Two men in a SIB

It must be a decade since I last fished two men in a SIB, as it’s usually cramped enough for one disorganised angler, let alone two. However Loch Leven ain’t the open Atlantic, and a few hours fishing in calm conditions made it an decent proposition.

Apart from the outboard taking a bit of flogging to get going it was an easy start in calm and sunny conditions (in a change from my usual pantomime it was starved of fuel rather than flooded. After 30 years I should know all this by now!). Having two aboard makes a noticeable difference to performance, and there was no chance of getting on the plane, so we simply puttered our way across the loch and dropped anchor.

Fishing was very slow but we eventually picked up one or two rays. This first one proved to be the best of the day, which really doesn’t say very much about the quality of the fishing.

Me. with the first thornback of the day and a lot of snowy mountain tops for background
Me. with the first thornback of the day

Ian managed to pull up some of the uglier bottom life in the shape of a long worm-like creation, whilst I added a couple of micro-cod, but there was no sign of the mackerel or usual poor cod or whiting.

Seabed life in Loch Leven - some form of worm attached itself to Ian's rig
Seabed life in Loch Leven

 

All of a tangle - a thornback surfaces in a beautiful tangle of yellow braid
All of a tangle

In the early afternoon we took a quick shot ashore to stretch our legs and defrost a little, and caught another glimpse of an otter whilst Ian cleared up some of the crap left by a recent angler who couldn’t be bothered to carry out what he’d carried in.

We finished the day with another ray or two, including this monster for Ian, but there was no sign of the numbers or quality of fish you can get here sometimes.

Ian with a tiny thornback ray
Ian with a tiny thornback ray

Looking around us, if anything the snow was even thicker on the mountain tops than on my earlier trips this year, a reminder that we’re not out the woods with winter just yet. Still, the sun had a little warmth in it so there is some hope!

Salmon cages overshadowed by Glencoe
Salmon cages overshadowed by Glencoe

 

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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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Shorefishing on Loch Leven

Well, the original plan had been a session from Ian’s boat, chasing St. Andrews cod and Pollack, but the virtual closure of the Forth Bridge put the brakes on that. It’s been a good while since I was last shorefishing on Loch Leven so a hasty rethink saw the rods packed in the car and Bonnie and myself scurrying along the road in the pre-dawn darkness.

Battered Abu 7000c and even more battered Zziplex to match it

The forecast was for light winds and grey skies, and that’s what we got – it was dry and not too cold so no cause for complaint as I set up for the day. Apart from the dog who immediately went into chuck a stick mode (a log, in this case) and got a bit grumpy as I ignored her for a few minutes.

Bonnie focussed on sticks

Two quite slow hours went by before I got my first fish – a nicely marked LSD

Nicely marked lesser spotted dogfish from Loch Leven

And Bonnie had plenty of time to chase her sticks as I continued to reel in very little.

Retrieving gear from the depths of Leven

At last a little thornback put in an appearance, admittedly leaving it’s tail behind. I’ve had a few of these from Leven, but it doesn’t seem to cause them any obvious problems.

Small shore caught ray from Loch Leven - without a tail

Despite morale rising having actually caught one of the target species, the rest of the session was a series of dogfish – nice to have more action, but I’d have preferred to see another few rays.

Fishing Loch Leven in December

I needed to get back to Edinburgh for early evening, so I’d to pack up around 3, doubtless just as the rays came on the feed.

And to cap it all, it took 4 hours to get home, rather than the more usual 2.5, care of huge jams on Edinburgh’s bypass. Rush hour is usually bad, but an inch of snow seemed to stop almost everything.

Then Ian phones me up to tell me all about the pollack he caught…

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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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SIB-ing in Winter

It’s been ages since I had the little inflatable out for a run, but Friday was looking good weatherwise, so it was shoved in the back of the car and we headed over towards Ballachulish and Loch Leven for the day. Arriving at the slate slip I found it completely blocked by a large pontoon – not a problem for me, but hopefully it disappears soon before it becomes an issue for the larger boats.

A large pontoon blocks the slate slip at Ballachulish
A large pontoon blocks the slate slip at Ballachulish

Once afloat I headed over to the fish farm and dropped anchor in a little over 90 feet. Bites were immediate  – but only a succession of truly micro-whiting appeared. These fish must have been carpeting the loch as the same thing happened pretty much all day whenever I dropped a set of baited sabikis to the bottom.

