I’ve not really been shore fishing around Argyll for months, ever since the midges started to appear, so I was happy to head westwards for a daytrip at the weekend. It was 50:50 whether to trail the boat, but I plumped for the aerobic option and packed the shore gear and hiking boots instead. Plump being the operative word, as I could also do with shifting some summer over-indulgence! Sadly, no Bonnie dog for company, as she’s probably needing an op to repair ligament damage. On the plus side that meant I’d actually get some fishing time, as opposed to spending my day chucking sticks for her.
Autumn was starting to show some teeth as I headed west, with sub-zero temperatures showing in several places. The early morning sun soon beat back any hint of frost, but it’s a reminder that winter isn’t too far away now. At least the summer crowds have largely gone, although the car park at the head of the loch seemed well enough occupied for early on a Saturday morning.
The walk along the loch was knock-out stuff this morning – and I don’t just mean the struggle through bog and overgrown, saturated vegetation. Even the mist was dramatic, and the landscape revealed as the sun broke through was west highland picture perfect material. The hike is definitely hard work, but very rewarding in fine weather.
Late morning had me setting up the rods with mackerel baited pulley rigs and casting out into calm, deep, water.
The tide was ebbing, which makes life easier on this mark, and the sun was shining. However the fish didn’t seem as inspired as I was, and it was almost an hour before the first bite translated into a small spurdog.
It was quickly returned, just as another pair of anglers hove into view, and set up at a nearby mark. A few fish later I headed round for a chat and to see how they were doing, as I’d not fished the spot they were on. Turns out that they started off before me, but had overshot the turnoff from the trail and then spent quite a while making their way to the marks. I consoled them a little by telling them that Trevor and I had a pretty hard time finding our way here the first time we tried. At least they were also catching fish as a reward for any blisters incurred.
The day rolled on nicely – more fish, more coffee and more bacon. A good bit of sun, some breezy spells, and a shower or two. Basically, easily enough to keep me occupied for the rest of the afternoon until I decided to head for home before sundown. It always feels longer on the way back, but nothing felt too broken by the time I arrived at the car.
In day trip terms this is very much an even split between hiking and fishing and that’s part of the attraction to me. I like my hiking and I like my fishing, and this combines the two quite nicely. Add in a little hillbilly cooking and it suits me perfectly.
However, it’s probably as well that I’ve managed to convince myself that it’s not all about the catching – 10 spurdog, 1 thornback and a doggie doesn’t sound too bad for a 5 hour session, but the biggest fish only went around 3lbs and most of the spurs were laughably small.
A couple of weeks ago I managed to escape back towards Cape Wrath for a little wildcamp at Sandwood Bay. Surf, scenery and solitude reset a jaded mind very effectively!
Wildcamp at Sandwood Bay
A few fish would be nice, and September is generally a good month to find them, but my real aim was just to have a little chill time for myself.
Ian teases me about the slow-ish fishing for small fry that makes up my typical angling experience of Sutherland. At one level he’s quite right, as I could easily catch more and better fish elsewhere.
However, devouring a juicy sirloin whilst warming yourself by the flames of a lively little campfire – all the while watching the last of the sun disappearing over the Atlantic surf – and the reality is that fishing is just an excuse to be here.
A nice slug of single malt and I fell asleep to the sounds of the surf. Quite genuinely, there was nowhere else in the world I’d rather have been.
Well, I did catch some. Hardly the best catching I’ve ever had, but a very satisfying few hours playing in the surf. More small sea trout and bass but no turbot. Less happily, I stripped a large number of sea lice off the sea trout before returning them and was quite taken aback by the infestation. Obviously I’ve seen sea lice before, but not on this scale, and I can understand why our freshwater friends have such concerns about them.
I also managed to land a “bonus” weever fish too – a first for me, although I’m not actively hunting for a second.
I’d hoped for the possibility of a ray but the surf was a little too energetic for that to be likely. Unfortunately, the range up at Cape Wrath was closed or else I’d have tried a couple of the more accessible spots north of Sandwood that I picked out last year.
Pretty much the same experience as before – bass on crab, with everything else on mackerel strip.
John Muir Trust and Sandwood
If you’re an outdoors type whose toes curl (even a little!) at the idea of time spent out in true Scottish wilderness, then you might like this little YouTube offering. I claim absolutely no credit for it, and it has nothing to do with fishing – but it does nicely explain the philosophy that guides the owners of Sandwood, the John Muir Trust. It’s worth remembering that the voice-over was written well over a century ago, but still seems completely relevant today.
The Trust aims to encourage access to iconic Scottish wilderness whilst also conserving it and certainly seems to be doing a good job at Sandwood. It’s named after John Muir, a Scots migrant to the USA who is idolised there for his work in setting up national parks such as Yosemite, but is relatively little known in his native country.
