Boat camping in Sunart

Almost two months had past since Alcatraz last got some exercise, as one thing after another got in the way of a bit of fishing, until finally some decent weather and a free diary lined up for a few days.

The original plan had been to head either to the far north of Scotland or to some very remote territory on the south coast of Mull, as the forecasts looked a bit on the breezy side. However this improved just enough to give a decent crack at Loch Sunart so it became a question of finding somewhere sheltered enough for an overnight stay in a northerly wind that was still forecast to be a force 5.

Looking towards Dun Ghallain, a natural harbour used for over 2000 years
Looking towards Dun Ghallain, a natural harbour used for over 2000 years

Dun Ghallain (“Fort of the Storms”) is a highly sheltered little lagoon on the north side of Sunart between Laga Bay and Salen, and most people are only vaguely aware it exists. It does indeed have an old Iron Age fort, and the superb little anchorage was used by the Vikings for their own ships over 1000 years ago, but the more pressing question was – is there anywhere to pitch a tent? Past experience with Sunart’s combination of stony shorelines and bogs has made me wary as flat ground is quite rare, and Dun Ghallain is no exception.

Sunart-Viking-harbour

After a good bit of looking around I settled on a site on the outer edges of the lagoon where there was enough ground to pitch a tent between exposed rock edges. Fine for a bit of solo camping, but two would definitely be a crowd when it came to avoiding rocky lumps in the ground.

Given the history of the place you’d half-expect a ghost or two to show up but not even a stray deer wandered past and I’d a couple of uneventful nights. I’d been a bit worried about the amount of weed in the bay, coupled with some large rocks, but low water revealed Alcatraz safely surrounded by sand and water and it wasn’t difficult to extricate her from her mooring and out the channel into the loch.

Leaving Dun Ghallain anchorage just after sunrise
Leaving Dun Ghallain anchorage just after sunrise

To be honest the fishing wasn’t great. Day 1 only involved a few hours by the time I was launched and allowing for the time spent setting up camp, and it was basically dogfish. Day 2 was better after a slow start, with a mix of rays and a few spurs from Laga Bay, including just one double of 13lb 6oz, plus more dogs and a couple of whiting. Given that it was pretty windy for much of the day I couldn’t really complain as I headed back to feel my way in to Dun Ghallain as darkness fell. After breaking camp (and the ice off the tent), the last day gave a couple of conger to 17lbs 6oz and yet more dogs and whiting in a beautiful sunny day. So quality fish but slow fishing, and in line with my previous experience of Sunart.

A spur in low-double figures
A spur in low-double figures
A small thornback ray from Loch Sunart
A small thornback ray from Loch Sunart
Where possible I use a net to land conger
Where possible I use a net to land conger
A typical conger eel from the Laga Bay area
A typical conger eel from the Laga Bay area

 

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Etive shines

Etive is an wildly beautiful place (at times!), and it’s surprisingly unspoilt the upper loch is given how accessible it is from the central belt. Even if it was a fishless desert its upper reaches would attract anyone wanting to experience the beauty of raw nature and the almost complete silence that goes with no roads and no people.

Alcatraz on Etive
Alcatraz on Etive

I’ve visited a couple of times recently and caught it at its best – calm sunny days and moonlit nights – and it really does have the ability relegate fishing into a supporting role alongside immersion in a fabulous natural wilderness.

A couple of weeks ago I took Liz along to share the scenery (not so much the fishing) and we had a fantastic day with plenty of sun and little wind. A respectable number of thornbacks and spurdogs showed up, together with a lot of mini-mackerel, but it was sharing the loch and a BBQ that made the day. Even the midgies stayed away.

Reeling in a small spurdog
Reeling in a small spurdog
A typically small Etive spurdog
A typically small Etive spurdog

Etive wasn’t the original plan for my last couple of days, but offshore on the west coast was looking a little doubtful as the wind touched double figures on a large spring tide, so I decided to go for a combined fishing/camping/photography trip on the inner lochs instead.

Despite a forecast for sunshine it was raining when I launched at Taynuilt on Tuesday morning, although this didn’t last too long and the weather improved during the morning. The first few hours saw a dozen rays and a few spurdog from down the loch, plus plenty of tiny mackerel, one or two whiting and a gurnard – fairly typical fishing for Etive. As the ebb tide waned in mid-afternoon I headed up towards my camping ground for the night, checking out a couple of possible fishy spots along the way.

Grey gurnard (2) - two a penny on Etive
Grey gurnard – two a penny on Etive

There was another group of anglers up at Barrs with at least 3 tents and who looked like they were there for a few days, but I was planning on a spot on the other side of the loch and a little further towards Glen Etive so I ploughed on for a few more minutes to reach my campground.

