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.

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(In)action at Loch Leven with Summer Thornbacks

The east coast looked a bit breezy so Ian and I decided to try a sheltered west coast sea loch, namely Leven, for some summer thornbacks. In the event we met up at Lochearnhead at a fairly civilised 7.30 in the morning and trundled across with the early morning traffic.

After a short skirmish with an advance guard of the midge hordes at the slate slipway in Ballachulish we were launched and heading out across the loch to try for mackerel and thornies at the fish farm. Typical Scottish summer weather with a mix of grim grey clouds and some nice warm sunshine to knock you off guard!

With pretty eyes and vicious thorns this little ray deserves both admiration and respect
Pretty eyes and vicious thorns…

Mackerel proved easy enough, although most were smaller than I’d like, but it took 90 minutes or more before the thornies put in an appearance. Both Ian and I had fish straddling the 5lb mark within minutes of each other (Ian’s straddling the right side of 5lbs whilst mine fell short – an all too typical story in my experience).

Ian bends into a Leven thornback
Ian bends into a Leven thornback

Sadly, the anticipation generated by a brace of nice fish soon wore off. There were more rays about but they steadily dropped in size towards the embarrassing end of the spectrum. When the mackerel are larger than the thornbacks you are definitely struggling…

A typical Leven thornback ray in the 4-5lb bracket
A typical Leven thornback ray in the 4-5lb bracket – but as good as we got

Upping anchor we decided to give it a try outside the loch, where the mouth drops into 100+ feet of water. New territory for me as I’d never fished out here before, and I doubt I’ll bother again given the highlight was a 3 inch whiting impaled on a 4/0 hook. ’nuff said!

A moody looking Loch Leven and Glencoe
A moody looking Loch Leven and Glencoe

Our final mark was a slightly off-the-wall offering courtesy of Ian, and we ended up in very shallow water (for a sea loch) with the anchor in around 30 feet. A slow start gradually improved as a succession of tiny/small thornbacks appeared, and at least the size appeared to be increasing. There was a reasonable trickle of tide and I could believe the claimed 8lb’ers were certainly possible at times.

Getting closer to postage stamp size - a small Leven ray
Getting closer to postage stamp size – a small Leven ray
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Gubbed by the Weather in Galloway

It’s taken almost a month to getting around to post this little report, which probably says it all! Who’d be an angler in Scotland. Four days of wind and a fair bit of rain 🙁 Still, we caught a few fish, had a few beers, and even the tent survived unscathed.

The forecast was pretty much right, with mainly a force 5-6 S/SW wind, which leaves most of the area unfishable from a boat. Even shore fishing is hard going.

A boisterous sea on Luce Bay
A boisterous sea on Luce Bay

Thursday afternoon saw Ian and I hammering in what felt like 100 tent pegs as we put up a cavernous old family tent at Port William. At least base camp looked and felt fairly spacious – even if I wasn’t entirely confident it would actually still be there in the morning.

Base camp - a 12 man tent for the 3 of us
Base camp

We followed up with a couple of hours catching weed at Luce Bay, together with a stray coalie and flounder.

Snatching a few hours afloat

However Friday offered the prospect of lighter winds, so Ian and I took the chance to get out before things got worse again, and headed out from Garlieston. A little bouncy in Wigtown Bay but not too bad, and we were able to fish OK.

Ian holds a very spiny thornback ray which was armed front and back with big hook-like spikes
A very spiny hedgehog of a thornback ray
One of several nice dabs from Wigtown Bay
One of several nice dabs from Wigtown Bay

We’d only frozen mackerel but otherwise had plenty of crab and some squid, however the fish weren’t too keen to play and we only had a handful of smoothhound showing interest.

A small hound for Ian
A small hound for Ian

Ian had several decent rays but there was no sign of tope, whilst we had rather too many doggies and a few dabs.

Ian holds the best smoothhound of the session
Best smoothhound

We headed back to Garlieston around half-three, to catch the slip before the tide ebbed too far, and passed Trevor catching a few crabs at the pier head as he waited for us to come in.

Trevor waiting as we come back to Garlieston after a few hours afloat
Trevor waiting as we come back to Garlieston

Boat recovery and greetings over with, we spent a little while collecting some lug to augment bait supplies before munching a variety of chippie suppers in the early evening sunshine.

Bass and Eels

Morale somewhat restored it was off round to Carsluith for an evening fish at a more sheltered spot. This worked out pretty well, with good numbers of flounder, an eel or two and a couple of bass for me.

Trevor casts out over the mud towards the River Cree
Trevor casts out over the mud
Fishing over mud to reach the estuary as we wait for the tide to rise.
Fishing over mud to reach the estuary
Lucky Ian - another eel, one of several he caught
Lucky Ian – another eel
A small bass from Carsluith on the Cree Estuary
Small bass from Carsluith

A fairly manky and muddy venue, but it did churn out the flounders and eels (mainly for Ian, who didn’t receive much sympathy), as well as bass and plenty more weed.

The wind was pretty horrible on Saturday so it was back to Carsluith for a few hours. Between fishing Luce Bay and Carsluith I ended up with a good number of flounders, three bass (and a fourth that fell off at the side), and a solitary eel and coalie. The bass were a definite plus for me as I’ve hardly ever caught them from the shore before and although the best probably didn’t make 3lbs, it’s still a PB for me.

Nice shore caught bass
Nice shore caught bass
A nice flounder from the pier
A nice flounder from the pier
Trevor relaxing at Carsluith whilst Ian holds on to his hat in the wind
Trevor relaxing at Carsluith
Ian with the best flounder of the trip, something like 1lb 6 or 7oz
Best flounder of the trip

Sunday proved more of the same, weatherwise, so we called it quits and reverse engineered the tent back into the car before trundling off home. So, one good day out of four from a fishing point of view, but I suppose we were spoiled by the last couple of years when sunstroke looked a real possibility!

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Pollacked on Loch Etive

Fish in the east, fish in the west, but not really the weather to exploit either coast! Faced with the need to check out Alcatraz before an upcoming trip to Galloway I chickened out and made my way over to Etive again, with the furball for company.

Having had fairly poor results from down the loch over the past year I just headed straight up into the less visited upper loch and settled down to a little Etive pollack bashing. This isn’t something I often do on the loch, as there are a lot of smaller fish around, but I was trying for something a little better today.

My leadhead attracted little attention in the peaty-ish waters, but I lost a couple of smaller fish which threw the hook before my light spinning rod went parabolic and line peeled rapidly off the little Abu reel. Clearly a better fish, I treated it with a little respect and it was a few minutes before a good sized fish (and my best Etive pollack) slid into the net and came aboard.

Unhooking a nice pollack taken on a leadhead and firetail worm
Unhooking a nice pollack

Being guilty of over-estimating the size of pollack (slab sided, but thin when compared to cod) I always prefer to trust my scales and these slid round to a healthy 5lb 6oz.

Slipping a Pollack back into the water

Nothing else seemed very interested so I shifted a little and dropped anchor. Wind and tide were opposed, which is never something to be recommended, but it wasn’t uncomfortable and just a little awkward as the boat slewed from side to side. Bozo had clearly given up on dreams of a run ashore and curled up and went to sleep for a while.

It was a little slow, but a decent sprinking of fish graced Alcatraz’s gunwhales, including spurdogs, dogs, a thornback and some whiting (heads only!).

A small spurdog comes aboard
A small spurdog comes aboard

Taking pity on Bonnie I took a break in the early afternoon and we headed ashore for an hour of chasing sticks and drinking coffee in the sunshine.

A lethal combination - wet dog with stick
A lethal combination – wet dog with stick

A couple more hours fishing produced more of the same, but no sign of larger spurdogs, so I was happy enough to point Alcatraz south and head back towards Taynuilt.

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A Few Hours Chasing Thornbacks from my SIB

Just catching up a bit with some rather late reports…

A couple of weeks ago I nipped across to Loch Leven to spend the morning chasing thornbacks. I actually drove across the night before to test out some adjustments to my sleeping arrangements in the Yeti, proving you can sleep me, an inflatable and an outboard and associated fishing clobber in considerable comfort. Headroom’s a wee bit lacking but otherwise it all seems OK. I also managed to bounce a roe deer off the front of car near Kinlochleven, but thankfully both parties seemed to escape with only minor damage.