I like a campfire out in the wilderness. It cooks your food, keeps you warm and hypnotises you with its flame. In the sixteen hour darkness of a December night in Scotland it provides light in more ways than one. Done sensibly there is no harm. Done badly it ruins your chosen spot and leaves a scar that can last a decade or more.
Use a sandy beach where you can, or perhaps an existing fire hole, but never start a fire on machair or other vegetation. Come back in 10 years and you’ll still recognise the damage you did… I know this personally, and still cringe every time I see a little spot with 18 inches of slowly recovering turf. A mistake I’ve never repeated, and which you can avoid easily.
With the lazy, hazy days of summer appearing endless, I thought I’d better take advantage of the best weather I’m ever likely to see in Scotland. Thinking cap on and after running through a fair list of possibilities, I elected to have another run around the Isle of Mull. There’s better fishing to be had elsewhere, but it’s a very beautiful part of the world to relax in. Also, I do like a good fossick about and Mull offers plenty of opportunities for that too.
A fishy cruise around Mull
Day 1 – Along to Iona
I don’t know about you, but I always feel the weight of everyday life lifting away as I point my bow towards the open sea start a new adventure, if only a little one. The sense of freedom is very real. Accordingly I ambled my way contendedly along the south coast of Mull for a few hours, stopping here and there for a few casts or a search for mackerel to add to my bait. Pollack were fairly regular visitors to the gunwhales, albeit nothing to get too excited about and certainly not in the mood to put up much of fight. Mackerel were noticeable by their complete absence, although I picked up a consolation launce.
Around lunchtime I stopped ashore for a little while on a lovely little beach I’ve visited before. I’m sure it would hold a few bass at times, but today there were only a few sandeel swimming in the turquoise water along the shoreline.
A little later, suitably caffeinated and re-caloried, I headed over to the Torran Rocks, a large area of reefs to the south of Iona. I’d guess I spent 2-3 hours here and, frankly, it was a bit disappointing. The reefs seemed almost completely overrun with coalies in the 1 to 2 lbs bracket. A nice size for the east coast, but a little tedious if that’s all that’s on offer. At least I managed a few mackerel, but these were completely untouched when dropped down as a bottom bait. A case of try again another day, I suppose, as the area certainly looks the part.
My final fish was a lazy (read half-hearted) drift through the Sound of Iona in windless, perfect, seas. I sat back, coffee in hand, and watched the sun edge down over the pink granite of Iona. I was completely happy to chill and catch nothing for the best part of an hour!
The sun sets late in these parts but I still needed to find a place to hole up for the night, so I eventually gunned the engine and headed along the north coast of the Ross of Mull. Only a few miles later I was surprised and very pleased to find my first choice of anchorage completely deserted. No yachts and no BBQs ashore either – all mine! I had a tent with me, but it’s less hassle to sleep aboard the Orkney in calm conditions, so I just dropped anchor and rearranged the boat for my sleeping bag and kit. And then went to sleep – ‘cos I was really getting quite tired by now!
Day 2 – the Ardmeanach and Caliach
I awoke well refreshed the next morning, and not at all poisoned by either the petrol tanks or “eau de la coolbox”. The breeze had freshened slightly but only as forecast, and it still felt warm as I stowed away the cover and got some bacon sizzling.
I lobbed out a couple of baits for flatties as I waited, coffee in hand, for breakfast to be ready. A couple of bacon rolls, 1 dab and 2 coffees later I hauled anchor and headed away from my little sandy cove. Destination wilderness! – the Ardmeanach Wilderness, to be more precise.
One mildly bouncy crossing later and I reached the shelter of the Ardmeanach, a great sweeping mix of rock and hillside that reaches over 1000 feet high. I’ve been here before, just once, venturing in on foot across very hard country for an overnight camp. This time I had a try for the pollack close inshore, but it proved fairly slow going across much of the ground. Gorgeous looking bronze fish engulfed my leadheads, but not of great size or in large numbers. I’d more success hard in to the wonderfully named Aird na h-Iolaire (Point of the Eagles), but even here the fish topped out around 5lbs, although there were more of them.
After an hour or two spent dodging some rather large boulders I headed further east and through the calm waters of the Sound of Ulva. For a first timer the Sound appeared pretty narrow, twisty and shallow in parts, but there were plenty of larger boats moored in the wider sections and I just trundled through at a sensible speed without any problems.
I stopped at my backup overnight mooring to refuel, and I reckon it would worked fine if I needed to drop an anchor here one evening. Heading north I found myself ploughing along the wild and beautiful Treshnish Point, with the wreck of the Aurania my next mark, just off the Caliach Point at the very NW tip of Mull.
Up at Caliach I quickly located the remains of my target, with some large bits of wreckage standing 20 feet off the seabed. Not really very much when you consider the Aurania was a large liner something like 550 feet long and 13,500 tonnes! My drift was easy although a little faster than I’d like, and fish soon started to show once I’d established my line.
A few pollack but mainly coalfish in the 1.5-2lbs range, similar to those inhabiting the Torran reefs. I gave it a good try and it was fun fishing on light gear, but it was a little disappointing not to see anything bigger having a go.
Originally I hoped to fish the sandbanks around Caliach, but time was catching up with me so I headed east across the top of Mull. My target was a reef I’d fished briefly with Ian many years before, midway between Mull and Ardnamurchan.
I tasked a set of small baits to sniff out anything that swims and bounced my way slowly across the top of the rocks. Minutes passed but,just as the baits headed down to the abyss right at the edge of the reef, something hit hard. A decent ling was my immediate thought, and I played it gently up through the water on my 25lb trace. Unlike ling though, this fish didn’t give up, and I was still working through the possibilities when an unmistakeable shark-like shape appeared. Spurdog. Other than an unusually hard fight it shouldn’t really be a surprise as I’ve caught them east, west, north and south of here – quite why the possibility never crossed my mind until I saw it, I have simply no idea.
The next couple of drifts produced more, but they were smaller fish. With the rain clouds threatening and time marching on I decided to call it a day and head away down the Sound of Mull and back down to Oban. A short stop to refuel in Bloody Bay (supposedly named after a humungous sea battle between the locals and the Vikings) and I soon was battering down the Sound at fair cruise speed.
Arriving back ashore was a little anti-climactic, with a fair sprinkling of holidaymakers, dogs and kayakers around – and a few “are the mackerel in yet” type comments. With 123 miles on the GPS it makes for my longest trip ever – hardly polar exploration, but very satisfying nonetheless, apart from a rather sore bum. An average of almost exactly 10 mpg too – very similar to my Jura trip last year.
I live a long way from the wilds of Sutherland, so it was a 5 hour drive through Friday afternoon traffic before I finally got parked up. And then the hard work started as I marched on for a further couple of hours to reach my destination. I pitched my little Vango tent in the early dark, on the grassy machair overlooking a small beach. I was tired by now, so I just crawled into my sleeping bag and fell asleep to the sound of the Atlantic crashing ashore just below me.
Video below, or just read on…
By morning the sky was clearing after a little rain overnight, so I had a leisurely breakfast watching the waves before I set up my rods and moseyed on down to the sand.
I chose to fish a large rock which was becoming accessible as the tide dropped and it took only a few minutes to get the gear sorted out and make my first cast.
The water is fairly shallow and crystal clear, and both spinning rods coped fine with a modest wave. I didn’t need to wait too long before a small sea trout took a fancy to a sliver of mackerel and paid me a visit.
A little later and I got a firm bite on my other rod and reeled in another reluctant silver specimen, only to find it wasn’t a sea trout but a small schoolie bass.
Very pleased with this one, as I knew they inhabit the area but haven’t seen one myself. It took a crab bait carefully preserved/left over from last June that I’d stuck in the cool box just as an afterthought.
The tide had ebbed away leaving my little rock high and dry by now, so I needed to move. I decided to switch to the other end of the beach where there was a clear flow of tide and slightly deeper water. The movement looked quite strong but I was held fine with a 1oz bullet.
The little spinning rod scored first blood with a very small flattie that probably didn’t quite deserve the shout of joy that greeted it – my first ever turbot. Small enough to fit in the palm of my hand, but hey-ho, it’s still a new species!
A bit later I topped this by landing a bass/turbot duo, so I ended the morning feeling quite chuffed with myself.
The bottom of the tide is quite awkward to fish here as there’s some shallow water with dry sand beyond it. I didn’t bother and had a wander into the hills in search of some mini-trout for a couple of hours.
Nice day, nice walk but only a handful of minnow sized brownies grabbed the Mepps 0 I offered them – loads more had a go but didn’t seem quite big enough to actually hit it properly!
Back on the beach I spent the afternoon baking in the sun as the tide rose. Only one bass, and another missed bite, so not as good as the ebb but still a lovely place to watch the breakers come crashing in.
From up on top of the cliffs you could see seals coasting inside the curve of the breaking waves – presumably chasing the same fish as myself.
Then it was a long hike back out and a drive part of the way home before I’d to pull over and kip for a few hours.
Loads of deer about too – one full emergency stop and another that clipped the car, fortunately without any obvious damage to either party.
So 3 bass, all on crab and 2 turbot and a sea trout. All small and not a lot in absolute terms, but a really classy place to camp and fish. and I’m pretty chuffed with the result.
Ah well, I’ve not been completely inert over the past few weeks, although there has been little real drama to report. A few upgrades to the boat, adding a bait board and a cabin top rack mount for spare rods and cameras, etc. Railblaza is nice kit, but eye-wateringly pricey!
I’d an overnight trip to Etive last month where a fairly wet evening transformed into a lovely sunny morning.
I’d a couple of 90 minute sessions with the rods but spent more time fossicking about the shoreline and checking out a couple of alternative camping spots for future reference.
I might’ve spent more time fishing if there weren’t hordes of tiddler spurdog shredding baits within seconds of them nearing the seabed. Most maybe 15 inches long, and nothing above 3.4 to 4lbs. A couple of whiting also showed up, but when the seabed is carpeted with little spurs it becomes a waste of time really.
More recently, Ian and I were out of Oban catching a mild roasting in the sun and little else.
I landed the only fish of the day, a male skate of around 120lbs, and we both contrived to lose another. At least it was a nice day, but a bit disappointing compared to our average catch over the last couple of years.
And I’ve done a little upgrade to my fishing accommodation with this little glamping setup – beds, stove and standing headroom, what more could you ask for!
It’s not exactly portable but will work OK as a base camp, and double up for an occasional family weekend too.
Hopefully it should be onwards and upwards for the next month or two, as the east coast picks up with the summer codling and Galloway beckons for another trip in June. Here’s hoping, anyway!
Occasionally, but increasing frequently, I find myself going on trips where the fishing is less important than simply soaking up the wild beauty that Scotland can still offer if you take a little time to find it. Today was one such day – the forecast was for a few hours of cold, clear weather overnight and then getting wetter and a little windier from early afternoon, and I decided not to bother with the boat and give a shore rod a little exercise exploring the upper end of Loch Etive for a few hours.
I’ve fished here a few times before from the boat, and there are large numbers of small (read tiny) spurdogs covering the loch, with the odd better fish and a few rays and whiting. The aim was really to explore the road to Glen Etive (which I’d never been along before) and to take a few photographs of the winter scenery, at least as much as catching a few wee spurs.
Waking up earlier than planned I set off towards Glencoe under skies that were much cloudier than I’d hoped for, but which cleared the further west I drove. I stopped off in the darkness to take a few shots of the Black Mount lit only by moonlight and a few stars, and it was a quite eerie to hear the groaning and cracking pistol shots of moving ice echoing over the frozen loch in front of me, plus the occasional bellow of a wandering stag calling across the great lonely emptiness of Rannoch Moor.
A little later, having defrosted a little in the car, I turned off down the Glen Etive road and edged my way carefully down it as it’s hardly a priority for winter gritting and was covered in a thick frost. By the time I reached the head of Loch Etive dawn had started to lighten the day just a fraction and I began to trek along the northern bank of the loch over a mess of bog and heather. Stopping off for a few more photographs along the way I realised that much of the loch was covered with ice, which might render my trusty old Zziplex a little redundant.
A good while later I reached my destination – a small spit that sticks out a little into the loch – only to find that there was more ice than I’d counted on this far down the loch, and that it was thick enough to prevent a weight punching through it. At least the spit had the effect of diverting both the tide and the ice a little further out into the loch, so cast number two went into an almost ice-free eddy that hid in the shelter of the shingle. By now it was fully daylight and I didn’t plan on hanging around any longer than late morning, so I needed to get a move on if I was actually to catch anything apart from pixels.
Half an hour later I reeled in the remains of my mackerel bait, having fluffed an easy bite, but it at least proved there were a few fish around even in this cold. Persevering, I slung another small bait out around 80 yards to the edge of the ice and settled in to wait. Just one cup of coffee later, the rod tip nodded vigorously and a I reeled in a small but pretty little spurdog. With the blank off (even on a half-hearted fishing day this does seem to matter!) I cast out again and had a little scout around the shoreline whilst I waited. My eyes were drawn to a flicker of movement in the shallows and I scooped out a small whiting that had flapped around on its side. It wasn’t injured and I re-launched it into deeper water, but to no avail, as it simply drifted around helplessly. Presumably it was either suffering from the cold water or the high level of fresh water at the surface, but it suggested the reason why spurdogs come this far up a loch which can have few other food sources in it.
Back at the rod I managed one more bite before calling it a day, and spurdog number two made a brief appearance before being returned to the chilly darkness of its home. I packed up my gear and followed the path back to the head of the loch. For some reason it vanishes a few hundred yards before the car park, leaving only a bog crossing, but the whole experience is much easier in daylight rather than the early dawn. So, a day with little caught but very satisfying nonetheless, given the beautiful conditions and peaceful surroundings of this spectacular sea loch.
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.
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.
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.