Dog Owner?

Bonnie is quite indifferent to fishing
Bonnie is more into sticks than fishing

My cocker spaniel, Bonnie, used to come along on many of my trips, especially where a decent walk was involved. More into running around chasing sticks than wasting time waiting for a fish, she was always great company. She’s a little long in the tooth these days but still enjoys the odd overnight in the glamping tent.

My daughter is now researching dog behaviour and Bonnie has “volunteered” as guinea pig for numerous trial runs. Part of what Rachael is doing is an assessment of separation anxiety in dogs and she’s asking for help to complete an on-line survey.

If you’ve got a dog and have 10-15 minutes to spare I’d be very grateful if you could visit her survey and complete the survey. The more the merrier, and it’s open to any dog, worldwide!

Bonnie the dog on Loch Etive, Easter 2010
Bonnie on Loch Etive, Easter 2010
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Final Fling for 2017 – a Hike in the Sunshine

Days of Christmas force feeding meant I really needed to get some fresh air,  so I reckoned a hike in the sunshine along the banks of Loch Etive would fit the bill nicely. Fishing wasn’t the main aim but it looked possible to get 3 or 4 hours to wet a line before darkness fell.

Bonnie, my bozo spaniel, came along for the day and quite happily trailblazed as we trudged along. Happily, the cold had frozen most of the water into the ground so it was less boggy than a month ago and we made steady progress towards our mark. With the sun still hiding behind the mountains it was chilly but otherwise a beautiful day to be out.

Cold, clear and windless - a perfect winter day at Barrs, Loch Etive
Cold, clear and windless – a perfect winter day

Typical small spurdog just about to be returned. Bonnie the spaniel is looking on in rather bored fashion.
Typical small spurdog

Arriving at our mark I quickly rigged up and cast out whilst Bonnie waited impatiently for sticks to be thrown. Unluckily for her there was a solid stream of distractions in the form of small male spurdogs and I was kept busy dealing with them. On two or three occasions I got bites just as soon as I hit bottom, suggesting there were large numbers about.

Lobbing another bait out
Lobbing another bait out

Small but sleek looking spurdog
Small but sleek looking spurdog

With only a short session and quite a lot of action between the fish and doggie stick chucking, it took a while to get a brew on – but I can’t survive without a supply of coffee.

Brewing up a coffee on my twig powered Honey Stove
Coffee brewing

This time I wasn’t the only one out on the loch. I’d passed a tent with a couple of shore rods parked outside it on the way in, and there was a kayaker out as well. Plenty loch to go around though!

A kayaker using the light wind to sail up Loch Etive in the shadow of a snow covered Ben Starav
Kayak sailing up Etive in a very light breeze

No wind, so paddle power now required for the same kayak
No wind coming back, so paddle power now required

I chucked in the fishing around 2.30, to be sure of making it back before it got too dark. A final tally of 15 spurs and a couple of dogfish for 4 hours fishing was a good bit better than I’d expected, even if none of them made more than 3lbs or so.

Camoflaged against the rock - this little spurdog merges quite nicely against the granite
Camouflaged against the rock

Golden light floods over Ben Starav as the sun starts to set over a mirror like Loch Etive, just after Christmas.
Golden sunlight lights up Ben Starav

The return trip to the car was a fine walk as the sun faded and turned the mountains golden, all reflected in the perfectly still waters of the loch. Our timing was good and we crunched across the carpark just as the last of the light disappeared.

Bonnie is quite indifferent to fishing
Bonnie is quite indifferent to fishing

Poor old Bonnie made herself comfortable in the front seat of the car and then collapsed for the journey home. She’s over 10 now and can still charge around for hours, but it does catch up with her when we stop at the end of the day.Share this:

Pollacked on Loch Etive

Fish in the east, fish in the west, but not really the weather to exploit either coast! Faced with the need to check out Alcatraz before an upcoming trip to Galloway I chickened out and made my way over to Etive again, with the furball for company.

Having had fairly poor results from down the loch over the past year I just headed straight up into the less visited upper loch and settled down to a little Etive pollack bashing. This isn’t something I often do on the loch, as there are a lot of smaller fish around, but I was trying for something a little better today.

