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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Early morning SIB session

The east coast has been slow to get going this year but I reckoned there had to be fish around by the end of May – besides I’d only a very short session available so it was Dunbar or nothing today.

To be honest I do like an early morning SIB session, as the sea breeze isn’t usually a problem, and there are no traffic hassles, so the idea of setting the alarm for 4 a.m. was OK by me.

SIB launched at Skateraw and ready to go
SIB launched at Skateraw and ready to go

Once afloat I headed over to the River Garry wreck as it’s usually a reliable spot for a few fish on a calm day. And so it proved again today, with a small ling hitting the bait within 5 seconds, and a nice stream of both codling and ling following it.

A small ling from the River Garry wreck, off Dunbar
A small ling from the River Garry wreck

As the tide slackened the bites on bottom baits dried up and I switched over to a spinning rod and jellyworms to target pollack, only to find more codling and another ling.

A gull with eyes bigger than its stomach measures up the prospects of swallowing a cod bigger than it is
A gull with eyes bigger than its stomach

I could’ve kept catching but I’d already outstayed my welcome, given I was supposed to be in the centre of Edinburgh by lunchtime so the Avon was pointed back towards Skateraw.

Enough teeth to make you think twice! A codling opens its mouth to show a set of small needle like teeth
Enough teeth to make you think twice!
A rather battered cod surfaces alongside the SIB
A rather battered cod surfaces

Coming inshore and pausing to fillet the catch the sea near Skateraw seemed filled with kayaks and a couple more inflatables, and it’s quite striking how much more popular the small end of small boat fishing has become in the last few years.

A collection of hopeful anglers off Skateraw, near Dunbar
A collection of hopeful anglers off Skateraw, near Dunbar

Final score was 13 codling and 10 ling, with the best fish going 4 lbs 10oz, and I was happy enough with that result for a few hours fishing.

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A bit of Surf and Turf in Lochaber

Yesterday saw me launching the SIB at Ballachulish before six in the morning, after a few hours kip in the car the night before. I made haste, to try and avoid the midges which are well and truly out of hibernation now!

An early morning launch for my SIB at Ballachulish

I don’t normally bother with Leven at this time of year as the fishing is usually taking off along the east coast and down in the SW. However the east has been very slow to get going this year, and I didn’t have any bait for a session in Galloway. The plan was to fish a fairly short session on Leven and then head for the hills for the rest of the day, exploring some of the other attractions that Lochaber has to offer.

Pap of Glencoe backlit in early morning sunshine
Pap of Glencoe backlit in early morning sunshine

The first hour passed slowly with a little ray and a smaller codling, but then cheered up somewhat as several more rays happened upon my mackerel strips.

A pretty little thornback ray gets returned to Loch Leven

I packed in around 9.30 with 9 rays, a couple of whiting and 1 mini codling to show for my efforts. Best was only 6lb 8oz, but it was a decent enough session, making the best of a windless early morning.

A slightly alien looking thornback ray clings to the Avon's tubes
A slightly alien looking thornback ray

A thorny thornback ray and best fish of the day

And the turf element? Well I’ve never hiked up Ben Nevis before, and thought it was about time I got around to it. I reckoned it would take around 6 hours to complete the round trip, but in the event it was a 5 hour haul up and down the steep access track. It was rather too crowded for my liking, but the weather was kind and it was a pleasant enough afternoon.

A crowded Ben Nevis.
A crowded Ben Nevis.
The view from the summit of Ben Nevis, May 2016
The view from the summit of Ben Nevis

Incidentally, I swapped cars a few months ago, and one of the advantages of the Yeti is that it’s fairly easy to arrange things to get a half decent night’s sleep – even sharing with an inflatable and outboard engine.

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Spring Strikes on Loch Leven

I’ve been across to Loch Leven three times since New Year and it’s been relentlessly cold so it was a full set of thermals for yesterday’s trip – only to spend most of the day in windless, warm weather with a good deal of spring sunshine to boot. This is Scotland though, so it did rain most of the way home!
Calm and overcast start to the day, upper Loch Leven

The upper loch, above the Narrows, was the target for today, mainly to add species and quantity rather than make any play for quality. An early start saw the Avon hit the water around 8, and I made my way over the deep, reefy ground to try for the small codling and poorcod that fill the place.

