Days of Christmas force feeding meant I really needed to get some fresh air, so I reckoned a hike in the sunshine along the banks of Loch Etive would fit the bill nicely. Fishing wasn’t the main aim but it looked possible to get 3 or 4 hours to wet a line before darkness fell.
Bonnie, my bozo spaniel, came along for the day and quite happily trailblazed as we trudged along. Happily, the cold had frozen most of the water into the ground so it was less boggy than a month ago and we made steady progress towards our mark. With the sun still hiding behind the mountains it was chilly but otherwise a beautiful day to be out.
Arriving at our mark I quickly rigged up and cast out whilst Bonnie waited impatiently for sticks to be thrown. Unluckily for her there was a solid stream of distractions in the form of small male spurdogs and I was kept busy dealing with them. On two or three occasions I got bites just as soon as I hit bottom, suggesting there were large numbers about.
With only a short session and quite a lot of action between the fish and doggie stick chucking, it took a while to get a brew on – but I can’t survive without a supply of coffee.
This time I wasn’t the only one out on the loch. I’d passed a tent with a couple of shore rods parked outside it on the way in, and there was a kayaker out as well. Plenty loch to go around though!
I chucked in the fishing around 2.30, to be sure of making it back before it got too dark. A final tally of 15 spurs and a couple of dogfish for 4 hours fishing was a good bit better than I’d expected, even if none of them made more than 3lbs or so.
The return trip to the car was a fine walk as the sun faded and turned the mountains golden, all reflected in the perfectly still waters of the loch. Our timing was good and we crunched across the carpark just as the last of the light disappeared.
Poor old Bonnie made herself comfortable in the front seat of the car and then collapsed for the journey home. She’s over 10 now and can still charge around for hours, but it does catch up with her when we stop at the end of the day.
Fish in the east, fish in the west, but not really the weather to exploit either coast! Faced with the need to check out Alcatraz before an upcoming trip to Galloway I chickened out and made my way over to Etive again, with the furball for company.
Having had fairly poor results from down the loch over the past year I just headed straight up into the less visited upper loch and settled down to a little Etive pollack bashing. This isn’t something I often do on the loch, as there are a lot of smaller fish around, but I was trying for something a little better today.
My leadhead attracted little attention in the peaty-ish waters, but I lost a couple of smaller fish which threw the hook before my light spinning rod went parabolic and line peeled rapidly off the little Abu reel. Clearly a better fish, I treated it with a little respect and it was a few minutes before a good sized fish (and my best Etive pollack) slid into the net and came aboard.
Being guilty of over-estimating the size of pollack (slab sided, but thin when compared to cod) I always prefer to trust my scales and these slid round to a healthy 5lb 6oz.
Nothing else seemed very interested so I shifted a little and dropped anchor. Wind and tide were opposed, which is never something to be recommended, but it wasn’t uncomfortable and just a little awkward as the boat slewed from side to side. Bozo had clearly given up on dreams of a run ashore and curled up and went to sleep for a while.
It was a little slow, but a decent sprinking of fish graced Alcatraz’s gunwhales, including spurdogs, dogs, a thornback and some whiting (heads only!).
Taking pity on Bonnie I took a break in the early afternoon and we headed ashore for an hour of chasing sticks and drinking coffee in the sunshine.
A couple more hours fishing produced more of the same, but no sign of larger spurdogs, so I was happy enough to point Alcatraz south and head back towards Taynuilt.
Yesterday it was back again to Etive for another shore fish in search of some spring spurdog, although I reckon this will probably be my last for a while. The midges will soon wake up as will the fishing everywhere else, so I think the Lochaber sea lochs will go on the back burner for a while, at least for shore fishing.
It was raining as Bonnie and I set off on the long trek down the loch, not heavy but enough to have me debating the wisdom of trying some closer marks. Happily both the rain and us gradually dried up over the next hour and the sun started to poke through as we tramped along steadily. Spring is really on it’s way, despite the snow earlier in the week, and the lochside was turning green again. In the freezing cold at the start of the year the woods were almost eerily silent but now they were full of birdsong, with good numbers of cuckoos and woodpeckers making their presence felt. No sign of any human animals though!
Bozo has got the hang of the routine now and on arrival I was left in peace to set up my rods whilst she went off in search of her ideal stick. So, a few minutes after we reached our destination a mackerel baited pulley rig splashed down and made its way to the silty seabed 120 feet or more deep.
Even before the second rig was baited and ready to go my ratchet screeched as a spurdog hit the bait and made off at speed. A few minutes later and a superb fish glided into view, looking more like a tope than a spurrie. Sadly this was due to a combination of my new varifocal lenses and the magnifying effect of unusually clear water rather than reality. Still, a respectable fish of around 6-7lbs was soon slipped back into the water. God knows what I’d blabbering about on here if it had got off!
That pretty much set the tone for the day as fish appeared regularly during the ebb and if I hadn’t managed to lose three spurdog to bite-offs I’d have been even happier. I tend to use a 7oz grip on this mark as there’s a reasonable run of tide in the deep channel that holds the fish. Coupled with a pulley rig I’ve not lost too much gear on the ebb, although the flood is a different story as your line is pulled into snags by the tide.
Perhaps because of its remoteness this mark tends to bring out my latent hillbilly instincts, so my little woodburner Honey Stove got another outing. Gas is definitely less messy and easier to work with, but there is a certain satisfaction from a cup of coffee brewed over a naked flame – and even better if you can use a firesteel rather than matches to light it! Boys toys or what 🙂
Apart from “crispy” sausages shared on a 50:50 basisBonnie frowns on such frivolity of course, as it gets in the way of the real business of stick throwing. I didn’t dare put any of her collection on the fire…
Spurdog were fairly steady through the ebb and I had to interrupt stick throwing on a regular basis to retrieve them. Most were in the 4-7lb range, although there were a couple of smaller males. The average size has definitely increased since the New Year, the same pattern that showed last year.
By five in the afternoon the tide had turned and the sky was getting ominously grey, so I bribed the dog with a biscuit and we started back along the trail. Our final tally was eleven spurdog, with no other species showing an interest. Despite the best efforts of my new glasses there were no double figure captures, but cracking fun nevertheless.
The car park was deserted and the air cold as I opened the door to let Bonnie out to stretch her legs after the drive across from Edinburgh. Gulping down some hot coffee I watched clear signs of doggie approval as she nosed her way around the lochside, tail wagging eagerly.
Loch Etive - Spurdogs from the shore
A few minutes later we started down the boggy trail that runs along the loch. The overnight mist was clearing from the hills and the sun was starting to poke out but it was still chilly on the first day of March and I set a good pace to warm myself up.
The plan wasn’t complicated – hike in, spend a few hours fishing and playing with the cameras in the sunshine, and then another couple of hours hiking back. All with a furry companion who has an insatiable demand for sticks to be thrown. That’s where the multi-tasking bit comes in.
A couple of hours later, standing on the edge of the old quarry pier, we were greeted by a cracking view of the sun shining off the loch and a snow covered Ben Cruachan. Perfect!
The ebb had just started as I cast a pair of mackerel baited pulley rigs out into the depths. Normally I could settle back for a laze in the sunshine but bozo had other ideas and I was ordered into stick throwing mode whilst we waited for a bite.
Fortunately for me the fish were fairly cooperative and I took regular breaks from my furry slave driver to deal with nodding rod tips. Fishing the ebb is much easier on this mark and helps keep tackle losses to a minimum. Fishing 30-35lb nylon and a heavish 7oz breakaway lead seems to work fairly well for me as a combination.
Mostly it was smallish spurs, but there was the usual sprinkling of doggies and also a thornback chucked into the mix. The biggest would’ve made 6lbs (possibly 7 if you’d dodgy scales!) but specimen hunting wasn’t really the point of the day.
By early afternoon the sun was changing back to icy showers so we called it a day and made our way back along the trail. Up here Etive is silent and lonely today, but all around you can see the remains of a much busier, livelier past. Moss covered walls and old field systems being reclaimed by the trees are everywhere.
It was a fairly tired spaniel that trotted back to the car, and she just curled up on the seat for the journey home. Although a stop at the chippie in Callendar did wonders to revive her 🙂
As an aside, I do try and travel fairly light if I’m hiking any distance. This can be a bit easier said than done, given that I’m hauling camera gear as well as fishing clobber. However everything, including the reels and bait, got stuffed into a 30 litre rucksac which just left a pair of rods to carry. Even the camera tripod you see below just clips on to the rucksac and leaves your hands free. It definitely makes walking any distance much easier!
I had a better day than expected yesterday, as most recent reports from Loch Etive have been poor, and I thought I’d be struggling. As it turned out however, a decent break with the spurdogs saved the day, whilst unbroken sunshine was the icing on the cake.
Alcatraz has been out of water for almost 5 months now, and a little shakedown cruise was well overdue so I grabbed the weather and took the day off. Bonnie the spaniel was press-ganged as crew and we escaped Edinburgh just on 5 in the morning, to try and launch around HW at Taynuilt.