My leadhead attracted little attention in the peaty-ish waters, but I lost a couple of smaller fish which threw the hook before my light spinning rod went parabolic and line peeled rapidly off the little Abu reel. Clearly a better fish, I treated it with a little respect and it was a few minutes before a good sized fish (and my best Etive pollack) slid into the net and came aboard.

Unhooking a nice pollack taken on a leadhead and firetail worm
Unhooking a nice pollack

Being guilty of over-estimating the size of pollack (slab sided, but thin when compared to cod) I always prefer to trust my scales and these slid round to a healthy 5lb 6oz.

Slipping a Pollack back into the water

Nothing else seemed very interested so I shifted a little and dropped anchor. Wind and tide were opposed, which is never something to be recommended, but it wasn’t uncomfortable and just a little awkward as the boat slewed from side to side. Bozo had clearly given up on dreams of a run ashore and curled up and went to sleep for a while.

It was a little slow, but a decent sprinking of fish graced Alcatraz’s gunwhales, including spurdogs, dogs, a thornback and some whiting (heads only!).

A small spurdog comes aboard
A small spurdog comes aboard

Taking pity on Bonnie I took a break in the early afternoon and we headed ashore for an hour of chasing sticks and drinking coffee in the sunshine.

A lethal combination - wet dog with stick
A lethal combination – wet dog with stick

A couple more hours fishing produced more of the same, but no sign of larger spurdogs, so I was happy enough to point Alcatraz south and head back towards Taynuilt.Share this:

Spring Spurdog fishing on Loch Etive

Yesterday it was back again to Etive for another shore fish in search of some spring spurdog, although I reckon this will probably be my last for a while. The midges will soon wake up as will the fishing everywhere else, so I think the Lochaber sea lochs will go on the back burner for a while, at least for shore fishing.

Making my way through the open woodland of Loch Etvie, with the ground covered by early spring greenery
En route, through the spring greenery

It was raining as Bonnie and I set off on the long trek down the loch, not heavy but enough to have me debating the wisdom of trying some closer marks. Happily both the rain and us gradually dried up over the next hour and the sun started to poke through as we tramped along steadily. Spring is really on it’s way, despite the snow earlier in the week, and the lochside was turning green again. In the freezing cold at the start of the year the woods were almost eerily silent but now they were full of birdsong, with good numbers of cuckoos and woodpeckers making their presence felt. No sign of any human animals though!

Sending a bait out in search of spurdog, aiming to hit 120 feet or more of water depth
Sending a bait out in search of spurdog

Bozo has got the hang of the routine now and on arrival I was left in peace to set up my rods whilst she went off in search of her ideal stick. So, a few minutes after we reached our destination a mackerel baited pulley rig splashed down and made its way to the silty seabed 120 feet or more deep.

A nice shore-caught spurdog
A nice shore-caught spurdog

Even before the second rig was baited and ready to go my ratchet screeched as a spurdog hit the bait and made off at speed. A few minutes later and a superb fish glided into view, looking more like a tope than a spurrie. Sadly this was due to a combination of my new varifocal lenses and the magnifying effect of unusually clear water rather than reality. Still, a respectable fish of around 6-7lbs was soon slipped back into the water. God knows what I’d blabbering about on here if it had got off!

Baiting a pulley rig with mackerel before casting out into the depths of Loch Etive
Baiting a pulley rig with mackerel

That pretty much set the tone for the day as fish appeared regularly during the ebb and if I hadn’t managed to lose three spurdog to bite-offs I’d have been even happier. I tend to use a 7oz grip on this mark as there’s a reasonable run of tide in the deep channel that holds the fish. Coupled with a pulley rig I’ve not lost too much gear on the ebb, although the flood is a different story as your line is pulled into snags by the tide.

