I’ve been in virtual hibernation since those early January trips, so there’s not much to report for Spring 2019! I guess it’s partly time off coinciding with cold, windy conditions, but I’ve struggled a bit with motivation too.
Back in March, I’d an overnight session on a pretty wet Loch Etive, which was supposed to be snowy but turned out to be sleet and rain. It was actually more comfortable than it sounds, but the fishing was terrible with only a couple of tiny spurdog. ‘Nuff said really!
Mull – April
Ian and I grabbed the opportunity offered by a little break in the run of easterly winds and headed out from Oban for the day. This was a longish run in search of a pollack rather than skate, and not one that really paid off 🙁
We did get numbers of pollack, but mainly tiny 1-2lb fish, and the biggest didn’t make 5lb 8oz. Despite the forecast, the sun stayed at home and the wind came out to play for most of the day. At least the half-gale dropped later on and we had a moderately quiet journey home (although I’m not sure Ian would describe it in quite those terms!)
Kayaking on Leven
One thing I did do during the early spring doldrums was acquire a slightly battered Perception Triumph and a pile of associated kit. I’ve no plans to head over to the dark side, but there are plenty of spots where a kayak would be handy for a mixed fish’n’camp session. Possibly a little freshwater too, when the sea fishing is a bit too quiet.
My first outing was to a fairly safe venue, Loch Leven, and I spent most of the day getting used to the beast and paddling up and down the loch. I did manage a couple of hours fishing and picked up a couple of rays, but that wasn’t really the point of the day.
I’ve done a modest amount of kayaking and canoeing over the years, although very little using a sit on top, so I was pleased that everything seemed to work out well enough. The kayak doesn’t cut across waves too well, so I may need to add a skeg or rudder to make life a little easier on windier days. However, there should be more time to experiment a bit over the summer!
With the lazy, hazy days of summer appearing endless, I thought I’d better take advantage of the best weather I’m ever likely to see in Scotland. Thinking cap on and after running through a fair list of possibilities, I elected to have another run around the Isle of Mull. There’s better fishing to be had elsewhere, but it’s a very beautiful part of the world to relax in. Also, I do like a good fossick about and Mull offers plenty of opportunities for that too.
A fishy cruise around Mull
Day 1 – Along to Iona
I don’t know about you, but I always feel the weight of everyday life lifting away as I point my bow towards the open sea start a new adventure, if only a little one. The sense of freedom is very real. Accordingly I ambled my way contendedly along the south coast of Mull for a few hours, stopping here and there for a few casts or a search for mackerel to add to my bait. Pollack were fairly regular visitors to the gunwhales, albeit nothing to get too excited about and certainly not in the mood to put up much of fight. Mackerel were noticeable by their complete absence, although I picked up a consolation launce.
Around lunchtime I stopped ashore for a little while on a lovely little beach I’ve visited before. I’m sure it would hold a few bass at times, but today there were only a few sandeel swimming in the turquoise water along the shoreline.
A little later, suitably caffeinated and re-caloried, I headed over to the Torran Rocks, a large area of reefs to the south of Iona. I’d guess I spent 2-3 hours here and, frankly, it was a bit disappointing. The reefs seemed almost completely overrun with coalies in the 1 to 2 lbs bracket. A nice size for the east coast, but a little tedious if that’s all that’s on offer. At least I managed a few mackerel, but these were completely untouched when dropped down as a bottom bait. A case of try again another day, I suppose, as the area certainly looks the part.
My final fish was a lazy (read half-hearted) drift through the Sound of Iona in windless, perfect, seas. I sat back, coffee in hand, and watched the sun edge down over the pink granite of Iona. I was completely happy to chill and catch nothing for the best part of an hour!
The sun sets late in these parts but I still needed to find a place to hole up for the night, so I eventually gunned the engine and headed along the north coast of the Ross of Mull. Only a few miles later I was surprised and very pleased to find my first choice of anchorage completely deserted. No yachts and no BBQs ashore either – all mine! I had a tent with me, but it’s less hassle to sleep aboard the Orkney in calm conditions, so I just dropped anchor and rearranged the boat for my sleeping bag and kit. And then went to sleep – ‘cos I was really getting quite tired by now!
Day 2 – the Ardmeanach and Caliach
I awoke well refreshed the next morning, and not at all poisoned by either the petrol tanks or “eau de la coolbox”. The breeze had freshened slightly but only as forecast, and it still felt warm as I stowed away the cover and got some bacon sizzling.
