Cruising around Mull

With the lazy, hazy days of summer appearing endless, I thought I’d better take advantage of the best weather I’m ever likely to see in Scotland. Thinking cap on and after running through a fair list of possibilities, I elected to have another run around the Isle of Mull. There’s better fishing to be had elsewhere, but it’s a very beautiful part of the world to relax in. Also, I do like a good fossick about and Mull offers plenty of opportunities for that too.

A fishy cruise around Mull
Launching into a calm sea at Gallanach, with Mull in the background
Gallanach launch

Day 1 – Along to Iona

I don’t know about you, but I always feel the weight of everyday life lifting away as I point my bow towards the open sea start a new adventure, if only a little one. The sense of freedom is very real. Accordingly I ambled my way contendedly along the south coast of Mull for a few hours, stopping here and there for a few casts or a search for mackerel to add to my bait. Pollack were fairly regular visitors to the gunwhales, albeit nothing to get too excited about and certainly not in the mood to put up much of fight. Mackerel were noticeable by their complete absence, although I picked up a consolation launce.

Nice pollack from the south of Mull
Nice pollack from the south of Mull
A small launce (greater sandeel) taken off the south coast of Mull
Launce

Around lunchtime I stopped ashore for a little while on a lovely little beach I’ve visited before. I’m sure it would hold a few bass at times, but today there were only a few sandeel swimming in the turquoise water along the shoreline.

A wee stop ashore on a fine beach on the Ross of Mull
A wee stop ashore

A little later, suitably caffeinated and re-caloried, I headed over to the Torran Rocks, a large area of reefs to the south of Iona. I’d guess I spent 2-3 hours here and, frankly, it was a bit disappointing. The reefs seemed almost completely overrun with coalies in the 1 to 2 lbs bracket. A nice size for the east coast, but a little tedious if that’s all that’s on offer. At least I managed a few mackerel, but these were completely untouched when dropped down as a bottom bait. A case of try again another day, I suppose, as the area certainly looks the part.

Half a dozen coalfish come aboard at once when fishing the Torran Rocks, off Mull
Full house of coalies

My final fish was a lazy (read half-hearted) drift through the Sound of Iona in windless, perfect, seas. I sat back, coffee in hand, and watched the sun edge down over the pink granite of Iona. I was completely happy to chill and catch nothing for the best part of an hour!

Cruising along a very calm Atlantic as the sun sets over the Torran Rocks, SW Mull
Setting sun over the Torran Rocks

The sun sets late in these parts but I still needed to find a place to hole up for the night, so I eventually gunned the engine and headed along the north coast of the Ross of Mull. Only a few miles later I was surprised and very pleased to find my first choice of anchorage completely deserted. No yachts and no BBQs ashore either – all mine! I had a tent with me, but it’s less hassle to sleep aboard the Orkney in calm conditions, so I just dropped anchor and rearranged the boat for my sleeping bag and kit. And then went to sleep – ‘cos I was really getting quite tired by now!

Anchored up for the night in Traigh na Margaidh (Market Beach) on the northern coast of the Ross of Mull
Home for the night

Day 2 – the Ardmeanach and Caliach

I awoke well refreshed the next morning, and not at all poisoned by either the petrol tanks or “eau de la coolbox”. The breeze had freshened slightly but only as forecast, and it still felt warm as I stowed away the cover and got some bacon sizzling.

Breakfast on the go. There's nothing like a rasher or four of bacon early in the morning
Breakfast on the go

I lobbed out a couple of baits for flatties as I waited, coffee in hand, for breakfast to be ready. A couple of bacon rolls, 1 dab and 2 coffees later I hauled anchor and headed away from my little sandy cove. Destination wilderness! – the Ardmeanach Wilderness, to be more precise.

