Codling Galore at St. Andrews

After an hour trundling along at 40mph in a pensioner rally I arrived at St. Andrews to find plenty of water in the harbour. Far too much water in fact, as the harbour gates were closed with Ian’s boat on the wrong side 🙁

Sluice gates in the harbour are opened
Sluice gates in the harbour are opened (not my image, but borrowed from YouTube)

Getting them opened again involved a tense race against time to allow the water levels either side of the gates to be equalised before the tide dropped too low to allow us out anyway. “Race” gives completely the wrong idea, as the sluices equalised water levels at roughly the rate your fingernails grow. It was a painfully slow wait until, finally, Ian managed to scrape through the half-opened gates and we crept out of a rapidly emptying harbour and out to sea.

A nicely marked codling which fell to ragworm on a purple muppet lure
A nicely marked codling which fell to ragworm on a purple muppet lure

A brief stop to confirm that the mackerel weren’t in yet and we headed eastwards towards cod territory. Fish were a little patchy but we hit clumps of them from the start and the rods were soon getting action. Fairly typical early summer fish – a bit thin and most around 2lbs – they were certainly hungry and happy to eat anything. Ragworm did nicely, but mackerel hammered quite a few, and Ian’s lure rod was very busy.

A typical inshore ballan wrasse - the colours of this one are a little subdued
A typical ballan
A cod with two tails, or two codling - it's hard to tell in this shot
Twin tail or two fish?

After a fairly slow hiatus over low water action picked up again with the tide. Pollack weren’t much in evidence, probably because the tide was fairly small, and codling certainly dominated the day. With an empty freezer I was happy to keep a few to restock, although the vast majority went back.

Nicely coloured fish and lure!
Nicely coloured fish and lure!

Ian’s plans for a final attempt to wheedle out a pollack or two were bushwhacked by a pod of dolphins feeding over the same territory. They weren’t exactly chasing us, but when we moved so did the dolphins. There didn’t seem to be much point in competing with them so we called it a day and headed back.

One of a small pod of dolphins working close inshore near St Andrews
Dolphins close inshore

The body count for the day was just shy of 70 cod plus a couple of pollack, a ling, ballan wrasse and a handful of small coalie. The ling was mine and the rest fell to Ian’s rod.

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Pollacked on Loch Etive

Fish in the east, fish in the west, but not really the weather to exploit either coast! Faced with the need to check out Alcatraz before an upcoming trip to Galloway I chickened out and made my way over to Etive again, with the furball for company.

Having had fairly poor results from down the loch over the past year I just headed straight up into the less visited upper loch and settled down to a little Etive pollack bashing. This isn’t something I often do on the loch, as there are a lot of smaller fish around, but I was trying for something a little better today.

My leadhead attracted little attention in the peaty-ish waters, but I lost a couple of smaller fish which threw the hook before my light spinning rod went parabolic and line peeled rapidly off the little Abu reel. Clearly a better fish, I treated it with a little respect and it was a few minutes before a good sized fish (and my best Etive pollack) slid into the net and came aboard.

Unhooking a nice pollack taken on a leadhead and firetail worm
Unhooking a nice pollack

Being guilty of over-estimating the size of pollack (slab sided, but thin when compared to cod) I always prefer to trust my scales and these slid round to a healthy 5lb 6oz.

Slipping a Pollack back into the water

Nothing else seemed very interested so I shifted a little and dropped anchor. Wind and tide were opposed, which is never something to be recommended, but it wasn’t uncomfortable and just a little awkward as the boat slewed from side to side. Bozo had clearly given up on dreams of a run ashore and curled up and went to sleep for a while.

It was a little slow, but a decent sprinking of fish graced Alcatraz’s gunwhales, including spurdogs, dogs, a thornback and some whiting (heads only!).

A small spurdog comes aboard
A small spurdog comes aboard

Taking pity on Bonnie I took a break in the early afternoon and we headed ashore for an hour of chasing sticks and drinking coffee in the sunshine.

A lethal combination - wet dog with stick
A lethal combination – wet dog with stick

A couple more hours fishing produced more of the same, but no sign of larger spurdogs, so I was happy enough to point Alcatraz south and head back towards Taynuilt.

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Meandering my way to Cape Wrath

I’ve paid two or three visits to the far northwest in the last couple of years. Wonderfully remote and isolated country in which to escape for a day or three, it makes for perfect chillout territory, especially if you pick your weather. My latest trip to the extremes of Cape Wrath was more hiking than fishing but I did take a light spinning rod along for the journey…

Cape Wrath is just about the most isolated spot on mainland Scotland, with no real road access. It’s also the only actual Cape in Scotland that I’m aware of. Good enough reasons to pack a rucksack and set the alarm for very early. Sneaking quietly out the house without winding up the dog too much I set off before Edinburgh woke up. The sun was rising nicely as I crossed the Forth Bridge and even the A9 was empty enough to be bearable as I ploughed on.

Trail into Sandwood from Blairmore
Trail into Sandwood from Blairmore
Finally, by mid-morning, a 5 hour drive from Edinburgh saw me setting off on the track to Sandwood. I was deliberately trying to pack light, so it was only a 30l backpack with a tent, sleeping bag and cooking kit. Probably rather too much camera gear and not enough fishing kit, but much less effort required than hauling a 65l pack around. The first part of the trip, along to Sandwood Bay, is an easy hike along a well maintained little trail so I made rapid progress and was descending into the bay after 90 minutes or so.
Approaching Sandwood Bay, with Cape Wrath in the far north
Approaching Sandwood Bay
Sandwood is an iconic beach flanked by high cliffs and backed with grassy dunes and a fine peaty loch, and you get a great view as you drop down towards the sea. Way to the north, the lighthouse at Cape Wrath is just visible above the hills. Sandwood wasn’t my destination this time, but I felt obliged to give it a little shot to see if anything was hungry so stopped off towards the end of the beach and dug out some gear.
A stray Warrior boat arrives at Sandwood, presumably from Kinlochbervie
A stray Warrior boat arrives at Sandwood
My little 6’6” spinning rod was mightily outgunned by the surroundings but we gave it a couple of casts with a 1oz lead and a mackerel sliver. Nothing seemed terribly interested, but it was an ebb tide and a hot, sunny day, so I wasn’t hugely surprised.
Big beach, little rod - fishing Sandwood Bay with a spinning rod
Big beach, little rod – fishing Sandwood Bay

The sun was hot by now so I filled my water bottle from the nearby river and then sweated my way northwards over the low hills that guard the route to the Cape. There isn’t really much of a trail here and you make your own way across the mixture of peat bog, heather and machair style grasslands. Nothing much grows higher than six inches or so, and the areas of bare grit and rock bear witness to the ferocity of the wind along this very exposed coastline. None of that today though, and the light breeze was definitely welcome in the strong sunshine as I marched on towards my campground.

Camping at Keisgaig Bay, just above the Keisgaig River
Camping at Keisgaig Bay
Keisgaig Bay isn’t pretty in the way Sandwood is, but it is a fine, lonely spot to spend a night. I pitched the tent on a small promontory overlooking the most northerly salmon stream in mainland Britain – a mere shadow of its normal self in these dry conditions – and made a well deserved coffee as I took a short break. My plan was to leave most of the gear in the tent and then head up to Cape Wrath and back before nightfall, so I couldn’t hang around for too long.
To get out of Keisgaig involves a 600 feet climb up the hills to the north, which took a little while on a hot day, but was then followed by a fairly easy trek across dried out peat bog. Further on I encountered progressively wetter conditions and it didn’t take much imagination to appreciate how much more difficult this territory would be after a decent spell of rain. By comparison the final stage to Cape Wrath is almost an anti-climax along a rather beaten up army track.
Looking east from Cape Wrath towards Durness
Looking east from Cape Wrath

There was no-one else around as I took a few photos and nibbled on a snack before heading back south. This time I hugged the coastline a bit more closely which was quite a bit harder going but also let me identify any opportunities for a man with a rod in the future – and there are definitely some spots where the shoreline is accessible without abseiling gear. All in all I was feeling more than a little tired as I stumbled back down the hill into Keisgaig and unzipped the tent door.

