Boat camping in December

Being firmly towards the “bah humbug” end of the spectrum regarding Christmas I was already thinking of a trip west when Trevor phoned with pretty much the same idea – a couple of days boat fishing together combined with a bracing overnighter in a tent. I’ve never camped in the UK in December before so that would be another little box ticked, and only January to go to get the full twelve months.

Etive was the venue of choice as there are plenty of places to camp on the bank with a decent mooring for Alcatraz, and the forecast was for cold, clear weather and very light winds.

Waiting for the next monster to appear - if only!
Waiting for the next monster to appear – if only!

Fishing down the loch was pretty slow with a trickle of small spurdog, thornbacks and doggies appearing during the morning and early afternoon. Even the usual tricks of brewing a coffee or frying up some bacon didn’t seem to help get the fish feeding, so I was happy enough to point Alcatraz up the loch and head towards our campsite for the night.

Bacon rolls on their way
Bacon rolls on their way

Even in the sunshine it was frigid piloting the boat up to Barrs and I was glad to keep my head below the parapet most of the time rather than lose any feeling in my ears as the slipstream whistled past. Once at Barrs we offloaded most of the sleeping gear and slung up the tent before heading back out for a few more hours fishing time.

Waiting for action in the sunshine
Waiting for action in the sunshine

Up here the fishing was better – not great, but reasonably steady for quite a while – and we amassed a fair collection of smallish spurs plus a sprinkling of codling and one or two whiting. A lot of these actually came from mid-water, between 100 and 200 feet, rather than from the bottom at nearly 300 feet below us. Small codling seemed particularly active at one point, happily mixed in with the spurdog and whiting. We stuck it out for several hours after dark until the fish dwindled and hunger and cold started to have an effect on us!

Baltic, bitter, brutal – choose your adjective, but it was cold. By the time we had the boat safely moored for the night it must have been around ten, and the beach was solid beneath our feet with a thick layer of frost lying over everything.

The little barbeque I’d taken along provided a little heat as it cooked dinner which was a handy bonus. Dinner ended up charred rather than char-grilled but disappeared pretty quickly nonetheless, to be followed by an (ice) cold beer. We spent a while persuading the BBQ to set light to some rather wet kindling, but never got beyond a damp squib of a bonfire which was a bit of an epic fail considering Trev is a fireman!

A nice starry night - but the cold killed my camera
A nice starry night – but the cold killed my camera

Whilst the BBQ was busy doing its thing I set up my camera to take some shots of the stars and waited for the moon to disappear. I’ve been wanting to get a time lapse of a starry sky for ages, but in the UK it’s a little tricky to get a clear night with no moon in a location that’s well away from well-lit towns. However it looked like tonight was the night and I kicked off the interval timer and left the camera to it.

By now the tent was looking like something from Scott of the Antarctic, but we prised open the solidified door sometime after midnight and ducked through the layers of frost to hit the sack. Even with two sleeping bags and a set of thermals it was pretty chilly (ice on the inside of the tent scenario), but we managed a few hours of decent sleep.

A frigid campsite at Barrs
A frigid campsite at Barrs

Early morning saw a thick white carpet everywhere, with a little sea ice starting to form on the loch. My camera was coated in thick frost and even the replacement batteries for it had died, so it was put aside to hopefully recover during the day.

Cold and clear winter morning on Loch Etive
Cold and clear winter morning on Loch Etive

No idea what the temperature actually was, but the mooring ropes froze as they came ashore and Alcatraz itself was thick with frost and ice which never really melted properly all day.

After starting the fishing with a little coddie bashing close inshore, just to check they were still there and hadn’t all migrated to the centre of the loch, we headed out to some deeper water to try and find some larger fish. A few fish, none of them monsters, did show up including a couple that both tangled our lines and managed to birl round the anchor rope a few times.

A little dogfish from an icy Etive
A little dogfish from an icy Etive

Our final throw of the dice was to head back down past Bonawe towards Ardchattan, and we dutifully gave it a couple of hours in exchange for a handful more spurdog. I don’t know about Trev but I was chilled to the core by now, and quite happy to raise anchor and head back in the last of the light.

I wasn’t keeping count but we probably both had between 25 and 35 fish apiece, with the biggest perhaps 6-7lbs. Hard fishing and hard(ish) conditions for spending the night under canvas but an experience none the less. Trevor being a glutton for punishment liked it so much he stayed on for a another night shore fishing…

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