Goodbye to Alcatraz and Hello to Orkney

I’ve recently said goodbye to Alcatraz, my faithful Warrior 165. She is now 10 years old and not getting quite the same use she once was, so I’ve been rethinking what I need from a boat for the next few years. Consequently, and after a lot of soul searching, I’ve just taken delivery of an Orkney Longliner2.

The Warrior is an excellent boat but it’s a little big and heavy for what I need nowadays. I reckon I can get more or less everything I need in a slightly smaller and lighter package. I still want to fish easily with two aboard, although three is a rarity for me. Whilst I avoid boat fishing in windy weather I still want a very seaworthy dinghy capable of handling poor conditions.

Overnight mooring on Loch Etive
Alcatraz – My Warrior 165

The Longliner 2 will live at home and under cover, which means it can be loaded and pretty much ready to go at any time. A lot of my fishing is short notice, following the weather type stuff, so the extra flexibility is important and should encourage me to get out fishing more often. Dodging the cost of a boat park space is a welcome bonus too.

A view of the starboard side of the Orkney Longliner2
A view of the starboard side of the Orkney Longliner2

A biggie for me is that I get away from the horrors of a braked trailer and high levels of maintenance they demand. This is a really big plus point, as keeping a boat trailer legal is a major hassle if you’re not particularly mechanically minded.

The Orkney is definitely a slower boat but I’m no speed merchant and the practical difference over a typical 5-10 mile run is pretty minor, especially as sea conditions around Scotland rarely allow WOT running anyway. Orkney claim 22 knots (25mph) top speed but I doubt I’ll see that, and something in the 16-18 knot range works fine for me.

The LL2 is apparently an updated version of the older Orkney 520 hull and certainly isn’t directly descended from the original Longliner. So it’s a lot faster than the longliner and can take a larger outboard, although the max is 25hp. It’s max quoted speed is 22 knots compared to 30+ from the Warrior, although I rarely took the 165 much above 22-23 knots in practice.

You sometimes see the smaller Orkneys referred to as “starter” boats, which I’d disagree strongly with – I’ve had a boat for over 30 years now, and this is the first Orkney I’ve owned or even set foot in. It’s very much a question of working through what you need from a boat and choosing the right compromise for your needs. For me, just now, that points to the LL2, but obviously that might change again in future…

A view of my Orkney Longliner2 ashore on Loch Etive
Orkney Longliner2 ashore

I’m not sure how closely my needs match yours or other anglers, but my main reasons for switching were:

  • I trailer a boat thousands of miles a year. Braked trailers are a complete and utter pain to keep legal, so a move back to unbraked trailing is very appealing. A lighter boat is also easier to tow, although the Warrior is hardly difficult to move about, or launch, single handed.
  • The LL2 will pretty much live at home, rather than in a compound miles away. This obviously saves a few bob, but the big benefit is that it makes it easier to drop everything and go fishing at short notice. I’ve noticed that I was using the Warrior less than I should simply because of the hassle of picking her up and putting her back in her compound.
  • Being under cover and close at hand both reduces maintenance and makes it easier, as well as allowing her to be kept in fishing ready condition with gear aboard, etc.
  • Most of my fishing is within a 10 mile radius of port and in reasonably easy waters – sea lochs, North Sea (Dunbar) and SW Scotland. Of these, only the tide races on the headlands around SW Scotland would bother me in a LL2 – and they bother me in a Warrior too. Basically I don’t really need the extra speed or brick like qualities of the 165 hull.

My LL2 will be set up to allow one person to fish and sleep overnight in reasonable comfort; allow two to fish in comfort; or fish three at a bit of a pinch (by comparison I’d regard the Warrior 165 as also fishing two in comfort, three at a pinch. I don’t think you can have four fishing safely on a 165). My longest 1 day trip in a Warrior is over 100 miles, and I expect the same capability from the Longliner 2, once properly set up.

