Getting Wrecked on Mull – a Visit to the Meldon

I needed to get shot of my cabin fever after last week’s snow, and conditions looked good for Oban last Sunday. Unfortunately Ian was lurgied with man-flu and didn’t seem to keen to spend a day on the boat passing on his germs. A solo-skate session was one possibility, but I decided to explore a bit further afield and visit the wreck of the Meldon, which lies close in to Mull.

Launching my Longliner 2 dinghy at Ganavan, just north of Oban
Launching at Ganavan

Mull is a splendidly dramatic island, perhaps not quite as inaccessible as Skye but with plenty of forbidding looking coastline just waiting to be explored. Cliffs up to 1000 feet high line its southern fringes and the shoreline is largely ironbound for little boats like ours. Not a location to get complacent!

Cliffs guard the entrance to Loch Buie, Isle of Mull, and reach over 1000 feet high
Cnoc a’Ghille guards the eastern end of Loch Buie, with cliffs reaching 1000 feet high

However, every now and again the rock has lost it’s battle with ice and sea, and sea lochs like Buie break into the cliff line. And it was here, 21 miles from the slipway at Ganavan, that my 21g leadhead and firetail worm cocktail first hit the water in search of a pollack. With a rusting scrapyard only 45 feet below me I didn’t give the worm too long to sink before starting the retrieve. Only seconds later my rod slammed over as a hungry fish beat his comrades to my jellyworm, and doubts about my choice of mark vanished.

Fish On! as another pollack thumps away on the end of my line
Fish On!

My first pollack of 2018 was a typical inshore fish, apart from the fact it was extraordinarily plump. In excellent condition just prior to spawning I assume, but it looked ready to burst. However it was safely returned and I carried on exploring the wreck.

A nice pollack from a shallow water wreck close into the Mull shoreline
Inshore wreck pollack from the Meldon

The scrapyard in question is the Meldon, a fairly large WW1 casualty that hit a mine. It made it ashore but sank before it could be salvaged and remains in surprisingly good condition considering its exposed location. Sometimes visited by divers, it doesn’t attract too much angling attention, probably because it’s quite a long way from anywhere.

Chilly March day afloat on Loch Buie, Isle of Mull
Chilly March day afloat on Loch Buie
This pollack fancied a rhubarb and custard shad for lunch
This pollack fancied rhubarb and custard for lunch

My drifts were fairly short and I’d to keep an eye on the nearby shoreline, but the fish were certainly hungry and I soon amassed a respectable collection. All returned bar one which completely engulfed a shad – and which delivered a surprise when properly weighed back home. I’d assumed it to be around 3lb 8oz, and the weight for length tables gave 3lb 12oz, but the (new and fairly accurate) scales went 4lb 10oz. Fat indeed, and this fish was pretty typical of the day.

A very well conditioned pollack of about 8lbs caught in 35 feet of water from a wreck off the south coast of Mull
A fine fat pollack
A couple of smallish coalfish took a fancy to my pink shad lure
A couple of Coalfish swallowed this pink shad
Inshore pollack feed aggressively on lures - this one on a rhubarb and custard shad
Pollack meets shad

I was hammering a fairly small patch of seabed so it wasn’t surprising that catches gradually dropped off during the day. However a final total of 29 pollack to over 8lbs and a couple of coalies left me a happy bunny.

Incidentally, aside from the Meldon, there is another wreck en route, namely the Maine which was a hospital ship that went aground in thick fog back in 1914. Aside from some wreckage onshore there is no sign of it on sonar, but I may pay another visit there over the summer as I suspect something must still remain from what was a fairly large vessel.

*** Anyone planning a visit to the Meldon must be aware that part of the stern dries at low water and sits just below the surface at other times. Hit it and you’ll most likely join the wreck yourself. The stern is nearest the shore and the hazard is real! ***

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Spurring on Loch Etive

After a couple of weeks of cold, windy and snowy weather I really welcomed the prospect of a calm, sunny day on Friday. Ian was up for the challenge of an early morning start, so high water saw us slipping the dinghy into the cold waters of Loch Etive around half-eight.

I followed my usual habit of fishing a spot or two down the loch on the ebb tide and we got what has become the usual result – very little. Only 3 or 4 whiting in fact, which suggests I need to revamp tactics a little. Or perhaps building the new fish farm nearby has disrupted things a bit?

