The east coast was storm bound and the west looked much the same. Not very encouraging if you’re the skipper of a small dinghy! However, the deep waters of Loch Etive looked a little more encouraging, and plans were duly made.
Tides were small and we had a relatively late start, dropping the boat into the start of the flood sometime after nine. Typically dour autumn weather, with light rain and wall to wall grey cloud, but at least it wasn’t windy.
We had a slow start, although Ian picked up a nice spurdog and a large-for-Etive grey gurnard. The spurrie went back without much ceremony because “we’re bound to get a better one”. No prizes for guessing the result…
Meantime, I concentrated on my crabs. I’m really quite good at this.
We both managed some whiting, and I added a thornback to the collection. Quite a few whiting were good quality by Etive standards and Ian kept a couple for tea.
However, between the crabs and the whiting, not much else was getting a look in. We up anchored and headed northwards, just as every other boat made their way south – perhaps not a great omen.
It was windy and very unpleasant around the quarry area, but calmed down greatly when we reached the more open water of the upper loch. Anchor dropped, and we settled down to fish.
I don’t often fish this mark, but it can throw up a bit of variety. Less so today, as we hit more of the same – whiting and doggies. A single hectic minute saw a couple of respectable spurdog and a thornie boated, but apart from that, all was quiet
We’d a final shot just off the moorings at Taynuilt, which produced more whiting and a little thornback for Ian. So plenty of whiting through the loch, which will hopefully attract some bigger predators in for their dinner. Next time. maybe!
I’ve been wanting to try out a kayak camp for a while now, and I finally got my act together last week. Just a short trip but with the promise of a fine evening.
I didn’t actually hit the water until after 5 in the afternoon, which gave around 3 hours or so before it got dark. Happily, the initially gusty wind fairly soon gave way to calmer conditions and I made good progress towards my planned site.
I bought the kayak with a bias towards touring/camping rather than all out fishing, but it’s still kitted out with rod holders and most of the gubbins that a typical angler might want. In line with that philosophy I trailed a small rapala lure behind the ‘yak as I made my way along. A hit rate of one fish every two miles might not sound great but I was happy enough with a couple of trout. Both returned – fortunately for them I already had more than enough food for the night!
A good few miles of paddling later I pulled in to a nice stretch of gravelly sand where I planned to set up camp.
I’d taken along a beachcaster and some mackerel bait, so I sorted that out before pitching the tent and getting some dinner prepared. There’s a reasonable depth of water here, and I’ve had fish from the shore before, so it seemed worth a try.
I sorted out the tent quickly and turned my attention to starting a campfire for the evening. I’d taken a decent supply of wood in with me as there’s little along this part of the shore. Dry wood is very easy to work with, and I soon had a fire going. Coffee on, and then a nice bit of steak to follow!
I fished and ate until after 10. The food was good, the fishing rather less so! A few crabs and one missed bite was the sum total. However I was happy enough to bed down for the night and some well-earned rest.
Next morning saw me cast out again before reviving the fire for more coffee and a couple of chunky bacon and egg rolls.
I swigged away but sadly my coffee failed to evoke its usual response and there was no savage take. I just had to contemplate my surroundings in the early morning calm.
With a rapidly rising wind forecast for later in the morning I couldn’t afford to hang around too long. Striking camp, I loaded the kayak with the fishing and camping gear and re-distributed my little fire circle around the beach before paddling off.
I stopped off in a couple of spots on my way back, partly to scout out new campsites, partly just for a little break from the paddling. By the time I neared the car the forecast had caught up with me and tranquillity was replaced by a howling wind. Chuck in some well-whipped white water when the squalls ripped through and I was quite glad to get ashore. Calm weather rarely lasts around these parts!
I’ve not been out much over the summer, with a trip up to St. Andrews and a couple of excursions from Dunbar.
