Anything relating to Scottish west coast and sea lochs, and exploring and fishing them. This is a catch-all category for posts that don’t fall neatly into one of my usual fishing grounds. For example, posts about Loch Etive are shown in a category of that name. For SW Scotland have a look at Galloway.
It’s not often that icebergs stop play when it comes to sea fishing in the UK, but it came close yesterday. I was out on the boat near Kinglass on Loch Etive and the fish were (almost!) being protected by large shields of ice drifting down from the Glen Etive end. A very dramatic winter scene on a beautiful calm day, but I did manage to winkle a few fish out as well. Have a look at the video and see for yourselves – if nothing else the sound effects from about 4:25 onwards should bring any boat owner out in a cold sweat…
Ice Fishing on Etive
I’d launched from Taynuilt just before dawn and followed my usual routine of first trying down the loch towards Ardchattan on the ebb tide. A good shot here yielded only a couple of thornbacks and a pair of spurdogs, all small, plus a collection of whiting and a doggie. The whiting were shredding baits quite quickly so I didn’t take much persuasion to shift up the loch and try a spot which held good numbers of fish the last time Ian and I were across, about a month or so ago.
All went smoothly until I reached somewhere near the bothy at Cadderlie and started to encounter more and more sheets of slushy ice stretching across the loch. I’ve seen this a couple of times before and, given the very cold weather over the last week, it wasn’t much of surprise. Pressing on it became less and less slushy and obviously too thick and extensive to make any sensible attempt to fish. Maybe not quite icebergs, but close enough as far as I’m concerned! I retreated back to a mark off Kinglass which seemed relatively ice-free and dropped anchor in about 280 feet and dropped frozen mackerel into water of about the same temperature – less than 2 degrees according to my sonar.
Clearly things were a lot warmer down at the bottom, or else we’ve some very hardy fish around here, as there were a steady stream of takers. Mainly little spurdog, but a doggie or two and a few more whiting. Even a little cod which dropped off right at the surface.
The fishing was kind of mixed in with the ice crunching past the hull of my Longliner 2, and I wouldn’t have wanted to fish in anything thicker. Even as it stood the boat and anchor were dragged a couple of hundred metres by quite thin ice floes.
Pretty much the final fish was the ling you see in the pic, which is the first I’ve had from this far up Etive and was clearly eyeing up a whiting which was on the other hook – quite a scabby specimen and probably about 4lb or so, but I wasn’t complaining.
I chucked in the fishing a bit earlier than I usually do, partly because of the cold but also because I didn’t fancy ploughing into more ice at speed on the way home. Apart from having two blocks of ice for feet it wasn’t uncomfortable afloat, and the conditions made for a memorable day afloat.
I do like this time of year – the nights are long but it’s not too cold, and the worst of the bugs are back in hibernation. The autumn colours are still around and the summer crowds have largely gone. And last weekend the weather and the tides lined up nicely too, so I sorted out my tent and loaded up the rucksac again. Time for another wild camp on Etive, fishing right alongside my tent in a very quiet spot where deer were the only likely intruders.
Solo wild camp and fishing on Loch Etive
To me the long walk in is part of the attraction of this mark. The track is rough and quite arduous in places, but it runs through wonderful scenery and quite splendid isolation – a very rare commodity, even in Scotland.
Travelling light is a relative term, but everything goes in the rucksac apart from the rods themselves, and I keep gear to a reasonable minimum. This time I was relying on a campfire for cooking and hot coffee, so the gas stove was swapped in favour of a little fatwood and a couple of mini-firelighters. A few leads, traces and a little coolbag with mackerel bait was pretty much all I needed to fish, as the loch doesn’t tend to be too tackle-hungry.
A couple of hours later I arrived at my destination, having worked up a decent sweat in the process with only a single tumble into the peat bog on the way in. Mild embarrassment and a wet fleece were the only casualties, but a reminder of the reason I carry a PLB on these trips – the line between merely looking silly and potentially crippling injury is a fine one, and easily crossed over.
Set up, bait up and cast in – it doesn’t take long to get fishing on this mark. I am pretty lazy when it comes to fishing here, and I don’t tend to spin or float fish for the pollack which also swim around here. However I did need to sort out my campsite for the night, and darkness comes early in these parts at this time of year. My “semi-detached” style of fishing allowed me time to get on with collected kindling and firewood, and to set up the tent.
Finding dry wood can be a bit of a challenge on the west coast, as anything on the ground gets saturated quite quickly, so I’d to tramp around a bit to find decent chunks of dead but still standing timber. My efforts were rewarded by a couple of nice pieces of oak to form the core of the fire, and a good bunch of dry-ish bracken to act as tinder. Happily it didn’t take too long to get a decent fire set up and burning steadily.
