Winter Dogging on Etive (the Spurdog variety)

After a run around on Saturday morning in search of some wheel nuts my trailer was roadworthy again, so I headed over to Etive to check whether Alcatraz still floated. For one reason or another it’s been 5 months since she was last on the water and there’s always the added doubt of whether the engine will actually fire after a longish layup.
I was also keen to try out a replacement for late and lamented GoPro which died fishing near Aberdeen. The Yi 4k camera is a GoPro clone for about 2/3 of the money and gets pretty good reviews. The short video of the day (below) gives a taster and I’m pretty happy with it so far.
Winter Spurdogs on Loch Etive

We arrived about 8.30 only to find about half of Ayr SAC trying to get their boats in the water for a club competition. Add in a mountain of weed on the beach and it took a little while before we got afloat, but at least the outboard fired up at first turn of the key and we headed off down the loch. Needless to say, there were a couple of Ayr boats sitting right on top of the spot I wanted to fish so we dropped anchor on another ridge not too far away and dropped a few mackerel baits to see what was stirring.

Etive gets crowded with boats as Ayr Sea Angling Club hold a competition
Over-crowding, Etive style

A couple of hours later we had our answer in the form of a motley collection of doggies and small spurs, plus a little thornback – which sounded positively hectic to the one or two fish that the other boats had.

Ian with a small Etive spurdog from Ardchattan
Ian with a small Etive spurdog from Ardchattan

A small thornback from Etive

I then took the rather bad decision to head still further down towards the mouth of the loch, to a mark I haven’t fished for 3 or 4 years. A little over an hour here gave Ian another 5 little spurs and absolutely nothing for me, so we backtracked up towards Ardchattan and tried again for rays. One little thornback for Ian after another hour made for a more radical rethink/roll of the dice and I went for a move several miles up the loch – at least up here no-one would see us fail…

A beautiful winters day on Loch Etive, small boat fishing in mirror calm conditions near Barrs.
A beautiful winters day on Loch Etive

Around Taynuilt there had been a little breeze, maybe only 3-5 mph but enough to put a chill through you, whilst up here it was like a mirror. Cruising along with the sky and mountains reflecting off the loch was fantastic, even with a frigid slipstream trying to tear your ears off. Eventually I eased off the throttle and dropped anchor and complete silence descended as I shut the motor off.

A whiting chopped to pieces by a spurdog after it swallows the bait on Loch Etive
Shredded whiting
I could sense slightly raised eyebrows on Ian’s part at my choice of mark, as it isn’t perhaps the most obvious spot to try. However he dutifully dropped baits to the seabed, and we didn’t have too long to revel in our surroundings before we were battling fish. Truth be told, “battling” might be a bit of a porkie, as they were definitely all on the small and weedy side, but at least there in numbers. Even I started to catch! Spurs and doggies for the most part, but a few whiting (mainly in pieces, courtesy of hungry spurdog) and a lonely grey gurnard for Ian.
A spurdog waves goodbye as it goes back into Loch Etive
A spurdog waves goodbye as it goes back

Although I caught up a bit towards the end Ian was well ahead in terms of numbers of fish and the overall catch was nothing much – maybe 50-60 fish altogether, and all on the small side. However Etive was near its winter best, which counts for quite a lot in my book, so I was well pleased with the day.

Midwinter Dusk on Loch Etive


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New Year Spurrie Boot Camp

Spurrie boot camp! The concept was simple – an early start to the New Year and a comfortable camp overnight chasing spurdogs in nice, calm conditions. Trevor was up for it so late morning on New Year’s day saw us meeting up before heading west.

Now spending an afternoon hauling rods and a hefty backpack  through miles of sodden peat bog might not be everyone’s idea of a good time and,  by the time we stumbled over the final ridge and found our target over two hours later, we were certainly wondering ourselves.

However I wasted no time in setting up my usual mackerel baited pulley rig on one rod, and kitting the second out with a two hook paternoster style setup. A modest cast out confirmed we were in deep water as the gear took a good while to reach the muddy seafloor.

Sundown - and only 16 hours to sunrise this far north at the beginning of January
Sundown – and only another 16 hours to sunrise

The sun was disappearing fast and it would soon be dark so, once we were both safely fishing, it was time to get the tent up and sort out a fire. There’s a decent fire ring here, put together by generations of hikers, kayakers and the odd fisherman so we could build our camp fairly easily.