Ben Cruachan in the winter sunshine
Ben Cruachan in the winter sunshine

Reversing course well up the loch put us into more fish friendly territory. Micro-spurs to be more precise 🙁 I don’t know which is worse – catching nothing, or hauling tiddlers 250+ feet. We were kept busy hauling them to the surface and soon shed our jackets as we started overheating in the sunshine.

Little and littler - an LSD and a micro spur side by side. We had loads of tiny spurdogs on Loch Etive today
Little and littler – an LSD and a micro spur side by side

Happily things started to improve and a handful of better fish appeared. Ian provided this nice fish of just over 9lbs and I added another not long afterwards.

Ian with a fine Etive spurdog
Ian with a fine Etive spurdog
Another nice spurdog comes to play
Another nice spurdog comes to play

A sprinkling of whiting and a suicidal poorcod mixed it with the spurs and Ian did his usual efforts to clear any LSDs from the vicinity. I think he managed 8 to my 1!

A poorcod and a whiting - the poorcod makes good bait, the whiting less so.
Poorcod and a whiting.
Tangles - the less glamorous side of fishing!
Tangles – the less glamorous side of fishing!

A couple more spurs around 9lbs came along as we basked in the sunshine and munched a bacon roll or two. Not exactly fantastic fishing but a lovely day to be afloat in midwinter!

Me holding a nice spurdog with Glen Etive in the background
Me with a nice spurdog
Ian and another Etive spurdog
Ian and another Etive spurdog

Towards the end of the day I picked up a codling in the 2.5lb bracket and Ian added the only thornback of the day with a decidedly muddy specimen. The temperature plummeted as the light faded so we didn’t hang around into the dark

Our final tally was around 50 spurdog (the vast majority very small), perhaps 10-12 whiting, 9 LSDs, and one each of thornback, codling and poorcod.

Etive looks a little grey as the sun disappears (Ian's pic)
Etive looks a little grey as the sun disappears (Ian’s pic)
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Kicking off 2018 in Style – Targeting Skate and Conger off Oban

Lochearnhead was a freezing -5 degrees when Ian and I met up on Sunday in the pre-dawn darkness. We didn’t hang about, quickly shovelling the rods and gear into my car before heading across to Oban with the boat in tow. Gallanach managed a balmy -2C as we launched and headed out to Kerrera, very grateful for the shelter of the cuddy. First trip of 2018 and we were targeting skate …

Sunrise off Gallanach, near Oban, January 2018
Sunrise off Gallanach (photo courtesy of Ian)

A little while later and the gentle SE breeze still managed to cut right through us as we waited for the boat to settle at anchor. Skate were the target, but getting a bacon roll and a hot coffee on the go to ward off the chill felt more like my priorities. However, even with 530 feet of water below us, it didn’t take too long to get the baits out and settle down to defrost.

Cold, grey sea with a background of the Nevis range of mountains covered in snow
A cold winter morning looking towards Ben Nevis

Maybe half an hour passed before Ian’s rod keeled over to the steady run of a skate. I went into cameraman mode for a few minutes, until the ratchet screeched on my own reel (the ratchet on an Avet reel is definitely not subtle, and makes a horrible racket). A double hook-up!!

Ian bends into a skate off Kerrera, January 2018
Ian bends into a skate off Kerrera

Whilst it’s all very nice to know that there are skate around, hooking two simultaneously creates a wee bit of a problem in a small boat. The obvious difficulty comes after 20 minutes of exhausting, backbreaking, slog when you bring the fish alongside. Trying to haul one fish over the gunwhale without losing the other as you do so isn’t easy, especially if you’re both a bit knackered. However we sort of managed and filled the cockpit with a brace of skate – almost identical males in the 120-130lb bracket.

A brace of skate aboard my little Longliner 2. One each to me and Ian, with a double hookup always being interesting to manage when the fish hit the surface.
Two at a time! Both decent sized male fish

Hasty measurements and a photo or two and then they slimed their way back over the side and into the depths again. A new coalie on the hook and then it was time to get serious with the bacon rolls as we’d definitely earned one by now.

Deep water - the sonar reads nearly 530 feet to the muddy seafloor
Deep water – the sonar reads nearly 530 feet

Another good run to my rod came to nothing, but a repeat a few minutes later hooked me into a small skate. I wasn’t complaining though, and this little 32lb fish was a lot easier to handle than its predecessor.

