Wild Camp on Etive – with a few Spurs thrown in

I do like this time of year – the nights are long but it’s not too cold, and the worst of the bugs are back in hibernation. The autumn colours are still around and the summer crowds have largely gone. And last weekend the weather and the tides lined up nicely too, so I sorted out my tent and loaded up the rucksac again. Time for another wild camp on Etive, fishing right alongside my tent in a very quiet spot where deer were the only likely intruders.

To me the long walk in is part of the attraction of this mark. The track is rough and quite arduous in places, but it runs through wonderful scenery and quite splendid isolation – a very rare commodity, even in Scotland.

Fording a small burn along the track between Glen Etive and Barrs.
Fording a small burn

Travelling light is a relative term, but everything goes in the rucksac apart from the rods themselves, and I keep gear to a reasonable minimum. This time I was relying on a campfire for cooking and hot coffee, so the gas stove was swapped in favour of a little fatwood and a couple of mini-firelighters. A few leads, traces and a little coolbag with mackerel bait was pretty much all I needed to fish, as the loch doesn’t tend to be too tackle-hungry.

A couple of hours later I arrived at my destination, having worked up a decent sweat in the process with only a single tumble into the peat bog on the way in. Mild embarrassment and a wet fleece were the only casualties, but a reminder of the reason I carry a PLB on these trips – the line between merely looking silly and potentially crippling injury is a fine one, and easily crossed over.

Campsite in sight. A beautiful location to spend the night
Campsite in sight. A beautiful location to spend the night
Scots Pine with Ben Starav in the background. Fine autumn colours on Loch Etive.
Scots Pine with Ben Starav in the background.

Set up, bait up and cast in – it doesn’t take long to get fishing on this mark. I am pretty lazy when it comes to fishing here, and I don’t tend to spin or float fish for the pollack which also swim around here. However I did need to sort out my campsite for the night, and darkness comes early in these parts at this time of year. My “semi-detached” style of fishing allowed me time to get on with collected kindling and firewood, and to set up the tent.

Sunset over Loch Etive. Fishing near Barrs on a calm November evening
Sunset over Loch Etive

Finding dry wood can be a bit of a challenge on the west coast, as anything on the ground gets saturated quite quickly, so I’d to tramp around a bit to find decent chunks of dead but still standing timber. My efforts were rewarded by a couple of nice pieces of oak to form the core of the fire, and a good bunch of dry-ish bracken to act as tinder. Happily it didn’t take too long to get a decent fire set up and burning steadily.

Campfire catches hold - a welcome sight on a cold November evening
Campfire catches hold

Almost in parallel, there was a steady run of spurdogs taking my baits. I missed a few due to my fire raising, but the body count was respectable and rising as I put the coffee pot on to boil and tucked a couple of potatoes into the fire to cook away.

Striking into a spurdog, early November morning on Loch Etive. Cool, clear and beautiful.
Fish on!
A small thornback ray from the shore, near Barrs, Loch Etive
Thornback ray

The light finally faded as I returned my one and only thornback ray of the trip, and the steak and mushrooms went on to cook – I felt I deserved a little treat for braving a long November night. All fairly primitive, but I dined well and in very contented fashion as I contemplated the stars reflecting in the calm waters of the loch. Not a light or trace of humanity disturbed the quiet.

Steak and mushrooms over the campfire. Treat and a half!
Steak and mushrooms. Treat and a half!

I’ve not had a baked apple since I was a kid, but it was a perfect follow on to the steak. Apertifs came from a slug of Talisker and then it was time for an early night.

I slept pretty well, waking only to the sound of some light rain on the tent and later on to the pitter-patter of tiny feet as a tick traversed my torso. Uugh! Not really what you want at two in the morning and it was duly trapped and despatched after a slightly desperate search by torchlight. The morning light revealed a neat line of bites across my middle which suggested I’d moved the wretched thing on a few times in the night before it woke me up for real…

Five in the morning, moon and stars brighten the long night
Five in the morning, moon and stars brighten the long night

Next morning dawned clear and cold, with the sky clearing after the last shower departed, so I struggled free of my warm cocoon and back into thermals. The gear was pretty much ready to go so it was a matter of minutes to bait up and cast out. Then back to trying to re-awaken the campfire and get some breakfast on the go.

Early morning - calm, cold and clear on Loch Etive as I watch my rods for a sign of fish biting
Early morning – calm, cold and clear

My backup was in the form of muesli, so there was a strong incentive to get the fire going and polish off an early morning smorgasborg of sausage, bacon, mushrooms and eggs. The overnight rain dampened everything enough to give some anxious moments, but I eventually kickstarted the fire and breakfast got underway.

Bacon and eggs on the campfire. And a fish biting...
Bacon and eggs on the campfire. And a fish biting…

Just like the campfire, fish were a little slow to come out to play, but started to appear just as breakfast got to the critical stage of pre-burn perfection. A little careful juggling kept everything edible whilst still pulling in a few more spurdog and a rather more grisly whiting head – its body presumably forming the equivalent of spurdog bacon and eggs.

Whiting head - with the rest forming part of a spurdog breakfast. Not a good start to his day!
Unlucky whiting

Over the next couple of hours I had a coffee or two, pulled in a spurrie or three, and generally organised my backpack until, rather slowly and reluctantly, I packed up camp and prepared to move back down the track towards civilisation. I wanted to fish a mark about half-way back to the car that I hadn’t tried for 2 or 3 years. Whilst I fully expected to repeat previous experience and find it stuffed full of micro-spurs in the sub-12 inch category, I felt it was worth a shot, just to see.

Early morning spurdog, caught near Barrs, Loch Etive
Early morning spurdog

My expectations were fulfilled, and faint hopes dashed, as a succession of micro-spurs dutifully gobbled up the bait and were dragged ashore. An hour of this was more than enough, especially given a blustery northerly wind, so I was soon heading back towards the car. Given it’s a fine spot to camp and fish it’s a shame that there don’t appear to be any larger fish around here.

Casting out - upper Loch Etive
Casting out – upper Loch Etive

A final splosh through the sodden moorland saw me back at the carpark at Glen Etive, with a couple of final treats in store on the road home. The first in the shape of large numbers of deer (there are loads in Glen Etive), and then a very fine sunset as I crossed over Rannoch Moor on the way back east. A reminder that Scotland can be magnificent at times, and not just a prisoner of Atlantic weather systems… Definitely an A-list weekend!

The pier at Glen Etive, a well photographed location!
The pier at Glen Etive
November sunset over Rannoch Moor
November sunset over Rannoch Moor
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Squelching Across Skye – and a Stray Bass

Just back from a few days wandering around Skye with a fishing rod. More wandering than fishing it has to be said, but a few items of interest from the angling point of view.

Video here, and the full report below…

The highlight of the trip was actually before I even got there, as I stopped off for a couple of hours near Fort William. It was not long dark when I hooked what was obviously a decent fish but one which came in without too much fuss, and it showed up in my headtorch as a nice looking ray.

A small Common Skate from the shore
My first shore-caught Common Skate

It was only when I picked it up that I realised it was actually a small common skate and a first for me from the shore. The scales put it at around 18lbs, which also makes it my biggest shore caught fish.

18lb Common Skate caught from the shore
18lb Common Skate

Suitably encouraged I scooted up the road to Skye and slept in the car overnight before heading up to Bracadale and an area I’ve never been too before.

The western shores of Loch Bracadale are heavily wooded and fringed with rock and volcanic cliffs
Western shores of Loch Bracadale

It was a fine morning, but the forecast was for heavy rain and a force 6 southerly in the afternoon, so I hoped to find a bit of shelter in the loch. Rather overloaded with too much clobber I headed off down the track that goes out to Idrigill Point and then cut off this and headed down to the shoreline to find a spot to fish and set up camp.

