Kayak Camping on Etive

No fishing in the title, and little in reality, but I’d a superb weekend kayak camping on Etive earlier in March. Sunshine over snow capped mountains, sea ice on the lochs and perfect kayaking conditions. Fishing can happily take a back seat at times!

I popped the yak in amongst the mini ice-floes surrounding Glen Etive early on Saturday morning, before most of the inhabitants of the surrounding campervans were even awake. Just a very thin skin, but ploughing through it whilst pretending to be an icebreaker was good fun.

A couple of miles later I came upon this rather lonely little sheep. I’ve not seen any within many miles of here so I’ve no idea how it arrived on this solitary patch of grass. My initial thought was it had been washed down river in a flood, but I can’t recall seeing any up-river either. Luckily for it there aren’t many wolves or bears around Etive!

Shortly afterwards I stopped ashore for a quick coffee brew, near Aird Trilleachean. The sun was out and I felt almost too warm in my cag as I surveyed a flat calm loch and snow capped mountains all around.

The twin peaks of Buachaille Etive Mhor and Bheag dominated the background as I relaunched my little plastic log, laden down with camping gear and wood for my campfire.

I glided along steadily, surrounded by silence and and the mountains of Lorn. Only my clumsy paddling disturbed the mirrored surface of the loch. Pure magic!

I’d no great plans or need to be anywhere, so enjoyed just mosey-ing along and taking my time.

By mid-afternoon I finally reached my campsite for the night, so I headed ashore to set up the tent.

Since I had a bit of space on the kayak I’d hauled along my mini-hot tent and stove. More for fun than from any great need to avoid frostbite, but it’s a fairly spacious setup too. I pitched just above my chosen beach and then offloaded my remaining cargo from the yak.

Evening Fishing

Heading back out again for a little bit of fishing, I didn’t really have high hopes. Just as well, as they’d have been dashed! Plenty tiddler spurries around but nothing better showing.

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t really care, and just enjoyed my surroundings. Eventually the sun headed for the horizon so I took the hint and headed ashore for the evening.

I’d taken wood in with me and supplemented this with timber provided by the winter storms. Supper was venison steaks and mushrooms cooked on a hot slate, coupled with baked potatoes. Pretty tasty, and better than many of my efforts!

I sat out watching the moon and stars for a while, slurping a whisky fortified hot chocolate. Calm and cold, but in a lovely, lonely place.

Wintry Dawn

Sunday dawned cloudless but very cold, with a frozen beach and heavy frost over everything. Even the water in my bottle froze as I poured it out to brew a morning coffee. Very pretty, but it felt more like January than March!

I hadn’t bothered with the tent stove last night, but it suddenly seemed a very attractive option. Fortunately my wee titanium friend was set up ready to go, and it wasn’t long before a cheery glow appeared. A few minutes later and frost was steaming off the tent. Warm indeed – and time for some breakfast too.

I dutifully chucked out a bait from the shore as I waited for my bacon and eggs to cook. I’d only taken in a light carp rod so didn’t really get the distance to hit deeper water, not that I expected anything sizeable anyway.

Finally getting to munch my bacon roll, I hovered around my fishless carp rod. Etive remained motionless whilst snow capped mountains seemed to encircle my camp. A rising sun started to obliterate the frosty overcoat on my kayak and I could hear the occasional drip of meltwater. Nothing much else happened, which suited me just fine as I sat and just absorbed my surroundings.

By late morning, and rather reluctantly, I decided I really did need to start moving. Reloading my old Perception didn’t take long, having scoffed most of my food and consigned the wood to last night’s campfire.

Reluctant Return to Civilisation

Out on the loch I spent a while fishing a couple of features, picking up more small spurdogs, as I’d expected. I pootered about in my kayak, hauling ashore to explore a couple of spots as I meandered back towards the head of the loch.

However, all good things come to an end and I made a final stop on the far side of Aird Trilleachean for yet another coffee. Really, just an excuse to delay arriving back at Glen Etive for another little while.

Winter is coming to an end now and other opportunities will soon open up, so I’m not sure when I’ll be back to Etive. However, I reckon this little trip was a perfect way to finish one season and set me up for spring.

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  1. I love seeing your reports Doug – always great imagery to savour and great commentary that combines adventure with (usually!) fish. My trips usually have to be organised way in advance, so rarely coincide with high pressure and blue skies! Broke my bank balance and rented Point Park by Taynuilt in Dec for family hol., coinciding with NE winds. Gave up attempting to enter upper basin in my SIB – too dangerous. Did manage some nice spurries to ~8lb round Ardchattan area. But was very hit and miss. And hairy travelling back up the loch on occasion. There have been those reports on Packham-TV (aka auutumn-watch) that Etive is a nursery/pupping ground for adult spurries which may arrive from far afield – from your catches it definitely looks like the upper loch has that nursery ground function. Mind, the acoustic tracking work by James Thorburn (St Andrews Uni.) shows that most of the Etive adults seem to be residents, rather than migrants. Keep up the good work.

    1. Hi Martyn,
      I do hope you’d a good time when you were up in December – it’s a brave time to book a holiday! We sometimes tie up to the large buoys just off your cottage as they will put you in about 100 feet of water. Not the best mark but you’ll get rays and sometimes spurdogs from there. I sometimes feel a bit guilty posting reports showing flat calm conditions as that is rather the exception than the rule over winter, and I’m very aware that I’m lucky in being able to pick my days more than most. Not guilty enough to make me stop, though!

      The upper end of Etive is definitely a nursery area for spurdog but the slight mystery is where they actually pup. The really small fish tend to be far up towards the head, which is the main reason I don’t fish that area. Every year you encounter some 25-30cm fish at times around Barrs but this year I’ve seen more than ever. More normally you’re picking up males in 50-70cm range and just the occasional larger female. As you head towards the mouth of the loch you generally catch fewer and fewer of the pups although you will catch the 50-70cm males, sometimes in plague proportions. From Barrs down to Connel you’ll pick up larger females, inconsistently, but sometimes in good numbers. I think there are some resident fish but am pretty sure there many/most are happily migrating in and out of Etive. I’ve very rarely caught good sized females from the same area you might expect to encounter pups, although they may just be too outnumbered by hungry little mouths to get a look in at our baits.

      All these lochs are different and it’s hard to see any distinct pattern, but I’ve never had baby spurs anywhere else. Sunart has a run of large pregnant females, but few signs of pups – on the 2 or 3 occasions I’ve fished the head of the loch we were plagued by LSD and some whiting, but no spurs at all. Leven has few, if any, spurdog present (I’ve never caught one, although have heard of the odd one being taken). Linnhe/Sound of Mull both have spurdog, although mainly smaller ones in my experience (which may be skewed, as they’re a side catch when skate fishing).

      Plenty of other mysteries in Etive too, not least of which is how it supports so much biomass in the first place – sandwiched between low oxygen zones and high freshwater surface layers. An interesting place in many ways!

      1. V. interesting insights Doug re. changes in size distribution up the loch. On closer inspection I see Thorburn et al. 2018 tagged few truly adult spurries in Etive, mostly up to about 75 cm, which for females is only just about mature. But they mostly tagged in summer and for sure there are likely to be some seasonal movements within and in/out of loch. Yep, weird how Leven has negligible spurdog though maybe just too shallow. I suspect there are population genetic studies going on now for the Etive vs other areas to determine the degree of genetic separation in Etive – but it only needs a bit of stock mixing to negate any potential genetic isolation signature out. I did try fishing off the mooring buoys out from P-P but struggled with the wind causing boat and anchor to drift down the slope, even with plenty of slack rope and chain before anchor. No rays, just a few whiting. But was entertained by an otter having a great time ferreting around under the canopy of a boat moored on those buoys – never seen an otter shin up the transom of a boat like that – made it look v. easy.

  2. Hi Doug
    Your ability to pick the perfect weather never ceases to amaze me, I keep trying but it rarely comes off. I’ve just been back to my Hogmanay mark, not Etive 😉 and it was a plague of 4lb spurs, followed up after dark with a 205lb common skate, which was fun and games on a bass rod! I’ve messaged you on wsf.

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