Brewing a coffee over my packable woodburner stove - a handful of twigs is all that's required.
Brewing a coffee

Perhaps because of its remoteness this mark tends to bring out my latent hillbilly instincts, so my little woodburner Honey Stove got another outing. Gas is definitely less messy and easier to work with, but there is a certain satisfaction from a cup of coffee brewed over a naked flame – and even better if you can use a firesteel rather than matches to light it! Boys toys or what 🙂

Bonnie hard at work with a large pile of half chewed sticks
Bonnie hard at work

Apart from “crispy” sausages shared on a 50:50 basisBonnie frowns on such frivolity of course, as it gets in the way of the real business of stick throwing. I didn’t dare put any of her collection on the fire…

A decent shore-caught spurdog from Loch Etive
A decent shore-caught spurdog from Loch Etive

Spurdog were fairly steady through the ebb and I had to interrupt stick throwing on a regular basis to retrieve them. Most were in the 4-7lb range, although there were a couple of smaller males. The average size has definitely increased since the New Year, the same pattern that showed last year.

Swinging another spring spurdog ashore
Swinging another spring spurdog ashore

By five in the afternoon the tide had turned and the sky was getting ominously grey, so I bribed the dog with a biscuit and we started back along the trail. Our final tally was eleven spurdog, with no other species showing an interest. Despite the best efforts of my new glasses there were no double figure captures, but cracking fun nevertheless.

And a video of the day…

Spurdogs from the shore on Loch Etive

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Multi-tasking on Loch Etive

The car park was deserted and the air cold as I opened the door to let Bonnie out to stretch her legs after the drive across from Edinburgh. Gulping down some hot coffee I watched clear signs of doggie approval as she nosed her way around the lochside, tail wagging eagerly.

Loch Etive - Spurdogs from the shore

A few minutes later we started down the boggy trail that runs along the loch. The overnight mist was clearing from the hills and the sun was starting to poke out but it was still chilly on the first day of March and I set a good pace to warm myself up.

Hiking in to my fishing mark along upper Loch Etive
It’s a long walk in…

The plan wasn’t complicated – hike in, spend a few hours fishing and playing with the cameras in the sunshine, and then another couple of hours hiking back. All with a furry companion who has an insatiable demand for sticks to be thrown. That’s where the multi-tasking bit comes in.

A couple of hours later, standing on the edge of the old quarry pier, we were greeted by a cracking view of the sun shining off the loch and a snow covered Ben Cruachan. Perfect!

The sun, snow and light bouncing off the water make this image look almost monochrome
Sun, sea and snow

The ebb had just started as I cast a pair of mackerel baited pulley rigs out into the depths. Normally I could settle back for a laze in the sunshine but bozo had other ideas and I was ordered into stick throwing mode whilst we waited for a bite.

Casting out in search of spurdogs on a calm, crisp day in the wilds of Loch Etive
Wish you were here?

Bonnie the spaniel has little patience with fishermen who don't throw sticks when required
Stickmeister in action

Fortunately for me the fish were fairly cooperative and I took regular breaks from my furry slave driver to deal with nodding rod tips. Fishing the ebb is much easier on this mark and helps keep tackle losses to a minimum. Fishing 30-35lb nylon and a heavish 7oz breakaway lead seems to work fairly well for me as a combination.

Two at a time, as a spurdog and a spottie dogfish are lifted ashore
Two at a time

Mostly it was smallish spurs, but there was the usual sprinkling of doggies and also a thornback chucked into the mix. The biggest would’ve made 6lbs (possibly 7 if you’d dodgy scales!) but specimen hunting wasn’t really the point of the day.

A nice sized spurdog fills the granite block by the side of the old piers at Barrs, Loch Etive
A better spurdog, just as the rain starts

Ben Starav towers over the old stone pier I was fishing from
Ben Starav dominates my choice of fishing mark

By early afternoon the sun was changing back to icy showers so we called it a day and made our way back along the trail. Up here Etive is silent and lonely today, but all around you can see the remains of a much busier, livelier past. Moss covered walls and old field systems being reclaimed by the trees are everywhere.