I lobbed out a couple of baits for flatties as I waited, coffee in hand, for breakfast to be ready. A couple of bacon rolls, 1 dab and 2 coffees later I hauled anchor and headed away from my little sandy cove. Destination wilderness! – the Ardmeanach Wilderness, to be more precise.
One mildly bouncy crossing later and I reached the shelter of the Ardmeanach, a great sweeping mix of rock and hillside that reaches over 1000 feet high. I’ve been here before, just once, venturing in on foot across very hard country for an overnight camp. This time I had a try for the pollack close inshore, but it proved fairly slow going across much of the ground. Gorgeous looking bronze fish engulfed my leadheads, but not of great size or in large numbers. I’d more success hard in to the wonderfully named Aird na h-Iolaire (Point of the Eagles), but even here the fish topped out around 5lbs, although there were more of them.
After an hour or two spent dodging some rather large boulders I headed further east and through the calm waters of the Sound of Ulva. For a first timer the Sound appeared pretty narrow, twisty and shallow in parts, but there were plenty of larger boats moored in the wider sections and I just trundled through at a sensible speed without any problems.
I stopped at my backup overnight mooring to refuel, and I reckon it would worked fine if I needed to drop an anchor here one evening. Heading north I found myself ploughing along the wild and beautiful Treshnish Point, with the wreck of the Aurania my next mark, just off the Caliach Point at the very NW tip of Mull.
Up at Caliach I quickly located the remains of my target, with some large bits of wreckage standing 20 feet off the seabed. Not really very much when you consider the Aurania was a large liner something like 550 feet long and 13,500 tonnes! My drift was easy although a little faster than I’d like, and fish soon started to show once I’d established my line.
A few pollack but mainly coalfish in the 1.5-2lbs range, similar to those inhabiting the Torran reefs. I gave it a good try and it was fun fishing on light gear, but it was a little disappointing not to see anything bigger having a go.
Originally I hoped to fish the sandbanks around Caliach, but time was catching up with me so I headed east across the top of Mull. My target was a reef I’d fished briefly with Ian many years before, midway between Mull and Ardnamurchan.
I tasked a set of small baits to sniff out anything that swims and bounced my way slowly across the top of the rocks. Minutes passed but,just as the baits headed down to the abyss right at the edge of the reef, something hit hard. A decent ling was my immediate thought, and I played it gently up through the water on my 25lb trace. Unlike ling though, this fish didn’t give up, and I was still working through the possibilities when an unmistakeable shark-like shape appeared. Spurdog. Other than an unusually hard fight it shouldn’t really be a surprise as I’ve caught them east, west, north and south of here – quite why the possibility never crossed my mind until I saw it, I have simply no idea.
The next couple of drifts produced more, but they were smaller fish. With the rain clouds threatening and time marching on I decided to call it a day and head away down the Sound of Mull and back down to Oban. A short stop to refuel in Bloody Bay (supposedly named after a humungous sea battle between the locals and the Vikings) and I soon was battering down the Sound at fair cruise speed.
Arriving back ashore was a little anti-climactic, with a fair sprinkling of holidaymakers, dogs and kayakers around – and a few “are the mackerel in yet” type comments. With 123 miles on the GPS it makes for my longest trip ever – hardly polar exploration, but very satisfying nonetheless, apart from a rather sore bum. An average of almost exactly 10 mpg too – very similar to my Jura trip last year.Share this:
I needed to get shot of my cabin fever after last week’s snow, and conditions looked good for Oban last Sunday. Unfortunately Ian was lurgied with man-flu and didn’t seem to keen to spend a day on the boat passing on his germs. A solo-skate session was one possibility, but I decided to explore a bit further afield and visit the wreck of the Meldon, which lies close in to Mull.
Spring Pollack from Mull
Mull is a splendidly dramatic island, perhaps not quite as inaccessible as Skye but with plenty of forbidding looking coastline just waiting to be explored. Cliffs up to 1000 feet high line its southern fringes and the shoreline is largely ironbound for little boats like ours. Not a location to get complacent!
However, every now and again the rock has lost it’s battle with ice and sea, and sea lochs like Buie break into the cliff line. And it was here, 21 miles from the slipway at Ganavan, that my 21g leadhead and firetail worm cocktail first hit the water in search of a pollack. With a rusting scrapyard only 45 feet below me I didn’t give the worm too long to sink before starting the retrieve. Only seconds later my rod slammed over as a hungry fish beat his comrades to my jellyworm, and doubts about my choice of mark vanished.
My first pollack of 2018 was a typical inshore fish, apart from the fact it was extraordinarily plump. In excellent condition just prior to spawning I assume, but it looked ready to burst. However it was safely returned and I carried on exploring the wreck.
The scrapyard in question is the Meldon, a fairly large WW1 casualty that hit a mine. It made it ashore but sank before it could be salvaged and remains in surprisingly good condition considering its exposed location. Sometimes visited by divers, it doesn’t attract too much angling attention, probably because it’s quite a long way from anywhere.
My drifts were fairly short and I’d to keep an eye on the nearby shoreline, but the fish were certainly hungry and I soon amassed a respectable collection. All returned bar one which completely engulfed a shad – and which delivered a surprise when properly weighed back home. I’d assumed it to be around 3lb 8oz, and the weight for length tables gave 3lb 12oz, but the (new and fairly accurate) scales went 4lb 10oz. Fat indeed, and this fish was pretty typical of the day.
I was hammering a fairly small patch of seabed so it wasn’t surprising that catches gradually dropped off during the day. However a final total of 29 pollack to over 8lbs and a couple of coalies left me a happy bunny.
Incidentally, aside from the Meldon, there is another wreck en route, namely the Maine which was a hospital ship that went aground in thick fog back in 1914. Aside from some wreckage onshore there is no sign of it on sonar, but I may pay another visit there over the summer as I suspect something must still remain from what was a fairly large vessel.
*** Anyone planning a visit to the Meldon must be aware that part of the stern dries at low water and sits just below the surface at other times. Hit it and you’ll most likely join the wreck yourself. The stern is nearest the shore and the hazard is real! ***Share this:
To be quite honest, being an ageing office worker with the upper body strength of a 10 year old means I don’t always relish the chance to play tug of war with a skate almost as big as myself. I’m neither particularly keen or successful as a skate fisherman, but a great forecast, small tide and late March meant I didn’t have a many other options on the sea fishing front. So a trip to fishing for skate at Oban was on the cards, with Ian recruited as crew.
This was to be a two day effort, with an overnight camp in between, which meant a lot of scurrying around to sort out gear beforehand. It was a leisurely start on Friday and we launched at Ganavan around 11, just after low water, and headed out into a very calm Firth of Lorne. The plan was to revisit the Lochaline area as I’ve not tried it for several years.
Well, we fished for around 6 hours without so much as a sniff from a skate. Ian was fishing a lighter rod and picked up a grand total of 3 doggies, whilst I spent more time watching the eagles on the cliffs above Inninmore Bay. An utter waste of time, and not a great omen for Saturday.
I hauled anchor with my tail thoroughly between my legs and we headed off to find a spot to camp overnight. We (eventually) got tucked up for the night at my second choice, a remote little bay on Mull not far from the entrance to Loch Spelve. It proved a fairly tight spot to moor in but at least there was a great little spot to pitch a tent overnight. After a dinner consisting mainly of half-cremated sausages we turned in early for the night. A remote and isolated site together with a cool, starry and midge-free evening – pretty much the way I like my camping!
The Hole at Kerrera
Next morning I was up early, mainly to make sure the boat was still there (and floating), and was rewarded with a fine sunrise over Ben Cruachan and Kerrera.
Coffee and breakfast was followed by re-stowing everything on the boat and undoing the overnight mooring, However we were soon heading out towards my usual marks near Kerrera and fishing before nine, or around 90 minutes before slack water low.
Water depth was 515 feet and I was using a 2lb lead to get a whole mackerel down and pinned to the muddy seabed. Mackerel isn’t my first choice of skate bait where there might be spurdogs out to play, but with Ian possessing the one respectable coalie we had between us there wasn’t much choice in the matter.
In the event it didn’t seem to make any difference as there was little in the way of spurdog (apart from one nice but skinny specimen for Ian), and the skate liked the mackerel just fine.
I won’t bore you with the full details of every capture, but we hoisted 7 skate to the surface and had two more throw the hook. That is waay better than any day I’ve had previously – I think the most I’ve had aboard Alcatraz before is just 3. Most of them were small(ish) males but the biggest was a female that looked to be in the 150-160lb bracket. The tide was pulling her under the boat and we were both getting knackered by that point, so we didn’t pull her aboard. Maybe a bit more, maybe a bit less, but I can’t say the precise weight bothers me too much.
Apart from that, all the others did scrape over the gunwhales, with the best being a male of 107lbs (we had 4 males and 3 females in all). It had some sort of tag fitted, of which only the black circular base remained. There wasn’t any identifiable number on this one, so it was possibly one of the few skate tagged with a radio beacon – if anyone can shed light on this that would be great.
Ian also managed the dubious honour of being the first person I’ve ever seen to get bitten by a skate. Probably more of a glancing blow than a full on crush your hand effort, it still did a fair bit of damage and certainly looked impressive with a nice pin cushion effect. This was a particularly pissed male skate which was quite aggressively trying to bite anything it could and managed to extend its jaws just as Ian extended his pliers to remove the hook. Oops!
After swabbing copious quantities of Ian’s DNA from Alcatraz’s decks and covering his hand in band-aids we got back to fishing again. Slack water high was about 4.20 and I reckoned we could give it another 90 minutes after that before the tide picked up again.
In the event that was pretty much spot on, as I pulled up a small male of around 60lbs – and no sooner had that hit the deck than Ian was into another fish, again a male, which gave a good account of itself before coming aboard for a photo opportunity.
By this time it was well after five, so we decided to call it a day and head in whilst our backs were still just about in working order. 4 to me and 3 to Ian, and both of us happy with our lot, bandaged fingers notwithstanding. I’m not sure I’m converted to skate fishing as such, but it was a great way to spend a couple of days in a beautiful part of the world.Share this:
Ardmeanach lies on the exposed, lonely but very beautiful west coast of Mull. Only twelve miles in the round, it is almost inaccessible in places due to trackless terrain and boulder strewn hills that drop 1500 feet into the sea. The emptiest and most remote part is called simply “The Wilderness”.
I’d no idea how much, if any, of the Ardmeanach is fishable, but The Wilderness is a name that oozes potential, and I’ve fancied exploring it for a couple of years now. With a few days of calm and dry weather forecast I grabbed the opportunity before the midges woke up for summer.
Arriving on Mull, a short stopover at Gribun gave an introduction as to what to expect, with layers of ancient lava flows stacked one atop the other to build a very dramatic coastline.
If only the fishing at Gribun proved as exciting as the surroundings – but a couple of hours fishing the end of the cliff line you can see above generated not one hint of interest to either mackerel on the bottom or float fished ragworm.
Ardmeanach itself lies just round the corner from Gribun, and was an intimidating sight, partly hidden in the clouds.
It is trackless, apart from the meanderings left by goats and deer, but the initial approach isn’t difficult as you pick your way across fairly typical heathery grassland.
As the sheep thin out towards the edge of The Wilderness the going gets quite a lot harder. I dropped down over the cliffline and down towards the shore, to make my way across the slope towards the tip of Ardmeanach.
In retrospect this was a mistake, as the scree and boulder fields were daunting, especially combined with constant switchbacks and climbing around inlets and across streams. The winter had clearly inflicted a lot of damage, with fresh rockfalls and washed out shorelines. Progress slowed to an exhausting crawl!
At least the wildlife showed up pretty much on cue – with a pair of golden eagles circling the cliffs and wild goats aplenty.
Almost 4 hours after I started off I pitched up for the night at the tail end of a massive old scree slope – hoping it was as inactive as it looked, as other areas had plenty of fresh falls.
The solid cloud base thinned for a little while, to allow the moon to outline the cliffs above my little tent, but I was pretty tired and hit the sack early.
A solid night’s sleep was followed by an early morning wander across the shoreline in search of Mull’s famed fossil tree. In the event I didn’t quite have enough time to work my way round to it, but there was plenty of other geology to marvel at, including these basalt columns which were guarded by a wary herd of feral goats.
The coastline here, and around most of Mull was dictated by the lava flows that covered the whole area 65 million years ago and created the likes of Fingals Cave on Staffa a few miles away.
Most of the area around the peninsula was fairly shallow so I wasn’t too bothered about giving the fishing a miss in March – more possibilities in late summer and autumn I’d have thought.
Striking camp, I headed back but kept higher than the previous day in an effort to keep away from the deep gashes in the shore. The goat tracks kept pushing me upwards until I hit the base of the cliffline a few hundred feet up.
This part of the route was definitely easier going than the previous day, although a little hairy in places, especially with the mist swirling around. The downside came a little later, as it proved very difficult to pick the best layer of rock to traverse – too low and you end up climbing up again all too soon, whilst too high and you find yourself with a serious cliff between you and the car.
In the event it still took the best part of 4 hours to get back to the car, although I reckon another trip would be quicker now that I’ve got some on the ground experience of the route.
So, what to make of Ardmeanach and its wilderness? Fishing-wise it was a washout, although there are some decent rock stances worth another look. On every other level it’s a jewel of a place – visually spectacular, lots of wildlife, amazing geology and quite challenging physically. The only other person I met was the farmer and his dog at the start of the hike (both friendly). Definitely recommended for a prepared hiker, with or without rods.Share this:
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.
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 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.
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!
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.Share this: