Exploring Mull

Mull is one of the most accessible of the Hebrides, but never seems to get much attention beyond the skate grounds accessible from Oban and Lochaline. Few people other than sea kayakers and yachties seem to be aware of just how stunning it’s more exposed coastline really is. A couple of years ago I whiled away a cold winter’s afternoon sketching out a plan to fish the Torran Rocks, which lie off the SW tip of the island. There were a variety of permutations possible, but the idea that proved most appealing was to be a little more ambitious and go for a full circumnavigation of Mull, launching at the Puffin Dive Centre and heading clockwise round past Iona, Staffa and Caliach Point before heading down the Sound of Mull and back to Oban.

One of many hidden beaches on the Ross of Mull
One of many hidden beaches on the Ross of Mull

Doing this involves running a 16 foot boat over 50 miles out from the launch point, and a total distance of over 100 miles, much of it completely exposed to any SW Atlantic swells, so a fair bit of thought went into the planning and various backup positions. Obviously I needed settled weather to allow the swell as well as the wind waves to drop, and also added another fuel tank and a new PLB and other bits and pieces to Alcatraz’s inventory just to increase safety margins all round.

The big advantage of working things out beforehand is that you have a checklist you can just work through to get the show on the road, so a decision to go for it on Saturday afternoon allowed an early start on Sunday morning and an easy launch at Puffin Divers a little before nine in the morning. Just me and a rather bemused little spaniel, plus 110 litres of fuel, headed round the south of Kerrera and then out across the Firth of Lorne towards landfall on Mull at Frank Lockwood’s Island, about 12 miles distant.

Our first destination was Malcolm’s Point, a volcanic cliff rising 700 feet from the sea. It’s only accessible by sea or by a long walk – something that’s true of most of the south coast of Mull. There was a small, slow, swell running and the coastline is ironbound so no chance of landing to view the Carsaig Arches, but I picked up a few small mackerel and a couple of coalies on micro-lures and noted that the cliffs pretty much continued underwater, with a depth over 300 feet within 150 yards of the shoreline.

Pressing on we started to see the little pocket beaches of white shell sand set against pink and grey granites of Uisken, and I pulled inshore to one set against the little island of Garbh Eilean to a have a poke about and let Bonnie get a break. The sand here is packed hard and fairly steeply shelving, but there was only a very slight swell in the lee of the island and no problem leaving the boat anchored just off the shore. We stopped off for a while, and Bonnie would have been happy to spend all day here, but it was time to press on towards the Torran Rocks and Iona.

Over 40 miles out and with reefs everywhere, you’d think it would be stuffed with hungry pollack, but it proved a little disappointing with only smallish pollack and mackerel, plus a couple of stray whiting. The lack of tide probably had quite a lot to do with it, and a more serious attempt at the area should produce better results, but I decided to head up the Sound of Iona and stick with the rough schedule I’d worked out earlier.

Iona is as beautiful as the guide books tell you (at least on a sunny day), and we soon passed the Fidden Farm campsite on the mainland, where I stayed with the kids a few years ago Bonnie doesn't seem too impressed with Fingals Cave on Staffa and which has to be one of the most scenic in the UK. The Sound itself is very shallow in parts with the sand ripples clearly visible and must have a few flatties lurking in the sand, but this is one for a future trip. North of Iona the next destination was Staffa and Fingals Cave for a couple of photos (just to prove we’d actually been there really) I landed on the island from a charter boat 30 years ago, but didn’t fancy bouncing my own wee craft off the rocky landing point without a good many more fenders.

Further north, a quick stop at Treshnish point produced more mackerel and pollack before heading up towards Caliach Point and the wreck of the Aurania – a 14000 ton, 530 feet long, liner wrecked on the point after being torpedoed in 1918. Very little of it shows on the sounder, bar one chunk (boilers?) that rise 25 feet or so from the seabed. It’s very close to shore so decidedly risky to fish in anything other than very calm weather.

Basking shark off Treshnish Point, Isle of Mull
Basking shark off Treshnish Point, Isle of Mull

Between Staffa and Caliach Point there seemed to a concentration of basking sharks and I met no less than 5 individuals – enough for me to start keeping a sharper lookout to avoid any collisions. I’ve seen them plenty of times before, but not in such numbers, and they will come within feet of the boat if you just wait for them to swim by. Very nice bonus to encounter!

 

The beach at Port Langamull, near Caliach Point, Mull
Near Caliach Point, Mull

I had a wee shot on the Caliach Bank, but nothing seemed interested and it is quite a large area to try and pin anything down, so I was quite happy to have a closer look at another pocket beach and let Bonnie have a run around. White sand and clear water really does have a tropical feel about, although it wasn’t too hard to resist the temptation to dive in.