Forbidding cliffs line the Ardmeanach peninsula on Mull
Forbidding cliffs line the Ardmeanach on Mull

One mildly bouncy crossing later and I reached the shelter of the Ardmeanach, a great sweeping mix of rock and hillside that reaches over 1000 feet high. I’ve been here before, just once, venturing in on foot across very hard country for an overnight camp. This time I had a try for the pollack close inshore, but it proved fairly slow going across much of the ground. Gorgeous looking bronze fish engulfed my leadheads, but not of great size or in large numbers. I’d more success hard in to the wonderfully named Aird na h-Iolaire (Point of the Eagles), but even here the fish topped out around 5lbs, although there were more of them.

A beautifully coloured pollack taken near Eagle's Point on the Ardmeanach peninsula
A beautifully coloured pollack

After an hour or two spent dodging some rather large boulders I headed further east and through the calm waters of the Sound of Ulva. For a first timer the Sound appeared pretty narrow, twisty and shallow in parts, but there were plenty of larger boats moored in the wider sections and I just trundled through at a sensible speed without any problems.

Entering the calm but narrow waters of the Sound of Ulva, west coast of Mull
Entering the Sound of Ulva

I stopped at my backup overnight mooring to refuel, and I reckon it would worked fine if I needed to drop an anchor here one evening. Heading north I found myself ploughing along the wild and beautiful Treshnish Point, with the wreck of the Aurania my next mark, just off the Caliach Point at the very NW tip of Mull.

Up at Caliach I quickly located the remains of my target, with some large bits of wreckage standing 20 feet off the seabed. Not really very much when you consider the Aurania was a large liner something like 550 feet long and 13,500 tonnes! My drift was easy although a little faster than I’d like, and fish soon started to show once I’d established my line.

Returning a small coalfish taken from the Aurania wreck, Caliach Point, Mull
Returning a coley, Aurania wreck, Caliach Point

A few pollack but mainly coalfish in the 1.5-2lbs range, similar to those inhabiting the Torran reefs. I gave it a good try and it was fun fishing on light gear, but it was a little disappointing not to see anything bigger having a go.

An inshore pollack puts a bend in my rod, fishing off the south coast of Mull
Fish On!

Originally I hoped to fish the sandbanks around Caliach, but time was  catching up with me so I headed east across the top of Mull. My target was a reef I’d fished briefly with Ian many years before, midway between Mull and Ardnamurchan.

I tasked a set of small baits to sniff out anything that swims and bounced my way slowly across the top of the rocks. Minutes passed but,just as the baits headed down to the abyss right at the edge of the reef, something hit hard. A decent ling was my immediate thought, and I played it gently up through the water on my 25lb trace. Unlike ling though, this fish didn’t give up, and I was still working through the possibilities when an unmistakeable shark-like shape appeared. Spurdog. Other than an unusually hard fight it shouldn’t really be a surprise as I’ve caught them east, west, north and south of here – quite why the possibility never crossed my mind until I saw it, I have simply no idea.

A nice spurdog taken from a mark between Mull and Ardnamurchan
Nice Spurdog

The next couple of drifts produced more, but they were smaller fish. With the rain clouds threatening and time marching on I decided to call it a day and head away down the Sound of Mull and back down to Oban. A short stop to refuel in Bloody Bay (supposedly named after a humungous sea battle between the locals and the Vikings) and I soon was battering down the Sound at fair cruise speed.

Bloody Bay, Isle of Mull
Bloody Bay

Arriving back ashore was a little anti-climactic, with a fair sprinkling of holidaymakers, dogs and kayakers around – and a few “are the mackerel in yet” type comments. With 123 miles on the GPS it makes for my longest trip ever – hardly polar exploration, but very satisfying nonetheless, apart from a rather sore bum. An average of almost exactly 10 mpg too – very similar to my Jura trip last year.

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Sutherland Bass

I live a long way from the wilds of Sutherland, so it was a 5 hour drive through Friday afternoon traffic before I finally got parked up. And then the hard work started as I marched on for a further couple of hours to reach my destination. I pitched my little Vango tent in the early dark, on the grassy machair overlooking a small beach. I was tired by now, so I just crawled into my sleeping bag and fell asleep to the sound of the Atlantic crashing ashore just below me.

