The Sea of the Hebrides

I’m not long back from a very memorable long weekend on Skye, exploring a small corner of MacLeod country amongst sunshine, calm seas and giant volcanic cliffs. We camped above the beach on a deserted little island and spent 3 days fishing on the Sea of the Hebrides. Some very nice fish. No midges. Perfect…

Launched and raring to go

Trevor had obviously checked his forecasts too as he was eager for a trip westward, despite the long haul involved for both of us. I’ve never boat fished on Skye before, so we were largely fishing blind this weekend and I’d picked out some likely areas on the chart.

A place to stay

I fancied camping on one of the islands scattered around this part of Skye, but this is easier said than done. Most are quite forbidding, with high cliffs and rocky beaches and exposed to the Atlantic swell. Not quite what you want for a chilled out, peaceful, night! One looked more promising though, so we loaded our gear into the boat and headed off.

Our own little island

It turned out to be almost perfect for us. The boulder beach at high water was a problem, but just meant we needed to load and unload before the tide rose too much. A decent stretch of smooth, hard sand allowed us to hold the boat off the shoreline and let it dry out over low water.

We checked above the beach, but the grass here barely covered the boulders beneath. A little escarpment overlooking the sand proved a much better choice and the tents were soon up. With the camp secured, it was time to get out fishing!

We started with a couple of hours spinning for pollack over likely looking reefs at the mouth of the loch. Despite a large spring tide there wasn’t much movement on the water, and we glided along slowly at 0.5 knots or less. Plenty of mackerel, some pollack and a load of coleys hit our jellies, shads and metal lures, but they were all small fish. I doubt if any made it above 2.5lbs.

We worked back into the loch over the afternoon, with no more success. Even at anchor we only picked up a few dogfish and pin whiting. It was a slightly chastened crew that headed back to camp that evening, although hot food and fine afterglow soon cheered us up.

MacLeod’s Tables against the evening afterglow

Next Morning

Trev and I were up early the next day, just as the sun rose above the hills. Breakfast (and even coffee) were delayed until we were out and fishing. Despite some faffing about with retrieving the boat, mainly down to a brain dead skipper’s poor rope work the evening before, we were soon heading down the coast.

A quick stop at a couple of rock marks produced a repeat of yesterday – small fish and plenty of them. At least the extra bait came in handy!

I anchored up close to the boundary between rock and sand, and in fairly shallow water. First up was a tiny conger eel to my rod, but his bigger brothers failed to follow suit. That gave me time to sort out bacon and egg rolls and some coffee for the crew, before hunger drove him mutinous.

Things were very quiet and we were approaching the “do we, don’t we” decision on shifting when Trev got a good solid bite. It didn’t stay hooked for long and he wound in to find his light trace bitten through. Most likely a spurdog that ignored all the larger baits available to to her.

At least that’s what I assumed – until both of us got screaming runs in very close succession. Trev’s skate bait got nailed first, and then my spurdog rod went crazy with a good fish. Obviously tope!

With only a 100lb mono trace and some beads for protection, I was surprised my rig lasted as long as a minute before being bitten off 🙁 Trevor was faring better, with a heavy skate trace fending off the teeth of his tope. A few minutes later I lifted a large male aboard which weighed in at 39lbs. In retrospect I shouldn’t be surprised, as tope patrol up and down the coastline here, but I was definitely thinking too much about spurdog.

Lovely 39lb Skye tope for Trevor

Back Inshore

We gave it another hour before shifting into the loch to try another spot I’d earmarked earlier. This was more of a skate and rays mark, in something over 200 feet, but the doggies seemed to love it too. I had them hitting my bait every time it reached bottom, much to Trevor’s amusement. Patience paid off however, and I finally caught my first thornback from Skye. A nice fish that weighed in at 9.5lbs.

Then, with only a few minutes to go before it was time to head home, Trevor’s rod gave a good bite as a skate headed off.

This one glued itself to the seabed and Trev struggled mightily to shift it. Too mightily in fact, as his rod gave an almighty crack and disintegrated at the reel seat. Oh dear! A few minutes of hasty improvisation and we cable tied his reel to the remains of the rod and got him back into the game.

Amazingly enough, the skate just hung around during all this palaver and didn’t take advantage. Eventually Trev managed to inch it up to the surface (one advantage of not fishing my usual 500 feet deep skate marks), and we got a few pictures and released it. Probably fortunately, this was a smallish fish of less than 100lb, otherwise the outcome might have been different!

Back on our little island, we got dinner on the go. I’d taken along a new toy – a lightweight titanium tent stove that can fit in my backpack and keep my tent toasty over winter. It doubles up as a firebox too, and this was how we used it on this trip. It makes more efficient use of firewood and avoids any damage to the grass as well. I’m looking forward to a spell of cold weather to test if properly in in the tent!