Almost in parallel, there was a steady run of spurdogs taking my baits. I missed a few due to my fire raising, but the body count was respectable and rising as I put the coffee pot on to boil and tucked a couple of potatoes into the fire to cook away.
The light finally faded as I returned my one and only thornback ray of the trip, and the steak and mushrooms went on to cook – I felt I deserved a little treat for braving a long November night. All fairly primitive, but I dined well and in very contented fashion as I contemplated the stars reflecting in the calm waters of the loch. Not a light or trace of humanity disturbed the quiet.
I’ve not had a baked apple since I was a kid, but it was a perfect follow on to the steak. Apertifs came from a slug of Talisker and then it was time for an early night.
I slept pretty well, waking only to the sound of some light rain on the tent and later on to the pitter-patter of tiny feet as a tick traversed my torso. Uugh! Not really what you want at two in the morning and it was duly trapped and despatched after a slightly desperate search by torchlight. The morning light revealed a neat line of bites across my middle which suggested I’d moved the wretched thing on a few times in the night before it woke me up for real…
A New Day
Next morning dawned clear and cold, with the sky clearing after the last shower departed, so I struggled free of my warm cocoon and back into thermals. The gear was pretty much ready to go so it was a matter of minutes to bait up and cast out. Then back to trying to re-awaken the campfire and get some breakfast on the go.
My backup was in the form of muesli, so there was a strong incentive to get the fire going and polish off an early morning smorgasborg of sausage, bacon, mushrooms and eggs. The overnight rain dampened everything enough to give some anxious moments, but I eventually kickstarted the fire and breakfast got underway.
Just like the campfire, fish were a little slow to come out to play, but started to appear just as breakfast got to the critical stage of pre-burn perfection. A little careful juggling kept everything edible whilst still pulling in a few more spurdog and a rather more grisly whiting head – its body presumably forming the equivalent of spurdog bacon and eggs.
Over the next couple of hours I had a coffee or two, pulled in a spurrie or three, and generally organised my backpack until, rather slowly and reluctantly, I packed up camp and prepared to move back down the track towards civilisation. I wanted to fish a mark about half-way back to the car that I hadn’t tried for 2 or 3 years. Whilst I fully expected to repeat previous experience and find it stuffed full of micro-spurs in the sub-12 inch category, I felt it was worth a shot, just to see.
My expectations were fulfilled, and faint hopes dashed, as a succession of micro-spurs dutifully gobbled up the bait and were dragged ashore. An hour of this was more than enough, especially given a blustery northerly wind, so I was soon heading back towards the car. Given it’s a fine spot to camp and fish it’s a shame that there don’t appear to be any larger fish around here.
A final splosh through the sodden moorland saw me back at the carpark at Glen Etive, with a couple of final treats in store on the road home. The first in the shape of large numbers of deer (there are loads in Glen Etive), and then a very fine sunset as I crossed over Rannoch Moor on the way back east. A reminder that Scotland can be magnificent at times, and not just a prisoner of Atlantic weather systems… Definitely an A-list weekend!
Just back from a few days wandering around Skye with a fishing rod. More wandering than fishing it has to be said, but a few items of interest from the angling point of view.
Video here, and the full report below…
Squelching Across Skye with a Fishing Rod
The highlight of the trip was actually before I even got there, as I stopped off for a couple of hours near Fort William. It was not long dark when I hooked what was obviously a decent fish but one which came in without too much fuss, and it showed up in my headtorch as a nice looking ray.
It was only when I picked it up that I realised it was actually a small common skate and a first for me from the shore. The scales put it at around 18lbs, which also makes it my biggest shore caught fish.
Suitably encouraged I scooted up the road to Skye and slept in the car overnight before heading up to Bracadale and an area I’ve never been too before.
It was a fine morning, but the forecast was for heavy rain and a force 6 southerly in the afternoon, so I hoped to find a bit of shelter in the loch. Rather overloaded with too much clobber I headed off down the track that goes out to Idrigill Point and then cut off this and headed down to the shoreline to find a spot to fish and set up camp.
Nightmare country, with old forestry, small cliffs and gorges everywhere, so I was pretty knackered by the time I got set up. The mark itself was easy enough to fish, although it was nearly low water and there was a good band of exposed kelp running out 30 yards or so.
I cast mackerel baits over this and started picking up spurdogs from the sand beyond – only about 20 feet of water but there were fair numbers going about once the tide started to flood, and I was kept busy. Initially small males, but then a few females appeared, although nothing above 6-7lbs.
As the tide flooded and the weather started to kick in properly I had a go spinning for pollack as the kelp was now covered by water. Plenty of interest in the jellyworms but not too many proper takes. Most of the fish were small, in the 1.5-2.5lbs range and I doubt anything went above 3lbs, but there were reasonable numbers. I lost one larger fish but even it wouldn’t have made over 5lbs. I retreated to the comparative comfort of the tent once the light faded and had quite a decent night’s sleep hidden inside the plantation as the wind howled along the cliffs.
Next day was nothing to write home about on the fishing front – I did take a spinning rod along as I tramped out to Idrigill Point (after wading my way through waist deep, soaking wet bracken to get back to the track in the first place), but there is nowhere at the point itself that you could realistically get down without significant ropework.
Most of the coastline is pretty similar, with steep cliffs straight into the water, so I didn’t try and commit suicide and just enjoyed the view. Heading back down to the south of the island I spent a couple of hours on Armadale pier feeding some very hungry crabs which munched everything I gave them extremely quickly.
There may well have been fish there, but I doubt they’d have a look in as baits were getting stripped in a few minutes.
Another overnighter in the car and then down towards Point of Sleat, armed just with a spinning rod. The Point produced nothing, although I think it is largely sandy ground rather than kelp – a beachcaster and mackerel bait might have told a different story as there was around 30 feet+ of water and a decent tide run as well.
Moving back up towards my car I tried the same spot I’d good fishing from when I was up in summer, and it was instant action. However most were smaller than during the summer and in the 2-3lb bracket, although I did get one specimen that would have gone around 6lbs or so.
A couple of coalies also and then, just as most of the action had stopped near slack tide, I got hit just on the surface at the fringes of the kelp. At first I thought it was a better sized coalie until I slid it up on the kelp and realised it was a bass! Not a big one, and definitely undersized, but I was both surprised and chuffed with this little bonus. A first on lures from the shore and from any sort of rock mark.
So quite hard work in some ways, and no gigantic bags of fish, but I’m pretty happy with my lot! Even happier to get a decent night in a proper bed…
A couple of years ago I sketched out a plan to take a boat around the Isle of Jura, more just to explore this remote place than to do any serious fishing. Of course, doing so involves traversing the Gulf of Corryvreckan which, depending on who you believe, is either the second or third largest whirlpool in the world…
Despite its terrifying reputation (30 foot high standing waves, the roar of the sea being heard 10 miles away, etc, etc.) it was pretty obvious that lots of small craft, from yachts to kayaks, made it in one piece and it was more a question of the right tides, weather and timing. Aligning these three with enough time off work delayed things, but last week saw me trailing the boat across to a spot called Carsaig (near Crinan).
The Longliner was loaded up with a little more than normal, to allow for a tent and sleeping bag, before nosing out into the Sound of Jura and taking advantage of the late summer sun as we headed over to Jura. There was a little time to kill before the tide was right for Corryvreckan so I had a little fish around the farmhouse at Barnhill (its main claim to fame being the place where George Orwell wrote “1984”). One lonely coalie later I continued on my way, along an equally lonely coastline. Barring a hikers bothy the next human habitation was another 30 miles ahead of me.
In the event a light NW wind, very small tides and slack water saw me heading through Corryvreckan in very anti-climactic fashion with a small swell of less than a metre and no overfalls to worry about. A few minutes later I popped out the far side and into a pretty rugged stretch of coastline. At that point it dawned on me that the Yam must have completed it’s 10 hour run in period somewhere in the middle of Corryvreckan. Pretty much academic really, but it gave me a little satisfaction at the thought.
30 minutes fishing saw loads of mackerel and some coalies, plus pollack to 3lbs or so on feathers close in to the small islands at the edge of Corryvreckan, but I didn’t hang around here given that I’d quite a way to go and the tide run was quite noticeable even at slack water. As I mentioned nobody at all lives on the west coast of Jura, with a single bothy and a summer house owned by the Astor family being the only buildings, so pretty genuinely a trackless wilderness.
Full of raised beaches and with a neat ring of rock lying just offshore that varies between just above or just below the surface – so very tricky to get ashore unless you’re in a kayak.
I’d kind of hoped to do just that near the bothy at Glengarrisdale, but the swell was washing onto a boulder beach and it looked a distinctly bad idea at that stage of tide (around mid-tide it’s pretty much a sandy beach). Glengarrisdale is also the home of the Cave of Macleans Skull, or at least was so up until comparatively recently. The story goes that one of the many, many skirmishes between the clans occurred here sometime in the 1600s and no-one got around to burying all the casualties at the time. Consequently Maclean’s skull had a cave to himself for a few hundred years, barring the odd visiting hiker, until he finally disappeared about 40 years ago. The tale perhaps underlines how remote this area is, as I can’t quite see the same thing happening in Edinburgh.
I trundled down the coast for a few more hours and stopped off to fish a sandy bank just offshore from Loch Tarbet. Perhaps 50 feet of water and very little tide and my baits were completely shredded by small critters quite quickly. I tried a livebaited mackerel in case some tope had headed up from Islay, but nothing doing in the hour or two I gave it. Perhaps not too surprising given the tide, relatively short time and generally random nature of the mark, but I headed into Loch Tarbet to find somewhere to sleep overnight.
Tarbet is one of these lochs that just keeps on going and it very nearly cuts Jura in half, but with three or four channels maybe only 20 metres across and others with plenty of rocks in them it requires quite a lot of care even in a wee boat like mine. It was getting on a bit by now and I was tired so I decided to stop playing dodgems with the reefs and find somewhere to rest up and get some food.
I dropped anchor in shallow water, just in the lee of a headland and sorted myself some dinner as the light faded (Wayfarer’s Chilli con Carne if you want to know, and not at all bad). With the cover on the Longliner she converts into rather a large tent and was quite comfy on a calm night so I got a decent night’s sleep. I could have headed ashore and popped up the tent but it was easier and more midge-friendly to stay afloat this time around. Morning saw me spend a couple of hours trying a hole in the loch in search of rays, but really just repeating the experience of the day before – lots of wee things having their breakfast at my expense.
Somewhat frustrated I headed back down the loch aways and came inshore to scrunch around an impressively massive shingle bank that represents multiple layers of raised beaches. My boat is in the photo, so gives some sense of scale.
Further round Jura and you get into the Sound of Islay, where the coast is a little more civilised but overshadowed by quite impressive mountains in the form of the Paps of Jura. Round here I was extricating myself from between some rocks near the shore when I encountered a pair of otters. One was a bit shy but the other just swam towards me and seemed quite curious rather than nervous – I’ve never seen that before, as usually they disappear quickly if any anglers appear.
Pollacking on Black Rock
I tried a couple of spots along the way but had only coalies and small pollack until I made a final stop at the Black Rock near the SE tip of Jura. A big tide rip even in a tiny tide and a chart that was clearly not 100% right (my sonar showed 8 feet above the rock, where the chart clearly said a minimum of double that…). However it screamed pollack and duly obliged to mackerel trip and jelly worm on a 1 oz lead.
Loads of smaller fish to 4lbs or so, and I hit three much larger ones – one shed the hook, one straightened it and I landed one at 7lb 12 oz. All these came close in to the very shallow top of the reef. No photo unfortunately as the GoPro threw a wobbly filming it, just after I popped it back 🙁 I only managed about 45 minutes here before I’d to head back up the east coast of Jura to get back before the tide dropped too far, but it must hold larger fish – although whether I’d want to be near here on a large tide is a bit doubtful.
84 mile round trip, with an overall mpg of 9.4, so quite happy with that
dimension too. It was more of an explore/wander about than a fishing trip, but (unsurprisingly) there are some good fish around the tide rips at the north and south ends. Not so sure about the bits in the middle though!
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!
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).
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…
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!
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.
I’ve recently said goodbye to Alcatraz, my faithful Warrior 165. She is now 10 years old and not getting quite the same use she once was, so I’ve been rethinking what I need from a boat for the next few years. Consequently, and after a lot of soul searching, I’ve just taken delivery of an Orkney Longliner2.
The Warrior is an excellent boat but it’s a little big and heavy for what I need nowadays. I reckon I can get more or less everything I need in a slightly smaller and lighter package. I still want to fish easily with two aboard, although three is a rarity for me. Whilst I avoid boat fishing in windy weather I still want a very seaworthy dinghy capable of handling poor conditions.
Why a Longliner 2?
The Longliner 2 will live at home and under cover, which means it can be loaded and pretty much ready to go at any time. A lot of my fishing is short notice, following the weather type stuff, so the extra flexibility is important and should encourage me to get out fishing more often. Dodging the cost of a boat park space is a welcome bonus too.
A biggie for me is that I get away from the horrors of a braked trailer and high levels of maintenance they demand. This is a really big plus point, as keeping a boat trailer legal is a major hassle if you’re not particularly mechanically minded.
The Orkney is definitely a slower boat but I’m no speed merchant and the practical difference over a typical 5-10 mile run is pretty minor, especially as sea conditions around Scotland rarely allow WOT running anyway. Orkney claim 22 knots (25mph) top speed but I doubt I’ll see that, and something in the 16-18 knot range works fine for me.
The LL2 is apparently an updated version of the older Orkney 520 hull and certainly isn’t directly descended from the original Longliner. So it’s a lot faster than the longliner and can take a larger outboard, although the max is 25hp. It’s max quoted speed is 22 knots compared to 30+ from the Warrior, although I rarely took the 165 much above 22-23 knots in practice.
You sometimes see the smaller Orkneys referred to as “starter” boats, which I’d disagree strongly with – I’ve had a boat for over 30 years now, and this is the first Orkney I’ve owned or even set foot in. It’s very much a question of working through what you need from a boat and choosing the right compromise for your needs. For me, just now, that points to the LL2, but obviously that might change again in future…
I’m not sure how closely my needs match yours or other anglers, but my main reasons for switching were:
I trailer a boat thousands of miles a year. Braked trailers are a complete and utter pain to keep legal, so a move back to unbraked trailing is very appealing. A lighter boat is also easier to tow, although the Warrior is hardly difficult to move about, or launch, single handed.
The LL2 will pretty much live at home, rather than in a compound miles away. This obviously saves a few bob, but the big benefit is that it makes it easier to drop everything and go fishing at short notice. I’ve noticed that I was using the Warrior less than I should simply because of the hassle of picking her up and putting her back in her compound.
Being under cover and close at hand both reduces maintenance and makes it easier, as well as allowing her to be kept in fishing ready condition with gear aboard, etc.
Most of my fishing is within a 10 mile radius of port and in reasonably easy waters – sea lochs, North Sea (Dunbar) and SW Scotland. Of these, only the tide races on the headlands around SW Scotland would bother me in a LL2 – and they bother me in a Warrior too. Basically I don’t really need the extra speed or brick like qualities of the 165 hull.
My LL2 will be set up to allow one person to fish and sleep overnight in reasonable comfort; allow two to fish in comfort; or fish three at a bit of a pinch (by comparison I’d regard the Warrior 165 as also fishing two in comfort, three at a pinch. I don’t think you can have four fishing safely on a 165). My longest 1 day trip in a Warrior is over 100 miles, and I expect the same capability from the Longliner 2, once properly set up.
Mine is configured with a hard cuddy, console and single seat box. This leaves quite a bit of room for fishing, although laid out differently from the Warrior style boats. I’m still working through the permutations for rod holders, etc. but have fitted a set of rails towards the stern which will help.
I took it out for a maiden launch and engine break-in session at the end of June over at Loch Etive. Not much wind but it rained from start to finish so the photos are fewer and soggier than originally planned.
You can see the handrails on this photo, just immediately aft of the rowlocks(!). Also the console, which is quite a good size for this class of boat – I haven’t installed anything yet as I wanted a wee play about first before committing to anything. Trim was OK with one aboard, with a slight lean towards max revs (although the rather oversized Tohatsu aux at 25kg helps offset my weight [just a little!]). The cuddy is also a good size and provided decent shelter from the wet stuff.
The anchor well is bigger than I thought, shown here with a 5kg Bruce and 10m of heavy chain. I didn’t keep the anchor in here whilst towing as the thought of it flying around in an accident didn’t appeal, but it looks big enough to hold my usual 200m of rope.
And a view towards the stern. Planning on putting at least one rodholder on each rail, plus one towards the stern itself.
And a slight downside in wet weather – the bilge is too shallow to contain water effectively, so be prepared to bail out during the day if the rain is heavy.
A couple more pics – sorry about the stray raindrops and generally grey look, but it was an authentically grey day of the sort that Scotland specialises in!
A view of the starboard side of the Orkney Longliner2
And finally – first fish, being a small and feisty grey gurnard.
Overall everything behaved itself, although I picked up a few minor things to change. Performance is a little hard to judge with a new outboard, but I took her up briefly to max revs and hit 23-24mph (20.5 knots) on the GPS, so the claimed 22 knots when lightly laden looks about right given she wasn’t trimmed correctly at the time.
Anchoring was easy and she was well behaved in a slight wind against tide situation. Drifting seemed fairly stable, although it wasn’t rough enough to test this realistically.
All in all I’m happy with the trial run, although conditions were pretty benign if you forget about the rain. I think I’ll give it a few months to get familiar with her and then post a more considered review in the light of experience!
Fish in the east, fish in the west, but not really the weather to exploit either coast! Faced with the need to check out Alcatraz before an upcoming trip to Galloway I chickened out and made my way over to Etive again, with the furball for company.
Having had fairly poor results from down the loch over the past year I just headed straight up into the less visited upper loch and settled down to a little Etive pollack bashing. This isn’t something I often do on the loch, as there are a lot of smaller fish around, but I was trying for something a little better today.
My leadhead attracted little attention in the peaty-ish waters, but I lost a couple of smaller fish which threw the hook before my light spinning rod went parabolic and line peeled rapidly off the little Abu reel. Clearly a better fish, I treated it with a little respect and it was a few minutes before a good sized fish (and my best Etive pollack) slid into the net and came aboard.
Being guilty of over-estimating the size of pollack (slab sided, but thin when compared to cod) I always prefer to trust my scales and these slid round to a healthy 5lb 6oz.
Nothing else seemed very interested so I shifted a little and dropped anchor. Wind and tide were opposed, which is never something to be recommended, but it wasn’t uncomfortable and just a little awkward as the boat slewed from side to side. Bozo had clearly given up on dreams of a run ashore and curled up and went to sleep for a while.
It was a little slow, but a decent sprinking of fish graced Alcatraz’s gunwhales, including spurdogs, dogs, a thornback and some whiting (heads only!).
Taking pity on Bonnie I took a break in the early afternoon and we headed ashore for an hour of chasing sticks and drinking coffee in the sunshine.
A couple more hours fishing produced more of the same, but no sign of larger spurdogs, so I was happy enough to point Alcatraz south and head back towards Taynuilt.
I’ve paid two or three visits to the far northwest in the last couple of years. Wonderfully remote and isolated country in which to escape for a day or three, it makes for perfect chillout territory, especially if you pick your weather. My latest trip to the extremes of Cape Wrath was more hiking than fishing but I did take a light spinning rod along for the journey…
Cape Wrath is just about the most isolated spot on mainland Scotland, with no real road access. It’s also the only actual Cape in Scotland that I’m aware of. Good enough reasons to pack a rucksack and set the alarm for very early. Sneaking quietly out the house without winding up the dog too much I set off before Edinburgh woke up. The sun was rising nicely as I crossed the Forth Bridge and even the A9 was empty enough to be bearable as I ploughed on.
Time to get my boots wet
Finally, by mid-morning, a 5 hour drive from Edinburgh saw me setting off on the track to Sandwood. I was deliberately trying to pack light, so it was only a 30l backpack with a tent, sleeping bag and cooking kit. Probably rather too much camera gear and not enough fishing kit, but much less effort required than hauling a 65l pack around. The first part of the trip, along to Sandwood Bay, is an easy hike along a well maintained little trail so I made rapid progress and was descending into the bay after 90 minutes or so.
Sandwood is an iconic beach flanked by high cliffs and backed with grassy dunes and a fine peaty loch, and you get a great view as you drop down towards the sea. Way to the north, the lighthouse at Cape Wrath is just visible above the hills. Sandwood wasn’t my destination this time, but I felt obliged to give it a little shot to see if anything was hungry so stopped off towards the end of the beach and dug out some gear.
My little 6’6” spinning rod was mightily outgunned by the surroundings but we gave it a couple of casts with a 1oz lead and a mackerel sliver. Nothing seemed terribly interested, but it was an ebb tide and a hot, sunny day, so I wasn’t hugely surprised.
The sun was hot by now so I filled my water bottle from the nearby river and then sweated my way northwards over the low hills that guard the route to the Cape. There isn’t really much of a trail here and you make your own way across the mixture of peat bog, heather and machair style grasslands. Nothing much grows higher than six inches or so, and the areas of bare grit and rock bear witness to the ferocity of the wind along this very exposed coastline. None of that today though, and the light breeze was definitely welcome in the strong sunshine as I marched on towards my campground.
Keisgaig Bay isn’t pretty in the way Sandwood is, but it is a fine, lonely spot to spend a night. I pitched the tent on a small promontory overlooking the most northerly salmon stream in mainland Britain – a mere shadow of its normal self in these dry conditions – and made a well deserved coffee as I took a short break. My plan was to leave most of the gear in the tent and then head up to Cape Wrath and back before nightfall, so I couldn’t hang around for too long.
To get out of Keisgaig involves a 600 feet climb up the hills to the north, which took a little while on a hot day, but was then followed by a fairly easy trek across dried out peat bog. Further on I encountered progressively wetter conditions and it didn’t take much imagination to appreciate how much more difficult this territory would be after a decent spell of rain. By comparison the final stage to Cape Wrath is almost an anti-climax along a rather beaten up army track.
There was no-one else around as I took a few photos and nibbled on a snack before heading back south. This time I hugged the coastline a bit more closely which was quite a bit harder going but also let me identify any opportunities for a man with a rod in the future – and there are definitely some spots where the shoreline is accessible without abseiling gear. All in all I was feeling more than a little tired as I stumbled back down the hill into Keisgaig and unzipped the tent door.
Keisgaig and some trout
I awoke the next morning to find the sun had returned after some overnight showers, so it was time for some breakfast and to watch the seals lounging around the bay whilst I had a coffee and sorted out my plans for the day. The idea was to give my rod a little bit of both fresh and saltwater action as I made my way back to Sandwood and then to the car, so I tied on a little Mepps 00 lure to some light braid and set off in search of a trout or ten.
I spent the rest of the morning exploring, trying a couple of lochs and several burns for any stray trout. These proved very obliging and easy to catch, although quite small (hardly a surprise in such a harsh environment) and I only drew a blank on one loch.
After amassing 13 or 14 very prettily marked fish (all returned) I rather reluctantly decided to return down towards Sandwood and try a beach a little to the north.
Back to Sea
Washed by a light surf and crystal clear Atlantic water it was almost a privilege to mark a line of footprints in the sand of this fine little beach as I headed towards a large rock outcrop in the middle. Even the rock felt hot to my fingers as I climbed up under the sun and made myself comfortable. Armed with only a little spinning rod, and able to see the sea bed quite clearly through the surf for a long way out, I can’t say I was terribly confident about actually catching anything. However I went through the motions and slung another mackerel strip out into the breakers before settling down into my usual coffee making ritual.
Twenty minutes later I noticed the line was slack and felt a decent weight on the rod. Even with light gear I can’t say there was much of fight, but you certainly knew that there was a fish on as the little rod hooped right over. A flounder isn’t exactly in exotic territory but it was certainly welcome and I was pleased to add to my species count for the year.
Confidence boosted I rebaited and cast out again, before settling down to be roasted again. A combination of snoozing and some complacency meant that I was very late to wake up to another slack line bite, and my line was hopelessly snarled up in the kelp at the base of my rocky perch before I realised I’d a fish on. I could even see it clearly 30 yards out in the surf as it swam effortlessly in the waves – a small sea trout. It took another thirty minutes before the tide cleared the bottom of the rocks sufficiently to let me clear my line and land the fish. Not large but it was still welcome proof that there was something worth fishing for!
By now it was getting closer to my “I’m still alive” check-in with home, and I still had a fair way to go and no mobile reception. Rather grudgingly I packed up and gasped my way up the hill and then back down to Sandwood. The beach was busier now, with 2 or 3 tents and at least a dozen people strung out along its length, so I was quite glad not to stay this time and content to head back towards the car at Blairmore.
Yesterday it was back again to Etive for another shore fish in search of some spring spurdog, although I reckon this will probably be my last for a while. The midges will soon wake up as will the fishing everywhere else, so I think the Lochaber sea lochs will go on the back burner for a while, at least for shore fishing.
It was raining as Bonnie and I set off on the long trek down the loch, not heavy but enough to have me debating the wisdom of trying some closer marks. Happily both the rain and us gradually dried up over the next hour and the sun started to poke through as we tramped along steadily. Spring is really on it’s way, despite the snow earlier in the week, and the lochside was turning green again. In the freezing cold at the start of the year the woods were almost eerily silent but now they were full of birdsong, with good numbers of cuckoos and woodpeckers making their presence felt. No sign of any human animals though!
Bozo has got the hang of the routine now and on arrival I was left in peace to set up my rods whilst she went off in search of her ideal stick. So, a few minutes after we reached our destination a mackerel baited pulley rig splashed down and made its way to the silty seabed 120 feet or more deep.
Even before the second rig was baited and ready to go my ratchet screeched as a spurdog hit the bait and made off at speed. A few minutes later and a superb fish glided into view, looking more like a tope than a spurrie. Sadly this was due to a combination of my new varifocal lenses and the magnifying effect of unusually clear water rather than reality. Still, a respectable fish of around 6-7lbs was soon slipped back into the water. God knows what I’d blabbering about on here if it had got off!
That pretty much set the tone for the day as fish appeared regularly during the ebb and if I hadn’t managed to lose three spurdog to bite-offs I’d have been even happier. I tend to use a 7oz grip on this mark as there’s a reasonable run of tide in the deep channel that holds the fish. Coupled with a pulley rig I’ve not lost too much gear on the ebb, although the flood is a different story as your line is pulled into snags by the tide.
Perhaps because of its remoteness this mark tends to bring out my latent hillbilly instincts, so my little woodburner Honey Stove got another outing. Gas is definitely less messy and easier to work with, but there is a certain satisfaction from a cup of coffee brewed over a naked flame – and even better if you can use a firesteel rather than matches to light it! Boys toys or what 🙂
Apart from “crispy” sausages shared on a 50:50 basisBonnie frowns on such frivolity of course, as it gets in the way of the real business of stick throwing. I didn’t dare put any of her collection on the fire…
Spurdog were fairly steady through the ebb and I had to interrupt stick throwing on a regular basis to retrieve them. Most were in the 4-7lb range, although there were a couple of smaller males. The average size has definitely increased since the New Year, the same pattern that showed last year.
By five in the afternoon the tide had turned and the sky was getting ominously grey, so I bribed the dog with a biscuit and we started back along the trail. Our final tally was eleven spurdog, with no other species showing an interest. Despite the best efforts of my new glasses there were no double figure captures, but cracking fun nevertheless.
To be quite honest, being an ageing office worker with the upper body strength of a 10 year old means I don’t always relish the chance to play tug of war with a skate almost as big as myself. I’m neither particularly keen or successful as a skate fisherman, but a great forecast, small tide and late March meant I didn’t have a many other options on the sea fishing front. So a trip to fishing for skate at Oban was on the cards, with Ian recruited as crew.
This was to be a two day effort, with an overnight camp in between, which meant a lot of scurrying around to sort out gear beforehand. It was a leisurely start on Friday and we launched at Ganavan around 11, just after low water, and headed out into a very calm Firth of Lorne. The plan was to revisit the Lochaline area as I’ve not tried it for several years.
Well, we fished for around 6 hours without so much as a sniff from a skate. Ian was fishing a lighter rod and picked up a grand total of 3 doggies, whilst I spent more time watching the eagles on the cliffs above Inninmore Bay. An utter waste of time, and not a great omen for Saturday.
I hauled anchor with my tail thoroughly between my legs and we headed off to find a spot to camp overnight. We (eventually) got tucked up for the night at my second choice, a remote little bay on Mull not far from the entrance to Loch Spelve. It proved a fairly tight spot to moor in but at least there was a great little spot to pitch a tent overnight. After a dinner consisting mainly of half-cremated sausages we turned in early for the night. A remote and isolated site together with a cool, starry and midge-free evening – pretty much the way I like my camping!
The Hole at Kerrera
Next morning I was up early, mainly to make sure the boat was still there (and floating), and was rewarded with a fine sunrise over Ben Cruachan and Kerrera.
Coffee and breakfast was followed by re-stowing everything on the boat and undoing the overnight mooring, However we were soon heading out towards my usual marks near Kerrera and fishing before nine, or around 90 minutes before slack water low.
Water depth was 515 feet and I was using a 2lb lead to get a whole mackerel down and pinned to the muddy seabed. Mackerel isn’t my first choice of skate bait where there might be spurdogs out to play, but with Ian possessing the one respectable coalie we had between us there wasn’t much choice in the matter.
In the event it didn’t seem to make any difference as there was little in the way of spurdog (apart from one nice but skinny specimen for Ian), and the skate liked the mackerel just fine.
I won’t bore you with the full details of every capture, but we hoisted 7 skate to the surface and had two more throw the hook. That is waay better than any day I’ve had previously – I think the most I’ve had aboard Alcatraz before is just 3. Most of them were small(ish) males but the biggest was a female that looked to be in the 150-160lb bracket. The tide was pulling her under the boat and we were both getting knackered by that point, so we didn’t pull her aboard. Maybe a bit more, maybe a bit less, but I can’t say the precise weight bothers me too much.
Apart from that, all the others did scrape over the gunwhales, with the best being a male of 107lbs (we had 4 males and 3 females in all). It had some sort of tag fitted, of which only the black circular base remained. There wasn’t any identifiable number on this one, so it was possibly one of the few skate tagged with a radio beacon – if anyone can shed light on this that would be great.
Ian also managed the dubious honour of being the first person I’ve ever seen to get bitten by a skate. Probably more of a glancing blow than a full on crush your hand effort, it still did a fair bit of damage and certainly looked impressive with a nice pin cushion effect. This was a particularly pissed male skate which was quite aggressively trying to bite anything it could and managed to extend its jaws just as Ian extended his pliers to remove the hook. Oops!
After swabbing copious quantities of Ian’s DNA from Alcatraz’s decks and covering his hand in band-aids we got back to fishing again. Slack water high was about 4.20 and I reckoned we could give it another 90 minutes after that before the tide picked up again.
In the event that was pretty much spot on, as I pulled up a small male of around 60lbs – and no sooner had that hit the deck than Ian was into another fish, again a male, which gave a good account of itself before coming aboard for a photo opportunity.
By this time it was well after five, so we decided to call it a day and head in whilst our backs were still just about in working order. 4 to me and 3 to Ian, and both of us happy with our lot, bandaged fingers notwithstanding. I’m not sure I’m converted to skate fishing as such, but it was a great way to spend a couple of days in a beautiful part of the world.