I’d plenty of time to get set up and then drop a couple of pots to fish overnight – one day I’ll catch something worthwhile and bigger than a squat lobster, but it’s fun to try occasionally and this was hardly a die-hard fishing trip. A short session close to the shoreline as the light faded produced a succession of small codling and the distinct impression that it wouldn’t take too long to catch dozens of the things.

Dusk on Loch Etive
Dusk on Loch Etive

 

As night fell I settled down at the tent, put a couple of burgers on the barbie and watched as a full moon rose to cast quite a strong light over the loch.

Strong moonlight illuminates upper Loch Etive
Strong moonlight illuminates upper Loch Etive

 

Camping on Etive - nightfall
Camping on Etive – nightfall

Early next morning was stunning as the moon was still out as dawn broke over a perfectly calm loch.

Dawn on Loch Etive - with a full moon still showing
Dawn on Loch Etive – with a full moon still showing

It was quite cool, hardly surprising for September, but I spent a fair while taking photos and sorting out coffee and some breakfast.

Mirror calm Etive sunrise
Mirror calm Etive sunrise

Alcatraz in the early morning light

Sunrise on Loch Etive

Plenty of photos taken of the sunrise, before the midgies woke up and made a move essential, and I headed out to retrieve the pots placed the evening before. These had several dogfish and a few crabs, but nothing that the average Scotsman would want to eat, so all were chucked back.

A calm, still morning with the water like glass
A calm, still morning with the water like glass
Checking my creels
Checking my creels

 

Hardly the most testing sea conditions...
Hardly the most testing sea conditions…

Down towards my favourite mark in the upper loch, and we waited for almost an hour before getting a decent run on the 12/20 rod. This bent over into a decent ray, or so I thought, until 300 feet later a small but distinctly skate-like object appeared.

Etive skate - just a wee one but proof they exist
Etive skate – just a wee one but proof they exist

Small Etive Skate (yes, they do exist)

A juvenile female skate is returned - upper Loch Etive Sept 2014

Only a baby at 33 inches long, but the first I’ve seen from the loch and hopefully it’s got some friends along with it. I gave it an hour or two but not much else appeared apart from a couple of doggies and small spurs, so I made a move closer to the shore and did a little more coddie bashing, picking up plenty of mini-cod and little Pollack on a light spinning rod.

Playing a small Etive codling caught on light spinning rod
Playing a small Etive codling caught on light spinning rod

 

Small codling galore from Etive shoreline
Small codling galore from Etive shoreline

By now it was getting very hot in the sunshine so I did a bit more hopping about over the next few hours, picking up more spurs off Cadderlie and more gurnards and codling from the opposite shore, before a last move back into Airds Bay to get the boat tidied up before heading ashore.

Flat calm on the loch - early autumn on Loch Etive

Apart from the novelty value of the little skate there wasn’t much to write home about in fishing terms – a dozen ray and maybe 15 or 16 spurs plus loads of little codling and a few gurnard, LSDs and whiting. Shedloads of mini-mackerel too. However the quality of fishing wasn’t really the point of this trip – it just provided a convenient excuse for a couple of days escapism.

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Kayaking Desolation Sound, British Columbia

OK, this post has nothing to do with angling, and I didn’t even take a rod with me to Canada, but we were out kayaking and backpacking in a landscape every bit as grand and far larger than our sea lochs. I’d spent time in Ontario a decade before, including several days canoeing, but BC is in a league of its own…

Map of Vancouver Island and Desolation Sound
Map of Vancouver Island and Desolation Sound

The trip was born from a combination of things but I suppose it was largely an 18th birthday present for Mike coupled with an attempt on my part to recapture some lost youth and pick up the threads of some plans from earlier years. Anyway we settled on two mini-expeditions in BC with a few days travelling in between, and dusted off the tent and rucksacs.

View from Heriot Bay, Quadra Island, looking towards the Coastal Mountains
View from Heriot Bay, Quadra Island, looking towards the Coastal Mountains

We kicked off with a 5 day guided sea kayaking trip to Desolation Sound, around 150 miles and 3 ferry crossings north of Vancouver. I’ve never used a sea kayak although I’ve been on a sit-on-top before and also open canadian canoes in fresh water, so I was quite surprised to find out how stable they were once on the water (getting in and out was a bit more of an art form).

Our kayak group and guides, June 2014
Our kayak group and guides, June 2014
Our fleet of sea kayaks awaits
Our fleet of sea kayaks awaits

Day 1 saw us getting familiarised with the kayaks and paddling across to Refuge Cove (looks a bit like a throwback to frontier days, apart from the regular seaplane flights and some satellite dishes). We set up camp a little further on, in a little bay on Martens Island and settled down for the evening. It rained a bit – the only real rain we experienced in over 2 weeks in Canada – but we were comfortable enough eating a large dinner under a decent tarp.