A level site, sheltered from the wind and with a nice sized fire ring in front of you - what more do you need in winter
Comfortable overnight camp in January

By now the light had pretty much gone, and the rods were banging away with the first bites of 2017. A few minutes later my first fish of the year appeared, in the shape of a small spurdog and even smaller LSD. They’d taken the smaller hook rig and were quickly photographed and returned.

First fish of 2017 - a spurdog and LSD come up together
First fish of 2017

The wind had been gusting quite hard but dropped after dark which helped keep some feeling in my hands. Both Trevor and I pulled in a few more fish, mainly small male spurdogs, as we sorted out some dinner.

This was definitely gourmet cuisine compared to my usual standards, with a smorgasborg of sausages, chicken and baked potatoes. All washed down with a decent slug of Glenkinchie malt 🙂

Dinner cooking on the campfire
Dinner cooking on the fire

We hit the sack fairly early and managed a decent sleep in temperatures that couldn’t have dropped too much below freezing. Next morning saw us popping the coffee and bacon on whilst fishing in beautiful calm and clear conditions. Even the ebb tide helped make this mark easier to fish by keeping our lines clear of the snaggy rock wall close in.

Ironically, given this is the west coast of Scotland, the only problem was getting fresh water. In the end we (i.e. Trevor) had to scout about 400 or 500 yards to find a small stream.

Trevor with a spurdog from wild country, early January 2017

Trevor bends into another spurdog on a calm, grey morning
Trevor bends into another spurdog

We both had more spurs and a scattering of LSDs, but nothing else to bump up the species count. It stayed pretty much windless but the sun disappeared as the morning wore on and it became heavily overcast with a little light rain.

A small shore caught spurdog

Trevor with a small spurdog taken on mackerel bait

We called time around 2 o’clock, as it is a long trek back to the car and we didn’t fancy finishing by wading through a peat bog in the dark. The woods were eerily silent as we marched through them in the fading light, with no birds or other animals making a sound, and no sign of humans at all. We reached the carpark just before dark, both pretty knackered but happy with our early start to the year.

Also, I’ve not camped out in January before (at least not in Scotland) so that’s bonus on top of the fishing itself. 🙂

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Chilled Out Fishing on Loch Etive

I’m not a great Christmas fan and was happy to escape the house for a spot of chilled out fishing on Loch Etive. You can interpret “chilled out” as you choose, but in the event it did turn out rather more laid back than frigid. I planned to fish afternoon and early evening before picking number one daughter up in Stirling around 10’ish, so it was mid-morning when I headed westwards from Edinburgh.

My first choice of mark was already taken so I headed along the shore for a mile or so. I’d never been here before but there are good fish taken from the boat quite close, and I knew that there was deepish water close in, so it seemed as good a bet as any.

Launching a mackerel bait in search of spurdog on Loch Etive.
Launching a mackerel bait in search of spurdog on Loch Etive

With a couple of rods out and fishing I switched attention to playing with the little BBQ I’d brought along. I’ve had this little Honey Stove for a few years now and it’s quite good fun to mess around with from time to time. You can feed it just about anything – small sticks, fuel tablets, meths – and charcoal briquettes seemed to burn happily enough when I tested them a few months back.

A late winter BBQ on Etive - coffee and sausages cooked over a charcoal brazier ward off the cold on a chilly day.
A late winter BBQ on Etive

The burner got going quite quickly so I stuck some water on to boil for a coffee and impaled a couple of sausages on toasting forks and left them to grill burn.

True to form, as soon as I tasted coffee my reel gave a little scream of protest as a fish mouthed the bait. No great drama, but a few minutes later a nice female in the 6-7lb range glided ashore on a patch of seaweed. A quick photo and back she went, whilst it dawned on me that this was probably my best shore caught fish of the year. I really do need to get out more!

A nice shore caught spurdog from Loch Etive
A nice shore caught spurdog from Loch Etive

I sat back and contemplated my surroundings for a while. It’s not exactly the back of beyond here but there was no-one else about apart from a lone paddle boarder going round in big post-Xmas circles – possibly a new toy being played with? A pair of cormorants were fishing just offshore and seemed to be doing rather better than me. A few trains rattled past nearby, as did a rather grumpy seal, but otherwise I was left in peace.