No-one likes it, but haar is a fact of life for anyone boating on the east coast. It wasn’t too bad though, and you could still make out a horizon when headed out just after six in the morning. Two miles out, and a dozen mackerel later, and visibility disappeared.
Maybe 30-50 metres at best, and as thick as I’ve seen it. Not good, so I edged my way down to an inshore mark and stuck it out for the rest of the morning.
There were a few fish going about, and I’d cod, ling and pollack to supplement my mackerel. However, the tide was small and drift non-existent, so it was hard going.
Hearing other boats moving around, and the thump of lobster creels hitting the decks close by, meant that it was a fairly nervous session. Fortunately only one boat emerged out the haar and she was going slowly so we avoided each other without any drama.
I wasn’t really sorry to head back in – although the sun was now rapidly clearing away the haar and the horizon was visible again by the time I arrived back at the harbour.
Every now and again I let heart rule head, and set up for a day trying the many wrecks that litter the seabed of the Firth of Forth. Other than one or two piles of scrap close inshore I’ve never had a successful trip doing this, although it’s always a buzz to see a wreck materialise on the sonar.
It was a fine morning as I drove along to Dunbar, with little wind and small tides forecast, so it was as good a set of conditions as I’m ever likely to get. No sign of haar, unlike my earlier trip.
Edging out of the harbour just as the sun rose, I encountered a reasonable NE swell, which would add to the fun of fishing a snaggy wreck but otherwise wasn’t an issue.
I spent the next few hours working round in a large semi-circle about 7-10 miles out. A variety of WW1 and WW2 merchant ships and a U-boat all duly appeared on the sounder, in depths of 130-210 feet. A few drifts on each with bait and lures – and leaving some gear behind on most of them. Total catch zero, except on my reliable inshore friend which threw up a couple of pollack
I did get a partial success, but on an offshore reef rather than a wreck. It’s been a few years since I was last here, but there were plenty mackerel for the bait freezer and a little codling. Species of the day was this little Redfish (or Norway Haddock, I’m never 100% sure), which seem to inhabit this particular mark. Certainly, it’s the only place near here that I’ve encountered them.
So, a top up for winter bait and a bonus species, but otherwise a fairly predictable disappointment. Enough to cure me of wreck fishing for a season or two, probably.
Galloway Fishing Week has become a bit of an institution in the last few years, largely because I’ve more time to play as the kids have grown up. Early June offers a crack at a wide variety of species in Galloway, with a decent chance of some larger specimens if the weather holds up. Tope, hounds, bass and huss probably head the list, but it is a very different style of angling and that adds to the attraction.
However, last year was a disaster, as my dad paid an unplanned visit to hospital, followed by the only bad weather in the whole of June. Basically, Galloway 2018 simply didn’t happen 🙁
We kept all our fingers crossed for 2019 and pored over the forecasts as the days ticked down. Finally Ian and I hit the road to Port William, sharing the car with a mountain of camping and fishing gear. At least the crabs were relegated to the boat for the journey! Trevor arrived just after the last tent peg was in place – good timing on his part!
I’ve now tried the rather OTT glamping set up on several occasions, so was pretty confident I could make us comfortable for a week or so. It certainly looked the part, complete with carpet and comfy carp beds!
We didn’t waste too much time hanging around camp, as the tide only allowed us a limited window and we didn’t want to squander our opportunity.
Out on the bay and Ian set the tone nicely early on by catching a relative rarity for an east-coaster – a rather tropical looking scad. A few herring and mackerel secured our bait supply for the afternoon and we could settle down for some proper fishing.
To be honest, quality was a little hard to come by. We added more species and Ian did OK with the local rays, but tope were elusive. For some reason the dabs found my baits irresistible, but ignored the others.
We crept back into the harbour as the last of the tide left it and headed back to our tent. A little later, and marginally spruced up, we headed along to the Cock Inn for a hearty dinner. After which I fell asleep in my nice comfy carp bed – too tired to even finish my beer!