Mine is configured with a hard cuddy, console and single seat box. This leaves quite a bit of room for fishing, although laid out differently from the Warrior style boats. I’m still working through the permutations for rod holders, etc. but have fitted a set of rails towards the stern which will help.

I took it out for a maiden launch and engine break-in session at the end of June over at Loch Etive. Not much wind but it rained from start to finish so the photos are fewer and soggier than originally planned.

A view from astern of the Orkney Longliner2 showing the main and auxiliary outboards
A view from astern of the Orkney Longliner2

You can see the handrails on this photo, just immediately aft of the rowlocks(!). Also the console, which is quite a good size for this class of boat – I haven’t installed anything yet as I wanted a wee play about first before committing to anything. Trim was OK with one aboard, with a slight lean towards max revs (although the rather oversized Tohatsu aux at 25kg helps offset my weight [just a little!]). The cuddy is also a good size and provided decent shelter from the wet stuff.

Cuddy and console view of the Orkney Longliner2
Cuddy and console – Orkney Longliner2

The anchor well is bigger than I thought, shown here with a 5kg Bruce and 10m of heavy chain. I didn’t keep the anchor in here whilst towing as the thought of it flying around in an accident didn’t appeal, but it looks big enough to hold my usual 200m of rope.

Orkney Longliner2 Anchor well is larger than first appears and should hold my heavy duty setup with 200m of rope
Orkney Longliner2 Anchor Well

And a view towards the stern. Planning on putting at least one rodholder on each rail, plus one towards the stern itself.

Orkney Longliner2 - view of stern seats and rails
Orkney Longliner2 – view of stern seats and rails

And a slight downside in wet weather – the bilge is too shallow to contain water effectively, so be prepared to bail out during the day if the rain is heavy.

View of battery, fuel tank and overflowing bilge area (it rained heavily all day)
View of battery, fuel tank and overflowing bilge area

A couple more pics – sorry about the stray raindrops and generally grey look, but it was an authentically grey day of the sort that Scotland specialises in!

The Orkney Longliner2 has a nice high bow
The Orkney Longliner2 has a nice high bow

 A view of the starboard side of the Orkney Longliner2

Orkney Longliner2 rear view showing outboards, console and cuddy
Orkney Longliner2 rear view showing outboards, console and cuddy

And finally – first fish, being a small and feisty grey gurnard.

A little grey gurnard is the maiden catch aboard my new Longliner2 boat
A little grey gurnard

Overall everything behaved itself, although I picked up a few minor things to change. Performance is a little hard to judge with a new outboard, but I took her up briefly to max revs and hit 23-24mph (20.5 knots) on the GPS, so the claimed 22 knots when lightly laden looks about right given she wasn’t trimmed correctly at the time.

Anchoring was easy and she was well behaved in a slight wind against tide situation. Drifting seemed fairly stable, although it wasn’t rough enough to test this realistically.

All in all I’m happy with the trial run, although conditions were pretty benign if you forget about the rain. I think I’ll give it a few months to get familiar with her and then post a more considered review in the light of experience!

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Pollacked on Loch Etive

Fish in the east, fish in the west, but not really the weather to exploit either coast! Faced with the need to check out Alcatraz before an upcoming trip to Galloway I chickened out and made my way over to Etive again, with the furball for company.

Having had fairly poor results from down the loch over the past year I just headed straight up into the less visited upper loch and settled down to a little Etive pollack bashing. This isn’t something I often do on the loch, as there are a lot of smaller fish around, but I was trying for something a little better today.

My leadhead attracted little attention in the peaty-ish waters, but I lost a couple of smaller fish which threw the hook before my light spinning rod went parabolic and line peeled rapidly off the little Abu reel. Clearly a better fish, I treated it with a little respect and it was a few minutes before a good sized fish (and my best Etive pollack) slid into the net and came aboard.