Next day started a little cloudy but soon started to brighten up as we packed up camp and launched the kayaks across some rather tricky rocks covered in sharp oysters.

Just launched and off Martins Island, Day 2
Just launched and off Martins Island, Day 2

An easy paddle and a couple of hours later we reached the Curme Isles – a little group of dry, pine covered rocks sitting in Desolation Sound. We set up camp on South Curme, which is simply stunning with views of the forests and mountains stretching off into the distance.

Tiny but beautiful, South Curme Island
Tiny but beautiful, South Curme Island

Camping is restricted as the island ecosystem is very fragile, and a small number of tent pads are available – all very well laid out and making great use of the available space (we generally found the Canadian provincial parks to be more interesting and better managed than their national parks).

A superb spot for a tent, with the sea on three sides and the sun overhead.
A superb spot for a tent, with the sea on three sides and the sun overhead.

Perfection included mid-20s sunshine, and only a few bugs (with no midges). So good that we decided to stay the remaining three nights here, as it meant we spent less time making and breaking camp and could travel light in the kayaks.

Mountains, forests and sea - the view towards Homfray Sound
Mountains, forests and sea – the view towards Homfray Sound
A superb morning paddling Desolation Sound (Image courtesy of Fia)
A superb morning paddling Desolation Sound (Image courtesy of Fia)

Unfortunately for the angler in me, rod and line fishing is prohibited in most of the sound although it is allowed in most other areas. Not really a big deal as that wasn’t why we were there and it probably wouldn’t have been very practical anyway.

A stunning location, and even better viewed from a kayak
A stunning location, and even better viewed from a kayak

The seawater in Desolation Sound is the warmest in the Pacific Northwest and the braver amongst us made a point of early morning swims. Being conditioned by living in Scotland to avoid getting in the sea if at all possible, I have to admit that I didn’t join them – although an afternoon dip in one of the nearby freshwater lakes went down well.

Morning on the Curme Islands
Morning on the Curme Islands

It’s hard to overstate the atmosphere of camping on islands like the Curmes – the combination of great weather, a breathtaking environment and giant natural landscape is overwhelming. The area does get more crowded with yachts and kayakers over the summer, but at the end of June there was plenty of space for everyone.

Our campsite for 3 nights, the beautiful South Curme Island
Our campsite for 3 nights, the beautiful South Curme Island

One fine evening a few of us managed a night-time paddle across the sound, with clear views of the stars and spectacular bio-luminescence every time the paddle bit into the water – but otherwise pitch dark as we made our way across and back at midnight.

Almost ready for a midnight paddle on Desolation Sound (image courtesy of Fia)
Almost ready for a midnight paddle (image courtesy of Fia)
Another group of paddlers, viewed from our Curme islands camp
Another group of paddlers, viewed from our Curme islands camp

We spent our time exploring the nearby bays and coastline, notably Tenedos Bay and Prideaux Haven (quite a few chunky yachts had made this home for a few days, but there was plenty of space for everyone)

View across Desolation Sound from our tent
View across Desolation Sound from our tent

Coming back from Prideaux the wind got up to a good force 4-5 in the late afternoon and evening, and it was quite a struggle to get back to camp paddling into the teeth of the wind. Being in an exposed site the tent took a battering but seemed to survive OK, and we emerged on our last morning to find the wind had died off quite a bit. Given the forecast was for strong winds later in the day we elected to break camp quickly and take advantage of the weather window to get back to Cortes Island whilst conditions stayed reasonable.

Our kayak route in Desolation
Our kayak route in Desolation

It’s hard not to go overboard with superlatives, but we had an amazing time in an amazing place. Fia and Ashley, our guides, were fantastic and put a huge amount of effort into the trip – not least of which was the cooking, which was excellent and put my normal efforts to shame.

Camping or Glamping on the Curme Isles (image courtesy of Fia)
More Glamping than Camping on the Curme Isles! (image courtesy of Fia)

We went with Spirit of the West Adventures who I’d very happily recommend to anyone interested in a similar trip.

 

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Mount Robson and Snowbird Pass

A few days of R&R and some substantial driving following our kayaking adventure in Desolation Sound, we kicked off a 4 day backpacking trip in the Berg Lake area of Mount Robson. Coming from the south and west, Mount Robson remains well hidden amongst other mountains until a turn in the road suddenly reveals this snow covered giant (it is the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies, at over 13,000 feet high). It looks huge, is huge, and every tourist on the road promptly screeches to a halt in the layby to take a better look. Explorers 150 years before us described it as a “giant amongst giants” and they were spot on – it really hits you between the eyes on a clear summer day.