Just as I was dozing off my ratchet clicked again. Another little run resulted in a small thornback which was soon returned to grow bigger. Other than that things remained quiet…

A small thornback ray caught from the shore at Loch Etive
A small thornback ray caught from the shore at Loch Etive

As the light faded I turned to setting up my grandpa tent – aka a Ron Thompson Beach Shelter that has been sitting unused in the garage for a decade or more. I’d taken it along as I wasn’t fishing far from the car and the forecast had been for a bit of wind, so a bit of shelter would make the darkness feel less chilly.

Extra shelter on a winters day - a beach buddy style bivi to ward off the breeze.

It proved big enough to fit both me and the stove inside. OK, I was starting to feel I was being hot smoked, but the BBQ certainly helped notch the temperature up a degree or two.

I’d kind of hoped that darkness would encourage more fishy action, but I spent more time burning sausages than I did reeling in fish. Just one more spurdog was landed, with another couple throwing the hook, before I packed it in and headed off to become the family taxi driver once again.

A spurdog caught in the light of my headtorch

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Westward Ho! – Revisiting Lochs Leven and Sunart

I hadn’t really planned on a trip to the sea lochs, but the forecast was mixed to poor and Trevor was still recovering from the damage inflicted the last time he came fishing with me, so we took the Mr. Sensible route and headed westward – besides which, I haven’t fished Sunart for a couple of years now and it is a very pretty place.

Loch Leven

We got launched easily enough at Ballachulish, once the hotel reception had found the key to the car park barrier, and skipped across to the fish farm for a couple of hours.

A small thornback from Loch Leven
Baby thornback

Smallish mackerel soon added to our bait supply but the rest of the fishing was pretty slow, with only a few rays showing. Getting a little fed up of this we upped anchor and went for a bit of exploring.

Trevor feels for a bite as we fish on Loch Leven
Concentration: Trevor on Loch Leven
A nice ray from Loch Leven for Trevor, but nothing like the quality of fishing that the loch can produce from time to time
Ray of the day. Umm!

Heading up the loch in far calmer conditions than the forecast promised, we passed through the Narrows and into the upper loch. We dallied for a few minutes at the cliffs, but the codling didn’t really want to play ball and we’d to settle for a few poorcod as additional bait.

A warm afternoon afloat on Loch Leven had us both getting a little sleepy
Nodding off
A peaceful scene on Loch Leven - vastly better than the near gale and heavy rain that was forecast
Tranquility… despite the near gale-force forecast

A mooch over to the mussel farm saw a few more rays and absolutely the tiniest mackerel I’ve ever seen – large shoals of fish the size of a large minnow.

These tiny mackerel were around in large shoals on Loch Leven
Another miniature mackerel falls to Trevor on Loch Leven
Another miniature mackerel

The final move for the day saw us try some reefier ground in the middle of the loch, but with only a few dogfish to show for it. Heading back to the slate slip we duly retrieved Alcatraz after the usual palaver of getting the keys for the barrier.

Ballachulish now boasts a chippie, but before heading off to find it we’d a chat with the skipper of one of the big ribs that plays with tourists on the loch. Aside from the tale of the witches curse on the Ballachulish bridge, it was quite blood curdling to hear of the fuel consumption of these ribs at full blast – 110 litres per hour – per engine!

Trevor hauls up a thornback from Loch Leven
Something meatier
It would be nice to say Loch Leven coughed up loads of thornback rays, but that would be a fib.
A small ray comes out to play

And across to Resipole and Loch Sunart

By now the rain was starting, but the plan called for a run to the Corran ferry and then an overnighter at Resipole campsite before a day on Loch Sunart. We reached Resipole as it got dark and pitched the tent quickly in what was becoming quite heavy rain – and then promptly fell asleep.

Resipole is a very nice and scenic campsite, but the still, damp air at half-past six next morning meant there were a million midges hovering outside the tent, just waiting for us me(!) to step outside. I’d say it took around 60 seconds to clear the tent and sleeping gear into the car…

Launching wasn’t too bad, as we’d a few minutes grace before the little bar-stewards figured out where we were, but we didn’t hang around on the slip and were soon heading out on the loch.

A very atmospheric early morning on Loch Sunart
A very atmospheric early morning on Loch Sunart

We tried a couple of different marks in the morning, and both were holding good numbers of spurdog – but just the wrong size, maxing out at maybe 5lbs. Mackerel, dogfish and a solitary thornback made up the numbers, but quality was distinctly absent.