A few seconds after starting this little ling hit the bait.
Baby ling from Loch Leven

Followed by a long succession of mini-codling and poorcod. I kept a few poorcod for bait, but the novelty of catching them soon wears off.
Poor cod reach plague proportions, Loch Leven

The species count hit 4 with this little coalie, which was another first for the year, and I took the opportunity to collect a few mussels from the rocks – although there weren’t many exposed as this was a pretty small tide.
First coalie of the year

By this time the loch was getting filled with kayaks in all manner of colours, together with a few boats from the nearby campsite, so I clearly wasn’t the only one with an eye open for a slice of good weather.

Close-in kayak fishing

Having had my fill of mini-fish I decided to head back towards the deeper water and drop anchor in search of larger quarry. The outboard sprang into life quickly enough but we’d covered less than a hundred yards when it died on me 🙁 A quick look suggested the same problem as I had last year – a stuck carb float. Annoying but not really a big deal as I a few minutes with the oars got me back to the area I wanted to anchor in anyway, and this was not far from my launch point.

Fine Day to be Afloat on Loch Leven - an inflatable sits on flat calm water, overshadowed by the mountains behind

Since part of the plan was to try the upper loch at anchor and see whether it held much in the way of rays, I just stuck it out for the rest of the day. The first couple of hours produced nothing bar a missed bite on a poorcod bait, but things picked up a little thereafter, with a good sprinkling of small whiting on the mini-baits and a succession of rays on mackerel.

First ray of the day

These fish weren’t large, and seemed a good bit leaner than their plumper friends down near the fish farm at Ballachulish, but they all seemed in good condition and were nicely coloured. Overall I picked up 5, with the best maybe 4-5lbs, and a middle of the road type result pretty much in line with expectations.

Playing a thornback ray from my inflatable, Loch Leven

Bringing a thornback alongside the SIB, Loch Leven

A nicely marked thornback ray perches on the SIB's tubes

Incidentally a thornback ray’s eye is really very pretty, with beautiful colouration and patterns. Have a closer look next time you catch one.
Close up of thornback's eye

I headed ashore about 4 in the afternoon, as I was getting a little stiff from the cramped confines of the SIB. However it was still a fine day so I gave it another 90 minutes from the shore further down the loch – without so much as a sniff of a bite.
A kayaker calls it a day on Loch Leven

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Two men in a SIB

It must be a decade since I last fished two men in a SIB, as it’s usually cramped enough for one disorganised angler, let alone two. However Loch Leven ain’t the open Atlantic, and a few hours fishing in calm conditions made it an decent proposition.

Apart from the outboard taking a bit of flogging to get going it was an easy start in calm and sunny conditions (in a change from my usual pantomime it was starved of fuel rather than flooded. After 30 years I should know all this by now!). Having two aboard makes a noticeable difference to performance, and there was no chance of getting on the plane, so we simply puttered our way across the loch and dropped anchor.

Fishing was very slow but we eventually picked up one or two rays. This first one proved to be the best of the day, which really doesn’t say very much about the quality of the fishing.

Me. with the first thornback of the day and a lot of snowy mountain tops for background

Ian managed to pull up some of the uglier bottom life in the shape of a long worm-like creation, whilst I added a couple of micro-cod, but there was no sign of the mackerel or usual poor cod or whiting.

Seabed life in Loch Leven - some form of worm attached itself to Ian's rig
All of a tangle - a thornback surfaces in a beautiful tangle of yellow braid

In the early afternoon we took a quick shot ashore to stretch our legs and defrost a little, and caught another glimpse of an otter whilst Ian cleared up some of the crap left by a recent angler who couldn’t be bothered to carry out what he’d carried in.

We finished the day with another ray or two, including this monster for Ian, but there was no sign of the numbers or quality of fish you can get here sometimes.

Ian with a tiny thornback ray

Looking around us, if anything the snow was even thicker on the mountain tops than on my earlier trips this year, a reminder that we’re not out the woods with winter just yet. Still, the sun had a little warmth in it so there is some hope!

Salmon cages overshadowed by Glencoe

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SIB’ing in the Snow

With a forecast of a few hours of light winds and a few snow showers later, I reckoned it was time to get the boat fishing gear into action so the SIB got packed into the back of the car and I headed towards one of my favourite west coast sea lochs.

