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.

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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!

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An Icy day at Etive

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.

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4 March 2012 – Loch Leven

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.

Na Gruagaichean with Sgurr an Fhuarain in front - near Kinlochleven
Na Gruagaichean with Sgurr an Fhuarain in front – near Kinlochleven
Na Gruagaichean with Sgurr an Fhuarain in front - near Kinlochleven
Na Gruagaichean shows above the mist

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.

A smallish Leven thornback
A smallish Leven thornback
Looking west, down Loch Leven on sunny March morning
Looking west, down Loch Leven on sunny March morning
A beautiful spot to fish on Loch Leven, but a killer to reach.
A beautiful spot to fish on Loch Leven, but a killer to reach.

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.

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