(In)action at Loch Leven with Summer Thornbacks

The east coast looked a bit breezy so Ian and I decided to try a sheltered west coast sea loch, namely Leven, for some summer thornbacks. In the event we met up at Lochearnhead at a fairly civilised 7.30 in the morning and trundled across with the early morning traffic.

After a short skirmish with an advance guard of the midge hordes at the slate slipway in Ballachulish we were launched and heading out across the loch to try for mackerel and thornies at the fish farm. Typical Scottish summer weather with a mix of grim grey clouds and some nice warm sunshine to knock you off guard!

With pretty eyes and vicious thorns this little ray deserves both admiration and respect
Pretty eyes and vicious thorns…

Mackerel proved easy enough, although most were smaller than I’d like, but it took 90 minutes or more before the thornies put in an appearance. Both Ian and I had fish straddling the 5lb mark within minutes of each other (Ian’s straddling the right side of 5lbs whilst mine fell short – an all too typical story in my experience).

Ian bends into a Leven thornback
Ian bends into a Leven thornback

Sadly, the anticipation generated by a brace of nice fish soon wore off. There were more rays about but they steadily dropped in size towards the embarrassing end of the spectrum. When the mackerel are larger than the thornbacks you are definitely struggling…

A typical Leven thornback ray in the 4-5lb bracket
A typical Leven thornback ray in the 4-5lb bracket – but as good as we got

Upping anchor we decided to give it a try outside the loch, where the mouth drops into 100+ feet of water. New territory for me as I’d never fished out here before, and I doubt I’ll bother again given the highlight was a 3 inch whiting impaled on a 4/0 hook. ’nuff said!

A moody looking Loch Leven and Glencoe
A moody looking Loch Leven and Glencoe

Our final mark was a slightly off-the-wall offering courtesy of Ian, and we ended up in very shallow water (for a sea loch) with the anchor in around 30 feet. A slow start gradually improved as a succession of tiny/small thornbacks appeared, and at least the size appeared to be increasing. There was a reasonable trickle of tide and I could believe the claimed 8lb’ers were certainly possible at times.

Getting closer to postage stamp size - a small Leven ray
Getting closer to postage stamp size – a small Leven ray
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A Few Hours Chasing Thornbacks from my SIB

Just catching up a bit with some rather late reports…

A couple of weeks ago I nipped across to Loch Leven to spend the morning chasing thornbacks. I actually drove across the night before to test out some adjustments to my sleeping arrangements in the Yeti, proving you can sleep me, an inflatable and an outboard and associated fishing clobber in considerable comfort. Headroom’s a wee bit lacking but otherwise it all seems OK. I also managed to bounce a roe deer off the front of car near Kinlochleven, but thankfully both parties seemed to escape with only minor damage.

Squeezing my inflatable boat, outboard, fishing gear and a sleeping bag into the back of a Yeti. It's surprisingly comfortable.
Room for Two?

The fishing was nothing to write home about, but I launched the SIB at the old slate slip and spent the morning chasing thornbacks across at the fish farm. It was a nice enough day but even the very slight breeze was chilly, so little chinks of sunshine were welcome when the showed through the cloud. I accumulated 5 little thornbacks (ranging from small to tiny) and a lonely doggie with no sign of any mackerel.

A small thornback ray perched on the tubes of my Avon 310 SIB
Small thornback ray

Overall I think the fishing in Leven seems to be going backwards and the last couple of years have been pretty poor, but it’s still a pleasant enough spot to try for a few hours.

Watching the rod tip and waiting for another fish
Waiting for a bite

I’d to head northwards to meet up with my dad in the afternoon so it was a shorter trip than usual – just the sort of thing the little Avon SIB excels at.

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Spring Strikes on Loch Leven

I’ve been across to Loch Leven three times since New Year and it’s been relentlessly cold so it was a full set of thermals for yesterday’s trip – only to spend most of the day in windless, warm weather with a good deal of spring sunshine to boot. This is Scotland though, so it did rain most of the way home!

Calm and overcast start to the day, upper Loch Leven
Calm and overcast start

The upper loch, above the Narrows, was the target for today, mainly to add species and quantity rather than make any play for quality. An early start saw the Avon hit the water around 8, and I made my way over the deep, reefy ground to try for the small codling and poorcod that fill the place.

