A couple of weeks ago I managed to escape back towards Cape Wrath for a little wildcamp at Sandwood Bay. Surf, scenery and solitude reset a jaded mind very effectively!
A few fish would be nice, and September is generally a good month to find them, but my real aim was just to have a little chill time for myself.
Ian teases me about the slow-ish fishing for small fry that makes up my typical angling experience of Sutherland. At one level he’s quite right, as I could easily catch more and better fish elsewhere.
However, devouring a juicy sirloin whilst warming yourself by the flames of a lively little campfire – all the while watching the last of the sun disappearing over the Atlantic surf – and the reality is that fishing is just an excuse to be here.
A nice slug of single malt and I fell asleep to the sounds of the surf. Quite genuinely, there was nowhere else in the world I’d rather have been.
Well, I did catch some. Hardly the best catching I’ve ever had, but a very satisfying few hours playing in the surf. More small sea trout and bass but no turbot. Less happily, I stripped a large number of sea lice off the sea trout before returning them and was quite taken aback by the infestation. Obviously I’ve seen sea lice before, but not on this scale, and I can understand why our freshwater friends have such concerns about them.
I also managed to land a “bonus” weever fish too – a first for me, although I’m not actively hunting for a second.
I’d hoped for the possibility of a ray but the surf was a little too energetic for that to be likely. Unfortunately, the range up at Cape Wrath was closed or else I’d have tried a couple of the more accessible spots north of Sandwood that I picked out last year.
Pretty much the same experience as before – bass on crab, with everything else on mackerel strip.
John Muir Trust and Sandwood
If you’re an outdoors type whose toes curl (even a little!) at the idea of time spent out in true Scottish wilderness, then you might like this little YouTube offering. I claim absolutely no credit for it, and it has nothing to do with fishing – but it does nicely explain the philosophy that guides the owners of Sandwood, the John Muir Trust. It’s worth remembering that the voice-over was written well over a century ago, but still seems completely relevant today.
The Trust aims to encourage access to iconic Scottish wilderness whilst also conserving it and certainly seems to be doing a good job at Sandwood. It’s named after John Muir, a Scots migrant to the USA who is idolised there for his work in setting up national parks such as Yosemite, but is relatively little known in his native country.
I like a campfire out in the wilderness. It cooks your food, keeps you warm and hypnotises you with its flame. In the sixteen hour darkness of a December night in Scotland it provides light in more ways than one. Done sensibly there is no harm. Done badly it ruins your chosen spot and leaves a scar that can last a decade or more.
Use a sandy beach where you can, or perhaps an existing fire hole, but never start a fire on machair or other vegetation. Come back in 10 years and you’ll still recognise the damage you did… I know this personally, and still cringe every time I see a little spot with 18 inches of slowly recovering turf. A mistake I’ve never repeated, and which you can avoid easily.
Late August saw Ian, Trevor and I bouncing around on Ian’s Raider a few miles along the coast from St Andrews. Aside from a few codling it proved a rather rollercoaster style experience so we snuck back inshore, under the shelter of the low cliffs along this part of the coastline. Once tucked in out of the worst of the wind I dropped a grapnel down into the rocky, kelp covered, seabed little more than twenty feet below us.
In these conditions fish tend to come fairly quickly, or not at all, as the boat sweeps from side to side, pendulum fashion, at the end of the anchor rope. Fortunately the fish were hungry, so when Ian and I pinched a few of Trevor’s rag we were soon knocking out ballans in various sizes and colours on spinning gear. These were my first wrasse of the year and really quite good fun to catch, with some bright red codling mixed in with them.
Trevor and Ian were catching pollack on lures, whilst I just took a lazy approach and suspended a mackerel belly strip on a flowing trace a few feet above the kelp. If conditions were calm I’d be able to see it clearly, maybe fifteen to twenty feet below the boat. As it was, the fairly rapid pendulum action gave a pretty decent action to the mackerel strip whilst the choppy sea seemed to reduce what little inhibition the pollack had.
Maybe not quite top drawer fishing, but we’d a reasonable pile of pollack (most sub-4lb, but a few better ones too) and more wrasse than I’ve seen in years. A fair number of codling, and the usual mackerel and coalies. I think Trevor picked up a small ling too, which he does pretty consistently.
I’ve not been posting that much recently, so this is a quick catch up of a few trips on the east coast over the last couple of months.
This is going back to June, but worth a mention as it’s the first time I’ve fished here. Easy short(ish) range fishing for flounder and dabs in our case, to a mix of worm, crab and fish. A laid back way to spend an afternoon!Both these specimens (and the photos) were taken by Ian. We were using rather overkill gear for here, and spinning or carp rods with an ounce or two of lead would be a better idea.
Late June saw me aboard Ian’s Raider for the first time this year, and heading out of St Andrews in search of a few fish suppers.
One of the minor hazards of sea fishing are the gulls, but they seemed unusually persistent today, and quite determined to get themselves some mackerel. At one stage we were surrounded by 7 or 8 black backs closing in for the kill, and they weren’t easily put off either.
I didn’t take any pictures of the fish for some reason, but suffice it to say that the freezer got a healthy boost with a selection of decent fillets.
I don’t really fish Dunbar that much these days, as it gets awful crowded during the summer. However it’s still nice to launch early in the day before it gets overrun and you can find a place to park. That’s what I did last week, and I’d a fine few hours drifting for codling, ling and mackerel. All pretty small, with the biggest fish a pollack of 4.5lbs, but there in reasonable numbers.
I ended the morning with about 30+ ling and codling, a couple of pollack and a useful contribution towards the winter bait supplies – about 45 mackerel. Also my first scorpion fish for a year or two, perhaps because of the small tides and fairly slow drift.
St Andrews – again
Gulls were the pest last time out of St Andrews, but the plague was a little more exotic today. Ian warned that he’d been pestered by hoverflies the night before, but I didn’t really believe him. OK, they look like wasps but that’s as far as it goes. They don’t bite and they don’t sting…
… but they can crawl all over you, up your nose and into your mouth. Ye gods!, I’d never have thought they could be such a pain. Presumably we were the only safe haven for them a mile out to sea, and they made full use of us.
The bugs thinned out a bit as the breeze picked up, but they definitely outnumbered the fish. We did get a load of codling but mainly small stuff.
However there were a few pollack about in the 5-5.5lb bracket, and Ian managed a couple of dogfish too. These have a novelty value on the east coast as we don’t often catch them on this side. They add even more shine to Ian’s “dogfish magnet” reputation too!
This little codling also demonstrated his appetite quite nicely. Note the mackerel tail sticking out his gob – he’s swallowed a whole mackerel frame, including head, that we’d chucked over on a previous drift.
With the lazy, hazy days of summer appearing endless, I thought I’d better take advantage of the best weather I’m ever likely to see in Scotland. Thinking cap on and after running through a fair list of possibilities, I elected to have another run around the Isle of Mull. There’s better fishing to be had elsewhere, but it’s a very beautiful part of the world to relax in. Also, I do like a good fossick about and Mull offers plenty of opportunities for that too.
A fishy cruise around Mull
Day 1 – Along to Iona
I don’t know about you, but I always feel the weight of everyday life lifting away as I point my bow towards the open sea start a new adventure, if only a little one. The sense of freedom is very real. Accordingly I ambled my way contendedly along the south coast of Mull for a few hours, stopping here and there for a few casts or a search for mackerel to add to my bait. Pollack were fairly regular visitors to the gunwhales, albeit nothing to get too excited about and certainly not in the mood to put up much of fight. Mackerel were noticeable by their complete absence, although I picked up a consolation launce.
Around lunchtime I stopped ashore for a little while on a lovely little beach I’ve visited before. I’m sure it would hold a few bass at times, but today there were only a few sandeel swimming in the turquoise water along the shoreline.
A little later, suitably caffeinated and re-caloried, I headed over to the Torran Rocks, a large area of reefs to the south of Iona. I’d guess I spent 2-3 hours here and, frankly, it was a bit disappointing. The reefs seemed almost completely overrun with coalies in the 1 to 2 lbs bracket. A nice size for the east coast, but a little tedious if that’s all that’s on offer. At least I managed a few mackerel, but these were completely untouched when dropped down as a bottom bait. A case of try again another day, I suppose, as the area certainly looks the part.
My final fish was a lazy (read half-hearted) drift through the Sound of Iona in windless, perfect, seas. I sat back, coffee in hand, and watched the sun edge down over the pink granite of Iona. I was completely happy to chill and catch nothing for the best part of an hour!
The sun sets late in these parts but I still needed to find a place to hole up for the night, so I eventually gunned the engine and headed along the north coast of the Ross of Mull. Only a few miles later I was surprised and very pleased to find my first choice of anchorage completely deserted. No yachts and no BBQs ashore either – all mine! I had a tent with me, but it’s less hassle to sleep aboard the Orkney in calm conditions, so I just dropped anchor and rearranged the boat for my sleeping bag and kit. And then went to sleep – ‘cos I was really getting quite tired by now!
Day 2 – the Ardmeanach and Caliach
I awoke well refreshed the next morning, and not at all poisoned by either the petrol tanks or “eau de la coolbox”. The breeze had freshened slightly but only as forecast, and it still felt warm as I stowed away the cover and got some bacon sizzling.
I lobbed out a couple of baits for flatties as I waited, coffee in hand, for breakfast to be ready. A couple of bacon rolls, 1 dab and 2 coffees later I hauled anchor and headed away from my little sandy cove. Destination wilderness! – the Ardmeanach Wilderness, to be more precise.
One mildly bouncy crossing later and I reached the shelter of the Ardmeanach, a great sweeping mix of rock and hillside that reaches over 1000 feet high. I’ve been here before, just once, venturing in on foot across very hard country for an overnight camp. This time I had a try for the pollack close inshore, but it proved fairly slow going across much of the ground. Gorgeous looking bronze fish engulfed my leadheads, but not of great size or in large numbers. I’d more success hard in to the wonderfully named Aird na h-Iolaire (Point of the Eagles), but even here the fish topped out around 5lbs, although there were more of them.
After an hour or two spent dodging some rather large boulders I headed further east and through the calm waters of the Sound of Ulva. For a first timer the Sound appeared pretty narrow, twisty and shallow in parts, but there were plenty of larger boats moored in the wider sections and I just trundled through at a sensible speed without any problems.
I stopped at my backup overnight mooring to refuel, and I reckon it would worked fine if I needed to drop an anchor here one evening. Heading north I found myself ploughing along the wild and beautiful Treshnish Point, with the wreck of the Aurania my next mark, just off the Caliach Point at the very NW tip of Mull.
Up at Caliach I quickly located the remains of my target, with some large bits of wreckage standing 20 feet off the seabed. Not really very much when you consider the Aurania was a large liner something like 550 feet long and 13,500 tonnes! My drift was easy although a little faster than I’d like, and fish soon started to show once I’d established my line.
A few pollack but mainly coalfish in the 1.5-2lbs range, similar to those inhabiting the Torran reefs. I gave it a good try and it was fun fishing on light gear, but it was a little disappointing not to see anything bigger having a go.
Originally I hoped to fish the sandbanks around Caliach, but time was catching up with me so I headed east across the top of Mull. My target was a reef I’d fished briefly with Ian many years before, midway between Mull and Ardnamurchan.
I tasked a set of small baits to sniff out anything that swims and bounced my way slowly across the top of the rocks. Minutes passed but,just as the baits headed down to the abyss right at the edge of the reef, something hit hard. A decent ling was my immediate thought, and I played it gently up through the water on my 25lb trace. Unlike ling though, this fish didn’t give up, and I was still working through the possibilities when an unmistakeable shark-like shape appeared. Spurdog. Other than an unusually hard fight it shouldn’t really be a surprise as I’ve caught them east, west, north and south of here – quite why the possibility never crossed my mind until I saw it, I have simply no idea.
The next couple of drifts produced more, but they were smaller fish. With the rain clouds threatening and time marching on I decided to call it a day and head away down the Sound of Mull and back down to Oban. A short stop to refuel in Bloody Bay (supposedly named after a humungous sea battle between the locals and the Vikings) and I soon was battering down the Sound at fair cruise speed.
Arriving back ashore was a little anti-climactic, with a fair sprinkling of holidaymakers, dogs and kayakers around – and a few “are the mackerel in yet” type comments. With 123 miles on the GPS it makes for my longest trip ever – hardly polar exploration, but very satisfying nonetheless, apart from a rather sore bum. An average of almost exactly 10 mpg too – very similar to my Jura trip last year.
It was a little after 8 in the morning when Ian and I trundled into the harbour. Rather unusually for NE Scotland the sun was shining and the wind minimal, although there was a slight but definite swell rolling in. We could see Trev and his Icelander 18 just offshore, launched a little earlier to beat the ebb tide. A quick phone call and we completed a rather hairy pickup from the bottom of a harbour ladder and headed out to sea.
I haven’t fished these grounds for a very long time and instead of the normal coddie bashing, we were after it’s tastier cousin, the haddock (IMHO, of course!). I haven’t had these in decent numbers for ages so it was music to my ears when Trev mentioned he was getting haddock nearby.
The marks are fairly loosely defined here, and we drifted over a mix of gritty sand and shell with only the odd snag. Not too far offshore, but in roughly 150 feet of water. After a slowish start we began to pick up fish in reasonable numbers – small codling, haddock and dabs.
We’d a bonus or two along the way – Ian pulled in the only mackerel of the day and a wee scorpian fish, whilst I was very happy to see a small plaice on the end of my line. None of the haddock were big although most made it above the size limit, unfortunately for them!
As the tide slackened off so did the fishing, so we headed a few miles down the coast to give a local wreck and some reefy ground a try.
Fishing here was slow but we managed a couple of decent codling mixed in with the small stuff. The best made about 5lb 12oz, although it looked a bit of a bruiser with its battered tail. Loads of tiny ling, as Trev demonstrated with a double at one point.
A shift back to our original marks as the tide ebbed had us hitting plenty more dab and haddock. I managed a haddock threesome and Ian brought three dab aboard to cement his reputation as the flattie king of the day.
We didn’t leave it too late to head in to harbour, as Trev had to retrieve the Icelander and Ian and I had a fair journey to get home.
Species for the day – cod, ling, haddock, scorpian fish, plaice, dab and mackerel – not bad for the east coast. We didn’t make it to 100 haddock for the day but were getting within striking distance of that number. Loads of dabs too, and a decent sprinkling of small codling and ling.
Ian’s had a fish or three up the coast at St Andrews over the past few weeks, but he’s had to work hard for them. For my part I resisted what little temptation there was to pop my boat into the North Sea until yesterday. However, sun, no wind and a day off coincided and I found myself joining the Edinburgh bypass around 7, before the traffic gets too silly. Destination Dunbar, for the first time in many months.
Out of the harbour and heading east, I hit a steady swell from the NE as I ploughed on down towards the wreck I planned to fish. I saw a few potters working their creels, but no sign of any other angler out in the sunshine.
Being a lazy sod I stuck with the wreck all morning, mainly because experience suggests that it is the best place to find early season fish, before their numbers explode at the end of May. I kicked off with baited hokkais which chipped away at some smallish codling and an even smaller ling. Down in the depths of the ironwork I go hit by a much chunkier fish, which had me thinking about a decent codling until a silvery coloured Pollack appeared at the surface. It went over 5lbs but you wouldn’t have guessed that from the lacklustre fight it put up.
Switching over to my spinning rod and leadhead I continued to pick away at both Pollack and small codling. Eventually I upped my Pollack total to six, all of which looked a bit manky, presumably post-spawning. Size-wise the biggest was 6lb 4oz, and it was the only one that put up a proper fight. Sadly, it had completely engulfed my lure and was so deep hooked that it ended up in the fish box.
I headed inshore for a final drift off the lighthouse as I filleted the fish I’d kept. Just one more little codling took a jellyworm I’d left fishing as I wielded the knife. Incidentally, the Pollack I’d kept had no fish in its stomach, only 4 or 5 crabs, which suggests there aren’t that many baitfish around yet. All the Pollack were well underweight for their length, about 10% or so, and pretty battered looking.
Total of 12 codling (most undersize), 6 Pollack and a little ling. Quite happy with that as a result for about 4-5 hours fishing, and I expect things at Dunbar should pick up quite quickly now. Famous last words…
I live a long way from the wilds of Sutherland, so it was a 5 hour drive through Friday afternoon traffic before I finally got parked up. And then the hard work started as I marched on for a further couple of hours to reach my destination. I pitched my little Vango tent in the early dark, on the grassy machair overlooking a small beach. I was tired by now, so I just crawled into my sleeping bag and fell asleep to the sound of the Atlantic crashing ashore just below me.
Video below, or just read on…
By morning the sky was clearing after a little rain overnight, so I had a leisurely breakfast watching the waves before I set up my rods and moseyed on down to the sand.
I chose to fish a large rock which was becoming accessible as the tide dropped and it took only a few minutes to get the gear sorted out and make my first cast.
The water is fairly shallow and crystal clear, and both spinning rods coped fine with a modest wave. I didn’t need to wait too long before a small sea trout took a fancy to a sliver of mackerel and paid me a visit.
A little later and I got a firm bite on my other rod and reeled in another reluctant silver specimen, only to find it wasn’t a sea trout but a small schoolie bass.
Very pleased with this one, as I knew they inhabit the area but haven’t seen one myself. It took a crab bait carefully preserved/left over from last June that I’d stuck in the cool box just as an afterthought.
The tide had ebbed away leaving my little rock high and dry by now, so I needed to move. I decided to switch to the other end of the beach where there was a clear flow of tide and slightly deeper water. The movement looked quite strong but I was held fine with a 1oz bullet.
The little spinning rod scored first blood with a very small flattie that probably didn’t quite deserve the shout of joy that greeted it – my first ever turbot. Small enough to fit in the palm of my hand, but hey-ho, it’s still a new species!
A bit later I topped this by landing a bass/turbot duo, so I ended the morning feeling quite chuffed with myself.
The bottom of the tide is quite awkward to fish here as there’s some shallow water with dry sand beyond it. I didn’t bother and had a wander into the hills in search of some mini-trout for a couple of hours.
Nice day, nice walk but only a handful of minnow sized brownies grabbed the Mepps 0 I offered them – loads more had a go but didn’t seem quite big enough to actually hit it properly!
Back on the beach I spent the afternoon baking in the sun as the tide rose. Only one bass, and another missed bite, so not as good as the ebb but still a lovely place to watch the breakers come crashing in.
From up on top of the cliffs you could see seals coasting inside the curve of the breaking waves – presumably chasing the same fish as myself.
Then it was a long hike back out and a drive part of the way home before I’d to pull over and kip for a few hours.
Loads of deer about too – one full emergency stop and another that clipped the car, fortunately without any obvious damage to either party.
So 3 bass, all on crab and 2 turbot and a sea trout. All small and not a lot in absolute terms, but a really classy place to camp and fish. and I’m pretty chuffed with the result.
Ah well, I’ve not been completely inert over the past few weeks, although there has been little real drama to report. A few upgrades to the boat, adding a bait board and a cabin top rack mount for spare rods and cameras, etc. Railblaza is nice kit, but eye-wateringly pricey!
I’d an overnight trip to Etive last month where a fairly wet evening transformed into a lovely sunny morning.
I’d a couple of 90 minute sessions with the rods but spent more time fossicking about the shoreline and checking out a couple of alternative camping spots for future reference.
I might’ve spent more time fishing if there weren’t hordes of tiddler spurdog shredding baits within seconds of them nearing the seabed. Most maybe 15 inches long, and nothing above 3.4 to 4lbs. A couple of whiting also showed up, but when the seabed is carpeted with little spurs it becomes a waste of time really.
More recently, Ian and I were out of Oban catching a mild roasting in the sun and little else.
I landed the only fish of the day, a male skate of around 120lbs, and we both contrived to lose another. At least it was a nice day, but a bit disappointing compared to our average catch over the last couple of years.
And I’ve done a little upgrade to my fishing accommodation with this little glamping setup – beds, stove and standing headroom, what more could you ask for!
It’s not exactly portable but will work OK as a base camp, and double up for an occasional family weekend too.
Hopefully it should be onwards and upwards for the next month or two, as the east coast picks up with the summer codling and Galloway beckons for another trip in June. Here’s hoping, anyway!
I needed to get shot of my cabin fever after last week’s snow, and conditions looked good for Oban last Sunday. Unfortunately Ian was lurgied with man-flu and didn’t seem to keen to spend a day on the boat passing on his germs. A solo-skate session was one possibility, but I decided to explore a bit further afield and visit the wreck of the Meldon, which lies close in to Mull.
Spring Pollack from Mull
Mull is a splendidly dramatic island, perhaps not quite as inaccessible as Skye but with plenty of forbidding looking coastline just waiting to be explored. Cliffs up to 1000 feet high line its southern fringes and the shoreline is largely ironbound for little boats like ours. Not a location to get complacent!
However, every now and again the rock has lost it’s battle with ice and sea, and sea lochs like Buie break into the cliff line. And it was here, 21 miles from the slipway at Ganavan, that my 21g leadhead and firetail worm cocktail first hit the water in search of a pollack. With a rusting scrapyard only 45 feet below me I didn’t give the worm too long to sink before starting the retrieve. Only seconds later my rod slammed over as a hungry fish beat his comrades to my jellyworm, and doubts about my choice of mark vanished.
My first pollack of 2018 was a typical inshore fish, apart from the fact it was extraordinarily plump. In excellent condition just prior to spawning I assume, but it looked ready to burst. However it was safely returned and I carried on exploring the wreck.
The scrapyard in question is the Meldon, a fairly large WW1 casualty that hit a mine. It made it ashore but sank before it could be salvaged and remains in surprisingly good condition considering its exposed location. Sometimes visited by divers, it doesn’t attract too much angling attention, probably because it’s quite a long way from anywhere.
My drifts were fairly short and I’d to keep an eye on the nearby shoreline, but the fish were certainly hungry and I soon amassed a respectable collection. All returned bar one which completely engulfed a shad – and which delivered a surprise when properly weighed back home. I’d assumed it to be around 3lb 8oz, and the weight for length tables gave 3lb 12oz, but the (new and fairly accurate) scales went 4lb 10oz. Fat indeed, and this fish was pretty typical of the day.
I was hammering a fairly small patch of seabed so it wasn’t surprising that catches gradually dropped off during the day. However a final total of 29 pollack to over 8lbs and a couple of coalies left me a happy bunny.
Incidentally, aside from the Meldon, there is another wreck en route, namely the Maine which was a hospital ship that went aground in thick fog back in 1914. Aside from some wreckage onshore there is no sign of it on sonar, but I may pay another visit there over the summer as I suspect something must still remain from what was a fairly large vessel.
*** Anyone planning a visit to the Meldon must be aware that part of the stern dries at low water and sits just below the surface at other times. Hit it and you’ll most likely join the wreck yourself. The stern is nearest the shore and the hazard is real! ***
After a couple of weeks of cold, windy and snowy weather I really welcomed the prospect of a calm, sunny day on Friday. Ian was up for the challenge of an early morning start, so high water saw us slipping the dinghy into the cold waters of Loch Etive around half-eight.
I followed my usual habit of fishing a spot or two down the loch on the ebb tide and we got what has become the usual result – very little. Only 3 or 4 whiting in fact, which suggests I need to revamp tactics a little. Or perhaps building the new fish farm nearby has disrupted things a bit?
Reversing course well up the loch put us into more fish friendly territory. Micro-spurs to be more precise 🙁 I don’t know which is worse – catching nothing, or hauling tiddlers 250+ feet. We were kept busy hauling them to the surface and soon shed our jackets as we started overheating in the sunshine.
Happily things started to improve and a handful of better fish appeared. Ian provided this nice fish of just over 9lbs and I added another not long afterwards.
A sprinkling of whiting and a suicidal poorcod mixed it with the spurs and Ian did his usual efforts to clear any LSDs from the vicinity. I think he managed 8 to my 1!
A couple more spurs around 9lbs came along as we basked in the sunshine and munched a bacon roll or two. Not exactly fantastic fishing but a lovely day to be afloat in midwinter!
Towards the end of the day I picked up a codling in the 2.5lb bracket and Ian added the only thornback of the day with a decidedly muddy specimen. The temperature plummeted as the light faded so we didn’t hang around into the dark
Our final tally was around 50 spurdog (the vast majority very small), perhaps 10-12 whiting, 9 LSDs, and one each of thornback, codling and poorcod.