I awoke the next morning to find the sun had returned after some overnight showers, so it was time for some breakfast and to watch the seals lounging around the bay whilst I had a coffee and sorted out my plans for the day. The idea was to give my rod a little bit of both fresh and saltwater action as I made my way back to Sandwood and then to the car, so I tied on a little Mepps 00 lure to some light braid and set off in search of a trout or ten.
Striking into a small trout in a burn near Cape Wrath
Striking into a small trout

I spent the rest of the morning exploring, trying a couple of lochs and several burns for any stray trout. These proved very obliging and easy to catch, although quite small (hardly a surprise in such a harsh environment) and I only drew a blank on one loch.

Small but beautiful - a brown trout from a hill loch near Cape Wrath
Small but beautiful – a brown trout from a hill loch

After amassing 13 or 14 very prettily marked fish (all returned) I rather reluctantly decided to return down towards Sandwood and try a beach a little to the north.

Surf rolls into a lovely little beach to the north of Sandwood
Surf rolls into a lovely little beach to the north of Sandwood

Washed by a light surf and crystal clear Atlantic water it was almost a privilege to mark a line of footprints in the sand of this fine little beach as I headed towards a large rock outcrop in the middle. Even the rock felt hot to my fingers as I climbed up under the sun and made myself comfortable. Armed with only a little spinning rod, and able to see the sea bed quite clearly through the surf for a long way out, I can’t say I was terribly confident about actually catching anything. However I went through the motions and slung another mackerel strip out into the breakers before settling down into my usual coffee making ritual.

A flounder caught to the north of Sandwood Bay
A flounder caught to the north of Sandwood Bay

Twenty minutes later I noticed the line was slack and felt a decent weight on the rod. Even with light gear I can’t say there was much of fight, but you certainly knew that there was a fish on as the little rod hooped right over. A flounder isn’t exactly in exotic territory but it was certainly welcome and I was pleased to add to my species count for the year.

Light surf fishing near Sandwood Bay - just a spinning rod and mackerel strip
Light surf fishing near Sandwood Bay

Confidence boosted I rebaited and cast out again, before settling down to be roasted again. A combination of snoozing and some complacency meant that I was very late to wake up to another slack line bite, and my line was hopelessly snarled up in the kelp at the base of my rocky perch before I realised I’d a fish on. I could even see it clearly 30 yards out in the surf as it swam effortlessly in the waves – a small sea trout. It took another thirty minutes before the tide cleared the bottom of the rocks sufficiently to let me clear my line and land the fish. Not large but it was still welcome proof that there was something worth fishing for!

A small sea trout caught on mackerel strip from a beach just north of Sandwood Bay
A small sea trout
By now it was getting closer to my “I’m still alive” check-in with home, and I still had a fair way to go and no mobile reception. Rather grudgingly I packed up and gasped my way up the hill and then back down to Sandwood. The beach was busier now, with 2 or 3 tents and at least a dozen people strung out along its length, so I was quite glad not to stay this time and content to head back towards the car at Blairmore.
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Spring Spurdog fishing on Loch Etive

Yesterday it was back again to Etive for another shore fish in search of some spring spurdog, although I reckon this will probably be my last for a while. The midges will soon wake up as will the fishing everywhere else, so I think the Lochaber sea lochs will go on the back burner for a while, at least for shore fishing.

Making my way through the open woodland of Loch Etvie, with the ground covered by early spring greenery
En route, through the spring greenery

It was raining as Bonnie and I set off on the long trek down the loch, not heavy but enough to have me debating the wisdom of trying some closer marks. Happily both the rain and us gradually dried up over the next hour and the sun started to poke through as we tramped along steadily. Spring is really on it’s way, despite the snow earlier in the week, and the lochside was turning green again. In the freezing cold at the start of the year the woods were almost eerily silent but now they were full of birdsong, with good numbers of cuckoos and woodpeckers making their presence felt. No sign of any human animals though!

Sending a bait out in search of spurdog, aiming to hit 120 feet or more of water depth
Sending a bait out in search of spurdog

Bozo has got the hang of the routine now and on arrival I was left in peace to set up my rods whilst she went off in search of her ideal stick. So, a few minutes after we reached our destination a mackerel baited pulley rig splashed down and made its way to the silty seabed 120 feet or more deep.