We hit Garlieston next day, just before the flood tide reached the very muddy bottom of the slip. Ploughing round into Wigtown Bay we soon hit good numbers of small hounds on crab, rag and other bits and pieces.
Ray, huss, doggies and a dab or two also put in an appearance, but no sign of bass. We also had a few tope, but all tiddlers with none making double figures. Still, we had good fun for a few hours until the tide turned and I decided not to spend the rest of the afternoon stern on to steep sided waves. Close inshore near Eggerness was definitely calmer but almost fishless, so no-one argued with heading in slightly earlier than planned.
Back to Luce Bay
Round at Port William the next morning I felt a bit of a bystander as Ian and Trevor got stuck into a pile of huss, after clearing out the local ray population.
Tope played hard to get again, until Ian hit a good run that turned into a very energetic tope that went from one side of the boat to the other repeatedly, until Trevor finally lifted her aboard. At 42lbs it was a personal best for Ian and easily the biggest fish to grace the decks this year.
It didn’t bring many of its mates though, and proved to be the highlight of the day.
We had a nice long lie on Saturday, as the tides favoured a late start, so there was plenty of time for coffee, toast and the obligatory bacon rolls before heading off. Round at Garlieston again, we were soon out on the Cree estuary casting out in search of smoothhound and tope.
We hit fish from the off, but the story was similar to our earlier expedition. Lots of small fish, including a lot of tiny tope, but not too much quality going about apart from a ray or two and the odd huss.
Revenge of the Crabs
We awoke to quite blustery conditions that were pretty marginal for bouncing around on a boat. To be honest, I was quite happy to have a day on dry land so we headed over to Carsluith for a shortish session on the pier instead.
‘Twas very slow fishing, to put it mildly, and it was quite a while before Trevor broke our duck with a small school bass.
The crabs were undoubtedly the big winners today, obliterating most of our remaining worms and crabs as they stripped hooks bare in minutes.
Ian did manage to sneak out another bass from under their pincers, and Trevor eventually added a flounder, but it was slow going.
As for me, my contribution was a single eel. I’m not sure what I was being punished for, but I was quite happy to pack up and head for the car!
Saving the Best for Last
By contrast, our last day was undoubtedly the best of the week, with good weather and plenty of fish. We headed out of Port William and into the early morning sunshine, and soon found our mark for the day. In contrast to previous days, there were plenty of pack tope, mainly in the teens but with the biggest reaching 26lb.
More huss appeared, and I’ve never had as many of the grumpy buggers as we had this week. Doubly so, if you add in all those that just let go of the bait when they got close to the boat.
My day ended with a personal best, being a bass of 7lb 10oz that came to a tope bait. You could probably have heard the yell of delight back in Port William.
An hour later and we ran into harbour just as the wind picked up against the tide and the spray started to fly. With the tent all packed up already, Trevor said his goodbyes and set off northwards to the Fraserburgh tundra. Hopefully we can all keep in with the weather gods and get a repeat next year!
I think this was probably the most relaxed fishing I’ve had in recent years. Most days we were out for 6 hours or so over high water, so fairly short trips apart from a couple of longer 9-11 hour trips to take advantage of quieter conditions.
I final note on the Orkney, as this was the first time I’ve had three fishing aboard her and I wasn’t too sure about how she’d behave. None of us are lightweights, but it wasn’t too difficult to work around each other when dealing with fish. Speed dropped of course, down to 10-11 knots (11-12 mph), which was actually a little better than I expected.
Last Sunday saw me arriving at Dunbar for the back of six in the morning, heading out of the harbour for the first time in many months. It was a lovely morning, despite a steady 3-4 foot swell rolling in from the NE. There was no wind at all, so I’d actually a very gentle ride, and it dropped away steadily until it was more like 2 feet by late morning.
I spent most of my time fishing an inshore wreck a few miles down the coast. She coughed up a steady stream of codling with a few other bits and pieces on a series of slow, easy drifts. I took most fish on a mackerel belly strip and 2oz bullet dropped to the bottom and slow retrieved, but a fair number hung themselves on hokkais too.