Unhooking a nice pollack taken on a leadhead and firetail worm
Unhooking a nice pollack

Being guilty of over-estimating the size of pollack (slab sided, but thin when compared to cod) I always prefer to trust my scales and these slid round to a healthy 5lb 6oz.

Slipping a Pollack back into the water

Nothing else seemed very interested so I shifted a little and dropped anchor. Wind and tide were opposed, which is never something to be recommended, but it wasn’t uncomfortable and just a little awkward as the boat slewed from side to side. Bozo had clearly given up on dreams of a run ashore and curled up and went to sleep for a while.

It was a little slow, but a decent sprinking of fish graced Alcatraz’s gunwhales, including spurdogs, dogs, a thornback and some whiting (heads only!).

A small spurdog comes aboard
A small spurdog comes aboard

Taking pity on Bonnie I took a break in the early afternoon and we headed ashore for an hour of chasing sticks and drinking coffee in the sunshine.

A lethal combination - wet dog with stick
A lethal combination – wet dog with stick

A couple more hours fishing produced more of the same, but no sign of larger spurdogs, so I was happy enough to point Alcatraz south and head back towards Taynuilt.

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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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Winter Dogging on Etive (the Spurdog variety)

After a run around on Saturday morning in search of some wheel nuts my trailer was roadworthy again, so I headed over to Etive to check whether Alcatraz still floated. For one reason or another it’s been 5 months since she was last on the water and there’s always the added doubt of whether the engine will actually fire after a longish layup.
I was also keen to try out a replacement for late and lamented GoPro which died fishing near Aberdeen. The Yi 4k camera is a GoPro clone for about 2/3 of the money and gets pretty good reviews. The short video of the day (below) gives a taster and I’m pretty happy with it so far.
 

We arrived about 8.30 only to find about half of Ayr SAC trying to get their boats in the water for a club competition. Add in a mountain of weed on the beach and it took a little while before we got afloat, but at least the outboard fired up at first turn of the key and we headed off down the loch. Needless to say, there were a couple of Ayr boats sitting right on top of the spot I wanted to fish so we dropped anchor on another ridge not too far away and dropped a few mackerel baits to see what was stirring.

Etive gets crowded with boats as Ayr Sea Angling Club hold a competition
Over-crowding, Etive style

A couple of hours later we had our answer in the form of a motley collection of doggies and small spurs, plus a little thornback – which sounded positively hectic to the one or two fish that the other boats had.

Ian with a small Etive spurdog from Ardchattan
Ian with a small Etive spurdog from Ardchattan

A small thornback from Etive

I then took the rather bad decision to head still further down towards the mouth of the loch, to a mark I haven’t fished for 3 or 4 years. A little over an hour here gave Ian another 5 little spurs and absolutely nothing for me, so we backtracked up towards Ardchattan and tried again for rays. One little thornback for Ian after another hour made for a more radical rethink/roll of the dice and I went for a move several miles up the loch – at least up here no-one would see us fail…

A beautiful winters day on Loch Etive, small boat fishing in mirror calm conditions near Barrs.
A beautiful winters day on Loch Etive

Around Taynuilt there had been a little breeze, maybe only 3-5 mph but enough to put a chill through you, whilst up here it was like a mirror. Cruising along with the sky and mountains reflecting off the loch was fantastic, even with a frigid slipstream trying to tear your ears off. Eventually I eased off the throttle and dropped anchor and complete silence descended as I shut the motor off.

