Skating off Oban

We’d a fine day fishing for Common Skate off Oban in early March. Seven fish to 180lb in total.

Wow! Moved from a total of 1 trip in 2 months, to having 2 outings in 1 week. Spring must be on its way! It’s still my first time on a boat since December though.

I met up with Ian at Lochearnhead not long before the sunrise spelt doom for the ice on the car park. Definitely still chilly! A couple of hours later we finished launching at Puffin Divers and headed down the Sound and round the southern end of Kerrera.

We’d a very gentle swell from the SW but no wind, which made for ideal conditions. Anchor down in 520 feet and then we slowly lowered some reluctant coalfish to the seabed, well armed with 12/0 hooks.

Skate on!

Ian had a fish play about with his bait, but I was first to get a decent run. Despite faffing about with harnesses it quickly became obvious that this was a small fish that even I could handle quite easily. 40lbs or so, it was nothing to get too excited about, but it’s always a relief to know that there’s something about.

Ian was next up, with a slightly larger fish

A big girl comes to play

Lazy and inelegant, but it worked – eventually. Pic courtesy of Ian

My next fish was altogether more reluctant to move off the mud and it clung there for a good while, ignoring my puny efforts to shift it. As usual though, persistence pays, and I managed to gain a few feet on the grudging beast. And then a few more. Five hundred feet is a long way so I was extremely glad when a large shape materialised below the boat.

180lb skate. Pic courtesy of Ian

The weight for length scales suggested 180lbs so I was happy to go with that. It’s my heaviest fish for several years so another reason to celebrate, if I’d any energy left.

A rival
Sea lice on a spurdog

Ian was having a shot for spurdog and had some success, albeit with fairly small ones. I’ve not seen one with full blown sea lice before – perhaps it has been playing around the local fish farms?

We carried through the afternoon, with runs appearing every now and again. Thankfully we only had one double hook up, and both fish were well under the ton.

Even this fairly small skate can pulverise and swallow a large bait.

Small skate, big mouth

My final fish of the day put up a good account of itself, so it was no surprise to find it was a large male. This one was towards the top end of the charts, at 126lb. I gave up at this point, as I was getting pretty knackered and it was nearing the end of the day anyway. Ian’s persistence was rewarded with a final skate before we hauled anchor and headed ashore to clean up and get the boat sorted out.

Our final tally was seven skate, biggest 180lb. Five of them were under 100lb but even these gave a decent bend in the rod.

And finally…

Just a wee look at effects of the storms. These are the loos at Puffin, with a nice airy feel about them since the roof blew off. The electrics are particularly charming (centre of the pic).

Loo with a view, Pic courtesy of Ian
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A Chilly Re-run on Etive

Am I an angler or homing pigeon? Out for just the second time this year, and I find my way back to the same spot as last month. I’d a snowy forecast but a rainy reality, which was pretty much as I expected. I do find the forecasts always overstate the likelihood of snow down at sea level.

The little single track road in to Glen Etive was covered with snow, which always makes me think about my chances of getting out again if it gets nasty. However the snow disappeared at about 200 feet above sea level and before I managed to skid off the road, so the last few miles to the car park were uneventful.

Snow covers the road down Glen Etive, making for an interesting drive in slippy conditions
An interesting drive

I was alone at the end of the road so I took my time sorting out my rucksack and gear before starting to splosh my way along the trail. I have to say that this wet and boggy haul along the loch was cheered greatly by white-capped mountains all around.

A snow covered Ben Starav offers a chilly backdrop to my hike along Loch Etive
Chilly background to my hike

Arrival

I arrived at my campsite with plenty of daylight this time, so set up the rods and cast out before sorting out my tent and some extra firewood for the night. Given all the recent rain I was far from confident that the salinity of the loch would still be high enough to attract predators, but I’d plenty to keep me busy with or without actually catching a fish.

My hopes rose dramatically when I reeled in my first rod to find a disembodied whiting on the end. Definitely spurdog about! I quickly rebaited and cast out into the trench again.

Headless

Fortunately for me, the slight wind that was blowing dropped to nothing as I watched some sleet and snow flurries crossing the loch further down.

A Scottish sunset 🙂

I got a decent bite not long after dark bite and retrieved a fine looking female spurdog. Nothing like as big as my beastie from last month, but a respectable 6lb plus.

