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 Lazy Summer Day on Etive

I spent a fine few hours afloat on Etive last Sunday, reminding my little Orkney what water feels like. Only her second outing since last December, so I was relieved that everything still worked! Just a lazy summer day out rather than serious fishing, but great fun nevertheless.

It was just after LW and there were only inches of water available when I dropped the boat in at Kelly’s Pier. I drifted the narrows at Bonawe briefly, in search of mackerel and then just headed up into the mountains.

Spurdog number one came aboard after half an hour or so, but it was small. Also friendless! I gave it a little while then upped anchor and moved a few hundred yards. Not quite instant success but I didn’t have to wait long before a succession of females queued up to say hello. Nothing very big unfortunately!

After tangling rods and losing both sets of gear due to bite-offs, I fell back to a single rod. Even so, action was almost constant so there were plenty of fish about. Something like 16 or 17 in maybe 90 minutes, plus a couple of little whiting.

By now I’d my fill of the spurs, so went exploring a little. In the past I’ve had loads of small codling and other fish drifting fairly close inshore, so I gave it a try. The wind was rising a bit and there was a decent drift, so I covered the ground all right. Unfortunately the fish weren’t too impressed and I only managed a little mackerel.

Plan number three was to have a good look for that rare combination of decent campsite and decent looking shore mark. I sussed a couple of spots last year but wanted to run the sonar over them before I wasted too much time trekking in. A nice flat campsite often means a shallow seabed too!

I stuck on a rather large 20g toby and started a slow trundle along the shoreline. The toby was the best I could do as I managed to forget my small lures and the trout didn’t seem put off. I managed three, and missed a few more strikes. All small fish in the 6-12oz range, but a novelty nonetheless.

Good fun, and definitely lazy style fishing.

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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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Etive

A fine couple of camp’n’fish trips to Etive kick off 2019.

New Year’s Day

My usual post-Christmas boredom dragged me out the house for a solo trip on New Years Day, heading west for a 2 day fish’n’camp session over at Etive. I trailed the boat over, and was soon heading northwards up to my favourite haunts in the waters of the upper loch.

Clipping on a 40g silver Koster quickly resulted in a take and a rather underwhelming little pollack became my first victim of 2019. I can only hope his bigger brothers want revenge later in the year!

My first fish of 2019, a small pollack taken on January 1st
First fish of 2019 – a totally tiny pollack

Apart from my one pollack it was very similar to recent trips, with loads of small spurs and a couple of tiddler rays. It did turn into a fine evening though – calm, cold and clear, and just as I like it.

Mooring up just off the eastern shoreline, I set up camp in the last of the light. This was the same spot Ian and I went glamping a couple of months back but just with the small tent this time. Dinner was simple – sausages, beans and baked tatties, all cooked on the beach in the heat of my campfire.

Basic, but most welcome. Sausages, baked potatoes and beans cooked under the stars and over an open campfire on New Year's Day 2019
Campfire Dinner

I’d a few casts from the shore whilst I waited for dinner to cook which produced a spurdog followed by a pair of varifocal specs, presumably lost by some careless boater over the summer. Makes a change from crabs, anyway!

A small, shore caught, spurdog from Loch Etive
Shore caught spurdog

Next morning was fine and calm, with crispy frozen sand crunching under my feet. My not-so-smart phone tried to tell me it was -11C, but I doubt if it was any lower than -5. Still chilly though!

Peeking out from my tent on a cold and frosty January morning, looking north along Loch Etive towards the mountains of Glencoe
A frozen view from the tent

Camp struck, boat retrieved, and then it was time for a few more hours on the water. I’d love to say there were monsters queueing up, but the reality was a long line of small spurdog.

A small male spurdog taken from my boat on Loch Etive
Typical small spurdog

Repeat Performance

A couple of days at work, and then Trevor and I met up at Taynuilt last weekend for a repeat performance. Launching into the gloom of a misty Highland dawn we spent the morning on a couple of marks around Airds and Ardchattan. The usual small thornbacks and spurdog put in an appearance, but we caught no surprises.

A small thornback ray
Small thornback

By early afternoon we decided to head up to our campsite and get set up in daylight.

Style – but real mid-winter comfort too!