Even after a layup over winter the ETEC started first time and we were soon skimming over a flat calm surface and down towards Ardchattan. Anchor set and rods deployed we could turn to the more important matters of coffee and gravy bones (your choice depending on whether you’re human or a spaniel).
We spent the morning plugging away at a couple of spots around Ardchattan but it was fairly slow going, with only 3 rays, 3 doggies and a single spurdog and micro-cod to show for our efforts.
By lunchtime Bonnie decided it was high time to get ashore and have a proper play about so we pointed Alcatraz back up the loch and just kept going until civilisation was safely left behind. Parking the boat just offshore we stretched out on the beach, had a bite to eat and a chuck about with the ball.
Snow on Ben Cruachan and gorse coming into flower made a great backdrop.
By half two I thought we’d better put some more effort into the fishing so persuaded a rather reluctant dog back in the boat and headed out to a nearby mark.
The breeze had picked up a little, but we sat quite nicely with wind and tide aligned. A set of small sabikis drew the first fish as the spinning rod hooped over to a hefty take. On the light rod this felt to be a good size until things went pear shaped about 30 seconds later. I assumed that a spurdog had nibbled the small sabiki and just bitten through the line until a rather beaten up whiting surfaced.
No time to worry about it as my “proper” rod was now bouncing hard, and I hit into another spur. This one made it to the boat and was quickly returned – a modest 4-5lber at best, but welcome. This set the scene for the next couple of hours as fish after fish hit the baits.
None were very big, apart from the one that got away (! – even that was no monster), but most were in the 3-5 lb range with the biggest a 7 lb fish.
Nothing else got a look in until towards the end of the session when a couple more dogfish and small whiting hit the surface.
All in all the score for the day was 22 spurs, 3 rays plus doggies, whiting and a micro-cod. Not a red-letter day, but not too shabby for a few stolen hours in the sunshine chilling with a furry friend.
Well, the original plan had been a session from Ian’s boat, chasing St. Andrews cod and Pollack, but the virtual closure of the Forth Bridge put the brakes on that. It’s been a good while since I was last shorefishing on Loch Leven so a hasty rethink saw the rods packed in the car and Bonnie and myself scurrying along the road in the pre-dawn darkness.
The forecast was for light winds and grey skies, and that’s what we got – it was dry and not too cold so no cause for complaint as I set up for the day. Apart from the dog who immediately went into chuck a stick mode (a log, in this case) and got a bit grumpy as I ignored her for a few minutes.
Two quite slow hours went by before I got my first fish – a nicely marked LSD
And Bonnie had plenty of time to chase her sticks as I continued to reel in very little.
At last a little thornback put in an appearance, admittedly leaving it’s tail behind. I’ve had a few of these from Leven, but it doesn’t seem to cause them any obvious problems.
Despite morale rising having actually caught one of the target species, the rest of the session was a series of dogfish – nice to have more action, but I’d have preferred to see another few rays.
I needed to get back to Edinburgh for early evening, so I’d to pack up around 3, doubtless just as the rays came on the feed.
And to cap it all, it took 4 hours to get home, rather than the more usual 2.5, care of huge jams on Edinburgh’s bypass. Rush hour is usually bad, but an inch of snow seemed to stop almost everything.
Then Ian phones me up to tell me all about the pollack he caught…
I haven’t been back to Etive since my Xmas camping trip with Trevor, so it was first choice for a daytrip – and besides I still needed a spurdog for my 2015 species count and Etive is the most reliable place I know for them.
Ian was otherwise tied up so I press-ganged the dog into serving as crew and headed off from Edinburgh about 5.30. Arriving at Taynuilt I found the loch enveloped in thick fog, but at least there was no wind to worry about. One rather clumsy launch later and we headed out into the mist and felt our way down towards Ardchattan.
It was pretty thick so I made sure to anchor well out the way of fish farm traffic, and we settled down to wait for action. By mid-morning the sky had cleared and the loch was looking it’s best – but no sign of any fish.
A move up to the deep water near Airds Point produced zilch, and the loch seemed completely dead. After wasting the whole morning in exchange for one half-hearted little bite I decided to head up the loch and try my luck there.
I stopped off at a little mark near Glen Kinglass which produced plenty of small codling for me last year, in the hope of breaking my duck for the day. Success, in the form of a mini-codling, duly appeared but even here I was struggling to get a bite on sabiki style lures.
My furry companion was getting somewhat mutinous by this stage so I headed ashore for an hour or so to let her have a run around the shoreline and stretch my own legs a bit. She wasn’t too happy when it was time to haul in the boat and head off again, but eventually decided she didn’t want to play Robinson Crusoe!
