A Couple of Days on Skye

Autumn Wildcamp and Fishing in Skye

I try and keep gear to a reasonable minimum when slogging across heather and bog but I was definitely red faced and sweating as I arrived at the northern tip of Skye. Something to do with too much sun and too many thermals – not a common problem in Scotland! Ditching the rucksack staved off a heart attack as I set up a shore rod and lobbed a chunk of mackerel out in search of conger or spurdog.

Letting that fish by itself, I swapped over to a spinning outfit. The water here is clear and deep, but with some awkward kelpy ledges close in. A leadhead loaded with shads or jellyworms produced plenty of hits but only a couple of pollack actually stayed on the hook long enough to get ashore. Swapping to a 40g Dexter greatly improved the hit rate and the body count rose rapidly as the light faded. A good mixture of coalfish and pollack, but mainly small sub-2lb fish. Fun, but not fantastic, you could say.

My pollack is overshadowed by its surroundings. Autumn fishing on the northern tip of Skye
Big country – but small pollack!

I stopped for a while to get the tent up and gear stowed before darkness fell. It’s great to get a decent spot just alongside the sea, and this was within spitting distance – and with a superb view out across Rubha Hunish and the Outer Hebrides.

Room with a view, my tent perched near the shoreline on the northern edge of Skye
Room with a view

More pollack and coley of a similar size paid a visit as I fished on into the dark, but nothing but rocks hung themselves on the bait rods. I headed back to the tent as the moon rose over the hill behind me and my hunger pangs grew. Things were simple tonight, so a Jetboil rather than steak over a campfire, with Chilli con Carne in a bag. Tasty enough, though!

A jetboil keeps it simple - cooking a meal in the November darkness
A jetboil keeps it simple

Normally the sounds of the sea keep me awake for a while, but I must’ve been tired as I went out like a light. Unzipping my way into the dawn next morning I found it cold but not freezing. Clear skies had encouraged a little frost, but the hint of sunrise to my east suggested another sunny day to come. A couple of coffees later and I hit the rocks again.

Dawn on the northernmost coast of Skye, with Isle Trodday in the background
Dawn

Spinning produced similar results, although I eventually wiped out my small stock of metal lures on various snags. Applying a large pinch of salt, the best fish might have made 4lbs, but there was no sign of the larger pollack I’d hoped to encounter. I did get a hefty encounter on my heavy rod though, with a strong, steady run on a large mackerel bait. It was hooked easily enough, but just kept on going and ran over a sharp rock or ledge – bye, bye 30lb mono mainline. Conger probably, skate possibly – although it’s not really skate type ground. Proof that something decent is out there though!

A small but lively coalfish from the north of Skye
Small coalfish

I wanted to head round to Rubha Hunish for a couple of hours, so I packed a few lures and a little bait and headed up the hill around late morning.

The northernmost tip of Skye, Rubha Hunish
Rubha Hunish

The cliffs are pretty dramatic but I worked my way down the gully and then down the steep path to the bottom of the cliffs, about 250 feet below. Easy enough in the dry, but a bit trickier when it’s icy or wet I suspect. The way to the point is easy enough and I was soon setting up my gear on the very northernmost tip of Skye.

I'm well hidden on the steep descent down to Rubha Hunish, Isle of Skye.
Spot me! Descent onto Rubha Hunish
Looking back to the descent down the cliffs to reach Rubha Hunish
The descent to Rubha Hunish, looking back from the bottom of the cliffs

Casting in, I found I was in quite deep water with a modest tide run. I’d guess this could be a pretty big tide run in a large spring but I was fishing quite small neaps and it wasn’t a problem. Back to spinning the leadheads, as I’d lost the heavy lures by now, but they were soon picking up more of the same smallish pollack and coalfish.

A pollack from Rubha Hunish, at the northern extremity of Skye
Rubha Hunish pollack

Time was scooting by now, and the days here are very short at this time of year. I was conscious that I’d a fair to go to reach my car, and a tent to pick up along the way, so I decided to pack in fairly early in the afternoon. Even so, by the time I’d hauled myself up the cliff path and then back round to the tent it was dark by the time I reached the car.

