We paused as we heard the distinctive rattle of yet another Death Valley local warning us to stay away. It had been quiet in the cool of the early morning as we climbed, but the sun was now hot in the sky and the reptilian inhabitants were waking up all around the trail as we descended from the 9000 foot high Wild Rose Peak.
Rattlesnakes warned Mike and I off over half-a-dozen times as we made our way back down the mountain, but none showed themselves and we didn’t look too hard for trouble.
We’d landed in Vegas a couple of days earlier, and had explored the real hot bits of Death Valley the day before, then headed into the surrounding mountains for an overnight camp.
And the hot bits are hot! We saw 118 degrees around the Devil’s Golf Course, a barren landscape of rocksalt nodules.
Almost as roasting at Badwater Basin, nearly 300 feet below sea level, with a strong hot wind desiccating you as soon as you dared to leave the safety of the car’s air-con.
Fortunately the surrounding mountains are much cooler and we had a very comfortable night at around 70 degrees at the fairly basic Wild Rose campground, about an hour off the main road through Death Valley.
We set out on the climb to Wild Rose Peak next day as a warm-up (in more ways than one) for the more serious leg of the holiday, but it was an interesting hike in itself, with great views and a chance to explore the old charcoal kilns at the start of the trail, which still smell of smoke well over 100 years after they were last used.
Later in the day we came across another hungry Death Valley inhabitant, although this one was wheedling rather than hunting.
I’d been a bit wary of Death Valley for camping, given the potential heat, but it was actually no problem at all in the surrounding mountains. The wind died to nothing overnight, there were no biting bugs and it was warm rather than hot. Happily do it again, although the campground was fairly remote and you wouldn’t want a breakdown getting there (we saw no-one at all in the one hour drive from the main through road).
Impressive as Death Valley was, the next step was the main aim of our trip – the 70+ mile High Sierra Trail in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and a chance to hit the highest point in the continental USA outside Alaska – Mount Whitney, at 14,500 feet…
Very remote, often stormy, and always stunning, Sandwood is a broad sandy bay guarded on either end by sandstone cliffs hundreds of feet high which sits in the extreme and rather inaccessible NW corner of the Scottish mainland.
Over the years it has acquired an almost mystical reputation as a place to visit, complete with the ghosts of drowned sailors and the odd mermaid. Remoteness and grandeur certainly attract legends, but unfortunately what Sandwood doesn’t possess is a reputation for top class fishing, with the few reports available suggesting the odd flatfish, seatrout and possibly a bass.
I’ve trekked the 4 mile access track from Oldshoremore to Sandwood a couple of times before, but never with a fishing rod and not for over 25 years. However I’ve fancied a trip north for several years now and this time I took a rod along with me, along with a tent for an overnight stay.
Something like five and a half hours and 280 miles after leaving home I arrived in the car park at Blairmore, to find I wasn’t the only person interested in the Bay, as there was a good fistful of cars and camper vans there already.
The first part of the walk along was dominated by sheep and a load of lambs.
The view down the coast was wonderful – it’s amazing how a little bit of sunshine transforms the Scottish countryside.
Another of the local wildlife, although there were relatively few beasts of any sort after the first mile or so.
The path is in good condition (there was a volunteer party from John Muir Trust working on it) and easy to walk or bike along.
First view of Sandwood is both sudden and dramatic.
I worked my way along the beach towards the northern end, not far from where the river hits the sea. Exposed by the winter storms there are the remains of a WWII Spitfire which crashlanded here in 1941.
The other famous occupant of Sandwood Bay is the sea stack Am Buachaille.
I set up my gear and fished with a combination of mackerel strip and lugworm, hoping for a flattie and possibly a turbot. Nothing for the first couple of hours, until the tide had covered the very shallow part of the sand, and then this little seatrout took the mackerel strip.
The rest of the afternoon was spent fishing near the old Spitfire (the pilot escaped unharmed, incidentally), and it yielded several more sea trout in the run up to HW.
I set up camp on the beach itself, largely so I could fish on into the evening. Normally I’d prefer to get some more solid ground but it wasn’t forecast to be too windy, and I can handle a little bit of dry sand getting blown into the tent.
As the tide ebbed the fishing died off, so I’d a little look around the beach and dunes. A little surprisingly there was very little in the way of flotsam or driftwood (any hopes of an evening bonfire were soon dashed), but I did find this old iron fishing float.
The sun set around half-nine and I took a few pictures of it disappearing, although it never really got fully dark – a mixture of the clear sky and the distance north that Sandwood Bay is compared to most of the UK.
By now the last of the other visitors had left and the beach was mine for the night. Undisturbed by the local ghosts I fell asleep to the sound of the surf on the beach and had some much-needed kip for a few hours. Next morning saw me awake fairly early to get a bit of breakfast and have a short try for more fish before the tide ebbed too far.