A few seconds after starting this little ling hit the bait.

Baby ling from Loch Leven
Baby ling from Loch Leven

Followed by a long succession of mini-codling and poorcod. I kept a few poorcod for bait, but the novelty of catching them soon wears off.

Poor cod reach plague proportions, Loch Leven
Poor cod reach plague proportions

The species count hit 4 with this little coalie, which was another first for the year, and I took the opportunity to collect a few mussels from the rocks – although there weren’t many exposed as this was a pretty small tide.

A small coalfish, first of the year
First coalie of the year

By this time the loch was getting filled with kayaks in all manner of colours, together with a few boats from the nearby campsite, so I clearly wasn’t the only one with an eye open for a slice of good weather.

Pollack fishing from a kayak, tucked close in under the cliffs at Loch Leven
Pollack fishing from a kayak

Having had my fill of mini-fish I decided to head back towards the deeper water and drop anchor in search of larger quarry. The outboard sprang into life quickly enough but we’d covered less than a hundred yards when it died on me 🙁 A quick look suggested the same problem as I had last year – a stuck carb float. Annoying but not really a big deal as I a few minutes with the oars got me back to the area I wanted to anchor in anyway, and this was not far from my launch point.

Fine Day to be Afloat on Loch Leven - an inflatable sits on flat calm water, overshadowed by the mountains behind
Fine Day to be Afloat on Loch Leven

Since part of the plan was to try the upper loch at anchor and see whether it held much in the way of rays, I just stuck it out for the rest of the day. The first couple of hours produced nothing bar a missed bite on a poorcod bait, but things picked up a little thereafter, with a good sprinkling of small whiting on the mini-baits and a succession of rays on mackerel.

First ray of the day - holding a small thornback ray
First ray of the day

These fish weren’t large, and seemed a good bit leaner than their plumper friends down near the fish farm at Ballachulish, but they all seemed in good condition and were nicely coloured. Overall I picked up 5, with the best maybe 4-5lbs, and a middle of the road type result pretty much in line with expectations.

Playing a thornback ray from my inflatable, Loch Leven
Playing a thornback ray
Bringing a thornback alongside the SIB, Loch Leven
Bringing a thornback alongside the SIB, Loch Leven
A nicely marked thornback ray perches on the SIB's tubes
A nicely marked thornback ray

 

Incidentally a thornback ray’s eye is really very pretty, with beautiful colouration and patterns. Have a closer look next time you catch one.

Thornback rays have very pretty eyes
Close up of thornback’s eye

I headed ashore about 4 in the afternoon, as I was getting a little stiff from the cramped confines of the SIB. However it was still a fine day so I gave it another 90 minutes from the shore further down the loch – without so much as a sniff of a bite.

A kayaker calls it a day on Loch Leven
A kayaker calls it a day

 

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Two men in a SIB

It must be a decade since I last fished two men in a SIB, as it’s usually cramped enough for one disorganised angler, let alone two. However Loch Leven ain’t the open Atlantic, and a few hours fishing in calm conditions made it an decent proposition.

Apart from the outboard taking a bit of flogging to get going it was an easy start in calm and sunny conditions (in a change from my usual pantomime it was starved of fuel rather than flooded. After 30 years I should know all this by now!). Having two aboard makes a noticeable difference to performance, and there was no chance of getting on the plane, so we simply puttered our way across the loch and dropped anchor.

Fishing was very slow but we eventually picked up one or two rays. This first one proved to be the best of the day, which really doesn’t say very much about the quality of the fishing.

Me. with the first thornback of the day and a lot of snowy mountain tops for background
Me. with the first thornback of the day

Ian managed to pull up some of the uglier bottom life in the shape of a long worm-like creation, whilst I added a couple of micro-cod, but there was no sign of the mackerel or usual poor cod or whiting.

Seabed life in Loch Leven - some form of worm attached itself to Ian's rig
Seabed life in Loch Leven

 

All of a tangle - a thornback surfaces in a beautiful tangle of yellow braid
All of a tangle

In the early afternoon we took a quick shot ashore to stretch our legs and defrost a little, and caught another glimpse of an otter whilst Ian cleared up some of the crap left by a recent angler who couldn’t be bothered to carry out what he’d carried in.

We finished the day with another ray or two, including this monster for Ian, but there was no sign of the numbers or quality of fish you can get here sometimes.

Ian with a tiny thornback ray
Ian with a tiny thornback ray

Looking around us, if anything the snow was even thicker on the mountain tops than on my earlier trips this year, a reminder that we’re not out the woods with winter just yet. Still, the sun had a little warmth in it so there is some hope!

Salmon cages overshadowed by Glencoe
Salmon cages overshadowed by Glencoe

 

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SIB’ing in the Snow

With a forecast of a few hours of light winds and a few snow showers later, I reckoned it was time to get the boat fishing gear into action so the SIB got packed into the back of the car and I headed towards one of my favourite west coast sea lochs.

It was minus 2 and not quite as windless as I’d hoped for, but still perfectly fishable as I popped the inflatable into the water and flogged the Tohatsu into action for the short hop across the loch to the mark for the day. The only other visible life was a kayaker hoping to launch for a few fish as well – arguably the only place less comfortable than the SIB for winter fishing.

Catching a winter thornback ray from my SIB
Catching a winter thornback ray from my SIB

First off, I dropped a set of mini-sabikis on the spinning rod, and left them to fish whilst I sorted out the bigger rig for targeting rays. 60 seconds later I noticed the slack line that usually indicates a bunch of mackerel have grabbed the lures and made a complete bour-ash of them. For once I jumped to the right conclusion and hauled in a small shoal of 5 mackerel (and a completely sha**ed set of sabikis). Bait sorted at least, and my earliest ever mackerel.

Mackerel - on a snowy day in January
Mackerel – on a snowy day in January

The heavier rod was quiet for a while before the first of (most probably) many 2016 doggies surfaced for a quick photo.

SIB caught LSD
SIB caught LSD

A few minutes later he was joined by my first thornie of the year, at around 5lb 10oz.

My first thornback ray of 2016
My first thornback ray of 2016

By now the snow had started, just a few hours earlier than forecast, and the wind added a couple of knots, just to remind me it was well and truly wintertime. As my kayaker friend paddled over towards the fish farm cages he was half hidden in the snow flurries.

Kayaking in mid-winter
Kayaking in mid-winter

The next couple of thornies were a bit bigger, at nearly 7lbs and bang on 8lbs respectively, but it was cold work getting them so I reckoned they were well earned on my part.

SIB fishing in a snowy winter
SIB fishing on a snowy winter’s day

The snow didn’t bother the fish of course, and they kept coming with pin-whiting, a tiddly codling, couple of grey gurnard and several more mackerel on the spinning rod, plus a succession of rays and doggies on the bigger baits.

Winter fishing from a SIB
Winter fishing from a SIB

Eventually the wind rose close to double figures and the general chilliness proved too much, so I packed it in early afternoon – but with 10 thornies to 8lbs and similar numbers of mackerel and LSD I’d no reason to complain about the results.

Interesting trying to drive home when you can’t feel your feet on the pedals though!

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Shorefishing on Loch Leven

Well, the original plan had been a session from Ian’s boat, chasing St. Andrews cod and Pollack, but the virtual closure of the Forth Bridge put the brakes on that. It’s been a good while since I was last shorefishing on Loch Leven so a hasty rethink saw the rods packed in the car and Bonnie and myself scurrying along the road in the pre-dawn darkness.

Battered Abu 7000c and even more battered Zziplex to match it

The forecast was for light winds and grey skies, and that’s what we got – it was dry and not too cold so no cause for complaint as I set up for the day. Apart from the dog who immediately went into chuck a stick mode (a log, in this case) and got a bit grumpy as I ignored her for a few minutes.

Bonnie focussed on sticks

Two quite slow hours went by before I got my first fish – a nicely marked LSD

Nicely marked lesser spotted dogfish from Loch Leven

And Bonnie had plenty of time to chase her sticks as I continued to reel in very little.

Retrieving gear from the depths of Leven

At last a little thornback put in an appearance, admittedly leaving it’s tail behind. I’ve had a few of these from Leven, but it doesn’t seem to cause them any obvious problems.

Small shore caught ray from Loch Leven - without a tail

Despite morale rising having actually caught one of the target species, the rest of the session was a series of dogfish – nice to have more action, but I’d have preferred to see another few rays.

Fishing Loch Leven in December

I needed to get back to Edinburgh for early evening, so I’d to pack up around 3, doubtless just as the rays came on the feed.

And to cap it all, it took 4 hours to get home, rather than the more usual 2.5, care of huge jams on Edinburgh’s bypass. Rush hour is usually bad, but an inch of snow seemed to stop almost everything.

Then Ian phones me up to tell me all about the pollack he caught…

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More codling from Loch Leven

Took a use it or lose it day’s leave today and decided to go for quantity rather than quality with a few hours trying for codling on Loch Leven. The forecast suggested the wind would rise in the early afternoon so I set the alarm for a silly time and packed the SIB in the car.

The sun was rising in a clear sky over Rannoch Moor as I stopped for a quick photo, conscious that the weather wasn’t forecast to last all day.

Towards Black Mount from Rannoch Moor
Towards Black Mount from Rannoch Moor

Arriving at Loch Leven I headed round by Kinlochleven to find my launch spot already occupied by some snoozing kayakers (non-fishing variety), but there was enough room to park and get setup so I was underway a little before eight in the morning.

SIB on upper Loch Leven
SIB on upper Loch Leven

Fishing was pretty much immediate with a good succession of fish, mainly small codling, queueing up in the modest tide run.

Threesome of small codling
Threesome of small codling

I tried a few other spots during the day, including one that was home to a rather startled otter – unfortunately I couldn’t deal with the deep shade it was in, so the image is more like an impressionist painting than a recognisable mammal.

Rather blurry image of an otter
Rather blurry image of an otter

The fish kept coming until the wind started to rise a bit in the early afternoon, and I ended up with around 35, mainly codling but with a sprinkling of coalies and a single Pollack and whiting putting in an appearance.

After retrieving the SIB I stopped off down the loch a little to grab a coffee and a bite to eat, and noticed these two anglers fishing away near the narrows.

Shore anglers near Leven Narrows
Shore anglers near Leven Narrows

And the way home provided one final photo opportunity, by way of a rather proud looking stag who was quite happy to have his picture taken.

Stag
Stag

Along for the first time was a birthday present to myself in the shape of a new wide-range zoom lens for the camera. I dropped my old 18-55mm lens back in December and buggered the autofocus, so I’ve replaced it with an 18-250mm. OK, so not the best choice from an optical viewpoint, but a pretty pragmatic option for a travelling angler with limited space.

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A Trickle of Thornbacks

A lovely sunrise over Rannoch Moor had turned into a somewhat greyer and rawer day at Ballachulish, but it was still and calm as Ian and I launched and headed over to the fish farm and anchored up in search of thornbacks.

First fish came a few minutes later when my little spinning rod bent over to the unmistakeable struggle of a mackerel. No surprise as they are quite common here in the winter months and I usually fish a small rod with baited sabikis that often picks them up. However this was a threesome of fresh baits which meant that Ian’s mackerel were retired (I’m used to yellowed mackerel, but orange suggests a decade in the freezer).

Nice Grey Gurnard
Nice Grey Gurnard

Unfortunately this proved to be the peak of excitement throughout the ebb and there wasn’t a hint of a thornback for several hours, although the mackerel count continued to climb and we added plenty of other bits and pieces such as whiting, micro-cod, gurnard and poor cod, with Ian getting a rather nice grey gurnard that was heading towards the pound mark. Even coffee and bacon rolls didn’t wake the rays up.

Leven thornback ray

We debated whether to shift up the loch in search of fish, but decided to stick it out near the fishfarm as it is the most reliable mark for thornbacks in Leven and we knew a few fish had been taken earlier in the week. A quick reposition to tuck us a little further inshore as the flood tide started and we settled down again.

Ian with a nice Leven ray
Ian with a nice Leven ray

Whether it was shifting 50 yards or the start of the flood I’ve no idea, but the thornbacks did start to come out to play – albeit nursery sized ones at first. It couldn’t be described as fast fishing but we did eventually hook ten, with Ian getting a nice thornback of 9.5lbs (incidentally the photos don’t do it justice as it was reluctant to show its wings for the camera and was also built like a brick – a really thick fish for its size).

Catching on Loch Leven
Catching on Loch Leven
Chilly evening on Loch Leven
Chilly evening on Loch Leven

Things tailed off at sunset but we treated to a fine display as the light gradually disappeared and we hauled anchor. Retrieval at the slate slip was tricky and clutch destroying with a combination of soft slatey gravel and weed making life quite difficult – and then I very nearly compounded the problems by hitting a deer on the way home. Fortunately for all parties it got off with a modest clip on the rump and I’d no damage to the car.

Sunset on Loch Leven with Ardnamurchan in the background
Sunset on Loch Leven with Ardnamurchan in the background
February afterglow signals the end of the day
February afterglow signals the end of the day

Incidentally this has to be the shortest trip Alcatraz has ever made at only 1.4 miles total distance for the day.

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A few hours SIB’ing on Leven

Ballachulish looked pretty dismal when I arrived just before nine, with low, dark cloud and a bitter wind driving light rain across my windscreen. Not exactly perfect conditions to be out in a little inflatable…

Playing with the SIB on a frigid January morning
Playing with the SIB on a frigid January morning

I headed up the loch to see if conditions were any better inland and was rewarded by a lighter breeze and no rain. Once the Avon was launched I set up with mini-feathers and mackerel bait and had a go at some mini species, just to get the year underway.

A tiny codling - first fish of 2015
A tiny codling – first fish of 2015

First drop rewarded me with a tiny codling, followed by a succession of poorcod until I got bored catching fish the size of a baby goldfish.  By now the wind had strengthened again and was blowing along the loch, making it very hard to fish effectively even when using the outboard to slow the drift down, so I took a break and collected some mussels for dinner from the rocks at the bottom of a cliff face.

A poor cod from Loch Leven
A poor cod from Loch Leven

Mission accomplished I fished a set of hokkais for a good while, catching reasonable numbers of codling with the best going around 2.5lbs.

A more respectable codling
A more respectable codling

I’d been seeing numbers of fish midwater on the sonar so I had a final couple of drifts to try and identify them for sure – and duly picked up a number of small coalies to add another species for the year.

By now the wind was a force 3 gusting 4 and it was getting very cold on the floatie boatie, so I chucked it a bit earlier than planned and was packed up and on my way home before sunset.

The sun disappearing behind the mountains at Rannoch Moor
The sun disappearing behind the mountains at Rannoch Moor
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Shore rays

I didn’t fancy the hassle of a boat today, so just chucked the shore rods in the car and headed west. The idea was to split the day, with a few hours fishing at Loch Leven and then spend the afternoon having a bash at Loch Creran, which I’ve never tried before.

Sun catching the mountain tops
Sun catching the mountain tops

Leven was both calmer and sunnier than forecast and I was starting to overheat by the time I reached my mark, a well known spot on the north shore but not one I’ve fished before. I started off by dropping my camera and buggering the auto-focus 🙁 which is why some of the images ain’t the best. At least it was a cheapo lens which I was looking for an excuse to replace anyway…

A beautiful winter day on Loch Leven
A beautiful winter day on Loch Leven

Half an hour later I reeled in a small ray and things were looking up as the sun kept shining and only the snow on the hills reminded me it was winter.

A small thornback
A small thornback

Sadly this was the high point, and a succession of dogfish suggested that the rays had better things to do than play with my bait. In between the doggies came a surprise winter mackerel – I’ve had them often enough from the boat at this time of year, but this one took a lump of mackerel sent out on a 4/0 and fished hard on the seabed.

Mackerel in December - from the shore
Mackerel in December – from the shore

By half-twelve it was decision time – stick with Leven for the rest of the day or move down to Creran and give it a little try. I elected to stick with the plan and headed down to a mark I’d identified earlier as a fairly deep candidate in an otherwise shallow loch.

Loch Creran doesn’t really feature on most angler’s list of possibilities – it’s small and further to travel than both Etive or Leven. It does hold Pollack and sea trout for lure anglers, but I was interested to see if there were any numbers of ray available as well.

A promising spot on Loch Creran
A promising spot on Loch Creran

The mark was easy enough to fish and went into reasonably deep water (it felt something like 45-50 feet) with no obvious tide run. However baits were stripped fairly quickly and proper bites were distinctly lacking until shortly before I packed up for the day, when a consolation doggie made an appearance.

Sad! - reduced to photographing a doggie
Sad! – reduced to photographing a doggie

OK, so Creran was a waste of time but never venture, never gain and there are a couple of other possibilities that look worth trying so I might be back one day.

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