First glimpse of Mount Robson, approaching from the west
First glimpse of Mount Robson, approaching from the west

After registering for our trail passes at the information centre and watching the obligatory video on 10 ways to die/100 things not to do in the park we were set free to find our way into the backcountry of the Rockies, hopefully avoiding the bears along the way.

At the information centre, to collect our trail passes
At the information centre, to collect our trail passes
On the bridge marking the start of Berg Lake Trail
On the bridge marking the start of Berg Lake Trail

It was early afternoon and very hot as we made our way along the first few miles of the trail, weighed down by our rucksacs but otherwise happy enough on a fairly easy track. Up to Lake Kinney it was fairly busy, mainly with day hikers returning to the car park, but from there on it was quiet with only the occasional backpacker all the way up to the campsite at Whitehorn. At the 11km mark this campsite is not too far along the trail and I’d originally planned on heading straight in to Berg Lake, but the damage done from a broken leg back in March made a reassessment seem sensible, and I was quite glad to split the journey in over a couple of days.

Blue skies and emerald green water
Blue skies and emerald green water

I wouldn’t say Whitehorn was an exceptional location, but it does exemplify the care that BC Provincial Parks take with their campgrounds – each tent pitch is set out nicely with a proper tent pad and access is controlled to prevent overcrowding. I have to say that I was consistently more impressed with the Provincial Parks such as Desolation Sound and Mount Robson than with the National Parks like Jasper and Lake Louise.

Mike on the steep, narrow trail between Kinney and Berg lakes
Mike on the steep, narrow trail between Kinney and Berg lakes
Steeper than it looks, this is a serious haul in the sunshine
Steeper than it looks, this is a serious haul in the sunshine

Day 2 meant a steep hard climb from Whitehorn to Berg Lake, past a series of waterfalls (“Valley of a 1000 falls” is the exaggerated official name!). The most impressive of these is the Emperor Falls, and the cooling spray from this was most welcome after a long slog up the hill.

Thick spray from the Emperor Falls blankets the forest
Thick spray from the Emperor Falls blankets the forest
A chance to cool down in the mist from Emperor Falls
A chance to cool down in the mist from Emperor Falls

Twenty minutes later we burst out into the flat open braided streams just downstream of Berg Lake and into the full heat of the sun as we made our way along the rocky trail. By now Robson was truly dominating the skyline, almost 3km above our heads.

An area of bare rock and scree, close to Berg Lake
An area of bare rock and scree, close to Berg Lake
Simple wooden bridges make life much easier on the trail
Simple wooden bridges make life much easier on the trail

Berg Lake gets its name from the small icebergs that calve off the Robson Glacier as it runs into the water, and over the next few days we were treated to the regular rumbles and thunderous noise of ice protesting as it was forced down the mountain side. Being fed by meltwater also gives the lakes the very distinct turquoise colour as light reflects off minute particles of silt ground down by the ice and suspended in the water.

A stunning location for some lunch
A stunning location for some lunch
Feed Me! - a campsite visitor
Feed Me! – a campsite visitor

We set up camp for a couple of days at the Berg Lake campground, on a tent pad with a spectacular view of Robson, and close to the river below. A short snooze later and we were climbing well up the trail above Berg Lake, making for the Toboggan Falls and the Mumm Basin beyond. It was extremely hot in the sunshine and we were using water at an alarming rate, so we dropped the more ambitious plan of completing the Mumm basin trail (which would have taken several hours) and turned back an hour or so above the Toboggan Falls. Even at this point we were above the tree line and could see the route of the Snowbird Pass on the valley opposite us – our target for tomorrow.

View of the glaciers feeding Berg Lake
View of the glaciers feeding Berg Lake

Day 3 saw us going for my personal goal – the Snowbird pass. This 23 km trail only opens on the 1st July each year and we went for it on the 3rd. The first few km are very easy, flat, walking but you then start to climb up the side of the Robson Glacier moraine which is pretty hard going even in the morning sunshine.

Just about to get steep - we head up the left side of the glacier
Just about to get steep – we head up the left side of the glacier
Even travelling alongside it is pretty hairy in places...
Even travelling alongside the glacier is pretty hairy in places…

Once on top of this huge lateral moraine, you try not to stumble over the edge as the trail takes you along the steep and pretty unstable scree slopes. Most of the trail is fairly well marked, but there are a couple of areas where it’s both easy and dangerous to lose your way – I’d be wary here if the weather turned poor! It’s easy to see why the trail is described as “challenging”

Lush greenery thriving above the tree line
Lush greenery thriving above the tree line

That said, the lush and very green alpine valley at around 6,500-7,000 feet is both a surprise and stunningly beautiful. We saw quite a bit of life here, mainly marmots and ground squirrels, but the valley is also a caribou calving area and has a population of wild goats.

The reddish, bare scree of the actual top of the pass can’t quite compare to the valley below, but it does afford a spectacular view of the Reef Icefield beyond the crest of Snowbird. At 8000 feet it was a little chilly even in the sunshine so we didn’t linger too long before starting the long trek downhill.

Looking over the icefields on the far side of Snowbird
Looking over the icefields on the far side of Snowbird
Bare rock and snow at the crest of Snowbird
Bare rock and snow at the crest of Snowbird

Next day saw us break camp and prepare for the hike back to civilisation, some 21km away. Robson’s peak was covered in cloud, but I managed a few shots of the icebergs drifting across the lake as we marched along making good time for the first few km.

Small icebergs that give the lake its name
Some of the small icebergs that give the lake its name

As the sun got hotter and the packs heavier we were glad to take the chance of a break where the forest and trail allowed – even with sore feet the whole place is simply awesome.

The icy Robson River tearing through the forest
The icy Robson River tearing through the forest

 

A rather defiant looking rodent keeps watch
A rather defiant looking rodent keeps watch

We were back at the trailhead for lunchtime, although definitely feeling the pace a bit and looking forward to a cold drink just down the road.

Wildlife-wise we didn’t see anything bigger than a marmot in Mount Robson, although a few bears did materialise as we headed south along the Icefields Parkway towards Calgary and our flight home.

The only grizzly bear we saw - captured on a camera phone
The only grizzly bear we saw – captured on a camera phone
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A little bit of everything on the sea lochs

…and that’s just the weather. Flat calm and warm sunshine one minute, followed by vicious squalls with heavy rain and sleet the next. Not quite what was forecast but certainly what we got when Trevor and I headed west for a couple of days on Etive and Sunart. Sort of summarises the fishing too!

A double figure spurdog from Loch Etive
A double figure spurdog from Loch Etive

An early start on Sunday saw us anchoring in around 120 feet near Ardchattan, where we got off to a good start with my second fish being a lively spurdog which just made into double figures by a couple of ounces. Trevor soon added a thornback and we both picked up more doggies than we might like.

Squalls turn Etive into a mass of whitecapped waves
Squalls turn Etive into a mass of whitecapped waves

The weather alternated between bright sunshine and a blasting cold wind that kicked up the surface of the loch into a mass of whitecapped waves, but we stuck it out for most of the morning, picking up a good collection of spurs and thornies for our trouble.

Come lunchtime and we decided on a move up beyond Bonawe narrows where we spent a fair while chasing fish quite a long way up the loch, but with fairly poor results. As a sort of compensation, loads of rainbows appeared after the many heavy showers, several of them framing the mountains and upper loch quite nicely.

One of many fine rainbows on a squally day on Loch Etive, with Barrs in the background

Working our way back down to Bonawe I took the opportunity to mark the wreck of the hulk that had sunk earlier in the year – just in case I get bored some point in the future and want to give it a try.

A rainbow shines through the clouds on a very mixed day on Loch Etive
A rainbow shines through the clouds on a very mixed day on Loch Etive

Our last spot for the day was opposite Airds, where we anchored again in fairly deep water and picked up more smallish spurs and a ray or two until we packed up about an hour after dark and headed in to recover the boat.

The plan was to fish 1 day on Etive and 1 on Sunart, so we needed to head down to Connel and then up to the ferry at Corran. The hotel at Salen had been our first thought for the night, but we wouldn’t arrive until late and the forecast had been good enough to tempt us into few hours camping rather than forking out a fair bit for a few hours kip. Given that it was now cold and fairly wet, this didn’t seem like the best decision but it was a bit late to change our minds so we turned up the car heater full blast and headed off into the night.

A little detour to Oban saw us with a first class fish supper, but the drive from Etive to Sunart took an age and it seemed to rain most of the way there. To be fair we didn’t have to wait long for the Corran ferry, but it was around half-nine before we pulled over near Salen and got the tent organised. It was a cold night and I was glad of the extra mats and warm sleeping bags that we’d taken over, and we were so tired that it didn’t take long to fall asleep. Next morning saw us awake to clear skies and ice on the car, but we were launching at Salen just before 8 and heading out on a perfectly calm loch.

Trevor with a double figure spurdog from Loch Sunart, on a lovely November morning
Trevor with a double figure spurdog from Loch Sunart, on a lovely November morning

The first two or three hours proved to be a teaser session – just enough double figure spurdog to keep us interested, but not enough to stop us considering other options.