From a purely angling viewpoint you could ask what the point of it was – after all I spent more time powering along than I did actually fishing, and I didn’t catch anything of any size or particular interest. However, for me the fishing wasn’t the main reason for going and it more about stretching my boating abilities a little further, immersing myself in the wild and exposed beauty of the Sea of the Hebrides and having a thoroughly good time exploring spots that are still largely outside the reach of most people.

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Some Excitement at Leven

April has pretty much passed me by fishing-wise, with generally crap weather adding to the usual spring doldrums of a sea anglers year. However, Saturday was looking OK with a light northerly forecast alongside dry weather – the only fly in the ointment being that I needed to finish early afternoon to meet family commitments, which of course meant an early start to compensate.

The weather on the way across wasn’t inspiring with a fair amount of rain and even some sleet going into Glencoe, and it was very cold when I arrived on the north bank of Loch Leven. I got rigged up quickly, but by the time both baits were out I could barely feel my hands so was very glad of the sun when it appeared. The wind also dropped to nothing so the loch transformed into something much more picturesque and worthy of a Visit Scotland ad, and my fingers started to thaw a little as I contemplated the scenery and chucked a few sticks for the dog.

Fishing was very slow to start with and it was easily two hours before I hit into a determined run and felt a decent fish on the far end. A few minutes later and a nice 7lb 6oz thornback was on the rocks for a few photos before being returned gently to its home. Over the next few hours another four took the bait, but these were smaller 1.5-3lbs fish, and then everything went dead towards low water.  Mindful I needed to get back home I was about to pack up and hit the road when I noticed a log like shape floating towards me from further up the loch – then I realised it was a fishing kayak that I’d seen earlier on, except this time it was upside down and I couldn’t see the paddler. Running up the loch towards it I realised he was with the yak, but in the water on the far side of it. It didn’t look like he was going to get back on board under his own steam so I called the Coastguard and reported the situation. They called back a couple of times for more information and told me a helicopter would be on scene shortly, together with a couple of more local boats – in fact it took just 30 minutes from call-in to the chopper arriving, which was pretty impressive considering the location. In the event the yakker got hauled out quickly and whisked off to hospital in Fort William. After a quick chat with a couple of the local police who arrived at the same time as the helicopter I got packed up, at least with a decent excuse for being late.

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26-27 July 2011 – Loch Etive

There's more to fishing than just fish...
There’s more to fishing than just fish…

Weather: Hot and sunny, with an afternoon sea breeze
Sea Conditions: Flat (and 19.5 degrees water temp in the shallows!)
Times: Roughly 1400-1900 on Tuesday and 0800-1600 on Wednesday – about 13 hours altogether
Tides: LW approx 1120 at Bonawe on Tuesday, small tides

Took my son, Mike, and Bonnie the manic spaniel across to Loch Etive for a couple of days on the boat and a spot of camping. Etive’s not my first choice for fishing at this time of year but both Mike and Bonnie suffer from sea-sickness so it’s a good bet from that point of view, and there’s almost always something to catch.

Bonnie hijacks the skipper's seat
Bonnie hijacks the skipper’s seat
Camping on the shoreline
Camping on the shoreline

I’d deliberately tried to go for a couple of days good weather and the met office didn’t let us down – basically hot and sunny sums it up, with only a light sea breeze in the afternoon (quite welcome, as it was almost too hot in the boat). We tried a variety of marks both east and west of Taynuilt and caught a decent number of fish, mainly small spurs (best 7lb, but most around 2lbs) and a fair number of thornbacks but also doggies, gurnard, whiting, codling, coalie and pollack. Only a single mackerel turned up so it was just as well I’d taken frozen ones plus some squid. I lost count of the final totals but several dozen fish came aboard and the dog eventually lost all interest in them as they wriggled around.

How to spend a summers evening
How to spend a summers evening
Just to prove we did a little fishing
Just to prove we did a little fishing

Overnight, we camped well up the loch at Barrs – a fantastic little spot only accessible by sea or a long hike. The tent went up in a few minutes and then it was time for a beer and a barbie, plus a modest campfire to help keep the midgies at bay. For the first time I’d put together a sliding mooring for the boat, which allowed me to keep her 50-60m off the beach overnight but pull her in to shore as needed. It seemed to work pretty well, but I was pleased/relieved to see her still there next morning. To be honest the highlight of the trip is summed up by the first image – waking up to a view like that is simply inspiring, doubly so when you see some of the highland magic click with your kid. Mind you, Bonnie was more inspired by the bacon than the scenery…

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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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