So a fine couple of days in excellent weather for this time of year. Shame the bigger fish weren’t really out to play, but it was a small tide. As usual, the main obstacle were the short days and rather-too-long nights you get this far north.

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Glamping on Etive

Boat glamping? Wild glamping? I’m not really sure the best way to describe our recent session on Loch Etive, but we certainly weren’t roughing it! The boat was fully loaded with a chunky Robens bell tent, complete with carpet and wood stove (with plenty wood) for the cold evening we expected. I’d got the tent earlier in the year, more for Liz and myself than for fishing, but I’d not had the chance to try out the stove in it yet…

Autumn fishing with a comfy camp on Etive

The Longliner 2 slipped into the calm waters of Taynuilt and we were soon running down to our usual starter mark at Ardchattan. An hour or so here produced very little, so it was on to the deeper spots offshore from the Priory shore mark.

Our wake disturbs the calm waters of Loch Etive as we motor down towards the lower loch, late October 2018
Disturbing the calm

Ian with a modest spurdog - not big, but still one of the better ones we caught
Ian and spurdog

There’s always a vigorous tide run here, but it is only in the top 30-40 feet and looks worse than it is.  Anyway, the fish seemed to like it and Ian was soon stacking them up – mainly small spurs, but with some decent thornbacks and the odd whiting too. I trailed well behind, fishing in my usual lazy style, but also playing with the cameras and sorting out some hot drinks (my excuse!)

Ian with a thornback ray caught from the lower end of Loch Etive, near the Priory shore mark
Thornback from the lower loch

A few hours here and we called time, conscious that we’d to sort out our glamping arrangements for the night before darkness fell. We also wanted to allow time for an evening session in the middle of the loch, hoping the larger spurdog would come on the feed after dark, as they’ve done in the past. Hauling anchor we made our way back up the loch and through the narrows at Bonawe.

Sandy beach at Barrs, Loch Etive. just after the sun has disappeared for the evening
Sandy beach at Barrs, Loch Etive

Our target was the beach at Barrs, which offers a great camping spot. The sun had sunk below the hills behind us as we approached, but we could see shapes moving around on the sand. Too big to be human, I thought they were deer initially, before realising they were ultra-wooly and photogenic highland cows. Bugger! Deer would disappear before we landed, but cattle are a different proposition and quite likely to tangle with mooring ropes and tent guys. Assuming we could find a cowpat-free zone big enough to park the Robens in the first place.

A hairy highland cow faces up to Ian
Cuddly, but with sharpish horns

Still, we edged ashore to try and make peace with the natives. They were having none of it, and just stayed put. Given they were much bigger, there were more of them, and they had pointy horns, we decided to go for plan B. This is a more exposed mooring on the other side of the loch, and a more limited pitch space. Still, perfectly OK in the light winds forecast overnight.

A large tent and a sandy beach don't make the best companions, but a few rocks will counter any winds tonight
Building on sand

Tent erected, stove installed, and we headed out into the darkness for another two or three hours fishing. It’d be nice to say we were rewarded for persistence, but the pattern remained similar – a lot of small whiting and spurdog. Loads in mid-water, and you didn’t need to drop right to the bottom to get action.

Calm and cold, we fished on with the help of a Cup-a-Soup or two, but got nothing but tiddlers in exchange. Mainly to Ian, as I cut it back to one rod that was fished rather half-heartedly.

Fishing deep water for tiny spurdogs in the pitch black of an October night is quite hard work
Tiddler bashing in the pitch dark

Back ashore, and we managed to set a mooring quite efficiently, given it was completely dark, and headed for the tent. It was pretty cold, which provided the incentive needed to get the stove lit pronto. I’d taken a generous supply of wood in with us, so it wasn’t too difficult to get a decent blaze going. I think both of us were taken aback at how efficient the stove actually was, as it became pretty warm pretty quickly – and then positively hot.

The woodburner proved almost too hot for us, and certainly heated the tent
Roasting!

