Loch Etive is a particular favourite of mine, especially over the winter months. It penetrates deep into the Argyllshire mountains and is often far more sheltered than anywhere else in the country. Couple this with a good range of species in decent numbers and you have a great venue which will fish happily when others struggle.
With a little effort you can also find yourself camping as well as fishing in the wildness of the upper loch. No roads and almost no people, if you like a bit of solitude and appreciate the sound of silence, then try exploring a little.
I’ve produced a few videos of camping and fishing Loch Etive, which are linked individually at the bottom of this page – or you can just click on the playlist below to see the lot.
It can be let down by large numbers of small spurdogs, but there are reasonable numbers of double figure fish still around for the taking. The real kicker for me is the ability to access some very remote country quite easily – the upper loch has almost no inhabitants and no public roads, and you’ll often be the only creature on the water apart from the odd seal and an occasional otter.
I usually fish from my own boat, but occasionally do a bit of shore fishing as well, and there are small boats available for hire (try Taynuilt Boat Club).
Launching a Boat
Almost everyone launches at Taynuilt, using the beach alongside the old, stone-built, Kelly’s pier (not the concrete pier at the end of the road, which is much trickier). Easy towards HW, but quite a shallow launch at LW, any modest sized boat can be launched using a 2WD vehicle although a rope may well be handy to recover in the bottom part of the tide. Also beware a large pile of rocks lying parallel to the head of the pier – as long as you stick close in to the pier coming in or leaving you’ll be fine. You can sometimes find large piles of seaweed on the beach over winter, and a fork to shift it might be handy if it gets too extreme.
Once launched you can go “up” the loch by passing through the Bonawe Narrows and heading NE to reach the very remote country described above, or else head west “down” the loch into more genteel territory. Fishing-wise it’s a bit of a toss-up, but I have probably had more fish down towards Airds Point and Ardchattan. The very deep water (almost 500 feet) found NE of Bonawe rarely produces much except small fish in my experience, but there are other marks well up the loch which hold good rays and spurdogs.
There’s a very long list of species which have been caught from Etive, but the main ones are spurdog, thornbacks, dogfish, whiting, codling, pollack, grey gurnard, pouting and mackerel.
Everyone has their own opinion, but tactics are pretty straightforward – a modest sized mackerel bait on a 2/0-6/0 hook fished on the bottom will take most species. Many embellishments are possible (luminous beads and muppets are very popular), and baited hokkais can also be a killer, but it doesn’t pay to agonise over the options. More important is to replace baits regularly and not let them sit washed out for an hour or more. I usually use a 12-20lb class rod with braid and a small multiplier and add a 6 or 8 oz weight, but it is perfectly possible to fish a spinning rod and 2 or 3 oz of lead (you just need to be patient waiting for the lead to hit bottom in deep water…). Tackle losses are minimal, unless a spurdog bites through the line.
Even in deep water you’ll often find the fish switch on as the light fades, and I’ve had many good catches simply by fishing on after dark for an hour or three – although it can make for a more interesting run home in pitch darkness if you’re fishing well up the loch from your own boat.
Shore Fishing Etive
I don’t fish Loch Etive too often from the shore and am definitely not the best source of advice on where and how to do it. That said, I do enjoy a day ashore and I don’t blank all that often on the loch. My gear is almost as old and decrepit as me these days, so you absolutely don’t need state of the art kit.
I’m usually just targeting spurs and rays from the shore, so a straightforward pulley rig tied from 80-100lb line is all I use. Beads locked in place by a crimp provide added protection from a spurdog’s teeth, and I usually use a single 4/0 hook and a 6 or 7oz grip.
I normally just use mackerel strip as bait and it seems to do the job just fine.
As for marks, most areas seem to hold spurdog at some point. I prefer to avoid the strong tides found in the Bonawe Narrows, or the shallow marks near the Priory – some good fish definitely come from these spots, but it seems very hard work with quite a few blanks.
The really deep water further up the loch is fun to experience a few times, but again seems to involve quite a lot of work for the fish taken. If you haven’t cast into 300 feet of water and spent over a minute watching your spool empty as the bait sinks to the bottom, then you should definitely try it. Just don’t assume you need deep water to catch spurdogs – you absolutely don’t.
That kind of leaves water in the 40-150 range, without a strong tide, as my preferred environment round here. Fortunately there’s a lot of Etive’s shoreline falls into this category so you’re spoiled for choice. My experience is that fish usually show up at some point, provided you’re prepared to wait for a while.
Shore fishing does seem to be better at night, but you can catch perfectly well in the sunshine – although typically from deeper marks.
Combining fishing with a night’s camping is an attractive option if you head up the loch, and there are several very quiet spots where it’s possible to moor up for the evening and take a tent ashore. Just keep it quiet and litter-free and there’s no reason for anyone to bother you.
Boat camping isn’t the only option and you can find a spot to combine an overnight stay with a few hours fishing – if you’re prepared to hike for a bit. Travel light and leave no trace is a pretty good mindset to adopt.
Generally I prefer to camp outside midge season if I can and I’ll take a bit of cold over a swarm of no-see-ums any day. The main drawback of a mid-winter camp is really the lack of daylight, which is why camping alongside your fishing mark makes life easier.
Many of the camping spots around Loch Etive have long established fire pits, and I don’t feel guilty about using them. However, you definitely don’t want to set bonfires all over the place as the ecosystem round here takes a long time to recover from any damage. Nor do I have any problem with using driftwood on a fire – but chopping green wood from a living tree is just pointless. I normally take firewood in with me if I have Alcatraz, or some coal/charcoal if I’m hiking.
Etive Trip reports…
You can see all my posts relating to Loch Etive here.
There’s a link to an Etive playlist at the top of the page, but each video is also shown separately below.
My “intro” to the loch, mainly boat fishing and camping in the upper loch. My favourite has to be a couple of days in mid-September where it was completely calm, giving some great shots of Alcatraz on the loch.
A yomp with the dog for miles along the shore from the Glen Etive end and a few hours fishing. Probably more productive than I deserved, but it was a magnificent day to be out. Bonnie can be a bit obsessive with the stick throwing but she does like to explore new territory too – and she never eats the bait either!
Our first trip out in Alcatraz for 2017 saw a slow session near Ardchattan turn into a beautiful sunny day well up the loch. Ok, the fish were smallish but they were around in decent numbers and it was fun catching in millpond conditions. Not what you expect on a typical January day in Scotland.
And another shore session with Bonnie for company again, this time around Easter and getting a little warmer! I reckon I squeezed in just before the midges started waking up for the summer.
A very memorable overnight camp on the shores of Etive in mid-November. Cold, clear and windless – with a tent, campfire and juicy steak on offer.
And fishing on ice, a boat trip in December 2017 with loads of ice covering the surface of the loch. Still plenty of fish though.