A nice shore-caught spurdog
A nice shore-caught spurdog

Even before the second rig was baited and ready to go my ratchet screeched as a spurdog hit the bait and made off at speed. A few minutes later and a superb fish glided into view, looking more like a tope than a spurrie. Sadly this was due to a combination of my new varifocal lenses and the magnifying effect of unusually clear water rather than reality. Still, a respectable fish of around 6-7lbs was soon slipped back into the water. God knows what I’d blabbering about on here if it had got off!

Baiting a pulley rig with mackerel before casting out into the depths of Loch Etive
Baiting a pulley rig with mackerel

That pretty much set the tone for the day as fish appeared regularly during the ebb and if I hadn’t managed to lose three spurdog to bite-offs I’d have been even happier. I tend to use a 7oz grip on this mark as there’s a reasonable run of tide in the deep channel that holds the fish. Coupled with a pulley rig I’ve not lost too much gear on the ebb, although the flood is a different story as your line is pulled into snags by the tide.

Brewing a coffee over my packable woodburner stove - a handful of twigs is all that's required.
Brewing a coffee

Perhaps because of its remoteness this mark tends to bring out my latent hillbilly instincts, so my little woodburner Honey Stove got another outing. Gas is definitely less messy and easier to work with, but there is a certain satisfaction from a cup of coffee brewed over a naked flame – and even better if you can use a firesteel rather than matches to light it! Boys toys or what 🙂

Bonnie hard at work with a large pile of half chewed sticks
Bonnie hard at work

Apart from “crispy” sausages shared on a 50:50 basisBonnie frowns on such frivolity of course, as it gets in the way of the real business of stick throwing. I didn’t dare put any of her collection on the fire…

A decent shore-caught spurdog from Loch Etive
A decent shore-caught spurdog from Loch Etive

Spurdog were fairly steady through the ebb and I had to interrupt stick throwing on a regular basis to retrieve them. Most were in the 4-7lb range, although there were a couple of smaller males. The average size has definitely increased since the New Year, the same pattern that showed last year.

Swinging another spring spurdog ashore
Swinging another spring spurdog ashore

By five in the afternoon the tide had turned and the sky was getting ominously grey, so I bribed the dog with a biscuit and we started back along the trail. Our final tally was eleven spurdog, with no other species showing an interest. Despite the best efforts of my new glasses there were no double figure captures, but cracking fun nevertheless.

And a video of the day…

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A Couple of Days Fishing for Skate at Oban

To be quite honest, being an ageing office worker with the upper body strength of a 10 year old means I don’t always relish the chance to play tug of war with a skate almost as big as myself. I’m neither particularly keen or successful as a skate fisherman, but a great forecast, small tide and late March meant I didn’t have a many other options on the sea fishing front. So a trip to fishing for skate at Oban was on the cards, with Ian recruited as crew.

Perfect weather for a day afloat in March. A view over the islands to the south of the Firth of Lorne.
Perfect weather for a day afloat on the Firth of Lorne in March

This was to be a two day effort, with an overnight camp in between, which meant a lot of scurrying around to sort out gear beforehand. It was a leisurely start on Friday and we launched at Ganavan around 11, just after low water, and headed out into a very calm Firth of Lorne. The plan was to revisit the Lochaline area as I’ve not tried it for several years.

Well, we fished for around 6 hours without so much as a sniff from a skate. Ian was fishing a lighter rod and picked up a grand total of 3 doggies, whilst I spent more time watching the eagles on the cliffs above Inninmore Bay. An utter waste of time, and not a great omen for Saturday.

An eagle soars over Ardtornish
An eagle soars over Ardtornish
A small but pretty dogfish, one of three taken by Ian on a poor day in Inninmore Bay
Fish of the day, almost

I hauled anchor with my tail thoroughly between my legs and we headed off to find a spot to camp overnight. We (eventually) got tucked up for the night at my second choice, a remote little bay on Mull not far from the entrance to Loch Spelve. It proved a fairly tight spot to moor in but at least there was a great little spot to pitch a tent overnight. After a dinner consisting mainly of half-cremated sausages we turned in early for the night. A remote and isolated site together with a cool, starry and midge-free evening – pretty much the way I like my camping!

Next morning I was up early, mainly to make sure the boat was still there (and floating), and was rewarded with a fine sunrise over Ben Cruachan and Kerrera.