Foil covered potatoes were plonked in the fire, and sausages and mushrooms were followed by a nice steak, washed down with a decent dose of malt whisky. I can hardly claim it was to ward off the cold though! A final check on the boat and it was time to hit the sleeping bags…

Another first - attempting to cook dinner on top of the woodburner. It went better than we deserved!
Dinner underway

Had there been any human presence awake on Etive at three in the morning (thankfully, I’m pretty sure there wasn’t), then they’d have been treated to a curious spectacle. Under the light of a full moon a smallish figure, dressed only in thermal underwear and wellies was scurrying around the beach picking up rocks.

Our tent shows up nicely againts the large moon on Loch Etive
Moonlight

That was of course yours truly, trying to stop the tent pegs pulling out of the sand in the rising breeze. I think success can be judged by the fact that Ian was still snoring gently by the time I’d finished – which rather undermined his claim next morning that he’d barely slept 🙂

A nice, but rather insecure, camp on the sandy shores of Loch Etive
Glamping on the beach

We’d a leisurely start, fuelled by coffee and bacon rolls, and the sun was well up in the sky by the time we’d cleared the tent away and un-moored the longliner. Humming and hawing a bit, we decided to head a good way further down the loch and see if we could avoid the tiny spurs that seemed to fill the upper reaches. A couple of hours close inshore saw us pick up an LSD or three, plus whiting and a thornback – together with a smattering of tiny spiny critters.

A tiny thornback ray for Ian, taken just off the moorings at Taynuilt, Loch Etive
Tiddly thornback

Our final throw of the dice was close to the moorings at Taynuilt, where the seabed starts to rise towards the beach. A quiet spell was followed by a flurry of thornbacks which was a bit of a morale booster. Nothing very big, but good fun in shallower water and definitely welcome after packs of miniscule spurdog.

A nice thornback ray from Ian from Loch Etive, October 2018
Ian with a respectable ray

We packed in early, partly to avoid road closures, partly to give me time to start sorting out a mountain of gear when I got home, and partly because there are only so many small fish you want to catch on a fairly chilly autumn day!Share this:
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Early Autumn Shorefishing in Argyll

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.

Early morning sun picks up the mountains at the head of Loch Etive
Early morning sun

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.

A misty autumn morning looking across scrubby birch woods down towards Loch Etive
There’s a loch in there somewhere

Stunning oak woodlands line the banks of Loch Etive, with my path winding between them
Stunning oak woodlands line the loch

Late morning had me setting up the rods with mackerel baited pulley rigs and casting out into calm, deep, water.

Launching a mackerel bait out into the calm waters of Loch Etive, in search of a spurdog
Launching a mackerel bait

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.

A small thornback ray adds variety to the catch on Loch Etive
A small thornback adds variety

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.

A thornback ray caught from Loch Etive, and waiting to be returned to the water
Fish of the day

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.

The Loch Etive woods are a lovely place to explore as the autumn colours start to show
A lovely place to explore

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.Share this:
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Wildcamp at Sandwood Bay

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

Pitching camp on a small headland overlooking the rollers crashing ashore at Sandwood beach, NW Scotland.
Pitching camp

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.

A lovely surf pounds in to Sandwood beach on a clear September morning in NW Scotland
A lovely surf pounds in to Sandwood beach

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.

Dinner eaten and a single malt awaits as dusk falls over my camp, Sandwood beach.
Dusk falls over my camp, Sandwood beach

The sun sets over the Atlantic surf rolling in to Sandwood beach
A perfect view from the camp

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.

Fish

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.

A small, and sea lice infested sea trout from Sandwood Bay
Sea trout

A small bass from Sandwood Bay waits to be released
Small bass from Sandwood Bay

I also managed to land a “bonus” weever fish too – a first for me, although I’m not actively hunting for a second.

A first for me, with a poisonous lesser weever fish lying on the sand waiting to be unhooked.
Lesser Weever

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.

Fishing the southern end of Sandwood Bay
Fishing the southern end of Sandwood

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.

And finally…

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.

A little trace of charcoal on the sand, but not much sign of a campfire here.
A little trace of charcoal on the sand, but not much sign of a campfire

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.Share this:
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Cruising around Mull

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

Launching into a calm sea at Gallanach, with Mull in the background
Gallanach launch

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.