Video below, or just read on…

A cracking campsite on the machair, perched just above a beautiful beach in North West Sutherland
A cracking campsite

By morning the sky was clearing after a little rain overnight, so I had a leisurely breakfast watching the waves before I set up my rods and moseyed on down to the sand.

Walking along the beach towards my first spot of the day
First mark of the day

I chose to fish a large rock which was becoming accessible as the tide dropped and it took only a few minutes to get the gear sorted out and make my first cast.

Casting out a couple of baits on a spinning rod and into the crystal clear water of the Atlantic
Casting out

The water is fairly shallow and crystal clear, and both spinning rods coped fine with a modest wave. I didn’t need to wait too long before  a small sea trout took a fancy to a sliver of mackerel and paid me a visit.

A small sea trout falls for a thin strip of mackerel
Sea trout

A little later and I got a firm bite on my other rod and reeled in another reluctant silver specimen, only to find it wasn’t a sea trout but a small schoolie bass.

A small school bass - my first from northwest Scotland
Small schoolie

Very pleased with this one, as I knew they inhabit the area but haven’t seen one myself. It took a crab bait carefully preserved/left over from last June that I’d stuck in the cool box just as an afterthought.

The tide had ebbed away leaving my little rock high and dry by now, so I needed to move. I decided to switch to the other end of the beach where there was a clear flow of tide and slightly deeper water. The movement looked quite strong but I was held fine with a 1oz bullet.

A tiny turbot swallows a mackerel belly and becomes my first ever of this species. Well chuffed, tiny or not!
Yee-hah – A new species for my list. Tiny turbot.

The little spinning rod scored first blood with a very small flattie that probably didn’t quite deserve the shout of joy that greeted it – my first ever turbot. Small enough to fit in the palm of my hand, but hey-ho, it’s still a new species!

Fishing the fringe of the beach, just out of the main force of the swell.
A sheltered corner that holds a few fish

A bit later I topped this by landing a bass/turbot duo, so I ended the morning feeling quite chuffed with myself.

The bottom of the tide is quite awkward to fish here as there’s some shallow water with dry sand beyond it. I didn’t bother and had a wander into the hills in search of some mini-trout for a couple of hours.

No trees allowed - just heather, rock and water in this very exposed environment
No trees allowed

Nice day, nice walk but only a handful of minnow sized brownies grabbed the Mepps 0 I offered them – loads more had a go but didn’t seem quite big enough to actually hit it properly!

This tiny trout is roughly the size of a large minnow, but is typical of the population in this small stream and harsh environment.
Tiddler trout

Back on the beach I spent the afternoon baking in the sun as the tide rose. Only one bass, and another missed bite, so not as good as the ebb but still a lovely place to watch the breakers come crashing in.

A wave breaks against a boulder embedded in the sand
Wave breaking against a boulder

From up on top of the cliffs you could see seals coasting inside the curve of the breaking waves – presumably chasing the same fish as myself.

Another bass munching crab comes ashore. Very small, but still beautiful and very welcome.
Another bass munching crab

Then it was a long hike back out and a drive part of the way home before I’d to pull over and kip for a few hours.

A reluctant goodbye to this beautiful coast as I start my hike back across the machair and rock.
Starting the long trek back home

Loads of deer about too – one full emergency stop and another that clipped the car, fortunately without any obvious damage to either party.

So 3 bass, all on crab and 2 turbot and a sea trout. All small and not a lot in absolute terms, but a really classy place to camp and fish. and I’m pretty chuffed with the result.

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A Little Round-Up

Ah well, I’ve not been completely inert over the past few weeks, although there has been little real drama to report. A few upgrades to the boat, adding a bait board and a cabin top rack mount for spare rods and cameras, etc. Railblaza is nice kit, but eye-wateringly pricey!

I’d an overnight trip to Etive last month where a fairly wet evening transformed into a lovely sunny morning.

