More Leven Thornbacks

My last visit to Loch Leven was back in early March and the only thing I caught was an ambulance ride to hospital with a broken leg, so I was rather hoping to avoid a repeat performance when dropped the inflatable into the water at Ballachulish.

Ready for the off at Ballachulish
Ready for the off at Ballachulish

The intended target was thornbacks, but I was conscious that I tend to ignore some of the other fishing available in the loch, so I started out with a few drifts close in to the slate tips to try for the mini-species that live on the rocky slopes. Mini-sabikis tipped with mackerel soon brought a stream of tiny poorcod and whiting to the side of the boat, together with a couple of modest Pollack up to 2.5lbs or so. No cod of wrasse showed up before I headed over to the fish farm for a thornie session, which was a minor disappointment but one I’m sure will get sorted out in a future trip.

Best fish of the day
Best fish of the day

A little over 4 hours at the fish farm produced a stream of thornbacks to simple running ledger and mackerel baits, although most were pretty small butterfly sized beasts. In between the mini rays were one or two better ones, with the biggest hitting 8.5lbs. Together with a few dogs and a couple of mackerel (and loads of mini whiting) there was easily enough activity to keep me going for a few hours.

There were also a fair bunch of anglers fishing off the shore near the farm, and they did seem to pick up a decent number of respectable rays as far as I could judge from a distance.

Competition from the shore - a bunch of anglers near the fish farm
Competition from the shore

 

Looking towards Mull from Loch Leven
Looking towards Mull from Loch Leven

Getting bored with the rays I finished the day off with a short session further up the loch, again looking for any codling that might be lurking close inshore but finding huge numbers of poorcod were homing in on the mini lures being used. A setting sun and raw chill in the air didn’t encourage hanging about so it was a fairly early finish to the day and everything packed away for the journey home just as the light faded away completely.

A fine evening at the end of November
A fine evening at the end of November
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A few hours beside Loch Leven

A toss up between a few hours on Etive or a few hours on Leven, but the coin said Leven and off we headed. The original idea had been to take the inflatable but I left late and reckoned that there would be too little daylight left to make it worthwhile, so shore rods were packed instead.

Ballachulish was flat calm so I decided to head round the loch to an easily accessible mark on the north shore and set up in search of a ray or two. A short while later a pair of mackerel baits hit the water and headed for the muddy sea bed some 90-100 feet below whilst I started on the more important task of sorting out a cup of coffee and then settled down to wait for some action.

End of another cast as the weight splashes into the water
Splash down, as my weight hits the water.
A fine afternoon fishing on the north shore of Loch Leven
A fine afternoon fishing on the north shore of Loch Leven
Pumping in a small thornback ray from the shores of Loch Leven
Pumping in a small thornback ray from the shores of Loch Leven

Things were quiet to start with and only a small ray appeared during the first hour and a half – better than nothing, but not quite as fast a pace as I’d have wished for. A few divers then appeared on an inflatable 200 or 300 yards west of my spot and had a dive in fairly shallow water off a small headland. I’m not sure what the attraction of that area is, but there were divers in exactly the same place the last time I fished here. Whilst watching their antics I picked up a small string of dogfish to keep myself amused.

Nothing ray-like appeared until the light started to fade, when I picked up another small one and fluffed another bite. Darkness fell around half-six but not for long, as a bright moon soon rose which made it easy to pick out the rod tips. I fished on until about eight, with a couple more ray (including a nice one of about 6 1/4lbs), another doggie and a smallish codling making it ashore. Technically I also caught a mini-whiting as this had impaled itself on the hook before the doggie came looking for dinner and had both the whiting and the bait.

This dogfish took a whiting that had already hooked itself on my bait
This dogfish took a whiting that had already hooked itself on my bait
Early evening moonrise over the head of Loch Leven.
Early evening moonrise over the head of Loch Leven.
Decent thornback of 6lbs 4oz, caught from Loch Leven after dark
Decent thornback of 6lbs 4oz, caught from Loch Leven after dark

 

Final total 4 rays, 4 doggies, a codling and a mini-whiting – not too bad for 4 hours fishing really. Timed to perfection as well – it rained all the way to Loch Leven and all the way back, but was completely dry when I was there!

