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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