Winter Dogging on Etive (the Spurdog variety)

After a run around on Saturday morning in search of some wheel nuts my trailer was roadworthy again, so I headed over to Etive to check whether Alcatraz still floated. For one reason or another it’s been 5 months since she was last on the water and there’s always the added doubt of whether the engine will actually fire after a longish layup.
I was also keen to try out a replacement for late and lamented GoPro which died fishing near Aberdeen. The Yi 4k camera is a GoPro clone for about 2/3 of the money and gets pretty good reviews. The short video of the day (below) gives a taster and I’m pretty happy with it so far.
Winter Spurdogs on Loch Etive

We arrived about 8.30 only to find about half of Ayr SAC trying to get their boats in the water for a club competition. Add in a mountain of weed on the beach and it took a little while before we got afloat, but at least the outboard fired up at first turn of the key and we headed off down the loch. Needless to say, there were a couple of Ayr boats sitting right on top of the spot I wanted to fish so we dropped anchor on another ridge not too far away and dropped a few mackerel baits to see what was stirring.

Etive gets crowded with boats as Ayr Sea Angling Club hold a competition
Over-crowding, Etive style

A couple of hours later we had our answer in the form of a motley collection of doggies and small spurs, plus a little thornback – which sounded positively hectic to the one or two fish that the other boats had.

Ian with a small Etive spurdog from Ardchattan
Ian with a small Etive spurdog from Ardchattan

A small thornback from Etive

I then took the rather bad decision to head still further down towards the mouth of the loch, to a mark I haven’t fished for 3 or 4 years. A little over an hour here gave Ian another 5 little spurs and absolutely nothing for me, so we backtracked up towards Ardchattan and tried again for rays. One little thornback for Ian after another hour made for a more radical rethink/roll of the dice and I went for a move several miles up the loch – at least up here no-one would see us fail…

A beautiful winters day on Loch Etive, small boat fishing in mirror calm conditions near Barrs.
A beautiful winters day on Loch Etive

Around Taynuilt there had been a little breeze, maybe only 3-5 mph but enough to put a chill through you, whilst up here it was like a mirror. Cruising along with the sky and mountains reflecting off the loch was fantastic, even with a frigid slipstream trying to tear your ears off. Eventually I eased off the throttle and dropped anchor and complete silence descended as I shut the motor off.

A whiting chopped to pieces by a spurdog after it swallows the bait on Loch Etive
Shredded whiting
I could sense slightly raised eyebrows on Ian’s part at my choice of mark, as it isn’t perhaps the most obvious spot to try. However he dutifully dropped baits to the seabed, and we didn’t have too long to revel in our surroundings before we were battling fish. Truth be told, “battling” might be a bit of a porkie, as they were definitely all on the small and weedy side, but at least there in numbers. Even I started to catch! Spurs and doggies for the most part, but a few whiting (mainly in pieces, courtesy of hungry spurdog) and a lonely grey gurnard for Ian.
A spurdog waves goodbye as it goes back into Loch Etive
A spurdog waves goodbye as it goes back

Although I caught up a bit towards the end Ian was well ahead in terms of numbers of fish and the overall catch was nothing much – maybe 50-60 fish altogether, and all on the small side. However Etive was near its winter best, which counts for quite a lot in my book, so I was well pleased with the day.

Midwinter Dusk on Loch Etive

 

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Chilled Out Fishing on Loch Etive

I’m not a great Christmas fan and was happy to escape the house for a spot of chilled out fishing on Loch Etive. You can interpret “chilled out” as you choose, but in the event it did turn out rather more laid back than frigid. I planned to fish afternoon and early evening before picking number one daughter up in Stirling around 10’ish, so it was mid-morning when I headed westwards from Edinburgh.

My first choice of mark was already taken so I headed along the shore for a mile or so. I’d never been here before but there are good fish taken from the boat quite close, and I knew that there was deepish water close in, so it seemed as good a bet as any.

Launching a mackerel bait in search of spurdog on Loch Etive.
Launching a mackerel bait in search of spurdog on Loch Etive

With a couple of rods out and fishing I switched attention to playing with the little BBQ I’d brought along. I’ve had this little Honey Stove for a few years now and it’s quite good fun to mess around with from time to time. You can feed it just about anything – small sticks, fuel tablets, meths – and charcoal briquettes seemed to burn happily enough when I tested them a few months back.

A late winter BBQ on Etive - coffee and sausages cooked over a charcoal brazier ward off the cold on a chilly day.
A late winter BBQ on Etive

The burner got going quite quickly so I stuck some water on to boil for a coffee and impaled a couple of sausages on toasting forks and left them to grill burn.

True to form, as soon as I tasted coffee my reel gave a little scream of protest as a fish mouthed the bait. No great drama, but a few minutes later a nice female in the 6-7lb range glided ashore on a patch of seaweed. A quick photo and back she went, whilst it dawned on me that this was probably my best shore caught fish of the year. I really do need to get out more!

A nice shore caught spurdog from Loch Etive
A nice shore caught spurdog from Loch Etive

I sat back and contemplated my surroundings for a while. It’s not exactly the back of beyond here but there was no-one else about apart from a lone paddle boarder going round in big post-Xmas circles – possibly a new toy being played with? A pair of cormorants were fishing just offshore and seemed to be doing rather better than me. A few trains rattled past nearby, as did a rather grumpy seal, but otherwise I was left in peace.

Just as I was dozing off my ratchet clicked again. Another little run resulted in a small thornback which was soon returned to grow bigger. Other than that things remained quiet…

A small thornback ray caught from the shore at Loch Etive
A small thornback ray caught from the shore at Loch Etive

As the light faded I turned to setting up my grandpa tent – aka a Ron Thompson Beach Shelter that has been sitting unused in the garage for a decade or more. I’d taken it along as I wasn’t fishing far from the car and the forecast had been for a bit of wind, so a bit of shelter would make the darkness feel less chilly.

Extra shelter on a winters day - a beach buddy style bivi to ward off the breeze.

It proved big enough to fit both me and the stove inside. OK, I was starting to feel I was being hot smoked, but the BBQ certainly helped notch the temperature up a degree or two.

I’d kind of hoped that darkness would encourage more fishy action, but I spent more time burning sausages than I did reeling in fish. Just one more spurdog was landed, with another couple throwing the hook, before I packed it in and headed off to become the family taxi driver once again.

A spurdog caught in the light of my headtorch

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Assault on Glen Etive

The plan was to use the narrow, winding and un-gritted road into Glen Etive to access the headwaters of Loch Etive and drop the inflatable in where the river reaches the sea – then head off for an overnight camp, fish and stargaze.

Things went just fine to start with, until I stepped ashore and promptly fell to my knees – not to kiss the ground, but because I’d twisted my back. Hobbling around to secure the SIB and make camp was quite tricky 🙁

Frosty-morning-on-Loch-Etive
Frosty-morning-on-Loch-Etive

First cast made it clear I wouldn’t be doing any fishing either, partly because I couldn’t cast without keeling over, and partly on account not being able to balance properly on the icy rocks fringing the loch.

Nothing for it but to set a little campfire and do some star gazing, whilst listening to the squabbles of a family of otters only a few yards away.

A very civilised wild camp on Loch Etive
A very civilised wild camp on Loch Etive

The night was cold but beautiful, clear and windless, and starlight reflected clearly on the loch. Not many meteors though, despite it being time for the Geminid shower.

Orion's belt reflects nicely on Loch Etive
Orion’s belt reflects nicely on Loch Etive

Morning saw ice on the very edge of the loch and thick hoar frost over every surface.

Frost covers everything
Frost covers everything

Daylight also showed that this is a great little spot to pitch a tent, with a fair bit of shelter and very little chance of being disturbed. A bit too exposed for a hard boat though, unless you’re equipped to moor off a rocky coastline.

A winter campsite on Loch Etive
A winter campsite on Loch Etive
A steely looking early winter morning
A steely looking early winter morning

My back was killing me again but I managed to get the SIB loaded up and ready for the off without falling over!

SIB with a fringe of sea ice
SIB with a fringe of sea ice

Working my way back up to Glen Etive, where a little more ice breaking was required to get ashore – not that I recommend a little rubber boat for this…

Heading back towards Glen Etive
Heading back towards Glen Etive

So not really a fishing trip (one cast doesn’t really cut it!), but it’d have been a brilliant little spot to fish for a few hours if I’d been in better nick, and I’ll definitely be back another fine night.

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Struggling on Etive

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.

At anchor near Ardchattan
At anchor near Ardchattan

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.

Ashore for lunch
Ashore for lunch

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!

Crew
Crew

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.

A nice Etive spurdog
A nice Etive spurdog

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.

A well-chomped whiting from Barrs
A well-chomped whiting from Barrs

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.

Netting a spurdog
Netting a spurdog

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.

Small thornback ray
Small thornback ray

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.

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Boat camping in December

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.

Waiting for the next monster to appear - if only!
Waiting for the next monster to appear – if only!

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.

Bacon rolls on their way
Bacon rolls on their way

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.

Waiting for action in the sunshine
Waiting for action in the sunshine

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!

A nice starry night - but the cold killed my camera
A nice starry night – but the cold killed my camera

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.

A frigid campsite at Barrs
A frigid campsite at Barrs

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.

Cold and clear winter morning on Loch Etive
Cold and clear winter morning on Loch Etive

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.

A little dogfish from an icy Etive
A little dogfish from an icy Etive

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…

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Dour day on Etive

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.

View from an old quarry on south shore of Etive - looking NE towards the head of the loch
View from an old quarry on south shore of Etive – looking NE towards the head of the loch

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.

Bonnie the dog much prefers a day shore fishing than one spent in the boat
Bonnie the dog much prefers a day shore fishing than one spent in the boat
Fishing from one of the many quarries and old piers that surround Etive.
Fishing from one of the many quarries and old piers that surround Etive.

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.

Bonnie stick hunting on Etive
Bonnie stick hunting on Etive
The best fish of the day was a common or garden dogfish
Best fish of the day 🙁

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.

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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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Lifting the Gloom on Etive

A calm, misty morning on Etive, early 2013
A calm, misty morning on Etive, early 2013

Went up to Taynuilt yesterday to get the boat wet for the first time since early December, and fish Etive properly for the first time in many months. It was a nice calm morning, but full of the dank, misty gloom that the Scottish Highlands do so well, with no glimpse of the mountain tops hidden in the cloud.

It was quite a large tide, with HW just after 7 a.m., so I got launched easily enough beside the remains of the old tourist boat that was being cut up for scrap on the beach. First off was a spell just downtide of the fish farm at Airds, which produced just one little spurdog. A move across to the other side of the loch gave exactly the same result, and by now it was 11 o’clock so things weren’t looking too good for the day. On the plus side, at least it wasn’t raining, and I could still feel my fingers. I decided to try a mark I’ve fished only once before and lies at the bottom of a bank in around 130 feet, near Ardchattan.

Thornback ray from Loch Etive, Feb 2013
Thornback ray from Loch Etive, Feb 2013

Anchor down and sitting nicely where I want to be, and five minutes later the rod keels over and I’m in to something that’s obviously a respectable ray, to judge by the stubborn resistance. Sure enough a nice thornback of about 8.5lbs appeared shortly afterwards, nicely hooked at the side of the mouth. No sooner than I’d taken a quick photo and returned the fish safely to the water when my spinning rod (sporting a set of mackerel baited hokkais) slammed over hard in the rod rest, and another nice ray was on. This one went 7lbs, and was great fun on light gear. This went on for about 90 minutes and I landed 13 thornbacks before things went quiet again – the remainder were typical Etive specimens of 2-5lbs, but they most certainly lifted the day nicely. There were a couple of mini-poorcod as well, just to add a little variety.

It was near low water now, so I went ashore and had a little look for some mussels for dinner. In years past this was pretty easy, but I’ve found it increasingly difficult find any in Etive the last few seasons, and this session was no different. Possibly the same problems that affected the mussel farms have had an effect on the wild population too, but it’s a shame ‘cos I do like the odd basket of mussels.

By now I’d had enough of the lower loch and fancied a run up to the wilder ground up beyond Bonawe and near the head of the loch at Glen Etive. This far up you rarely see anyone else apart from the occasional walker or kayaker, and I spent a couple of hours exploring and checking out a few potential campsites for later in the year. As a bonus I retrieved a nice polybuoy in perfect condition from where it had been driven ashore, well above the normal tideline. Storms had also driven a good number of tree trunks onto the shoreline in places – a reminder to keep a good lookout when afloat.

It had gone 4 o’clock now, and I needed to find a spot to have a final fish for the day, so it was back to the narrow, deep gulley off Barrs that can (sometimes) throw up good fishing. With the anchor holding in 280 feet, I followed it down with a mackerel baited muppet and had barely popped the rod in its holder when it started banging away frantically as a decent fish grabbed it. A few minutes later and an 8.5lbs spurdog was safely netted and lying in the boat – no monster, but easily my best from Etive for quite a long while. Before I’d even put her back my other rod was getting hammered also, and this went on for around 30 minutes before the spurs moved off, and my total had increased to 9 spurs for the day.

Spurdog or around 8lbs, upper Loch Etive, Feb 2013
Spurdog of around 8lbs, upper Loch Etive, Feb 2013

The respite was short lived though, and the pack was soon back, a scenario which repeated itself twice more before I called a halt around half-six. In all I’d increased my total to 21 spurdogs, with the biggest a couple of ounces short of 10lbs. Most were the usual 1.5 – 3lb fish, but with 5 over 7lbs I wasn’t complaining. Three small LSDs got in on the act as well, but they were otherwise absent the rest of the day. I could probably claim a whiting as well, as the head that came up (attached to a spurdog) had been fairly hooked before it got shredded.

It was pitch dark by now, with light rain falling and no sign of light anywhere apart from a faint glow from the direction of Taynuilt. Even with that it was quite dis-orientating and I was very glad of the chart plotter as I ploughed down the loch towards my launch site surrounded by complete blackness, and thinking of the tree trunks I’d seen earlier!

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An Icy day at Etive

Occasionally, but increasing frequently, I find myself going on trips where the fishing is less important than simply soaking up the wild beauty that Scotland can still offer if you take a little time to find it. Today was one such day – the forecast was for a few hours of cold, clear weather overnight and then getting wetter and a little windier from early afternoon, and I decided not to bother with the boat and give a shore rod a little exercise exploring the upper end of Loch Etive for a few hours.

I’ve fished here a few times before from the boat, and there are large numbers of small (read tiny) spurdogs covering the loch, with the odd better fish and a few rays and whiting. The aim was really to explore the road to Glen Etive (which I’d never been along before) and to take a few photographs of the winter scenery, at least as much as catching a few wee spurs.

Waking up earlier than planned I set off towards Glencoe under skies that were much cloudier than I’d hoped for, but which cleared the further west I drove. I stopped off in the darkness to take a few shots of the Black Mount lit only by moonlight and a few stars, and it was a quite eerie to hear the groaning and cracking pistol shots of moving ice echoing over the frozen loch in front of me, plus the occasional bellow of a wandering stag calling across the great lonely emptiness of Rannoch Moor.

A little later, having defrosted a little in the car, I turned off down the Glen Etive road and edged my way carefully down it as it’s hardly a priority for winter gritting and was covered in a thick frost. By the time I reached the head of Loch Etive dawn had started to lighten the day just a fraction and I began to trek along the northern bank of the loch over a mess of bog and heather. Stopping off for a few more photographs along the way I realised that much of the loch was covered with ice, which might render my trusty old Zziplex a little redundant.

A good while later I reached my destination – a small spit that sticks out a little into the loch – only to find that there was more ice than I’d counted on this far down the loch, and that it was thick enough to prevent a weight punching through it. At least the spit had the effect of diverting both the tide and the ice a little further out into the loch, so cast number two went into an almost ice-free eddy that hid in the shelter of the shingle. By now it was fully daylight and I didn’t plan on hanging around any longer than late morning, so I needed to get a move on if I was actually to catch anything apart from pixels.

Half an hour later I reeled in the remains of my mackerel bait, having fluffed an easy bite, but it at least proved there were a few fish around even in this cold. Persevering, I slung another small bait out around 80 yards to the edge of the ice and settled in to wait. Just one cup of coffee later, the rod tip nodded vigorously and a I reeled in a small but pretty little spurdog. With the blank off (even on a half-hearted fishing day this does seem to matter!) I cast out again and had a little scout around the shoreline whilst I waited. My eyes were drawn to a flicker of movement in the shallows and I scooped out a small whiting that had flapped around on its side. It wasn’t injured and I re-launched it into deeper water, but to no avail, as it simply drifted around helplessly. Presumably it was either suffering from the cold water or the high level of fresh water at the surface, but it suggested the reason why spurdogs come this far up a loch which can have few other food sources in it.

Back at the rod I managed one more bite before calling it a day, and spurdog number two made a brief appearance before being returned to the chilly darkness of its home. I packed up my gear and followed the path back to the head of the loch. For some reason it vanishes a few hundred yards before the car park, leaving only a bog crossing, but the whole experience is much easier in daylight rather than the early dawn. So, a day with little caught but very satisfying nonetheless, given the beautiful conditions and peaceful surroundings of this spectacular sea loch.

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