Oars out on Loch Leven

… or a trip cut short.

I’d another crack at Loch Leven with the Avon a couple of weeks ago as Ian was otherwise occupied and it seemed a waste to take the bigger boat across when the forecast was for fine, sunny weather.

Glorious morning on Loch Leven
Glorious morning on Loch Leven

Well the forecast was spot on, and it was almost too hot out in the loch by midday, but the fish were definitely not wanting to play. Apart from a couple of poorcod nothing at all had nibbled the baits and the loch seemed completely dead.

Sunshine and no wind make it almost too hot sitting in a small SIB
It’s almost hot!

I decided on a move away from the fish farm and nipping up the loch at a decent pace when the outboard spluttered a couple of times and then died ūüôĀ Not good, and there were no obvious kinked fuel lines, etc. – even worse there was a slight drip of petrol from the engine. The last time I’d seen something like this was back in the 1980s, with a fuel line blockage on a brand new engine. However there didn’t seem to be too much I could do about it since I didn’t have my usual toolkit with me, so it was time to get some practice on the oars.

Rowing back a few hundred yards to the slip was really quite pleasant on a flat calm loch, although the story would’ve been very different if the wind had got up.

Gravestones on the Isles of Glencoe
Gravestones on the Isles of Glencoe

Once sorted out ashore I salvaged something from the day by collecting a decent bagfull of mussels for dinner and had a wee tour round the loch in the car before cruising home through a very busy Glencoe.

Back home it took only a few minutes to clear the problem, even with my very limited mechanical skills, as the float valve in carb appeared to have stopped floating, probably because of all the bouncing about the outboard gets both in the car and on the back of the SIB. A good thump would probably have cleared it at the time.

Snow on Sgorr Dhearg
Snow on Sgorr Dhearg

I think that brings to three the number of times I’ve come in on auxiliary propulsion, and the only time under oars rather than an aux engine. That works out at roughly once a decade, so not too bad.

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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 ūüôĀ 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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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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SIB-ing in Winter

It’s been ages since I had the little inflatable out for a run, but Friday was looking good weatherwise, so it was shoved in the back of the car and we headed over towards Ballachulish and Loch Leven for the day. Arriving at the slate slip I found it completely blocked by a large pontoon – not a problem for me, but hopefully it disappears soon before it becomes an issue for the larger boats.

A large pontoon blocks the slate slip at Ballachulish
A large pontoon blocks the slate slip at Ballachulish

Once afloat I headed over to the fish farm and dropped anchor in a little over 90 feet. Bites were immediate  – but only a succession of truly micro-whiting appeared. These fish must have been carpeting the loch as the same thing happened pretty much all day whenever I dropped a set of baited sabikis to the bottom.

A calm February morning on Loch Leven, looking towards Glencoe campsite
A calm February morning on Loch Leven, looking towards Glencoe campsite

After around 30 minutes I got my first tap from a ray and duly picked a smallish 3lb specimen. This one was well armoured with a good set of thorns but it went back without serious damage to either party. The next hour saw another 3 rays pop to the surface, but each smaller than the last. This wasn’t terribly encouraging and, with the tide slackening to nothing, I was thinking about a move when my rod bent over hard and the clicker made a healthy racket – fish on!

Cracking thornback ray - 11lbs 9oz from Loch Leven
Cracking thornback ray – 11lbs 9oz from Loch Leven

This was clearly a good fish as it made a serious effort at defending itself and took line a few times on the way up to the dinghy. Lifting it inboard it felt reassuringly heavy and thick and it took the scales round to 11lbs 9oz – a great result from my point of view and my heaviest thornback for many years (decades!).

A nice thornback draped over the tubes of my Avon inflatable
A nice thornback draped over the tubes of my Avon inflatable

The fish were now back on the feed as the first of the ebb kicked in, and a steady stream of fish came aboard over the next couple of hours, bringing my total to 16. Most of these are better sized rays too, with several in the 6-8 lbs bracket, so it was a good session. Somewhere in the middle of this a stray mackerel showed up, which made a welcome addition to the bait supply.

Not just a summer fish - a mackerel taken with snow on the hills
Not just a summer fish – a mackerel taken with snow on the hills

 

Picture of two thornback rays caught on the same drop in Loch Leven
Two thornies on the one drop

The rays were still feeding but I fancied a run up the loch and a chance to stretch my legs ashore – a SIB is small and cramped when wearing a floatie suit, and there’s only so much numb bum a guy can live with.

Taking the inflatable well up Loch Leven and near the narrows
Taking the inflatable well up Loch Leven and near the narrows

I tried for around an hour close to the Narrows, but picked up only dogfish and a few more mini-whiting, and then checked out a spot near to where I go shore fishing which resulted in nada.

Exploring the shoreline of Loch Leven and stretching my legs after a cramped few hours afloat
Stretching my legs after a cramped few hours afloat

By now the sun had gone and it was time to sort myself out and head back down the loch and home,  so popped into a little bay and poured a last coffee before sorting out the worst of the day’s fishing debris.

 

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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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