Lovely morning and a nice spurdog
Lovely morning and a nice spurdog

No wind and a fair bit of sunshine made for a very pleasant session but eventually we tired of the spotty dogs and decided to chase conger and skate down in Laga Bay, aiming to get there just before the tide turned. A few hundred feet of anchor rope later, and a little detour back to Salen for me to pick up a couple of essentials (a hat, and water for the kettle!), and we were soon scooting seawards at a steady 21 knots.

Trevor prepares a modest sized snack for a skate
Trevor prepares a modest sized snack for a skate
Sunrise over Salen, Loch Sunart
Sunrise over Salen, Loch Sunart

 

Another nice spurdog from Laga Bay in Loch Sunart
Another nice spurdog from Laga Bay in Loch Sunart

As per usual, things were quite slow in Laga, but a few conger to the low twenties appeared which were good fun on light gear, plus a handful more spurdogs and the usual LSDs. Skate were noticeable by their absence, but the baits did seem to attract a few spurdog which did their usual shredding act whilst avoiding the hooks.

A conger in the low twenties
A conger in the low twenties

We hung on until the light was almost gone, but with nothing wanting to play we called it quits around 5 and headed for home with the last of the light fading over Carna.

Conger eel from Laga Bay, Loch Sunart
Conger eel from Laga Bay, Loch Sunart

 

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A Night Under the Stars

The end of September probably marks the end of easy camping in Scotland, not so much because of the cold (and it does get cold!), but the nights start to get too long for comfort. In any case I was happy to take the opportunity of a quiet overnight away under canvas, as it’s one way to keep the stress of day to day life at bay, if only for a few hours. This time it was a trip to Etive with the SIB in the back of the car, and a late launch as the sun faded in late afternoon.

A calm morning - boat camping on Loch Etive with my trusty Avon inflatable in the foreground
Early morning sunrise on Loch Etive

An inflatable has the advantage that you can pretty much park it anywhere except on a cliff, without having to worry about mooring off an unfamiliar beach – you can lift it clear of the tideline just like a kayak. Loch Etive has a good number of quiet little spots you can get ashore without difficulty, although finding enough clear, dry space for camping is more of a challenge. My chosen spot was up towards the head of the loch on the southern shore and I was pleased to find it an easy pitch as well as a good landing site on a tiny gravel beach hidden in behind some protective rocks.

By the time the tent was pitched and some dry wood gathered from the shoreline it was pretty dark and starting to cool down.

A cheery little campfire brightens the darkness of a night wild camping on the shores of Loch Etive
Cheery Campfire
A night shot of the tent with a little campfire burning on the shoreline of Loch Etive
Keeping warm!

The heat from the fire was very welcome and I was content to have it closer to the tent than I might normally feel comfortable with. Woodsmoke also has the huge benefit of persuading the midges to head elsewhere, although I think they were starting to thin out a little anyway as the days cool in early autumn.

Boat camping on Etive - clear starry night
Stars over Ben Starav on Loch Etive
The Milky Way in clear skies above Loch Etive - camping a long way up the loch and away from civilisation
The Milky Way in clear skies above Loch Etive
The shoulder of Ben Starav is brightly lit by the rising moon in the early hours
Moonrise over Ben Starav, Loch Etive

I had a rod with me, but was quite content to knock back some coffee and drink in the stunning array of stars above me – far more impressive when they’re not washed out by the lights of even our smallest village. Practising a bit of low light shooting with the camera kept me amused too, especially since I’d forgotten the tripod.

Other than a couple of stags arguing in the distance it was a very quiet night, although it did get chilly enough to wake me up a couple of times. Morning was as calm as the night before although this didn’t last too long as the wind picked up sharply as I headed back down to Bonawe, leaving me well soaked with spray by the time I reached the car. Not a real problem as all experienced SIBbers quickly wise up to the benefit of a spare set of clothes 🙂

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4 March 2012 – Loch Leven

I’d had a good session from the boat on Leven about three weeks ago, but hadn’t been out since. The forecast was OK, but with the probability of snow and also moderate winds in the afternoon, so I decided to leave the boat at home and take the shore rods to try a couple of shore marks on the south bank of the loch that I’d earmarked from my last boat trip.

I arrived about half nine on Saturday evening and identified what looked like the spot to head down to my mark. After ten minutes of crashing around a woody hellhole it was obvious I’d got it wrong and my headtorch showed me heading down a slope that just seemed to get steeper and more cliff like. Not being completely suicidal I reversed course and sweated my way back up to the car. A change of plan was called for and I headed back down past Ballachulish and back up the north side of the loch to a spot I’ve fished before and where I reckoned I could pitch a tent down near the shoreline.

This mark is a rocky beach, but leading into quite deep water – perhaps 80 feet within easy casting distance. There was a nice wee patch of very soggy grass nearby so I cast out the baits and then set up camp for the night. After all the earlier buggering about I was getting pretty tired now so gave it only an hour so before packing up around 1130 just as the snow started to come down. A couple of decent knocks, but no fish.