Nice Etive spurdog

I was hungry by now, so chicken, pasta, tomatoes, chorizo and chickpeas all found themselves bedfellows in my pan. I settled down with a coffee and watched the flames as my dinner got under way.

Dinner, and plenty of it!

Pre-dinner drinks were interrupted by a couple more spurdog, but just small males this time.

Last spur of the day

Rain was falling steadily, but I was happy enough chilling out beside the campfire and checking the rods every now and again. Despite the snow covered mountains it wasn’t terribly cold and the flames kept some feeling in my fingers.

Cheery campfire

A final little spurdog and I decided to call it quits and head for the tent as I was getting a little soggy by now. Rain battered away on my tent but didn’t manage to keep me awake for long. The whisky in my coffee probably helped…

A New Dawn

Next morning was cold and grey as I poked my snout out the tent, but at least the rain had stopped. Hopping around in the semi-darkness I managed to pull on enough clothes to avoid hypothermia before casting out again.

Casting out in the dawn light

Eventually the grey-dark improved to being just grey, but without a flicker of interest on the rods. A couple of re-casts later and a new species for 2020 surrendered without much of a fight. A doggie, more of a puppy really. I suppose the only surprise is that it wasn’t my first fish of the year.

Puppy snatching

By now it was definitely time for breakfast, so round one of bacon and eggs went on the rejuvenated campfire.

Winter breakfast

By round two of breakfast I’d attracted this little robin, who had a happy rummage around the seaweed whilst keeping an eye on me. I offered him some mackerel, but he clearly had standards and just ignored it.

The forecast was deteriorating later in the morning, and I needed to get back to do some dog-sitting, so I packed up camp just after breakfast and reeled in the last of the lines. Nothing else showed up, so it was just one little doggie for the morning compared with 4 spurdogs and half a whiting the night before.

Last orders…

Hiking out was easier initially, having burned the wood I took in and eaten a fair percentage of my body weight in dinner and breakfast. Sadly, good things don’t last and the rain caught up with me big time for the last hour. It was a very, very wet fisherman who stripped off in the carpark. Fortunately for them, there were no witnesses around!

Long way home
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Kicking off 2020 with a PB

I hastened along the trail, mindful that darkness would fall before I reached my preferred spot. This was a last minute effort, and I faced a good 2 hours hike down the loch. Bearing in mind that some spots are a little hairy in daylight let alone at night, I was keen to minimise stumbling around!

Almost out of time before darkness falls

Dusk

Arriving just as the last glimmer of light left the sky, I happily dumped my heavy backpack. I quickly collected some dead wood to augment the limited supply I’d carried in. Perhaps not the best quality, but good enough for my purposes tonight. With the basics satisfied it was time to get the fishing up and running!

I cast out a mackerel baited pulley rig on both rods and then sorted out my kit and set up the tent. Recent storms had washed over the site and deposited plenty of seaweed, so I shifted enough out the way to get a decent space for my little tent.

First fish of 2020

Checking the rods after this I saw that both had been stripped. Not so good, as this usually means crabs are about. A quick rebait and recast and I started work to get the fire going, as no fire means no food (and no coffee!). Maybe 15 minutes later however, I heard the noise of a ratchet indicating something was interested in the mackerel. The something turned out to be a small spurdog, welcome enough as a start to the year.

With the fire burning nicely now I got dinner on the go – chilli chicken and pasta, and plenty of it to combat the winter night. There was no-one else about at all, and the loch was completely dark, calm and silent. I drank a whisky fortified coffee and contemplated my surroundings as I waited on dinner.

Dinner on the go

Spurdog

My peace (and dinner) was interrupted by the sound of the ratchet on the reel as something made off with the bait. Striking into the fish I realised immediately that this was a much better beast than the usual small stuff. Not that spurdog fight much, but this was clearly a nice fish. It was a relieved angler who spotted the green reflection of its eyes in my headtorch and guided it gently to shore.

I scrambled down onto the rocks and manoeuvered a chunky female spurdog onto the seaweed. A quick measure showed it to be between 107 and 108cm in length and easily my biggest from the shore. Indeed, it’s my best from either boat or shore for several years. Weight for length scales suggest something around the 12lb mark 🙂

A cracking spurdog double

Checking my dinner to make sure it hadn’t burned to a crisp whilst I dealt with madame spurdog, I recast the bait. Finally, I settled down to eat – I was starving by now, not having had anything since early morning.

I fished on for a couple more hours, landing another three small spurries, before calling it a night and curling up in my sleeping bag. I couldn’t hang around too long in the morning, so the idea was to start fishing just before dawn and give it a couple of hours whilst having a lazy breakfast.

Dawn

Up before seven, and it was definitely on the cold and damp side. A decent night’s sleep helps, but it was chilly as I hurried to get baits in the water and then coax my campfire back into life.

Happily, this didn’t take too long and I soon had a morale boosting source of warmth as I waited for water to boil. My coffee was ready just as dawn broke over a flat calm loch, with the moon still shining in the sky.

Coffee bubbling away on my campfire in the dawn of a lovely calm January morning. A half moon is still shining over a very still Loch Etive in the western highlands of Scotland
Early morning coffee

A couple more spurdog put in an appearance as the sun threatened to rise above the mountains. Munching on bacon and eggs, coffee in hand, fish about, and with a view like this – winter perfection!

Just before sunrise, with my rods sitting over a calm Loch Etive and a snow covered Ben Cruachan in the background
Sunrise

Unfortunately this was a rather curtailed little trip and I had the tent packed and camp cleaned up not long after sunrise. I’d lost a fair bit of weight from my rucksack which certainly helps, and there was a cracking view of the mountains as I headed back. It’s still a long haul though!

Beautiful backdrop to my hike

And 2019 stutters to a halt

I feel I should provide a brief finale to 2019. A couple of nice days out but the catching was crap, and I always struggle to get the motivation to write about poor fishing.

St Andrews provided Ian with a decent pollack and a couple of codling on a very cold December day. I just acted as bystander, adding a solitary coalfish to the mix (and a small one at that).

A nice late-season pollack from St Andrews
Nice pollack for Ian

A week or so later I met up with Trevor for the first time in months. After some to-ing and fro-ing over where to fish we settled on Arbroath as the least worst option. If nothing else it’s about equidistant for us, and the forecast did suggest a decent swell.

Wow!

To be fair the swell wasn’t too bad and I thought we’d be in with a shout of codling in the murky water. I think we had three between us, but the specimen Trev’s holding was typical. At least we finished the year with a lovely sunset, but I think we’d really both have preferred a plump codling or two!

A fine winter sunset on the Arbroath cliffs helps offset a poor day's fishing
Fine sunset
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Icy Wild Camp on Etive

Ian and I fished Etive a couple of weeks ago with fairly poor results – maybe 40+ spurs between us, plus a few rays, etc., but nothing of any size. So when I trailed the Longliner across to Etive again last weekend, the plan centred of camping rather than fishing.

First up was a run right down the loch from Taynuilt to try and catch Connel before the Falls of Lora became too much of a torrent in the ebb tide. The ideal time is supposed to be 2 hours after Oban HW, but it was very peaceable at 2 hours 45 minutes, and I cruised through no bother.

I headed down to the fish farm just north of the slips at Gallanach, only to find a set of empty cages and no sign of them having been used for a good while 🙁

I decided to reverse course for a mile or two and try off Dunstaffnage Castle, which has thrown up decent fish from the shore. Anchor down, baits out and then just a case of watch them get shredded by packs of greedy mini-whiting, crabs and other flotsam.

An hour of this and I gave up and moved back into the loch, parking just off the Windsock mark. Here it’s a decent depth of water, at about 70 feet, but you do move around a bit in the eddy. However the result was exactly the same – crabs and tiddly whiting, with no sign of anything bigger.

I stuck at it for a couple of hours until the white water pouring out of Etive slackened a smidgen and then took a run up against the tide. Up close and you feel the huge volume of water pouring out the loch, and it is quite intimidating. Conditions were pretty benign so it wasn’t a problem but it’s not the sort of place to have engine failure, and I wouldn’t want to be there with the tide in full flow. I’d seen kayakers running the falls earlier, but they’d obviously got bored by the time I tried it and I didn’t mow anyone down.

Falls of Lora

Preparing for a cold night

Stopping off near Airds Point produced a few small spurdog before I headed into the mountains well up the loch to sort myself out before it got too dark. Even so, the light was almost gone by the time the boat was secured on her mooring.

I took a fair bit of wood in with me, so got a fire going for a bit of warmth and to cook dinner, and then chucked out a bait on the shore rod. By now the sand was frozen beneath my feet and my campfire looked even more appealing.

The night was beautiful and full of stars, but really quite cold. Even my poor phone complained it was too cold to charge from my backup battery! I ended up tucking it in to my sleeping bag just to cheer it up. Between feeding the fire and myself I was kept pretty busy. However a few fish were prowling along the beach and I picked up a couple of typical spurries and fluffed another couple of bites.

Frosted

I survived the night without frostbite, although my toes were definitely chilly, and carried on for another hour or two in the morning whilst I sorted out the camp and some breakfast. Not a sniff of fish, although I wasn’t really paying much attention to the rod.

Emerging into the cold
Bacon and eggs. Mmmn!
Fancy some frostbite?

Back on the boat, and out on the loch again, and I hit pack ice that had formed overnight (OK, maybe 2mm thick but it looked good). A slow drift or two produced a handful more small spurdog before it was time to call a halt as I needed to be back home before dark.

Freezing wet ropes. Should’ve remembered the gloves!

So, no surprises on the fishing front except the dearth of anything worthwhile outside the loch, but a fine overnighter from my point of view.

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Nice camp, shame about the fishing…

I keep a good look out for any spots that might combine a good campsite with the chance of decent fishing. That usually means somewhere well out of the way and probably a decent hike too.

This one is near enough a five hour drive from home, so it’s taken a good while for me to organise an expedition and check it out. Late October provided my opportunity for a few days off work.

I marched quickly down a couple of miles from the road, but then stopped dead. Horribly effective barriers comprising of windfall trees and tide-limited rocks blocked access. Quite nerve-wracking as well as exhausting! I was pretty glad to finally scrunch across the shingle and reach my target in one piece. Accessible by boat all right, but if this place sees one visitor a decade hiking in then I’ll be surprised.

I didn’t waste any time in getting set up and powering a mackerel bait seawards into something like 70 feet of water. The tide was falling back and it was easy to find a good stance amongst the barnacles.

Looking around, this spot ticked most of my boxes – beautiful, remote and with camping right alongside the shoreline. A ready supply of dry, dead, wood for a campfire was a distinct bonus.

My tent slotted in neatly on the soft ground between rows of conifers a few yards from the shoreline. Then I dug out the spinning rod for a session before dusk.

I managed plenty hits, but sadly only very small pollack engulfed my lures. Quantity, but if any made it over 1lb I’d be fibbing. My bottom rods faired no better, remaining biteless. At least the ground was rough but not terrible and I only lost a couple of sets of gear on the retrieve.

Campfire Cooking

I sorted out a fire for my dinner, as daylight was fading quickly now. At least this was easy enough, given the amount of dead twigs and branches in the wood. It wasn’t long before I’d my first coffee since leaving Edinburgh, many hours before.

My dinner was chilli chicken, chorizo and pasta all cooked together over the fire. Superb, if I say so myself, and just the thing after a long day outdoors and facing an autumn night under canvas.

The sun was long gone by now, and I just spent a while supping a whisky augmented coffee and watching the afterglow fade. I gave the fire a couple of refills, but otherwise just sat and watched a calm sea reflect the first of the moonlight until the comfort of a warm sleeping bag finally became irresistible.

Next Day

I slept well, only awoken briefly by the noise of a couple of light showers. A few years back I invested in a decent down sleeping bag and proper mat and it’s really transformed my comfort levels in the cooler months. Down needs a bit of tender loving care, but it’s fantastic stuff if you feel the cold!

Anyway, next morning I was feeling sufficiently rested and on top of the world to cast out before getting the coffee and bacon on the go!

Halfway through my first coffee of the day I got a lovely, slow, ray-style bite. Which I managed to fluff badly and thereby miss my best chance so far. Aagh! Fishing was slow, and I couldn’t really afford such silly mistakes!

Breakfast cooked and wolfed down, I hit the spinning for a little while. And with the same result as last night – little pollack. I’ve had 6lb+ fish hammer into lures from not too far from here, so this was disappointing.

By late morning, with nothing else showing up, it was time to move. My next spot was several miles away and I risked getting caught out by nightfall if I wasn’t careful.

After an equally horrible struggle over decaying, fallen, timber to get back to the track and then my car, I headed along the road for another 30 minutes or so.

The End of the Road – Again

Quite literally at the end of the road, I hit the trail again. This time the path was pretty good, being a real testament to the efforts of generations of crofters.

A few miles further, and beyond the “quality” section of path, I headed down the hillside and onto the shoreline. Luckily I managed to find a little flat spot that others had used before me and pitched my tent just as the heavens opened.

Only 20 minutes worth, but everything got pretty wet in the downpour. Fortunately I still managed to locate some tinder and dry wood, otherwise it’d have been a pretty limited dinner tonight.

I managed a couple of casts out into the loch, and it was pretty deep water – perhaps 120-130 feet. Then it was time to get the campfire going and to cook some dinner.

I’d company this time, with a red deer and youngster approaching within 30 yards or so of my camp. The young deer seemed much more nervous of me than his mum, who just munched away regardless.

I left them to it as I popped a steak on for my dinner, alongside the obligatory campfire coffee. It was fully dark by the time the sirloin was ready and I chilled out by watching the stars coming out as the fire crackled away.

My last act of the evening was to lose two more sets of gear. The bottom here seems muddy, but there is a rocky ledge half-way in where I locked solid 🙁

Tonight wasn’t quite as peaceful as my sleep the previous evening either. Over-confident deer kept munching very noisily close to my tent, and didn’t seem too bothered by my loud cursing. At least there aren’t any bears in Scotland… (yet!)

Last Fling

The next day dawned bright and sunny, so I packed up camp and made my way back along the trail for a couple of miles before settling down at a headland for a final couple of hours fishing.

As I’d hoped, this had the hallmarks of a decent mark – deep (60-70 feet +) and a softish bottom. Sadly, all my mackerel baits produced was this nice edible crab (returned, albeit with some reluctance). Coming in with a good collection of weed I harboured the hope that it might be a thornback ray, but that was too much to hope for this weekend!

By lunchtime I’d had enough, with a fair hike back to the car and then a good few hours drive home facing me.

Overall an excellent camp but quite frustrating fishing. I reckon a bit more fishing effort on at least two of these marks should produce something, so it may be question of persistence. Next year though, I think.

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Etive Whiting

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.

Nice sized Grey Gurnard from Loch Etive
Nice Grey Gurnard

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.

One of the hordes of crabs blanketing part of the Etive seafloor. They strip the bait in minutes.
A pain in the ass…

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.

Ian holds a good sized Whiting from Loch Etive
Nice whiting for Etive

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.

A hungry whiting from Loch Etive
Hungry whiting

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

A thornback ray and spurdog from Loch Etive
A double

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!

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50,000 Acres of Wrath

Raw coastal wilderness is a rare beast, even in the remoter parts of mainland Scotland, and the magnificent isolation surrounding Cape Wrath is now almost unique. It’s one of my go-to places when I need to escape my fellow humans for a day or three.

Sandwood Bay can be pretty popular at times, but very few people venture beyond it and I’ve never actually come face to face with anyone. The odd hiker on the Cape Wrath trail perhaps, but they tend to take a more inland route. Anyway, early evening at the end of June saw me arriving at the bay just after the last of the day trippers had left. Just one tent nestled in the dunes, and I soon left it behind as I strode down to the shoreline.

A fish hits my toby lure in the Sandwood Bay surf, putting a nice bend in the rod
Fish from the surf

I made a few casts in the more likely areas as I wandered casually along the beach. My 20g silver and white Toby aimed to replicate the sandeel that shoal along these sands, tumbling through light surf and shallow water that was near tropical in clarity (maybe not so close in terms of temperature!)

Strands of weed along the strand line were a bit of pain, but easily manageable. My first take was a quick hit and run effort, with a decent tug and then nothing. A few minutes later and there was no missing this one, as my rod tip heeled over and battle commenced. Although not particularly big, this well conditioned sea trout gave a decent account of itself before a quick photo and return. And not a sea louse in sight – quite a contrast to the fish I saw last year, which were in a sorry state.

A respectable seatrout graces the sand. Caught on a silver and white toby lure
Respectable seatrout

I’d pretty much run out of fishable beach by now, so made my way up the soft sand and steep hills that mark the northern end of Sandwood and headed on towards my pitch for the night. Plenty of ghosts and shipwrecked mariners are reputed to haunt this area, and a bit of night fog coupled with the roar of a good going surf would definitely generate a slightly spooky aura. Happily, this solo camper was facing a short, calm summer evening with the main threat coming from the local bug life.

A lovely little wildcamping spot, with a view over the clear surf rolling in to Sandwood Bay
Wildcamping

It’s a little ironic that it can be difficult to find water at times, despite Scotland’s generally soggy image. Even the water flowing out of Sandwood Loch looked pretty uninviting, with some dubious looking algae growing on the stones. Fortunately the burn at Strath Chailleach looked a lot healthier and I topped up there for the night before returning to my little tent and a warm sleeping bag.

Collecting fresh water from the peaty burn at Strath Chailleach, near Cape Wrath, NW Scotland
Time for a drink

Day 2 – Heading Northwards

I awoke to find my tent still in the shade at 6 in the morning, whilst the sun was rapidly burning off the remaining overnight mist along the beach. Dodging the midges, I hastened down to the surf and along to my chosen fishing mark.

Early morning sun and mist light up the sand as a small surf hits the beach near Sandwood, Scotland
Small surf

I tackled up initially with a spinner on one rod and crab on the other, hoping to tease out a bass. Spinning proved pretty fruitless, and my patience for chucking out lumps of metal is limited, so I eventually switched over to a sandeel bait.

Tackling up for a light sea fishing session with a spinning rod, a few miles south of Cape Wrath, Scotland
Tackling Up

I contrived to miss a decent bite on the crab, very likely from one of the small bass that hunt along the beaches. Another smash and grab bite produced a sea trout to the sandeel bait. A nice enough fish, but a little smaller than its cousin from yesterday, and soon returned to play with the local seals.

Another fish hits in the very shallow, clear, surf of the NW coast of Scotland
Another fish on

I followed the falling tide along the beach but had no more interest to my bait, apart from gazillions of little shrimp-like creatures that started to shred baits rapidly.

Fishing light in shallow surf near Sandwood Bay, NW Scotland
Fishing light in shallow surf

By mid-morning I’d had enough, and was starting to bake gently in the clear sunshine. I struck camp and headed north across the bare hillsides.

Crossing the rocky burn Strath Chailleach, between Sandwood Bay and Cape Wrath, NW Scotland
Crossing Strath Chailleach

I made a few casts across one of the many lochs around this area but without result. A mirror like calm coupled with a very half-hearted approach isn’t a recipe for success, so I was neither surprised nor too downhearted either. Freshwater’s not really my thing these days, to be honest.

A pretty unproductive session on a shallow little loch in hot, sunny and flat calm weather.
Too hot, sunny and calm!

However, I did notice a set of tracks along the beach that belonged to a much more skillful hunter – an otter had clearly been here very recently.

Otter tracks in the sand alongside a small loch near Cape Wrath, NW Scotland
Otter tracks

I wandered along slowly, baking quietly in the hot sun. Across into the army range and up over the line of hills that present a fine view of the north coast as far as Whiten Head.

Looking north, towards Cape Wrath and Kervaig and across the rock, peat and bogs of the Parph
Looking north, towards Cape Wrath and Kervaig

Crossing this ground isn’t as easy as it seems, even with dry weather, as the greenery hides plenty of peat bog. Even short, stubby vegetation is harder on the legs than a half-formed trail, so it was pretty hard work. Or possibly this adventurer is just a little overfed and under-exercised these days!

Eventually I did reach the small gorge that signalled I was close to my campsite. Perhaps only 80-90 feet deep, but steep-sided, it presents a decent barrier to a heavily laden and hot hiker.

Crossing the small. steep gorge that forms the last obstacle to reaching my campsite for the night. Near Cape Wrath, NW Scotland
A final crossing

A Fine and Lonely Camp

I was therefore pretty happy to reach my destination, and set up my tent for the night. I’ve been around here before, but never for an overnight stay, and it’s a fine spot to pitch up. Flat, machair grass and a clifftop view over the Atlantic 🙂

The flat, grassy machair right on the cliffline makes a brilliant pitch for my little tent. Just south of Cape Wrath in NW Scotland.
A brilliant pitch for my tent

My original plan was for a spot of fishing around the cliffs here, but I was knackered. There are accessible marks around here, but they do involve bouncing around fairly chunky cliffs. I chickened out and just watched the surf rolling in, and the sun dropping slowly in the sky.

The rocky shoreline just south of Cape Wrath, NW Scotland
Rocky shoreline

By this time I was a good few hours walk from my car, and I needed to be back in civilisation for early afternoon. Running the calculations I reckoned I needed to be awake for half-three in the morning in order to make it back in time…

Accordingly, I was fuzzily awake and clutching a coffee a little while before 4 a.m., and heading off 30 or 40 minutes later. At least it’s fully daylight by this time!

Grasping a mug of coffee and looking as good as is possible sometime before 4 in the morning. At least it's full daylight in these parts.
Struggling awake, sometime before 4 a.m.

I’d a much quicker hike back in the cool of the early morning, taking barely half the time of my meander of yesterday. I stopped off at Sandwood for another coffee and little spot of breakfast before the last couple of hours along the beach and back to my car at Blairmore. I did manage a final cast or ten as I marched along the beach, but nothing showed much interest.

A view of Sandwood Bay from the hills at the northern end
Sandwood Bay from the north
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Spring 2019

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 🙁

Ian holds one of the better pollack on a fairly poor day's fishing off Mull
One of the better pollack on a poor day (Ian’s pic)
Sidescan of wreck

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

Pulled ashore for a coffee on the islands near Ballachulish, Loch Leven
Coffee stop on Loch 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.

Initial kayak fishing setup - with room for improvement
Initial kayak setup – with room for improvement
Hazy sunshine on Loch Leven, April 2019
Hazy sunshine on Loch Leven

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.

First fish from the kayak - a tiddler thornback ray
First fish from the kayak
A slightly larger thornback ray aboard my kayak on Loch Leven
A slightly bigger brother…

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!

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Etive

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!

My first fish of 2019, a small pollack taken on January 1st
First fish of 2019 – a totally tiny pollack

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.

Basic, but most welcome. Sausages, baked potatoes and beans cooked under the stars and over an open campfire on New Year's Day 2019
Campfire Dinner

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!

A small, shore caught, spurdog from Loch Etive
Shore caught spurdog

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!

Peeking out from my tent on a cold and frosty January morning, looking north along Loch Etive towards the mountains of Glencoe
A frozen view from the tent

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 small male spurdog taken from my boat on Loch Etive
Typical small spurdog

Repeat Performance

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.

A small thornback ray
Small thornback

By early afternoon we decided to head up to our campsite and get set up in daylight.

Style – but real mid-winter comfort too!

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.

The glow of our stove provides both warmth and a boost to morale
Heat!

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.

Very hard to tell the difference between sea and sky on this misty morning on Loch Etive - our little boat appears suspended rather than afloat
Floating or just suspended in the clouds?

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.

Up and about early on a January morning at Barrs, Loch Etive. Our very comfy tent, complete with stove is parked on the beach whilst the boat lies peacefully at anchor on a flat calm and rather misty loch.
Early morning at Barrs, with the woodburner burning happily 🙂

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.

A nice spurdog for Trevor

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.

Misty, but beautiful

And, having spent 5 days in the last 2 weeks afloat on Etive, I might give it a rest for a little bit!

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Double figure spurdog

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.

A grey and foggy start to the day at Taynuilt, Loch Etive
Grey start (Ian’s pic)

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.

A small, shallow, wreck picked up on sidescan when fishing Loch Etive
Small wreck

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.

Afloat and fishing on a chilly December Day, Loch Etive
Chilly work

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.

This little spurdog looks like it's waving at the camera
Smiley Spurs
A perfect winters day on Loch Etive, looking towards the snow capped Ben Cruachan
Perfect winter day

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.

Ian and nice spurdog, Loch Etive, December 2018
Ian and nice spurdog

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!

A double figure spurdog taken late December from Loch Etive
Double figure (just!) spurdog

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.

Afloat on Loch Etive on a mid-winter night
Darkness falls

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.

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