A fine campsite by the shores of Loch Etive, with a snow covered Ben Cruachan behind.
Fine campsite
A jaw-dropping view along Loch Etive as the sun pokes through the early morning cloud
A jaw-dropping view along Loch Etive

I’d a couple of 90 minute sessions with the rods but spent more time fossicking about the shoreline and checking out a couple of alternative camping spots for future reference.

Morning coffee sits on the fire as I look across Loch Etive on a clear, calm, spring morning
Morning coffee sits on the fire

I might’ve spent more time fishing if there weren’t hordes of tiddler spurdog shredding baits within seconds of them nearing the seabed. Most maybe 15 inches long, and nothing above 3.4 to 4lbs. A couple of whiting also showed up, but when the seabed is carpeted with little spurs it becomes a waste of time really.

More recently, Ian and I were out of Oban catching a mild roasting in the sun and little else.

At anchor off Oban in the sunshine, as we wait for a bite
At anchor off Oban
Ian's new baby - a Penn International reel awaits a skate
Ian’s new baby – a Penn International

I landed the only fish of the day, a male skate of around 120lbs, and we both contrived to lose another. At least it was a nice day, but a bit disappointing compared to our average catch over the last couple of years.

And I’ve done a little upgrade to my fishing accommodation with this little glamping setup – beds, stove and standing headroom, what more could you ask for!

Not exactly backpacking material - a test run of my new Robens belltent setup
Not exactly backpacking material…
Glamping here we come - standing headroom, woodburner, carpet and beds.
Glamping here we come

It’s not exactly portable but will work OK as a base camp, and double up for an occasional family weekend too.

Hopefully it should be onwards and upwards for the next month or two, as the east coast picks up with the summer codling and Galloway beckons for another trip in June. Here’s hoping, anyway!

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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.

Spring Pollack from 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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Final Fling for 2017 – a Hike in the Sunshine

Days of Christmas force feeding meant I really needed to get some fresh air,  so I reckoned a hike in the sunshine along the banks of Loch Etive would fit the bill nicely. Fishing wasn’t the main aim but it looked possible to get 3 or 4 hours to wet a line before darkness fell.

Bonnie, my bozo spaniel, came along for the day and quite happily trailblazed as we trudged along. Happily, the cold had frozen most of the water into the ground so it was less boggy than a month ago and we made steady progress towards our mark. With the sun still hiding behind the mountains it was chilly but otherwise a beautiful day to be out.

Cold, clear and windless - a perfect winter day at Barrs, Loch Etive
Cold, clear and windless – a perfect winter day
Typical small spurdog just about to be returned. Bonnie the spaniel is looking on in rather bored fashion.
Typical small spurdog

Arriving at our mark I quickly rigged up and cast out whilst Bonnie waited impatiently for sticks to be thrown. Unluckily for her there was a solid stream of distractions in the form of small male spurdogs and I was kept busy dealing with them. On two or three occasions I got bites just as soon as I hit bottom, suggesting there were large numbers about.

Lobbing another bait out
Lobbing another bait out
Small but sleek looking spurdog
Small but sleek looking spurdog

With only a short session and quite a lot of action between the fish and doggie stick chucking, it took a while to get a brew on – but I can’t survive without a supply of coffee.

Brewing up a coffee on my twig powered Honey Stove
Coffee brewing

This time I wasn’t the only one out on the loch. I’d passed a tent with a couple of shore rods parked outside it on the way in, and there was a kayaker out as well. Plenty loch to go around though!

A kayaker using the light wind to sail up Loch Etive in the shadow of a snow covered Ben Starav
Kayak sailing up Etive in a very light breeze
No wind, so paddle power now required for the same kayak
No wind coming back, so paddle power now required

I chucked in the fishing around 2.30, to be sure of making it back before it got too dark. A final tally of 15 spurs and a couple of dogfish for 4 hours fishing was a good bit better than I’d expected, even if none of them made more than 3lbs or so.

Camoflaged against the rock - this little spurdog merges quite nicely against the granite
Camouflaged against the rock
Golden light floods over Ben Starav as the sun starts to set over a mirror like Loch Etive, just after Christmas.
Golden sunlight lights up Ben Starav

The return trip to the car was a fine walk as the sun faded and turned the mountains golden, all reflected in the perfectly still waters of the loch. Our timing was good and we crunched across the carpark just as the last of the light disappeared.