Final Roll of the Dice

We were both up before sunrise on another gorgeous morning, to strike camp and load the boat with all our junk. We were slicker than yesterday, and the sun only just broke the horizon as we headed out.

Even the slight swell had died away and only a few ripples disturbed the surface of the Sea of the Hebrides. We fished a very slow drift in around 100 feet of water over rocky ground. Good sized mackerel baits went down in search of ling or spurdogs, and the kettle went on to sort out the coffee!

Fishing today was much busier than the previous couple of days, and groups of spurdogs grabbed our baits at regular intervals. Good sized fish too, with a fair number of fish around double figures.

Trevor went one better, with a beautiful 17.5lb fish that’s the biggest I’ve seen aboard my boats. A personal best for him, and a reminder of the potential available in these waters.

17.5lb Spurdog

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Bracadale Spurdogging

For decades I avoided Skye after experiencing poor weather on several visits to the island, away back in the pre-bridge days. My loss of course, and I’ve been back several times in recent years and had far better luck. It’s a fickle place but very rewarding if you catch it right – and steel yourself for the 5 hour drive.

I did just that in early August,staggering out of bed in the pre-dawn darkness at 4 in the morning. Even the dog didn’t bother to say goodbye as I shut the door. Many hours later I successfully navigated the maze of small roads around Bracadale to reach my destination at Orbost.

Fine looking fishing stance

Tramping along the track through the forest I could see glimpses of my target through the trees. A very inviting looking rocky ledge far below me and about a mile away as the local eagles fly. However, I’m far from an eagle and faced an obstacle course of forest, burns, cliffs and dense undergrowth to reach my chosen spot.

Unforgiving territory!

I’ve been here once before, so knew the way and avoided the worst of the bogs and deadfall, but it’s still pretty hard going. I wasn’t exactly travelling light, but it really pays to minimise weight if you can. By the time I reached the rocks I was soaked with sweat and seriously out of breath.

Recovery

The sun was out and the midges were down, so I took stock. There were two crab pots set in front of me, but I could see the lines in the clear water and they weren’t a big problem. The big seal looking at me curiously was perhaps more of an issue.

It was around half-way down the ebb and the big kelp beds that fringe much of Bracadale were clearly visible in the clear water. I set up my stall and rigged the rods with pulley rigs and a modest mackerel bait. Targets were ray and spurdog from the clean ground further out in perhaps 20-30 feet depth.

The first hour was quiet and I scouted around looking for space for my tent. Eventually I decided to stick with my choice from last time and pitch up in the conifer plantation. Hardly spacious, but there’s enough room for my little Helium 2 and it was a fairly comfortable arrangement.

Finally, a fish

Eventually my patience was rewarded with a decent run on my old Zziplex 2500 and I hooked what was clearly a reasonable spurdog. Scrabbling down the rocks whilst trying to keep the fish from slicing through the line on the barnacles wasn’t easy but I eventually got her alongside. Then blew it by applying a little too much strain on the hook length as I lifted the fish onto a ledge just at the waterline – ping! – as sharp teeth cut straight through 100lb nylon under tension. Dumb error, although the fish should lose the hook fairly quickly as it was just sitting around the jaw line.

I made amends a little later when my first spurdog was properly landed and returned. A decent fish from the shore at around 6lbs.

My spinning rod had tagged along with a view to pollack bashing as the tide rose again. I tried a mix of shads, jellyworms and metals for a while but had very little interest and only a couple of small pollack attacked. Last time I was at Bracadale there were more fish and a bit better sized, so perhaps the seal was keeping them occupied.

I had my hands full with more spurdogs, plus the need to collect some small twigs for my stove and replenish water supplies, so I didn’t persist with the spinning rod for too long.

Dinner

I’d taken along my little honey stove to boil water and cook on. It’s reasonably lightweight and packs very small, and just needs a modest supply of small twigs to keep burning. Coffee was the first priority, then a “chuck it all in the pan” mix of chicken, chorizo, peppers, pasta, etc. got fired up for dinner. It tasted fine I have to say, and probably better than I deserved given that cooking like this is a little random.

Suitably refilled, I fished on for a while, to bring the total for the day to 5 spurdogs. No doubles, but some respectable fish.

By this time I was flagging and the weather was turning a bit on the grey side, so I decided to call it a day. Hitting the sack I was out for the count pretty quickly, probably helped a little by the contents of my hip flask. I think I deserved that though, after quite a long day!

A New Day

I awoke to sunlight streaming in through the tent. It was just after six, and there wasn’t much wind either. No wind, damp ground and trees means midges gathering for breakfast on the other side of the flysheet… A very hasty exit was called for!