It was minus 2 and not quite as windless as I’d hoped for, but still perfectly fishable as I popped the inflatable into the water and flogged the Tohatsu into action for the short hop across the loch to the mark for the day. The only other visible life was a kayaker hoping to launch for a few fish as well – arguably the only place less comfortable than the SIB for winter fishing.

Catching a winter thornback ray from my SIB

First off, I dropped a set of mini-sabikis on the spinning rod, and left them to fish whilst I sorted out the bigger rig for targeting rays. 60 seconds later I noticed the slack line that usually indicates a bunch of mackerel have grabbed the lures and made a complete bour-ash of them. For once I jumped to the right conclusion and hauled in a small shoal of 5 mackerel (and a completely sha**ed set of sabikis). Bait sorted at least, and my earliest ever mackerel.

Mackerel - on a snowy day in January

The heavier rod was quiet for a while before the first of (most probably) many 2016 doggies surfaced for a quick photo.

An LSD from my SIB

A few minutes later he was joined by my first thornie of the year, at around 5lb 10oz.

My first thornback ray of 2016

By now the snow had started, just a few hours earlier than forecast, and the wind added a couple of knots, just to remind me it was well and truly wintertime. As my kayaker friend paddled over towards the fish farm cages he was half hidden in the snow flurries.

Kayaking in mid-winter snow flurries

The next couple of thornies were a bit bigger, at nearly 7lbs and bang on 8lbs respectively, but it was cold work getting them so I reckoned they were well earned on my part.

Cold work - winter fishing from a SIB

The snow didn’t bother the fish of course, and they kept coming with pin-whiting, a tiddly codling, couple of grey gurnard and several more mackerel on the spinning rod, plus a succession of rays and doggies on the bigger baits.

SIB fishing in a snowy winter's day

Eventually the wind rose close to double figures and the general chilliness proved too much, so I packed it in early afternoon – but with 10 thornies to 8lbs and similar numbers of mackerel and LSD I’d no reason to complain about the results.

Interesting trying to drive home when you can’t feel your feet on the pedals though!

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Assault on Glen Etive

The plan was to use the narrow, winding and un-gritted road into Glen Etive to access the headwaters of Loch Etive and drop the inflatable in where the river reaches the sea – then head off for an overnight camp, fish and stargaze.

Things went just fine to start with, until I stepped ashore and promptly fell to my knees – not to kiss the ground, but because I’d twisted my back. Hobbling around to secure the SIB and make camp was quite tricky 🙁

First cast made it clear I wouldn’t be doing any fishing either, partly because I couldn’t cast without keeling over, and partly on account not being able to balance properly on the icy rocks fringing the loch.

Nothing for it but to set a little campfire and do some star gazing, whilst listening to the squabbles of a family of otters only a few yards away.

The night was cold but beautiful, clear and windless, and starlight reflected clearly on the loch. Not many meteors though, despite it being time for the Geminid shower.

Orion's belt reflects nicely on Loch Etive
Orion’s belt reflects nicely on Loch Etive

Morning saw ice on the very edge of the loch and thick hoar frost over every surface.

Daylight also showed that this is a great little spot to pitch a tent, with a fair bit of shelter and very little chance of being disturbed. A bit too exposed for a hard boat though, unless you’re equipped to moor off a rocky coastline.

A winter campsite on Loch Etive

A steely looking early winter morning

My back was killing me again but I managed to get the SIB loaded up and ready for the off without falling over!

SIB with a fringe of sea ice

Working my way back up to Glen Etive, where a little more ice breaking was required to get ashore – not that I recommend a little rubber boat for this…

Heading back towards Glen Etive

So not really a fishing trip (one cast doesn’t really cut it!), but it’d have been a brilliant little spot to fish for a few hours if I’d been in better nick, and I’ll definitely be back another fine night.

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Low key at Dunbar

Just a quick update on a short 3 hour outing about 10 days ago on the inflatable, out of Skateraw beach. Mackerel, Pollack and ling were all in evidence, but no trace of their tasty coddie siblings.

Early morning Autumn sunshine off Dunbar
Early morning Autumn sunshine off Dunbar

The most exciting hookup gave a really solid fight all the way until just under the surface, when up popped a 4lb ling rather than the double figure fish I’d been eagerly expecting. However it soon became obvious that my ling had been heavily beaten up by something larger, with big bite marks on the head and striations all along its body, and the mystery was pretty much solved when a large seal popped its head out the water looking for its dinner.