Bonnie is quite indifferent to fishing
Bonnie is quite indifferent to fishing

Poor old Bonnie made herself comfortable in the front seat of the car and then collapsed for the journey home. She’s over 10 now and can still charge around for hours, but it does catch up with her when we stop at the end of the day.

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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…

Ice Fishing on Etive

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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Wild Camp on Etive – with a few Spurs thrown in

I do like this time of year – the nights are long but it’s not too cold, and the worst of the bugs are back in hibernation. The autumn colours are still around and the summer crowds have largely gone. And last weekend the weather and the tides lined up nicely too, so I sorted out my tent and loaded up the rucksac again. Time for another wild camp on Etive, fishing right alongside my tent in a very quiet spot where deer were the only likely intruders.

Solo wild camp and fishing on Loch Etive

To me the long walk in is part of the attraction of this mark. The track is rough and quite arduous in places, but it runs through wonderful scenery and quite splendid isolation – a very rare commodity, even in Scotland.

Fording a small burn along the track between Glen Etive and Barrs.
Fording a small burn

Travelling light is a relative term, but everything goes in the rucksac apart from the rods themselves, and I keep gear to a reasonable minimum. This time I was relying on a campfire for cooking and hot coffee, so the gas stove was swapped in favour of a little fatwood and a couple of mini-firelighters. A few leads, traces and a little coolbag with mackerel bait was pretty much all I needed to fish, as the loch doesn’t tend to be too tackle-hungry.

A couple of hours later I arrived at my destination, having worked up a decent sweat in the process with only a single tumble into the peat bog on the way in. Mild embarrassment and a wet fleece were the only casualties, but a reminder of the reason I carry a PLB on these trips – the line between merely looking silly and potentially crippling injury is a fine one, and easily crossed over.

Campsite in sight. A beautiful location to spend the night
Campsite in sight. A beautiful location to spend the night
Scots Pine with Ben Starav in the background. Fine autumn colours on Loch Etive.
Scots Pine with Ben Starav in the background.

Set up, bait up and cast in – it doesn’t take long to get fishing on this mark. I am pretty lazy when it comes to fishing here, and I don’t tend to spin or float fish for the pollack which also swim around here. However I did need to sort out my campsite for the night, and darkness comes early in these parts at this time of year. My “semi-detached” style of fishing allowed me time to get on with collected kindling and firewood, and to set up the tent.

Sunset over Loch Etive. Fishing near Barrs on a calm November evening
Sunset over Loch Etive

Finding dry wood can be a bit of a challenge on the west coast, as anything on the ground gets saturated quite quickly, so I’d to tramp around a bit to find decent chunks of dead but still standing timber. My efforts were rewarded by a couple of nice pieces of oak to form the core of the fire, and a good bunch of dry-ish bracken to act as tinder. Happily it didn’t take too long to get a decent fire set up and burning steadily.

Campfire catches hold - a welcome sight on a cold November evening
Campfire catches hold

Almost in parallel, there was a steady run of spurdogs taking my baits. I missed a few due to my fire raising, but the body count was respectable and rising as I put the coffee pot on to boil and tucked a couple of potatoes into the fire to cook away.

Striking into a spurdog, early November morning on Loch Etive. Cool, clear and beautiful.
Fish on!
A small thornback ray from the shore, near Barrs, Loch Etive
Thornback ray

The light finally faded as I returned my one and only thornback ray of the trip, and the steak and mushrooms went on to cook – I felt I deserved a little treat for braving a long November night. All fairly primitive, but I dined well and in very contented fashion as I contemplated the stars reflecting in the calm waters of the loch. Not a light or trace of humanity disturbed the quiet.

Steak and mushrooms over the campfire. Treat and a half!
Steak and mushrooms. Treat and a half!

I’ve not had a baked apple since I was a kid, but it was a perfect follow on to the steak. Apertifs came from a slug of Talisker and then it was time for an early night.