A calm February morning on Loch Leven, looking towards Glencoe campsite
A calm February morning on Loch Leven, looking towards Glencoe campsite

After around 30 minutes I got my first tap from a ray and duly picked a smallish 3lb specimen. This one was well armoured with a good set of thorns but it went back without serious damage to either party. The next hour saw another 3 rays pop to the surface, but each smaller than the last. This wasn’t terribly encouraging and, with the tide slackening to nothing, I was thinking about a move when my rod bent over hard and the clicker made a healthy racket – fish on!

Cracking thornback ray - 11lbs 9oz from Loch Leven
Cracking thornback ray – 11lbs 9oz from Loch Leven

This was clearly a good fish as it made a serious effort at defending itself and took line a few times on the way up to the dinghy. Lifting it inboard it felt reassuringly heavy and thick and it took the scales round to 11lbs 9oz – a great result from my point of view and my heaviest thornback for many years (decades!).

A nice thornback draped over the tubes of my Avon inflatable
A nice thornback draped over the tubes of my Avon inflatable

The fish were now back on the feed as the first of the ebb kicked in, and a steady stream of fish came aboard over the next couple of hours, bringing my total to 16. Most of these are better sized rays too, with several in the 6-8 lbs bracket, so it was a good session. Somewhere in the middle of this a stray mackerel showed up, which made a welcome addition to the bait supply.

Not just a summer fish - a mackerel taken with snow on the hills
Not just a summer fish – a mackerel taken with snow on the hills

 

Picture of two thornback rays caught on the same drop in Loch Leven
Two thornies on the one drop

The rays were still feeding but I fancied a run up the loch and a chance to stretch my legs ashore – a SIB is small and cramped when wearing a floatie suit, and there’s only so much numb bum a guy can live with.

Taking the inflatable well up Loch Leven and near the narrows
Taking the inflatable well up Loch Leven and near the narrows

I tried for around an hour close to the Narrows, but picked up only dogfish and a few more mini-whiting, and then checked out a spot near to where I go shore fishing which resulted in nada.

Exploring the shoreline of Loch Leven and stretching my legs after a cramped few hours afloat
Stretching my legs after a cramped few hours afloat

By now the sun had gone and it was time to sort myself out and head back down the loch and home,  so popped into a little bay and poured a last coffee before sorting out the worst of the day’s fishing debris.

 

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Afloat on Etive – January 2014

Alcatraz has been sitting on her trailer since early November and we both badly needed a day out, so the little weather window on Monday was seized with both hands and the boat gear dusted down. Crew on this trip was just my spaniel, who’s not much of a sea dog but really enjoys any chance to run around a beach.

Arriving at Bonawe Bonnie was her usual brain-dead self and managed to dive in the water (twice) before we’d even set off, thus guaranteeing herself a chilly day. However she settled down a little and supervised the fishing as we dropped anchor near Ardchattan and sent a collection of mackerel baits down to the seabed.

Bonnie-supervises-the-fishing-at-Ardchattan

The fish weren’t in feeding mood, and it was the weather that provided most excitement for the first hour or so, with a mixture of heavy rain showers and sunny spells. Fortunately it stayed calm and a bit of cowering in the cuddy kept us reasonably dry.Heavy-rain-chills-the-airBonnie-is-unimpressed-at-the-weather

By the time the rainbows came out the fish started to play, first with a couple of small spurdogs and then with a reasonable ray just over the 6lbs mark.Inspecting-the-catch

Unfortunately nothing much else appeared except dogfish, so it was time to head back up the loch in the sunshine. Despite appearances it was freezing!Scooting-up-Loch-Etive

I stopped well up the loch past Barrs to let Bonnie have a run about and me have a play with the camera. Onshore and moving about it was quite warm but I resisted the temptation to linger too long and we headed back out in search of fish (very reluctantly on the dog’s part, it should be said).Alcatraz-sitting-quietly-on-Loch-Etive

Wild-country-in-upper-Loch-EtiveBack afloat and anchored up again we watched the sun disappear behind the mountains and felt the cold descending rapidly.A-steely-January-sunset

By now Bonnie was in need of more biscuits and some warmth, so I wrapped her up in my floatie jacket, which seemed to go down well.A-wet-and-rather-unhappy-Bonnie-dog

A steady run of fish emerged, mainly small spurdogs but also a few whiting and a large(!) poor cod and another thornback.A-meagre-return-for-the-day

There were no monsters and no sign of any, so I called it quits and packed it in just after half-five, and we headed back down the loch in the last trace of light. A bit of a lacklustre start fishing-wise but a nice day out and a relief to get the boat up and running properly after a lengthy gap.

