Corryvreckan and Jura

A couple of years ago I sketched out a plan to take a boat around the Isle of Jura, more just to explore this remote place than to do any serious fishing. Of course, doing so involves traversing the Gulf of Corryvreckan which, depending on who you believe, is either the second or third largest whirlpool in the world…

Despite its terrifying reputation (30 foot high standing waves, the roar of the sea being heard 10 miles away, etc, etc.) it was pretty obvious that lots of small craft, from yachts to kayaks, made it in one piece and it was more a question of the right tides, weather and timing. Aligning these three with enough time off work delayed things, but last week saw me trailing the boat across to a spot called Carsaig (near Crinan).

Western edges of Corryvreckan
Western edges of Corryvreckan

The Longliner was loaded up with a little more than normal, to allow for a tent and sleeping bag, before nosing out into the Sound of Jura and taking advantage of the late summer sun as we headed over to Jura. There was a little time to kill before the tide was right for Corryvreckan so I had a little fish around the farmhouse at Barnhill (its main claim to fame being the place where George Orwell wrote “1984”). One lonely coalie later I continued on my way, along an equally lonely coastline. Barring a hikers bothy the next human habitation was another 30 miles ahead of me.

Exiting Loch Tarbet, Jura, heading south on a fine morning and calm seas

Corryvreckan

In the event a light NW wind, very small tides and slack water saw me heading through Corryvreckan in very anti-climactic fashion with a small swell of less than a metre and no overfalls to worry about. A few minutes later I popped out the far side and into a pretty rugged stretch of coastline. At that point it dawned on me that the Yam must have completed it’s 10 hour run in period somewhere in the middle of Corryvreckan. Pretty much academic really, but it gave me a little satisfaction at the thought.

Run-in complete - in the middle of Corryvreckan!
Run-in complete – in the middle of Corryvreckan!
Small coalfish from the edge of Corryvreckan
Small coalfish from the edge of Corryvreckan

30 minutes fishing saw loads of mackerel and some coalies, plus pollack to 3lbs or so on feathers close in to the small islands at the edge of Corryvreckan, but I didn’t hang around here given that I’d quite a way to go and the tide run was quite noticeable even at slack water. As I mentioned nobody at all lives on the west coast of Jura, with a single bothy and a summer house owned by the Astor family being the only buildings, so pretty genuinely a trackless wilderness.

Formidable cliffs line the NW coast of Jura.
Formidable cliffs line the NW coast of Jura.

Full of raised beaches and with a neat ring of rock lying just offshore that varies between just above or just below the surface – so very tricky to get ashore unless you’re in a kayak.

The bothy at Glengarrisdale, Jura, with its red tin roof clearly showing in this shot from the seaward side
The bothy at Glengarrisdale, Jura

Maclean’s Skull…

I’d kind of hoped to do just that near the bothy at Glengarrisdale, but the swell was washing onto a boulder beach and it looked a distinctly bad idea at that stage of tide (around mid-tide it’s pretty much a sandy beach). Glengarrisdale is also the home of the Cave of Macleans Skull, or at least was so up until comparatively recently. The story goes that one of the many, many skirmishes between the clans occurred here sometime in the 1600s and no-one got around to burying all the casualties at the time. Consequently Maclean’s skull had a cave to himself for a few hundred years, barring the odd visiting hiker, until he finally disappeared about 40 years ago. The tale perhaps underlines how remote this area is, as I can’t quite see the same thing happening in Edinburgh.

Maclean's skull, Glengarrisdale Bay, Jura
Maclean’s skull, Glengarrisdale Bay, Jura

I trundled down the coast for a few more hours and stopped off to fish a sandy bank just offshore from Loch Tarbet. Perhaps 50 feet of water and very little tide and my baits were completely shredded by small critters quite quickly. I tried a livebaited mackerel in case some tope had headed up from Islay, but nothing doing in the hour or two I gave it. Perhaps not too surprising given the tide, relatively short time and generally random nature of the mark, but I headed into Loch Tarbet to find somewhere to sleep overnight.