The shell of an old Quarryman's hut surrounded by moss covered boulders and trees near the shore of Loch Etive
All that remains – an old Quarryman’s hut

It was a fairly tired spaniel that trotted back to the car, and she just curled up on the seat for the journey home. Although a stop at the chippie in Callendar did wonders to revive her 🙂

As an aside, I do try and travel fairly light if I’m hiking any distance. This can be a bit easier said than done, given that I’m hauling camera gear as well as fishing clobber. However everything, including the reels and bait, got stuffed into a 30 litre rucksac which just left a pair of rods to carry. Even the camera tripod you see below just clips on to the rucksac and leaves your hands free. It definitely makes walking any distance much easier!

A pair of rods and all my camera and fishing gear packed into a 30 litre rucksac - it pays to travel light when hiking to a distant fishing mark
I travel light when I can

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Spurdogs play in the sun on Loch Etive

I had a better day than expected yesterday, as most recent reports from Loch Etive have been poor, and I thought I’d be struggling. As it turned out however, a decent break with the spurdogs saved the day, whilst unbroken sunshine was the icing on the cake.

Alcatraz has been out of water for almost 5 months now, and a little shakedown cruise was well overdue so I grabbed the weather and took the day off. Bonnie the spaniel was press-ganged as crew and we escaped Edinburgh just on 5 in the morning, to try and launch around HW at Taynuilt.

Flat calm at Kelly's Pier, Taynuilt

Even after a layup over winter the ETEC started first time and we were soon skimming over a flat calm surface and down towards Ardchattan. Anchor set and rods deployed we could turn to the more important matters of coffee and gravy bones (your choice depending on whether you’re human or a spaniel).

A small ray hits the surface
A small ray hits the surface

We spent the morning plugging away at a couple of spots around Ardchattan but it was fairly slow going, with only 3 rays, 3 doggies and a single spurdog and micro-cod to show for our efforts.

My cocker spaniel Bonnie looks a bit puzzled by this small thornback ray

By lunchtime Bonnie decided it was high time to get ashore and have a proper play about so we pointed Alcatraz back up the loch and just kept going until civilisation was safely left behind. Parking the boat just offshore we stretched out on the beach, had a bite to eat and a chuck about with the ball.

Bonnie is glad to be ashore and off the boat

Snow on Ben Cruachan and gorse coming into flower made a great backdrop.

Bonnie playing on the shore at Etive, with Cruachan behind

By half two I thought we’d better put some more effort into the fishing so persuaded a rather reluctant dog back in the boat and headed out to a nearby mark.

The breeze had picked up a little, but we sat quite nicely with wind and tide aligned. A set of small sabikis drew the first fish as the spinning rod hooped over to a hefty take. On the light rod this felt to be a good size until things went pear shaped about 30 seconds later. I assumed that a spurdog had nibbled the small sabiki and just bitten through the line until a rather beaten up whiting surfaced.

An Etive spurdog slides alongside the boat

No time to worry about it as my “proper” rod was now bouncing hard, and I hit into another spur. This one made it to the boat and was quickly returned – a modest 4-5lber at best, but welcome. This set the scene for the next couple of hours as fish after fish hit the baits.

A brace of spurdogs

None were very big, apart from the one that got away (! – even that was no monster), but most were in the 3-5 lb range with the biggest a 7 lb fish.

Netting a modest spurdog from Etive

Not huge, but the largest fish of the day - a 7 pound spurdog

Nothing else got a look in until towards the end of the session when a couple more dogfish and small whiting hit the surface.

All in all the score for the day was 22 spurs, 3 rays plus doggies, whiting and a micro-cod. Not a red-letter day, but not too shabby for a few stolen hours in the sunshine chilling with a furry friend.Share this:

Shorefishing on Loch Leven

Well, the original plan had been a session from Ian’s boat, chasing St. Andrews cod and Pollack, but the virtual closure of the Forth Bridge put the brakes on that. It’s been a good while since I was last shorefishing on Loch Leven so a hasty rethink saw the rods packed in the car and Bonnie and myself scurrying along the road in the pre-dawn darkness.

Battered Abu 7000c and even more battered Zziplex to match it

The forecast was for light winds and grey skies, and that’s what we got – it was dry and not too cold so no cause for complaint as I set up for the day. Apart from the dog who immediately went into chuck a stick mode (a log, in this case) and got a bit grumpy as I ignored her for a few minutes.