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A few hours beside Loch Leven

A toss up between a few hours on Etive or a few hours on Leven, but the coin said Leven and off we headed. The original idea had been to take the inflatable but I left late and reckoned that there would be too little daylight left to make it worthwhile, so shore rods were packed instead.

Ballachulish was flat calm so I decided to head round the loch to an easily accessible mark on the north shore and set up in search of a ray or two. A short while later a pair of mackerel baits hit the water and headed for the muddy sea bed some 90-100 feet below whilst I started on the more important task of sorting out a cup of coffee and then settled down to wait for some action.

End of another cast as the weight splashes into the water
Splash down, as my weight hits the water.
A fine afternoon fishing on the north shore of Loch Leven
A fine afternoon fishing on the north shore of Loch Leven
Pumping in a small thornback ray from the shores of Loch Leven
Pumping in a small thornback ray from the shores of Loch Leven

Things were quiet to start with and only a small ray appeared during the first hour and a half – better than nothing, but not quite as fast a pace as I’d have wished for. A few divers then appeared on an inflatable 200 or 300 yards west of my spot and had a dive in fairly shallow water off a small headland. I’m not sure what the attraction of that area is, but there were divers in exactly the same place the last time I fished here. Whilst watching their antics I picked up a small string of dogfish to keep myself amused.

Nothing ray-like appeared until the light started to fade, when I picked up another small one and fluffed another bite. Darkness fell around half-six but not for long, as a bright moon soon rose which made it easy to pick out the rod tips. I fished on until about eight, with a couple more ray (including a nice one of about 6 1/4lbs), another doggie and a smallish codling making it ashore. Technically I also caught a mini-whiting as this had impaled itself on the hook before the doggie came looking for dinner and had both the whiting and the bait.

This dogfish took a whiting that had already hooked itself on my bait
This dogfish took a whiting that had already hooked itself on my bait
Early evening moonrise over the head of Loch Leven.
Early evening moonrise over the head of Loch Leven.
Decent thornback of 6lbs 4oz, caught from Loch Leven after dark
Decent thornback of 6lbs 4oz, caught from Loch Leven after dark

 

Final total 4 rays, 4 doggies, a codling and a mini-whiting – not too bad for 4 hours fishing really. Timed to perfection as well – it rained all the way to Loch Leven and all the way back, but was completely dry when I was there!

Seaweed on the shoreline of Loch Leven
Seaweed fringes the shoreline of Loch Leven

 

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Some Excitement at Leven

April has pretty much passed me by fishing-wise, with generally crap weather adding to the usual spring doldrums of a sea anglers year. However, Saturday was looking OK with a light northerly forecast alongside dry weather – the only fly in the ointment being that I needed to finish early afternoon to meet family commitments, which of course meant an early start to compensate.

The weather on the way across wasn’t inspiring with a fair amount of rain and even some sleet going into Glencoe, and it was very cold when I arrived on the north bank of Loch Leven. I got rigged up quickly, but by the time both baits were out I could barely feel my hands so was very glad of the sun when it appeared. The wind also dropped to nothing so the loch transformed into something much more picturesque and worthy of a Visit Scotland ad, and my fingers started to thaw a little as I contemplated the scenery and chucked a few sticks for the dog.

Fishing was very slow to start with and it was easily two hours before I hit into a determined run and felt a decent fish on the far end. A few minutes later and a nice 7lb 6oz thornback was on the rocks for a few photos before being returned gently to its home. Over the next few hours another four took the bait, but these were smaller 1.5-3lbs fish, and then everything went dead towards low water.  Mindful I needed to get back home I was about to pack up and hit the road when I noticed a log like shape floating towards me from further up the loch – then I realised it was a fishing kayak that I’d seen earlier on, except this time it was upside down and I couldn’t see the paddler. Running up the loch towards it I realised he was with the yak, but in the water on the far side of it. It didn’t look like he was going to get back on board under his own steam so I called the Coastguard and reported the situation. They called back a couple of times for more information and told me a helicopter would be on scene shortly, together with a couple of more local boats – in fact it took just 30 minutes from call-in to the chopper arriving, which was pretty impressive considering the location. In the event the yakker got hauled out quickly and whisked off to hospital in Fort William. After a quick chat with a couple of the local police who arrived at the same time as the helicopter I got packed up, at least with a decent excuse for being late.

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Lifting the Gloom on Etive

A calm, misty morning on Etive, early 2013
A calm, misty morning on Etive, early 2013

Went up to Taynuilt yesterday to get the boat wet for the first time since early December, and fish Etive properly for the first time in many months. It was a nice calm morning, but full of the dank, misty gloom that the Scottish Highlands do so well, with no glimpse of the mountain tops hidden in the cloud.

It was quite a large tide, with HW just after 7 a.m., so I got launched easily enough beside the remains of the old tourist boat that was being cut up for scrap on the beach. First off was a spell just downtide of the fish farm at Airds, which produced just one little spurdog. A move across to the other side of the loch gave exactly the same result, and by now it was 11 o’clock so things weren’t looking too good for the day. On the plus side, at least it wasn’t raining, and I could still feel my fingers. I decided to try a mark I’ve fished only once before and lies at the bottom of a bank in around 130 feet, near Ardchattan.

Thornback ray from Loch Etive, Feb 2013
Thornback ray from Loch Etive, Feb 2013

Anchor down and sitting nicely where I want to be, and five minutes later the rod keels over and I’m in to something that’s obviously a respectable ray, to judge by the stubborn resistance. Sure enough a nice thornback of about 8.5lbs appeared shortly afterwards, nicely hooked at the side of the mouth. No sooner than I’d taken a quick photo and returned the fish safely to the water when my spinning rod (sporting a set of mackerel baited hokkais) slammed over hard in the rod rest, and another nice ray was on. This one went 7lbs, and was great fun on light gear. This went on for about 90 minutes and I landed 13 thornbacks before things went quiet again – the remainder were typical Etive specimens of 2-5lbs, but they most certainly lifted the day nicely. There were a couple of mini-poorcod as well, just to add a little variety.

It was near low water now, so I went ashore and had a little look for some mussels for dinner. In years past this was pretty easy, but I’ve found it increasingly difficult find any in Etive the last few seasons, and this session was no different. Possibly the same problems that affected the mussel farms have had an effect on the wild population too, but it’s a shame ‘cos I do like the odd basket of mussels.

By now I’d had enough of the lower loch and fancied a run up to the wilder ground up beyond Bonawe and near the head of the loch at Glen Etive. This far up you rarely see anyone else apart from the occasional walker or kayaker, and I spent a couple of hours exploring and checking out a few potential campsites for later in the year. As a bonus I retrieved a nice polybuoy in perfect condition from where it had been driven ashore, well above the normal tideline. Storms had also driven a good number of tree trunks onto the shoreline in places – a reminder to keep a good lookout when afloat.

It had gone 4 o’clock now, and I needed to find a spot to have a final fish for the day, so it was back to the narrow, deep gulley off Barrs that can (sometimes) throw up good fishing. With the anchor holding in 280 feet, I followed it down with a mackerel baited muppet and had barely popped the rod in its holder when it started banging away frantically as a decent fish grabbed it. A few minutes later and an 8.5lbs spurdog was safely netted and lying in the boat – no monster, but easily my best from Etive for quite a long while. Before I’d even put her back my other rod was getting hammered also, and this went on for around 30 minutes before the spurs moved off, and my total had increased to 9 spurs for the day.

Spurdog or around 8lbs, upper Loch Etive, Feb 2013
Spurdog of around 8lbs, upper Loch Etive, Feb 2013

The respite was short lived though, and the pack was soon back, a scenario which repeated itself twice more before I called a halt around half-six. In all I’d increased my total to 21 spurdogs, with the biggest a couple of ounces short of 10lbs. Most were the usual 1.5 – 3lb fish, but with 5 over 7lbs I wasn’t complaining. Three small LSDs got in on the act as well, but they were otherwise absent the rest of the day. I could probably claim a whiting as well, as the head that came up (attached to a spurdog) had been fairly hooked before it got shredded.

It was pitch dark by now, with light rain falling and no sign of light anywhere apart from a faint glow from the direction of Taynuilt. Even with that it was quite dis-orientating and I was very glad of the chart plotter as I ploughed down the loch towards my launch site surrounded by complete blackness, and thinking of the tree trunks I’d seen earlier!

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