Heading across the loch, which was starting to get a little bouncy with wind against tide, I ended up fishing a trench a couple of hundred yards offshore. I’d not tried here before and had no great expectations this far up the loch, especially as there was a lot of freshwater colour in the water, but I couldn’t be doing any worse than back down the loch.
I was a bit surprised to get a good solid bite after only a few minutes fishing which duly resulted in a nice spur of around 9lbs. Of course that meant I had to stick it out for a while to find out if it was a loner, or whether there was company down there.
The answer came in the form of a chewed up whiting a few minutes later, with the characteristic spur bite out of it.
I’d like to say that the fishing improved from here, but that would be a fib. I did get a fair number of whiting, including several double shots, but spurs were scarce and I only picked up another couple – one around 7lbs and one about 8lbs.
A couple of plain vanilla doggies and a solitary thornback ray made up the numbers, with a tiny grey gurnard arriving just as I packed up for the day.
I bounced my way slowly back down the loch, which was calming down in the evening, partly to avoid getting a seasick dog and partly just to enjoy the ambience of the place – even though this is probably my poorest result from Etive in several years it’s still a fantastic place to fish.
Alcatraz has been sitting on her trailer since early November and we both badly needed a day out, so the little weather window on Monday was seized with both hands and the boat gear dusted down. Crew on this trip was just my spaniel, who’s not much of a sea dog but really enjoys any chance to run around a beach.
Arriving at Bonawe Bonnie was her usual brain-dead self and managed to dive in the water (twice) before we’d even set off, thus guaranteeing herself a chilly day. However she settled down a little and supervised the fishing as we dropped anchor near Ardchattan and sent a collection of mackerel baits down to the seabed.
The fish weren’t in feeding mood, and it was the weather that provided most excitement for the first hour or so, with a mixture of heavy rain showers and sunny spells. Fortunately it stayed calm and a bit of cowering in the cuddy kept us reasonably dry.
By the time the rainbows came out the fish started to play, first with a couple of small spurdogs and then with a reasonable ray just over the 6lbs mark.
Unfortunately nothing much else appeared except dogfish, so it was time to head back up the loch in the sunshine. Despite appearances it was freezing!
I stopped well up the loch past Barrs to let Bonnie have a run about and me have a play with the camera. Onshore and moving about it was quite warm but I resisted the temptation to linger too long and we headed back out in search of fish (very reluctantly on the dog’s part, it should be said).
Back afloat and anchored up again we watched the sun disappear behind the mountains and felt the cold descending rapidly.
By now Bonnie was in need of more biscuits and some warmth, so I wrapped her up in my floatie jacket, which seemed to go down well.
A steady run of fish emerged, mainly small spurdogs but also a few whiting and a large(!) poor cod and another thornback.
There were no monsters and no sign of any, so I called it quits and packed it in just after half-five, and we headed back down the loch in the last trace of light. A bit of a lacklustre start fishing-wise but a nice day out and a relief to get the boat up and running properly after a lengthy gap.
Three days of leave, and three days of wet and windy weather – what else could you expect from December in Scotland? However it pretty much killed any interest in taking the boat out, and I found myself heading westwards with the shore rods more out of desperation than any hope of a good days catch.
I headed for a mark I’d spotted from the boat sometime before, which was tucked in at the bottom of an old quarry and looked pretty sheltered from the SW winds. It was a fair hike along a forest track in the early morning darkness, but my mad spaniel Bonnie was perfectly happy charging around. Eventually we cut down from the track down through the trees towards the shoreline. Needless to say Bonnie made it well before me and immediately made “friends” with an otter working its way along the rocks – they met literally face to face before the otter departed with a spectacular hissy fit.
Excitement over, I set up the gear and kicked off with a cast into pretty deep water – well over 100 feet – and settled down to wait. It was dry but the wind was quite gusty and blowing up the loch rather than from behind me. This cut distance slightly but did tend to drag the leads through the soft mud and resulted in quite a few snags as the wind strengthened during the day. The old quarry was a fine spot to fish with several easy stances available, and well away from the beaten track – only spoilt by the number of old beer cans lying around.
Sadly, although it was a nice enough day to be out, the fishing results were pathetic with only a couple of dogfish and a tiddly Pollack to show for 6 hours or more. A couple of fish were lost in snags as well, and a slightly longer cast in better conditions might have cleared these and got a better result. However it’s a nice spot and I’ll definitely be back sometime.
Mull is one of the most accessible of the Hebrides, but never seems to get much attention beyond the skate grounds accessible from Oban and Lochaline. Few people other than sea kayakers and yachties seem to be aware of just how stunning it’s more exposed coastline really is. A couple of years ago I whiled away a cold winter’s afternoon sketching out a plan to fish the Torran Rocks, which lie off the SW tip of the island. There were a variety of permutations possible, but the idea that proved most appealing was to be a little more ambitious and go for a full circumnavigation of Mull, launching at the Puffin Dive Centre and heading clockwise round past Iona, Staffa and Caliach Point before heading down the Sound of Mull and back to Oban.
Doing this involves running a 16 foot boat over 50 miles out from the launch point, and a total distance of over 100 miles, much of it completely exposed to any SW Atlantic swells, so a fair bit of thought went into the planning and various backup positions. Obviously I needed settled weather to allow the swell as well as the wind waves to drop, and also added another fuel tank and a new PLB and other bits and pieces to Alcatraz’s inventory just to increase safety margins all round.
The big advantage of working things out beforehand is that you have a checklist you can just work through to get the show on the road, so a decision to go for it on Saturday afternoon allowed an early start on Sunday morning and an easy launch at Puffin Divers a little before nine in the morning. Just me and a rather bemused little spaniel, plus 110 litres of fuel, headed round the south of Kerrera and then out across the Firth of Lorne towards landfall on Mull at Frank Lockwood’s Island, about 12 miles distant.
Our first destination was Malcolm’s Point, a volcanic cliff rising 700 feet from the sea. It’s only accessible by sea or by a long walk – something that’s true of most of the south coast of Mull. There was a small, slow, swell running and the coastline is ironbound so no chance of landing to view the Carsaig Arches, but I picked up a few small mackerel and a couple of coalies on micro-lures and noted that the cliffs pretty much continued underwater, with a depth over 300 feet within 150 yards of the shoreline.
Pressing on we started to see the little pocket beaches of white shell sand set against pink and grey granites of Uisken, and I pulled inshore to one set against the little island of Garbh Eilean to a have a poke about and let Bonnie get a break. The sand here is packed hard and fairly steeply shelving, but there was only a very slight swell in the lee of the island and no problem leaving the boat anchored just off the shore. We stopped off for a while, and Bonnie would have been happy to spend all day here, but it was time to press on towards the Torran Rocks and Iona.
Over 40 miles out and with reefs everywhere, you’d think it would be stuffed with hungry pollack, but it proved a little disappointing with only smallish pollack and mackerel, plus a couple of stray whiting. The lack of tide probably had quite a lot to do with it, and a more serious attempt at the area should produce better results, but I decided to head up the Sound of Iona and stick with the rough schedule I’d worked out earlier.
Iona is as beautiful as the guide books tell you (at least on a sunny day), and we soon passed the Fidden Farm campsite on the mainland, where I stayed with the kids a few years ago and which has to be one of the most scenic in the UK. The Sound itself is very shallow in parts with the sand ripples clearly visible and must have a few flatties lurking in the sand, but this is one for a future trip. North of Iona the next destination was Staffa and Fingals Cave for a couple of photos (just to prove we’d actually been there really) I landed on the island from a charter boat 30 years ago, but didn’t fancy bouncing my own wee craft off the rocky landing point without a good many more fenders.
Further north, a quick stop at Treshnish point produced more mackerel and pollack before heading up towards Caliach Point and the wreck of the Aurania – a 14000 ton, 530 feet long, liner wrecked on the point after being torpedoed in 1918. Very little of it shows on the sounder, bar one chunk (boilers?) that rise 25 feet or so from the seabed. It’s very close to shore so decidedly risky to fish in anything other than very calm weather.
Between Staffa and Caliach Point there seemed to a concentration of basking sharks and I met no less than 5 individuals – enough for me to start keeping a sharper lookout to avoid any collisions. I’ve seen them plenty of times before, but not in such numbers, and they will come within feet of the boat if you just wait for them to swim by. Very nice bonus to encounter!
I had a wee shot on the Caliach Bank, but nothing seemed interested and it is quite a large area to try and pin anything down, so I was quite happy to have a closer look at another pocket beach and let Bonnie have a run around. White sand and clear water really does have a tropical feel about, although it wasn’t too hard to resist the temptation to dive in.
From a purely angling viewpoint you could ask what the point of it was – after all I spent more time powering along than I did actually fishing, and I didn’t catch anything of any size or particular interest. However, for me the fishing wasn’t the main reason for going and it more about stretching my boating abilities a little further, immersing myself in the wild and exposed beauty of the Sea of the Hebrides and having a thoroughly good time exploring spots that are still largely outside the reach of most people.