Dodging Icebergs on Loch Etive

It’s not often that icebergs stop play when it comes to sea fishing in the UK, but it came close yesterday. I was out on the boat near Kinglass on Loch Etive and the fish were (almost!) being protected by large shields of ice drifting down from the Glen Etive end. A very dramatic winter scene on a beautiful calm day, but I did manage to winkle a few fish out as well. Have a look at the video and see for yourselves – if nothing else the sound effects from about 4:25 onwards should bring any boat owner out in a cold sweat…

I’d launched from Taynuilt just before dawn and followed my usual routine of first trying down the loch towards Ardchattan on the ebb tide. A good shot here yielded only a couple of thornbacks and a pair of spurdogs, all small, plus a collection of whiting and a doggie. The whiting were shredding baits quite quickly so I didn’t take much persuasion to shift up the loch and try a spot which held good numbers of fish the last time Ian and I were across, about a month or so ago.

Your typical Loch Etive whiting doesn't grow very big, as this image shows
Typical Etive whiting

All went smoothly until I reached somewhere near the bothy at Cadderlie and started to encounter more and more sheets of slushy ice stretching across the loch. I’ve seen this a couple of times before and, given the very cold weather over the last week, it wasn’t much of surprise. Pressing on it became less and less slushy and obviously too thick and extensive to make any sensible attempt to fish. Maybe not quite icebergs, but close enough as far as I’m concerned! I retreated back to a mark off Kinglass which seemed relatively ice-free and dropped anchor in about 280 feet and dropped frozen mackerel into water of about the same temperature – less than 2 degrees according to my sonar.

The water is only 1.8 degrees here, very low for a saltwater loch, and down to the amount of fresh water near the surface.
Cold water, only 1.8 degrees

Clearly things were a lot warmer down at the bottom, or else we’ve some very hardy fish around here, as there were a steady stream of takers. Mainly little spurdog, but a doggie or two and a few more whiting. Even a little cod which dropped off right at the surface.

One of many little spurdogs trashes its way onto the boat, with a beautiful wintry backdrop of snowy mountains surrounding Loch Etive.
Trashing spurdog

The fishing was kind of mixed in with the ice crunching past the hull of my Longliner 2, and I wouldn’t have wanted to fish in anything thicker. Even as it stood the boat and anchor were dragged a couple of hundred metres by quite thin ice floes.

My boat is sitting at anchor on Loch Etive and carving a path through a sheet of ice floating past on the tide.
Carving through ice

Pretty much the final fish was the ling you see in the pic, which is the first I’ve had from this far up Etive and was clearly eyeing up a whiting which was on the other hook – quite a scabby specimen and probably about 4lb or so, but I wasn’t complaining.

A ling taken from the upper part of Loch Etive, my first from this far up the loch
Loch Etive Ling

I chucked in the fishing a bit earlier than I usually do, partly because of the cold but also because I didn’t fancy ploughing into more ice at speed on the way home. Apart from having two blocks of ice for feet it wasn’t uncomfortable afloat, and the conditions made for a memorable day afloat.

A beautiful but bitterly cold winter scene on Loch Etive, looking SW past Ben Cruachan
Etive was just as cold as it looks in this image
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Ice Fishing on Etive

Well, yesterday was one of these days that reminds you why you bother to go fishing in mid-winter. It started before 5 when I left Edinburgh in the midst of a mini-snowstorm, which fortunately petered out quickly as I drove inland, and by the time Alcatraz hit the water in Etive it was a lovely cold and crisp winter morning. I’d had good fishing the fortnight before, so was hopeful of repeating the trick on similar tides.

I spent most of the morning down the loch, but with little to show for things – a few small spurdog and a single ray – so it was time to see how the upper loch was fishing. Having fired up the engine I pointed Alcatraz back the way she had come a few hours earlier, and then up into the deep water and high mountains lying inland from Bonawe, home to more otters than humans. Well up the loch and near to Barrs I started to encounter patches of thin ice on the water, some of which were quite large at 50-100 yards across. Fortunately they were very thin and the boat cut through them easily, with only a soft swishing noise, but it did show just how cold it had been.

Happily the fish lying almost 300 feet below didn’t seem to care about the surface temperature and started hitting my mackerel baits almost immmediately. Almost all of them, bar a couple of whiting and a lonely doggie, were spurdogs. The same way as a fortnight ago there were a handful of decent fish and loads of 2-4lbers, and (thankfully) none of the real micro fish that can sometimes be a complete nuisance. Eventually the fishing died off a bit, but not before I’d added another 26 or 27 spurs to the total haul. The best made a little under 9.5lbs with another half a dozen in the 6-7lb category. A few ended up being landed through an ice floe – look closely at the pic of one in the water and you can see its snout breaking through the ice.

I packed in fishing at the back of 4 and headed inshore to practice my mooring techniques (looking ahead to summer camping trips!), and also take a few more photos of the loch. A short final drift whilst I sorted out my gear added a couple more small spurdog before heading home in the last of the evening afterglow.

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