The cold woke me up around six a.m., and encouraged me to get moving. Nothing had raided the bait bucket overnight, which was a bonus, and I soon had everything packed away and lugged back up to the car. I headed up towards Kinlochleven, stopping to get another look at my target mark from the north side of the loch, and to figure out where I’d gone wrong last night. In daylight it was pretty obvious I’d tried to come down the slope too soon, and in a very steep section, so it was just as well I’d not pushed my luck too far in the darkness.

Na Gruagaichean with Sgurr an Fhuarain in front - near Kinlochleven
Na Gruagaichean with Sgurr an Fhuarain in front – near Kinlochleven
Na Gruagaichean with Sgurr an Fhuarain in front - near Kinlochleven
Na Gruagaichean shows above the mist

A few more minutes and I was round the loch and getting ready to head down towards the loch. Although much better than last night it was still hard going down a steep slope and through deep spaghnum moss and heather, and I was very glad to perch myself down on the water’s edge. A few minutes later and the first bait hit the water, hitting the bottom some 90 feet below, and I got myself sorted for the session. The ledge was easy enough to fish, but quite slippy in places with rocks sloping nicely ready to drop you into the water if you did trip.

A smallish Leven thornback
A smallish Leven thornback
Looking west, down Loch Leven on sunny March morning
Looking west, down Loch Leven on sunny March morning
A beautiful spot to fish on Loch Leven, but a killer to reach.
A beautiful spot to fish on Loch Leven, but a killer to reach.

Although it was chilly the lack of wind meant it was pretty pleasant relaxing and soaking up the scenery – which was all I did for the first hour or so as I waited for a bite. For no obvious reason I then managed to miss the first two good knocks, followed by hooking a nice ray which got hung up on the bottom on the way in, and it started to feel a bit like it wasn’t going to be my day. However a small ray finally appeared on my next cast and the blank was off! It was followed by another three, each one getting a bit bigger, until I finished off by losing my last fish in the weed again. Total of four thornbacks, plus another couple lost on the way in, so I was happy enough – especially for a shortish session. Best fish pushing around 5lbs, so no monsters.

And the less said about the climb back up the hill the better – only about 150 feet, but over murderous ground.

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26-27 July 2011 – Loch Etive

There's more to fishing than just fish...
There’s more to fishing than just fish…

Weather: Hot and sunny, with an afternoon sea breeze
Sea Conditions: Flat (and 19.5 degrees water temp in the shallows!)
Times: Roughly 1400-1900 on Tuesday and 0800-1600 on Wednesday – about 13 hours altogether
Tides: LW approx 1120 at Bonawe on Tuesday, small tides

Took my son, Mike, and Bonnie the manic spaniel across to Loch Etive for a couple of days on the boat and a spot of camping. Etive’s not my first choice for fishing at this time of year but both Mike and Bonnie suffer from sea-sickness so it’s a good bet from that point of view, and there’s almost always something to catch.

Bonnie hijacks the skipper's seat
Bonnie hijacks the skipper’s seat
Camping on the shoreline
Camping on the shoreline

I’d deliberately tried to go for a couple of days good weather and the met office didn’t let us down – basically hot and sunny sums it up, with only a light sea breeze in the afternoon (quite welcome, as it was almost too hot in the boat). We tried a variety of marks both east and west of Taynuilt and caught a decent number of fish, mainly small spurs (best 7lb, but most around 2lbs) and a fair number of thornbacks but also doggies, gurnard, whiting, codling, coalie and pollack. Only a single mackerel turned up so it was just as well I’d taken frozen ones plus some squid. I lost count of the final totals but several dozen fish came aboard and the dog eventually lost all interest in them as they wriggled around.

How to spend a summers evening
How to spend a summers evening
Just to prove we did a little fishing
Just to prove we did a little fishing

Overnight, we camped well up the loch at Barrs – a fantastic little spot only accessible by sea or a long hike. The tent went up in a few minutes and then it was time for a beer and a barbie, plus a modest campfire to help keep the midgies at bay. For the first time I’d put together a sliding mooring for the boat, which allowed me to keep her 50-60m off the beach overnight but pull her in to shore as needed. It seemed to work pretty well, but I was pleased/relieved to see her still there next morning. To be honest the highlight of the trip is summed up by the first image – waking up to a view like that is simply inspiring, doubly so when you see some of the highland magic click with your kid. Mind you, Bonnie was more inspired by the bacon than the scenery…

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April 17-18 – Loch Sunart

Weather: Calm or lightish winds. Overcast on the Sunday and sunny on Monday.
Sea: Calm
Time: Roughly 1130-1630 on Sunday, and 0730-1530 on Monday – say 13 hours altogether
Tides: HW 1822 on Sunday and 0637 Monday (large tide – 4.5m range)

March and April are always fairly slow months for salt water anglers, but I hadn’t been fishing since early March and the frustration was growing unbearable. I’ve long had the desire to explore the islands at the mouth of Sunart and reckoned it should be possible to anchor the boat safely overnight in one of the deep inlets on Oronsay islands, so the chance of a couple of days good weather was seized eagerly and I threw the camping gear into the car and headed off towards the ferry at Corran.