A couple more hours afloat, chasing fairly small stuff, and we edged our way cautiously back to camp and set up a temporary mooring for the night.

The weather was calm but a bit misty and drizzly, so the big tent was a huge improvement over dodging drips in a glorified bin bag – and just as warm as our previous experience with the woodburner.

The glow of our stove provides both warmth and a boost to morale
Heat!

Trevor wasn’t feeling so good that evening (I put it down to chewing rotten mackerel), so I swallowed a dram on his behalf before hitting the sack. The highlanders (cattle, not human) that evicted Ian and myself last month had moved on to terrorise the occupants of Cadderlie bothy so we had no visitors overnight.

Next morning we awoke to an almost surreal sight in the early morning mist, as my boat appeared suspended in cloud rather than floating on the water.

Very hard to tell the difference between sea and sky on this misty morning on Loch Etive - our little boat appears suspended rather than afloat
Floating or just suspended in the clouds?

As the light strengthened so did the drizzle, and we were happy enough to fire up some bacon rolls and coffee rather than make a dash for the sea. Eventually, though, we packed up the gear and overloaded the boat again, before heading out for a few more hours.

Up and about early on a January morning at Barrs, Loch Etive. Our very comfy tent, complete with stove is parked on the beach whilst the boat lies peacefully at anchor on a flat calm and rather misty loch.
Early morning at Barrs, with the woodburner burning happily 🙂

Trev was perkier again this morning, and soon began to cuff in fishing terms. I don’t much care when it comes to the smaller fish, but I woke up when he picked up a 9lb spurdog in the deep trench off Barrs.

A nice spurdog for Trevor

Sadly, this was as good as it got and we spent most of the time dealing with relative tiddlers. However we could hardly complain about our surroundings as even the mist highlights the beauty of the loch.

Misty, but beautiful

And, having spent 5 days in the last 2 weeks afloat on Etive, I might give it a rest for a little bit!

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Double figure spurdog

A kind of slow burn day afloat on Etive with Ian – but with a bit more action later in the day.

Kelly’s pier looked distinctly drab and unwelcoming as Ian and I arrived at Etive in the grey light of dawn. The winter solstice had just passed – although it didn’t exactly feel like we were charging towards summer as thick fog sucked the heat from our bodies. At least not so much as a ripple disturbed the loch surface.

A grey and foggy start to the day at Taynuilt, Loch Etive
Grey start (Ian’s pic)

Clearly not conditions to hang about, so we launched as efficiently as Michelin man clothing allows and headed down the loch. We planned to try a couple of new spots, given generally poor results from our usual marks in recent months.

We detoured slightly to locate a small wreck lying close inshore but decided to leave it to the divers this time round.

A small, shallow, wreck picked up on sidescan when fishing Loch Etive
Small wreck

Our first stopping point was a hole in around 100 feet of water, largely surrounded by shallower banks and close to a decent shore spot. I was fairly hopeful as we dropped a variety of baits onto the sandy bottom. However, 90 minutes and a single grey gurnard later we headed across the loch to location number 2. Another 90 minutes with nothing but crabs to show for our efforts and any optimism suitably crushed, we retreated to a deeper mark.

Afloat and fishing on a chilly December Day, Loch Etive
Chilly work

The sun was out, and morale soon improved as we started to pick up fish and our feet thawed just out a little. Ian did his usual, trashing me in the thornie stakes, and we both picked up a range of small spurdogs. Similar to the last time we fished here, but with no sign of anything larger.

This little spurdog looks like it's waving at the camera
Smiley Spurs
A perfect winters day on Loch Etive, looking towards the snow capped Ben Cruachan
Perfect winter day

With dusk not too far away we decided to make a final shift up to a mark in deeper water. I’ve not fished up here for a couple of years but it has thrown up a decent mix of species in past seasons, and it didn’t look like we’d much to lose! At 220 feet it was a bit deeper than the spots we’d tried most of the day. I don’t know if that was the reason or not, but the fish seemed ready to play.

We’d a mix of spurdogs and a handful of ray. All fairly small until Ian hit into a fish that was clearly better than the titchy stuff. Being faced with something that pulled back was a bit of a surprise after all the little pack fish, but it didn’t take too long to surface a nice spurdog. Not weighed, but somewhere around the 8-9lb mark.

Ian and nice spurdog, Loch Etive, December 2018
Ian and nice spurdog

My turn next as a good run resulted in a fine bend on my rod and a suitable feeling of solidness. A few minutes later and a very plump female spur appeared in the net. This one was weighed and just crept into double figures, at 10lb 2oz. Still, my first double figure spurdog for some time now!

A double figure spurdog taken late December from Loch Etive
Double figure (just!) spurdog

We fished on into darkness for about 90 minutes, taking advantage of a fine, calm evening. Sadly, although we picked up a further sprinkling of ray and spurdog plus a couple of whiting, there were no more doubles on offer.

Afloat on Loch Etive on a mid-winter night
Darkness falls

So I’m quite happy with my Christmas prezzie from Etive, although the day shows how unpredictable a place it can be. Nothing to show for the morning, followed by decent numbers at marks not too far away.

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Glamping on Etive

Boat glamping? Wild glamping? I’m not really sure the best way to describe our recent session on Loch Etive, but we certainly weren’t roughing it! The boat was fully loaded with a chunky Robens bell tent, complete with carpet and wood stove (with plenty wood) for the cold evening we expected. I’d got the tent earlier in the year, more for Liz and myself than for fishing, but I’d not had the chance to try out the stove in it yet…

Autumn fishing with a comfy camp on Etive

The Longliner 2 slipped into the calm waters of Taynuilt and we were soon running down to our usual starter mark at Ardchattan. An hour or so here produced very little, so it was on to the deeper spots offshore from the Priory shore mark.

Our wake disturbs the calm waters of Loch Etive as we motor down towards the lower loch, late October 2018
Disturbing the calm

Ian with a modest spurdog - not big, but still one of the better ones we caught
Ian and spurdog

There’s always a vigorous tide run here, but it is only in the top 30-40 feet and looks worse than it is.  Anyway, the fish seemed to like it and Ian was soon stacking them up – mainly small spurs, but with some decent thornbacks and the odd whiting too. I trailed well behind, fishing in my usual lazy style, but also playing with the cameras and sorting out some hot drinks (my excuse!)

Ian with a thornback ray caught from the lower end of Loch Etive, near the Priory shore mark
Thornback from the lower loch

A few hours here and we called time, conscious that we’d to sort out our glamping arrangements for the night before darkness fell. We also wanted to allow time for an evening session in the middle of the loch, hoping the larger spurdog would come on the feed after dark, as they’ve done in the past. Hauling anchor we made our way back up the loch and through the narrows at Bonawe.

Sandy beach at Barrs, Loch Etive. just after the sun has disappeared for the evening
Sandy beach at Barrs, Loch Etive

Our target was the beach at Barrs, which offers a great camping spot. The sun had sunk below the hills behind us as we approached, but we could see shapes moving around on the sand. Too big to be human, I thought they were deer initially, before realising they were ultra-wooly and photogenic highland cows. Bugger! Deer would disappear before we landed, but cattle are a different proposition and quite likely to tangle with mooring ropes and tent guys. Assuming we could find a cowpat-free zone big enough to park the Robens in the first place.

A hairy highland cow faces up to Ian
Cuddly, but with sharpish horns

Still, we edged ashore to try and make peace with the natives. They were having none of it, and just stayed put. Given they were much bigger, there were more of them, and they had pointy horns, we decided to go for plan B. This is a more exposed mooring on the other side of the loch, and a more limited pitch space. Still, perfectly OK in the light winds forecast overnight.

A large tent and a sandy beach don't make the best companions, but a few rocks will counter any winds tonight
Building on sand

Tent erected, stove installed, and we headed out into the darkness for another two or three hours fishing. It’d be nice to say we were rewarded for persistence, but the pattern remained similar – a lot of small whiting and spurdog. Loads in mid-water, and you didn’t need to drop right to the bottom to get action.

Calm and cold, we fished on with the help of a Cup-a-Soup or two, but got nothing but tiddlers in exchange. Mainly to Ian, as I cut it back to one rod that was fished rather half-heartedly.

Fishing deep water for tiny spurdogs in the pitch black of an October night is quite hard work
Tiddler bashing in the pitch dark

Back ashore, and we managed to set a mooring quite efficiently, given it was completely dark, and headed for the tent. It was pretty cold, which provided the incentive needed to get the stove lit pronto. I’d taken a generous supply of wood in with us, so it wasn’t too difficult to get a decent blaze going. I think both of us were taken aback at how efficient the stove actually was, as it became pretty warm pretty quickly – and then positively hot.

The woodburner proved almost too hot for us, and certainly heated the tent
Roasting!

Foil covered potatoes were plonked in the fire, and sausages and mushrooms were followed by a nice steak, washed down with a decent dose of malt whisky. I can hardly claim it was to ward off the cold though! A final check on the boat and it was time to hit the sleeping bags…

Another first - attempting to cook dinner on top of the woodburner. It went better than we deserved!
Dinner underway

Had there been any human presence awake on Etive at three in the morning (thankfully, I’m pretty sure there wasn’t), then they’d have been treated to a curious spectacle. Under the light of a full moon a smallish figure, dressed only in thermal underwear and wellies was scurrying around the beach picking up rocks.

Our tent shows up nicely againts the large moon on Loch Etive
Moonlight

That was of course yours truly, trying to stop the tent pegs pulling out of the sand in the rising breeze. I think success can be judged by the fact that Ian was still snoring gently by the time I’d finished – which rather undermined his claim next morning that he’d barely slept 🙂

A nice, but rather insecure, camp on the sandy shores of Loch Etive
Glamping on the beach

We’d a leisurely start, fuelled by coffee and bacon rolls, and the sun was well up in the sky by the time we’d cleared the tent away and un-moored the longliner. Humming and hawing a bit, we decided to head a good way further down the loch and see if we could avoid the tiny spurs that seemed to fill the upper reaches. A couple of hours close inshore saw us pick up an LSD or three, plus whiting and a thornback – together with a smattering of tiny spiny critters.

A tiny thornback ray for Ian, taken just off the moorings at Taynuilt, Loch Etive
Tiddly thornback

Our final throw of the dice was close to the moorings at Taynuilt, where the seabed starts to rise towards the beach. A quiet spell was followed by a flurry of thornbacks which was a bit of a morale booster. Nothing very big, but good fun in shallower water and definitely welcome after packs of miniscule spurdog.

A nice thornback ray from Ian from Loch Etive, October 2018
Ian with a respectable ray

We packed in early, partly to avoid road closures, partly to give me time to start sorting out a mountain of gear when I got home, and partly because there are only so many small fish you want to catch on a fairly chilly autumn day!Share this:
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Early Autumn Shorefishing in Argyll

I’ve not really been shore fishing around Argyll for months, ever since the midges started to appear, so I was happy to head westwards for a daytrip at the weekend. It was 50:50 whether to trail the boat, but I plumped for the aerobic option and packed the shore gear and hiking boots instead. Plump being the operative word, as I could also do with shifting some summer over-indulgence! Sadly, no Bonnie dog for company, as she’s probably needing an op to repair ligament damage. On the plus side that meant I’d actually get some fishing time, as opposed to spending my day chucking sticks for her.

Early morning sun picks up the mountains at the head of Loch Etive
Early morning sun

Autumn was starting to show some teeth as I headed west, with sub-zero temperatures showing in several places. The early morning sun soon beat back any hint of frost, but it’s a reminder that winter isn’t too far away now. At least the summer crowds have largely gone, although the car park at the head of the loch seemed well enough occupied for early on a Saturday morning.

The walk along the loch was knock-out stuff this morning – and I don’t just mean the struggle through bog and overgrown, saturated vegetation. Even the mist was dramatic, and the landscape revealed as the sun broke through was west highland picture perfect material. The hike is definitely hard work, but very rewarding in fine weather.

A misty autumn morning looking across scrubby birch woods down towards Loch Etive
There’s a loch in there somewhere

Stunning oak woodlands line the banks of Loch Etive, with my path winding between them
Stunning oak woodlands line the loch

Late morning had me setting up the rods with mackerel baited pulley rigs and casting out into calm, deep, water.

Launching a mackerel bait out into the calm waters of Loch Etive, in search of a spurdog
Launching a mackerel bait

The tide was ebbing, which makes life easier on this mark, and the sun was shining. However the fish didn’t seem as inspired as I was, and it was almost an hour before the first bite translated into a small spurdog.

A small thornback ray adds variety to the catch on Loch Etive
A small thornback adds variety

It was quickly returned, just as another pair of anglers hove into view, and set up at a nearby mark. A few fish later I headed round for a chat and to see how they were doing, as I’d not fished the spot they were on. Turns out that they started off before me, but had overshot the turnoff from the trail and then spent quite a while making their way to the marks. I consoled them a little by telling them that Trevor and I had a pretty hard time finding our way here the first time we tried. At least they were also catching fish as a reward for any blisters incurred.

A thornback ray caught from Loch Etive, and waiting to be returned to the water
Fish of the day

The day rolled on nicely – more fish, more coffee and more bacon. A good bit of sun, some breezy spells, and a shower or two. Basically, easily enough to keep me occupied for the rest of the afternoon until I decided to head for home before sundown. It always feels longer on the way back, but nothing felt too broken by the time I arrived at the car.

The Loch Etive woods are a lovely place to explore as the autumn colours start to show
A lovely place to explore

In day trip terms this is very much an even split between hiking and fishing and that’s part of the attraction to me. I like my hiking and I like my fishing, and this combines the two quite nicely. Add in a little hillbilly cooking and it suits me perfectly.

However, it’s probably as well that I’ve managed to convince myself that it’s not all about the catching – 10 spurdog, 1 thornback and a doggie doesn’t sound too bad for a 5 hour session, but the biggest fish only went around 3lbs and most of the spurs were laughably small.Share this:
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Spurring on Loch Etive

After a couple of weeks of cold, windy and snowy weather I really welcomed the prospect of a calm, sunny day on Friday. Ian was up for the challenge of an early morning start, so high water saw us slipping the dinghy into the cold waters of Loch Etive around half-eight.

I followed my usual habit of fishing a spot or two down the loch on the ebb tide and we got what has become the usual result – very little. Only 3 or 4 whiting in fact, which suggests I need to revamp tactics a little. Or perhaps building the new fish farm nearby has disrupted things a bit?

Ben Cruachan in the winter sunshine
Ben Cruachan in the winter sunshine

Reversing course well up the loch put us into more fish friendly territory. Micro-spurs to be more precise 🙁 I don’t know which is worse – catching nothing, or hauling tiddlers 250+ feet. We were kept busy hauling them to the surface and soon shed our jackets as we started overheating in the sunshine.

Little and littler - an LSD and a micro spur side by side. We had loads of tiny spurdogs on Loch Etive today
Little and littler – an LSD and a micro spur side by side

Happily things started to improve and a handful of better fish appeared. Ian provided this nice fish of just over 9lbs and I added another not long afterwards.

Ian with a fine Etive spurdog
Ian with a fine Etive spurdog

Another nice spurdog comes to play
Another nice spurdog comes to play

A sprinkling of whiting and a suicidal poorcod mixed it with the spurs and Ian did his usual efforts to clear any LSDs from the vicinity. I think he managed 8 to my 1!

A poorcod and a whiting - the poorcod makes good bait, the whiting less so.
Poorcod and a whiting.

Tangles - the less glamorous side of fishing!
Tangles – the less glamorous side of fishing!

A couple more spurs around 9lbs came along as we basked in the sunshine and munched a bacon roll or two. Not exactly fantastic fishing but a lovely day to be afloat in midwinter!

Me holding a nice spurdog with Glen Etive in the background
Me with a nice spurdog

Ian and another Etive spurdog
Ian and another Etive spurdog

Towards the end of the day I picked up a codling in the 2.5lb bracket and Ian added the only thornback of the day with a decidedly muddy specimen. The temperature plummeted as the light faded so we didn’t hang around into the dark

Our final tally was around 50 spurdog (the vast majority very small), perhaps 10-12 whiting, 9 LSDs, and one each of thornback, codling and poorcod.

Etive looks a little grey as the sun disappears (Ian's pic)
Etive looks a little grey as the sun disappears (Ian’s pic)
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