A whiting chopped to pieces by a spurdog after it swallows the bait on Loch Etive
Shredded whiting
I could sense slightly raised eyebrows on Ian’s part at my choice of mark, as it isn’t perhaps the most obvious spot to try. However he dutifully dropped baits to the seabed, and we didn’t have too long to revel in our surroundings before we were battling fish. Truth be told, “battling” might be a bit of a porkie, as they were definitely all on the small and weedy side, but at least there in numbers. Even I started to catch! Spurs and doggies for the most part, but a few whiting (mainly in pieces, courtesy of hungry spurdog) and a lonely grey gurnard for Ian.
A spurdog waves goodbye as it goes back into Loch Etive
A spurdog waves goodbye as it goes back

Although I caught up a bit towards the end Ian was well ahead in terms of numbers of fish and the overall catch was nothing much – maybe 50-60 fish altogether, and all on the small side. However Etive was near its winter best, which counts for quite a lot in my book, so I was well pleased with the day.

Midwinter Dusk on Loch Etive

 

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An Icy day at Etive

Occasionally, but increasing frequently, I find myself going on trips where the fishing is less important than simply soaking up the wild beauty that Scotland can still offer if you take a little time to find it. Today was one such day – the forecast was for a few hours of cold, clear weather overnight and then getting wetter and a little windier from early afternoon, and I decided not to bother with the boat and give a shore rod a little exercise exploring the upper end of Loch Etive for a few hours.

I’ve fished here a few times before from the boat, and there are large numbers of small (read tiny) spurdogs covering the loch, with the odd better fish and a few rays and whiting. The aim was really to explore the road to Glen Etive (which I’d never been along before) and to take a few photographs of the winter scenery, at least as much as catching a few wee spurs.


Waking up earlier than planned I set off towards Glencoe under skies that were much cloudier than I’d hoped for, but which cleared the further west I drove. I stopped off in the darkness to take a few shots of the Black Mount lit only by moonlight and a few stars, and it was a quite eerie to hear the groaning and cracking pistol shots of moving ice echoing over the frozen loch in front of me, plus the occasional bellow of a wandering stag calling across the great lonely emptiness of Rannoch Moor.

A little later, having defrosted a little in the car, I turned off down the Glen Etive road and edged my way carefully down it as it’s hardly a priority for winter gritting and was covered in a thick frost. By the time I reached the head of Loch Etive dawn had started to lighten the day just a fraction and I began to trek along the northern bank of the loch over a mess of bog and heather. Stopping off for a few more photographs along the way I realised that much of the loch was covered with ice, which might render my trusty old Zziplex a little redundant.

A good while later I reached my destination – a small spit that sticks out a little into the loch – only to find that there was more ice than I’d counted on this far down the loch, and that it was thick enough to prevent a weight punching through it. At least the spit had the effect of diverting both the tide and the ice a little further out into the loch, so cast number two went into an almost ice-free eddy that hid in the shelter of the shingle. By now it was fully daylight and I didn’t plan on hanging around any longer than late morning, so I needed to get a move on if I was actually to catch anything apart from pixels.

Half an hour later I reeled in the remains of my mackerel bait, having fluffed an easy bite, but it at least proved there were a few fish around even in this cold. Persevering, I slung another small bait out around 80 yards to the edge of the ice and settled in to wait. Just one cup of coffee later, the rod tip nodded vigorously and a I reeled in a small but pretty little spurdog. With the blank off (even on a half-hearted fishing day this does seem to matter!) I cast out again and had a little scout around the shoreline whilst I waited. My eyes were drawn to a flicker of movement in the shallows and I scooped out a small whiting that had flapped around on its side. It wasn’t injured and I re-launched it into deeper water, but to no avail, as it simply drifted around helplessly. Presumably it was either suffering from the cold water or the high level of fresh water at the surface, but it suggested the reason why spurdogs come this far up a loch which can have few other food sources in it.

Back at the rod I managed one more bite before calling it a day, and spurdog number two made a brief appearance before being returned to the chilly darkness of its home. I packed up my gear and followed the path back to the head of the loch. For some reason it vanishes a few hundred yards before the car park, leaving only a bog crossing, but the whole experience is much easier in daylight rather than the early dawn. So, a day with little caught but very satisfying nonetheless, given the beautiful conditions and peaceful surroundings of this spectacular sea loch.

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