A fine early morning light over Loch Bracadale, Skye
A fine morning

Stumbling onto the rocks without breaking anything in the process I quickly baited up and cast out before sorting my gear into more organised piles of fishing gear, food and jackets.

I didn’t have to wait too long before spurdogs started on my baits, and the fish were a similar stamp to yesterday. I managed a couple before hunger pangs demanded I fire up my stove with more twigs and get some food on the go!

Breakfast was pancakes, bacon and maple syrup, recognising my very Canadian looking surroundings. The stove did a pretty good job on the bacon and I happily wolfed down the result in between spurdog runs.

This morning the weather was distinctly patchy, with some squally showers powering in between sunny spells.

I fished on during the rest of the morning, picking up 6 spurdogs to a shade under the 10lb mark. There was no sign of rays though, which I had rather been hoping to see.

Finally, with both time and weather running out, I called it quits and made my way back in a mini-deluge. Which promptly stopped as soon as I’d got past the difficult bits en-route to the track. I was almost dry again by the time I reached my car!

I fished to the right of this bay.
Way in/out at Bracadale
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A Chilly Re-run on Etive

Am I an angler or homing pigeon? Out for just the second time this year, and I find my way back to the same spot as last month. I’d a snowy forecast but a rainy reality, which was pretty much as I expected. I do find the forecasts always overstate the likelihood of snow down at sea level.

The little single track road in to Glen Etive was covered with snow, which always makes me think about my chances of getting out again if it gets nasty. However the snow disappeared at about 200 feet above sea level and before I managed to skid off the road, so the last few miles to the car park were uneventful.

Snow covers the road down Glen Etive, making for an interesting drive in slippy conditions
An interesting drive

I was alone at the end of the road so I took my time sorting out my rucksack and gear before starting to splosh my way along the trail. I have to say that this wet and boggy haul along the loch was cheered greatly by white-capped mountains all around.

A snow covered Ben Starav offers a chilly backdrop to my hike along Loch Etive
Chilly background to my hike

Arrival

I arrived at my campsite with plenty of daylight this time, so set up the rods and cast out before sorting out my tent and some extra firewood for the night. Given all the recent rain I was far from confident that the salinity of the loch would still be high enough to attract predators, but I’d plenty to keep me busy with or without actually catching a fish.

My hopes rose dramatically when I reeled in my first rod to find a disembodied whiting on the end. Definitely spurdog about! I quickly rebaited and cast out into the trench again.

Headless

Fortunately for me, the slight wind that was blowing dropped to nothing as I watched some sleet and snow flurries crossing the loch further down.

A Scottish sunset 🙂

I got a decent bite not long after dark bite and retrieved a fine looking female spurdog. Nothing like as big as my beastie from last month, but a respectable 6lb plus.

Nice Etive spurdog

I was hungry by now, so chicken, pasta, tomatoes, chorizo and chickpeas all found themselves bedfellows in my pan. I settled down with a coffee and watched the flames as my dinner got under way.

Dinner, and plenty of it!

Pre-dinner drinks were interrupted by a couple more spurdog, but just small males this time.

Last spur of the day

Rain was falling steadily, but I was happy enough chilling out beside the campfire and checking the rods every now and again. Despite the snow covered mountains it wasn’t terribly cold and the flames kept some feeling in my fingers.

Cheery campfire

A final little spurdog and I decided to call it quits and head for the tent as I was getting a little soggy by now. Rain battered away on my tent but didn’t manage to keep me awake for long. The whisky in my coffee probably helped…

A New Dawn

Next morning was cold and grey as I poked my snout out the tent, but at least the rain had stopped. Hopping around in the semi-darkness I managed to pull on enough clothes to avoid hypothermia before casting out again.

Casting out in the dawn light

Eventually the grey-dark improved to being just grey, but without a flicker of interest on the rods. A couple of re-casts later and a new species for 2020 surrendered without much of a fight. A doggie, more of a puppy really. I suppose the only surprise is that it wasn’t my first fish of the year.

Puppy snatching

By now it was definitely time for breakfast, so round one of bacon and eggs went on the rejuvenated campfire.

Winter breakfast

By round two of breakfast I’d attracted this little robin, who had a happy rummage around the seaweed whilst keeping an eye on me. I offered him some mackerel, but he clearly had standards and just ignored it.

The forecast was deteriorating later in the morning, and I needed to get back to do some dog-sitting, so I packed up camp just after breakfast and reeled in the last of the lines. Nothing else showed up, so it was just one little doggie for the morning compared with 4 spurdogs and half a whiting the night before.

Last orders…

Hiking out was easier initially, having burned the wood I took in and eaten a fair percentage of my body weight in dinner and breakfast. Sadly, good things don’t last and the rain caught up with me big time for the last hour. It was a very, very wet fisherman who stripped off in the carpark. Fortunately for them, there were no witnesses around!