Just before sunrise on Ben Cruachan, viewed from Mull
Just before sunrise, looking across the Firth of Lorne from Mull. Ben Cruachan in the background, Kerrera in the foreground
The sun rises over Ben Cruachan with Alcatraz sitting at anchor on Mull
The sun rises over Ben Cruachan with Alcatraz sitting at anchor on Mull

Coffee and breakfast was followed by re-stowing everything on the boat and undoing the overnight mooring, However we were soon heading out towards my usual marks near Kerrera and fishing before nine, or around 90 minutes before slack water low.

Hauling ashore from our overnight mooring
Hauling ashore from our overnight mooring

Water depth was 515 feet and I was using a 2lb lead to get a whole mackerel down and pinned to the muddy seabed. Mackerel isn’t my first choice of skate bait where there might be spurdogs out to play, but with Ian possessing the one respectable coalie we had between us there wasn’t much choice in the matter.

A simple skate rig - One mackerel, one 12/0 crimped to 18 inches of 400lb mono, plus a 2lb lead
One mackerel, one 12/0 crimped to 18 inches of 400lb mono, plus a 2lb lead
A coalfish rigged for skate fishing
A coalfish rigged for skate fishing (yes, the tail does get cut off!)

In the event it didn’t seem to make any difference as there was little in the way of spurdog (apart from one nice but skinny specimen for Ian), and the skate liked the mackerel just fine.

A good bend on the rod as Ian persuades a skate towards the surface
Ian persuading a skate to start moving
A common skate comes aboard Alcatraz
A common skate comes aboard Alcatraz

I won’t bore you with the full details of every capture, but we hoisted 7 skate to the surface and had two more throw the hook. That is waay better than any day I’ve had previously – I think the most I’ve had aboard Alcatraz before is just 3. Most of them were small(ish) males but the biggest was a female that looked to be in the 150-160lb bracket. The tide was pulling her under the boat and we were both getting knackered by that point, so we didn’t pull her aboard. Maybe a bit more, maybe a bit less, but I can’t say the precise weight bothers me too much.

My turn to try and surface a skate from 510 feet below.
Fish on! Another skate heading towards the surface
A first skate on to my rod
A first skate to my rod (one of Ian’s pics)
A 107lb male skate caught off Kerrera
A 107lb male skate caught off Kerrera

Apart from that, all the others did scrape over the gunwhales, with the best being a male of 107lbs (we had 4 males and 3 females in all). It had some sort of tag fitted, of which only the black circular base remained. There wasn’t any identifiable number on this one, so it was possibly one of the few skate tagged with a radio beacon – if anyone can shed light on this that would be great.

A small common skate from Kerrera, near Oban
A small common skate from Kerrera, near Oban
The only spurdog of the trip, and a rather skinny specimen
The only spurdog of the trip
Ian with an 85lb common skate, caught off Kerrera.
Ian with an 85lb common skate

Ian also managed the dubious honour of being the first person I’ve ever seen to get bitten by a skate. Probably more of a glancing blow than a full on crush your hand effort, it still did a fair bit of damage and certainly looked impressive with a nice pin cushion effect. This was a particularly pissed male skate which was quite aggressively trying to bite anything it could and managed to extend its jaws just as Ian extended his pliers to remove the hook. Oops!

Ian's hand after getting bitten by a common skate
Ian suffering after getting too close to a skate’s jaws. Note the lovely pincushion effect!
The mouth of a common skate bristling with sharp, backward pointing, teeth.
The mouth of a common skate bristling with sharp, backward pointing, teeth.

After swabbing copious quantities of Ian’s DNA from Alcatraz’s decks and covering his hand in band-aids we got back to fishing again. Slack water high was about 4.20 and I reckoned we could give it another 90 minutes after that before the tide picked up again.

In the event that was pretty much spot on, as I pulled up a small male of around 60lbs – and no sooner had that hit the deck than Ian was into another fish, again a male, which gave a good account of itself before coming aboard for a photo opportunity.

A last skate for Ian
A last skate for Ian

By this time it was well after five, so we decided to call it a day and head in whilst our backs were still just about in working order. 4 to me and 3 to Ian, and both of us happy with our lot, bandaged fingers notwithstanding. I’m not sure I’m converted to skate fishing as such, but it was a great way to spend a couple of days in a beautiful part of the world.