Small skate of around 32lb taken in January 2018 from the Firth of Lorne, near Kerrera
Small skate of around 32lb (photo courtesy of Ian)
Ian plays another skate in the Firth of Lorne as the sun fades on a very chilly winter afternoon. This one ultimately escaped, much to Ian's frustration.
Ian with another skate
A 169lb skate taken from 520 feet of water near Kerrera, Oban.
Best skate of the day (photo courtesy of Ian)

The rest of the day proceeded in similar fashion and we ended up with six skate in total, with the best around 169lb. Ian had a number of smallish spurs to his lighter rod and I also picked up a bonus of a small conger, something I’ve never caught round here before.

A small conger eel captured on a large skate bait from deep water off Oban
Small conger eel (photo courtesy of Ian)
Fifth skate of the day, and I'm feeling the strain...
Fifth skate of the day, and I’m feeling the strain… (photo courtesy of Ian)

We stuck it out until the sun set before finally hauling yet another heavy weight from the seabed as we retrieved the anchor. Job done, we headed home cautiously in the dark, looking forward to defrosting in a nice warm car. Six common skate and a similar number of spurdogs, not forgetting a small conger, makes a pretty good start to the year in my book!

A cold winter sunset afloat near Kerrera, January 2018
Winter sunset looking towards the Garvellachs and Jura
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Dodging Icebergs on Loch Etive

It’s not often that icebergs stop play when it comes to sea fishing in the UK, but it came close yesterday. I was out on the boat near Kinglass on Loch Etive and the fish were (almost!) being protected by large shields of ice drifting down from the Glen Etive end. A very dramatic winter scene on a beautiful calm day, but I did manage to winkle a few fish out as well. Have a look at the video and see for yourselves – if nothing else the sound effects from about 4:25 onwards should bring any boat owner out in a cold sweat…

I’d launched from Taynuilt just before dawn and followed my usual routine of first trying down the loch towards Ardchattan on the ebb tide. A good shot here yielded only a couple of thornbacks and a pair of spurdogs, all small, plus a collection of whiting and a doggie. The whiting were shredding baits quite quickly so I didn’t take much persuasion to shift up the loch and try a spot which held good numbers of fish the last time Ian and I were across, about a month or so ago.

Your typical Loch Etive whiting doesn't grow very big, as this image shows
Typical Etive whiting

All went smoothly until I reached somewhere near the bothy at Cadderlie and started to encounter more and more sheets of slushy ice stretching across the loch. I’ve seen this a couple of times before and, given the very cold weather over the last week, it wasn’t much of surprise. Pressing on it became less and less slushy and obviously too thick and extensive to make any sensible attempt to fish. Maybe not quite icebergs, but close enough as far as I’m concerned! I retreated back to a mark off Kinglass which seemed relatively ice-free and dropped anchor in about 280 feet and dropped frozen mackerel into water of about the same temperature – less than 2 degrees according to my sonar.

The water is only 1.8 degrees here, very low for a saltwater loch, and down to the amount of fresh water near the surface.
Cold water, only 1.8 degrees

Clearly things were a lot warmer down at the bottom, or else we’ve some very hardy fish around here, as there were a steady stream of takers. Mainly little spurdog, but a doggie or two and a few more whiting. Even a little cod which dropped off right at the surface.

One of many little spurdogs trashes its way onto the boat, with a beautiful wintry backdrop of snowy mountains surrounding Loch Etive.
Trashing spurdog

The fishing was kind of mixed in with the ice crunching past the hull of my Longliner 2, and I wouldn’t have wanted to fish in anything thicker. Even as it stood the boat and anchor were dragged a couple of hundred metres by quite thin ice floes.

My boat is sitting at anchor on Loch Etive and carving a path through a sheet of ice floating past on the tide.
Carving through ice

Pretty much the final fish was the ling you see in the pic, which is the first I’ve had from this far up Etive and was clearly eyeing up a whiting which was on the other hook – quite a scabby specimen and probably about 4lb or so, but I wasn’t complaining.

A ling taken from the upper part of Loch Etive, my first from this far up the loch
Loch Etive Ling

I chucked in the fishing a bit earlier than I usually do, partly because of the cold but also because I didn’t fancy ploughing into more ice at speed on the way home. Apart from having two blocks of ice for feet it wasn’t uncomfortable afloat, and the conditions made for a memorable day afloat.

A beautiful but bitterly cold winter scene on Loch Etive, looking SW past Ben Cruachan
Etive was just as cold as it looks in this image
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East Coast Round-up

I’ve been very remiss in reporting this year’s events on the Scottish east coast boat fishing scene. Maybe there’s not been much to write about, but I have fallen way behind. A mid-November trip out of St Andrews may be my last trip afloat on the east coast this year (hopefully not!) so kind of forces me to write up or shut up as far as the fishing afloat is concerned.

Ian's Raider berthed at St Andrews
Berthed at St Andrews

It’s not a great year to be honest – modest catches of this and that, but little outstanding or memorable. Pollack, cod, ling and mackerel, with the odd coalie and wrasse thrown in.

A nice, dark coloured, ballan wrasse for Ian, caught off St Andrews
Nice ballan wrasse for Ian, caught earlier this year

However, last Wednesday saw me heading out of St. Andrews on Ian’s Raider on a fine, calm morning. Our target was codling, aiming to repeat Ian’s success of a few days earlier in what had been far worse conditions. Apart from a few dog walkers and joggers the harbour was deserted as we headed down alongside the historic old pier and then accelerated down the coast in the direction of Fife Ness. November is traditionally a shore fishers, rather than a boat fishers, month and we had no competition out on the water.

A very calm North Sea, not quite what you expect in November
Not bad for November!

Miles along the coast, and several drifts later, we were contemplating digging out the beachcasters ourselves. Nothing doing. However, experience had long taught us that fish switch on and off the feed, and that patience can really pay off. A couple of hours and a few ling and pollack later, the codling finally decided to start showing themselves.

A small ling from St. Andrews
Small ling

Nothing like the 100+ fish we’ve had in the past, but a steady catch rate of codling cheered up the day.

Ian with a fairly typical St Andrews codling
Typical codling

Ian even tried his flying d*ldo rig, a ridiculously large fluorescent yellow shad more suited to Norwegian halibut, and managed a greedy little codling in exchange.

Ian aims high with his eye-catching latex lure
Ian aims high with his eye-catching latex
A very greedy little codling tackles Ian's hi-viz latex monster lure
A very greedy codling

I’m guessing the final total was 30-40 codling and maybe 12-15 or so assorted pollack, coalies, ling and a whiting (a comparatively rare fish in these parts). Best fish was a pollack that Ian landed, 5lb 4oz or thereabouts.

Little and large - a pollack and a whiting from St Andrews
Little and large – a pollack and a whiting

My equally late West Coast update still to follow…

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Corryvreckan and Jura

A couple of years ago I sketched out a plan to take a boat around the Isle of Jura, more just to explore this remote place than to do any serious fishing. Of course, doing so involves traversing the Gulf of Corryvreckan which, depending on who you believe, is either the second or third largest whirlpool in the world…

Despite its terrifying reputation (30 foot high standing waves, the roar of the sea being heard 10 miles away, etc, etc.) it was pretty obvious that lots of small craft, from yachts to kayaks, made it in one piece and it was more a question of the right tides, weather and timing. Aligning these three with enough time off work delayed things, but last week saw me trailing the boat across to a spot called Carsaig (near Crinan).

Western edges of Corryvreckan
Western edges of Corryvreckan

The Longliner was loaded up with a little more than normal, to allow for a tent and sleeping bag, before nosing out into the Sound of Jura and taking advantage of the late summer sun as we headed over to Jura. There was a little time to kill before the tide was right for Corryvreckan so I had a little fish around the farmhouse at Barnhill (its main claim to fame being the place where George Orwell wrote “1984”). One lonely coalie later I continued on my way, along an equally lonely coastline. Barring a hikers bothy the next human habitation was another 30 miles ahead of me.

Exiting Loch Tarbet, Jura, heading south on a fine morning and calm seas


In the event a light NW wind, very small tides and slack water saw me heading through Corryvreckan in very anti-climactic fashion with a small swell of less than a metre and no overfalls to worry about. A few minutes later I popped out the far side and into a pretty rugged stretch of coastline. At that point it dawned on me that the Yam must have completed it’s 10 hour run in period somewhere in the middle of Corryvreckan. Pretty much academic really, but it gave me a little satisfaction at the thought.

Run-in complete - in the middle of Corryvreckan!
Run-in complete – in the middle of Corryvreckan!
Small coalfish from the edge of Corryvreckan
Small coalfish from the edge of Corryvreckan

30 minutes fishing saw loads of mackerel and some coalies, plus pollack to 3lbs or so on feathers close in to the small islands at the edge of Corryvreckan, but I didn’t hang around here given that I’d quite a way to go and the tide run was quite noticeable even at slack water. As I mentioned nobody at all lives on the west coast of Jura, with a single bothy and a summer house owned by the Astor family being the only buildings, so pretty genuinely a trackless wilderness.

Formidable cliffs line the NW coast of Jura.
Formidable cliffs line the NW coast of Jura.

Full of raised beaches and with a neat ring of rock lying just offshore that varies between just above or just below the surface – so very tricky to get ashore unless you’re in a kayak.

The bothy at Glengarrisdale, Jura, with its red tin roof clearly showing in this shot from the seaward side
The bothy at Glengarrisdale, Jura

Maclean’s Skull…

I’d kind of hoped to do just that near the bothy at Glengarrisdale, but the swell was washing onto a boulder beach and it looked a distinctly bad idea at that stage of tide (around mid-tide it’s pretty much a sandy beach). Glengarrisdale is also the home of the Cave of Macleans Skull, or at least was so up until comparatively recently. The story goes that one of the many, many skirmishes between the clans occurred here sometime in the 1600s and no-one got around to burying all the casualties at the time. Consequently Maclean’s skull had a cave to himself for a few hundred years, barring the odd visiting hiker, until he finally disappeared about 40 years ago. The tale perhaps underlines how remote this area is, as I can’t quite see the same thing happening in Edinburgh.

Maclean's skull, Glengarrisdale Bay, Jura
Maclean’s skull, Glengarrisdale Bay, Jura

I trundled down the coast for a few more hours and stopped off to fish a sandy bank just offshore from Loch Tarbet. Perhaps 50 feet of water and very little tide and my baits were completely shredded by small critters quite quickly. I tried a livebaited mackerel in case some tope had headed up from Islay, but nothing doing in the hour or two I gave it. Perhaps not too surprising given the tide, relatively short time and generally random nature of the mark, but I headed into Loch Tarbet to find somewhere to sleep overnight.

Drift fishing near Glengarrisdale, Jura
Drift fishing near Glengarrisdale, Jura

Loch Tarbet

Tarbet is one of these lochs that just keeps on going and it very nearly cuts Jura in half, but with three or four channels maybe only 20 metres across and others with plenty of rocks in them it requires quite a lot of care even in a wee boat like mine. It was getting on a bit by now and I was tired so I decided to stop playing dodgems with the reefs and find somewhere to rest up and get some food.

I dropped anchor in shallow water, just in the lee of a headland and sorted myself some dinner as the light faded (Wayfarer’s Chilli con Carne if you want to know, and not at all bad). With the cover on the Longliner she converts into rather a large tent and was quite comfy on a calm night so I got a decent night’s sleep. I could have headed ashore and popped up the tent but it was easier and more midge-friendly to stay afloat this time around. Morning saw me spend a couple of hours trying a hole in the loch in search of rays, but really just repeating the experience of the day before – lots of wee things having their breakfast at my expense.

Somewhat frustrated I headed back down the loch aways and came inshore to scrunch around an impressively massive shingle bank that represents multiple layers of raised beaches. My boat is in the photo, so gives some sense of scale.

Impressive raised beach on Loch Tarbert, Jura.
Impressive raised beach on Loch Tarbert, Jura
Peat coloured seawater in Loch Tarbet
Peat coloured seawater in Loch Tarbet

Further round Jura and you get into the Sound of Islay, where the coast is a little more civilised but overshadowed by quite impressive mountains in the form of the Paps of Jura. Round here I was extricating myself from between some rocks near the shore when I encountered a pair of otters. One was a bit shy but the other just swam towards me and seemed quite curious rather than nervous – I’ve never seen that before, as usually they disappear quickly if any anglers appear.

An otter keeps an eye on me - just south of Jura

Sea otter in the Sound of Islay, off Jura
Sea otter in the Sound of Islay, off Jura

Pollacking on Black Rock

I tried a couple of spots along the way but had only coalies and small pollack until I made a final stop at the Black Rock near the SE tip of Jura. A big tide rip even in a tiny tide and a chart that was clearly not 100% right (my sonar showed 8 feet above the rock, where the chart clearly said a minimum of double that…). However it screamed pollack and duly obliged to mackerel trip and jelly worm on a 1 oz lead.

Pollack from Black Rock, Sound of Islay
Pollack from Black Rock, Sound of Islay
Into a pollack, Black Rock
Into a Pollack

Loads of smaller fish to 4lbs or so, and I hit three much larger ones – one shed the hook, one straightened it and I landed one at 7lb 12 oz. All these came close in to the very shallow top of the reef. No photo unfortunately as the GoPro threw a wobbly filming it, just after I popped it back 🙁 I only managed about 45 minutes here before I’d to head back up the east coast of Jura to get back before the tide dropped too far, but it must hold larger fish – although whether I’d want to be near here on a large tide is a bit doubtful.

84 mile round trip, with an overall mpg of 9.4, so quite happy with that
dimension too. It was more of an explore/wander about than a fishing trip, but (unsurprisingly) there are some good fish around the tide rips at the north and south ends. Not so sure about the bits in the middle though!

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A Wee Playabout off Dunbar

Sunday looked to be a nice day so the target was to be Dunbar pollack, codling and ling again. Boat and gear were sorted and I set the alarm to give me a fighting chance of hitting the slip before boats started to stack up. As a result a rather bleary-eyed angler edged his boat out of the harbour and parked just outside the Yetts to try for a few mackerel. Fishing whilst struggling out of bulky neoprene waders isn’t really a sensible idea, but I did pick up 5 small/tiny mackerel as I did so.

Drifting along further whilst I sorted out other gear and a caffeine hit saw a few more mackerel, with some better sized ones hiding below the tiny ones nearer the surface. Having sorted out the bait it was time to cruise down towards Barns Ness for a longish drift or five.

The sun shines on my new boat as we cruise along near Siccar Point, about 10 miles from Dunbar
Near Siccar Point, about 10 miles from Dunbar

The breeze was a little strong for the River Garry wreck, but the drift speed was generally OK and a bit less than I thought it might be, given the lightness of the Longliner. Somewhere in the 1.2-1.5 mph range, which is fine for fishing with.

Codling were rather thin on the ground and mainly on the small side, but I’d two or three before my spinning rod dramatically keeled over as it got hit by a pollack (the video captures that quite nicely). The next couple of hours were much the same, with only a scattering of fish showing.

Pollack take no prisoners when they engulf a bait and my spinning rod bends double in the rod holder
Pollack take no prisoners when they engulf a bait
A pollack gleams in the morning sunshine as it is returned to the sea
Sleek looking Pollack from Dunbar

Eventually I decided to head a few miles eastward to try some ground that is occasionally kind to me. I didn’t have great expectations, but it was a good excuse to get another hour on the outboard and edge a little closer to completing its break-in period.

Fresh from the sea - a small codling comes aboard my Longliner2
Fresh from the sea – a small codling

Weaving in between the pot markers on this mark I set up a few drifts but had little in return bar a couple of pollack and some decent sized mackerel. A little disappointing but I wasn’t too bothered given it was a nice sunny day and there wasn’t much doing elsewhere anyway.

Slipping a Pollack back to the sea
Slipping a Pollack back to the sea

I took my time heading back, doing my best to heed Yamaha’s run-in advice, and stopped off at a couple more marks to add one or two more codling.

So 4 hard-fighting (rather than big!) pollack, and 12 or so codling, plus a fair number of mackerel to add to winter bait supplies. I’ve had far better catches but the sunshine certainly helped take the edge off the day.

And a video of the day…

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(In)action at Loch Leven with Summer Thornbacks

The east coast looked a bit breezy so Ian and I decided to try a sheltered west coast sea loch, namely Leven, for some summer thornbacks. In the event we met up at Lochearnhead at a fairly civilised 7.30 in the morning and trundled across with the early morning traffic.

After a short skirmish with an advance guard of the midge hordes at the slate slipway in Ballachulish we were launched and heading out across the loch to try for mackerel and thornies at the fish farm. Typical Scottish summer weather with a mix of grim grey clouds and some nice warm sunshine to knock you off guard!

With pretty eyes and vicious thorns this little ray deserves both admiration and respect
Pretty eyes and vicious thorns…

Mackerel proved easy enough, although most were smaller than I’d like, but it took 90 minutes or more before the thornies put in an appearance. Both Ian and I had fish straddling the 5lb mark within minutes of each other (Ian’s straddling the right side of 5lbs whilst mine fell short – an all too typical story in my experience).

Ian bends into a Leven thornback
Ian bends into a Leven thornback

Sadly, the anticipation generated by a brace of nice fish soon wore off. There were more rays about but they steadily dropped in size towards the embarrassing end of the spectrum. When the mackerel are larger than the thornbacks you are definitely struggling…

A typical Leven thornback ray in the 4-5lb bracket
A typical Leven thornback ray in the 4-5lb bracket – but as good as we got

Upping anchor we decided to give it a try outside the loch, where the mouth drops into 100+ feet of water. New territory for me as I’d never fished out here before, and I doubt I’ll bother again given the highlight was a 3 inch whiting impaled on a 4/0 hook. ’nuff said!

A moody looking Loch Leven and Glencoe
A moody looking Loch Leven and Glencoe

Our final mark was a slightly off-the-wall offering courtesy of Ian, and we ended up in very shallow water (for a sea loch) with the anchor in around 30 feet. A slow start gradually improved as a succession of tiny/small thornbacks appeared, and at least the size appeared to be increasing. There was a reasonable trickle of tide and I could believe the claimed 8lb’ers were certainly possible at times.

Getting closer to postage stamp size - a small Leven ray
Getting closer to postage stamp size – a small Leven ray
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First Dunbar trip in ages

It’s been something like 10 or 11 months since I last ventured out on the east coast from my own boat. Consequently I was feeling well out of practice as I edged my way down to the harbour for my first Dunbar trip in ages early last Sunday morning.

Looking towards St Abbs
Looking towards St Abbs

As on her maiden trip to Etive, the Longliner proved a doddle to launch and I soon edged out the harbour and parked myself out past the Yetts whilst I got the gear sorted out. A set of mylars attracted 5 or 6 mackerel for bait as we drifted very slowly along and once suitably tackled up it was time to head down to the wreck and try for something a little larger.

This took a little longer than usual as the outboard is still getting run in, but mackerel baited muppets hit the seabed around half-seven. It was an easy drift, especially as the wind died right back, but more or less one fish each time rather than any great numbers.

Nice 5lb + codling from Dunbar, showing a few battle scars on its nose and tail where something (probably a seal) has had a go at it.
Nice 5lb + codling

Eventually the inevitable in wrecking happened and I found myself attached very firmly to a large lump of rusting metal. As usual, my frantic tugging and jigging had no effect at all and I was resigned to losing gear when the wreck pulled back – and hard! This was clearly a decent fish as it broke loose of the seabed and fought hard as it realised it’s predicament. My Shimano wasn’t exactly smoking, but it was conceding respectable amounts of line until my opponent gradually tired and a very nice looking ling appeared. The scales bounced round to 12 lbs 2 oz, which put it in my top 5 ling. It was popped back, hopefully to grow nearer the 20lb mark…

A fine 12lb ling from Dunbar, off an inshore wreck
12lb ling from Dunbar

Fishing fell away a bit as the ebb started so I decided to try inshore for a bit and see if there were any more codling about. Between Barns Ness and Torness the balance shifted more to pollack, albeit nothing more than 2-2.5lbs plus a couple of codling of similar stamp, but it was relatively slow going. However I took the opportunity to fillet the catch and save some effort once I got back home.

A small inshore pollack from Dunbar
Small inshore pollack

By midday it was time to call it quits as the tide dropped, so I headed back west towards the slipway, avoiding a large bunch of paddleboarders near the harbour entrance – Dunbar seems to get more cluttered every year!

Final tally – 7 each of cod, ling and Pollack, a solitary coalie and a smattering of mackerel. Very pleased with the ling but otherwise a nice, middle of the road sort of morning – and the rain held off until I got home.

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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

Why a Longliner 2?

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.

Maiden Trip

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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