Seaweed on the shoreline of Loch Leven
Seaweed fringes the shoreline of Loch Leven

 

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Some Excitement at Leven

April has pretty much passed me by fishing-wise, with generally crap weather adding to the usual spring doldrums of a sea anglers year. However, Saturday was looking OK with a light northerly forecast alongside dry weather – the only fly in the ointment being that I needed to finish early afternoon to meet family commitments, which of course meant an early start to compensate.

The weather on the way across wasn’t inspiring with a fair amount of rain and even some sleet going into Glencoe, and it was very cold when I arrived on the north bank of Loch Leven. I got rigged up quickly, but by the time both baits were out I could barely feel my hands so was very glad of the sun when it appeared. The wind also dropped to nothing so the loch transformed into something much more picturesque and worthy of a Visit Scotland ad, and my fingers started to thaw a little as I contemplated the scenery and chucked a few sticks for the dog.

Fishing was very slow to start with and it was easily two hours before I hit into a determined run and felt a decent fish on the far end. A few minutes later and a nice 7lb 6oz thornback was on the rocks for a few photos before being returned gently to its home. Over the next few hours another four took the bait, but these were smaller 1.5-3lbs fish, and then everything went dead towards low water.  Mindful I needed to get back home I was about to pack up and hit the road when I noticed a log like shape floating towards me from further up the loch – then I realised it was a fishing kayak that I’d seen earlier on, except this time it was upside down and I couldn’t see the paddler. Running up the loch towards it I realised he was with the yak, but in the water on the far side of it. It didn’t look like he was going to get back on board under his own steam so I called the Coastguard and reported the situation. They called back a couple of times for more information and told me a helicopter would be on scene shortly, together with a couple of more local boats – in fact it took just 30 minutes from call-in to the chopper arriving, which was pretty impressive considering the location. In the event the yakker got hauled out quickly and whisked off to hospital in Fort William. After a quick chat with a couple of the local police who arrived at the same time as the helicopter I got packed up, at least with a decent excuse for being late.

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Opening shot for 2013 – Leven, Sunday 6 January

I’m unashamedly a fair weather fisherman and will do my best to avoid the windier and wetter days, but I was starting to climb the walls after too much Christmas cheer and needed to get out for a few hours. Fortunately Sunday morning looked to have a decent weather window, so I chucked a couple of rods in the car on Saturday night.

My destination was Loch Leven, targetting a thornback ray or two in a fairly short morning shore session before the sky turned the taps on again in the afternoon. The mark of choice was a fairly inaccessible one, but since I just wanted a few hours of time to myself this suited me fine as there was zero chance of meeting a Sunday morning dog walker here!

I’d bought myself a little honey stove over Christmas, which is a simple but neat little wood burner. It’s more for camping than for fishing, but I left the thermos at home and took the stove along for a little try out. There was no problem getting it going and only a few minutes after firing it up I had a kettle boiling, so quite a happy punter.

As for the fishing, well it was fairly steady up until slack water when everything died off – there was no great excitement with a string of dogfish and a modest whiting, plus a single thornback (thankfully – I was little disappointed not to get more, even on a short session, but I’d be disappointed with just doggies). By noon it was starting to rain quite heavily, and I packed in an hour or so later by which time it was really chucking it down, so I left the ducks to it…

I also picked up the curious orange coloured creature shown in the photo above – I’ve had a few others before, mainly from Leven, but I’ve never researched what they actually are.

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Leven Thornbacks

November 11, Ballachulish

I’d gone across to Leven with a view to launching at the bridge only to find the slipway is now effectively blocked off by the RIB used by the sea school at Ballachulish, so I ended up slipping Alcatraz at the slate slip alongside the Isles of Glencoe Hotel. Easy enough to launch, but there is a risk of sticking a tow vehicle in the muddy track on retrieval – especially towards LW when the slate beach is steepest.