By the time a further 30 miles of snaking single tracks were negotiated and Alcatraz finally got prepped and launched it was late morning by the time the first bait hit the seabed some 400 feet below and perhaps twenty minutes later before the first fish started snaffling around for lunch. This eventually proved to be a small thornback of about 3 1/2 lbs which was a welcome enough start. Unfortunately only doggies came out to play in the next couple of hours so I upped anchor and shifted into Laga Bay to see if anything else was around. Initially more of the dogfish, but a couple of small conger eventually made an appearance about an hour before I packed up – best around 9lbs so nothing to get too excited about, but a welcome change to LSDs.

Camping on Loch na Droma Buidhe
Camping on Loch na Droma Buidhe

I finished early in order to get enough time to find somewhere to stay for the night. Originally I had planned to camp on one of the inlets on the north side of Oronsay where there is a large sandy area, but the tide was actually too large to allow me to anchor safely and leave the boat for the night. After a look around I decided on a move round to the south of Oronsay and into Loch na Droma Buidhe (a yachtie favourite) where I found sanctuary in a narrow inlet that ran several hundred yards up into Oronsay. The large tide actually worked in my favour, as the very head of the inlet was softish sand and salt marsh rather than the bouldery ground I’d have found on a small tide, and it was easy enough to secure Alcatraz near to a small space on the shoreline with just enough space for a tent.

Oronsay Island, Loch Sunart
Oronsay Island, Loch Sunart

Once the basics were sorted out I had a look round the island, which was completely deserted apart from some ruined old croft houses. With no wind and no people about the silence was almost total – only the occasional bird intruded for a few seconds. Very therapeutic for a night or two, but would probably drive you over the edge after a week. It does make you realise just how noisy our normal environment actually is, though! As the light faded I lit a small campfire and had a coffee before turning in for an early night. Next morning I woke just before six to find clear skies and a flat calm sea – and the tide only a few centimetres from the tent, and still rising. Oops, a slight miscalculation on the height of the spring tide! A few minutes frantic tentpeg pulling and stuffing of sleeping bags back into drybags and Alcatraz was quickly loaded and soon underway, headed back into Loch Sunart.

It was a lovely sunny morning but still cold as I headed back to a mark near to yesterday’s session. By 7.30 we were anchored in around 360 feet and fishing the start of the ebb. Over the next 4 hours there was a slow trickle of fish, mainly doggies but also a 9lb spur and a couple of thornbacks. The better of these was 9lb 8oz which is the best I’ve had out of Sunart, so at least that was something. A late morning shift saw me close inshore at the base of an underwater cliff, looking for conger again – however all that turned up was a solitary ray of about 6 1/2lbs.

A standup Thornback Ray
A standup Thornback Ray

By now it was just after low water so I decided on one final move up the loch towards Salen, so spend a couple of hours on a mark that can be good for spurs. I also put down a skate bait and settled down to wait. The first hour produced only a couple of doggies until the silence was broken by the urgent warning of the ratchet on the skate reel as several feet of line were suddenly pulled into the loch. I quickly freed the rod from its holder and lifted into very solid resistance as the 12/0 hit home almost 300 feet below. The skate didn’t hang about and powered off down the slope of the loch in determined fashion whilst I hung on as best I could until we could get to the usual stalemate of fish glued to the bottom and angler trying to apply enough pressure to get it prised off the seabed. After an eternity (according to my aching back, but probably no more than a few minutes in reality) the fish grudgingly gave way and was slowly persuaded towards daylight. Once alongside I reckoned it at something like 80lbs, but being alone in the boat I had no intention of trying to get the fish inboard to find out for sure. Fortunately it was tagged – #1080 – so I simply noted the number and released the skate to be caught another day.

By now it was 3 p.m. so I spent a little while sorting out the boat and various bits of fishing gear before calling it a day and heading back into Salen. Total catch for the trip wasn’t spectacular – 1 skate, 4 thornbacks, 2 conger and a solitary spurdog (plus plenty of spotty dogs, of course) – but it was great to get some spring sunshine and do a little exploring in one of the most beautiful places in Scotland.

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