A mauled ling (with culprit in background)
A mauled ling (with culprit in background)

Best fish was a ling around 7lbs and it was a fine, calm day to be out on the North Sea, just a little subdued on the fishing front.

Just playing with the SIB
Just playing with the SIB
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Oars out on Loch Leven

… or a trip cut short.

I’d another crack at Loch Leven with the Avon a couple of weeks ago as Ian was otherwise occupied and it seemed a waste to take the bigger boat across when the forecast was for fine, sunny weather.

Glorious morning on Loch Leven
Glorious morning on Loch Leven

Well the forecast was spot on, and it was almost too hot out in the loch by midday, but the fish were definitely not wanting to play. Apart from a couple of poorcod nothing at all had nibbled the baits and the loch seemed completely dead.

Sunshine and no wind make it almost too hot sitting in a small SIB
It’s almost hot!

I decided on a move away from the fish farm and nipping up the loch at a decent pace when the outboard spluttered a couple of times and then died 🙁 Not good, and there were no obvious kinked fuel lines, etc. – even worse there was a slight drip of petrol from the engine. The last time I’d seen something like this was back in the 1980s, with a fuel line blockage on a brand new engine. However there didn’t seem to be too much I could do about it since I didn’t have my usual toolkit with me, so it was time to get some practice on the oars.

Rowing back a few hundred yards to the slip was really quite pleasant on a flat calm loch, although the story would’ve been very different if the wind had got up.

Gravestones on the Isles of Glencoe
Gravestones on the Isles of Glencoe

Once sorted out ashore I salvaged something from the day by collecting a decent bagfull of mussels for dinner and had a wee tour round the loch in the car before cruising home through a very busy Glencoe.

Back home it took only a few minutes to clear the problem, even with my very limited mechanical skills, as the float valve in carb appeared to have stopped floating, probably because of all the bouncing about the outboard gets both in the car and on the back of the SIB. A good thump would probably have cleared it at the time.

Snow on Sgorr Dhearg
Snow on Sgorr Dhearg

I think that brings to three the number of times I’ve come in on auxiliary propulsion, and the only time under oars rather than an aux engine. That works out at roughly once a decade, so not too bad.

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More codling from Loch Leven

Took a use it or lose it day’s leave today and decided to go for quantity rather than quality with a few hours trying for codling on Loch Leven. The forecast suggested the wind would rise in the early afternoon so I set the alarm for a silly time and packed the SIB in the car.

The sun was rising in a clear sky over Rannoch Moor as I stopped for a quick photo, conscious that the weather wasn’t forecast to last all day.

Towards Black Mount from Rannoch Moor
Towards Black Mount from Rannoch Moor

Arriving at Loch Leven I headed round by Kinlochleven to find my launch spot already occupied by some snoozing kayakers (non-fishing variety), but there was enough room to park and get setup so I was underway a little before eight in the morning.

SIB on upper Loch Leven
SIB on upper Loch Leven

Fishing was pretty much immediate with a good succession of fish, mainly small codling, queueing up in the modest tide run.

Threesome of small codling
Threesome of small codling

I tried a few other spots during the day, including one that was home to a rather startled otter – unfortunately I couldn’t deal with the deep shade it was in, so the image is more like an impressionist painting than a recognisable mammal.

Rather blurry image of an otter
Rather blurry image of an otter

The fish kept coming until the wind started to rise a bit in the early afternoon, and I ended up with around 35, mainly codling but with a sprinkling of coalies and a single Pollack and whiting putting in an appearance.

After retrieving the SIB I stopped off down the loch a little to grab a coffee and a bite to eat, and noticed these two anglers fishing away near the narrows.

Shore anglers near Leven Narrows
Shore anglers near Leven Narrows

And the way home provided one final photo opportunity, by way of a rather proud looking stag who was quite happy to have his picture taken.


Along for the first time was a birthday present to myself in the shape of a new wide-range zoom lens for the camera. I dropped my old 18-55mm lens back in December and buggered the autofocus, so I’ve replaced it with an 18-250mm. OK, so not the best choice from an optical viewpoint, but a pretty pragmatic option for a travelling angler with limited space.

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