My catch were all small, 1-2lb fish, with the biggest not much over 2.5lbs. This was a little disappointing as I can often pick up the odd 5-7lb fish early in the season, albeit generally looking like they lost a boxing match.
I managed just three pollack, with the best somewhere around 5-5.5lbs – a fat, mean fish which had a nasty hole in its shoulder and various other scars. However, it still managed to give a very good account of itself and was returned to get even fatter and meaner. Also rans included a couple of tiddler ling and ditto for coalfish. I had a final 45 minute drift inshore which added some more codling but nothing else. So, my final tally was 19 codling, 3 pollack, 2 ling and 2 coalies for about 4.5 hours fishing. Not exactly setting the heather on fire , but a respectable showing.
I have to say that Dunbar grows ever harder to deal with as a launch site. At six in the morning I got the last available parking space within 300 yards of the slip! The rowing club now have the equivalent of two car and trailer spaces, the burger van another, and miscellaneous parked boats all the rest.
The newly “improved” slipway is more than a little daunting too, as it’s now lined with huge boulders at the upper end, on both sides. I suppose the effect is more psychological than real as the boulders are perched on top of rocky outcrops anyway, but the diggers have managed to cover the only soft area with sharp shards of rock so it’s a far from healthy environment to park a boat on whilst to try and find somewhere to park a car.
I’ve been in virtual hibernation since those early January trips, so there’s not much to report for Spring 2019! I guess it’s partly time off coinciding with cold, windy conditions, but I’ve struggled a bit with motivation too.
Back in March, I’d an overnight session on a pretty wet Loch Etive, which was supposed to be snowy but turned out to be sleet and rain. It was actually more comfortable than it sounds, but the fishing was terrible with only a couple of tiny spurdog. ‘Nuff said really!
Mull – April
Ian and I grabbed the opportunity offered by a little break in the run of easterly winds and headed out from Oban for the day. This was a longish run in search of a pollack rather than skate, and not one that really paid off 🙁
We did get numbers of pollack, but mainly tiny 1-2lb fish, and the biggest didn’t make 5lb 8oz. Despite the forecast, the sun stayed at home and the wind came out to play for most of the day. At least the half-gale dropped later on and we had a moderately quiet journey home (although I’m not sure Ian would describe it in quite those terms!)
Kayaking on Leven
One thing I did do during the early spring doldrums was acquire a slightly battered Perception Triumph and a pile of associated kit. I’ve no plans to head over to the dark side, but there are plenty of spots where a kayak would be handy for a mixed fish’n’camp session. Possibly a little freshwater too, when the sea fishing is a bit too quiet.
My first outing was to a fairly safe venue, Loch Leven, and I spent most of the day getting used to the beast and paddling up and down the loch. I did manage a couple of hours fishing and picked up a couple of rays, but that wasn’t really the point of the day.
I’ve done a modest amount of kayaking and canoeing over the years, although very little using a sit on top, so I was pleased that everything seemed to work out well enough. The kayak doesn’t cut across waves too well, so I may need to add a skeg or rudder to make life a little easier on windier days. However, there should be more time to experiment a bit over the summer!
A fine couple of camp’n’fish trips to Etive kick off 2019.
New Year’s Day
My usual post-Christmas boredom dragged me out the house for a solo trip on New Years Day, heading west for a 2 day fish’n’camp session over at Etive. I trailed the boat over, and was soon heading northwards up to my favourite haunts in the waters of the upper loch.
Clipping on a 40g silver Koster quickly resulted in a take and a rather underwhelming little pollack became my first victim of 2019. I can only hope his bigger brothers want revenge later in the year!
Apart from my one pollack it was very similar to recent trips, with loads of small spurs and a couple of tiddler rays. It did turn into a fine evening though – calm, cold and clear, and just as I like it.
Mooring up just off the eastern shoreline, I set up camp in the last of the light. This was the same spot Ian and I went glamping a couple of months back but just with the small tent this time. Dinner was simple – sausages, beans and baked tatties, all cooked on the beach in the heat of my campfire.
I’d a few casts from the shore whilst I waited for dinner to cook which produced a spurdog followed by a pair of varifocal specs, presumably lost by some careless boater over the summer. Makes a change from crabs, anyway!
Next morning was fine and calm, with crispy frozen sand crunching under my feet. My not-so-smart phone tried to tell me it was -11C, but I doubt if it was any lower than -5. Still chilly though!
Camp struck, boat retrieved, and then it was time for a few more hours on the water. I’d love to say there were monsters queueing up, but the reality was a long line of small spurdog.
A couple of days at work, and then Trevor and I met up at Taynuilt last weekend for a repeat performance. Launching into the gloom of a misty Highland dawn we spent the morning on a couple of marks around Airds and Ardchattan. The usual small thornbacks and spurdog put in an appearance, but we caught no surprises.
By early afternoon we decided to head up to our campsite and get set up in daylight.
A couple more hours afloat, chasing fairly small stuff, and we edged our way cautiously back to camp and set up a temporary mooring for the night.
The weather was calm but a bit misty and drizzly, so the big tent was a huge improvement over dodging drips in a glorified bin bag – and just as warm as our previous experience with the woodburner.
Trevor wasn’t feeling so good that evening (I put it down to chewing rotten mackerel), so I swallowed a dram on his behalf before hitting the sack. The highlanders (cattle, not human) that evicted Ian and myself last month had moved on to terrorise the occupants of Cadderlie bothy so we had no visitors overnight.
Next morning we awoke to an almost surreal sight in the early morning mist, as my boat appeared suspended in cloud rather than floating on the water.
As the light strengthened so did the drizzle, and we were happy enough to fire up some bacon rolls and coffee rather than make a dash for the sea. Eventually, though, we packed up the gear and overloaded the boat again, before heading out for a few more hours.
Trev was perkier again this morning, and soon began to cuff in fishing terms. I don’t much care when it comes to the smaller fish, but I woke up when he picked up a 9lb spurdog in the deep trench off Barrs.
Sadly, this was as good as it got and we spent most of the time dealing with relative tiddlers. However we could hardly complain about our surroundings as even the mist highlights the beauty of the loch.
And, having spent 5 days in the last 2 weeks afloat on Etive, I might give it a rest for a little bit!
A kind of slow burn day afloat on Etive with Ian – but with a bit more action later in the day.
Kelly’s pier looked distinctly drab and unwelcoming as Ian and I arrived at Etive in the grey light of dawn. The winter solstice had just passed – although it didn’t exactly feel like we were charging towards summer as thick fog sucked the heat from our bodies. At least not so much as a ripple disturbed the loch surface.
Clearly not conditions to hang about, so we launched as efficiently as Michelin man clothing allows and headed down the loch. We planned to try a couple of new spots, given generally poor results from our usual marks in recent months.
We detoured slightly to locate a small wreck lying close inshore but decided to leave it to the divers this time round.
Our first stopping point was a hole in around 100 feet of water, largely surrounded by shallower banks and close to a decent shore spot. I was fairly hopeful as we dropped a variety of baits onto the sandy bottom. However, 90 minutes and a single grey gurnard later we headed across the loch to location number 2. Another 90 minutes with nothing but crabs to show for our efforts and any optimism suitably crushed, we retreated to a deeper mark.
The sun was out, and morale soon improved as we started to pick up fish and our feet thawed just out a little. Ian did his usual, trashing me in the thornie stakes, and we both picked up a range of small spurdogs. Similar to the last time we fished here, but with no sign of anything larger.
With dusk not too far away we decided to make a final shift up to a mark in deeper water. I’ve not fished up here for a couple of years but it has thrown up a decent mix of species in past seasons, and it didn’t look like we’d much to lose! At 220 feet it was a bit deeper than the spots we’d tried most of the day. I don’t know if that was the reason or not, but the fish seemed ready to play.
We’d a mix of spurdogs and a handful of ray. All fairly small until Ian hit into a fish that was clearly better than the titchy stuff. Being faced with something that pulled back was a bit of a surprise after all the little pack fish, but it didn’t take too long to surface a nice spurdog. Not weighed, but somewhere around the 8-9lb mark.
My turn next as a good run resulted in a fine bend on my rod and a suitable feeling of solidness. A few minutes later and a very plump female spur appeared in the net. This one was weighed and just crept into double figures, at 10lb 2oz. Still, my first double figure spurdog for some time now!
We fished on into darkness for about 90 minutes, taking advantage of a fine, calm evening. Sadly, although we picked up a further sprinkling of ray and spurdog plus a couple of whiting, there were no more doubles on offer.
So I’m quite happy with my Christmas prezzie from Etive, although the day shows how unpredictable a place it can be. Nothing to show for the morning, followed by decent numbers at marks not too far away.
I’ve not been fishing Leven too much recently, as it’s definitely got poorer in the last year or two. However, I needed to test out some new kit and wanted somewhere that offered an easy way to get afloat for a few hours. Hence Loch Leven tends to pop up…
The new kit in question was a hydrofoil for the outboard, and I also wanted some more time to get used to my new Simrad sonar. Fishing was definitely on the cards, but more as a secondary activity today.
I’ve been finding the Longliner digs in a bit at the stern when it get loaded up with two people and kit like an auxiliary outboard. A hydrofoil to raise the stern was one possible solution so I duly ordered and fitted one.
Initially I spent a little while drifting close in to the fish cages, feathering for the mackerel which often lurk around them in winter. They’re not always predictable but the fishing gods were smiling and a few drifts produced 5 of them. Some decent beasts amongst them, and plenty enough for a short fishing session, so I was happy enough. Next up was a short sonar cruise to play with the sidescan, before some proper fishing time.
I dropped anchor in a slightly “off the wall” mark in less than 40 feet. Perhaps not your typical ray spot at this time of year, but I’ve had fish in shallow water before and it was an easy spot to try for a couple of hours. For the first 30-40 minutes it appeared lifeless, but then I picked up a small thornie – and another, and another.
Altogether I’d 10 rays in the next 90 minutes before things slowed down and I headed right up the loch to test out the hydrofoil. In between playing with toys, I stopped off to fish the rocky ground just up from the Narrows and got pretty much what I expected. Small codling, small ling. To be honest, it’s too accessible and too heavily fished to expect much else. Still, they added to the species count for the day.
A final last stand at a mark below the Narrows produced zilch. By now it was very cold so I was happy to head back to the slip at Ballachulish and hit the shore just as it got dark.
And the hydrofoil? Poor, to be honest. It functioned perfectly up until about 15 knots when it hit a ceiling and refused to go any faster. I’ll give it a proper try with Ian aboard, to see if it helps when more heavily laden. However, for solo use, it’s a decided thumbs down at anything above a modest cruising speed.
A little café culture on a warm November day in St Andrews, preceded by a few hours coddie bashing afloat.
Catching up on a few recent sessions…
Mid-November saw Ian and I slipping out of St Andrews harbour in search of some codling. Just as we set out, we were treated to a fine, if cold, sunrise over a placid North Sea.
It was a small tide, and we’d to work for our fish today. There were some lengthy slow spells, but with some hectic spells in between. Irrespective of size, the fish were in fine early winter condition and good looking specimens. We kept a few for the fish box, but most went back to get a bit bigger!
This was a short morning session, with only a few hours to fish. However, back ashore we treated ourselves to a bacon roll and chips at the harbour café. It’s not often you can sit out in warm sunshine on the Scottish east coast in November. I’m not complaining though 🙂