Bonnie focussed on sticks

Two quite slow hours went by before I got my first fish – a nicely marked LSD

Nicely marked lesser spotted dogfish from Loch Leven

And Bonnie had plenty of time to chase her sticks as I continued to reel in very little.

Retrieving gear from the depths of Leven

At last a little thornback put in an appearance, admittedly leaving it’s tail behind. I’ve had a few of these from Leven, but it doesn’t seem to cause them any obvious problems.

Small shore caught ray from Loch Leven - without a tail

Despite morale rising having actually caught one of the target species, the rest of the session was a series of dogfish – nice to have more action, but I’d have preferred to see another few rays.

Fishing Loch Leven in December

I needed to get back to Edinburgh for early evening, so I’d to pack up around 3, doubtless just as the rays came on the feed.

And to cap it all, it took 4 hours to get home, rather than the more usual 2.5, care of huge jams on Edinburgh’s bypass. Rush hour is usually bad, but an inch of snow seemed to stop almost everything.

Then Ian phones me up to tell me all about the pollack he caught…Share this:

Struggling on Etive

I haven’t been back to Etive since my Xmas camping trip with Trevor, so it was first choice for a daytrip – and besides I still needed a spurdog for my 2015 species count and Etive is the most reliable place I know for them.

Ian was otherwise tied up so I press-ganged the dog into serving as crew and headed off from Edinburgh about 5.30. Arriving at Taynuilt I found the loch enveloped in thick fog, but at least there was no wind to worry about. One rather clumsy launch later and we headed out into the mist and felt our way down towards Ardchattan.

It was pretty thick so I made sure to anchor well out the way of fish farm traffic, and we settled down to wait for action. By mid-morning the sky had cleared and the loch was looking it’s best – but no sign of any fish.

At anchor near Ardchattan
At anchor near Ardchattan

A move up to the deep water near Airds Point produced zilch, and the loch seemed completely dead. After wasting the whole morning in exchange for one half-hearted little bite I decided to head up the loch and try my luck there.

I stopped off at a little mark near Glen Kinglass which produced plenty of small codling for me last year, in the hope of breaking my duck for the day. Success, in the form of a mini-codling, duly appeared but even here I was struggling to get a bite on sabiki style lures.

Ashore for lunch
Ashore for lunch

My furry companion was getting somewhat mutinous by this stage so I headed ashore for an hour or so to let her have a run around the shoreline and stretch my own legs a bit. She wasn’t too happy when it was time to haul in the boat and head off again, but eventually decided she didn’t want to play Robinson Crusoe!


Heading across the loch, which was starting to get a little bouncy with wind against tide, I ended up fishing a trench a couple of hundred yards offshore. I’d not tried here before and had no great expectations this far up the loch, especially as there was a lot of freshwater colour in the water, but I couldn’t be doing any worse than back down the loch.

A nice Etive spurdog
A nice Etive spurdog

I was a bit surprised to get a good solid bite after only a few minutes fishing which duly resulted in a nice spur of around 9lbs. Of course that meant I had to stick it out for a while to find out if it was a loner, or whether there was company down there.

The answer came in the form of a chewed up whiting a few minutes later, with the characteristic spur bite out of it.

A well-chomped whiting from Barrs
A well-chomped whiting from Barrs

I’d like to say that the fishing improved from here, but that would be a fib. I did get a fair number of whiting, including several double shots, but spurs were scarce and I only picked up another couple – one around 7lbs and one about 8lbs.

Netting a spurdog
Netting a spurdog

A couple of plain vanilla doggies and a solitary thornback ray made up the numbers, with a tiny grey gurnard arriving just as I packed up for the day.

Small thornback ray
Small thornback ray

I bounced my way slowly back down the loch, which was calming down in the evening, partly to avoid getting a seasick dog and partly just to enjoy the ambience of the place – even though this is probably my poorest result from Etive in several years it’s still a fantastic place to fish.Share this:

Afloat on Etive – January 2014

Alcatraz has been sitting on her trailer since early November and we both badly needed a day out, so the little weather window on Monday was seized with both hands and the boat gear dusted down. Crew on this trip was just my spaniel, who’s not much of a sea dog but really enjoys any chance to run around a beach.