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Multi-tasking on Loch Etive

The car park was deserted and the air cold as I opened the door to let Bonnie out to stretch her legs after the drive across from Edinburgh. Gulping down some hot coffee I watched clear signs of doggie approval as she nosed her way around the lochside, tail wagging eagerly.

A few minutes later we started down the boggy trail that runs along the loch. The overnight mist was clearing from the hills and the sun was starting to poke out but it was still chilly on the first day of March and I set a good pace to warm myself up.

Hiking in to my fishing mark along upper Loch Etive
It’s a long walk in…

The plan wasn’t complicated – hike in, spend a few hours fishing and playing with the cameras in the sunshine, and then another couple of hours hiking back. All with a furry companion who has an insatiable demand for sticks to be thrown. That’s where the multi-tasking bit comes in.

A couple of hours later, standing on the edge of the old quarry pier, we were greeted by a cracking view of the sun shining off the loch and a snow covered Ben Cruachan. Perfect!

The sun, snow and light bouncing off the water make this image look almost monochrome
Sun, sea and snow

The ebb had just started as I cast a pair of mackerel baited pulley rigs out into the depths. Normally I could settle back for a laze in the sunshine but bozo had other ideas and I was ordered into stick throwing mode whilst we waited for a bite.

Casting out in search of spurdogs on a calm, crisp day in the wilds of Loch Etive
Wish you were here?
Bonnie the spaniel has little patience with fishermen who don't throw sticks when required
Stickmeister in action

Fortunately for me the fish were fairly cooperative and I took regular breaks from my furry slave driver to deal with nodding rod tips. Fishing the ebb is much easier on this mark and helps keep tackle losses to a minimum. Fishing 30-35lb nylon and a heavish 7oz breakaway lead seems to work fairly well for me as a combination.

Two at a time, as a spurdog and a spottie dogfish are lifted ashore
Two at a time

Mostly it was smallish spurs, but there was the usual sprinkling of doggies and also a thornback chucked into the mix. The biggest would’ve made 6lbs (possibly 7 if you’d dodgy scales!) but specimen hunting wasn’t really the point of the day.

A nice sized spurdog fills the granite block by the side of the old piers at Barrs, Loch Etive
A better spurdog, just as the rain starts
Ben Starav towers over the old stone pier I was fishing from
Ben Starav dominates my choice of fishing mark

By early afternoon the sun was changing back to icy showers so we called it a day and made our way back along the trail. Up here Etive is silent and lonely today, but all around you can see the remains of a much busier, livelier past. Moss covered walls and old field systems being reclaimed by the trees are everywhere.

The shell of an old Quarryman's hut surrounded by moss covered boulders and trees near the shore of Loch Etive
All that remains – an old Quarryman’s hut

It was a fairly tired spaniel that trotted back to the car, and she just curled up on the seat for the journey home. Although a stop at the chippie in Callendar did wonders to revive her 🙂

As an aside, I do try and travel fairly light if I’m hiking any distance. This can be a bit easier said than done, given that I’m hauling camera gear as well as fishing clobber. However everything, including the reels and bait, got stuffed into a 30 litre rucksac which just left a pair of rods to carry. Even the camera tripod you see below just clips on to the rucksac and leaves your hands free. It definitely makes walking any distance much easier!

A pair of rods and all my camera and fishing gear packed into a 30 litre rucksac - it pays to travel light when hiking to a distant fishing mark
I travel light when I can

 

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A Few Hours Chasing Thornbacks from my SIB

Just catching up a bit with some rather late reports…

A couple of weeks ago I nipped across to Loch Leven to spend the morning chasing thornbacks. I actually drove across the night before to test out some adjustments to my sleeping arrangements in the Yeti, proving you can sleep me, an inflatable and an outboard and associated fishing clobber in considerable comfort. Headroom’s a wee bit lacking but otherwise it all seems OK. I also managed to bounce a roe deer off the front of car near Kinlochleven, but thankfully both parties seemed to escape with only minor damage.

Squeezing my inflatable boat, outboard, fishing gear and a sleeping bag into the back of a Yeti. It's surprisingly comfortable.
Room for Two?

