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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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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(In)action at Loch Leven with Summer Thornbacks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting closer to postage stamp size - a small Leven ray
Getting closer to postage stamp size – a small Leven ray
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A Few Hours Chasing Thornbacks from my SIB

Just catching up a bit with some rather late reports…

A couple of weeks ago I nipped across to Loch Leven to spend the morning chasing thornbacks. I actually drove across the night before to test out some adjustments to my sleeping arrangements in the Yeti, proving you can sleep me, an inflatable and an outboard and associated fishing clobber in considerable comfort. Headroom’s a wee bit lacking but otherwise it all seems OK. I also managed to bounce a roe deer off the front of car near Kinlochleven, but thankfully both parties seemed to escape with only minor damage.

Squeezing my inflatable boat, outboard, fishing gear and a sleeping bag into the back of a Yeti. It's surprisingly comfortable.
Room for Two?

The fishing was nothing to write home about, but I launched the SIB at the old slate slip and spent the morning chasing thornbacks across at the fish farm. It was a nice enough day but even the very slight breeze was chilly, so little chinks of sunshine were welcome when the showed through the cloud. I accumulated 5 little thornbacks (ranging from small to tiny) and a lonely doggie with no sign of any mackerel.

A small thornback ray perched on the tubes of my Avon 310 SIB
Small thornback ray

Overall I think the fishing in Leven seems to be going backwards and the last couple of years have been pretty poor, but it’s still a pleasant enough spot to try for a few hours.

Watching the rod tip and waiting for another fish
Waiting for a bite

I’d to head northwards to meet up with my dad in the afternoon so it was a shorter trip than usual – just the sort of thing the little Avon SIB excels at.Share this:
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Westward Ho! – Revisiting Lochs Leven and Sunart

I hadn’t really planned on a trip to the sea lochs, but the forecast was mixed to poor and Trevor was still recovering from the damage inflicted the last time he came fishing with me, so we took the Mr. Sensible route and headed westward – besides which, I haven’t fished Sunart for a couple of years now and it is a very pretty place.

Loch Leven

We got launched easily enough at Ballachulish, once the hotel reception had found the key to the car park barrier, and skipped across to the fish farm for a couple of hours.

A small thornback from Loch Leven
Baby thornback

Smallish mackerel soon added to our bait supply but the rest of the fishing was pretty slow, with only a few rays showing. Getting a little fed up of this we upped anchor and went for a bit of exploring.

Trevor feels for a bite as we fish on Loch Leven
Concentration: Trevor on Loch Leven

A nice ray from Loch Leven for Trevor, but nothing like the quality of fishing that the loch can produce from time to time
Ray of the day. Umm!

Heading up the loch in far calmer conditions than the forecast promised, we passed through the Narrows and into the upper loch. We dallied for a few minutes at the cliffs, but the codling didn’t really want to play ball and we’d to settle for a few poorcod as additional bait.

A warm afternoon afloat on Loch Leven had us both getting a little sleepy
Nodding off

A peaceful scene on Loch Leven - vastly better than the near gale and heavy rain that was forecast
Tranquility… despite the near gale-force forecast

A mooch over to the mussel farm saw a few more rays and absolutely the tiniest mackerel I’ve ever seen – large shoals of fish the size of a large minnow.

These tiny mackerel were around in large shoals on Loch Leven
Micro-mackerel

Another miniature mackerel falls to Trevor on Loch Leven
Another miniature mackerel

The final move for the day saw us try some reefier ground in the middle of the loch, but with only a few dogfish to show for it. Heading back to the slate slip we duly retrieved Alcatraz after the usual palaver of getting the keys for the barrier.

Ballachulish now boasts a chippie, but before heading off to find it we’d a chat with the skipper of one of the big ribs that plays with tourists on the loch. Aside from the tale of the witches curse on the Ballachulish bridge, it was quite blood curdling to hear of the fuel consumption of these ribs at full blast – 110 litres per hour – per engine!

Trevor hauls up a thornback from Loch Leven
Something meatier

It would be nice to say Loch Leven coughed up loads of thornback rays, but that would be a fib.
A small ray comes out to play

And across to Resipole and Loch Sunart

By now the rain was starting, but the plan called for a run to the Corran ferry and then an overnighter at Resipole campsite before a day on Loch Sunart. We reached Resipole as it got dark and pitched the tent quickly in what was becoming quite heavy rain – and then promptly fell asleep.

Resipole is a very nice and scenic campsite, but the still, damp air at half-past six next morning meant there were a million midges hovering outside the tent, just waiting for us me(!) to step outside. I’d say it took around 60 seconds to clear the tent and sleeping gear into the car…

Launching wasn’t too bad, as we’d a few minutes grace before the little bar-stewards figured out where we were, but we didn’t hang around on the slip and were soon heading out on the loch.

A very atmospheric early morning on Loch Sunart
A very atmospheric early morning on Loch Sunart

We tried a couple of different marks in the morning, and both were holding good numbers of spurdog – but just the wrong size, maxing out at maybe 5lbs. Mackerel, dogfish and a solitary thornback made up the numbers, but quality was distinctly absent.

Not great - a typical sized spurdog for this trip on Loch Sunart
Not great – a typical sized spurdog for this trip

Clearing skies on a windless Loch Sunart - but only small fish around
Deep water + small fish = hard work

A shift to shallower marks for the afternoon added some smaller species – whiting and gurnard, plus a conger eel for Trevor. We were trying for thornbacks but had none at all, so it was a little ironic to get an eel from relatively shallow, clean ground when we’d spent all morning trying for them without success on the more recognised marks.

This Loch Sunart conger eel was a slight surprise from the mark it was captured on - shallowish water and clean ground
Sunart conger

A low double figure conger for Trevor - and our best fish of the weekend from Loch Sunart
Trevor with his conger

And the whelk population just here seemed enormous – I don’t recall seeing any from Sunart before.

A "shoal" of whelks feasting on a whole mackerel bait in Loch Sunart
Whelk-fest!

So we ended up with better weather and fewer fish than we probably deserved, but it was fine just to mix a bit of fishing with a bit of fossicking about in search of new ground – and I don’t see anything to regret in having a relaxing weekend in the Scottish fjords, rather than a full-on fishing trip.Share this:
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Summer fishing mini-reports

I find I tend not to do too much fishing in the height of summer, if there is such a thing in Scotland, but I do try and wet a line from time to time and here are a few mini-reports that didn’t get the full treatment.

An Afternoon on Loch Leven

Bonnie and I headed over to Loch Leven for a few hours shore fishing in July. A bit blustery with a mix of sunshine and showers, but warm enough. We pretty much fished all the way up a rather large tide.

High tide on Loch Leven covers most of the marks
High tide on Loch Leven

Bonnie waiting for her turn to play, as we spend the afternoon shore fishing on Loch Leven
Bonnie waiting for her turn to play

I can’t say as the fish were very co-operative, but I managed a couple of rays and a dogfish through the afternoon so a blank was thoroughly averted. Poor dog wasn’t so happy when I’d to deal with her tick fest later on though …

A small shore caught thornback ray
A small shore caught thornback ray

A great backdrop for an afternoon's fishing
A great backdrop for an afternoon’s fishing

Lesser spotted dogfish are one of the most common catches in Loch Leven
Ever-present dogfish

Early August off St Andrews

St Andrews threw up a few Pollack and a good number of codling for Ian and myself at the beginning of August, although we’d to wait the best part of four hours before they switched on as the tide turned and light started to fade. No monsters (I say that all too often!), but a useful top up for the freezer. Mackerel were fairly plentiful and I added coalie, ling, and a dogfish to the total for the day.

My fish of the day was this Pollack - kind of underlining the lack of quality from St Andrews today.
My fish of the day was this Pollack… (pic courtesy of Ian)

As usual the zig-zagging through the lobster pots in near darkness added a little interest at the end of the day.

Loch Etive Spur-fest

Last weekend saw me having a lazy day out on Loch Etive, trying a couple of new marks for me and trying to get a better understanding of a couple I’ve fished before.

About half the day was spent chasing small spurs and middleweight pollack miles up the loch, with a few whiting, doggies and a single codling making up the numbers.

A pair of Spurdog from 400 feet down in Loch Etive
Spurdog from 400 feet down in Loch Etive

This plump Etive whiting coughed up a load of fish farm pellet food
Plump Etive whiting – full of fish farm pellets

Shifting further down towards Bonawe and into deep (over 400 feet) water seemed to ignite more interest and I had a solid 90 minute spell of fish two at a time within seconds of hitting bottom. All of which would’ve been more fun if it didn’t involve a long, long haul to get them aboard!

A double hit of whiting and spurdog from Etive
A double hit of whiting and spurdog from Etive

A pollack from Loch Etive, taken on a lead head and firetail jelly worm many miles from the open sea
Loch Etive pollack

New Videos

I also found the time to put together a couple of videos for Loch Etive and Loch Leven, based on trips there in recent years and fleshing out Corkwing’s pages on each.

Fishing Loch Leven

Fishing, boating and camping in the Loch Etive wilderness

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A bit of Surf and Turf in Lochaber

Yesterday saw me launching the SIB at Ballachulish before six in the morning, after a few hours kip in the car the night before. I made haste, to try and avoid the midges which are well and truly out of hibernation now!

An early morning launch for my SIB at Ballachulish

I don’t normally bother with Leven at this time of year as the fishing is usually taking off along the east coast and down in the SW. However the east has been very slow to get going this year, and I didn’t have any bait for a session in Galloway. The plan was to fish a fairly short session on Leven and then head for the hills for the rest of the day, exploring some of the other attractions that Lochaber has to offer.

Pap of Glencoe backlit in early morning sunshine
Pap of Glencoe backlit in early morning sunshine

The first hour passed slowly with a little ray and a smaller codling, but then cheered up somewhat as several more rays happened upon my mackerel strips.

A pretty little thornback ray gets returned to Loch Leven

I packed in around 9.30 with 9 rays, a couple of whiting and 1 mini codling to show for my efforts. Best was only 6lb 8oz, but it was a decent enough session, making the best of a windless early morning.

A slightly alien looking thornback ray clings to the Avon's tubes
A slightly alien looking thornback ray

A thorny thornback ray and best fish of the day

And the turf element? Well I’ve never hiked up Ben Nevis before, and thought it was about time I got around to it. I reckoned it would take around 6 hours to complete the round trip, but in the event it was a 5 hour haul up and down the steep access track. It was rather too crowded for my liking, but the weather was kind and it was a pleasant enough afternoon.

A crowded Ben Nevis.
A crowded Ben Nevis.

The view from the summit of Ben Nevis, May 2016
The view from the summit of Ben Nevis

Incidentally, I swapped cars a few months ago, and one of the advantages of the Yeti is that it’s fairly easy to arrange things to get a half decent night’s sleep – even sharing with an inflatable and outboard engine.Share this:
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Spring Strikes on Loch Leven

I’ve been across to Loch Leven three times since New Year and it’s been relentlessly cold so it was a full set of thermals for yesterday’s trip – only to spend most of the day in windless, warm weather with a good deal of spring sunshine to boot. This is Scotland though, so it did rain most of the way home!

Calm and overcast start to the day, upper Loch Leven
Calm and overcast start

The upper loch, above the Narrows, was the target for today, mainly to add species and quantity rather than make any play for quality. An early start saw the Avon hit the water around 8, and I made my way over the deep, reefy ground to try for the small codling and poorcod that fill the place.

A few seconds after starting this little ling hit the bait.

Baby ling from Loch Leven
Baby ling from Loch Leven

Followed by a long succession of mini-codling and poorcod. I kept a few poorcod for bait, but the novelty of catching them soon wears off.

Poor cod reach plague proportions, Loch Leven
Poor cod reach plague proportions

The species count hit 4 with this little coalie, which was another first for the year, and I took the opportunity to collect a few mussels from the rocks – although there weren’t many exposed as this was a pretty small tide.

A small coalfish, first of the year
First coalie of the year

By this time the loch was getting filled with kayaks in all manner of colours, together with a few boats from the nearby campsite, so I clearly wasn’t the only one with an eye open for a slice of good weather.

Pollack fishing from a kayak, tucked close in under the cliffs at Loch Leven
Pollack fishing from a kayak

Having had my fill of mini-fish I decided to head back towards the deeper water and drop anchor in search of larger quarry. The outboard sprang into life quickly enough but we’d covered less than a hundred yards when it died on me 🙁 A quick look suggested the same problem as I had last year – a stuck carb float. Annoying but not really a big deal as I a few minutes with the oars got me back to the area I wanted to anchor in anyway, and this was not far from my launch point.

Fine Day to be Afloat on Loch Leven - an inflatable sits on flat calm water, overshadowed by the mountains behind
Fine Day to be Afloat on Loch Leven

Since part of the plan was to try the upper loch at anchor and see whether it held much in the way of rays, I just stuck it out for the rest of the day. The first couple of hours produced nothing bar a missed bite on a poorcod bait, but things picked up a little thereafter, with a good sprinkling of small whiting on the mini-baits and a succession of rays on mackerel.

First ray of the day - holding a small thornback ray
First ray of the day

These fish weren’t large, and seemed a good bit leaner than their plumper friends down near the fish farm at Ballachulish, but they all seemed in good condition and were nicely coloured. Overall I picked up 5, with the best maybe 4-5lbs, and a middle of the road type result pretty much in line with expectations.

Playing a thornback ray from my inflatable, Loch Leven
Playing a thornback ray

Bringing a thornback alongside the SIB, Loch Leven
Bringing a thornback alongside the SIB, Loch Leven

A nicely marked thornback ray perches on the SIB's tubes
A nicely marked thornback ray

 

Incidentally a thornback ray’s eye is really very pretty, with beautiful colouration and patterns. Have a closer look next time you catch one.

Thornback rays have very pretty eyes
Close up of thornback’s eye

I headed ashore about 4 in the afternoon, as I was getting a little stiff from the cramped confines of the SIB. However it was still a fine day so I gave it another 90 minutes from the shore further down the loch – without so much as a sniff of a bite.

A kayaker calls it a day on Loch Leven
A kayaker calls it a day

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Two men in a SIB

It must be a decade since I last fished two men in a SIB, as it’s usually cramped enough for one disorganised angler, let alone two. However Loch Leven ain’t the open Atlantic, and a few hours fishing in calm conditions made it an decent proposition.

Apart from the outboard taking a bit of flogging to get going it was an easy start in calm and sunny conditions (in a change from my usual pantomime it was starved of fuel rather than flooded. After 30 years I should know all this by now!). Having two aboard makes a noticeable difference to performance, and there was no chance of getting on the plane, so we simply puttered our way across the loch and dropped anchor.

Fishing was very slow but we eventually picked up one or two rays. This first one proved to be the best of the day, which really doesn’t say very much about the quality of the fishing.

Me. with the first thornback of the day and a lot of snowy mountain tops for background
Me. with the first thornback of the day

Ian managed to pull up some of the uglier bottom life in the shape of a long worm-like creation, whilst I added a couple of micro-cod, but there was no sign of the mackerel or usual poor cod or whiting.

Seabed life in Loch Leven - some form of worm attached itself to Ian's rig
Seabed life in Loch Leven

 

All of a tangle - a thornback surfaces in a beautiful tangle of yellow braid
All of a tangle

In the early afternoon we took a quick shot ashore to stretch our legs and defrost a little, and caught another glimpse of an otter whilst Ian cleared up some of the crap left by a recent angler who couldn’t be bothered to carry out what he’d carried in.

We finished the day with another ray or two, including this monster for Ian, but there was no sign of the numbers or quality of fish you can get here sometimes.

Ian with a tiny thornback ray
Ian with a tiny thornback ray

Looking around us, if anything the snow was even thicker on the mountain tops than on my earlier trips this year, a reminder that we’re not out the woods with winter just yet. Still, the sun had a little warmth in it so there is some hope!

Salmon cages overshadowed by Glencoe
Salmon cages overshadowed by Glencoe

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Blast Frozen on Leven

Now I know what an Ammo sandeel feels like… Out with Ian on the loch yesterday and the wind was blasting down from the east, straight off the snow fields of the Mamores and Rannoch Moor. Frigid!

Frigid Loch Leven
Frigid Loch Leven

And pointless 🙁 Our total catch was 1 crab and a solitary clappy doo (although in my defence it was fairly hooked).

Catch of the day - one large clappy doo, or horse mussel
Catch of the day:-(

I don’t think we can be accused of not trying, but it was a struggle to get baits out far enough and to keep the retrieve out of the weed. And something down there was hungry all right, as the baits came back well shredded – admittedly probably only by crabs.

Arctic blast on Leven
Arctic blast on Leven

Late in the day the wind dropped a little, but by then we were pretty much chilled through and called time as the light faded away.

Ian casts out
Ian casts out

At least it stayed dry, apart from the snow on the way over, but it’s reminder we’re not through with winter yet.Share this:
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