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…

Ice Fishing on Etive

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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Early morning SIB session

The east coast has been slow to get going this year but I reckoned there had to be fish around by the end of May – besides I’d only a very short session available so it was Dunbar or nothing today.

To be honest I do like an early morning SIB session, as the sea breeze isn’t usually a problem, and there are no traffic hassles, so the idea of setting the alarm for 4 a.m. was OK by me.

SIB launched at Skateraw and ready to go
SIB launched at Skateraw and ready to go

Once afloat I headed over to the River Garry wreck as it’s usually a reliable spot for a few fish on a calm day. And so it proved again today, with a small ling hitting the bait within 5 seconds, and a nice stream of both codling and ling following it.

A small ling from the River Garry wreck, off Dunbar
A small ling from the River Garry wreck

As the tide slackened the bites on bottom baits dried up and I switched over to a spinning rod and jellyworms to target pollack, only to find more codling and another ling.

A gull with eyes bigger than its stomach measures up the prospects of swallowing a cod bigger than it is
A gull with eyes bigger than its stomach

I could’ve kept catching but I’d already outstayed my welcome, given I was supposed to be in the centre of Edinburgh by lunchtime so the Avon was pointed back towards Skateraw.

Enough teeth to make you think twice! A codling opens its mouth to show a set of small needle like teeth
Enough teeth to make you think twice!
A rather battered cod surfaces alongside the SIB
A rather battered cod surfaces

Coming inshore and pausing to fillet the catch the sea near Skateraw seemed filled with kayaks and a couple more inflatables, and it’s quite striking how much more popular the small end of small boat fishing has become in the last few years.

A collection of hopeful anglers off Skateraw, near Dunbar
A collection of hopeful anglers off Skateraw, near Dunbar

Final score was 13 codling and 10 ling, with the best fish going 4 lbs 10oz, and I was happy enough with that result for a few hours fishing.

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A New Personal Best Ling

Catching up for lost fishing time earlier in the year, and still trying to stock up the freezer with some cod fillets, I went for another session off Dunbar just before the weather turned nasty for the weekend.

It was a fine day as Alcatraz sped easily down the coast towards the Torness area, but I soon found out to my dismay that the sea was tideless as well as windless and the drift was absolutely minimal.

Dodging pot marker buoys whilst running down towards Torness
Dodging pot marker buoys whilst running down towards Torness

I struggled along for an hour or two, but had only a couple of small ling and an even smaller codling to show for things when I decided to head further east, beyond Pease Bay, and try a couple of small inshore wrecks I found a while back and then head close in to see if the tide picked up on the flood.

A small ling heads for the boat
A small ling heads for the boat

The first wreck lies in about 130 feet of water and is only about 100 feet long. I didn’t expect any fireworks and didn’t get any – only a single ling of about 4lbs. The second wreck is very similar and is probably an old trawler or something similar, but this had a few fish showing on it – but none that seemed eager to feed, so I didn’t waste too much time before heading closer in.

There can be decent fish around here, and I’ve had good cod, Pollack and ling, but it is a pretty slow spot usually whilst you wait for them to come along. No-one seemed eager to play today, with only a small codling and a couple of ling turning up. Getting bored I rigged up a primitive drop rig for my GoPro and dropped it to the seabed around 50-55 feet below – the drift was so slow I reckoned the risk was low, and I wanted to see whether there was enough light and visibility to make it worthwhile trying it elsewhere.

Underwater view in about 50 feet a few miles from Dunbar
Underwater view in about 50 feet a few miles from Dunbar
A Pollack swims over a reef 50 feet down off Dunbar
A Pollack swims over a reef 50 feet down off Dunbar

The stills are taken from the video and don’t really do it justice, but it is pretty interesting to see the ground we’re fishing over – a large number of sea urchins, fair bit of sand and no weed at all were a little surprising. There were a few fish – a coalie, Pollack, ling and a couple of codling showed up in 4 minutes of downtime – so there was life down there even if it wasn’t interested in me.

By now I’d got fed up of catching nowt, so it was back towards the Torness area for a final couple of hours. By now there were a few fish on the go and I picked up more ling and a handful of codling. I’d not long returned a ling of about 5lbs when I lifted into another bite and found something much more solid on the end, which I knew almost immediately was a good ling. It hammered away and made some decent dives, but I steadily worked it up towards the boat and popped it in the net without any great drama – although it was obviously into double figures.

A lovely inshore ling of 14lbs 6oz from Dunbar
A lovely inshore ling of 14lbs 6oz

It swung the scales round to almost 14 and a half pounds, which made it a clear winner over my previous best fish, which were a pair around the 13 and quarter mark. I gave it another half-hour or so, with a couple more codling and a small ling, but headed back with a smile on my face – a poor day transformed by one good fish!

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Fishing the Haar

Anyone fishing the east of Scotland gets very familiar with the summer haar, or thick mist that rolls in from the sea after a few days of fine, settled weather. Often it burns off by late morning, but it can last for days as a thick blanket limiting visibility to a few 10s of metres.

It was thick today, but not impossibly so, and there seemed a good chance of it disappearing after a few hours so I took advantage of the light winds to try Dunbar again. Despite a struggle to launch Alcatraz as the last of the tide raced out the inner harbour I was soon heading eastwards down the coast and hopeful of adding a decent number of codling to my total for the year. The sea was fairly calm and it was quite warm, but the haar was thick enough to start dripping off me as I ploughed on through it and a weird white rainbow formed as the sun above shone through the cloud.

A half-formed rainbow in the haar
A half-formed rainbow in the haar

I set up shop at the River Garry and quickly picked up mackerel for bait, but found there was no tidal drift and hence very little else showing interest. Giving it a while to see if the tide picked up proved to be a waste of time so I headed over to Torness and started picking away with both bait and artificial eels. There were good numbers of small fish around despite the lack of tide, but quality was pretty much absent.

Thick mist or haar off Dunbar
Thick mist or haar off Dunbar

I persevered for a large part of the morning and the total of codling, ling and Pollack continued to grow, but with only a few takers and a lovely cod of around 8lbs lost alongside the boat. Eventually I popped back out to the wreck to see if anything was coming out to play in the stronger tide run, and was rewarded with a few more fish, including a fine ling of 9lbs – not bad for an inshore ling around here. I lost another even larger fish (probably a ling as well) which threw the hook about half way up.

Good ling from Dunbar
Good ling from Dunbar

That left time for a quick filleting session before heading back to harbour before HW. By now the mist was largely gone and I’d a good view of the Red Arrows performing their routine at the airshow at East Fortune airfield, as well as a number of boats out fishing the local sea angling comp. My final total was 35 cod, Pollack and ling – mainly small codling – so a decent morning but not quite a red-letter day.

The haar lifts
The haar lifts
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6th August 2009 – Dunbar

Weather: Largely sunny; light ENE wind; warm
Sea Conditions: Wind against tide most of the day, so a rather awkward choppiness. No swell.
Time Spent: 13:00-18:30 – 5.5 hours
Tides: 16:00 – 4.9m

Probably my best day out of Dunbar this year, although that’s not saying very much. I didn’t get a lot of fish, but they were mainly of a good size with the best pollack, cod and ling of the year to date. I started off at the wreck, mainly to get some mackerel but had a couple of drifts with fish bait and picked up a couple of cod, best 6 lbs 12oz. Moving inshore produced several codling and a couple of respectable ling at around 6lb each – a bit of a surprise as I don’t normally get many on this mark.

Wind was against tide and the drift was very slow, so I decided to move right down the coast past Pease Bay, to a mark I’ve not been to for around a year. First drift hit the jackpot with a nice codling and 5 decent pollack, the best just under 8lbs and two more around 7lbs. Things went downhill a bit after that as the drift became poorer, but several more pollack and a couple of codling appeared before it was time to head for home.

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