Unfortunately things were a little quiet and nothing else appeared before I packed in and headed back along the path.
And finally… It’s easy to say that catching isn’t the central experience of a trip, especially if you haven’t actually caught so much as a baby flounder, but it’s very much true for me in such splendid surroundings. Immersed in magnificent isolation a fishing rod gives some sense of purpose, a little figleaf to fend off those who ask why you journey there, but it’s very much an accessory rather an essential requirement.
Being firmly towards the “bah humbug” end of the spectrum regarding Christmas I was already thinking of a trip west when Trevor phoned with pretty much the same idea – a couple of days boat fishing together combined with a bracing overnighter in a tent. I’ve never camped in the UK in December before so that would be another little box ticked, and only January to go to get the full twelve months.
Etive was the venue of choice as there are plenty of places to camp on the bank with a decent mooring for Alcatraz, and the forecast was for cold, clear weather and very light winds.
Fishing down the loch was pretty slow with a trickle of small spurdog, thornbacks and doggies appearing during the morning and early afternoon. Even the usual tricks of brewing a coffee or frying up some bacon didn’t seem to help get the fish feeding, so I was happy enough to point Alcatraz up the loch and head towards our campsite for the night.
Even in the sunshine it was frigid piloting the boat up to Barrs and I was glad to keep my head below the parapet most of the time rather than lose any feeling in my ears as the slipstream whistled past. Once at Barrs we offloaded most of the sleeping gear and slung up the tent before heading back out for a few more hours fishing time.
Up here the fishing was better – not great, but reasonably steady for quite a while – and we amassed a fair collection of smallish spurs plus a sprinkling of codling and one or two whiting. A lot of these actually came from mid-water, between 100 and 200 feet, rather than from the bottom at nearly 300 feet below us. Small codling seemed particularly active at one point, happily mixed in with the spurdog and whiting. We stuck it out for several hours after dark until the fish dwindled and hunger and cold started to have an effect on us!
Baltic, bitter, brutal – choose your adjective, but it was cold. By the time we had the boat safely moored for the night it must have been around ten, and the beach was solid beneath our feet with a thick layer of frost lying over everything.
The little barbeque I’d taken along provided a little heat as it cooked dinner which was a handy bonus. Dinner ended up charred rather than char-grilled but disappeared pretty quickly nonetheless, to be followed by an (ice) cold beer. We spent a while persuading the BBQ to set light to some rather wet kindling, but never got beyond a damp squib of a bonfire which was a bit of an epic fail considering Trev is a fireman!
Whilst the BBQ was busy doing its thing I set up my camera to take some shots of the stars and waited for the moon to disappear. I’ve been wanting to get a time lapse of a starry sky for ages, but in the UK it’s a little tricky to get a clear night with no moon in a location that’s well away from well-lit towns. However it looked like tonight was the night and I kicked off the interval timer and left the camera to it.
By now the tent was looking like something from Scott of the Antarctic, but we prised open the solidified door sometime after midnight and ducked through the layers of frost to hit the sack. Even with two sleeping bags and a set of thermals it was pretty chilly (ice on the inside of the tent scenario), but we managed a few hours of decent sleep.
Early morning saw a thick white carpet everywhere, with a little sea ice starting to form on the loch. My camera was coated in thick frost and even the replacement batteries for it had died, so it was put aside to hopefully recover during the day.
No idea what the temperature actually was, but the mooring ropes froze as they came ashore and Alcatraz itself was thick with frost and ice which never really melted properly all day.
After starting the fishing with a little coddie bashing close inshore, just to check they were still there and hadn’t all migrated to the centre of the loch, we headed out to some deeper water to try and find some larger fish. A few fish, none of them monsters, did show up including a couple that both tangled our lines and managed to birl round the anchor rope a few times.
Our final throw of the dice was to head back down past Bonawe towards Ardchattan, and we dutifully gave it a couple of hours in exchange for a handful more spurdog. I don’t know about Trev but I was chilled to the core by now, and quite happy to raise anchor and head back in the last of the light.
I wasn’t keeping count but we probably both had between 25 and 35 fish apiece, with the biggest perhaps 6-7lbs. Hard fishing and hard(ish) conditions for spending the night under canvas but an experience none the less. Trevor being a glutton for punishment liked it so much he stayed on for a another night shore fishing…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Early next morning was stunning as the moon was still out as dawn broke over a perfectly calm loch.
It was quite cool, hardly surprising for September, but I spent a fair while taking photos and sorting out coffee and some breakfast.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”
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.
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.
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.
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.
…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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂
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.
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.
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.