Squeezing my inflatable boat, outboard, fishing gear and a sleeping bag into the back of a Yeti. It's surprisingly comfortable.
Room for Two?

The fishing was nothing to write home about, but I launched the SIB at the old slate slip and spent the morning chasing thornbacks across at the fish farm. It was a nice enough day but even the very slight breeze was chilly, so little chinks of sunshine were welcome when the showed through the cloud. I accumulated 5 little thornbacks (ranging from small to tiny) and a lonely doggie with no sign of any mackerel.

A small thornback ray perched on the tubes of my Avon 310 SIB
Small thornback ray

Overall I think the fishing in Leven seems to be going backwards and the last couple of years have been pretty poor, but it’s still a pleasant enough spot to try for a few hours.

Watching the rod tip and waiting for another fish
Waiting for a bite

I’d to head northwards to meet up with my dad in the afternoon so it was a shorter trip than usual – just the sort of thing the little Avon SIB excels at.

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Spring Strikes on Loch Leven

I’ve been across to Loch Leven three times since New Year and it’s been relentlessly cold so it was a full set of thermals for yesterday’s trip – only to spend most of the day in windless, warm weather with a good deal of spring sunshine to boot. This is Scotland though, so it did rain most of the way home!

Calm and overcast start to the day, upper Loch Leven
Calm and overcast start

The upper loch, above the Narrows, was the target for today, mainly to add species and quantity rather than make any play for quality. An early start saw the Avon hit the water around 8, and I made my way over the deep, reefy ground to try for the small codling and poorcod that fill the place.

A few seconds after starting this little ling hit the bait.

Baby ling from Loch Leven
Baby ling from Loch Leven

Followed by a long succession of mini-codling and poorcod. I kept a few poorcod for bait, but the novelty of catching them soon wears off.

Poor cod reach plague proportions, Loch Leven
Poor cod reach plague proportions

The species count hit 4 with this little coalie, which was another first for the year, and I took the opportunity to collect a few mussels from the rocks – although there weren’t many exposed as this was a pretty small tide.

A small coalfish, first of the year
First coalie of the year

By this time the loch was getting filled with kayaks in all manner of colours, together with a few boats from the nearby campsite, so I clearly wasn’t the only one with an eye open for a slice of good weather.

Pollack fishing from a kayak, tucked close in under the cliffs at Loch Leven
Pollack fishing from a kayak

Having had my fill of mini-fish I decided to head back towards the deeper water and drop anchor in search of larger quarry. The outboard sprang into life quickly enough but we’d covered less than a hundred yards when it died on me 🙁 A quick look suggested the same problem as I had last year – a stuck carb float. Annoying but not really a big deal as I a few minutes with the oars got me back to the area I wanted to anchor in anyway, and this was not far from my launch point.

Fine Day to be Afloat on Loch Leven - an inflatable sits on flat calm water, overshadowed by the mountains behind
Fine Day to be Afloat on Loch Leven

Since part of the plan was to try the upper loch at anchor and see whether it held much in the way of rays, I just stuck it out for the rest of the day. The first couple of hours produced nothing bar a missed bite on a poorcod bait, but things picked up a little thereafter, with a good sprinkling of small whiting on the mini-baits and a succession of rays on mackerel.

First ray of the day - holding a small thornback ray
First ray of the day

These fish weren’t large, and seemed a good bit leaner than their plumper friends down near the fish farm at Ballachulish, but they all seemed in good condition and were nicely coloured. Overall I picked up 5, with the best maybe 4-5lbs, and a middle of the road type result pretty much in line with expectations.

Playing a thornback ray from my inflatable, Loch Leven
Playing a thornback ray
Bringing a thornback alongside the SIB, Loch Leven
Bringing a thornback alongside the SIB, Loch Leven
A nicely marked thornback ray perches on the SIB's tubes
A nicely marked thornback ray

 

Incidentally a thornback ray’s eye is really very pretty, with beautiful colouration and patterns. Have a closer look next time you catch one.

Thornback rays have very pretty eyes
Close up of thornback’s eye

I headed ashore about 4 in the afternoon, as I was getting a little stiff from the cramped confines of the SIB. However it was still a fine day so I gave it another 90 minutes from the shore further down the loch – without so much as a sniff of a bite.

A kayaker calls it a day on Loch Leven
A kayaker calls it a day

 

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SIB’ing in the Snow

With a forecast of a few hours of light winds and a few snow showers later, I reckoned it was time to get the boat fishing gear into action so the SIB got packed into the back of the car and I headed towards one of my favourite west coast sea lochs.

It was minus 2 and not quite as windless as I’d hoped for, but still perfectly fishable as I popped the inflatable into the water and flogged the Tohatsu into action for the short hop across the loch to the mark for the day. The only other visible life was a kayaker hoping to launch for a few fish as well – arguably the only place less comfortable than the SIB for winter fishing.

Catching a winter thornback ray from my SIB
Catching a winter thornback ray from my SIB

First off, I dropped a set of mini-sabikis on the spinning rod, and left them to fish whilst I sorted out the bigger rig for targeting rays. 60 seconds later I noticed the slack line that usually indicates a bunch of mackerel have grabbed the lures and made a complete bour-ash of them. For once I jumped to the right conclusion and hauled in a small shoal of 5 mackerel (and a completely sha**ed set of sabikis). Bait sorted at least, and my earliest ever mackerel.

Mackerel - on a snowy day in January
Mackerel – on a snowy day in January

The heavier rod was quiet for a while before the first of (most probably) many 2016 doggies surfaced for a quick photo.

SIB caught LSD
SIB caught LSD

A few minutes later he was joined by my first thornie of the year, at around 5lb 10oz.

My first thornback ray of 2016
My first thornback ray of 2016

By now the snow had started, just a few hours earlier than forecast, and the wind added a couple of knots, just to remind me it was well and truly wintertime. As my kayaker friend paddled over towards the fish farm cages he was half hidden in the snow flurries.

Kayaking in mid-winter
Kayaking in mid-winter

The next couple of thornies were a bit bigger, at nearly 7lbs and bang on 8lbs respectively, but it was cold work getting them so I reckoned they were well earned on my part.

SIB fishing in a snowy winter
SIB fishing on a snowy winter’s day

The snow didn’t bother the fish of course, and they kept coming with pin-whiting, a tiddly codling, couple of grey gurnard and several more mackerel on the spinning rod, plus a succession of rays and doggies on the bigger baits.

Winter fishing from a SIB
Winter fishing from a SIB

Eventually the wind rose close to double figures and the general chilliness proved too much, so I packed it in early afternoon – but with 10 thornies to 8lbs and similar numbers of mackerel and LSD I’d no reason to complain about the results.

Interesting trying to drive home when you can’t feel your feet on the pedals though!

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A Trickle of Thornbacks

A lovely sunrise over Rannoch Moor had turned into a somewhat greyer and rawer day at Ballachulish, but it was still and calm as Ian and I launched and headed over to the fish farm and anchored up in search of thornbacks.

First fish came a few minutes later when my little spinning rod bent over to the unmistakeable struggle of a mackerel. No surprise as they are quite common here in the winter months and I usually fish a small rod with baited sabikis that often picks them up. However this was a threesome of fresh baits which meant that Ian’s mackerel were retired (I’m used to yellowed mackerel, but orange suggests a decade in the freezer).

Nice Grey Gurnard
Nice Grey Gurnard

Unfortunately this proved to be the peak of excitement throughout the ebb and there wasn’t a hint of a thornback for several hours, although the mackerel count continued to climb and we added plenty of other bits and pieces such as whiting, micro-cod, gurnard and poor cod, with Ian getting a rather nice grey gurnard that was heading towards the pound mark. Even coffee and bacon rolls didn’t wake the rays up.

Leven thornback ray

We debated whether to shift up the loch in search of fish, but decided to stick it out near the fishfarm as it is the most reliable mark for thornbacks in Leven and we knew a few fish had been taken earlier in the week. A quick reposition to tuck us a little further inshore as the flood tide started and we settled down again.

Ian with a nice Leven ray
Ian with a nice Leven ray

Whether it was shifting 50 yards or the start of the flood I’ve no idea, but the thornbacks did start to come out to play – albeit nursery sized ones at first. It couldn’t be described as fast fishing but we did eventually hook ten, with Ian getting a nice thornback of 9.5lbs (incidentally the photos don’t do it justice as it was reluctant to show its wings for the camera and was also built like a brick – a really thick fish for its size).

Catching on Loch Leven
Catching on Loch Leven
Chilly evening on Loch Leven
Chilly evening on Loch Leven

Things tailed off at sunset but we treated to a fine display as the light gradually disappeared and we hauled anchor. Retrieval at the slate slip was tricky and clutch destroying with a combination of soft slatey gravel and weed making life quite difficult – and then I very nearly compounded the problems by hitting a deer on the way home. Fortunately for all parties it got off with a modest clip on the rump and I’d no damage to the car.

Sunset on Loch Leven with Ardnamurchan in the background
Sunset on Loch Leven with Ardnamurchan in the background
February afterglow signals the end of the day
February afterglow signals the end of the day

Incidentally this has to be the shortest trip Alcatraz has ever made at only 1.4 miles total distance for the day.

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More Leven Thornbacks

My last visit to Loch Leven was back in early March and the only thing I caught was an ambulance ride to hospital with a broken leg, so I was rather hoping to avoid a repeat performance when dropped the inflatable into the water at Ballachulish.

Ready for the off at Ballachulish
Ready for the off at Ballachulish

The intended target was thornbacks, but I was conscious that I tend to ignore some of the other fishing available in the loch, so I started out with a few drifts close in to the slate tips to try for the mini-species that live on the rocky slopes. Mini-sabikis tipped with mackerel soon brought a stream of tiny poorcod and whiting to the side of the boat, together with a couple of modest Pollack up to 2.5lbs or so. No cod of wrasse showed up before I headed over to the fish farm for a thornie session, which was a minor disappointment but one I’m sure will get sorted out in a future trip.

Best fish of the day
Best fish of the day

A little over 4 hours at the fish farm produced a stream of thornbacks to simple running ledger and mackerel baits, although most were pretty small butterfly sized beasts. In between the mini rays were one or two better ones, with the biggest hitting 8.5lbs. Together with a few dogs and a couple of mackerel (and loads of mini whiting) there was easily enough activity to keep me going for a few hours.

There were also a fair bunch of anglers fishing off the shore near the farm, and they did seem to pick up a decent number of respectable rays as far as I could judge from a distance.

Competition from the shore - a bunch of anglers near the fish farm
Competition from the shore

 

Looking towards Mull from Loch Leven
Looking towards Mull from Loch Leven

Getting bored with the rays I finished the day off with a short session further up the loch, again looking for any codling that might be lurking close inshore but finding huge numbers of poorcod were homing in on the mini lures being used. A setting sun and raw chill in the air didn’t encourage hanging about so it was a fairly early finish to the day and everything packed away for the journey home just as the light faded away completely.

A fine evening at the end of November
A fine evening at the end of November
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12 Feb 2012 – Rays galore at Loch Leven

Weather:Calm, or light WNW wind. Dry and cloudy. Cold
Sea:Calm
Time:0845-1715 – 8.5 hours
Tides:HW0920/LW1530

Given two less than fantastic trips to Loch Etive this year I thought I’d revisit a loch that I’ve not fished for several years – Loch Leven. I snuck the boat in at the old ferry slip under the bridge – a bit steep and a fair run of tide past it, but pretty straightforward. A short spinning session under the bridge produced nothing at all, so I headed up towards the fish farm on the north shore and anchored fairly close to the cages, in around 90 feet of water.

The first couple of hours had me wondering whether I’d have been better off at Etive – only 2 thornbacks and a solitary dogfish put in an appearance. However things started to improve and more thornbacks were being boated regularly – mainly Etive sized 2-4lbs fish, but with a sprinking of larger beasts. The best was a really thick but tail-less ray that made 9lbs, with another of just under 8lbs. By 2 p.m. the total stood at 32 rays and 7 dogfish and I decided on a shift to see whether we could get any different species.

A move well up the loch saw me stop off for a bucket full of mussels – both for bait and dinner – and anchor close in to the south shore and try for a conger at the base of the rocks. Things were quiet, but another 4 rays turned up to make a final score of 36 ray and 7 dogfish.

Overall a good trip and better than I expected, as Leven has never been particularly kind to me in the past. Glad I made the effort!

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