Nice pollack from the south of Mull
Nice pollack from the south of Mull

A small launce (greater sandeel) taken off the south coast of Mull
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 wee stop ashore on a fine beach on the Ross of Mull
A wee stop ashore

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.

Half a dozen coalfish come aboard at once when fishing the Torran Rocks, off Mull
Full house of coalies

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!

Cruising along a very calm Atlantic as the sun sets over the Torran Rocks, SW Mull
Setting sun over the Torran Rocks

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!

Anchored up for the night in Traigh na Margaidh (Market Beach) on the northern coast of the Ross of Mull
Home for the night

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.

Breakfast on the go. There's nothing like a rasher or four of bacon early in the morning
Breakfast on the go

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.

Forbidding cliffs line the Ardmeanach peninsula on Mull
Forbidding cliffs line the Ardmeanach on Mull

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.

A beautifully coloured pollack taken near Eagle's Point on the Ardmeanach peninsula
A beautifully coloured pollack

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.

Entering the calm but narrow waters of the Sound of Ulva, west coast of Mull
Entering the Sound of Ulva

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.

Returning a small coalfish taken from the Aurania wreck, Caliach Point, Mull
Returning a coley, Aurania wreck, Caliach Point

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.

An inshore pollack puts a bend in my rod, fishing off the south coast of Mull
Fish On!

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.

A nice spurdog taken from a mark between Mull and Ardnamurchan
Nice Spurdog

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.

Bloody Bay, Isle of Mull
Bloody Bay

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.Share this:
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Sutherland Bass

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…

A cracking campsite on the machair, perched just above a beautiful beach in North West Sutherland
A cracking campsite

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.

Walking along the beach towards my first spot of the day
First mark of the day

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.

Casting out a couple of baits on a spinning rod and into the crystal clear water of the Atlantic
Casting out

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 small sea trout falls for a thin strip of mackerel
Sea trout

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.

A small school bass - my first from northwest Scotland
Small schoolie

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.

A tiny turbot swallows a mackerel belly and becomes my first ever of this species. Well chuffed, tiny or not!
Yee-hah – A new species for my list. Tiny turbot.

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!

Fishing the fringe of the beach, just out of the main force of the swell.
A sheltered corner that holds a few fish

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.

No trees allowed - just heather, rock and water in this very exposed environment
No trees allowed

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!

This tiny trout is roughly the size of a large minnow, but is typical of the population in this small stream and harsh environment.
Tiddler trout

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.

A wave breaks against a boulder embedded in the sand
Wave breaking against a boulder

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.

Another bass munching crab comes ashore. Very small, but still beautiful and very welcome.
Another bass munching crab

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.

A reluctant goodbye to this beautiful coast as I start my hike back across the machair and rock.
Starting the long trek back home

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.Share this:
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A Little Round-Up

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.

A fine campsite by the shores of Loch Etive, with a snow covered Ben Cruachan behind.
Fine campsite

A jaw-dropping view along Loch Etive as the sun pokes through the early morning cloud
A jaw-dropping view along Loch Etive

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.

Morning coffee sits on the fire as I look across Loch Etive on a clear, calm, spring morning
Morning coffee sits on the fire

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.

At anchor off Oban in the sunshine, as we wait for a bite
At anchor off Oban

Ian's new baby - a Penn International reel awaits a skate
Ian’s new baby – a Penn International

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!

Not exactly backpacking material - a test run of my new Robens belltent setup
Not exactly backpacking material…

Glamping here we come - standing headroom, woodburner, carpet and beds.
Glamping here we come

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!Share this:
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Final Fling for 2017 – a Hike in the Sunshine

Days of Christmas force feeding meant I really needed to get some fresh air,  so I reckoned a hike in the sunshine along the banks of Loch Etive would fit the bill nicely. Fishing wasn’t the main aim but it looked possible to get 3 or 4 hours to wet a line before darkness fell.

