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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Westward Ho! – Revisiting Lochs Leven and Sunart

I hadn’t really planned on a trip to the sea lochs, but the forecast was mixed to poor and Trevor was still recovering from the damage inflicted the last time he came fishing with me, so we took the Mr. Sensible route and headed westward – besides which, I haven’t fished Sunart for a couple of years now and it is a very pretty place.

Loch Leven

We got launched easily enough at Ballachulish, once the hotel reception had found the key to the car park barrier, and skipped across to the fish farm for a couple of hours.

A small thornback from Loch Leven
Baby thornback

Smallish mackerel soon added to our bait supply but the rest of the fishing was pretty slow, with only a few rays showing. Getting a little fed up of this we upped anchor and went for a bit of exploring.

Trevor feels for a bite as we fish on Loch Leven
Concentration: Trevor on Loch Leven
A nice ray from Loch Leven for Trevor, but nothing like the quality of fishing that the loch can produce from time to time
Ray of the day. Umm!

Heading up the loch in far calmer conditions than the forecast promised, we passed through the Narrows and into the upper loch. We dallied for a few minutes at the cliffs, but the codling didn’t really want to play ball and we’d to settle for a few poorcod as additional bait.

A warm afternoon afloat on Loch Leven had us both getting a little sleepy
Nodding off
A peaceful scene on Loch Leven - vastly better than the near gale and heavy rain that was forecast
Tranquility… despite the near gale-force forecast

A mooch over to the mussel farm saw a few more rays and absolutely the tiniest mackerel I’ve ever seen – large shoals of fish the size of a large minnow.

These tiny mackerel were around in large shoals on Loch Leven
Micro-mackerel
Another miniature mackerel falls to Trevor on Loch Leven
Another miniature mackerel

The final move for the day saw us try some reefier ground in the middle of the loch, but with only a few dogfish to show for it. Heading back to the slate slip we duly retrieved Alcatraz after the usual palaver of getting the keys for the barrier.

Ballachulish now boasts a chippie, but before heading off to find it we’d a chat with the skipper of one of the big ribs that plays with tourists on the loch. Aside from the tale of the witches curse on the Ballachulish bridge, it was quite blood curdling to hear of the fuel consumption of these ribs at full blast – 110 litres per hour – per engine!

Trevor hauls up a thornback from Loch Leven
Something meatier
It would be nice to say Loch Leven coughed up loads of thornback rays, but that would be a fib.
A small ray comes out to play

And across to Resipole and Loch Sunart

By now the rain was starting, but the plan called for a run to the Corran ferry and then an overnighter at Resipole campsite before a day on Loch Sunart. We reached Resipole as it got dark and pitched the tent quickly in what was becoming quite heavy rain – and then promptly fell asleep.

Resipole is a very nice and scenic campsite, but the still, damp air at half-past six next morning meant there were a million midges hovering outside the tent, just waiting for us me(!) to step outside. I’d say it took around 60 seconds to clear the tent and sleeping gear into the car…

Launching wasn’t too bad, as we’d a few minutes grace before the little bar-stewards figured out where we were, but we didn’t hang around on the slip and were soon heading out on the loch.

A very atmospheric early morning on Loch Sunart
A very atmospheric early morning on Loch Sunart

We tried a couple of different marks in the morning, and both were holding good numbers of spurdog – but just the wrong size, maxing out at maybe 5lbs. Mackerel, dogfish and a solitary thornback made up the numbers, but quality was distinctly absent.

Not great - a typical sized spurdog for this trip on Loch Sunart
Not great – a typical sized spurdog for this trip
Clearing skies on a windless Loch Sunart - but only small fish around
Deep water + small fish = hard work

A shift to shallower marks for the afternoon added some smaller species – whiting and gurnard, plus a conger eel for Trevor. We were trying for thornbacks but had none at all, so it was a little ironic to get an eel from relatively shallow, clean ground when we’d spent all morning trying for them without success on the more recognised marks.

This Loch Sunart conger eel was a slight surprise from the mark it was captured on - shallowish water and clean ground
Sunart conger
A low double figure conger for Trevor - and our best fish of the weekend from Loch Sunart
Trevor with his conger

And the whelk population just here seemed enormous – I don’t recall seeing any from Sunart before.

A "shoal" of whelks feasting on a whole mackerel bait in Loch Sunart
Whelk-fest!

So we ended up with better weather and fewer fish than we probably deserved, but it was fine just to mix a bit of fishing with a bit of fossicking about in search of new ground – and I don’t see anything to regret in having a relaxing weekend in the Scottish fjords, rather than a full-on fishing trip.

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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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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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Blast Frozen on Leven

Now I know what an Ammo sandeel feels like… Out with Ian on the loch yesterday and the wind was blasting down from the east, straight off the snow fields of the Mamores and Rannoch Moor. Frigid!

Frigid Loch Leven

And pointless 🙁 Our total catch was 1 crab and a solitary clappy doo (although in my defence it was fairly hooked).

Catch of the day - one large clappy doo, or horse mussel

I don’t think we can be accused of not trying, but it was a struggle to get baits out far enough and to keep the retrieve out of the weed. And something down there was hungry all right, as the baits came back well shredded – admittedly probably only by crabs.

Arctic blast on Leven

Late in the day the wind dropped a little, but by then we were pretty much chilled through and called time as the light faded away.

Ian casts out again in a futile attempt to entice a fish

At least it stayed dry, apart from the snow on the way over, but it’s reminder we’re not through with winter yet.

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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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Shorefishing on Loch Leven

Well, the original plan had been a session from Ian’s boat, chasing St. Andrews cod and Pollack, but the virtual closure of the Forth Bridge put the brakes on that. It’s been a good while since I was last shorefishing on Loch Leven so a hasty rethink saw the rods packed in the car and Bonnie and myself scurrying along the road in the pre-dawn darkness.

Battered Abu 7000c and even more battered Zziplex to match it

The forecast was for light winds and grey skies, and that’s what we got – it was dry and not too cold so no cause for complaint as I set up for the day. Apart from the dog who immediately went into chuck a stick mode (a log, in this case) and got a bit grumpy as I ignored her for a few minutes.

Bonnie focussed on sticks

Two quite slow hours went by before I got my first fish – a nicely marked LSD

Nicely marked lesser spotted dogfish from Loch Leven

And Bonnie had plenty of time to chase her sticks as I continued to reel in very little.

Retrieving gear from the depths of Leven

At last a little thornback put in an appearance, admittedly leaving it’s tail behind. I’ve had a few of these from Leven, but it doesn’t seem to cause them any obvious problems.

Small shore caught ray from Loch Leven - without a tail

Despite morale rising having actually caught one of the target species, the rest of the session was a series of dogfish – nice to have more action, but I’d have preferred to see another few rays.

Fishing Loch Leven in December

I needed to get back to Edinburgh for early evening, so I’d to pack up around 3, doubtless just as the rays came on the feed.

And to cap it all, it took 4 hours to get home, rather than the more usual 2.5, care of huge jams on Edinburgh’s bypass. Rush hour is usually bad, but an inch of snow seemed to stop almost everything.

Then Ian phones me up to tell me all about the pollack he caught…

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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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