April 17-18 – Loch Sunart

Weather: Calm or lightish winds. Overcast on the Sunday and sunny on Monday.
Sea: Calm
Time: Roughly 1130-1630 on Sunday, and 0730-1530 on Monday – say 13 hours altogether
Tides: HW 1822 on Sunday and 0637 Monday (large tide – 4.5m range)

March and April are always fairly slow months for salt water anglers, but I hadn’t been fishing since early March and the frustration was growing unbearable. I’ve long had the desire to explore the islands at the mouth of Sunart and reckoned it should be possible to anchor the boat safely overnight in one of the deep inlets on Oronsay islands, so the chance of a couple of days good weather was seized eagerly and I threw the camping gear into the car and headed off towards the ferry at Corran.

By the time a further 30 miles of snaking single tracks were negotiated and Alcatraz finally got prepped and launched it was late morning by the time the first bait hit the seabed some 400 feet below and perhaps twenty minutes later before the first fish started snaffling around for lunch. This eventually proved to be a small thornback of about 3 1/2 lbs which was a welcome enough start. Unfortunately only doggies came out to play in the next couple of hours so I upped anchor and shifted into Laga Bay to see if anything else was around. Initially more of the dogfish, but a couple of small conger eventually made an appearance about an hour before I packed up – best around 9lbs so nothing to get too excited about, but a welcome change to LSDs.

Camping on Loch na Droma Buidhe
Camping on Loch na Droma Buidhe

I finished early in order to get enough time to find somewhere to stay for the night. Originally I had planned to camp on one of the inlets on the north side of Oronsay where there is a large sandy area, but the tide was actually too large to allow me to anchor safely and leave the boat for the night. After a look around I decided on a move round to the south of Oronsay and into Loch na Droma Buidhe (a yachtie favourite) where I found sanctuary in a narrow inlet that ran several hundred yards up into Oronsay. The large tide actually worked in my favour, as the very head of the inlet was softish sand and salt marsh rather than the bouldery ground I’d have found on a small tide, and it was easy enough to secure Alcatraz near to a small space on the shoreline with just enough space for a tent.

Oronsay Island, Loch Sunart
Oronsay Island, Loch Sunart

Once the basics were sorted out I had a look round the island, which was completely deserted apart from some ruined old croft houses. With no wind and no people about the silence was almost total – only the occasional bird intruded for a few seconds. Very therapeutic for a night or two, but would probably drive you over the edge after a week. It does make you realise just how noisy our normal environment actually is, though! As the light faded I lit a small campfire and had a coffee before turning in for an early night. Next morning I woke just before six to find clear skies and a flat calm sea – and the tide only a few centimetres from the tent, and still rising. Oops, a slight miscalculation on the height of the spring tide! A few minutes frantic tentpeg pulling and stuffing of sleeping bags back into drybags and Alcatraz was quickly loaded and soon underway, headed back into Loch Sunart.

It was a lovely sunny morning but still cold as I headed back to a mark near to yesterday’s session. By 7.30 we were anchored in around 360 feet and fishing the start of the ebb. Over the next 4 hours there was a slow trickle of fish, mainly doggies but also a 9lb spur and a couple of thornbacks. The better of these was 9lb 8oz which is the best I’ve had out of Sunart, so at least that was something. A late morning shift saw me close inshore at the base of an underwater cliff, looking for conger again – however all that turned up was a solitary ray of about 6 1/2lbs.

A standup Thornback Ray
A standup Thornback Ray

By now it was just after low water so I decided on one final move up the loch towards Salen, so spend a couple of hours on a mark that can be good for spurs. I also put down a skate bait and settled down to wait. The first hour produced only a couple of doggies until the silence was broken by the urgent warning of the ratchet on the skate reel as several feet of line were suddenly pulled into the loch. I quickly freed the rod from its holder and lifted into very solid resistance as the 12/0 hit home almost 300 feet below. The skate didn’t hang about and powered off down the slope of the loch in determined fashion whilst I hung on as best I could until we could get to the usual stalemate of fish glued to the bottom and angler trying to apply enough pressure to get it prised off the seabed. After an eternity (according to my aching back, but probably no more than a few minutes in reality) the fish grudgingly gave way and was slowly persuaded towards daylight. Once alongside I reckoned it at something like 80lbs, but being alone in the boat I had no intention of trying to get the fish inboard to find out for sure. Fortunately it was tagged – #1080 – so I simply noted the number and released the skate to be caught another day.

By now it was 3 p.m. so I spent a little while sorting out the boat and various bits of fishing gear before calling it a day and heading back into Salen. Total catch for the trip wasn’t spectacular – 1 skate, 4 thornbacks, 2 conger and a solitary spurdog (plus plenty of spotty dogs, of course) – but it was great to get some spring sunshine and do a little exploring in one of the most beautiful places in Scotland.

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March 4th 2011 – Loch Carron

Weather: Calm or light SW wind, mainly overcast. Chilly.
Sea: Calm, clear and cold
Time: Roughly 0845-1445 – 6 hours
Tides: LW around 1330 – largish tide

I hadn’t been up to Loch Carron for 6 or 7 years, since Ian and I had a windswept week struggling to find a few fish in late autumn 2004. It’s over 200 miles from Edinburgh, so not an easy daytrip and something like 5 hours driving if you’re towing a boat. However the plan was to use the inflatable (therefore no trailer hassle, and only a 4 hour drive), and then head up to see my dad in Nairn for the weekend. From that point of view it’s little more than a 150 mile detour – less than a Loch Etive trip.

Dolphins chase my inflatable
Dolphins chase my inflatable

An early start saw me launching from the Stromeferry slip before 9 a.m., heading towards the avalanche shelter area in search of a codling or two. After a mile or two I came reasonably close to a prawn creeler, and could see a pair of dolphins splashing around it. Once they picked up the sound of the outboard engine they made a beeline for me, easily traceable as the ploughed across the flat calm surface of the loch. I then had the pleasure of their company for the best part of an hour as I made my way up to the avalanche shelter and for a fair time afterwards as I tried to fish it. I’ve seen dolphins many times before, mainly on the east coast, but these were the most persistent I’ve encountered and the only ones I’ve ever caught on camera or video. Take a look at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hgiqCQjt1A

Stretching my legs
Stretching my legs

After the dolphins eventually got bored and bu**ered off I started to pick up a few fish, mainly smallish ling in the 3-4lbs bracket on mackerel baited hokkais fished on a slow drift. I’d guess I fished roughly half to three quarters of a mile of the loch, centred on the avalanche shelter. The water got deep quickly, reaching 120 feet within easy casting distance of the shelter, even deeper from the point 200 or 300 yards to the west – perhaps 180 feet or more. Over the day I picked up 8 ling and a single codling, plus a heap of mussels for dinner later in the week. Nothing big or exciting but a decent day for March and no cause for complaint. I packed up early only because I had to be in Nairn for 5’ish and I dare say the score would have been higher if I’d hung around a bit longer.

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10 Feb 2011 – Loch Etive

A few hours fishing from my Rover inflatable on Loch Etive – chilly but otherwise a beautiful day, with a few thornbacks and spurdogs appearing to keep things interesting.

Weather: Calm, sunny and beautiful – but a bit chilly
Sea Conditions: Flat calm.
Time: Roughly 0900-1630 – 7.5 hours
Tides: HW approx. 1100

Ben Starav from Loch Etive
Ben Starav from Loch Etive

The weather’s been it’s typical wintry self recently – cold, wet and windy – but I grabbed a few hours of calm between the gales to give Etive a try. I’ve been trying to run-in the little 5hp Tohatsu O/B I bought back in September and also get my Rover inflatable back into more regular use, so it was a chance to kill two birds with one stone, and hopefully get a few fish as well.

The 120 mile trip across to Taynuilt was certainly easier and quicker without hauling the usual trailer, although there were some terrific potholes around the Tyndrum area which had to be treated with caution in the semi-darkness. Arriving at the old pier the weather was beautiful – calm and sunny – and I quickly got the inflatable set up and ready to go.

