I rarely fish for skate, and once a year is usually enough for me. However it’s definitely been an odd year, and calm weather and dead tides suggested Oban. Ian was up for it, so we arranged to meet up at Lochearnhead around 7.30…
We launched at Puffin Dive Centre and headed down the sound towards the south side of Kerrera. Despite stopping a couple of times we didn’t pick up any mackerel; we had enough bait anyway so didn’t waste much time looking for them. I dropped anchor on a different mark from my usual 500 feet+ depth and the sonar settled on 385 feet.
We both baited up with coley and sent our heavy gear down towards the muddy darkness far below. I settled down to wait, but Ian also popped down lighter gear in search of smaller species.
Our first hour was very quiet but then Ian got a decent knock on his skate rod. A few minutes later, after a few false dawns, he hit into something that put a decent bend in his rod. Definitely not a ton-up skate though.
To add to the excitement I had a good skate run on my rod as Ian’s fish neared the surface. Unusually, this fish appeared to just drop the bait, so I just left it to fish on. By this time Ian had his fish just about aboard, so I helped him deal with it. As we suspected, it was a conger – not big (under 20lbs), but nice enough for round these parts. A couple of photos and we sent it on it’s way.
I kind of lose track of the order of events after this, but Ian knocked out a succession of fish as I watched on. A smallish skate of 45lbs and a nice spurdog of dead on 10lbs (the best I’ve seen from here), and a couple more smaller conger eels.
Somewhere in the middle of all this I got another unmistakable skate run, which I hooked up. This was a better fish, but not a real biggie. Much huffing and puffing later I got it alongside. I didn’t bother trying to take it aboard and just released it at the side of the boat – somewhere in the 80-90lb range I’d say.
The Fat Lady Sings
Ian’s rod keeled over again and his ratchet complained loudly as another skate munched lunch below us. This was clearly a better fish and it took Ian a good while to prise it off the seabed.
Eventually a large white shape materialised below us and a good skate surfaced alongside. We took this one aboard and measured it for a more accurate idea of size – 184lbs, which put a smile on Ian’s face.
This one had suffered some damage towards the base of it’s body, probably from entanglement in a rope, but it seemed to be healing up OK.
I managed another skate myself to try and even the score. A nice enough fish and somewhere around the 100lb mark, but not really competing with Ian’s chunky female.
Final score for the day was 4 skate (2 each, with Ian’s by far the heaviest), with another 3 conger and a spurdog, all for Ian.
Ian treated me to one of Oban’s fine fish suppers before we headed back home. This took a lot longer than intended as the road was closed due to an accident, and we ended up with a 60-70 mile diversion to get back to Ian’s car. I was truly knackered by the time I crawled into bed some time after 1 in the morning!
I’d a nice day out of Dunbar earlier this week – nothing exceptional in fishing terms, but a fine, relaxed time afloat on a sunny summer day. I even allowed myself to sleep in until shortly before 6 before hitching up the boat.
First up were a few mackerel for bait. There weren’t huge numbers, and they were small, but I soon picked up enough for bait just off the harbour.
I worked my way eastwards during the morning, trying a few different spots. The wind and tide ran against each other most of the time, so the drift was generally slow. It wasn’t too uncomfortable though, and whitecaps were scarce.
I found plenty pollack on both lures and thin slivers of silver mackerel belly. All on the small side but still able to heel the rod right over!
A couple swallowed the hook and joined the filleting queue in the coolbox, but most went back.
I picked up fair numbers of codling too, on both the bait and the spinning rods. Again, most were on the small side and only a few got knocked on the head for dinner.
I eventually added a lonely ling to my species count. Slippery and wriggly, hence the rather upside down photo below, taken just before it jumped out my hands!
The codling kept coming and there seemed to be more around the Torness area. Only the one double shot though, taken on mackerel baited hokkais.
I managed to forget my sunscreen on my sunniest day afloat this year, hence the hat and gloves. Just trying to avoid a beetroot red face and a lecture when I got home!
I picked up another couple of pollack as I filleted the days catch, but again they were small.
I finally packed in around 90 minutes before high water, despite being tempted to hand around until later in the evening. My phone was out of battery and I’d said I’d be back late afternoon, so I didn’t fancy a 999 call when no-one could contact me!
The harbour itself was anything but relaxing on my return, with a large cabin rib and a yacht planning to launch near the top of the tide. Hordes of visitors too, wandering around the road oblivious to a reversing trailer. If only the Skateraw slip was back in action, it would be easier and safer all round!
I spent a fine few hours afloat on Etive last Sunday, reminding my little Orkney what water feels like. Only her second outing since last December, so I was relieved that everything still worked! Just a lazy summer day out rather than serious fishing, but great fun nevertheless.
It was just after LW and there were only inches of water available when I dropped the boat in at Kelly’s Pier. I drifted the narrows at Bonawe briefly, in search of mackerel and then just headed up into the mountains.
Spurdog number one came aboard after half an hour or so, but it was small. Also friendless! I gave it a little while then upped anchor and moved a few hundred yards. Not quite instant success but I didn’t have to wait long before a succession of females queued up to say hello. Nothing very big unfortunately!
After tangling rods and losing both sets of gear due to bite-offs, I fell back to a single rod. Even so, action was almost constant so there were plenty of fish about. Something like 16 or 17 in maybe 90 minutes, plus a couple of little whiting.
By now I’d my fill of the spurs, so went exploring a little. In the past I’ve had loads of small codling and other fish drifting fairly close inshore, so I gave it a try. The wind was rising a bit and there was a decent drift, so I covered the ground all right. Unfortunately the fish weren’t too impressed and I only managed a little mackerel.
Plan number three was to have a good look for that rare combination of decent campsite and decent looking shore mark. I sussed a couple of spots last year but wanted to run the sonar over them before I wasted too much time trekking in. A nice flat campsite often means a shallow seabed too!
I stuck on a rather large 20g toby and started a slow trundle along the shoreline. The toby was the best I could do as I managed to forget my small lures and the trout didn’t seem put off. I managed three, and missed a few more strikes. All small fish in the 6-12oz range, but a novelty nonetheless.
Like everyone, I’ve had lots of plans cancelled due to Covid house arrest over the last few months. And, after all these disappointments, it’s good to finally get back on the saddle.
My first trip out was at Skateraw, with the SIB for company. I’ve not used the old Avon for a couple of years now, so it seemed fitting to dust it off at the same time as myself! Unfortunately I had to carry the whole shebang from the car park to the beach as the little slip I used has been blocked off.
I’m happy to confirm that there are oodles of fish out there – just very small ones. I found tiny codling everywhere, with a couple of little pollack and a solitary coalie as well. I managed one string of mackerel, which sorted out lunch for next day, but generally hung around close inshore. My 5hp Tohatsu was a bit unhappy, which discouraged me from heading out too far. Spitting petrol ain’t a good sign – probably a blockage somewhere, but easier fixed ashore.
This was just a quick hour or two afloat after work, so I was happy to catch a few fish in exchange for very little effort.
Yesterday was a bit more full on, with a trip out on Ian’s Raider from a very wet St. Andrews. We cleared the harbour under skies so grey that it looked more like November!
We stopped for mackerel in a couple of spots, but only managed two between us. Heading further east we tossed the grapnel over and started on the local pollack – or Ian did, to be more accurate. His float fished mackerel proved pretty deadly for a bunch of fish in the 2-4lb range, whilst shads and metals struggled to get much interest. I managed a couple of pollack around the 4lb mark and a few small codling, but was well behind.
We tried anchoring two or three marks for a few hours before switching to drift fishing for cod. Heaps of little kamikazee codling promptly queued up to attack our baits. We picked them up 2 or 3 at a time, but sadly most didn’t make 1lb in weight.
We managed a few more respectable fish though, topped off by this very nice cod of 7lb 4oz. I’ve no idea how many fish we caught, but it was a lot, and it’s nice to see that there are some better ones hidden amongst them.
Next mission is to get my own boat out on the water – it’s only got wet once so far in 2020!
We’d a fine day fishing for Common Skate off Oban in early March. Seven fish to 180lb in total.
Wow! Moved from a total of 1 trip in 2 months, to having 2 outings in 1 week. Spring must be on its way! It’s still my first time on a boat since December though.
I met up with Ian at Lochearnhead not long before the sunrise spelt doom for the ice on the car park. Definitely still chilly! A couple of hours later we finished launching at Puffin Divers and headed down the Sound and round the southern end of Kerrera.
We’d a very gentle swell from the SW but no wind, which made for ideal conditions. Anchor down in 520 feet and then we slowly lowered some reluctant coalfish to the seabed, well armed with 12/0 hooks.
Ian had a fish play about with his bait, but I was first to get a decent run. Despite faffing about with harnesses it quickly became obvious that this was a small fish that even I could handle quite easily. 40lbs or so, it was nothing to get too excited about, but it’s always a relief to know that there’s something about.
Ian was next up, with a slightly larger fish
A big girl comes to play
My next fish was altogether more reluctant to move off the mud and it clung there for a good while, ignoring my puny efforts to shift it. As usual though, persistence pays, and I managed to gain a few feet on the grudging beast. And then a few more. Five hundred feet is a long way so I was extremely glad when a large shape materialised below the boat.
The weight for length scales suggested 180lbs so I was happy to go with that. It’s my heaviest fish for several years so another reason to celebrate, if I’d any energy left.
Ian was having a shot for spurdog and had some success, albeit with fairly small ones. I’ve not seen one with full blown sea lice before – perhaps it has been playing around the local fish farms?
We carried through the afternoon, with runs appearing every now and again. Thankfully we only had one double hook up, and both fish were well under the ton.
Even this fairly small skate can pulverise and swallow a large bait.
My final fish of the day put up a good account of itself, so it was no surprise to find it was a large male. This one was towards the top end of the charts, at 126lb. I gave up at this point, as I was getting pretty knackered and it was nearing the end of the day anyway. Ian’s persistence was rewarded with a final skate before we hauled anchor and headed ashore to clean up and get the boat sorted out.
Our final tally was seven skate, biggest 180lb. Five of them were under 100lb but even these gave a decent bend in the rod.
Just a wee look at effects of the storms. These are the loos at Puffin, with a nice airy feel about them since the roof blew off. The electrics are particularly charming (centre of the pic).
Ian and I fished Etive a couple of weeks ago with fairly poor results – maybe 40+ spurs between us, plus a few rays, etc., but nothing of any size. So when I trailed the Longliner across to Etive again last weekend, the plan centred of camping rather than fishing.
First up was a run right down the loch from Taynuilt to try and catch Connel before the Falls of Lora became too much of a torrent in the ebb tide. The ideal time is supposed to be 2 hours after Oban HW, but it was very peaceable at 2 hours 45 minutes, and I cruised through no bother.
I headed down to the fish farm just north of the slips at Gallanach, only to find a set of empty cages and no sign of them having been used for a good while 🙁
I decided to reverse course for a mile or two and try off Dunstaffnage Castle, which has thrown up decent fish from the shore. Anchor down, baits out and then just a case of watch them get shredded by packs of greedy mini-whiting, crabs and other flotsam.
An hour of this and I gave up and moved back into the loch, parking just off the Windsock mark. Here it’s a decent depth of water, at about 70 feet, but you do move around a bit in the eddy. However the result was exactly the same – crabs and tiddly whiting, with no sign of anything bigger.
I stuck at it for a couple of hours until the white water pouring out of Etive slackened a smidgen and then took a run up against the tide. Up close and you feel the huge volume of water pouring out the loch, and it is quite intimidating. Conditions were pretty benign so it wasn’t a problem but it’s not the sort of place to have engine failure, and I wouldn’t want to be there with the tide in full flow. I’d seen kayakers running the falls earlier, but they’d obviously got bored by the time I tried it and I didn’t mow anyone down.
Preparing for a cold night
Stopping off near Airds Point produced a few small spurdog before I headed into the mountains well up the loch to sort myself out before it got too dark. Even so, the light was almost gone by the time the boat was secured on her mooring.
I took a fair bit of wood in with me, so got a fire going for a bit of warmth and to cook dinner, and then chucked out a bait on the shore rod. By now the sand was frozen beneath my feet and my campfire looked even more appealing.
The night was beautiful and full of stars, but really quite cold. Even my poor phone complained it was too cold to charge from my backup battery! I ended up tucking it in to my sleeping bag just to cheer it up. Between feeding the fire and myself I was kept pretty busy. However a few fish were prowling along the beach and I picked up a couple of typical spurries and fluffed another couple of bites.
I survived the night without frostbite, although my toes were definitely chilly, and carried on for another hour or two in the morning whilst I sorted out the camp and some breakfast. Not a sniff of fish, although I wasn’t really paying much attention to the rod.
Back on the boat, and out on the loch again, and I hit pack ice that had formed overnight (OK, maybe 2mm thick but it looked good). A slow drift or two produced a handful more small spurdog before it was time to call a halt as I needed to be back home before dark.
So, no surprises on the fishing front except the dearth of anything worthwhile outside the loch, but a fine overnighter from my point of view.
The east coast was storm bound and the west looked much the same. Not very encouraging if you’re the skipper of a small dinghy! However, the deep waters of Loch Etive looked a little more encouraging, and plans were duly made.
Tides were small and we had a relatively late start, dropping the boat into the start of the flood sometime after nine. Typically dour autumn weather, with light rain and wall to wall grey cloud, but at least it wasn’t windy.
We had a slow start, although Ian picked up a nice spurdog and a large-for-Etive grey gurnard. The spurrie went back without much ceremony because “we’re bound to get a better one”. No prizes for guessing the result…
Meantime, I concentrated on my crabs. I’m really quite good at this.
We both managed some whiting, and I added a thornback to the collection. Quite a few whiting were good quality by Etive standards and Ian kept a couple for tea.
However, between the crabs and the whiting, not much else was getting a look in. We up anchored and headed northwards, just as every other boat made their way south – perhaps not a great omen.
It was windy and very unpleasant around the quarry area, but calmed down greatly when we reached the more open water of the upper loch. Anchor dropped, and we settled down to fish.
I don’t often fish this mark, but it can throw up a bit of variety. Less so today, as we hit more of the same – whiting and doggies. A single hectic minute saw a couple of respectable spurdog and a thornie boated, but apart from that, all was quiet
We’d a final shot just off the moorings at Taynuilt, which produced more whiting and a little thornback for Ian. So plenty of whiting through the loch, which will hopefully attract some bigger predators in for their dinner. Next time. maybe!
I’ve been wanting to try out a kayak camp for a while now, and I finally got my act together last week. Just a short trip but with the promise of a fine evening.
I didn’t actually hit the water until after 5 in the afternoon, which gave around 3 hours or so before it got dark. Happily, the initially gusty wind fairly soon gave way to calmer conditions and I made good progress towards my planned site.
I bought the kayak with a bias towards touring/camping rather than all out fishing, but it’s still kitted out with rod holders and most of the gubbins that a typical angler might want. In line with that philosophy I trailed a small rapala lure behind the ‘yak as I made my way along. A hit rate of one fish every two miles might not sound great but I was happy enough with a couple of trout. Both returned – fortunately for them I already had more than enough food for the night!
A good few miles of paddling later I pulled in to a nice stretch of gravelly sand where I planned to set up camp.
I’d taken along a beachcaster and some mackerel bait, so I sorted that out before pitching the tent and getting some dinner prepared. There’s a reasonable depth of water here, and I’ve had fish from the shore before, so it seemed worth a try.
I sorted out the tent quickly and turned my attention to starting a campfire for the evening. I’d taken a decent supply of wood in with me as there’s little along this part of the shore. Dry wood is very easy to work with, and I soon had a fire going. Coffee on, and then a nice bit of steak to follow!
I fished and ate until after 10. The food was good, the fishing rather less so! A few crabs and one missed bite was the sum total. However I was happy enough to bed down for the night and some well-earned rest.
Next morning saw me cast out again before reviving the fire for more coffee and a couple of chunky bacon and egg rolls.
I swigged away but sadly my coffee failed to evoke its usual response and there was no savage take. I just had to contemplate my surroundings in the early morning calm.
With a rapidly rising wind forecast for later in the morning I couldn’t afford to hang around too long. Striking camp, I loaded the kayak with the fishing and camping gear and re-distributed my little fire circle around the beach before paddling off.
I stopped off in a couple of spots on my way back, partly to scout out new campsites, partly just for a little break from the paddling. By the time I neared the car the forecast had caught up with me and tranquillity was replaced by a howling wind. Chuck in some well-whipped white water when the squalls ripped through and I was quite glad to get ashore. Calm weather rarely lasts around these parts!
I’ve not been out much over the summer, with a trip up to St. Andrews and a couple of excursions from Dunbar.
No-one likes it, but haar is a fact of life for anyone boating on the east coast. It wasn’t too bad though, and you could still make out a horizon when headed out just after six in the morning. Two miles out, and a dozen mackerel later, and visibility disappeared.
Maybe 30-50 metres at best, and as thick as I’ve seen it. Not good, so I edged my way down to an inshore mark and stuck it out for the rest of the morning.
There were a few fish going about, and I’d cod, ling and pollack to supplement my mackerel. However, the tide was small and drift non-existent, so it was hard going.
Hearing other boats moving around, and the thump of lobster creels hitting the decks close by, meant that it was a fairly nervous session. Fortunately only one boat emerged out the haar and she was going slowly so we avoided each other without any drama.
I wasn’t really sorry to head back in – although the sun was now rapidly clearing away the haar and the horizon was visible again by the time I arrived back at the harbour.
Every now and again I let heart rule head, and set up for a day trying the many wrecks that litter the seabed of the Firth of Forth. Other than one or two piles of scrap close inshore I’ve never had a successful trip doing this, although it’s always a buzz to see a wreck materialise on the sonar.
It was a fine morning as I drove along to Dunbar, with little wind and small tides forecast, so it was as good a set of conditions as I’m ever likely to get. No sign of haar, unlike my earlier trip.
Edging out of the harbour just as the sun rose, I encountered a reasonable NE swell, which would add to the fun of fishing a snaggy wreck but otherwise wasn’t an issue.
I spent the next few hours working round in a large semi-circle about 7-10 miles out. A variety of WW1 and WW2 merchant ships and a U-boat all duly appeared on the sounder, in depths of 130-210 feet. A few drifts on each with bait and lures – and leaving some gear behind on most of them. Total catch zero, except on my reliable inshore friend which threw up a couple of pollack
I did get a partial success, but on an offshore reef rather than a wreck. It’s been a few years since I was last here, but there were plenty mackerel for the bait freezer and a little codling. Species of the day was this little Redfish (or Norway Haddock, I’m never 100% sure), which seem to inhabit this particular mark. Certainly, it’s the only place near here that I’ve encountered them.
So, a top up for winter bait and a bonus species, but otherwise a fairly predictable disappointment. Enough to cure me of wreck fishing for a season or two, probably.
Galloway Fishing Week has become a bit of an institution in the last few years, largely because I’ve more time to play as the kids have grown up. Early June offers a crack at a wide variety of species in Galloway, with a decent chance of some larger specimens if the weather holds up. Tope, hounds, bass and huss probably head the list, but it is a very different style of angling and that adds to the attraction.
However, last year was a disaster, as my dad paid an unplanned visit to hospital, followed by the only bad weather in the whole of June. Basically, Galloway 2018 simply didn’t happen 🙁
We kept all our fingers crossed for 2019 and pored over the forecasts as the days ticked down. Finally Ian and I hit the road to Port William, sharing the car with a mountain of camping and fishing gear. At least the crabs were relegated to the boat for the journey! Trevor arrived just after the last tent peg was in place – good timing on his part!
I’ve now tried the rather OTT glamping set up on several occasions, so was pretty confident I could make us comfortable for a week or so. It certainly looked the part, complete with carpet and comfy carp beds!
We didn’t waste too much time hanging around camp, as the tide only allowed us a limited window and we didn’t want to squander our opportunity.
Out on the bay and Ian set the tone nicely early on by catching a relative rarity for an east-coaster – a rather tropical looking scad. A few herring and mackerel secured our bait supply for the afternoon and we could settle down for some proper fishing.
To be honest, quality was a little hard to come by. We added more species and Ian did OK with the local rays, but tope were elusive. For some reason the dabs found my baits irresistible, but ignored the others.
We crept back into the harbour as the last of the tide left it and headed back to our tent. A little later, and marginally spruced up, we headed along to the Cock Inn for a hearty dinner. After which I fell asleep in my nice comfy carp bed – too tired to even finish my beer!
We hit Garlieston next day, just before the flood tide reached the very muddy bottom of the slip. Ploughing round into Wigtown Bay we soon hit good numbers of small hounds on crab, rag and other bits and pieces.
Ray, huss, doggies and a dab or two also put in an appearance, but no sign of bass. We also had a few tope, but all tiddlers with none making double figures. Still, we had good fun for a few hours until the tide turned and I decided not to spend the rest of the afternoon stern on to steep sided waves. Close inshore near Eggerness was definitely calmer but almost fishless, so no-one argued with heading in slightly earlier than planned.
Back to Luce Bay
Round at Port William the next morning I felt a bit of a bystander as Ian and Trevor got stuck into a pile of huss, after clearing out the local ray population.
Tope played hard to get again, until Ian hit a good run that turned into a very energetic tope that went from one side of the boat to the other repeatedly, until Trevor finally lifted her aboard. At 42lbs it was a personal best for Ian and easily the biggest fish to grace the decks this year.
It didn’t bring many of its mates though, and proved to be the highlight of the day.
We had a nice long lie on Saturday, as the tides favoured a late start, so there was plenty of time for coffee, toast and the obligatory bacon rolls before heading off. Round at Garlieston again, we were soon out on the Cree estuary casting out in search of smoothhound and tope.
We hit fish from the off, but the story was similar to our earlier expedition. Lots of small fish, including a lot of tiny tope, but not too much quality going about apart from a ray or two and the odd huss.
Revenge of the Crabs
We awoke to quite blustery conditions that were pretty marginal for bouncing around on a boat. To be honest, I was quite happy to have a day on dry land so we headed over to Carsluith for a shortish session on the pier instead.
‘Twas very slow fishing, to put it mildly, and it was quite a while before Trevor broke our duck with a small school bass.
The crabs were undoubtedly the big winners today, obliterating most of our remaining worms and crabs as they stripped hooks bare in minutes.
Ian did manage to sneak out another bass from under their pincers, and Trevor eventually added a flounder, but it was slow going.
As for me, my contribution was a single eel. I’m not sure what I was being punished for, but I was quite happy to pack up and head for the car!
Saving the Best for Last
By contrast, our last day was undoubtedly the best of the week, with good weather and plenty of fish. We headed out of Port William and into the early morning sunshine, and soon found our mark for the day. In contrast to previous days, there were plenty of pack tope, mainly in the teens but with the biggest reaching 26lb.
More huss appeared, and I’ve never had as many of the grumpy buggers as we had this week. Doubly so, if you add in all those that just let go of the bait when they got close to the boat.
My day ended with a personal best, being a bass of 7lb 10oz that came to a tope bait. You could probably have heard the yell of delight back in Port William.
An hour later and we ran into harbour just as the wind picked up against the tide and the spray started to fly. With the tent all packed up already, Trevor said his goodbyes and set off northwards to the Fraserburgh tundra. Hopefully we can all keep in with the weather gods and get a repeat next year!
I think this was probably the most relaxed fishing I’ve had in recent years. Most days we were out for 6 hours or so over high water, so fairly short trips apart from a couple of longer 9-11 hour trips to take advantage of quieter conditions.
I final note on the Orkney, as this was the first time I’ve had three fishing aboard her and I wasn’t too sure about how she’d behave. None of us are lightweights, but it wasn’t too difficult to work around each other when dealing with fish. Speed dropped of course, down to 10-11 knots (11-12 mph), which was actually a little better than I expected.