I slept pretty well, waking only to the sound of some light rain on the tent and later on to the pitter-patter of tiny feet as a tick traversed my torso. Uugh! Not really what you want at two in the morning and it was duly trapped and despatched after a slightly desperate search by torchlight. The morning light revealed a neat line of bites across my middle which suggested I’d moved the wretched thing on a few times in the night before it woke me up for real…

Five in the morning, moon and stars brighten the long night
Five in the morning, moon and stars brighten the long night

A New Day

Next morning dawned clear and cold, with the sky clearing after the last shower departed, so I struggled free of my warm cocoon and back into thermals. The gear was pretty much ready to go so it was a matter of minutes to bait up and cast out. Then back to trying to re-awaken the campfire and get some breakfast on the go.

Early morning - calm, cold and clear on Loch Etive as I watch my rods for a sign of fish biting
Early morning – calm, cold and clear

My backup was in the form of muesli, so there was a strong incentive to get the fire going and polish off an early morning smorgasborg of sausage, bacon, mushrooms and eggs. The overnight rain dampened everything enough to give some anxious moments, but I eventually kickstarted the fire and breakfast got underway.

Bacon and eggs on the campfire. And a fish biting...
Bacon and eggs on the campfire. And a fish biting…

Just like the campfire, fish were a little slow to come out to play, but started to appear just as breakfast got to the critical stage of pre-burn perfection. A little careful juggling kept everything edible whilst still pulling in a few more spurdog and a rather more grisly whiting head – its body presumably forming the equivalent of spurdog bacon and eggs.

Whiting head - with the rest forming part of a spurdog breakfast. Not a good start to his day!
Unlucky whiting

Over the next couple of hours I had a coffee or two, pulled in a spurrie or three, and generally organised my backpack until, rather slowly and reluctantly, I packed up camp and prepared to move back down the track towards civilisation. I wanted to fish a mark about half-way back to the car that I hadn’t tried for 2 or 3 years. Whilst I fully expected to repeat previous experience and find it stuffed full of micro-spurs in the sub-12 inch category, I felt it was worth a shot, just to see.

Early morning spurdog, caught near Barrs, Loch Etive
Early morning spurdog

Micro-spurs

My expectations were fulfilled, and faint hopes dashed, as a succession of micro-spurs dutifully gobbled up the bait and were dragged ashore. An hour of this was more than enough, especially given a blustery northerly wind, so I was soon heading back towards the car. Given it’s a fine spot to camp and fish it’s a shame that there don’t appear to be any larger fish around here.

Casting out - upper Loch Etive
Casting out – upper Loch Etive

A final splosh through the sodden moorland saw me back at the carpark at Glen Etive, with a couple of final treats in store on the road home. The first in the shape of large numbers of deer (there are loads in Glen Etive), and then a very fine sunset as I crossed over Rannoch Moor on the way back east. A reminder that Scotland can be magnificent at times, and not just a prisoner of Atlantic weather systems… Definitely an A-list weekend!

The pier at Glen Etive, a well photographed location!
The pier at Glen Etive
November sunset over Rannoch Moor
November sunset over Rannoch Moor
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Squelching Across Skye – and a Stray Bass

Just back from a few days wandering around Skye with a fishing rod. More wandering than fishing it has to be said, but a few items of interest from the angling point of view.

Video here, and the full report below…

Squelching Across Skye with a Fishing Rod

The highlight of the trip was actually before I even got there, as I stopped off for a couple of hours near Fort William. It was not long dark when I hooked what was obviously a decent fish but one which came in without too much fuss, and it showed up in my headtorch as a nice looking ray.

A small Common Skate from the shore
My first shore-caught Common Skate

It was only when I picked it up that I realised it was actually a small common skate and a first for me from the shore. The scales put it at around 18lbs, which also makes it my biggest shore caught fish.

18lb Common Skate caught from the shore
18lb Common Skate

Suitably encouraged I scooted up the road to Skye and slept in the car overnight before heading up to Bracadale and an area I’ve never been too before.