Ready for a day on the loch
Ready for a day on the loch

Once out on the loch I headed out for a couple of hundred yards and then tied up to the outermost mooring buoy and set up a couple of rods – a spinning rod armed with hokkais and 20lb class rod with a standard 1 up 1 down mackerel baited rig. Fishing was fairly slow, but three respectable thornies and a couple of doggies appeared over the next 90 minutes before I decided to move further up the loch beyond Bonawe. The rest of the day I spent tied up to the fish farm or on a slow drift, and it wasn’t the most productive experience, with only a couple more thornbacks, 2 spurdogs and a few LSDs making an appearance.

Although sunny, the day was still very cold and I was quite glad to pack up around 4 o’clock as I was starting to freeze – one of the downsides of an inflatable is the level of exposure coupled with an inability to move around to keep warm.

Totals for the day – 5 thornbacks to 5lbs, 2 spurdogs to 3.5lbs and 7 doggies. All on mackerel baits.

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22 Jan 2011 – Loch Sunart

First time out on the boat for months, thanks to weeks of snow and ice. A bit disappointing in terms of fish, but great to be out once more and blow away a few cobwebs. Judging by the other boats out I wasn’t the only one keen to get on the water again.

Weather: Calm, dry and mainly overcast. Nice day for January!.
Sea Conditions: Flat calm, 7 degrees C.
Time: 0800-1700 – 11 hours
Tides: HW 0715 (4.6m) LW 1315 (0.7m)

This was the first trip out for 2011 and since last November, due to a mix of weather and family distractions, so it was preceded by some anxious checking of the boat/trailer/engine in case of frost damage or brake seizing, etc. Fortunately everything seemed OK so I decided to head to Sunart on a day trip – at least there’s more chance of larger fish there than in Etive, although it can be a very unproductive fishery for much of the time.

The run across was a little slower than usual as there was a fair bit of fog and frost around, not to mention some fairly hideous potholes hiding in the darkness. However, we made it safely to Strontian slip just at first light and got set up and ready to go a little before 8 o’clock. I usually use Strontian nowadays if I’m only across for the day – it’s a good bit further to the marks, but it saves a long slow trek along single track roads and the slip is the best in the loch (although exposed to S winds).

Looking towards Mull from Laga Bay
Looking towards Mull from Laga Bay

The trip down the loch was chilly but uneventful and I arrived at my preferred mark only to find it occupied by another Warrior – Paisley Pete. Although there’s space for several boats around here I decided to press on down the loch to its deepest point, opposite Laga Bay in 410 feet. The anchor was already prepped with some fairly revolting mackerel remains in the rubby dubby container and a mix of skate and spurrie baits followed soon after.

Laga Bay
Laga Bay

Three hours later I’d amassed a respectable collection of LSDs but only one modest spurdog, at about 6lbs in weight, so I decided on a move over to Laga Bay for a couple of hours. If anything it was even worse fishing here – a handful of LSDs and a solitary small thornback (although Dale Roberston did pull in a few small conger a few hundred yards away), and around LW I decided on a final move back up the loch to Salen.

The deep hole here produced nothing except more dogs (total for the day 22 or 23), although Tickety Boo 2 did land a small skate and had had a couple of decent spurs earlier in the day. It was a lovely evening though, with the loch flat calm and the sun just peeking out and the lack of fish wasn’t too distressing. Finally packed in around 5 o’clock as the light started going quite rapidly.

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20 November – Loch Etive

A fairly typical day at Etive, with decent numbers of thornback and small spurs showing – plus my first ever tagged spurdog recapture. And don’t forget a few mussels picked up for dinner later in the week – a little bonus for the effort spent getting a boat too and from the west coast.

