in the sky.

The rocky shoreline just south of Cape Wrath, NW Scotland
Rocky shoreline

By this time I was a good few hours walk from my car, and I needed to be back in civilisation for early afternoon. Running the calculations I reckoned I needed to be awake for half-three in the morning in order to make it back in time…

Accordingly, I was fuzzily awake and clutching a coffee a little while before 4 a.m., and heading off 30 or 40 minutes later. At least it’s fully daylight by this time!

Grasping a mug of coffee and looking as good as is possible sometime before 4 in the morning. At least it's full daylight in these parts.
Struggling awake, sometime before 4 a.m.

I’d a much quicker hike back in the cool of the early morning, taking barely half the time of my meander of yesterday. I stopped off at Sandwood for another coffee and little spot of breakfast before the last couple of hours along the beach and back to my car at Blairmore. I did manage a final cast or ten as I marched along the beach, but nothing showed much interest.

A view of Sandwood Bay from the hills at the northern end
Sandwood Bay from the north
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Galloway Fishing Week!

Galloway Fishing Week has become a bit of an institution in the last few years, largely because I’ve more time to play as the kids have grown up. Early June offers a crack at a wide variety of species in Galloway, with a decent chance of some larger specimens if the weather holds up. Tope, hounds, bass and huss probably head the list, but it is a very different style of angling and that adds to the attraction.

A nice tub gurnard taken by Ian from Luce Bay, June 2019
Nice tub gurnard from Port William

However, last year was a disaster, as my dad paid an unplanned visit to hospital, followed by the only bad weather in the whole of June. Basically, Galloway 2018 simply didn’t happen 🙁

We kept all our fingers crossed for 2019 and pored over the forecasts as the days ticked down. Finally Ian and I hit the road to Port William, sharing the car with a mountain of camping and fishing gear. At least the crabs were relegated to the boat for the journey! Trevor arrived just after the last tent peg was in place – good timing on his part!

Boat, car and tent setup for the week on the shores of Luce Bay
Camping setup

I’ve now tried the rather OTT glamping set up on several occasions, so was pretty confident I could make us comfortable for a week or so. It certainly looked the part, complete with carpet and comfy carp beds!

Our base camp for a week - complete with carpet and very comfortable beds.
Base camp

We didn’t waste too much time hanging around camp, as the tide only allowed us a limited window and we didn’t want to squander our opportunity.

Out on the bay and Ian set the tone nicely early on by catching a relative rarity for an east-coaster – a rather tropical looking scad. A few herring and mackerel secured our bait supply for the afternoon and we could settle down for some proper fishing.

A nice scad caught by Ian in Luce Bay, June 2019
A nice scad for Ian

To be honest, quality was a little hard to come by. We added more species and Ian did OK with the local rays, but tope were elusive. For some reason the dabs found my baits irresistible, but ignored the others.

Another thornback ray for Ian, from Luce Bay, June 2019
Small thornback for Ian

We crept back into the harbour as the last of the tide left it and headed back to our tent. A little later, and marginally spruced up, we headed along to the Cock Inn for a hearty dinner. After which I fell asleep in my nice comfy carp bed – too tired to even finish my beer!

Day Two

Breakfast for Trevor 🙂

We hit Garlieston next day, just before the flood tide reached the very muddy bottom of the slip. Ploughing round into Wigtown Bay we soon hit good numbers of small hounds on crab, rag and other bits and pieces.

A bull huss for myself, Luce Bay
Bull huss

Ray, huss, doggies and a dab or two also put in an appearance, but no sign of bass. We also had a few tope, but all tiddlers with none making double figures. Still, we had good fun for a few hours until the tide turned and I decided not to spend the rest of the afternoon stern on to steep sided waves. Close inshore near Eggerness was definitely calmer but almost fishless, so no-one argued with heading in slightly earlier than planned.

A sleek looking smoothhound for Trevor, fishing in Wigtown Bay, June 2019
Smoothhound for Trevor

Back to Luce Bay

Round at Port William the next morning I felt a bit of a bystander as Ian and Trevor got stuck into a pile of huss, after clearing out the local ray population.

Ian holding a grumpy bullhuss which tried to bite everything in sight
Grumpy bullhuss

Tope played hard to get again, until Ian hit a good run that turned into a very energetic tope that went from one side of the boat to the other repeatedly, until Trevor finally lifted her aboard. At 42lbs it was a personal best for Ian and easily the biggest fish to grace the decks this year.

Ian holds a 42lb tope, caught in Luce Bay, June 2019
Ian and 42lb tope

It didn’t bring many of its mates though, and proved to be the highlight of the day.

Lazy Saturday

We had a nice long lie on Saturday, as the tides favoured a late start, so there was plenty of time for coffee, toast and the obligatory bacon rolls before heading off. Round at Garlieston again, we were soon out on the Cree estuary casting out in search of smoothhound and tope.

Trevor with a Wigtown Bay huss - quite a light coloured specimen
Trevor with a Wigtown Bay huss

We hit fish from the off, but the story was similar to our earlier expedition. Lots of small fish, including a lot of tiny tope, but not too much quality going about apart from a ray or two and the odd huss.

A very small tope for Trevor, one of many that were cruising around during the week
A tiny tope for Trevor

Revenge of the Crabs

We awoke to quite blustery conditions that were pretty marginal for bouncing around on a boat. To be honest, I was quite happy to have a day on dry land so we headed over to Carsluith for a shortish session on the pier instead.

Carsluith pier, River Cree, Galloway.
Carsluith pier

‘Twas very slow fishing, to put it mildly, and it was quite a while before Trevor broke our duck with a small school bass.

A schoolie for Trevor

The crabs were undoubtedly the big winners today, obliterating most of our remaining worms and crabs as they stripped hooks bare in minutes.

Carsluith pier in a weird panorama shot, courtesy of Ian

Ian did manage to sneak out another bass from under their pincers, and Trevor eventually added a flounder, but it was slow going.

A small but pretty little bass from Carsluith pier, River Cree, Galloway
A school bass for Ian

As for me, my contribution was a single eel. I’m not sure what I was being punished for, but I was quite happy to pack up and head for the car!

A sliver eel

Saving the Best for Last

By contrast, our last day was undoubtedly the best of the week, with good weather and plenty of fish. We headed out of Port William and into the early morning sunshine, and soon found our mark for the day. In contrast to previous days, there were plenty of pack tope, mainly in the teens but with the biggest reaching 26lb.

Another Galloway tope for Ian, June 2019
Another tope for Ian

More huss appeared, and I’ve never had as many of the grumpy buggers as we had this week. Doubly so, if you add in all those that just let go of the bait when they got close to the boat.

My day ended with a personal best, being a bass of 7lb 10oz that came to a tope bait. You could probably have heard the yell of delight back in Port William.

A lovely bass from Luce Bay and a personal best for me, weighing 7lbs 10oz
7lb 10oz and a PB bass for me (Trev’s pic)
A fine bass from Luce Bay, taken on a whole mackerel aimed at tope. June 2019
Lovely bass

An hour later and we ran into harbour just as the wind picked up against the tide and the spray started to fly. With the tent all packed up already, Trevor said his goodbyes and set off northwards to the Fraserburgh tundra. Hopefully we can all keep in with the weather gods and get a repeat next year!

I think this was probably the most relaxed fishing I’ve had in recent years. Most days we were out for 6 hours or so over high water, so fairly short trips apart from a couple of longer 9-11 hour trips to take advantage of quieter conditions.

I final note on the Orkney, as this was the first time I’ve had three fishing aboard her and I wasn’t too sure about how she’d behave. None of us are lightweights, but it wasn’t too difficult to work around each other when dealing with fish. Speed dropped of course, down to 10-11 knots (11-12 mph), which was actually a little better than I expected.

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