After a delayed start it only took a couple of minutes to nip across to the fish farm area and drop anchor. The target was thornbacks (what else, given it’s Leven), and fishing was of the slow but steady variety with some modest rays, a few LSD, a grey gurnard and a micro-cod. A pleasant surprise for mid-November was a stream of mackerel during the morning which were a welcome addition to the bait supplies – I initially picked one or two up on bottom baits, then left a string of feathers fishing by themselves just off the bottom.

Eventually a combination of noisy work on the fish farm plus gradual boredom prompted a move and I headed up the loch, passing a gaggle of kayak fishers strung out just out from the islands at Glencoe, and making towards the narrows a few miles further east. I stopped off for a decent while to collect a bag of mussels for dinner later in the week (yum!) and stretch my legs a little, then headed out to a wee spot I’ve fished a few times.

Things were very quiet apart from a couple of LSD and mackerel, but I did eventually pick up another three rays, with one being my best for quite a while, at 10lbs 4oz. Happy with that, I decided to try out of the loch and see whether anything was showing in Loch Linnhe, as it never seems to get much fishing attention. Unfortunately I soon realised that I’d picked up more than rays whilst fishing, and that my anchor was entangled with a string of prawn pots. Despite my best efforts it took a good long while to eventually get the anchor up to the surface and free off the rope – the usually reliable cable ties hadn’t tripped out, probably because the prawn rope was just too elastic to force a break in them. However no harm to either party, so just added it to my mental list of things to watch out for…

By now I was pretty knackered, but I thought it worth a quick session outside the loch, so a quick blast saw the anchor dropped a little way out into the bay at Onich. Needless to say it proved a waste of time, apart from a single very energetic bite that I contrived to miss, and about an hour later I was back at the slip to retrieve the boat – fortunately without any difficulty.

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25 March – Loch Leven

After a couple of decent trips to Loch Leven and catching some decent rays, it was a fairly easy choice to make to head back that way for a lazy day’s fishing. The hour had just changed so I took pity on Ian and arranged to meet at Lochearnhead at 7.30, with a view to launching around 9.00 a.m. and staying on until sunset. We got the boat in the water down at Ballachulish bridge in nice calm conditions and headed up the loch against the early ebb tide.

We kicked off near the fish farm and hit a couple of thornbacks almost immediately before they went into hard to get mode and got replaced by a succession of dogfish. I’d put down a set of mini-shrimps and caught a mini-whiting and a surprise mackerel, but otherwise things were fairly dull and not helped by a slight wind against tide situation developing. Eventually we’d had enough and moved up the loch towards a spot I’ve fished from the shore and quite fancied as a boat mark.

We stuck it out here for almost two hours before admitting defeat – only LSDs bothered to show up to this particular party, and I was quite disappointed to be honest as it looked like quite a good spot on the sounder. Next up was a move further up the loch to near where I’d been shorefishing successfully a few weeks earlier, and we dropped anchor between a cluster of pot buoys close to shore. Once again things proved poor, with only a handful of fish showing before we gave up in disgust and headed back towards the Isles of Glencoe and a last try on what had become a gorgeous spring evening – no wind, sunny and almost warm.

Thus we spent the last 90 minutes of our day dozing in the sunshine and catching precisely zip – and indeed only the merest hint of a bite. We had however caught a fair bit of sun, so it was a big red face that made an appearance at work the next day – not too bad for late March in Scotland. Between us we’d caught 9 or 10 rays and perhaps double that number of doggies, plus odds and sods like the mackerel and mini-dab, but it was very poor by comparison with the earlier trips.

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4 March 2012 – Loch Leven

I’d had a good session from the boat on Leven about three weeks ago, but hadn’t been out since. The forecast was OK, but with the probability of snow and also moderate winds in the afternoon, so I decided to leave the boat at home and take the shore rods to try a couple of shore marks on the south bank of the loch that I’d earmarked from my last boat trip.

I arrived about half nine on Saturday evening and identified what looked like the spot to head down to my mark. After ten minutes of crashing around a woody hellhole it was obvious I’d got it wrong and my headtorch showed me heading down a slope that just seemed to get steeper and more cliff like. Not being completely suicidal I reversed course and sweated my way back up to the car. A change of plan was called for and I headed back down past Ballachulish and back up the north side of the loch to a spot I’ve fished before and where I reckoned I could pitch a tent down near the shoreline.

This mark is a rocky beach, but leading into quite deep water – perhaps 80 feet within easy casting distance. There was a nice wee patch of very soggy grass nearby so I cast out the baits and then set up camp for the night. After all the earlier buggering about I was getting pretty tired now so gave it only an hour so before packing up around 1130 just as the snow started to come down. A couple of decent knocks, but no fish.

The cold woke me up around six a.m., and encouraged me to get moving. Nothing had raided the bait bucket overnight, which was a bonus, and I soon had everything packed away and lugged back up to the car. I headed up towards Kinlochleven, stopping to get another look at my target mark from the north side of the loch, and to figure out where I’d gone wrong last night. In daylight it was pretty obvious I’d tried to come down the slope too soon, and in a very steep section, so it was just as well I’d not pushed my luck too far in the darkness.

Na Gruagaichean with Sgurr an Fhuarain in front - near Kinlochleven
Na Gruagaichean with Sgurr an Fhuarain in front – near Kinlochleven
Na Gruagaichean with Sgurr an Fhuarain in front - near Kinlochleven
Na Gruagaichean shows above the mist

A few more minutes and I was round the loch and getting ready to head down towards the loch. Although much better than last night it was still hard going down a steep slope and through deep spaghnum moss and heather, and I was very glad to perch myself down on the water’s edge. A few minutes later and the first bait hit the water, hitting the bottom some 90 feet below, and I got myself sorted for the session. The ledge was easy enough to fish, but quite slippy in places with rocks sloping nicely ready to drop you into the water if you did trip.

A smallish Leven thornback
A smallish Leven thornback
Looking west, down Loch Leven on sunny March morning
Looking west, down Loch Leven on sunny March morning
A beautiful spot to fish on Loch Leven, but a killer to reach.
A beautiful spot to fish on Loch Leven, but a killer to reach.

Although it was chilly the lack of wind meant it was pretty pleasant relaxing and soaking up the scenery – which was all I did for the first hour or so as I waited for a bite. For no obvious reason I then managed to miss the first two good knocks, followed by hooking a nice ray which got hung up on the bottom on the way in, and it started to feel a bit like it wasn’t going to be my day. However a small ray finally appeared on my next cast and the blank was off! It was followed by another three, each one getting a bit bigger, until I finished off by losing my last fish in the weed again. Total of four thornbacks, plus another couple lost on the way in, so I was happy enough – especially for a shortish session. Best fish pushing around 5lbs, so no monsters.

And the less said about the climb back up the hill the better – only about 150 feet, but over murderous ground.

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12 Feb 2012 – Rays galore at Loch Leven

Weather:Calm, or light WNW wind. Dry and cloudy. Cold
Sea:Calm
Time:0845-1715 – 8.5 hours
Tides:HW0920/LW1530

Given two less than fantastic trips to Loch Etive this year I thought I’d revisit a loch that I’ve not fished for several years – Loch Leven. I snuck the boat in at the old ferry slip under the bridge – a bit steep and a fair run of tide past it, but pretty straightforward. A short spinning session under the bridge produced nothing at all, so I headed up towards the fish farm on the north shore and anchored fairly close to the cages, in around 90 feet of water.

The first couple of hours had me wondering whether I’d have been better off at Etive – only 2 thornbacks and a solitary dogfish put in an appearance. However things started to improve and more thornbacks were being boated regularly – mainly Etive sized 2-4lbs fish, but with a sprinking of larger beasts. The best was a really thick but tail-less ray that made 9lbs, with another of just under 8lbs. By 2 p.m. the total stood at 32 rays and 7 dogfish and I decided on a shift to see whether we could get any different species.

A move well up the loch saw me stop off for a bucket full of mussels – both for bait and dinner – and anchor close in to the south shore and try for a conger at the base of the rocks. Things were quiet, but another 4 rays turned up to make a final score of 36 ray and 7 dogfish.

Overall a good trip and better than I expected, as Leven has never been particularly kind to me in the past. Glad I made the effort!

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