Not great - a typical sized spurdog for this trip on Loch Sunart
Not great – a typical sized spurdog for this trip
Clearing skies on a windless Loch Sunart - but only small fish around
Deep water + small fish = hard work

A shift to shallower marks for the afternoon added some smaller species – whiting and gurnard, plus a conger eel for Trevor. We were trying for thornbacks but had none at all, so it was a little ironic to get an eel from relatively shallow, clean ground when we’d spent all morning trying for them without success on the more recognised marks.

This Loch Sunart conger eel was a slight surprise from the mark it was captured on - shallowish water and clean ground
Sunart conger
A low double figure conger for Trevor - and our best fish of the weekend from Loch Sunart
Trevor with his conger

And the whelk population just here seemed enormous – I don’t recall seeing any from Sunart before.

A "shoal" of whelks feasting on a whole mackerel bait in Loch Sunart

So we ended up with better weather and fewer fish than we probably deserved, but it was fine just to mix a bit of fishing with a bit of fossicking about in search of new ground – and I don’t see anything to regret in having a relaxing weekend in the Scottish fjords, rather than a full-on fishing trip.

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Summer fishing mini-reports

I find I tend not to do too much fishing in the height of summer, if there is such a thing in Scotland, but I do try and wet a line from time to time and here are a few mini-reports that didn’t get the full treatment.

An Afternoon on Loch Leven

Bonnie and I headed over to Loch Leven for a few hours shore fishing in July. A bit blustery with a mix of sunshine and showers, but warm enough. We pretty much fished all the way up a rather large tide.

High tide on Loch Leven covers most of the marks
High tide on Loch Leven
Bonnie waiting for her turn to play, as we spend the afternoon shore fishing on Loch Leven
Bonnie waiting for her turn to play

I can’t say as the fish were very co-operative, but I managed a couple of rays and a dogfish through the afternoon so a blank was thoroughly averted. Poor dog wasn’t so happy when I’d to deal with her tick fest later on though …

A small shore caught thornback ray
A small shore caught thornback ray
A great backdrop for an afternoon's fishing
A great backdrop for an afternoon’s fishing
Lesser spotted dogfish are one of the most common catches in Loch Leven
Ever-present dogfish

Early August off St Andrews

St Andrews threw up a few Pollack and a good number of codling for Ian and myself at the beginning of August, although we’d to wait the best part of four hours before they switched on as the tide turned and light started to fade. No monsters (I say that all too often!), but a useful top up for the freezer. Mackerel were fairly plentiful and I added coalie, ling, and a dogfish to the total for the day.

My fish of the day was this Pollack - kind of underlining the lack of quality from St Andrews today.
My fish of the day was this Pollack… (pic courtesy of Ian)

As usual the zig-zagging through the lobster pots in near darkness added a little interest at the end of the day.

Loch Etive Spur-fest

Last weekend saw me having a lazy day out on Loch Etive, trying a couple of new marks for me and trying to get a better understanding of a couple I’ve fished before.

About half the day was spent chasing small spurs and middleweight pollack miles up the loch, with a few whiting, doggies and a single codling making up the numbers.

A pair of Spurdog from 400 feet down in Loch Etive
Spurdog from 400 feet down in Loch Etive
This plump Etive whiting coughed up a load of fish farm pellet food
Plump Etive whiting – full of fish farm pellets

Shifting further down towards Bonawe and into deep (over 400 feet) water seemed to ignite more interest and I had a solid 90 minute spell of fish two at a time within seconds of hitting bottom. All of which would’ve been more fun if it didn’t involve a long, long haul to get them aboard!

A double hit of whiting and spurdog from Etive
A double hit of whiting and spurdog from Etive
A pollack from Loch Etive, taken on a lead head and firetail jelly worm many miles from the open sea
Loch Etive pollack

New Videos

I also found the time to put together a couple of videos for Loch Etive and Loch Leven, based on trips there in recent years and fleshing out Corkwing’s pages on each.

Fishing Loch Leven

Fishing, boating and camping in the Loch Etive wilderness

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Spurdogs play in the sun on Loch Etive

I had a better day than expected yesterday, as most recent reports from Loch Etive have been poor, and I thought I’d be struggling. As it turned out however, a decent break with the spurdogs saved the day, whilst unbroken sunshine was the icing on the cake.

Alcatraz has been out of water for almost 5 months now, and a little shakedown cruise was well overdue so I grabbed the weather and took the day off. Bonnie the spaniel was press-ganged as crew and we escaped Edinburgh just on 5 in the morning, to try and launch around HW at Taynuilt.

Flat calm at Kelly's Pier, Taynuilt

Even after a layup over winter the ETEC started first time and we were soon skimming over a flat calm surface and down towards Ardchattan. Anchor set and rods deployed we could turn to the more important matters of coffee and gravy bones (your choice depending on whether you’re human or a spaniel).

A small ray hits the surface
A small ray hits the surface

We spent the morning plugging away at a couple of spots around Ardchattan but it was fairly slow going, with only 3 rays, 3 doggies and a single spurdog and micro-cod to show for our efforts.

My cocker spaniel Bonnie looks a bit puzzled by this small thornback ray

By lunchtime Bonnie decided it was high time to get ashore and have a proper play about so we pointed Alcatraz back up the loch and just kept going until civilisation was safely left behind. Parking the boat just offshore we stretched out on the beach, had a bite to eat and a chuck about with the ball.

Bonnie is glad to be ashore and off the boat

Snow on Ben Cruachan and gorse coming into flower made a great backdrop.

Bonnie playing on the shore at Etive, with Cruachan behind

By half two I thought we’d better put some more effort into the fishing so persuaded a rather reluctant dog back in the boat and headed out to a nearby mark.

The breeze had picked up a little, but we sat quite nicely with wind and tide aligned. A set of small sabikis drew the first fish as the spinning rod hooped over to a hefty take. On the light rod this felt to be a good size until things went pear shaped about 30 seconds later. I assumed that a spurdog had nibbled the small sabiki and just bitten through the line until a rather beaten up whiting surfaced.

An Etive spurdog slides alongside the boat

No time to worry about it as my “proper” rod was now bouncing hard, and I hit into another spur. This one made it to the boat and was quickly returned – a modest 4-5lber at best, but welcome. This set the scene for the next couple of hours as fish after fish hit the baits.

A brace of spurdogs

None were very big, apart from the one that got away (! – even that was no monster), but most were in the 3-5 lb range with the biggest a 7 lb fish.

Netting a modest spurdog from Etive

Not huge, but the largest fish of the day - a 7 pound spurdog

Nothing else got a look in until towards the end of the session when a couple more dogfish and small whiting hit the surface.

All in all the score for the day was 22 spurs, 3 rays plus doggies, whiting and a micro-cod. Not a red-letter day, but not too shabby for a few stolen hours in the sunshine chilling with a furry friend.

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Re-visiting Etive

It’s been weeks since I was last out, and it’s been frustrating watching a shedload of wet and windy weather blasting through on any available free time. However a calm sunny day was forecast for the Etive area so I decided to combine that with an over-nighter boat camping well up the loch.

Early winter snow near Barrs
Early winter snow near Barrs

Launching in the dark was no big deal, but ploughing up the loch by chartplotter proved a little more challenging, especially as my Navionics card pre-dates the upper loch being converted to electronic format. Darkness, low cloud and light rain misting up your glasses disorientates you quite easily, so I was glad I know the loch fairly well and had a few waypoints set.

Setting up camp was reasonably slick and I was heading back out onto the loch in well under an hour, setting up stall in one of my favourite deepwater marks. The rain wasn’t heavy but did manage to chill everything down quite well, and action was on the slow side. I gave it a couple of hours with a few small spurs, a ray and dogfish to show for my efforts, before heading back ashore to get some dinner organised.

Overnight at Barrs
A cold night at Barrs

The fire and little BBQ provided a little relief from the cold, and clouds began to break and reveal the moon. Having checked Alcatraz on her mooring I left her to it and turned in around midnight.

Next morning I awoke in reasonable warmth, thanks to a significant sleeping bag upgrade earlier in the year, and prized open the tent flap to view a cold but clear dawn – the rain had provided quite a good glazing effect where it had frozen overnight and cracked off the tent in impressive style.

Bay at Barrs

Camp struck, I headed out with Alcatraz to do a little survey of a deepish channel I’d come across a while back, and which seemed to be in range of a modest shore cast. You can see the result from Reefmaster below, combined with a Google Earth overlay – although since it’s miles from the nearest car-accessible spot I’m guessing not many shore anglers will be visiting soon. Having completed this little objective I dropped anchor in the trench and waited to see if anything would show.

Reefmaster and Google Maps chart
Reefmaster and Google Maps chart

A few minutes later the answer came in the form of a series of tiny spurdogs in the 6 to 12 inch range. There were a few whiting as well, some of which were bigger than the spurs they came up with.

Baby spurdogs

Although even these little fellows pack a punch, as I found out when I got spiked by one 🙁

Spiked by a spurdog
Spiked by a spurdog

Even the bigger fish weren’t too much better…

Small spurdog

So it was soon time to head west back along the loch to try another mark.

A beautiful day afloat on Loch Etive

The sun was up and the loch flat calm as I waited it out at another mark half-way down towards Bonawe, so I sipped a coffee and watched the world pass by – rather slowly in the shape of flotilla of sea kayaks.

Sea kayaks on Loch Etive

A pair of sea kayakers on Etive

A few fish did show up, including this beautifully olive-gold coloured little codling and a decent number of small spurdogs (no absolutely tiny ones here, thankfully).

Golden coloured codling from Loch Etive

Small golden coloured cod

Pretty little thing - poorcod head and shoulders
Pretty little thing in closeup – poorcod head and shoulders shot

A final move down below Bonawe produced nothing apart from small dogfish, so I called a halt slightly earlier than planned to allow an early retrieval whilst it was still daylight.

An angry spurdog
An angry spurdog lets fly
Parasitic worms on an Etive whiting
Parasitic worms on an Etive whiting
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Back to Oban for more Skate Fishing

It was a bit of a toss up whether to head to Etive or carry on a bit and try fishing for skate off Oban, but a combination of small tides and calm weather tempted Ian and I into a spot of skate fishing from Gallanach.

My reservations about skate hunting were further overcome when the sun came out big time and I could safely settle down for a snooze whilst waiting for some action…. maybe.

Apart from a few dogfish on small baits, a snooze was as good as it got all the way through the ebb, and I was pleased to catch a couple of modest spurdogs to add a little excitement.

Spurdog in the 7-8lb range
Spurdog in the 7-8lb range

About 90 minutes into the flood tide, and with the sun almost setting, Ian’s rod finally got some action with a fish that messed around for several minutes before Ian set the hook.

Playing an Oban skate

This fish played around in the tide, alternating some fairly easy retrieval with powerful dives that left Ian struggling to stop it.

Playing a skate as the sun fades
Playing a skate as the sun fades

However experience gradually told and the familiar outline of a decent fish eventually emerged, kiting gently in the current.

Bringing a skate to the gaff

Lifting a 100lber aboard Alcatraz

A quick haul in for a few photos and back it went – later confirmed at 103lbs on the size tables. Not a monster but a fine male fish nonetheless.

Ian with a 103lb skate

By now it was getting dark and time to haul anchor from 500 feet below us, before heading back to Puffin Dive Centre at Gallanach, and then home, via the chippie at Oban.

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Struggling on Etive

I haven’t been back to Etive since my Xmas camping trip with Trevor, so it was first choice for a daytrip – and besides I still needed a spurdog for my 2015 species count and Etive is the most reliable place I know for them.

Ian was otherwise tied up so I press-ganged the dog into serving as crew and headed off from Edinburgh about 5.30. Arriving at Taynuilt I found the loch enveloped in thick fog, but at least there was no wind to worry about. One rather clumsy launch later and we headed out into the mist and felt our way down towards Ardchattan.

It was pretty thick so I made sure to anchor well out the way of fish farm traffic, and we settled down to wait for action. By mid-morning the sky had cleared and the loch was looking it’s best – but no sign of any fish.

At anchor near Ardchattan
At anchor near Ardchattan

A move up to the deep water near Airds Point produced zilch, and the loch seemed completely dead. After wasting the whole morning in exchange for one half-hearted little bite I decided to head up the loch and try my luck there.

I stopped off at a little mark near Glen Kinglass which produced plenty of small codling for me last year, in the hope of breaking my duck for the day. Success, in the form of a mini-codling, duly appeared but even here I was struggling to get a bite on sabiki style lures.

Ashore for lunch
Ashore for lunch

My furry companion was getting somewhat mutinous by this stage so I headed ashore for an hour or so to let her have a run around the shoreline and stretch my own legs a bit. She wasn’t too happy when it was time to haul in the boat and head off again, but eventually decided she didn’t want to play Robinson Crusoe!


Heading across the loch, which was starting to get a little bouncy with wind against tide, I ended up fishing a trench a couple of hundred yards offshore. I’d not tried here before and had no great expectations this far up the loch, especially as there was a lot of freshwater colour in the water, but I couldn’t be doing any worse than back down the loch.

A nice Etive spurdog
A nice Etive spurdog

I was a bit surprised to get a good solid bite after only a few minutes fishing which duly resulted in a nice spur of around 9lbs. Of course that meant I had to stick it out for a while to find out if it was a loner, or whether there was company down there.

The answer came in the form of a chewed up whiting a few minutes later, with the characteristic spur bite out of it.

A well-chomped whiting from Barrs
A well-chomped whiting from Barrs

I’d like to say that the fishing improved from here, but that would be a fib. I did get a fair number of whiting, including several double shots, but spurs were scarce and I only picked up another couple – one around 7lbs and one about 8lbs.

Netting a spurdog
Netting a spurdog

A couple of plain vanilla doggies and a solitary thornback ray made up the numbers, with a tiny grey gurnard arriving just as I packed up for the day.

Small thornback ray
Small thornback ray

I bounced my way slowly back down the loch, which was calming down in the evening, partly to avoid getting a seasick dog and partly just to enjoy the ambience of the place – even though this is probably my poorest result from Etive in several years it’s still a fantastic place to fish.

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Boat camping in Sunart

Almost two months had past since Alcatraz last got some exercise, as one thing after another got in the way of a bit of fishing, until finally some decent weather and a free diary lined up for a few days.

The original plan had been to head either to the far north of Scotland or to some very remote territory on the south coast of Mull, as the forecasts looked a bit on the breezy side. However this improved just enough to give a decent crack at Loch Sunart so it became a question of finding somewhere sheltered enough for an overnight stay in a northerly wind that was still forecast to be a force 5.

Looking towards Dun Ghallain, a natural harbour used for over 2000 years
Looking towards Dun Ghallain, a natural harbour used for over 2000 years

Dun Ghallain (“Fort of the Storms”) is a highly sheltered little lagoon on the north side of Sunart between Laga Bay and Salen, and most people are only vaguely aware it exists. It does indeed have an old Iron Age fort, and the superb little anchorage was used by the Vikings for their own ships over 1000 years ago, but the more pressing question was – is there anywhere to pitch a tent? Past experience with Sunart’s combination of stony shorelines and bogs has made me wary as flat ground is quite rare, and Dun Ghallain is no exception.


After a good bit of looking around I settled on a site on the outer edges of the lagoon where there was enough ground to pitch a tent between exposed rock edges. Fine for a bit of solo camping, but two would definitely be a crowd when it came to avoiding rocky lumps in the ground.

Given the history of the place you’d half-expect a ghost or two to show up but not even a stray deer wandered past and I’d a couple of uneventful nights. I’d been a bit worried about the amount of weed in the bay, coupled with some large rocks, but low water revealed Alcatraz safely surrounded by sand and water and it wasn’t difficult to extricate her from her mooring and out the channel into the loch.

Leaving Dun Ghallain anchorage just after sunrise
Leaving Dun Ghallain anchorage just after sunrise

To be honest the fishing wasn’t great. Day 1 only involved a few hours by the time I was launched and allowing for the time spent setting up camp, and it was basically dogfish. Day 2 was better after a slow start, with a mix of rays and a few spurs from Laga Bay, including just one double of 13lb 6oz, plus more dogs and a couple of whiting. Given that it was pretty windy for much of the day I couldn’t really complain as I headed back to feel my way in to Dun Ghallain as darkness fell. After breaking camp (and the ice off the tent), the last day gave a couple of conger to 17lbs 6oz and yet more dogs and whiting in a beautiful sunny day. So quality fish but slow fishing, and in line with my previous experience of Sunart.

A spur in low-double figures
A spur in low-double figures
A small thornback ray from Loch Sunart
A small thornback ray from Loch Sunart
Where possible I use a net to land conger
Where possible I use a net to land conger
A typical conger eel from the Laga Bay area
A typical conger eel from the Laga Bay area


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