Bonnie, my bozo spaniel, came along for the day and quite happily trailblazed as we trudged along. Happily, the cold had frozen most of the water into the ground so it was less boggy than a month ago and we made steady progress towards our mark. With the sun still hiding behind the mountains it was chilly but otherwise a beautiful day to be out.

Cold, clear and windless - a perfect winter day at Barrs, Loch Etive
Cold, clear and windless – a perfect winter day

Typical small spurdog just about to be returned. Bonnie the spaniel is looking on in rather bored fashion.
Typical small spurdog

Arriving at our mark I quickly rigged up and cast out whilst Bonnie waited impatiently for sticks to be thrown. Unluckily for her there was a solid stream of distractions in the form of small male spurdogs and I was kept busy dealing with them. On two or three occasions I got bites just as soon as I hit bottom, suggesting there were large numbers about.

Lobbing another bait out
Lobbing another bait out

Small but sleek looking spurdog
Small but sleek looking spurdog

With only a short session and quite a lot of action between the fish and doggie stick chucking, it took a while to get a brew on – but I can’t survive without a supply of coffee.

Brewing up a coffee on my twig powered Honey Stove
Coffee brewing

This time I wasn’t the only one out on the loch. I’d passed a tent with a couple of shore rods parked outside it on the way in, and there was a kayaker out as well. Plenty loch to go around though!

A kayaker using the light wind to sail up Loch Etive in the shadow of a snow covered Ben Starav
Kayak sailing up Etive in a very light breeze

No wind, so paddle power now required for the same kayak
No wind coming back, so paddle power now required

I chucked in the fishing around 2.30, to be sure of making it back before it got too dark. A final tally of 15 spurs and a couple of dogfish for 4 hours fishing was a good bit better than I’d expected, even if none of them made more than 3lbs or so.

Camoflaged against the rock - this little spurdog merges quite nicely against the granite
Camouflaged against the rock

Golden light floods over Ben Starav as the sun starts to set over a mirror like Loch Etive, just after Christmas.
Golden sunlight lights up Ben Starav

The return trip to the car was a fine walk as the sun faded and turned the mountains golden, all reflected in the perfectly still waters of the loch. Our timing was good and we crunched across the carpark just as the last of the light disappeared.

Bonnie is quite indifferent to fishing
Bonnie is quite indifferent to fishing

Poor old Bonnie made herself comfortable in the front seat of the car and then collapsed for the journey home. She’s over 10 now and can still charge around for hours, but it does catch up with her when we stop at the end of the day.Share this:
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Wild Camp on Etive – with a few Spurs thrown in

I do like this time of year – the nights are long but it’s not too cold, and the worst of the bugs are back in hibernation. The autumn colours are still around and the summer crowds have largely gone. And last weekend the weather and the tides lined up nicely too, so I sorted out my tent and loaded up the rucksac again. Time for another wild camp on Etive, fishing right alongside my tent in a very quiet spot where deer were the only likely intruders.

Solo wild camp and fishing on Loch Etive

To me the long walk in is part of the attraction of this mark. The track is rough and quite arduous in places, but it runs through wonderful scenery and quite splendid isolation – a very rare commodity, even in Scotland.

Fording a small burn along the track between Glen Etive and Barrs.
Fording a small burn

Travelling light is a relative term, but everything goes in the rucksac apart from the rods themselves, and I keep gear to a reasonable minimum. This time I was relying on a campfire for cooking and hot coffee, so the gas stove was swapped in favour of a little fatwood and a couple of mini-firelighters. A few leads, traces and a little coolbag with mackerel bait was pretty much all I needed to fish, as the loch doesn’t tend to be too tackle-hungry.

A couple of hours later I arrived at my destination, having worked up a decent sweat in the process with only a single tumble into the peat bog on the way in. Mild embarrassment and a wet fleece were the only casualties, but a reminder of the reason I carry a PLB on these trips – the line between merely looking silly and potentially crippling injury is a fine one, and easily crossed over.

Campsite in sight. A beautiful location to spend the night
Campsite in sight. A beautiful location to spend the night

Scots Pine with Ben Starav in the background. Fine autumn colours on Loch Etive.
Scots Pine with Ben Starav in the background.

Set up, bait up and cast in – it doesn’t take long to get fishing on this mark. I am pretty lazy when it comes to fishing here, and I don’t tend to spin or float fish for the pollack which also swim around here. However I did need to sort out my campsite for the night, and darkness comes early in these parts at this time of year. My “semi-detached” style of fishing allowed me time to get on with collected kindling and firewood, and to set up the tent.

Sunset over Loch Etive. Fishing near Barrs on a calm November evening
Sunset over Loch Etive

Finding dry wood can be a bit of a challenge on the west coast, as anything on the ground gets saturated quite quickly, so I’d to tramp around a bit to find decent chunks of dead but still standing timber. My efforts were rewarded by a couple of nice pieces of oak to form the core of the fire, and a good bunch of dry-ish bracken to act as tinder. Happily it didn’t take too long to get a decent fire set up and burning steadily.

Campfire catches hold - a welcome sight on a cold November evening
Campfire catches hold

Almost in parallel, there was a steady run of spurdogs taking my baits. I missed a few due to my fire raising, but the body count was respectable and rising as I put the coffee pot on to boil and tucked a couple of potatoes into the fire to cook away.

Striking into a spurdog, early November morning on Loch Etive. Cool, clear and beautiful.
Fish on!

A small thornback ray from the shore, near Barrs, Loch Etive
Thornback ray

The light finally faded as I returned my one and only thornback ray of the trip, and the steak and mushrooms went on to cook – I felt I deserved a little treat for braving a long November night. All fairly primitive, but I dined well and in very contented fashion as I contemplated the stars reflecting in the calm waters of the loch. Not a light or trace of humanity disturbed the quiet.

Steak and mushrooms over the campfire. Treat and a half!
Steak and mushrooms. Treat and a half!

I’ve not had a baked apple since I was a kid, but it was a perfect follow on to the steak. Apertifs came from a slug of Talisker and then it was time for an early night.

I slept pretty well, waking only to the sound of some light rain on the tent and later on to the pitter-patter of tiny feet as a tick traversed my torso. Uugh! Not really what you want at two in the morning and it was duly trapped and despatched after a slightly desperate search by torchlight. The morning light revealed a neat line of bites across my middle which suggested I’d moved the wretched thing on a few times in the night before it woke me up for real…

Five in the morning, moon and stars brighten the long night
Five in the morning, moon and stars brighten the long night

A New Day

Next morning dawned clear and cold, with the sky clearing after the last shower departed, so I struggled free of my warm cocoon and back into thermals. The gear was pretty much ready to go so it was a matter of minutes to bait up and cast out. Then back to trying to re-awaken the campfire and get some breakfast on the go.

Early morning - calm, cold and clear on Loch Etive as I watch my rods for a sign of fish biting
Early morning – calm, cold and clear

My backup was in the form of muesli, so there was a strong incentive to get the fire going and polish off an early morning smorgasborg of sausage, bacon, mushrooms and eggs. The overnight rain dampened everything enough to give some anxious moments, but I eventually kickstarted the fire and breakfast got underway.

Bacon and eggs on the campfire. And a fish biting...
Bacon and eggs on the campfire. And a fish biting…

Just like the campfire, fish were a little slow to come out to play, but started to appear just as breakfast got to the critical stage of pre-burn perfection. A little careful juggling kept everything edible whilst still pulling in a few more spurdog and a rather more grisly whiting head – its body presumably forming the equivalent of spurdog bacon and eggs.

Whiting head - with the rest forming part of a spurdog breakfast. Not a good start to his day!
Unlucky whiting

Over the next couple of hours I had a coffee or two, pulled in a spurrie or three, and generally organised my backpack until, rather slowly and reluctantly, I packed up camp and prepared to move back down the track towards civilisation. I wanted to fish a mark about half-way back to the car that I hadn’t tried for 2 or 3 years. Whilst I fully expected to repeat previous experience and find it stuffed full of micro-spurs in the sub-12 inch category, I felt it was worth a shot, just to see.

Early morning spurdog, caught near Barrs, Loch Etive
Early morning spurdog

Micro-spurs

My expectations were fulfilled, and faint hopes dashed, as a succession of micro-spurs dutifully gobbled up the bait and were dragged ashore. An hour of this was more than enough, especially given a blustery northerly wind, so I was soon heading back towards the car. Given it’s a fine spot to camp and fish it’s a shame that there don’t appear to be any larger fish around here.

Casting out - upper Loch Etive
Casting out – upper Loch Etive

A final splosh through the sodden moorland saw me back at the carpark at Glen Etive, with a couple of final treats in store on the road home. The first in the shape of large numbers of deer (there are loads in Glen Etive), and then a very fine sunset as I crossed over Rannoch Moor on the way back east. A reminder that Scotland can be magnificent at times, and not just a prisoner of Atlantic weather systems… Definitely an A-list weekend!

The pier at Glen Etive, a well photographed location!
The pier at Glen Etive

November sunset over Rannoch Moor
November sunset over Rannoch Moor
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Meandering my way to Cape Wrath

I’ve paid two or three visits to the far northwest in the last couple of years. Wonderfully remote and isolated country in which to escape for a day or three, it makes for perfect chillout territory, especially if you pick your weather. My latest trip to the extremes of Cape Wrath was more hiking than fishing but I did take a light spinning rod along for the journey…

Cape Wrath is just about the most isolated spot on mainland Scotland, with no real road access. It’s also the only actual Cape in Scotland that I’m aware of. Good enough reasons to pack a rucksack and set the alarm for very early. Sneaking quietly out the house without winding up the dog too much I set off before Edinburgh woke up. The sun was rising nicely as I crossed the Forth Bridge and even the A9 was empty enough to be bearable as I ploughed on.

Trail into Sandwood from Blairmore
Trail into Sandwood from Blairmore

Time to get my boots wet

Finally, by mid-morning, a 5 hour drive from Edinburgh saw me setting off on the track to Sandwood. I was deliberately trying to pack light, so it was only a 30l backpack with a tent, sleeping bag and cooking kit. Probably rather too much camera gear and not enough fishing kit, but much less effort required than hauling a 65l pack around. The first part of the trip, along to Sandwood Bay, is an easy hike along a well maintained little trail so I made rapid progress and was descending into the bay after 90 minutes or so.

Approaching Sandwood Bay, with Cape Wrath in the far north
Approaching Sandwood Bay

Sandwood is an iconic beach flanked by high cliffs and backed with grassy dunes and a fine peaty loch, and you get a great view as you drop down towards the sea. Way to the north, the lighthouse at Cape Wrath is just visible above the hills. Sandwood wasn’t my destination this time, but I felt obliged to give it a little shot to see if anything was hungry so stopped off towards the end of the beach and dug out some gear.

A stray Warrior boat arrives at Sandwood, presumably from Kinlochbervie
A stray Warrior boat arrives at Sandwood

My little 6’6” spinning rod was mightily outgunned by the surroundings but we gave it a couple of casts with a 1oz lead and a mackerel sliver. Nothing seemed terribly interested, but it was an ebb tide and a hot, sunny day, so I wasn’t hugely surprised.

Big beach, little rod - fishing Sandwood Bay with a spinning rod
Big beach, little rod – fishing Sandwood Bay

Beyond Sandwood

The sun was hot by now so I filled my water bottle from the nearby river and then sweated my way northwards over the low hills that guard the route to the Cape. There isn’t really much of a trail here and you make your own way across the mixture of peat bog, heather and machair style grasslands. Nothing much grows higher than six inches or so, and the areas of bare grit and rock bear witness to the ferocity of the wind along this very exposed coastline. None of that today though, and the light breeze was definitely welcome in the strong sunshine as I marched on towards my campground.

Camping at Keisgaig Bay, just above the Keisgaig River
Camping at Keisgaig Bay

Keisgaig Bay isn’t pretty in the way Sandwood is, but it is a fine, lonely spot to spend a night. I pitched the tent on a small promontory overlooking the most northerly salmon stream in mainland Britain – a mere shadow of its normal self in these dry conditions – and made a well deserved coffee as I took a short break. My plan was to leave most of the gear in the tent and then head up to Cape Wrath and back before nightfall, so I couldn’t hang around for too long.
To get out of Keisgaig involves a 600 feet climb up the hills to the north, which took a little while on a hot day, but was then followed by a fairly easy trek across dried out peat bog. Further on I encountered progressively wetter conditions and it didn’t take much imagination to appreciate how much more difficult this territory would be after a decent spell of rain. By comparison the final stage to Cape Wrath is almost an anti-climax along a rather beaten up army track.

Looking east from Cape Wrath towards Durness
Looking east from Cape Wrath

There was no-one else around as I took a few photos and nibbled on a snack before heading back south. This time I hugged the coastline a bit more closely which was quite a bit harder going but also let me identify any opportunities for a man with a rod in the future – and there are definitely some spots where the shoreline is accessible without abseiling gear. All in all I was feeling more than a little tired as I stumbled back down the hill into Keisgaig and unzipped the tent door.

Keisgaig and some trout

I awoke the next morning to find the sun had returned after some overnight showers, so it was time for some breakfast and to watch the seals lounging around the bay whilst I had a coffee and sorted out my plans for the day. The idea was to give my rod a little bit of both fresh and saltwater action as I made my way back to Sandwood and then to the car, so I tied on a little Mepps 00 lure to some light braid and set off in search of a trout or ten.

Striking into a small trout in a burn near Cape Wrath
Striking into a small trout

I spent the rest of the morning exploring, trying a couple of lochs and several burns for any stray trout. These proved very obliging and easy to catch, although quite small (hardly a surprise in such a harsh environment) and I only drew a blank on one loch.

Small but beautiful - a brown trout from a hill loch near Cape Wrath
Small but beautiful – a brown trout from a hill loch

After amassing 13 or 14 very prettily marked fish (all returned) I rather reluctantly decided to return down towards Sandwood and try a beach a little to the north.

Surf rolls into a lovely little beach to the north of Sandwood
Surf rolls into a lovely little beach to the north of Sandwood

Back to Sea

Washed by a light surf and crystal clear Atlantic water it was almost a privilege to mark a line of footprints in the sand of this fine little beach as I headed towards a large rock outcrop in the middle. Even the rock felt hot to my fingers as I climbed up under the sun and made myself comfortable. Armed with only a little spinning rod, and able to see the sea bed quite clearly through the surf for a long way out, I can’t say I was terribly confident about actually catching anything. However I went through the motions and slung another mackerel strip out into the breakers before settling down into my usual coffee making ritual.

A flounder caught to the north of Sandwood Bay
A flounder caught to the north of Sandwood Bay

Twenty minutes later I noticed the line was slack and felt a decent weight on the rod. Even with light gear I can’t say there was much of fight, but you certainly knew that there was a fish on as the little rod hooped right over. A flounder isn’t exactly in exotic territory but it was certainly welcome and I was pleased to add to my species count for the year.

Light surf fishing near Sandwood Bay - just a spinning rod and mackerel strip
Light surf fishing near Sandwood Bay

Confidence boosted I rebaited and cast out again, before settling down to be roasted again. A combination of snoozing and some complacency meant that I was very late to wake up to another slack line bite, and my line was hopelessly snarled up in the kelp at the base of my rocky perch before I realised I’d a fish on. I could even see it clearly 30 yards out in the surf as it swam effortlessly in the waves – a small sea trout. It took another thirty minutes before the tide cleared the bottom of the rocks sufficiently to let me clear my line and land the fish. Not large but it was still welcome proof that there was something worth fishing for!

A small sea trout caught on mackerel strip from a beach just north of Sandwood Bay
A small sea trout

By now it was getting closer to my “I’m still alive” check-in with home, and I still had a fair way to go and no mobile reception. Rather grudgingly I packed up and gasped my way up the hill and then back down to Sandwood. The beach was busier now, with 2 or 3 tents and at least a dozen people strung out along its length, so I was quite glad not to stay this time and content to head back towards the car at Blairmore.

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