Arriving at Bonawe Bonnie was her usual brain-dead self and managed to dive in the water (twice) before we’d even set off, thus guaranteeing herself a chilly day. However she settled down a little and supervised the fishing as we dropped anchor near Ardchattan and sent a collection of mackerel baits down to the seabed.


The fish weren’t in feeding mood, and it was the weather that provided most excitement for the first hour or so, with a mixture of heavy rain showers and sunny spells. Fortunately it stayed calm and a bit of cowering in the cuddy kept us reasonably dry.Heavy-rain-chills-the-airBonnie-is-unimpressed-at-the-weather

By the time the rainbows came out the fish started to play, first with a couple of small spurdogs and then with a reasonable ray just over the 6lbs mark.Inspecting-the-catch

Unfortunately nothing much else appeared except dogfish, so it was time to head back up the loch in the sunshine. Despite appearances it was freezing!Scooting-up-Loch-Etive

I stopped well up the loch past Barrs to let Bonnie have a run about and me have a play with the camera. Onshore and moving about it was quite warm but I resisted the temptation to linger too long and we headed back out in search of fish (very reluctantly on the dog’s part, it should be said).Alcatraz-sitting-quietly-on-Loch-Etive

Wild-country-in-upper-Loch-EtiveBack afloat and anchored up again we watched the sun disappear behind the mountains and felt the cold descending rapidly.A-steely-January-sunset

By now Bonnie was in need of more biscuits and some warmth, so I wrapped her up in my floatie jacket, which seemed to go down well.A-wet-and-rather-unhappy-Bonnie-dog

A steady run of fish emerged, mainly small spurdogs but also a few whiting and a large(!) poor cod and another thornback.A-meagre-return-for-the-day

There were no monsters and no sign of any, so I called it quits and packed it in just after half-five, and we headed back down the loch in the last trace of light. A bit of a lacklustre start fishing-wise but a nice day out and a relief to get the boat up and running properly after a lengthy gap.Share this:

Dour day on Etive

Three days of leave, and three days of wet and windy weather – what else could you expect from December in Scotland? However it pretty much killed any interest in taking the boat out, and I found myself heading westwards with the shore rods more out of desperation than any hope of a good days catch.

View from an old quarry on south shore of Etive - looking NE towards the head of the loch
View from an old quarry on south shore of Etive – looking NE towards the head of the loch

I headed for a mark I’d spotted from the boat sometime before, which was tucked in at the bottom of an old quarry and looked pretty sheltered from the SW winds. It was a fair hike along a forest track in the early morning darkness, but my mad spaniel Bonnie was perfectly happy charging around. Eventually we cut down from the track down through the trees towards the shoreline. Needless to say Bonnie made it well before me and immediately made “friends” with an otter working its way along the rocks – they met literally face to face before the otter departed with a spectacular hissy fit.

Bonnie the dog much prefers a day shore fishing than one spent in the boat
Bonnie the dog much prefers a day shore fishing than one spent in the boat

Fishing from one of the many quarries and old piers that surround Etive.
Fishing from one of the many quarries and old piers that surround Etive.

Excitement over, I set up the gear and kicked off with a cast into pretty deep water – well over 100 feet – and settled down to wait. It was dry but the wind was quite gusty and blowing up the loch rather than from behind me. This cut distance slightly but did tend to drag the leads through the soft mud and resulted in quite a few snags as the wind strengthened during the day. The old quarry was a fine spot to fish with several easy stances available, and well away from the beaten track – only spoilt by the number of old beer cans lying around.

Bonnie stick hunting on Etive
Bonnie stick hunting on Etive

The best fish of the day was a common or garden dogfish
Best fish of the day 🙁

Sadly, although it was a nice enough day to be out, the fishing results were pathetic with only a couple of dogfish and a tiddly Pollack to show for 6 hours or more. A couple of fish were lost in snags as well, and a slightly longer cast in better conditions might have cleared these and got a better result. However it’s a nice spot and I’ll definitely be back sometime.Share this: