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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A Few Hours on Leven

I’ve not been fishing Leven too much recently, as it’s definitely got poorer in the last year or two. However, I needed to test out some new kit and wanted somewhere that offered an easy way to get afloat for a few hours. Hence Loch Leven tends to pop up…

The new kit in question was a hydrofoil for the outboard, and I also wanted some more time to get used to my new Simrad sonar. Fishing was definitely on the cards, but more as a secondary activity today.

A sidescan image showing the base of rocky outcrops on Loch Leven, with boulders half sunk in the glacial mud
Sidescan showing the boulders at the base of a cliff edge

I’ve been finding the Longliner digs in a bit at the stern when it get loaded up with two people and kit like an auxiliary outboard. A hydrofoil to raise the stern was one possible solution so I duly ordered and fitted one.

Initially I spent a little while drifting close in to the fish cages, feathering for the mackerel which often lurk around them in winter. They’re not always predictable but the fishing gods were smiling and a few drifts produced 5 of them. Some decent beasts amongst them, and plenty enough for a short fishing session, so I was happy enough. Next up was a short sonar cruise to play with the sidescan, before some proper fishing time.

Loch Leven holds a decent head of mackerel over the winter months
Fresh bait

I dropped anchor in a slightly “off the wall” mark in less than 40 feet. Perhaps not your typical ray spot at this time of year, but I’ve had fish in shallow water before and it was an easy spot to try for a couple of hours. For the first 30-40 minutes it appeared lifeless, but then I picked up a small thornie – and another, and another.

A small thornback from Loch Leven, December 2018
Small thornie

Altogether I’d 10 rays in the next 90 minutes before things slowed down and I headed right up the loch to test out the hydrofoil. In between playing with toys, I stopped off to fish the rocky ground just up from the Narrows and got pretty much what I expected. Small codling, small ling. To be honest, it’s too accessible and too heavily fished to expect much else. Still, they added to the species count for the day.

A tiny ling, which took a mackerel baited leadhead
Tiddler ling
A nicely coloured codling from Loch Leven in December 2018
A nicely coloured codling

A final last stand at a mark below the Narrows produced zilch. By now it was very cold so I was happy to head back to the slip at Ballachulish and hit the shore just as it got dark.

And the hydrofoil? Poor, to be honest. It functioned perfectly up until about 15 knots when it hit a ceiling and refused to go any faster. I’ll give it a proper try with Ian aboard, to see if it helps when more heavily laden. However, for solo use, it’s a decided thumbs down at anything above a modest cruising speed.

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A Couple of Days on Skye

Autumn Wildcamp and Fishing in Skye

I try and keep gear to a reasonable minimum when slogging across heather and bog but I was definitely red faced and sweating as I arrived at the northern tip of Skye. Something to do with too much sun and too many thermals – not a common problem in Scotland! Ditching the rucksack staved off a heart attack as I set up a shore rod and lobbed a chunk of mackerel out in search of conger or spurdog.

Letting that fish by itself, I swapped over to a spinning outfit. The water here is clear and deep, but with some awkward kelpy ledges close in. A leadhead loaded with shads or jellyworms produced plenty of hits but only a couple of pollack actually stayed on the hook long enough to get ashore. Swapping to a 40g Dexter greatly improved the hit rate and the body count rose rapidly as the light faded. A good mixture of coalfish and pollack, but mainly small sub-2lb fish. Fun, but not fantastic, you could say.

My pollack is overshadowed by its surroundings. Autumn fishing on the northern tip of Skye
Big country – but small pollack!

I stopped for a while to get the tent up and gear stowed before darkness fell. It’s great to get a decent spot just alongside the sea, and this was within spitting distance – and with a superb view out across Rubha Hunish and the Outer Hebrides.

Room with a view, my tent perched near the shoreline on the northern edge of Skye
Room with a view

More pollack and coley of a similar size paid a visit as I fished on into the dark, but nothing but rocks hung themselves on the bait rods. I headed back to the tent as the moon rose over the hill behind me and my hunger pangs grew. Things were simple tonight, so a Jetboil rather than steak over a campfire, with Chilli con Carne in a bag. Tasty enough, though!

A jetboil keeps it simple - cooking a meal in the November darkness
A jetboil keeps it simple

Normally the sounds of the sea keep me awake for a while, but I must’ve been tired as I went out like a light. Unzipping my way into the dawn next morning I found it cold but not freezing. Clear skies had encouraged a little frost, but the hint of sunrise to my east suggested another sunny day to come. A couple of coffees later and I hit the rocks again.

Dawn on the northernmost coast of Skye, with Isle Trodday in the background
Dawn

Spinning produced similar results, although I eventually wiped out my small stock of metal lures on various snags. Applying a large pinch of salt, the best fish might have made 4lbs, but there was no sign of the larger pollack I’d hoped to encounter. I did get a hefty encounter on my heavy rod though, with a strong, steady run on a large mackerel bait. It was hooked easily enough, but just kept on going and ran over a sharp rock or ledge – bye, bye 30lb mono mainline. Conger probably, skate possibly – although it’s not really skate type ground. Proof that something decent is out there though!

A small but lively coalfish from the north of Skye
Small coalfish

I wanted to head round to Rubha Hunish for a couple of hours, so I packed a few lures and a little bait and headed up the hill around late morning.

The northernmost tip of Skye, Rubha Hunish
Rubha Hunish

The cliffs are pretty dramatic but I worked my way down the gully and then down the steep path to the bottom of the cliffs, about 250 feet below. Easy enough in the dry, but a bit trickier when it’s icy or wet I suspect. The way to the point is easy enough and I was soon setting up my gear on the very northernmost tip of Skye.

I'm well hidden on the steep descent down to Rubha Hunish, Isle of Skye.
Spot me! Descent onto Rubha Hunish
Looking back to the descent down the cliffs to reach Rubha Hunish
The descent to Rubha Hunish, looking back from the bottom of the cliffs

Casting in, I found I was in quite deep water with a modest tide run. I’d guess this could be a pretty big tide run in a large spring but I was fishing quite small neaps and it wasn’t a problem. Back to spinning the leadheads, as I’d lost the heavy lures by now, but they were soon picking up more of the same smallish pollack and coalfish.

A pollack from Rubha Hunish, at the northern extremity of Skye
Rubha Hunish pollack

Time was scooting by now, and the days here are very short at this time of year. I was conscious that I’d a fair to go to reach my car, and a tent to pick up along the way, so I decided to pack in fairly early in the afternoon. Even so, by the time I’d hauled myself up the cliff path and then back round to the tent it was dark by the time I reached the car.

So a fine couple of days in excellent weather for this time of year. Shame the bigger fish weren’t really out to play, but it was a small tide. As usual, the main obstacle were the short days and rather-too-long nights you get this far north.

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Glamping on Etive

Boat glamping? Wild glamping? I’m not really sure the best way to describe our recent session on Loch Etive, but we certainly weren’t roughing it! The boat was fully loaded with a chunky Robens bell tent, complete with carpet and wood stove (with plenty wood) for the cold evening we expected. I’d got the tent earlier in the year, more for Liz and myself than for fishing, but I’d not had the chance to try out the stove in it yet…

Autumn fishing with a comfy camp on Etive

The Longliner 2 slipped into the calm waters of Taynuilt and we were soon running down to our usual starter mark at Ardchattan. An hour or so here produced very little, so it was on to the deeper spots offshore from the Priory shore mark.

Our wake disturbs the calm waters of Loch Etive as we motor down towards the lower loch, late October 2018
Disturbing the calm

Ian with a modest spurdog - not big, but still one of the better ones we caught
Ian and spurdog

There’s always a vigorous tide run here, but it is only in the top 30-40 feet and looks worse than it is.  Anyway, the fish seemed to like it and Ian was soon stacking them up – mainly small spurs, but with some decent thornbacks and the odd whiting too. I trailed well behind, fishing in my usual lazy style, but also playing with the cameras and sorting out some hot drinks (my excuse!)

Ian with a thornback ray caught from the lower end of Loch Etive, near the Priory shore mark
Thornback from the lower loch

A few hours here and we called time, conscious that we’d to sort out our glamping arrangements for the night before darkness fell. We also wanted to allow time for an evening session in the middle of the loch, hoping the larger spurdog would come on the feed after dark, as they’ve done in the past. Hauling anchor we made our way back up the loch and through the narrows at Bonawe.

Sandy beach at Barrs, Loch Etive. just after the sun has disappeared for the evening
Sandy beach at Barrs, Loch Etive

Our target was the beach at Barrs, which offers a great camping spot. The sun had sunk below the hills behind us as we approached, but we could see shapes moving around on the sand. Too big to be human, I thought they were deer initially, before realising they were ultra-wooly and photogenic highland cows. Bugger! Deer would disappear before we landed, but cattle are a different proposition and quite likely to tangle with mooring ropes and tent guys. Assuming we could find a cowpat-free zone big enough to park the Robens in the first place.

A hairy highland cow faces up to Ian
Cuddly, but with sharpish horns

Still, we edged ashore to try and make peace with the natives. They were having none of it, and just stayed put. Given they were much bigger, there were more of them, and they had pointy horns, we decided to go for plan B. This is a more exposed mooring on the other side of the loch, and a more limited pitch space. Still, perfectly OK in the light winds forecast overnight.

A large tent and a sandy beach don't make the best companions, but a few rocks will counter any winds tonight
Building on sand

Tent erected, stove installed, and we headed out into the darkness for another two or three hours fishing. It’d be nice to say we were rewarded for persistence, but the pattern remained similar – a lot of small whiting and spurdog. Loads in mid-water, and you didn’t need to drop right to the bottom to get action.

Calm and cold, we fished on with the help of a Cup-a-Soup or two, but got nothing but tiddlers in exchange. Mainly to Ian, as I cut it back to one rod that was fished rather half-heartedly.

Fishing deep water for tiny spurdogs in the pitch black of an October night is quite hard work
Tiddler bashing in the pitch dark

Back ashore, and we managed to set a mooring quite efficiently, given it was completely dark, and headed for the tent. It was pretty cold, which provided the incentive needed to get the stove lit pronto. I’d taken a generous supply of wood in with us, so it wasn’t too difficult to get a decent blaze going. I think both of us were taken aback at how efficient the stove actually was, as it became pretty warm pretty quickly – and then positively hot.

The woodburner proved almost too hot for us, and certainly heated the tent
Roasting!

Foil covered potatoes were plonked in the fire, and sausages and mushrooms were followed by a nice steak, washed down with a decent dose of malt whisky. I can hardly claim it was to ward off the cold though! A final check on the boat and it was time to hit the sleeping bags…

Another first - attempting to cook dinner on top of the woodburner. It went better than we deserved!
Dinner underway

Had there been any human presence awake on Etive at three in the morning (thankfully, I’m pretty sure there wasn’t), then they’d have been treated to a curious spectacle. Under the light of a full moon a smallish figure, dressed only in thermal underwear and wellies was scurrying around the beach picking up rocks.

Our tent shows up nicely againts the large moon on Loch Etive
Moonlight

That was of course yours truly, trying to stop the tent pegs pulling out of the sand in the rising breeze. I think success can be judged by the fact that Ian was still snoring gently by the time I’d finished – which rather undermined his claim next morning that he’d barely slept 🙂

A nice, but rather insecure, camp on the sandy shores of Loch Etive
Glamping on the beach

We’d a leisurely start, fuelled by coffee and bacon rolls, and the sun was well up in the sky by the time we’d cleared the tent away and un-moored the longliner. Humming and hawing a bit, we decided to head a good way further down the loch and see if we could avoid the tiny spurs that seemed to fill the upper reaches. A couple of hours close inshore saw us pick up an LSD or three, plus whiting and a thornback – together with a smattering of tiny spiny critters.

A tiny thornback ray for Ian, taken just off the moorings at Taynuilt, Loch Etive
Tiddly thornback

Our final throw of the dice was close to the moorings at Taynuilt, where the seabed starts to rise towards the beach. A quiet spell was followed by a flurry of thornbacks which was a bit of a morale booster. Nothing very big, but good fun in shallower water and definitely welcome after packs of miniscule spurdog.

A nice thornback ray from Ian from Loch Etive, October 2018
Ian with a respectable ray

We packed in early, partly to avoid road closures, partly to give me time to start sorting out a mountain of gear when I got home, and partly because there are only so many small fish you want to catch on a fairly chilly autumn day!Share this:
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Early Autumn Shorefishing in Argyll

I’ve not really been shore fishing around Argyll for months, ever since the midges started to appear, so I was happy to head westwards for a daytrip at the weekend. It was 50:50 whether to trail the boat, but I plumped for the aerobic option and packed the shore gear and hiking boots instead. Plump being the operative word, as I could also do with shifting some summer over-indulgence! Sadly, no Bonnie dog for company, as she’s probably needing an op to repair ligament damage. On the plus side that meant I’d actually get some fishing time, as opposed to spending my day chucking sticks for her.

Early morning sun picks up the mountains at the head of Loch Etive
Early morning sun

Autumn was starting to show some teeth as I headed west, with sub-zero temperatures showing in several places. The early morning sun soon beat back any hint of frost, but it’s a reminder that winter isn’t too far away now. At least the summer crowds have largely gone, although the car park at the head of the loch seemed well enough occupied for early on a Saturday morning.

The walk along the loch was knock-out stuff this morning – and I don’t just mean the struggle through bog and overgrown, saturated vegetation. Even the mist was dramatic, and the landscape revealed as the sun broke through was west highland picture perfect material. The hike is definitely hard work, but very rewarding in fine weather.

A misty autumn morning looking across scrubby birch woods down towards Loch Etive
There’s a loch in there somewhere

Stunning oak woodlands line the banks of Loch Etive, with my path winding between them
Stunning oak woodlands line the loch

Late morning had me setting up the rods with mackerel baited pulley rigs and casting out into calm, deep, water.

Launching a mackerel bait out into the calm waters of Loch Etive, in search of a spurdog
Launching a mackerel bait

The tide was ebbing, which makes life easier on this mark, and the sun was shining. However the fish didn’t seem as inspired as I was, and it was almost an hour before the first bite translated into a small spurdog.

A small thornback ray adds variety to the catch on Loch Etive
A small thornback adds variety

It was quickly returned, just as another pair of anglers hove into view, and set up at a nearby mark. A few fish later I headed round for a chat and to see how they were doing, as I’d not fished the spot they were on. Turns out that they started off before me, but had overshot the turnoff from the trail and then spent quite a while making their way to the marks. I consoled them a little by telling them that Trevor and I had a pretty hard time finding our way here the first time we tried. At least they were also catching fish as a reward for any blisters incurred.

A thornback ray caught from Loch Etive, and waiting to be returned to the water
Fish of the day

The day rolled on nicely – more fish, more coffee and more bacon. A good bit of sun, some breezy spells, and a shower or two. Basically, easily enough to keep me occupied for the rest of the afternoon until I decided to head for home before sundown. It always feels longer on the way back, but nothing felt too broken by the time I arrived at the car.

The Loch Etive woods are a lovely place to explore as the autumn colours start to show
A lovely place to explore

In day trip terms this is very much an even split between hiking and fishing and that’s part of the attraction to me. I like my hiking and I like my fishing, and this combines the two quite nicely. Add in a little hillbilly cooking and it suits me perfectly.

However, it’s probably as well that I’ve managed to convince myself that it’s not all about the catching – 10 spurdog, 1 thornback and a doggie doesn’t sound too bad for a 5 hour session, but the biggest fish only went around 3lbs and most of the spurs were laughably small.Share this:
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Wildcamp at Sandwood Bay

A couple of weeks ago I managed to escape back towards Cape Wrath for a little wildcamp at Sandwood Bay. Surf, scenery and solitude reset a jaded mind very effectively!

Wildcamp at Sandwood Bay

Pitching camp on a small headland overlooking the rollers crashing ashore at Sandwood beach, NW Scotland.
Pitching camp

A few fish would be nice, and September is generally a good month to find them, but my real aim was just to have a little chill time for myself.

A lovely surf pounds in to Sandwood beach on a clear September morning in NW Scotland
A lovely surf pounds in to Sandwood beach

Ian teases me about the slow-ish fishing for small fry that makes up my typical angling experience of Sutherland. At one level he’s quite right, as I could easily catch more and better fish elsewhere.

However, devouring a juicy sirloin whilst warming yourself by the flames of a lively little campfire – all the while watching the last of the sun disappearing over the Atlantic surf – and the reality is that fishing is just an excuse to be here.

Dinner eaten and a single malt awaits as dusk falls over my camp, Sandwood beach.
Dusk falls over my camp, Sandwood beach

The sun sets over the Atlantic surf rolling in to Sandwood beach
A perfect view from the camp

A nice slug of single malt and I fell asleep to the sounds of the surf. Quite genuinely, there was nowhere else in the world I’d rather have been.

Fish

Well, I did catch some. Hardly the best catching I’ve ever had, but a very satisfying few hours playing in the surf. More small sea trout and bass but no turbot. Less happily, I stripped a large number of sea lice off the sea trout before returning them and was quite taken aback by the infestation. Obviously I’ve seen sea lice before, but not on this scale, and I can understand why our freshwater friends have such concerns about them.

A small, and sea lice infested sea trout from Sandwood Bay
Sea trout

A small bass from Sandwood Bay waits to be released
Small bass from Sandwood Bay

I also managed to land a “bonus” weever fish too – a first for me, although I’m not actively hunting for a second.

A first for me, with a poisonous lesser weever fish lying on the sand waiting to be unhooked.
Lesser Weever

I’d hoped for the possibility of a ray but the surf was a little too energetic for that to be likely. Unfortunately, the range up at Cape Wrath was closed or else I’d have tried a couple of the more accessible spots north of Sandwood that I picked out last year.

Fishing the southern end of Sandwood Bay
Fishing the southern end of Sandwood

Pretty much the same experience as before – bass on crab, with everything else on mackerel strip.

John Muir Trust and Sandwood

If you’re an outdoors type whose toes curl (even a little!) at the idea of time spent out in true Scottish wilderness, then you might like this little YouTube offering. I claim absolutely no credit for it, and it has nothing to do with fishing – but it does nicely explain the philosophy that guides the owners of Sandwood, the John Muir Trust. It’s worth remembering that the voice-over was written well over a century ago, but still seems completely relevant today.

The Trust aims to encourage access to iconic Scottish wilderness whilst also conserving it and certainly seems to be doing a good job at Sandwood. It’s named after John Muir, a Scots migrant to the USA who is idolised there for his work in setting up national parks such as Yosemite, but is relatively little known in his native country.

And finally…

I like a campfire out in the wilderness. It cooks your food, keeps you warm and hypnotises you with its flame. In the sixteen hour darkness of a December night in Scotland it provides light in more ways than one. Done sensibly there is no harm. Done badly it ruins your chosen spot and leaves a scar that can last a decade or more.

A little trace of charcoal on the sand, but not much sign of a campfire here.
A little trace of charcoal on the sand, but not much sign of a campfire

Use a sandy beach where you can, or perhaps an existing fire hole, but never start a fire on machair or other vegetation. Come back in 10 years and you’ll still recognise the damage you did… I know this personally, and still cringe every time I see a little spot with 18 inches of slowly recovering turf. A mistake I’ve never repeated, and which you can avoid easily.Share this:
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