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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Etive Fireworks

20 October 2012 – Loch Etive

Literally! I was sitting in the boat off Barrs last night when suddenly, after an hour of stargazing, the sky was lit up with great flashes of light as a firework display suddenly started up from behind the old lodge on the north shore. Although the spectacle didn’t last too long, it was very impressive with the sound of exploding fireworks cannoning off the mountains on every side and the loch being lit up by the show. No idea who or what it was for, but whoever set it up picked a brilliant venue – so thanks for the free ticket!

Pity that fireworks wasn’t a description that could be applied to the fishing though. A poor days fishing around Airds and Ardchattan which produced only a scattering of small spurs and doggies, a lone whiting and thornback plus a couple of mackerel, so I’d pointed Alcatraz up the loch and kept on going all the way up to Barrs. There I stopped off for a break ashore and a few photos of the autumn colours, although there was no sign of any party goers at that point.

Late afternoon saw me anchoring at the head of the deep channel that runs up Etive as far as Barrs, and settle down for the final try of the day. There were more spurs here than down the loch and the total gradually mounted up, with the odd LSD thrown in for good measure. They were all small fish, with the biggest going to around 7lbs and a andful around the 5lb mark, but it was a fine night and I decided to stay out for a while after dark. I hung around until about nine and lifted my total to 32 spurs and a fair collection of doggies before things went quiet, more cloud rolled in, and I decided to call it a night and trundle back to Taynuilt.

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5 February 2012 – Etive (yet) again!

Weather: Cold – but calm. A few showers and a little sun, but mainly overcast
Sea: The usual Etive millpond. Surface water temperature up over 2 degrees in past 3 weeks – 6.5, up from 4.3 degrees last trip.
Time: 0830 – 1930 – 11 hours
Tides: HW 0605 (1.5m) LW 1325 (0.4m) HW 1840 (1.6m)

The forecasts during the week were tantalising, but slightly on the windy side of what I enjoy when sitting in a small boat for several hours in winter, so it was a Saturday morning decision to give the west coast a go again. A forecast of 5-6 mph, even with a little rain and heavy cloud , seemed too good to turn down and so the boat was loaded up for an early start on Sunday.

Given a westerly wind forecast, and an ebb tide for the morning, I decided to tuck in close to the fish farm off Airds Point, reckoning that I’d be sheltered and also just downtide of any trail of fish food that might escape the farm. In practice there was no wind at all, just a nice calm morning, but I stuck with the plan and anchored a couple of hundred yards down the loch from the farm.

After about 15 minutes there was a good run on my uptider and I hooked into a reasonably solid weight which turned out to be a respectable thornback of 6.75lbs. A good start, but alas the remainder of the morning was fairly poor, with a slow stream of rays, spurdogs and a few gurnard adding to the catch. Low water saw a move down to the Abbots Isles area, near where I’ve done well once or twice from the shore. I stuck it out here for a couple of hours, but with zip to show for my efforts – quite disappointing in ideal conditions. However, with a little bit of sun to warm the boat up I wasn’t too bothered. Next was a shift up towards Ardchattan, towards a spot that usually fishes well. Another hour, another disappointment, as only 1 micro cod showed up, alongside a couple of LSD.

By now it was heading towards sunset, so my next move was probably the last for the day, and I decided to head back up to Airds but to fish the opposite side of the loch where the water is considerably deeper. Sunset was around 5 p.m. and that seemed to trigger more activity as I picked up a double shot of rays soon after, followed by a stream of smallish spurs, LSDs and more rays, with a codling and a poor cod thrown in for good measure. Given there was no wind it was very pleasant out on the loch, so I stayed on for a couple of hours enjoying quite relaxed fishing and watching the stars come out.