Long way home
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Kicking off 2020 with a PB

I hastened along the trail, mindful that darkness would fall before I reached my preferred spot. This was a last minute effort, and I faced a good 2 hours hike down the loch. Bearing in mind that some spots are a little hairy in daylight let alone at night, I was keen to minimise stumbling around!

Almost out of time before darkness falls

Dusk

Arriving just as the last glimmer of light left the sky, I happily dumped my heavy backpack. I quickly collected some dead wood to augment the limited supply I’d carried in. Perhaps not the best quality, but good enough for my purposes tonight. With the basics satisfied it was time to get the fishing up and running!

I cast out a mackerel baited pulley rig on both rods and then sorted out my kit and set up the tent. Recent storms had washed over the site and deposited plenty of seaweed, so I shifted enough out the way to get a decent space for my little tent.

First fish of 2020

Checking the rods after this I saw that both had been stripped. Not so good, as this usually means crabs are about. A quick rebait and recast and I started work to get the fire going, as no fire means no food (and no coffee!). Maybe 15 minutes later however, I heard the noise of a ratchet indicating something was interested in the mackerel. The something turned out to be a small spurdog, welcome enough as a start to the year.

With the fire burning nicely now I got dinner on the go – chilli chicken and pasta, and plenty of it to combat the winter night. There was no-one else about at all, and the loch was completely dark, calm and silent. I drank a whisky fortified coffee and contemplated my surroundings as I waited on dinner.

Dinner on the go

Spurdog

My peace (and dinner) was interrupted by the sound of the ratchet on the reel as something made off with the bait. Striking into the fish I realised immediately that this was a much better beast than the usual small stuff. Not that spurdog fight much, but this was clearly a nice fish. It was a relieved angler who spotted the green reflection of its eyes in my headtorch and guided it gently to shore.

I scrambled down onto the rocks and manoeuvered a chunky female spurdog onto the seaweed. A quick measure showed it to be between 107 and 108cm in length and easily my biggest from the shore. Indeed, it’s my best from either boat or shore for several years. Weight for length scales suggest something around the 12lb mark 🙂

A cracking spurdog double

Checking my dinner to make sure it hadn’t burned to a crisp whilst I dealt with madame spurdog, I recast the bait. Finally, I settled down to eat – I was starving by now, not having had anything since early morning.

I fished on for a couple more hours, landing another three small spurries, before calling it a night and curling up in my sleeping bag. I couldn’t hang around too long in the morning, so the idea was to start fishing just before dawn and give it a couple of hours whilst having a lazy breakfast.

Dawn

Up before seven, and it was definitely on the cold and damp side. A decent night’s sleep helps, but it was chilly as I hurried to get baits in the water and then coax my campfire back into life.

Happily, this didn’t take too long and I soon had a morale boosting source of warmth as I waited for water to boil. My coffee was ready just as dawn broke over a flat calm loch, with the moon still shining in the sky.

Coffee bubbling away on my campfire in the dawn of a lovely calm January morning. A half moon is still shining over a very still Loch Etive in the western highlands of Scotland
Early morning coffee

A couple more spurdog put in an appearance as the sun threatened to rise above the mountains. Munching on bacon and eggs, coffee in hand, fish about, and with a view like this – winter perfection!

Just before sunrise, with my rods sitting over a calm Loch Etive and a snow covered Ben Cruachan in the background
Sunrise

Unfortunately this was a rather curtailed little trip and I had the tent packed and camp cleaned up not long after sunrise. I’d lost a fair bit of weight from my rucksack which certainly helps, and there was a cracking view of the mountains as I headed back. It’s still a long haul though!

Beautiful backdrop to my hike

And 2019 stutters to a halt

I feel I should provide a brief finale to 2019. A couple of nice days out but the catching was crap, and I always struggle to get the motivation to write about poor fishing.

St Andrews provided Ian with a decent pollack and a couple of codling on a very cold December day. I just acted as bystander, adding a solitary coalfish to the mix (and a small one at that).

A nice late-season pollack from St Andrews
Nice pollack for Ian

A week or so later I met up with Trevor for the first time in months. After some to-ing and fro-ing over where to fish we settled on Arbroath as the least worst option. If nothing else it’s about equidistant for us, and the forecast did suggest a decent swell.

Wow!

To be fair the swell wasn’t too bad and I thought we’d be in with a shout of codling in the murky water. I think we had three between us, but the specimen Trev’s holding was typical. At least we finished the year with a lovely sunset, but I think we’d really both have preferred a plump codling or two!

A fine winter sunset on the Arbroath cliffs helps offset a poor day's fishing
Fine sunset
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Icy Wild Camp on Etive

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.

Falls of Lora

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.

Frosted

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.

Emerging into the cold
Bacon and eggs. Mmmn!
Fancy some frostbite?

