SIBing the Avalanche Shelter at Loch Carron

It’s been four years since my last visit to Loch Carron, mainly because it’s over 200 miles and 4+ hours away, and because the fishing is OK rather than good. However it’s a fine place to visit and I could do with a change from the standard winter choices of Etive or Leven, so the inflatable got packed in the car and I set the alarm for a ridiculously early start.

Arriving at Ballachulish a little over 2 hours later it was a touch depressing to realise I was just over the half-way mark to Loch Carron, but at least it looked to be a good day and there was little wind showing on the loch.

Back ashore at Stromeferry
Ashore at Stromeferry

Two hours and innumerable potholes later I finally reached Loch Carron. Stromeferry is at the bottom of a pretty steep hill, and has a good concrete slip (apart from the lobster pot clutter and all the weed on it) and is still perfectly usable for a hard boat launch if you’ve got a reasonable towcar. Apart from avoiding falling on my backside on the weed I’d no difficulty in getting the Avon ready and launched quite quickly, although the Tohatsu took a few pulls to wake up from a couple of months of neglect.

Coming alongside in the SIB
Zipping along in the SIB

There were a few ripples on the loch but nothing more and I was soon zipping up towards the avalanche shelter area. Last time here I’d been accompanied by a pair of dolphins, but they were nowhere to be seen today so it was a rather uneventful 20 minutes or so.

Mini sabikis and mini species - a poorcod takes a sliver of mackerel
Mini sabikis and mini species

The seabed here is extremely rocky and drops from 40 feet to 120 in only a few metres, so you tend to fish very close to shore. This is where I started, alternating between a set of mini-sabikis to pick up some smaller fish and a set of mackerel tipped hokkais for anything slightly larger.

Fish on - but not much of a bend in the rod
Fish on
Cod of the day - a modest 3lbs or so
Cod of the day(!)

The sabikis proved the bigger hit with a stream of small codling, Pollack and poor cod. Nothing sizeable and the biggest was a modest coddie of around 3lbs or so, but it was fairly rapid and entertaining fishing. Out in the middle of the loch I could see a pair of sea eagles searching, something I haven’t seen for quite a while – huge wingspan compared to the seagulls keeping a respectful distance from them.

Selfie!
Selfie!

The area near the avalanche shelter is tucked in under a high cliff, which hides the sun until early afternoon, and you could feel the cold air falling off the hillside – so I pulled ashore along the loch a bit to warm up in the sun as much as stretch my legs. I’d a wee play with the GoPro too, picking up some shots of the SIB from the shore.

Coming alongside in the SIB
Coming alongside in the SIB

Back along at the fishing things had slowed a little, but there was still enough to keep some interest going as I explored along the shoreline trying a few other spots and providing some distraction for any passengers on the handful of trains that trundled slowly by – almost above my head at times given how close the railway runs along the shoreline and how close to the shoreline I was fishing.

By mid-afternoon the wind had risen just a smidgen which made fishing 100 feet of water over very broken ground rather tricky as the Avon needs no excuse to move in the slightest breeze. As a result the fish more or less disappeared so I packed it in a little after four and worked my way back down to Stromeferry.

Codling alongside the SIB
Codling alongside the SIB
Glenshiel - still snow on the mountains
Still snow on the mountains

Driving back down to Fort William I was treated to the sun setting over the mountains in a clear sky, a colourful reminder of some of the other reasons for making the long trek up here just for a day out.

Glengarry viewpoint on the Kyle road
Glengarry viewpoint on the Kyle road
Sunset at Glengarry
Sunset at Glengarry
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A few hours SIB’ing on Leven

Ballachulish looked pretty dismal when I arrived just before nine, with low, dark cloud and a bitter wind driving light rain across my windscreen. Not exactly perfect conditions to be out in a little inflatable…

Playing with the SIB on a frigid January morning
Playing with the SIB on a frigid January morning

I headed up the loch to see if conditions were any better inland and was rewarded by a lighter breeze and no rain. Once the Avon was launched I set up with mini-feathers and mackerel bait and had a go at some mini species, just to get the year underway.

A tiny codling - first fish of 2015
A tiny codling – first fish of 2015

First drop rewarded me with a tiny codling, followed by a succession of poorcod until I got bored catching fish the size of a baby goldfish.  By now the wind had strengthened again and was blowing along the loch, making it very hard to fish effectively even when using the outboard to slow the drift down, so I took a break and collected some mussels for dinner from the rocks at the bottom of a cliff face.

A poor cod from Loch Leven
A poor cod from Loch Leven

Mission accomplished I fished a set of hokkais for a good while, catching reasonable numbers of codling with the best going around 2.5lbs.

A more respectable codling
A more respectable codling

I’d been seeing numbers of fish midwater on the sonar so I had a final couple of drifts to try and identify them for sure – and duly picked up a number of small coalies to add another species for the year.

By now the wind was a force 3 gusting 4 and it was getting very cold on the floatie boatie, so I chucked it a bit earlier than planned and was packed up and on my way home before sunset.

The sun disappearing behind the mountains at Rannoch Moor
The sun disappearing behind the mountains at Rannoch Moor
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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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Inshore codding off Skateraw

Given the weekend is probably going to be a washout for boat fishing, I nipped out of Skateraw for a short session on Friday afternoon.  The weather was calm, but with a small swell running from the NE.

First up were a few mackerel for bait, and I took a few shots with the GoPro of them underwater. I’m still learning the basics with this camera, but it certainly does open up a new dimension for angling photography.

Underwater shot of a group of mackerel taken on mylar lures
Underwater shot of a group of mackerel taken on mylar lures

Even in a more conventional shot, mackerel are a very beautiful fish and very underrated just by being so easily caught.

Mackerel - A very pretty fish when you take the time to look at it, fresh from the sea
A very pretty fish when you take the time to look at it

About a mile offshore I fished one of my regular marks for a few codling in what was a very slow drift. Normally the problem is slowing down a SIB but today there was hardly any movement and the GPS was showing 0.3 to 0.4 mph speed over ground.

No matter as there were a reasonable number of small codling about and I took 9 plus a couple of ling in around two hours. The fish came to a mix of artificial shad lures (fun on a light spinning rod) and mackerel baited muppets, but there were no Pollack amongst them which was a bit of a surprise.

A small codling tries to escape after swallowing a large artificial shad completely
A small codling tries to escape after swallowing a large artificial shad completely

Heading back to Skateraw beach I paused to fillet the fish inside the breakwater at Torness before landing ashore through a small surf at just after HW – a bit splashy but nothing too dramatic.

SIB ashore in a surf
SIB ashore in a surf

And I’m writing this whilst looking out the window at a blustery day with some rain spittering against the windows – so glad I took the chance yesterday!

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SIB-ing off Skateraw

Spent a few hours this morning running around off Skateraw, near Torness, in search of some codling close inshore. The weather was stunning, with clear skies and flat seas and it was a joy to be out and skimming the surface of the ocean. Once drifting all you could hear was the occasional whump! of a gannet diving for its breakfast – it was so calm that there wasn’t even a wavelet to slap against the hull.

Warm sunshine, calm waters - a perfect way to spend a morning fishing from a small inflatable
Warm sunshine, calm waters – a perfect way to spend a morning fishing from a small inflatable
Even a small 5hp outboard will push a lightly loaded inflatable at a decent speed
Even a small 5hp outboard will push a lightly loaded inflatable at a decent speed

Fishing was respectable enough with a number of modest codling and a couple of Pollack putting in an appearance, but it was one of these days where the catch mattered less than simply being there and soaking up the day.

Playing with the GoPro - a small codling surfaces alongside my Avon SIB
Playing with the GoPro – a small codling surfaces alongside my Avon SIB

 

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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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A Night Under the Stars

The end of September probably marks the end of easy camping in Scotland, not so much because of the cold (and it does get cold!), but the nights start to get too long for comfort. In any case I was happy to take the opportunity of a quiet overnight away under canvas, as it’s one way to keep the stress of day to day life at bay, if only for a few hours. This time it was a trip to Etive with the SIB in the back of the car, and a late launch as the sun faded in late afternoon.

A calm morning - boat camping on Loch Etive with my trusty Avon inflatable in the foreground
Early morning sunrise on Loch Etive

An inflatable has the advantage that you can pretty much park it anywhere except on a cliff, without having to worry about mooring off an unfamiliar beach – you can lift it clear of the tideline just like a kayak. Loch Etive has a good number of quiet little spots you can get ashore without difficulty, although finding enough clear, dry space for camping is more of a challenge. My chosen spot was up towards the head of the loch on the southern shore and I was pleased to find it an easy pitch as well as a good landing site on a tiny gravel beach hidden in behind some protective rocks.

By the time the tent was pitched and some dry wood gathered from the shoreline it was pretty dark and starting to cool down.

A cheery little campfire brightens the darkness of a night wild camping on the shores of Loch Etive
Cheery Campfire
A night shot of the tent with a little campfire burning on the shoreline of Loch Etive
Keeping warm!

The heat from the fire was very welcome and I was content to have it closer to the tent than I might normally feel comfortable with. Woodsmoke also has the huge benefit of persuading the midges to head elsewhere, although I think they were starting to thin out a little anyway as the days cool in early autumn.

Boat camping on Etive - clear starry night
Stars over Ben Starav on Loch Etive
The Milky Way in clear skies above Loch Etive - camping a long way up the loch and away from civilisation
The Milky Way in clear skies above Loch Etive
The shoulder of Ben Starav is brightly lit by the rising moon in the early hours
Moonrise over Ben Starav, Loch Etive

I had a rod with me, but was quite content to knock back some coffee and drink in the stunning array of stars above me – far more impressive when they’re not washed out by the lights of even our smallest village. Practising a bit of low light shooting with the camera kept me amused too, especially since I’d forgotten the tripod.

Other than a couple of stags arguing in the distance it was a very quiet night, although it did get chilly enough to wake me up a couple of times. Morning was as calm as the night before although this didn’t last too long as the wind picked up sharply as I headed back down to Bonawe, leaving me well soaked with spray by the time I reached the car. Not a real problem as all experienced SIBbers quickly wise up to the benefit of a spare set of clothes 🙂

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Summer 2013

What with holidays and family commitments I rarely get the chance to do that much fishing in July and August, and that was true for this year too. The inflatable got wet a couple of times off Skateraw as I headed out in the early morning for a few mackerel and codling, and I met up with Ian for a trip out of St Andrews in early August, but Alcatraz saw no action at all.
To be fair, the second trip on the the little SIB was on a beautiful calm morning and I had a couple of hours on the River Garry wreck which produced a nice ling of 9.5lbs plus some decent codling and pollack, so there were certainly fish about for the taking.

St. Andrews was slow at times, with a lot of small pollack and codling showing, although Ian showed his customary expertise with the spinning rod and knocked out several decent pollack as we sat at anchor.

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Sunrise over Skateraw

Sept 9th 2012 – Skateraw (near Dunbar)
With the days getting shorter again you don’t have to be up that early to catch a sunrise, and it was exactly half past six when the inflatable was pumped up and ready to go, and I watched the sun climb above the horizon. This was a shortish trip targetting a few codling for the freezer, but the cool of the early morning soon wore off as I headed out past the power station, pausing only to pick up a few mackerel for bait.

It’d be wrong to describe the fishing as good, but it was much more productive than my last trip out of Dunbar, and I pulled in around 13 or 14 codling plus a couple of modest pollack. Nothing large, but several good sized eating fish and it was a satisfied customer that made his way back in to the beach at Skateraw.

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22 April – Port Logan/Ardwell Bay

Ah well, the short version is “not a lot to report”, but I’d a good day out anyway, and there were a few fish around as well.

I didn’t fancy the sea lochs this weekend, and Dunbar looked to still have a northerly swell running, so I decided to give the south west a shot instead. I couldn’t be bothered hauling the Warrior all the way down there just for a day, especially since I didn’t expect fantastic fishing, so I packed the inflatable in the boot of the car and headed off about 5 a.m. The plan was to spend a few hours fishing Luce Bay off Ardwell and then swap across to Port Logan and see if there were any haddock about.

First task on arrival was to extract a few lugworm from the bay before heading out – Ardwell’s not the best spot for worms, but it didn’t take too long to get enough for the day. Then it didn’t take too long to get the Avon sorted out for the morning, so I was soon heading out onto a very calm Luce Bay with only a hint of a breeze.

I did a slow troll out to the southern side of the bay, in the hope that something might be interested in a Rapala, but only picked up a modest sized coalie so I didn’t carry on for too long. Next up was an anchored session to see what was swimming around the sandier ground – answer, doggies and plenty of them. A couple of small thornbacks also put in an appearance but that was all. Another slow troll inshore with a string of feathers produced no interest at all, so I dropped the anchor over some rougher ground and tried again. Same result as the first time, with a series of doggies but without the bonus of any rays. Enough was enough, so it was round to Port Logan for a second try.

There was a little more wind, but nothing to worry about so it was out towards the mouth of the bay and try a bit of drifting. Things were desperately slow to start with, with nothing but snags on the drift at the edge of the bay, and no sign of plaice in the bays north of Mull Head, so a couple of hours passed with nothing to show for it. Heading out a little further produced a couple of mini-codling and an octopus and the tide seemed surprisingly slack, so I decided to head out to the banks a couple of miles offshore for a final session before heading home. I wouldn’t normally take the inflatable out here, but with little or no wind and a slow tide the fishing was pretty easy and the sea pretty much calm. Fish came almost immediately and a succession of smallish whiting, haddock and a couple more codling took worm and fish baits, together with a mini-ling and another two octopus. I wasn’t using mackerel lures at all, but there were a good number of large shoals of fish showing off the bottom, so I’d be surprised if mackerel weren’t around in numbers.

Grand total for the day, just under 20 LSDs plus a around the same again in small coddies/whiting and haddock. And 3 octopus – my best day with them for a while FWIW.

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