Kayaking Desolation Sound, British Columbia

OK, this post has nothing to do with angling, and I didn’t even take a rod with me to Canada, but we were out kayaking and backpacking in a landscape every bit as grand and far larger than our sea lochs. I’d spent time in Ontario a decade before, including several days canoeing, but BC is in a league of its own…

Map of Vancouver Island and Desolation Sound
Map of Vancouver Island and Desolation Sound

The trip was born from a combination of things but I suppose it was largely an 18th birthday present for Mike coupled with an attempt on my part to recapture some lost youth and pick up the threads of some plans from earlier years. Anyway we settled on two mini-expeditions in BC with a few days travelling in between, and dusted off the tent and rucksacs.

View from Heriot Bay, Quadra Island, looking towards the Coastal Mountains
View from Heriot Bay, Quadra Island, looking towards the Coastal Mountains

We kicked off with a 5 day guided sea kayaking trip to Desolation Sound, around 150 miles and 3 ferry crossings north of Vancouver. I’ve never used a sea kayak although I’ve been on a sit-on-top before and also open canadian canoes in fresh water, so I was quite surprised to find out how stable they were once on the water (getting in and out was a bit more of an art form).

Our kayak group and guides, June 2014
Our kayak group and guides, June 2014
Our fleet of sea kayaks awaits
Our fleet of sea kayaks awaits

Day 1 saw us getting familiarised with the kayaks and paddling across to Refuge Cove (looks a bit like a throwback to frontier days, apart from the regular seaplane flights and some satellite dishes). We set up camp a little further on, in a little bay on Martens Island and settled down for the evening. It rained a bit – the only real rain we experienced in over 2 weeks in Canada – but we were comfortable enough eating a large dinner under a decent tarp.

Next day started a little cloudy but soon started to brighten up as we packed up camp and launched the kayaks across some rather tricky rocks covered in sharp oysters.

Just launched and off Martins Island, Day 2
Just launched and off Martins Island, Day 2

An easy paddle and a couple of hours later we reached the Curme Isles – a little group of dry, pine covered rocks sitting in Desolation Sound. We set up camp on South Curme, which is simply stunning with views of the forests and mountains stretching off into the distance.

Tiny but beautiful, South Curme Island
Tiny but beautiful, South Curme Island

Camping is restricted as the island ecosystem is very fragile, and a small number of tent pads are available – all very well laid out and making great use of the available space (we generally found the Canadian provincial parks to be more interesting and better managed than their national parks).

A superb spot for a tent, with the sea on three sides and the sun overhead.
A superb spot for a tent, with the sea on three sides and the sun overhead.

Perfection included mid-20s sunshine, and only a few bugs (with no midges). So good that we decided to stay the remaining three nights here, as it meant we spent less time making and breaking camp and could travel light in the kayaks.

Mountains, forests and sea - the view towards Homfray Sound
Mountains, forests and sea – the view towards Homfray Sound
A superb morning paddling Desolation Sound (Image courtesy of Fia)
A superb morning paddling Desolation Sound (Image courtesy of Fia)

Unfortunately for the angler in me, rod and line fishing is prohibited in most of the sound although it is allowed in most other areas. Not really a big deal as that wasn’t why we were there and it probably wouldn’t have been very practical anyway.

A stunning location, and even better viewed from a kayak
A stunning location, and even better viewed from a kayak

The seawater in Desolation Sound is the warmest in the Pacific Northwest and the braver amongst us made a point of early morning swims. Being conditioned by living in Scotland to avoid getting in the sea if at all possible, I have to admit that I didn’t join them – although an afternoon dip in one of the nearby freshwater lakes went down well.

Morning on the Curme Islands
Morning on the Curme Islands

It’s hard to overstate the atmosphere of camping on islands like the Curmes – the combination of great weather, a breathtaking environment and giant natural landscape is overwhelming. The area does get more crowded with yachts and kayakers over the summer, but at the end of June there was plenty of space for everyone.

Our campsite for 3 nights, the beautiful South Curme Island
Our campsite for 3 nights, the beautiful South Curme Island

One fine evening a few of us managed a night-time paddle across the sound, with clear views of the stars and spectacular bio-luminescence every time the paddle bit into the water – but otherwise pitch dark as we made our way across and back at midnight.

Almost ready for a midnight paddle on Desolation Sound (image courtesy of Fia)
Almost ready for a midnight paddle (image courtesy of Fia)
Another group of paddlers, viewed from our Curme islands camp
Another group of paddlers, viewed from our Curme islands camp

We spent our time exploring the nearby bays and coastline, notably Tenedos Bay and Prideaux Haven (quite a few chunky yachts had made this home for a few days, but there was plenty of space for everyone)

View across Desolation Sound from our tent
View across Desolation Sound from our tent

Coming back from Prideaux the wind got up to a good force 4-5 in the late afternoon and evening, and it was quite a struggle to get back to camp paddling into the teeth of the wind. Being in an exposed site the tent took a battering but seemed to survive OK, and we emerged on our last morning to find the wind had died off quite a bit. Given the forecast was for strong winds later in the day we elected to break camp quickly and take advantage of the weather window to get back to Cortes Island whilst conditions stayed reasonable.

Our kayak route in Desolation
Our kayak route in Desolation

It’s hard not to go overboard with superlatives, but we had an amazing time in an amazing place. Fia and Ashley, our guides, were fantastic and put a huge amount of effort into the trip – not least of which was the cooking, which was excellent and put my normal efforts to shame.

Camping or Glamping on the Curme Isles (image courtesy of Fia)
More Glamping than Camping on the Curme Isles! (image courtesy of Fia)

We went with Spirit of the West Adventures who I’d very happily recommend to anyone interested in a similar trip.

 

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Mount Robson and Snowbird Pass

A few days of R&R and some substantial driving following our kayaking adventure in Desolation Sound, we kicked off a 4 day backpacking trip in the Berg Lake area of Mount Robson. Coming from the south and west, Mount Robson remains well hidden amongst other mountains until a turn in the road suddenly reveals this snow covered giant (it is the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies, at over 13,000 feet high). It looks huge, is huge, and every tourist on the road promptly screeches to a halt in the layby to take a better look. Explorers 150 years before us described it as a “giant amongst giants” and they were spot on – it really hits you between the eyes on a clear summer day.

First glimpse of Mount Robson, approaching from the west
First glimpse of Mount Robson, approaching from the west

After registering for our trail passes at the information centre and watching the obligatory video on 10 ways to die/100 things not to do in the park we were set free to find our way into the backcountry of the Rockies, hopefully avoiding the bears along the way.

At the information centre, to collect our trail passes
At the information centre, to collect our trail passes
On the bridge marking the start of Berg Lake Trail
On the bridge marking the start of Berg Lake Trail

It was early afternoon and very hot as we made our way along the first few miles of the trail, weighed down by our rucksacs but otherwise happy enough on a fairly easy track. Up to Lake Kinney it was fairly busy, mainly with day hikers returning to the car park, but from there on it was quiet with only the occasional backpacker all the way up to the campsite at Whitehorn. At the 11km mark this campsite is not too far along the trail and I’d originally planned on heading straight in to Berg Lake, but the damage done from a broken leg back in March made a reassessment seem sensible, and I was quite glad to split the journey in over a couple of days.

Blue skies and emerald green water
Blue skies and emerald green water

I wouldn’t say Whitehorn was an exceptional location, but it does exemplify the care that BC Provincial Parks take with their campgrounds – each tent pitch is set out nicely with a proper tent pad and access is controlled to prevent overcrowding. I have to say that I was consistently more impressed with the Provincial Parks such as Desolation Sound and Mount Robson than with the National Parks like Jasper and Lake Louise.

Mike on the steep, narrow trail between Kinney and Berg lakes
Mike on the steep, narrow trail between Kinney and Berg lakes
Steeper than it looks, this is a serious haul in the sunshine
Steeper than it looks, this is a serious haul in the sunshine

Day 2 meant a steep hard climb from Whitehorn to Berg Lake, past a series of waterfalls (“Valley of a 1000 falls” is the exaggerated official name!). The most impressive of these is the Emperor Falls, and the cooling spray from this was most welcome after a long slog up the hill.

Thick spray from the Emperor Falls blankets the forest
Thick spray from the Emperor Falls blankets the forest
A chance to cool down in the mist from Emperor Falls
A chance to cool down in the mist from Emperor Falls

Twenty minutes later we burst out into the flat open braided streams just downstream of Berg Lake and into the full heat of the sun as we made our way along the rocky trail. By now Robson was truly dominating the skyline, almost 3km above our heads.

An area of bare rock and scree, close to Berg Lake
An area of bare rock and scree, close to Berg Lake
Simple wooden bridges make life much easier on the trail
Simple wooden bridges make life much easier on the trail

Berg Lake gets its name from the small icebergs that calve off the Robson Glacier as it runs into the water, and over the next few days we were treated to the regular rumbles and thunderous noise of ice protesting as it was forced down the mountain side. Being fed by meltwater also gives the lakes the very distinct turquoise colour as light reflects off minute particles of silt ground down by the ice and suspended in the water.

A stunning location for some lunch
A stunning location for some lunch
Feed Me! - a campsite visitor
Feed Me! – a campsite visitor

We set up camp for a couple of days at the Berg Lake campground, on a tent pad with a spectacular view of Robson, and close to the river below. A short snooze later and we were climbing well up the trail above Berg Lake, making for the Toboggan Falls and the Mumm Basin beyond. It was extremely hot in the sunshine and we were using water at an alarming rate, so we dropped the more ambitious plan of completing the Mumm basin trail (which would have taken several hours) and turned back an hour or so above the Toboggan Falls. Even at this point we were above the tree line and could see the route of the Snowbird Pass on the valley opposite us – our target for tomorrow.

View of the glaciers feeding Berg Lake
View of the glaciers feeding Berg Lake

Day 3 saw us going for my personal goal – the Snowbird pass. This 23 km trail only opens on the 1st July each year and we went for it on the 3rd. The first few km are very easy, flat, walking but you then start to climb up the side of the Robson Glacier moraine which is pretty hard going even in the morning sunshine.

Just about to get steep - we head up the left side of the glacier
Just about to get steep – we head up the left side of the glacier
Even travelling alongside it is pretty hairy in places...
Even travelling alongside the glacier is pretty hairy in places…

Once on top of this huge lateral moraine, you try not to stumble over the edge as the trail takes you along the steep and pretty unstable scree slopes. Most of the trail is fairly well marked, but there are a couple of areas where it’s both easy and dangerous to lose your way – I’d be wary here if the weather turned poor! It’s easy to see why the trail is described as “challenging”

Lush greenery thriving above the tree line
Lush greenery thriving above the tree line

That said, the lush and very green alpine valley at around 6,500-7,000 feet is both a surprise and stunningly beautiful. We saw quite a bit of life here, mainly marmots and ground squirrels, but the valley is also a caribou calving area and has a population of wild goats.

The reddish, bare scree of the actual top of the pass can’t quite compare to the valley below, but it does afford a spectacular view of the Reef Icefield beyond the crest of Snowbird. At 8000 feet it was a little chilly even in the sunshine so we didn’t linger too long before starting the long trek downhill.

Looking over the icefields on the far side of Snowbird
Looking over the icefields on the far side of Snowbird
Bare rock and snow at the crest of Snowbird
Bare rock and snow at the crest of Snowbird

Next day saw us break camp and prepare for the hike back to civilisation, some 21km away. Robson’s peak was covered in cloud, but I managed a few shots of the icebergs drifting across the lake as we marched along making good time for the first few km.

Small icebergs that give the lake its name
Some of the small icebergs that give the lake its name

As the sun got hotter and the packs heavier we were glad to take the chance of a break where the forest and trail allowed – even with sore feet the whole place is simply awesome.

The icy Robson River tearing through the forest
The icy Robson River tearing through the forest

 

A rather defiant looking rodent keeps watch
A rather defiant looking rodent keeps watch

We were back at the trailhead for lunchtime, although definitely feeling the pace a bit and looking forward to a cold drink just down the road.

Wildlife-wise we didn’t see anything bigger than a marmot in Mount Robson, although a few bears did materialise as we headed south along the Icefields Parkway towards Calgary and our flight home.

The only grizzly bear we saw - captured on a camera phone
The only grizzly bear we saw – captured on a camera phone
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Exploring Mull

Mull is one of the most accessible of the Hebrides, but never seems to get much attention beyond the skate grounds accessible from Oban and Lochaline. Few people other than sea kayakers and yachties seem to be aware of just how stunning it’s more exposed coastline really is. A couple of years ago I whiled away a cold winter’s afternoon sketching out a plan to fish the Torran Rocks, which lie off the SW tip of the island. There were a variety of permutations possible, but the idea that proved most appealing was to be a little more ambitious and go for a full circumnavigation of Mull, launching at the Puffin Dive Centre and heading clockwise round past Iona, Staffa and Caliach Point before heading down the Sound of Mull and back to Oban.

One of many hidden beaches on the Ross of Mull
One of many hidden beaches on the Ross of Mull

Doing this involves running a 16 foot boat over 50 miles out from the launch point, and a total distance of over 100 miles, much of it completely exposed to any SW Atlantic swells, so a fair bit of thought went into the planning and various backup positions. Obviously I needed settled weather to allow the swell as well as the wind waves to drop, and also added another fuel tank and a new PLB and other bits and pieces to Alcatraz’s inventory just to increase safety margins all round.

The big advantage of working things out beforehand is that you have a checklist you can just work through to get the show on the road, so a decision to go for it on Saturday afternoon allowed an early start on Sunday morning and an easy launch at Puffin Divers a little before nine in the morning. Just me and a rather bemused little spaniel, plus 110 litres of fuel, headed round the south of Kerrera and then out across the Firth of Lorne towards landfall on Mull at Frank Lockwood’s Island, about 12 miles distant.

Our first destination was Malcolm’s Point, a volcanic cliff rising 700 feet from the sea. It’s only accessible by sea or by a long walk – something that’s true of most of the south coast of Mull. There was a small, slow, swell running and the coastline is ironbound so no chance of landing to view the Carsaig Arches, but I picked up a few small mackerel and a couple of coalies on micro-lures and noted that the cliffs pretty much continued underwater, with a depth over 300 feet within 150 yards of the shoreline.

Pressing on we started to see the little pocket beaches of white shell sand set against pink and grey granites of Uisken, and I pulled inshore to one set against the little island of Garbh Eilean to a have a poke about and let Bonnie get a break. The sand here is packed hard and fairly steeply shelving, but there was only a very slight swell in the lee of the island and no problem leaving the boat anchored just off the shore. We stopped off for a while, and Bonnie would have been happy to spend all day here, but it was time to press on towards the Torran Rocks and Iona.

Over 40 miles out and with reefs everywhere, you’d think it would be stuffed with hungry pollack, but it proved a little disappointing with only smallish pollack and mackerel, plus a couple of stray whiting. The lack of tide probably had quite a lot to do with it, and a more serious attempt at the area should produce better results, but I decided to head up the Sound of Iona and stick with the rough schedule I’d worked out earlier.

Iona is as beautiful as the guide books tell you (at least on a sunny day), and we soon passed the Fidden Farm campsite on the mainland, where I stayed with the kids a few years ago Bonnie doesn't seem too impressed with Fingals Cave on Staffa and which has to be one of the most scenic in the UK. The Sound itself is very shallow in parts with the sand ripples clearly visible and must have a few flatties lurking in the sand, but this is one for a future trip. North of Iona the next destination was Staffa and Fingals Cave for a couple of photos (just to prove we’d actually been there really) I landed on the island from a charter boat 30 years ago, but didn’t fancy bouncing my own wee craft off the rocky landing point without a good many more fenders.

Further north, a quick stop at Treshnish point produced more mackerel and pollack before heading up towards Caliach Point and the wreck of the Aurania – a 14000 ton, 530 feet long, liner wrecked on the point after being torpedoed in 1918. Very little of it shows on the sounder, bar one chunk (boilers?) that rise 25 feet or so from the seabed. It’s very close to shore so decidedly risky to fish in anything other than very calm weather.

Basking shark off Treshnish Point, Isle of Mull
Basking shark off Treshnish Point, Isle of Mull

Between Staffa and Caliach Point there seemed to a concentration of basking sharks and I met no less than 5 individuals – enough for me to start keeping a sharper lookout to avoid any collisions. I’ve seen them plenty of times before, but not in such numbers, and they will come within feet of the boat if you just wait for them to swim by. Very nice bonus to encounter!

 

The beach at Port Langamull, near Caliach Point, Mull
Near Caliach Point, Mull

I had a wee shot on the Caliach Bank, but nothing seemed interested and it is quite a large area to try and pin anything down, so I was quite happy to have a closer look at another pocket beach and let Bonnie have a run around. White sand and clear water really does have a tropical feel about, although it wasn’t too hard to resist the temptation to dive in.

From a purely angling viewpoint you could ask what the point of it was – after all I spent more time powering along than I did actually fishing, and I didn’t catch anything of any size or particular interest. However, for me the fishing wasn’t the main reason for going and it more about stretching my boating abilities a little further, immersing myself in the wild and exposed beauty of the Sea of the Hebrides and having a thoroughly good time exploring spots that are still largely outside the reach of most people.

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Ice Fishing on Etive

Well, yesterday was one of these days that reminds you why you bother to go fishing in mid-winter. It started before 5 when I left Edinburgh in the midst of a mini-snowstorm, which fortunately petered out quickly as I drove inland, and by the time Alcatraz hit the water in Etive it was a lovely cold and crisp winter morning. I’d had good fishing the fortnight before, so was hopeful of repeating the trick on similar tides.

I spent most of the morning down the loch, but with little to show for things – a few small spurdog and a single ray – so it was time to see how the upper loch was fishing. Having fired up the engine I pointed Alcatraz back the way she had come a few hours earlier, and then up into the deep water and high mountains lying inland from Bonawe, home to more otters than humans. Well up the loch and near to Barrs I started to encounter patches of thin ice on the water, some of which were quite large at 50-100 yards across. Fortunately they were very thin and the boat cut through them easily, with only a soft swishing noise, but it did show just how cold it had been.

Happily the fish lying almost 300 feet below didn’t seem to care about the surface temperature and started hitting my mackerel baits almost immmediately. Almost all of them, bar a couple of whiting and a lonely doggie, were spurdogs. The same way as a fortnight ago there were a handful of decent fish and loads of 2-4lbers, and (thankfully) none of the real micro fish that can sometimes be a complete nuisance. Eventually the fishing died off a bit, but not before I’d added another 26 or 27 spurs to the total haul. The best made a little under 9.5lbs with another half a dozen in the 6-7lb category. A few ended up being landed through an ice floe – look closely at the pic of one in the water and you can see its snout breaking through the ice.

I packed in fishing at the back of 4 and headed inshore to practice my mooring techniques (looking ahead to summer camping trips!), and also take a few more photos of the loch. A short final drift whilst I sorted out my gear added a couple more small spurdog before heading home in the last of the evening afterglow.

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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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26-27 July 2011 – Loch Etive

There's more to fishing than just fish...
There’s more to fishing than just fish…

Weather: Hot and sunny, with an afternoon sea breeze
Sea Conditions: Flat (and 19.5 degrees water temp in the shallows!)
Times: Roughly 1400-1900 on Tuesday and 0800-1600 on Wednesday – about 13 hours altogether
Tides: LW approx 1120 at Bonawe on Tuesday, small tides

Took my son, Mike, and Bonnie the manic spaniel across to Loch Etive for a couple of days on the boat and a spot of camping. Etive’s not my first choice for fishing at this time of year but both Mike and Bonnie suffer from sea-sickness so it’s a good bet from that point of view, and there’s almost always something to catch.

Bonnie hijacks the skipper's seat
Bonnie hijacks the skipper’s seat
Camping on the shoreline
Camping on the shoreline

I’d deliberately tried to go for a couple of days good weather and the met office didn’t let us down – basically hot and sunny sums it up, with only a light sea breeze in the afternoon (quite welcome, as it was almost too hot in the boat). We tried a variety of marks both east and west of Taynuilt and caught a decent number of fish, mainly small spurs (best 7lb, but most around 2lbs) and a fair number of thornbacks but also doggies, gurnard, whiting, codling, coalie and pollack. Only a single mackerel turned up so it was just as well I’d taken frozen ones plus some squid. I lost count of the final totals but several dozen fish came aboard and the dog eventually lost all interest in them as they wriggled around.

How to spend a summers evening
How to spend a summers evening
Just to prove we did a little fishing
Just to prove we did a little fishing

Overnight, we camped well up the loch at Barrs – a fantastic little spot only accessible by sea or a long hike. The tent went up in a few minutes and then it was time for a beer and a barbie, plus a modest campfire to help keep the midgies at bay. For the first time I’d put together a sliding mooring for the boat, which allowed me to keep her 50-60m off the beach overnight but pull her in to shore as needed. It seemed to work pretty well, but I was pleased/relieved to see her still there next morning. To be honest the highlight of the trip is summed up by the first image – waking up to a view like that is simply inspiring, doubly so when you see some of the highland magic click with your kid. Mind you, Bonnie was more inspired by the bacon than the scenery…

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