The final tally for the day was around 40 fish, with 13 spurs, 11 rays and a motley collection of LSD, grey gurnard, codling and poor cod. Nothing huge, with the best fish my first one. In return for 11 hours afloat it couldn’t be considered a great catch (with virtually nothing at all during most of the flood tide), but it was actually a great day to be out and a perfect antidote to a 9-5 style city life.

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15 Jan 2012 – Etive Fails to Shine

Weather: Cold! – but little wind. A little sun but mainly overcast
Sea: The usual Etive millpond, with a few ripples. Temperature down to 4.3 degrees now
Time: 0900-1700 – 8 hours
Tides: HW 1100 – smallish tide

An overdue chance to blow a few cobwebs away saw me leaving home at about 5.30 a.m. on a very frosty morning, towing Alcatraz over Etive direction. Ian met me a Lochearnhead and we trundled on to Taynuilt to get launched on a fairly frigid morning.

First stop was well down the loch, at one of my usual haunts, where we stayed until just after the top of the tide. Just a couple of spurries and a handful of rays and LSD showed, so I moved up to Airds Point to catch the early part of the ebb tide. Here we were anchored in around 150 feet and initially things looked pretty good, with my first Etive ling for several years followed by a couple of modest thornback rays. The next couple of hours were pretty slow though, with 3 or 4 more small spurs and a few rays – although a pouting, grey gurnard and a couple of whiting added to list, alongside the odd hungry LSD.

By two o’clock we had to decide whether to stay for the rest of the day, or head on up the loch to a mark that’s done well for us in the past. Staying put wasn’t that attractive, so it was a case of up anchor and then heading up the loch past two or three other angling boats and on to Barrs. Up here the sun was out and the loch calm so it was almost warm for a little while as we waited for some action. And waited. Things were really very slow in the first 40-50 minutes, and only picked up slowly as the light faded, mainly with small spurdogs. By way of compensation for the slow sport and spreading chill, the sunset was beautiful over the mountains behind us, as they reflected off a calm sea loch.

Five o’clock saw darkness falling rapidly, and the cold becoming brutal, and the fishing wasn’t improving any. Executive decision made we upped anchor and headed home down the loch.

The fishing was pretty poor overall – a dozen small spurs to 5 or 6lbs, ten small rays and perhaps 15 LSDs, plus a few whiting and a single ling, pouting and grey gurnard to up the species count. No monsters, but good company with decent weather (and a lovely sunset) in a beautiful location – I’ve had much worse starts to the fishing year.


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15 October 2011 – Loch Etive

Weather: Mild night with no wind and some light showers
Sea: Calm
Time: 2000-2330 – 3.5 hours

A shore caught spurdog and thornback ray from Loch Etive
A shore caught spurdog and thornback ray from Loch Etive

It’s been ages since I’ve tried Etive from the shore, and years since I’ve tried the south bank, but I’d identified a decent and fairly accessible spot when dinghy fishing a couple of years ago. Having a few hours free in the evening I decided to give it a quick bash and see whether it held anything after dark. Access was even easier than I thought and my first cast found something like 70 feet of water and clean ground. It was a calm night and fairly clear between some light showers, so it was no hardship waiting for a bite. After nearly an hour a decent nibble translated into a small spurdog of around 1.5lbs, which was quickly followed by several others. Highlight of the evening was a spur of around 4lbs on one rod, plus a slightly larger ray simultaneously on the other.

A final total of 6 spurs and 1 thornback ray was quite satisfying for a few hours on a new mark, especially given how out of practice I am at fishing Etive from the shore.


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18 September 2011 – Loch Etive

Weather: Calm or light winds, warm and quite sunny
Sea: Calm, fair peaty colour to surface water further up loch
Time: 0830-2000 – 11.5 hours
Tides: Moderate tides, HW approx 1100

Lovely day to be out although the fishing was a little slow. I tried about 5 marks during the day, mainly between Airds and the Priory, but finished up well up the loch near Cadderlie. Finished up with a dozen small spurs and 14 thornbacks, plus more whiting than I’ve seen for a while (if you include a couple of head-only captures). Fish seemed pretty evenly spread across all the marks – nothing outstandingly good or bad.

To be honest the day was a lot better than it sounds, as the loch was looking beautiful in the late summer sunshine and the lovely calm evening was completely relaxing – a great antidote to city living.

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26-27 July 2011 – Loch Etive

There's more to fishing than just fish...
There’s more to fishing than just fish…

Weather: Hot and sunny, with an afternoon sea breeze
Sea Conditions: Flat (and 19.5 degrees water temp in the shallows!)
Times: Roughly 1400-1900 on Tuesday and 0800-1600 on Wednesday – about 13 hours altogether
Tides: LW approx 1120 at Bonawe on Tuesday, small tides

Took my son, Mike, and Bonnie the manic spaniel across to Loch Etive for a couple of days on the boat and a spot of camping. Etive’s not my first choice for fishing at this time of year but both Mike and Bonnie suffer from sea-sickness so it’s a good bet from that point of view, and there’s almost always something to catch.

Bonnie hijacks the skipper's seat
Bonnie hijacks the skipper’s seat
Camping on the shoreline
Camping on the shoreline

I’d deliberately tried to go for a couple of days good weather and the met office didn’t let us down – basically hot and sunny sums it up, with only a light sea breeze in the afternoon (quite welcome, as it was almost too hot in the boat). We tried a variety of marks both east and west of Taynuilt and caught a decent number of fish, mainly small spurs (best 7lb, but most around 2lbs) and a fair number of thornbacks but also doggies, gurnard, whiting, codling, coalie and pollack. Only a single mackerel turned up so it was just as well I’d taken frozen ones plus some squid. I lost count of the final totals but several dozen fish came aboard and the dog eventually lost all interest in them as they wriggled around.

How to spend a summers evening
How to spend a summers evening
Just to prove we did a little fishing
Just to prove we did a little fishing

Overnight, we camped well up the loch at Barrs – a fantastic little spot only accessible by sea or a long hike. The tent went up in a few minutes and then it was time for a beer and a barbie, plus a modest campfire to help keep the midgies at bay. For the first time I’d put together a sliding mooring for the boat, which allowed me to keep her 50-60m off the beach overnight but pull her in to shore as needed. It seemed to work pretty well, but I was pleased/relieved to see her still there next morning. To be honest the highlight of the trip is summed up by the first image – waking up to a view like that is simply inspiring, doubly so when you see some of the highland magic click with your kid. Mind you, Bonnie was more inspired by the bacon than the scenery…

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10 Feb 2011 – Loch Etive

A few hours fishing from my Rover inflatable on Loch Etive – chilly but otherwise a beautiful day, with a few thornbacks and spurdogs appearing to keep things interesting.

Weather: Calm, sunny and beautiful – but a bit chilly
Sea Conditions: Flat calm.
Time: Roughly 0900-1630 – 7.5 hours
Tides: HW approx. 1100

Ben Starav from Loch Etive
Ben Starav from Loch Etive

The weather’s been it’s typical wintry self recently – cold, wet and windy – but I grabbed a few hours of calm between the gales to give Etive a try. I’ve been trying to run-in the little 5hp Tohatsu O/B I bought back in September and also get my Rover inflatable back into more regular use, so it was a chance to kill two birds with one stone, and hopefully get a few fish as well.

The 120 mile trip across to Taynuilt was certainly easier and quicker without hauling the usual trailer, although there were some terrific potholes around the Tyndrum area which had to be treated with caution in the semi-darkness. Arriving at the old pier the weather was beautiful – calm and sunny – and I quickly got the inflatable set up and ready to go.

Ready for a day on the loch
Ready for a day on the loch

Once out on the loch I headed out for a couple of hundred yards and then tied up to the outermost mooring buoy and set up a couple of rods – a spinning rod armed with hokkais and 20lb class rod with a standard 1 up 1 down mackerel baited rig. Fishing was fairly slow, but three respectable thornies and a couple of doggies appeared over the next 90 minutes before I decided to move further up the loch beyond Bonawe. The rest of the day I spent tied up to the fish farm or on a slow drift, and it wasn’t the most productive experience, with only a couple more thornbacks, 2 spurdogs and a few LSDs making an appearance.

Although sunny, the day was still very cold and I was quite glad to pack up around 4 o’clock as I was starting to freeze – one of the downsides of an inflatable is the level of exposure coupled with an inability to move around to keep warm.

Totals for the day – 5 thornbacks to 5lbs, 2 spurdogs to 3.5lbs and 7 doggies. All on mackerel baits.

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20 November – Loch Etive

A fairly typical day at Etive, with decent numbers of thornback and small spurs showing – plus my first ever tagged spurdog recapture. And don’t forget a few mussels picked up for dinner later in the week – a little bonus for the effort spent getting a boat too and from the west coast.

Weather: Light E wind, dry and mainly overcast. Pretty cold.
Sea Conditions: Flat calm, 8 degrees C.
Time: 0930-1700 – 7.5 hours
Tides: HW 0626 (1.9m) LW 1340 (0.4m)

Alcatraz on Etive
Alcatraz on Etive

Mainly thornbacks today, with 9 or 10 coming aboard. Nothing huge with the best around 5lbs, but only one micro fish for the day which is an improvement on the last couple of trips. Tried a couple of new marks, both of which produced 3 or 4 rays but only one spurdog – both look interesting for another time, although there were a fair number of LSD present as well.

Around low water I stopped off to collect a few mussels for dinner later in the week, although there were only a few visible and it took a wee while to get enough – a bit chilly on the hands when picking them up underwater!

A tagged spurdog
A tagged spurdog

Afterwards I headed further down the loch, to the deep water opposite the church where there were a few more spurs. However these were small ones so I didn’t hang around for too long, particularly as the tide had swung the boat stern on to the very cold breeze.

Back up to a deep mark near Airds Point and I decided to stay here until darkness fell, and see if any spurries were moving around. Initially things were very slow but picked up after around 30 or 40 minutes with a couple more thornbacks and a few spurdogs to 5lbs or so, alongside the usual LSD. Best fish of the day came in the shape of a 9.5lbs spurdog which was carrying a tag from the shark tagging programme.

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15th August – Loch Etive

More like a family fishing day than my usual efforts, with two kids and a dog for company. Plenty of tiddler spurdogs for amusement, plus a little barbie on the beach miles from anywhere. Lots of sunshine too, so a great day out before it’s back to school next week…

Weather: A great day, with light W wind and mainly sunny

Sea Conditions: Calm

Time: Roughly 1100- 1730 – 6.5 hours

Tides: HW 1200 – Large tide

Katie's first "shark" - a small spurdog
Katie’s first “shark”

Had a fun day out with the kids and the dog(!), spending as much time cruising about and lazing ashore in the sunshine as we did fishing. Even so we managed 26 spurdog, mainly small but with the biggest at 6.75lbs being caught at the last minute by Mike. Funnily enough we caught nothing but spurs – no mackerel, whiting, LSD or thornies – which is a first for me. Most of the fish came a long way up the loch, about 2-3 miles from Glen Etive, where the bottom was carpetted with small spurries.

Lunchtime on Loch Etive

It was Katie’s first time out in the boat, but she was quite happy steering us around, and managed to keep a respectably straight wake most of the time. Less said about the dog the better – she demanded to be treated as a lapdog most of the day and also managed to bring a motley collection of ticks aboard after we stopped ashore for lunch, much to Katie’s disgust.

Only downer of the day was losing a tyre at Crianlarich on the way home – the valve blew out (a new one on me), but it took only a few minutes to change to the spare, so not really much of a drama.

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