Western edge of Loch Bracadale
Who wouldn’t fancy fishing here

Nightmare country, with old forestry, small cliffs and gorges everywhere, so I was pretty knackered by the time I got set up. The mark itself was easy enough to fish, although it was nearly low water and there was a good band of exposed kelp running out 30 yards or so.

Low water exposes a thick forest of kelp on Loch Bracadale, Skye
Low water kelp forest

I cast mackerel baits over this and started picking up spurdogs from the sand beyond – only about 20 feet of water but there were fair numbers going about once the tide started to flood, and I was kept busy. Initially small males, but then a few females appeared, although nothing above 6-7lbs.

A small spurdog tries to find its way around the kelp forest fringing Loch Bracadale, Isle of Skye
Small spurdog swims over the kelp

As the tide flooded and the weather started to kick in properly I had a go spinning for pollack as the kelp was now covered by water. Plenty of interest in the jellyworms but not too many proper takes. Most of the fish were small, in the 1.5-2.5lbs range and I doubt anything went above 3lbs, but there were reasonable numbers. I lost one larger fish but even it wouldn’t have made over 5lbs. I retreated to the comparative comfort of the tent once the light faded and had quite a decent night’s sleep hidden inside the plantation as the wind howled along the cliffs.

Best way to start the day after a wet and wild night - coffee, bacon and eggs
Best way to start the day after a wild night – coffee, bacon and eggs

Next day was nothing to write home about on the fishing front – I did take a spinning rod along as I tramped out to Idrigill Point (after wading my way through waist deep, soaking wet bracken to get back to the track in the first place), but there is nowhere at the point itself that you could realistically get down without significant ropework.

The sea stacks known as MacLeod's Maidens, near Idrigill Point, Isle of Skye
MacLeod’s Maidens, near Idrigill Point

Most of the coastline is pretty similar, with steep cliffs straight into the water, so I didn’t try and commit suicide and just enjoyed the view. Heading back down to the south of the island I spent a couple of hours on Armadale pier feeding some very hungry crabs which munched everything I gave them extremely quickly.

Fishing Armadale Pier on the Sleat Peninsula, Skye
Fishing Armadale Pier, Sleat

There may well have been fish there, but I doubt they’d have a look in as baits were getting stripped in a few minutes.

Another overnighter in the car and then down towards Point of Sleat, armed just with a spinning rod. The Point produced nothing, although I think it is largely sandy ground rather than kelp – a beachcaster and mackerel bait might have told a different story as there was around 30 feet+ of water and a decent tide run as well.

Moving back up towards my car I tried the same spot I’d good fishing from when I was up in summer, and it was instant action. However most were smaller than during the summer and in the 2-3lb bracket, although I did get one specimen that would have gone around 6lbs or so.

Another Pollack extracted from its kelpy home
Another Pollack extracted from its kelpy home
Coalfish from the Sleat Peninsula, Skye
Coalfish from the Sleat Peninsula, Skye

A couple of coalies also and then, just as most of the action had stopped near slack tide, I got hit just on the surface at the fringes of the kelp. At first I thought it was a better sized coalie until I slid it up on the kelp and realised it was a bass! Not a big one, and definitely undersized, but I was both surprised and chuffed with this little bonus. A first on lures from the shore and from any sort of rock mark.

A shore caught bass from Skye
A shore caught bass from Skye

So quite hard work in some ways, and no gigantic bags of fish, but I’m pretty happy with my lot! Even happier to get a decent night in a proper bed…

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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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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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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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Chilled Out Fishing on Loch Etive

I’m not a great Christmas fan and was happy to escape the house for a spot of chilled out fishing on Loch Etive. You can interpret “chilled out” as you choose, but in the event it did turn out rather more laid back than frigid. I planned to fish afternoon and early evening before picking number one daughter up in Stirling around 10’ish, so it was mid-morning when I headed westwards from Edinburgh.

My first choice of mark was already taken so I headed along the shore for a mile or so. I’d never been here before but there are good fish taken from the boat quite close, and I knew that there was deepish water close in, so it seemed as good a bet as any.

Launching a mackerel bait in search of spurdog on Loch Etive.
Launching a mackerel bait in search of spurdog on Loch Etive

With a couple of rods out and fishing I switched attention to playing with the little BBQ I’d brought along. I’ve had this little Honey Stove for a few years now and it’s quite good fun to mess around with from time to time. You can feed it just about anything – small sticks, fuel tablets, meths – and charcoal briquettes seemed to burn happily enough when I tested them a few months back.

A late winter BBQ on Etive - coffee and sausages cooked over a charcoal brazier ward off the cold on a chilly day.
A late winter BBQ on Etive

The burner got going quite quickly so I stuck some water on to boil for a coffee and impaled a couple of sausages on toasting forks and left them to grill burn.

True to form, as soon as I tasted coffee my reel gave a little scream of protest as a fish mouthed the bait. No great drama, but a few minutes later a nice female in the 6-7lb range glided ashore on a patch of seaweed. A quick photo and back she went, whilst it dawned on me that this was probably my best shore caught fish of the year. I really do need to get out more!

A nice shore caught spurdog from Loch Etive
A nice shore caught spurdog from Loch Etive

I sat back and contemplated my surroundings for a while. It’s not exactly the back of beyond here but there was no-one else about apart from a lone paddle boarder going round in big post-Xmas circles – possibly a new toy being played with? A pair of cormorants were fishing just offshore and seemed to be doing rather better than me. A few trains rattled past nearby, as did a rather grumpy seal, but otherwise I was left in peace.

Just as I was dozing off my ratchet clicked again. Another little run resulted in a small thornback which was soon returned to grow bigger. Other than that things remained quiet…

A small thornback ray caught from the shore at Loch Etive
A small thornback ray caught from the shore at Loch Etive

As the light faded I turned to setting up my grandpa tent – aka a Ron Thompson Beach Shelter that has been sitting unused in the garage for a decade or more. I’d taken it along as I wasn’t fishing far from the car and the forecast had been for a bit of wind, so a bit of shelter would make the darkness feel less chilly.

Extra shelter on a winters day - a beach buddy style bivi to ward off the breeze.

It proved big enough to fit both me and the stove inside. OK, I was starting to feel I was being hot smoked, but the BBQ certainly helped notch the temperature up a degree or two.

I’d kind of hoped that darkness would encourage more fishy action, but I spent more time burning sausages than I did reeling in fish. Just one more spurdog was landed, with another couple throwing the hook, before I packed it in and headed off to become the family taxi driver once again.

A spurdog caught in the light of my headtorch

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Epic Fail with Aberdeen’s Cod

There’s not too much you can say about blanking when shore cod fishing. Especially when pretty much everything is in your favour – but that’s what happened at Aberdeen last weekend. The easterly gale had died away but the sea was still pounding in hard, with foam thick on the surface and a fine coffee colour to the water. My hopes were high!

Pre-dawn fishing from the Aberdeen coastline with the lights of oil service boats in the background
Just before dawn

Trevor and I set up camp at the Flat Stone in pretty pleasant conditions with no wind and much warmer than I’d expected. Shredded weed and other debris in the water was a pain but otherwise the conditions were pretty much perfect for cod. I baited my pulley rig with fresh rag and chucked it 60-70 yards out onto mixed ground. And then it was rinse and repeat for the next 5-6 hours…

First light on a grey autumn day fishing just south of Aberdeen
Grey day on a grey North Sea

We were out from dawn until lunchtime and we didn’t have a touch between us, so it was a rather deflated angler who tramped back up the fields to his car.

An atmospheric sunrise over the North Sea just south of Aberdeen

Casting out a fistful of ragworm bait in search of autumn codling at Aberdeen

Just to cap it all the wind, which had been rising since mid-morning, blew over my tripod and dumped the GoPro in a rock pool. Normally this wouldn’t matter, but the fall triggered the waterproof housing to open and dropped the actual camera in the salty stuff. RIP one GoPro 🙁

High waves hammer into the Aberdeen coastline after an autumn gale

I have to say that Aberdeen has been very unkind to me this past year and I don’t know what I’ve done to offend it! My average catch for a shortish session has been averaging 4 or 5 codling, but I’ve managed just 1 fish in the past 3 trips…

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Summer fishing mini-reports

I find I tend not to do too much fishing in the height of summer, if there is such a thing in Scotland, but I do try and wet a line from time to time and here are a few mini-reports that didn’t get the full treatment.

An Afternoon on Loch Leven

Bonnie and I headed over to Loch Leven for a few hours shore fishing in July. A bit blustery with a mix of sunshine and showers, but warm enough. We pretty much fished all the way up a rather large tide.

High tide on Loch Leven covers most of the marks
High tide on Loch Leven
Bonnie waiting for her turn to play, as we spend the afternoon shore fishing on Loch Leven
Bonnie waiting for her turn to play

I can’t say as the fish were very co-operative, but I managed a couple of rays and a dogfish through the afternoon so a blank was thoroughly averted. Poor dog wasn’t so happy when I’d to deal with her tick fest later on though …

A small shore caught thornback ray
A small shore caught thornback ray
A great backdrop for an afternoon's fishing
A great backdrop for an afternoon’s fishing
Lesser spotted dogfish are one of the most common catches in Loch Leven
Ever-present dogfish

Early August off St Andrews

St Andrews threw up a few Pollack and a good number of codling for Ian and myself at the beginning of August, although we’d to wait the best part of four hours before they switched on as the tide turned and light started to fade. No monsters (I say that all too often!), but a useful top up for the freezer. Mackerel were fairly plentiful and I added coalie, ling, and a dogfish to the total for the day.

My fish of the day was this Pollack - kind of underlining the lack of quality from St Andrews today.
My fish of the day was this Pollack… (pic courtesy of Ian)

As usual the zig-zagging through the lobster pots in near darkness added a little interest at the end of the day.

Loch Etive Spur-fest

Last weekend saw me having a lazy day out on Loch Etive, trying a couple of new marks for me and trying to get a better understanding of a couple I’ve fished before.

About half the day was spent chasing small spurs and middleweight pollack miles up the loch, with a few whiting, doggies and a single codling making up the numbers.

A pair of Spurdog from 400 feet down in Loch Etive
Spurdog from 400 feet down in Loch Etive
This plump Etive whiting coughed up a load of fish farm pellet food
Plump Etive whiting – full of fish farm pellets

Shifting further down towards Bonawe and into deep (over 400 feet) water seemed to ignite more interest and I had a solid 90 minute spell of fish two at a time within seconds of hitting bottom. All of which would’ve been more fun if it didn’t involve a long, long haul to get them aboard!

A double hit of whiting and spurdog from Etive
A double hit of whiting and spurdog from Etive
A pollack from Loch Etive, taken on a lead head and firetail jelly worm many miles from the open sea
Loch Etive pollack

New Videos

I also found the time to put together a couple of videos for Loch Etive and Loch Leven, based on trips there in recent years and fleshing out Corkwing’s pages on each.

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Into The Wilderness of Ardmeanach

Ardmeanach lies on the exposed, lonely but very beautiful west coast of Mull. Only twelve miles in the round, it is almost inaccessible in places due to trackless terrain and boulder strewn hills that drop 1500 feet into the sea. The emptiest and most remote part is called simply “The Wilderness”.

Ardmeanach peninsula from the south, with layer upon layer of lava flows clearly showing

I’d no idea how much, if any, of the Ardmeanach is fishable, but The Wilderness is a name that oozes potential, and I’ve fancied exploring it for a couple of years now. With a few days of calm and dry weather forecast I grabbed the opportunity before the midges woke up for summer.

Arriving on Mull, a short stopover at Gribun gave an introduction as to what to expect, with layers of ancient lava flows stacked one atop the other to build a very dramatic coastline.

Across to Gribun cliffs
The Gribun Cliffs, Mull. Around 1000 feet high, with the road creeping along the bottom

If only the fishing at Gribun proved as exciting as the surroundings – but a couple of hours fishing the end of the cliff line you can see above generated not one hint of interest to either mackerel on the bottom or float fished ragworm.

Fishing Gribun - very deep water at the base of the cliffs

Ardmeanach itself lies just round the corner from Gribun, and was an intimidating sight, partly hidden in the clouds.

View to Ardmeanach - follow the base of the highest line of cliffs to get access to The Wilderness

It is trackless, apart from the meanderings left by goats and deer, but the initial approach isn’t difficult as you pick your way across fairly typical heathery grassland.

Approaching Ardmeanach Wilderness, Mull

As the sheep thin out towards the edge of The Wilderness the going gets quite a lot harder. I dropped down over the cliffline and down towards the shore, to make my way across the slope towards the tip of Ardmeanach.

Only goats make the trails here - rough country in Ardmeanach, Mull

In retrospect this was a mistake, as the scree and boulder fields were daunting, especially combined with constant switchbacks and climbing around inlets and across streams. The winter had clearly inflicted a lot of damage, with fresh rockfalls and washed out shorelines. Progress slowed to an exhausting crawl!

At least the wildlife showed up pretty much on cue – with a pair of golden eagles circling the cliffs and wild goats aplenty.

Golden Eagle, Ardmeanach Wilderness, Mull

Almost 4 hours after I started off I pitched up for the night at the tail end of a massive old scree slope – hoping it was as inactive as it looked, as other areas had plenty of fresh falls.

Camping in the Ardmeanach Wilderness, Mull. The base of an old scree slope provided a sheltered spot for the night

The solid cloud base thinned for a little while, to allow the moon to outline the cliffs above my little tent, but I was pretty tired and hit the sack early.

Moonlight above the cliffs, Ardmeanach. A break in the clouds allowed the moon to highlight the drama of my surroundings.

A solid night’s sleep was followed by an early morning wander across the shoreline in search of Mull’s famed fossil tree. In the event I didn’t quite have enough time to work my way round to it, but there was plenty of other geology to marvel at, including these basalt columns which were guarded by a wary herd of feral goats.

Goats and basalt, Ardmeanach, Mull.
Herd of feral goats on the beach near the fossil tree, Ardmeanach.

The coastline here, and around most of Mull was dictated by the lava flows that covered the whole area 65 million years ago and created the likes of Fingals Cave on Staffa a few miles away.

Small Atlantic Swell, Ardmeanach Wilderness.

Most of the area around the peninsula was fairly shallow so I wasn’t too bothered about giving the fishing a miss in March – more possibilities in late summer and autumn I’d have thought.

Tip of Ardmeanach peninsula.

Striking camp, I headed back but kept higher than the previous day in an effort to keep away from the deep gashes in the shore. The goat tracks kept pushing me upwards until I hit the base of the cliffline a few hundred feet up.

High in the Ardmeanach Wilderness.
About 500 feet above the sea, near the base of the cliff line.

This part of the route was definitely easier going than the previous day, although a little hairy in places, especially with the mist swirling around. The downside came a little later, as it proved very difficult to pick the best layer of rock to traverse – too low and you end up climbing up again all too soon, whilst too high and you find yourself with a serious cliff between you and the car.

Leaving the Wilderness, Ardmeanach.

In the event it still took the best part of 4 hours to get back to the car, although I reckon another trip would be quicker now that I’ve got some on the ground experience of the route.

So, what to make of Ardmeanach and its wilderness? Fishing-wise it was a washout, although there are some decent rock stances worth another look. On every other level it’s a jewel of a place – visually spectacular, lots of wildlife, amazing geology and quite challenging physically. The only other person I met was the farmer and his dog at the start of the hike (both friendly). Definitely recommended for a prepared hiker, with or without rods.

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