The western shores of Loch Bracadale are heavily wooded and fringed with rock and volcanic cliffs
Western shores of Loch Bracadale

Bracadale

It was a fine morning, but the forecast was for heavy rain and a force 6 southerly in the afternoon, so I hoped to find a bit of shelter in the loch. Rather overloaded with too much clobber I headed off down the track that goes out to Idrigill Point and then cut off this and headed down to the shoreline to find a spot to fish and set up camp.

Western edge of Loch Bracadale
Who wouldn’t fancy fishing here

Nightmare country, with old forestry, small cliffs and gorges everywhere, so I was pretty knackered by the time I got set up. The mark itself was easy enough to fish, although it was nearly low water and there was a good band of exposed kelp running out 30 yards or so.

Low water exposes a thick forest of kelp on Loch Bracadale, Skye
Low water kelp forest

I cast mackerel baits over this and started picking up spurdogs from the sand beyond – only about 20 feet of water but there were fair numbers going about once the tide started to flood, and I was kept busy. Initially small males, but then a few females appeared, although nothing above 6-7lbs.

A small spurdog tries to find its way around the kelp forest fringing Loch Bracadale, Isle of Skye
Small spurdog swims over the kelp

As the tide flooded and the weather started to kick in properly I had a go spinning for pollack as the kelp was now covered by water. Plenty of interest in the jellyworms but not too many proper takes. Most of the fish were small, in the 1.5-2.5lbs range and I doubt anything went above 3lbs, but there were reasonable numbers. I lost one larger fish but even it wouldn’t have made over 5lbs. I retreated to the comparative comfort of the tent once the light faded and had quite a decent night’s sleep hidden inside the plantation as the wind howled along the cliffs.

Best way to start the day after a wet and wild night - coffee, bacon and eggs
Best way to start the day after a wild night – coffee, bacon and eggs

Idrigill

Next day was nothing to write home about on the fishing front – I did take a spinning rod along as I tramped out to Idrigill Point (after wading my way through waist deep, soaking wet bracken to get back to the track in the first place), but there is nowhere at the point itself that you could realistically get down without significant ropework.

The sea stacks known as MacLeod's Maidens, near Idrigill Point, Isle of Skye
MacLeod’s Maidens, near Idrigill Point

Most of the coastline is pretty similar, with steep cliffs straight into the water, so I didn’t try and commit suicide and just enjoyed the view. Heading back down to the south of the island I spent a couple of hours on Armadale pier feeding some very hungry crabs which munched everything I gave them extremely quickly.

Fishing Armadale Pier on the Sleat Peninsula, Skye
Fishing Armadale Pier, Sleat

There may well have been fish there, but I doubt they’d have a look in as baits were getting stripped in a few minutes.

Sleat Bass

Another overnighter in the car and then down towards Point of Sleat, armed just with a spinning rod. The Point produced nothing, although I think it is largely sandy ground rather than kelp – a beachcaster and mackerel bait might have told a different story as there was around 30 feet+ of water and a decent tide run as well.

Moving back up towards my car I tried the same spot I’d good fishing from when I was up in summer, and it was instant action. However most were smaller than during the summer and in the 2-3lb bracket, although I did get one specimen that would have gone around 6lbs or so.

Another Pollack extracted from its kelpy home
Another Pollack extracted from its kelpy home
Coalfish from the Sleat Peninsula, Skye
Coalfish from the Sleat Peninsula, Skye

A couple of coalies also and then, just as most of the action had stopped near slack tide, I got hit just on the surface at the fringes of the kelp. At first I thought it was a better sized coalie until I slid it up on the kelp and realised it was a bass! Not a big one, and definitely undersized, but I was both surprised and chuffed with this little bonus. A first on lures from the shore and from any sort of rock mark.

A shore caught bass from Skye
A shore caught bass from Skye

So quite hard work in some ways, and no gigantic bags of fish, but I’m pretty happy with my lot! Even happier to get a decent night in a proper bed…

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