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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First Dunbar trip in ages

It’s been something like 10 or 11 months since I last ventured out on the east coast from my own boat. Consequently I was feeling well out of practice as I edged my way down to the harbour for my first Dunbar trip in ages early last Sunday morning.

Looking towards St Abbs
Looking towards St Abbs

As on her maiden trip to Etive, the Longliner proved a doddle to launch and I soon edged out the harbour and parked myself out past the Yetts whilst I got the gear sorted out. A set of mylars attracted 5 or 6 mackerel for bait as we drifted very slowly along and once suitably tackled up it was time to head down to the wreck and try for something a little larger.

This took a little longer than usual as the outboard is still getting run in, but mackerel baited muppets hit the seabed around half-seven. It was an easy drift, especially as the wind died right back, but more or less one fish each time rather than any great numbers.

Nice 5lb + codling from Dunbar, showing a few battle scars on its nose and tail where something (probably a seal) has had a go at it.
Nice 5lb + codling

Eventually the inevitable in wrecking happened and I found myself attached very firmly to a large lump of rusting metal. As usual, my frantic tugging and jigging had no effect at all and I was resigned to losing gear when the wreck pulled back – and hard! This was clearly a decent fish as it broke loose of the seabed and fought hard as it realised it’s predicament. My Shimano wasn’t exactly smoking, but it was conceding respectable amounts of line until my opponent gradually tired and a very nice looking ling appeared. The scales bounced round to 12 lbs 2 oz, which put it in my top 5 ling. It was popped back, hopefully to grow nearer the 20lb mark…

A fine 12lb ling from Dunbar, off an inshore wreck
12lb ling from Dunbar

Fishing fell away a bit as the ebb started so I decided to try inshore for a bit and see if there were any more codling about. Between Barns Ness and Torness the balance shifted more to pollack, albeit nothing more than 2-2.5lbs plus a couple of codling of similar stamp, but it was relatively slow going. However I took the opportunity to fillet the catch and save some effort once I got back home.

A small inshore pollack from Dunbar
Small inshore pollack

By midday it was time to call it quits as the tide dropped, so I headed back west towards the slipway, avoiding a large bunch of paddleboarders near the harbour entrance – Dunbar seems to get more cluttered every year!

Final tally – 7 each of cod, ling and Pollack, a solitary coalie and a smattering of mackerel. Very pleased with the ling but otherwise a nice, middle of the road sort of morning – and the rain held off until I got home.

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