Pollacked on Loch Etive

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.

Unhooking a nice pollack taken on a leadhead and firetail worm
Unhooking a nice pollack

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.

Slipping a Pollack back into the water

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!).

A small spurdog comes aboard
A small spurdog comes aboard

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 lethal combination - wet dog with stick
A lethal combination – wet dog with stick

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.

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Spring Spurdog fishing on Loch Etive

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.

Making my way through the open woodland of Loch Etvie, with the ground covered by early spring greenery
En route, through the spring greenery

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!

Sending a bait out in search of spurdog, aiming to hit 120 feet or more of water depth
Sending a bait out in search of spurdog

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.

A nice shore-caught spurdog
A nice shore-caught spurdog

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!

Baiting a pulley rig with mackerel before casting out into the depths of Loch Etive
Baiting a pulley rig with mackerel

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.

Brewing a coffee over my packable woodburner stove - a handful of twigs is all that's required.
Brewing a coffee

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 🙂

Bonnie hard at work with a large pile of half chewed sticks
Bonnie hard at work

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…

A decent shore-caught spurdog from Loch Etive
A decent shore-caught spurdog from Loch Etive

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.

Swinging another spring spurdog ashore
Swinging another spring spurdog ashore

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.

And a video of the day…

Spurdogs from the shore on Loch Etive
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Multi-tasking on Loch Etive

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.

Hiking in to my fishing mark along upper Loch Etive
It’s a long walk in…

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 sun, snow and light bouncing off the water make this image look almost monochrome
Sun, sea and snow

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.

Casting out in search of spurdogs on a calm, crisp day in the wilds of Loch Etive
Wish you were here?
Bonnie the spaniel has little patience with fishermen who don't throw sticks when required
Stickmeister in action

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.

Two at a time, as a spurdog and a spottie dogfish are lifted ashore
Two at a time

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.

A nice sized spurdog fills the granite block by the side of the old piers at Barrs, Loch Etive
A better spurdog, just as the rain starts
Ben Starav towers over the old stone pier I was fishing from
Ben Starav dominates my choice of fishing mark

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.

The shell of an old Quarryman's hut surrounded by moss covered boulders and trees near the shore of Loch Etive
All that remains – an old Quarryman’s hut

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!

A pair of rods and all my camera and fishing gear packed into a 30 litre rucksac - it pays to travel light when hiking to a distant fishing mark
I travel light when I can

 

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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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New Year Spurrie Boot Camp

Spurrie boot camp! The concept was simple – an early start to the New Year and a comfortable camp overnight chasing spurdogs in nice, calm conditions. Trevor was up for it so late morning on New Year’s day saw us meeting up before heading west.

Now spending an afternoon hauling rods and a hefty backpack  through miles of sodden peat bog might not be everyone’s idea of a good time and,  by the time we stumbled over the final ridge and found our target over two hours later, we were certainly wondering ourselves.

However I wasted no time in setting up my usual mackerel baited pulley rig on one rod, and kitting the second out with a two hook paternoster style setup. A modest cast out confirmed we were in deep water as the gear took a good while to reach the muddy seafloor.

Sundown - and only 16 hours to sunrise this far north at the beginning of January
Sundown – and only another 16 hours to sunrise

The sun was disappearing fast and it would soon be dark so, once we were both safely fishing, it was time to get the tent up and sort out a fire. There’s a decent fire ring here, put together by generations of hikers, kayakers and the odd fisherman so we could build our camp fairly easily.

A level site, sheltered from the wind and with a nice sized fire ring in front of you - what more do you need in winter
Comfortable overnight camp in January

By now the light had pretty much gone, and the rods were banging away with the first bites of 2017. A few minutes later my first fish of the year appeared, in the shape of a small spurdog and even smaller LSD. They’d taken the smaller hook rig and were quickly photographed and returned.

First fish of 2017 - a spurdog and LSD come up together
First fish of 2017

The wind had been gusting quite hard but dropped after dark which helped keep some feeling in my hands. Both Trevor and I pulled in a few more fish, mainly small male spurdogs, as we sorted out some dinner.

This was definitely gourmet cuisine compared to my usual standards, with a smorgasborg of sausages, chicken and baked potatoes. All washed down with a decent slug of Glenkinchie malt 🙂

Dinner cooking on the campfire
Dinner cooking on the fire

We hit the sack fairly early and managed a decent sleep in temperatures that couldn’t have dropped too much below freezing. Next morning saw us popping the coffee and bacon on whilst fishing in beautiful calm and clear conditions. Even the ebb tide helped make this mark easier to fish by keeping our lines clear of the snaggy rock wall close in.

Ironically, given this is the west coast of Scotland, the only problem was getting fresh water. In the end we (i.e. Trevor) had to scout about 400 or 500 yards to find a small stream.

Trevor with a spurdog from wild country, early January 2017

Trevor bends into another spurdog on a calm, grey morning
Trevor bends into another spurdog

We both had more spurs and a scattering of LSDs, but nothing else to bump up the species count. It stayed pretty much windless but the sun disappeared as the morning wore on and it became heavily overcast with a little light rain.

A small shore caught spurdog

Trevor with a small spurdog taken on mackerel bait

We called time around 2 o’clock, as it is a long trek back to the car and we didn’t fancy finishing by wading through a peat bog in the dark. The woods were eerily silent as we marched through them in the fading light, with no birds or other animals making a sound, and no sign of humans at all. We reached the carpark just before dark, both pretty knackered but happy with our early start to the year.

Also, I’ve not camped out in January before (at least not in Scotland) so that’s bonus on top of the fishing itself. 🙂

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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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Spurdogs play in the sun on Loch Etive

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.

Flat calm at Kelly's Pier, 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).

A small ray hits the surface
A small ray hits the surface

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.

My cocker spaniel Bonnie looks a bit puzzled by this small thornback ray

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.

Bonnie is glad to be ashore and off the boat

Snow on Ben Cruachan and gorse coming into flower made a great backdrop.

Bonnie playing on the shore at Etive, with Cruachan behind

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.

An Etive spurdog slides alongside the boat

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.

A brace of spurdogs

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.

Netting a modest spurdog from Etive

Not huge, but the largest fish of the day - a 7 pound spurdog

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.

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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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