Weather: Light E wind, dry and mainly overcast. Pretty cold.
Sea Conditions: Flat calm, 8 degrees C.
Time: 0930-1700 – 7.5 hours
Tides: HW 0626 (1.9m) LW 1340 (0.4m)

Alcatraz on Etive
Alcatraz on Etive

Mainly thornbacks today, with 9 or 10 coming aboard. Nothing huge with the best around 5lbs, but only one micro fish for the day which is an improvement on the last couple of trips. Tried a couple of new marks, both of which produced 3 or 4 rays but only one spurdog – both look interesting for another time, although there were a fair number of LSD present as well.

Around low water I stopped off to collect a few mussels for dinner later in the week, although there were only a few visible and it took a wee while to get enough – a bit chilly on the hands when picking them up underwater!

A tagged spurdog
A tagged spurdog

Afterwards I headed further down the loch, to the deep water opposite the church where there were a few more spurs. However these were small ones so I didn’t hang around for too long, particularly as the tide had swung the boat stern on to the very cold breeze.

Back up to a deep mark near Airds Point and I decided to stay here until darkness fell, and see if any spurries were moving around. Initially things were very slow but picked up after around 30 or 40 minutes with a couple more thornbacks and a few spurdogs to 5lbs or so, alongside the usual LSD. Best fish of the day came in the shape of a 9.5lbs spurdog which was carrying a tag from the shark tagging programme.

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15th August – Loch Etive

More like a family fishing day than my usual efforts, with two kids and a dog for company. Plenty of tiddler spurdogs for amusement, plus a little barbie on the beach miles from anywhere. Lots of sunshine too, so a great day out before it’s back to school next week…

Weather: A great day, with light W wind and mainly sunny

Sea Conditions: Calm

Time: Roughly 1100- 1730 – 6.5 hours

Tides: HW 1200 – Large tide

Katie's first "shark" - a small spurdog
Katie’s first “shark”

Had a fun day out with the kids and the dog(!), spending as much time cruising about and lazing ashore in the sunshine as we did fishing. Even so we managed 26 spurdog, mainly small but with the biggest at 6.75lbs being caught at the last minute by Mike. Funnily enough we caught nothing but spurs – no mackerel, whiting, LSD or thornies – which is a first for me. Most of the fish came a long way up the loch, about 2-3 miles from Glen Etive, where the bottom was carpetted with small spurries.

Lunchtime on Loch Etive
Lunchtime

It was Katie’s first time out in the boat, but she was quite happy steering us around, and managed to keep a respectably straight wake most of the time. Less said about the dog the better – she demanded to be treated as a lapdog most of the day and also managed to bring a motley collection of ticks aboard after we stopped ashore for lunch, much to Katie’s disgust.

Only downer of the day was losing a tyre at Crianlarich on the way home – the valve blew out (a new one on me), but it took only a few minutes to change to the spare, so not really much of a drama.

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4th April 2010 – Etive

Weather: Warm in the sunshine, but some cool and windy spells
Sea Conditions: Calm
Tides:
Time Spent: 09:30 – 16:30 – 7 hours

Mike with a small thornback
Mike with a small thornback
Bonnie and thornie
Bonnie and thornie

Took Mike and Bonnie (the dog) over to Etive for a few hours at the start of the Easter holidays. The fishing was fairly poor but we had a modest selection of species with spurs, thornbacks, whiting and gurnard all hitting the bait – no LSD again though.

Bonnie gets comfy
Bonnie gets comfy
Bonnie and Mike
Bonnie and Mike
Fishing up the loch
Fishing up the loch

We motored around a wee bit, as far down as Ardchattan and then all the way up past the lodge at Barrs and tying up to the old pier near there for a break. Bonnie distinguished herself by falling overboard as we landed at Barrs, but was otherwise well behaved.

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7th March 2010 – Etive

Weather: Chilly with a light SE wind and mainly overcast. Wind less than 10mph all day
Sea Conditions: Calm
Tides: 11:36 1.3m
Time spent: 0900-1700 – 8 hours

Started off at Inveresregan in about 210 feet, and maybe 150 yards from shore. Fishing was slowish – quite a lot of small rattles, probably from whiting – but not many coming aboard. The count gradually climbed, with a respectable range of species but nothing of any size. Oddly enough there was no sign of LSDs at all – not that I’m complaining much.