Drift fishing near Glengarrisdale, Jura
Drift fishing near Glengarrisdale, Jura

Loch Tarbet

Tarbet is one of these lochs that just keeps on going and it very nearly cuts Jura in half, but with three or four channels maybe only 20 metres across and others with plenty of rocks in them it requires quite a lot of care even in a wee boat like mine. It was getting on a bit by now and I was tired so I decided to stop playing dodgems with the reefs and find somewhere to rest up and get some food.

I dropped anchor in shallow water, just in the lee of a headland and sorted myself some dinner as the light faded (Wayfarer’s Chilli con Carne if you want to know, and not at all bad). With the cover on the Longliner she converts into rather a large tent and was quite comfy on a calm night so I got a decent night’s sleep. I could have headed ashore and popped up the tent but it was easier and more midge-friendly to stay afloat this time around. Morning saw me spend a couple of hours trying a hole in the loch in search of rays, but really just repeating the experience of the day before – lots of wee things having their breakfast at my expense.

Somewhat frustrated I headed back down the loch aways and came inshore to scrunch around an impressively massive shingle bank that represents multiple layers of raised beaches. My boat is in the photo, so gives some sense of scale.

Impressive raised beach on Loch Tarbert, Jura.
Impressive raised beach on Loch Tarbert, Jura
Peat coloured seawater in Loch Tarbet
Peat coloured seawater in Loch Tarbet

Further round Jura and you get into the Sound of Islay, where the coast is a little more civilised but overshadowed by quite impressive mountains in the form of the Paps of Jura. Round here I was extricating myself from between some rocks near the shore when I encountered a pair of otters. One was a bit shy but the other just swam towards me and seemed quite curious rather than nervous – I’ve never seen that before, as usually they disappear quickly if any anglers appear.

An otter keeps an eye on me - just south of Jura

Sea otter in the Sound of Islay, off Jura
Sea otter in the Sound of Islay, off Jura

Pollacking on Black Rock

I tried a couple of spots along the way but had only coalies and small pollack until I made a final stop at the Black Rock near the SE tip of Jura. A big tide rip even in a tiny tide and a chart that was clearly not 100% right (my sonar showed 8 feet above the rock, where the chart clearly said a minimum of double that…). However it screamed pollack and duly obliged to mackerel trip and jelly worm on a 1 oz lead.

Pollack from Black Rock, Sound of Islay
Pollack from Black Rock, Sound of Islay
Into a pollack, Black Rock
Into a Pollack

Loads of smaller fish to 4lbs or so, and I hit three much larger ones – one shed the hook, one straightened it and I landed one at 7lb 12 oz. All these came close in to the very shallow top of the reef. No photo unfortunately as the GoPro threw a wobbly filming it, just after I popped it back 🙁 I only managed about 45 minutes here before I’d to head back up the east coast of Jura to get back before the tide dropped too far, but it must hold larger fish – although whether I’d want to be near here on a large tide is a bit doubtful.

84 mile round trip, with an overall mpg of 9.4, so quite happy with that
dimension too. It was more of an explore/wander about than a fishing trip, but (unsurprisingly) there are some good fish around the tide rips at the north and south ends. Not so sure about the bits in the middle though!

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A week in Galloway (part 1)

Plan A for this year involved a serious fishing session in Galloway, for the first time in over twenty years, and I was pretty happy when Ian and I finally made our escape down to Scotland’s fishing paradise last week. The only downside was that Trevor’s mum had been taken ill and it seemed unlikely that he’d be able to join us.
A windy day on Monreith Beach
Monreith Beach

Saturday evening saw us tottering down the mini-steps at Monreith Bay and making our way across the sand, leaning into the strong north-westerly wind that blasted across the beach. A couple of hours later we reversed the process, with nothing at all to show for our efforts except mild hypothermia. It’s a pretty enough place to blank though, but perhaps not the best start to a week’s fishing.

Not just windy, but cold too!
Not just windy, but cold too!

I was up early doors on the Sunday and took a walk round the nearby loch with a view to sussing out the pike fishing possibilities. Half-way round I encountered this little fellow who was obviously out looking for breakfast.

And one of its resident otters
One of our nearby residents
Our local pike loch
Our local pike loch
Our home for the week
Home for the week

The wind was still a moderate NW, but looked to be dropping slowly, so we decided to head out of Sandhead for the afternoon and have a try off Ardwell. Launching about two in the afternoon we had a reasonable session, although the wind stayed around a force 4, and I eventually lost my hat to the breeze, much to Ian’s amusement.

A sad end for my hat! - drifting out to sea on the breeze
A sad end for my hat!

Mackerel were around in modest numbers and we soon had enough for bait, and settled down with a mix of rigs to see what was feeding.

First blood was a nice huss to Ian, weighing in at around 10lbs.

Ian with a Luce Bay huss
Ian with a Luce Bay huss

And was followed by a succession of rays, all but one of which also belonged to Ian.

A thornback from Ardwell, Luce Bay
A thornback from Ardwell, Luce Bay

Lots of smaller fish such as whiting, gurnard, etc. appeared and Ian notched up a personal “best” with something like 25 LSDs in an afternoon.

The forecast for Monday was for lighter winds, and we launched from Isle of Whithorn a little after low water. An hour spent under the cliffs proved very unproductive and the wind appeared to have died away completely so I pointed Alcatraz in the direction of Luce Bay and Port William and we bounced our way round the coast for around 10 miles or so until we hit our chosen mark.

Snack sized mackerel appeared very quickly, along with a few Galloway tarpon (herring), which were soon sent back down to the seabed in search of our target fish, tope.

Galloway tarpon, aka herring, aka baitfish
Galloway tarpon, aka herring, aka baitfish

Our wait wasn’t too prolonged and we started to hit some good runs on whole mackerel.

Ian with a tope
Ian with a Luce Bay tope
Happy angler, rather disgruntled tope
Happy angler, rather disgruntled tope
Hugging a tope...
Tope hugger…

It wasn’t just the tope, as this bull huss also put in an appearance – not a biggie, but my first of the year.

Myself with a tope from Port William
Myself with a huss from Port William

And, in between tope runs, this little beauty had me shouting for a net. A nice bass of a little over 5lbs on a whole mackerel bait – lucky for it that it was caught early in the week, as the temptation to knock it on the head and pop it under the grill might have been irresistible on our last day.

A nice bass, caught on whole mackerel bait intended for tope - complete with wire trace

We finished the day on 15 tope between us, not too shabby a result considering we only fished this mark for a few hours.

A double hookup of tope. Fun!!
A double hookup of tope. Fun!!
Ian with an angry tope
Ian with an angry tope
A little bit of wind against the tide, with a tope on to complicate things a little
A little bit of wind against the tide

Retreating to the cottage for the evening we spent a little while sorting out gear and tidying things up generally, before the midgies started to appear in some numbers.

Trace repairs, aided by a beer
Trace repairs, aided by a beer

Tuesday meant a launch from Port William, to have a serious try for the tope in the shallow waters of Luce Bay. Today started cool and calm, but the sun became progressively hotter and I really started to regret losing that hat at Ardwell!

Perfection. Blue sky, blue sea. In Scotland :-)
Perfection. Blue sky, blue sea. In Scotland 🙂
Ian into a tope
Ian into a tope

Fortunately for us the tope were in the mood to feed and we fairly quickly started to add to our tally.

Hold it out far enough and it becomes a shark!
Hold it out far enough and it becomes a shark!
A tope makes a run for freedom.
A tope makes a run for freedom.
Ian up close and personal with a tope
Ian up close and personal with a tope

Ian had the best fish of the day, with a nice one of 39lbs, and it was noticeable that there were none of the small sub-15lb fish you often encounter, with most being in the high teens to mid-twenties in weight.

I don't want to be here - a tope beside the boat
I really don’t want to be here – a tope beside the boat

By the end of the day our total was 28 fish and hands that were rather worse for wear as a result of hauling on traces a little too carelessly. Easily my best tally for the boat in one day, and we were both happy running over the day’s events as we worked our way through the menu at the Clansman later that evening. Trevor had phoned to say he could make it next day, so another session off Port William was planned…

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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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