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.

Freezing wet ropes. Should’ve remembered the gloves!

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.

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Nice camp, shame about the fishing…

I keep a good look out for any spots that might combine a good campsite with the chance of decent fishing. That usually means somewhere well out of the way and probably a decent hike too.

This one is near enough a five hour drive from home, so it’s taken a good while for me to organise an expedition and check it out. Late October provided my opportunity for a few days off work.

I marched quickly down a couple of miles from the road, but then stopped dead. Horribly effective barriers comprising of windfall trees and tide-limited rocks blocked access. Quite nerve-wracking as well as exhausting! I was pretty glad to finally scrunch across the shingle and reach my target in one piece. Accessible by boat all right, but if this place sees one visitor a decade hiking in then I’ll be surprised.

I didn’t waste any time in getting set up and powering a mackerel bait seawards into something like 70 feet of water. The tide was falling back and it was easy to find a good stance amongst the barnacles.

Looking around, this spot ticked most of my boxes – beautiful, remote and with camping right alongside the shoreline. A ready supply of dry, dead, wood for a campfire was a distinct bonus.

My tent slotted in neatly on the soft ground between rows of conifers a few yards from the shoreline. Then I dug out the spinning rod for a session before dusk.

I managed plenty hits, but sadly only very small pollack engulfed my lures. Quantity, but if any made it over 1lb I’d be fibbing. My bottom rods faired no better, remaining biteless. At least the ground was rough but not terrible and I only lost a couple of sets of gear on the retrieve.

Campfire Cooking

I sorted out a fire for my dinner, as daylight was fading quickly now. At least this was easy enough, given the amount of dead twigs and branches in the wood. It wasn’t long before I’d my first coffee since leaving Edinburgh, many hours before.

My dinner was chilli chicken, chorizo and pasta all cooked together over the fire. Superb, if I say so myself, and just the thing after a long day outdoors and facing an autumn night under canvas.

The sun was long gone by now, and I just spent a while supping a whisky augmented coffee and watching the afterglow fade. I gave the fire a couple of refills, but otherwise just sat and watched a calm sea reflect the first of the moonlight until the comfort of a warm sleeping bag finally became irresistible.

Next Day

I slept well, only awoken briefly by the noise of a couple of light showers. A few years back I invested in a decent down sleeping bag and proper mat and it’s really transformed my comfort levels in the cooler months. Down needs a bit of tender loving care, but it’s fantastic stuff if you feel the cold!

Anyway, next morning I was feeling sufficiently rested and on top of the world to cast out before getting the coffee and bacon on the go!

Halfway through my first coffee of the day I got a lovely, slow, ray-style bite. Which I managed to fluff badly and thereby miss my best chance so far. Aagh! Fishing was slow, and I couldn’t really afford such silly mistakes!

Breakfast cooked and wolfed down, I hit the spinning for a little while. And with the same result as last night – little pollack. I’ve had 6lb+ fish hammer into lures from not too far from here, so this was disappointing.

By late morning, with nothing else showing up, it was time to move. My next spot was several miles away and I risked getting caught out by nightfall if I wasn’t careful.

After an equally horrible struggle over decaying, fallen, timber to get back to the track and then my car, I headed along the road for another 30 minutes or so.

The End of the Road – Again

Quite literally at the end of the road, I hit the trail again. This time the path was pretty good, being a real testament to the efforts of generations of crofters.

A few miles further, and beyond the “quality” section of path, I headed down the hillside and onto the shoreline. Luckily I managed to find a little flat spot that others had used before me and pitched my tent just as the heavens opened.

Only 20 minutes worth, but everything got pretty wet in the downpour. Fortunately I still managed to locate some tinder and dry wood, otherwise it’d have been a pretty limited dinner tonight.

I managed a couple of casts out into the loch, and it was pretty deep water – perhaps 120-130 feet. Then it was time to get the campfire going and to cook some dinner.

I’d company this time, with a red deer and youngster approaching within 30 yards or so of my camp. The young deer seemed much more nervous of me than his mum, who just munched away regardless.

I left them to it as I popped a steak on for my dinner, alongside the obligatory campfire coffee. It was fully dark by the time the sirloin was ready and I chilled out by watching the stars coming out as the fire crackled away.

My last act of the evening was to lose two more sets of gear. The bottom here seems muddy, but there is a rocky ledge half-way in where I locked solid 🙁

Tonight wasn’t quite as peaceful as my sleep the previous evening either. Over-confident deer kept munching very noisily close to my tent, and didn’t seem too bothered by my loud cursing. At least there aren’t any bears in Scotland… (yet!)

Last Fling

The next day dawned bright and sunny, so I packed up camp and made my way back along the trail for a couple of miles before settling down at a headland for a final couple of hours fishing.

As I’d hoped, this had the hallmarks of a decent mark – deep (60-70 feet +) and a softish bottom. Sadly, all my mackerel baits produced was this nice edible crab (returned, albeit with some reluctance). Coming in with a good collection of weed I harboured the hope that it might be a thornback ray, but that was too much to hope for this weekend!

By lunchtime I’d had enough, with a fair hike back to the car and then a good few hours drive home facing me.

Overall an excellent camp but quite frustrating fishing. I reckon a bit more fishing effort on at least two of these marks should produce something, so it may be question of persistence. Next year though, I think.

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Kayak Camp

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.

Paddling along in my kayak on a Scottish sea loch

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.

The loch calms down as the breeze dies away in the early evening
Early evening

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 looking, silvery coloured, brown trout taken from a sea loch
Brown trout from the salt

A good few miles of paddling later I pulled in to a nice stretch of gravelly sand where I planned to set up camp.

My kayak glides in to the beach at my campsite
Gliding ashore at my campsite

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.

Crab bait!

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!

Steak and mushrooms cook over an open fire as night falls
Camp cooking

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.

la mañana

Next morning saw me cast out again before reviving the fire for more coffee and a couple of chunky bacon and egg rolls.

Casting out a mackerel bait to feed a few crabs
Early morning optimism

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.

Munching a bacon roll as I fish the sea loch in the calm of an early September morning
A fine start to the day

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.

Reloading my kayak for the trip back up the loch
Reloading my kayak

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!

Late summer, or early autumn? Either way, my bright orange and yellow kayak adds additional colour to the scene
Splash of colour
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50,000 Acres of Wrath

Raw coastal wilderness is a rare beast, even in the remoter parts of mainland Scotland, and the magnificent isolation surrounding Cape Wrath is now almost unique. It’s one of my go-to places when I need to escape my fellow humans for a day or three.

Sandwood Bay can be pretty popular at times, but very few people venture beyond it and I’ve never actually come face to face with anyone. The odd hiker on the Cape Wrath trail perhaps, but they tend to take a more inland route. Anyway, early evening at the end of June saw me arriving at the bay just after the last of the day trippers had left. Just one tent nestled in the dunes, and I soon left it behind as I strode down to the shoreline.

A fish hits my toby lure in the Sandwood Bay surf, putting a nice bend in the rod
Fish from the surf

I made a few casts in the more likely areas as I wandered casually along the beach. My 20g silver and white Toby aimed to replicate the sandeel that shoal along these sands, tumbling through light surf and shallow water that was near tropical in clarity (maybe not so close in terms of temperature!)

Strands of weed along the strand line were a bit of pain, but easily manageable. My first take was a quick hit and run effort, with a decent tug and then nothing. A few minutes later and there was no missing this one, as my rod tip heeled over and battle commenced. Although not particularly big, this well conditioned sea trout gave a decent account of itself before a quick photo and return. And not a sea louse in sight – quite a contrast to the fish I saw last year, which were in a sorry state.

A respectable seatrout graces the sand. Caught on a silver and white toby lure
Respectable seatrout

I’d pretty much run out of fishable beach by now, so made my way up the soft sand and steep hills that mark the northern end of Sandwood and headed on towards my pitch for the night. Plenty of ghosts and shipwrecked mariners are reputed to haunt this area, and a bit of night fog coupled with the roar of a good going surf would definitely generate a slightly spooky aura. Happily, this solo camper was facing a short, calm summer evening with the main threat coming from the local bug life.

A lovely little wildcamping spot, with a view over the clear surf rolling in to Sandwood Bay
Wildcamping

It’s a little ironic that it can be difficult to find water at times, despite Scotland’s generally soggy image. Even the water flowing out of Sandwood Loch looked pretty uninviting, with some dubious looking algae growing on the stones. Fortunately the burn at Strath Chailleach looked a lot healthier and I topped up there for the night before returning to my little tent and a warm sleeping bag.

Collecting fresh water from the peaty burn at Strath Chailleach, near Cape Wrath, NW Scotland
Time for a drink

Day 2 – Heading Northwards

I awoke to find my tent still in the shade at 6 in the morning, whilst the sun was rapidly burning off the remaining overnight mist along the beach. Dodging the midges, I hastened down to the surf and along to my chosen fishing mark.

Early morning sun and mist light up the sand as a small surf hits the beach near Sandwood, Scotland
Small surf

I tackled up initially with a spinner on one rod and crab on the other, hoping to tease out a bass. Spinning proved pretty fruitless, and my patience for chucking out lumps of metal is limited, so I eventually switched over to a sandeel bait.

Tackling up for a light sea fishing session with a spinning rod, a few miles south of Cape Wrath, Scotland
Tackling Up

I contrived to miss a decent bite on the crab, very likely from one of the small bass that hunt along the beaches. Another smash and grab bite produced a sea trout to the sandeel bait. A nice enough fish, but a little smaller than its cousin from yesterday, and soon returned to play with the local seals.

Another fish hits in the very shallow, clear, surf of the NW coast of Scotland
Another fish on

I followed the falling tide along the beach but had no more interest to my bait, apart from gazillions of little shrimp-like creatures that started to shred baits rapidly.

Fishing light in shallow surf near Sandwood Bay, NW Scotland
Fishing light in shallow surf

By mid-morning I’d had enough, and was starting to bake gently in the clear sunshine. I struck camp and headed north across the bare hillsides.

Crossing the rocky burn Strath Chailleach, between Sandwood Bay and Cape Wrath, NW Scotland
Crossing Strath Chailleach

I made a few casts across one of the many lochs around this area but without result. A mirror like calm coupled with a very half-hearted approach isn’t a recipe for success, so I was neither surprised nor too downhearted either. Freshwater’s not really my thing these days, to be honest.

A pretty unproductive session on a shallow little loch in hot, sunny and flat calm weather.
Too hot, sunny and calm!

However, I did notice a set of tracks along the beach that belonged to a much more skillful hunter – an otter had clearly been here very recently.

Otter tracks in the sand alongside a small loch near Cape Wrath, NW Scotland
Otter tracks

I wandered along slowly, baking quietly in the hot sun. Across into the army range and up over the line of hills that present a fine view of the north coast as far as Whiten Head.

Looking north, towards Cape Wrath and Kervaig and across the rock, peat and bogs of the Parph
Looking north, towards Cape Wrath and Kervaig

Crossing this ground isn’t as easy as it seems, even with dry weather, as the greenery hides plenty of peat bog. Even short, stubby vegetation is harder on the legs than a half-formed trail, so it was pretty hard work. Or possibly this adventurer is just a little overfed and under-exercised these days!

Eventually I did reach the small gorge that signalled I was close to my campsite. Perhaps only 80-90 feet deep, but steep-sided, it presents a decent barrier to a heavily laden and hot hiker.

Crossing the small. steep gorge that forms the last obstacle to reaching my campsite for the night. Near Cape Wrath, NW Scotland
A final crossing

A Fine and Lonely Camp

I was therefore pretty happy to reach my destination, and set up my tent for the night. I’ve been around here before, but never for an overnight stay, and it’s a fine spot to pitch up. Flat, machair grass and a clifftop view over the Atlantic 🙂

The flat, grassy machair right on the cliffline makes a brilliant pitch for my little tent. Just south of Cape Wrath in NW Scotland.
A brilliant pitch for my tent

My original plan was for a spot of fishing around the cliffs here, but I was knackered. There are accessible marks around here, but they do involve bouncing around fairly chunky cliffs. I chickened out and just watched the surf rolling in, and the sun dropping slowly in the sky.

The rocky shoreline just south of Cape Wrath, NW Scotland
Rocky shoreline

By this time I was a good few hours walk from my car, and I needed to be back in civilisation for early afternoon. Running the calculations I reckoned I needed to be awake for half-three in the morning in order to make it back in time…

Accordingly, I was fuzzily awake and clutching a coffee a little while before 4 a.m., and heading off 30 or 40 minutes later. At least it’s fully daylight by this time!

Grasping a mug of coffee and looking as good as is possible sometime before 4 in the morning. At least it's full daylight in these parts.
Struggling awake, sometime before 4 a.m.

I’d a much quicker hike back in the cool of the early morning, taking barely half the time of my meander of yesterday. I stopped off at Sandwood for another coffee and little spot of breakfast before the last couple of hours along the beach and back to my car at Blairmore. I did manage a final cast or ten as I marched along the beach, but nothing showed much interest.

A view of Sandwood Bay from the hills at the northern end
Sandwood Bay from the north
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Galloway Fishing Week!

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.

A nice tub gurnard taken by Ian from Luce Bay, June 2019
Nice tub gurnard from Port William

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!

Boat, car and tent setup for the week on the shores of Luce Bay
Camping setup

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!

Our base camp for a week - complete with carpet and very comfortable beds.
Base camp

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.

A nice scad caught by Ian in Luce Bay, June 2019
A nice scad for Ian

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.

Another thornback ray for Ian, from Luce Bay, June 2019
Small thornback for Ian

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!

Day Two

Breakfast for Trevor 🙂

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.

A bull huss for myself, Luce Bay
Bull huss

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.

A sleek looking smoothhound for Trevor, fishing in Wigtown Bay, June 2019
Smoothhound for Trevor

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.

Ian holding a grumpy bullhuss which tried to bite everything in sight
Grumpy bullhuss

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.

Ian holds a 42lb tope, caught in Luce Bay, June 2019
Ian and 42lb tope

It didn’t bring many of its mates though, and proved to be the highlight of the day.

Lazy Saturday

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.

Trevor with a Wigtown Bay huss - quite a light coloured specimen
Trevor with a Wigtown Bay huss

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.

A very small tope for Trevor, one of many that were cruising around during the week
A tiny tope for Trevor

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.

Carsluith pier, River Cree, Galloway.
Carsluith pier

‘Twas very slow fishing, to put it mildly, and it was quite a while before Trevor broke our duck with a small school bass.

A schoolie for Trevor

The crabs were undoubtedly the big winners today, obliterating most of our remaining worms and crabs as they stripped hooks bare in minutes.

Carsluith pier in a weird panorama shot, courtesy of Ian

Ian did manage to sneak out another bass from under their pincers, and Trevor eventually added a flounder, but it was slow going.

A small but pretty little bass from Carsluith pier, River Cree, Galloway
A school bass for Ian

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!

A sliver eel

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.

Another Galloway tope for Ian, June 2019
Another tope for Ian

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.

A lovely bass from Luce Bay and a personal best for me, weighing 7lbs 10oz
7lb 10oz and a PB bass for me (Trev’s pic)
A fine bass from Luce Bay, taken on a whole mackerel aimed at tope. June 2019
Lovely bass

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.

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Wild Camp in Galloway

Galloway is one of my favourite parts of Scotland, but I’ve never ventured much into the hills, at least on foot. My forecast said windy, but dry and sunny, so I decided to try an overnight wild camp in the mountains, followed by a few hours shore fishing on my way home…

Glen Trool looked amazing in the late spring greenery, so I didn’t really mind the slow trundle along narrow country roads to reach it. Leaving the car park at the end of the track, I started up the hill to my first objective of the day.

The view from near Merrick, the highest of the Galloway hill, across to Ailsa Craig and Kintyre.
Looking across to Ailsa Craig and Kintyre

Merrick is the highest of the Galloway hills, but a fairly easy 4 mile hike up a well worn trail and it didn’t take too long to reach the summit. With clear views across to Ireland, Kintyre, Ailsa Craig, Isle of Man and plenty more it is a fantastic vantage point, and I happily gazed around me. This is as far as most walkers go, but I wanted to carry on to some of the smaller hills further north before doubling back to find a campsite for the night.

Across the hills and lochs of the Galloway hills
Wild Galloway

The Galloway hills are pretty wild and impressive but fall a little short of Munro height. However, there are few proper tracks and it is quite tiring country to traverse so I was glad to pop up a tent for the night next to a hill loch.

Sunset over Merrick, the highest hill in Galloway
Sunset over Merrick
Alone at my campsite, high in the Galloway hills - early morning, May 2019
Early morning, Galloway hills

This was up around 1650 feet, so it’s one of the higher “proper” sized lochs, and I gave it an hour or so for trout in the morning. The trout here were wiped out by acid rain a few decades ago, but this was one of several lochs that’s been restocked since. I wasn’t sure whether any still survived, but I wanted to have a few casts anyway.

Setting up my spinning rod for a little session on a hill loch in Galloway
Threading my rod

I didn’t land any trout but did see quite a few rising at one point and missed solid take, so at least I’m sure they’re alive and kicking. Next time I’ll try to go back when it’s not blowing a force 4-5 and with more than one lure (leaving the rest in the car was a master-stroke), as it’s a pretty enough spot.

Fishing a Galloway hill loch
Freshwater, for a change!

I only gave it an hour or so, as I wanted to hit HW on the Cree estuary to see whether there were any flounder or bass around. In the event I left it a little later than was sensible, ending up trotting down the track to my car to make sure I’d some fishing time left at the coast.

A lazy sunny afternoon fishing from an old pier on the Cree estuary, Galloway
Lazy fishing

Carsluith almost surpassed my trout lure stupidity as, after 2 hours without a nibble on my crab and lug baited hooks, my spinning rod went screaming along the pier wall at a high rate of knots. I literally had to lunge at it in desperation and only just managed to hang on the butt as it went over the edge.

A small smoothhound caught well up the Cree estuary, Galloway
Surprise smoothhound

Back on my knees after my rugby tackle, I assumed I’d hooked a decent bass until I saw a smoothhound emerging from the water well downstream of the pier. It’s probably just as well that it wasn’t a big one, as it was hard enough to control a 4lb fish on the spinning rod. That was about it though – just a bonus flounder about an hour later.

A small flounder from the Cree estuary, Galloway
Small flounder

And I finished my session by throwing away my car key, which left an interesting sensation at the pit of my stomach – I was chucking an apple core and the key just went with it. Anyway, Dumbo got lucky and found the key after a few minutes frantic searching.

Fishing the Cree estuary, Galloway
Fishing the Cree

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