The fishing was nothing to write home about, but I launched the SIB at the old slate slip and spent the morning chasing thornbacks across at the fish farm. It was a nice enough day but even the very slight breeze was chilly, so little chinks of sunshine were welcome when the showed through the cloud. I accumulated 5 little thornbacks (ranging from small to tiny) and a lonely doggie with no sign of any mackerel.

A small thornback ray perched on the tubes of my Avon 310 SIB
Small thornback ray

Overall I think the fishing in Leven seems to be going backwards and the last couple of years have been pretty poor, but it’s still a pleasant enough spot to try for a few hours.

Watching the rod tip and waiting for another fish
Waiting for a bite

I’d to head northwards to meet up with my dad in the afternoon so it was a shorter trip than usual – just the sort of thing the little Avon SIB excels at.

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Winter Dogging on Etive (the Spurdog variety)

After a run around on Saturday morning in search of some wheel nuts my trailer was roadworthy again, so I headed over to Etive to check whether Alcatraz still floated. For one reason or another it’s been 5 months since she was last on the water and there’s always the added doubt of whether the engine will actually fire after a longish layup.
I was also keen to try out a replacement for late and lamented GoPro which died fishing near Aberdeen. The Yi 4k camera is a GoPro clone for about 2/3 of the money and gets pretty good reviews. The short video of the day (below) gives a taster and I’m pretty happy with it so far.
 

We arrived about 8.30 only to find about half of Ayr SAC trying to get their boats in the water for a club competition. Add in a mountain of weed on the beach and it took a little while before we got afloat, but at least the outboard fired up at first turn of the key and we headed off down the loch. Needless to say, there were a couple of Ayr boats sitting right on top of the spot I wanted to fish so we dropped anchor on another ridge not too far away and dropped a few mackerel baits to see what was stirring.

Etive gets crowded with boats as Ayr Sea Angling Club hold a competition
Over-crowding, Etive style

A couple of hours later we had our answer in the form of a motley collection of doggies and small spurs, plus a little thornback – which sounded positively hectic to the one or two fish that the other boats had.

Ian with a small Etive spurdog from Ardchattan
Ian with a small Etive spurdog from Ardchattan

A small thornback from Etive

I then took the rather bad decision to head still further down towards the mouth of the loch, to a mark I haven’t fished for 3 or 4 years. A little over an hour here gave Ian another 5 little spurs and absolutely nothing for me, so we backtracked up towards Ardchattan and tried again for rays. One little thornback for Ian after another hour made for a more radical rethink/roll of the dice and I went for a move several miles up the loch – at least up here no-one would see us fail…

A beautiful winters day on Loch Etive, small boat fishing in mirror calm conditions near Barrs.
A beautiful winters day on Loch Etive

Around Taynuilt there had been a little breeze, maybe only 3-5 mph but enough to put a chill through you, whilst up here it was like a mirror. Cruising along with the sky and mountains reflecting off the loch was fantastic, even with a frigid slipstream trying to tear your ears off. Eventually I eased off the throttle and dropped anchor and complete silence descended as I shut the motor off.

A whiting chopped to pieces by a spurdog after it swallows the bait on Loch Etive
Shredded whiting
I could sense slightly raised eyebrows on Ian’s part at my choice of mark, as it isn’t perhaps the most obvious spot to try. However he dutifully dropped baits to the seabed, and we didn’t have too long to revel in our surroundings before we were battling fish. Truth be told, “battling” might be a bit of a porkie, as they were definitely all on the small and weedy side, but at least there in numbers. Even I started to catch! Spurs and doggies for the most part, but a few whiting (mainly in pieces, courtesy of hungry spurdog) and a lonely grey gurnard for Ian.
A spurdog waves goodbye as it goes back into Loch Etive
A spurdog waves goodbye as it goes back

Although I caught up a bit towards the end Ian was well ahead in terms of numbers of fish and the overall catch was nothing much – maybe 50-60 fish altogether, and all on the small side. However Etive was near its winter best, which counts for quite a lot in my book, so I was well pleased with the day.

Midwinter Dusk on Loch Etive

 

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New Year Spurrie Boot Camp

Spurrie boot camp! The concept was simple – an early start to the New Year and a comfortable camp overnight chasing spurdogs in nice, calm conditions. Trevor was up for it so late morning on New Year’s day saw us meeting up before heading west.

Now spending an afternoon hauling rods and a hefty backpack  through miles of sodden peat bog might not be everyone’s idea of a good time and,  by the time we stumbled over the final ridge and found our target over two hours later, we were certainly wondering ourselves.

However I wasted no time in setting up my usual mackerel baited pulley rig on one rod, and kitting the second out with a two hook paternoster style setup. A modest cast out confirmed we were in deep water as the gear took a good while to reach the muddy seafloor.

Sundown - and only 16 hours to sunrise this far north at the beginning of January
Sundown – and only another 16 hours to sunrise

The sun was disappearing fast and it would soon be dark so, once we were both safely fishing, it was time to get the tent up and sort out a fire. There’s a decent fire ring here, put together by generations of hikers, kayakers and the odd fisherman so we could build our camp fairly easily.

A level site, sheltered from the wind and with a nice sized fire ring in front of you - what more do you need in winter
Comfortable overnight camp in January

By now the light had pretty much gone, and the rods were banging away with the first bites of 2017. A few minutes later my first fish of the year appeared, in the shape of a small spurdog and even smaller LSD. They’d taken the smaller hook rig and were quickly photographed and returned.

First fish of 2017 - a spurdog and LSD come up together
First fish of 2017

The wind had been gusting quite hard but dropped after dark which helped keep some feeling in my hands. Both Trevor and I pulled in a few more fish, mainly small male spurdogs, as we sorted out some dinner.

This was definitely gourmet cuisine compared to my usual standards, with a smorgasborg of sausages, chicken and baked potatoes. All washed down with a decent slug of Glenkinchie malt 🙂

Dinner cooking on the campfire
Dinner cooking on the fire

We hit the sack fairly early and managed a decent sleep in temperatures that couldn’t have dropped too much below freezing. Next morning saw us popping the coffee and bacon on whilst fishing in beautiful calm and clear conditions. Even the ebb tide helped make this mark easier to fish by keeping our lines clear of the snaggy rock wall close in.

Ironically, given this is the west coast of Scotland, the only problem was getting fresh water. In the end we (i.e. Trevor) had to scout about 400 or 500 yards to find a small stream.

Trevor with a spurdog from wild country, early January 2017

Trevor bends into another spurdog on a calm, grey morning
Trevor bends into another spurdog

We both had more spurs and a scattering of LSDs, but nothing else to bump up the species count. It stayed pretty much windless but the sun disappeared as the morning wore on and it became heavily overcast with a little light rain.

A small shore caught spurdog

Trevor with a small spurdog taken on mackerel bait

We called time around 2 o’clock, as it is a long trek back to the car and we didn’t fancy finishing by wading through a peat bog in the dark. The woods were eerily silent as we marched through them in the fading light, with no birds or other animals making a sound, and no sign of humans at all. We reached the carpark just before dark, both pretty knackered but happy with our early start to the year.

Also, I’ve not camped out in January before (at least not in Scotland) so that’s bonus on top of the fishing itself. 🙂

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Scottish Sea Angling – My Video Highlights

Sea angling in Scotland is a strange sort of business really. You spend much of your life trying to find a day or three when the weather isn’t going to be too unkind – and then head off to try and catch a few small to middling sized fish, most of which you then return alive. Of course it’s not all like that, as this video tries to get across…

It’s a very personal compilation of video highlights of my sea angling in Scotland, from both small boats and the shore. A little biased towards feistier and photogenic species such as tope and hounds, but also the fun of fishing a full-on east coast storm for cod and some skate fishing too. I love the chance to camp out under the stars on remote shorelines so there’s some footage of Etive, Sandwood, etc.

More than one of the trips included here resulted in no fish at all, but often-times I find that really doesn’t matter much.

I’ve tried to cover a range of venues on both east and west coasts, including Wigtown and Luce Bay, Etive, Sunart, Oban, Sandwoood Bay, Aberdeen, Dunbar and others.

I also have to admit that part of the motivation behind this video was to see whether it’s possible to capture some of the excitement of fishing for the more chunky predators that are out there. That’s the reason why I chose the soundtrack from one of GoPro’s own fast-paced adverts…

And I should also point out that a GoPro died making this video 🙁

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