A shift down the loch to Ardchattan for a couple of hours produced a flurry of small spurdog and a couple of small rays, but little of excitement. Overall it was pleasant enough, but nothing to write home about. Total for the day – 4 thornbacks, 14 spurs, plus codling, whiting, poor cod, pouting and gurnard.

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24th January 2010 – Oban

Weather: Light N/NE wind F1-2. Dry, cold with some sunny intervals
Sea Conditions: Slight – a little chop at times
Time Spent: 0945-17:00 – 7:15
Tides: 11:15 GMT – 3.1m

Taking advantage of a break in the winter weather Ian and I towed Alcatraz westwards to have a crack at Oban and the chance of a skate. The wind was light but it was bl**dy chilly, so much so that my eTec decided to issue a “no oil” warning after a few minutes running – a first for me, but known to be an occasional problem in cold weather. Sorted out by a quick restart, and we were soon dropping the hook down to the seabed 530 feet below.

Ian with 178lb skate
Ian with 178lb skate

We’d timed arrival for an hour or so before HW, but there was still a moderate tide running and a little hint of wind against tide. Nevertheless we got a pair of skate baits settled on the bottom and sorted out a welcome cup of soup. After an hour or so, and a little after HW, Ian’s rod had a nice run and he was soon into a good sized fish which was surfaced about 20 minutes later, after much huffing and puffing. The way the tide had been running the fish was actually lying in front of the boat, towards the anchor rope, which made playing it a bit more difficult. However, at 178lbs it was a good start for the year for both Ian and Alcatraz, and broke Ian’s long running duck at Oban.

Just as soon as Ian’s fish was returned I realised that there was another fish on my rod so it was a repeat performance,

A 203lb Oban skate
A 203lb Oban skate

apart from showing me to be even more out of condition – it took an age to get it off the bottom and my back was constantly reminding me why skate fishing is a really silly idea. Nevertheless line gradually filled the reel again and eventually Ian got the chance to sink a gaff into the wing of what looked to be a very good fish.

The fun started in earnest now because, try as we might, we couldn’t get the fish aboard. After a few attempts we gave up before we caused too much damage to ourselves or the fish and settled down to trying to measure it in the water. Length wasn’t too bad – after we got a rope around her tail we could hold her against the side of the boat and measure off against that. Width was much harder as we were measuring a rather slippery and curly underside but we got there in the end, despite almost joining the fish in the water a couple of times. Final result was a (reasonably conservative) 86″ x 69/70″, which I make to be around 203lbs or thereabouts and a lifetime personal best. Result!

After that excitement the rest of the day was (thankfully) fish free apart from a few doggies and a single spurdog to Ian. Sadly no black mouthed dogfish put in an appearance 🙁

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6th December 2009 – Loch Sunart

Third and last day of our sojourn to Sunart, and the weather pretty much killed it as the wind rose to a three quarters gale and the anchor eventually couldn’t hold us properly. Only a handful of fish to show for our efforts before we called it quits in the early afternoon.

Weather: S force 4 rising to a 6-7. Dry becoming heavy rain. Pretty horrible overall
Sea Conditions: Calm, becoming choppy later
Time Spent: 10:30-14:30 – 4 hours
Tides: HW approx 09:00

The weather looked OK to start with so we headed over to the marks opposite Salen and stuck the hook down. An hour here produced a single doggie, so we moved down to the fish farm half way down the loch towards Laga and tried again. Another hour produced a couple of doggies and small conger before the rising wind persuaded us to try and get shelter near the salmon farm opposite Laga.

Anchoring up in the same spot we’d picked up fish on Friday we initially held bottom and fished OK, but with little result apart from a couple more dogs. Dale had been across the other side of Laga but wasn’t able to hold anchor, so came back near us and tied up to a buoy on the farm. The wind continued to rise and our anchor finally dragged slowly through the soft mud on the bottom. The rain came on with a vengeance and spirits sank as nothing fishy like appeared, so we called it a day around half two, and headed back through a pretty strong wind.

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