Opening shot for 2013 – Leven, Sunday 6 January

I’m unashamedly a fair weather fisherman and will do my best to avoid the windier and wetter days, but I was starting to climb the walls after too much Christmas cheer and needed to get out for a few hours. Fortunately Sunday morning looked to have a decent weather window, so I chucked a couple of rods in the car on Saturday night.

My destination was Loch Leven, targetting a thornback ray or two in a fairly short morning shore session before the sky turned the taps on again in the afternoon. The mark of choice was a fairly inaccessible one, but since I just wanted a few hours of time to myself this suited me fine as there was zero chance of meeting a Sunday morning dog walker here!

I’d bought myself a little honey stove over Christmas, which is a simple but neat little wood burner. It’s more for camping than for fishing, but I left the thermos at home and took the stove along for a little try out. There was no problem getting it going and only a few minutes after firing it up I had a kettle boiling, so quite a happy punter.

As for the fishing, well it was fairly steady up until slack water when everything died off – there was no great excitement with a string of dogfish and a modest whiting, plus a single thornback (thankfully – I was little disappointed not to get more, even on a short session, but I’d be disappointed with just doggies). By noon it was starting to rain quite heavily, and I packed in an hour or so later by which time it was really chucking it down, so I left the ducks to it…

I also picked up the curious orange coloured creature shown in the photo above – I’ve had a few others before, mainly from Leven, but I’ve never researched what they actually are.

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Leven Thornbacks

November 11, Ballachulish

I’d gone across to Leven with a view to launching at the bridge only to find the slipway is now effectively blocked off by the RIB used by the sea school at Ballachulish, so I ended up slipping Alcatraz at the slate slip alongside the Isles of Glencoe Hotel. Easy enough to launch, but there is a risk of sticking a tow vehicle in the muddy track on retrieval – especially towards LW when the slate beach is steepest.

After a delayed start it only took a couple of minutes to nip across to the fish farm area and drop anchor. The target was thornbacks (what else, given it’s Leven), and fishing was of the slow but steady variety with some modest rays, a few LSD, a grey gurnard and a micro-cod. A pleasant surprise for mid-November was a stream of mackerel during the morning which were a welcome addition to the bait supplies – I initially picked one or two up on bottom baits, then left a string of feathers fishing by themselves just off the bottom.

Eventually a combination of noisy work on the fish farm plus gradual boredom prompted a move and I headed up the loch, passing a gaggle of kayak fishers strung out just out from the islands at Glencoe, and making towards the narrows a few miles further east. I stopped off for a decent while to collect a bag of mussels for dinner later in the week (yum!) and stretch my legs a little, then headed out to a wee spot I’ve fished a few times.

Things were very quiet apart from a couple of LSD and mackerel, but I did eventually pick up another three rays, with one being my best for quite a while, at 10lbs 4oz. Happy with that, I decided to try out of the loch and see whether anything was showing in Loch Linnhe, as it never seems to get much fishing attention. Unfortunately I soon realised that I’d picked up more than rays whilst fishing, and that my anchor was entangled with a string of prawn pots. Despite my best efforts it took a good long while to eventually get the anchor up to the surface and free off the rope – the usually reliable cable ties hadn’t tripped out, probably because the prawn rope was just too elastic to force a break in them. However no harm to either party, so just added it to my mental list of things to watch out for…

By now I was pretty knackered, but I thought it worth a quick session outside the loch, so a quick blast saw the anchor dropped a little way out into the bay at Onich. Needless to say it proved a waste of time, apart from a single very energetic bite that I contrived to miss, and about an hour later I was back at the slip to retrieve the boat – fortunately without any difficulty.

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4 March 2012 – Loch Leven

I’d had a good session from the boat on Leven about three weeks ago, but hadn’t been out since. The forecast was OK, but with the probability of snow and also moderate winds in the afternoon, so I decided to leave the boat at home and take the shore rods to try a couple of shore marks on the south bank of the loch that I’d earmarked from my last boat trip.

I arrived about half nine on Saturday evening and identified what looked like the spot to head down to my mark. After ten minutes of crashing around a woody hellhole it was obvious I’d got it wrong and my headtorch showed me heading down a slope that just seemed to get steeper and more cliff like. Not being completely suicidal I reversed course and sweated my way back up to the car. A change of plan was called for and I headed back down past Ballachulish and back up the north side of the loch to a spot I’ve fished before and where I reckoned I could pitch a tent down near the shoreline.

This mark is a rocky beach, but leading into quite deep water – perhaps 80 feet within easy casting distance. There was a nice wee patch of very soggy grass nearby so I cast out the baits and then set up camp for the night. After all the earlier buggering about I was getting pretty tired now so gave it only an hour so before packing up around 1130 just as the snow started to come down. A couple of decent knocks, but no fish.

The cold woke me up around six a.m., and encouraged me to get moving. Nothing had raided the bait bucket overnight, which was a bonus, and I soon had everything packed away and lugged back up to the car. I headed up towards Kinlochleven, stopping to get another look at my target mark from the north side of the loch, and to figure out where I’d gone wrong last night. In daylight it was pretty obvious I’d tried to come down the slope too soon, and in a very steep section, so it was just as well I’d not pushed my luck too far in the darkness.

Na Gruagaichean with Sgurr an Fhuarain in front - near Kinlochleven
Na Gruagaichean with Sgurr an Fhuarain in front – near Kinlochleven
Na Gruagaichean with Sgurr an Fhuarain in front - near Kinlochleven
Na Gruagaichean shows above the mist

A few more minutes and I was round the loch and getting ready to head down towards the loch. Although much better than last night it was still hard going down a steep slope and through deep spaghnum moss and heather, and I was very glad to perch myself down on the water’s edge. A few minutes later and the first bait hit the water, hitting the bottom some 90 feet below, and I got myself sorted for the session. The ledge was easy enough to fish, but quite slippy in places with rocks sloping nicely ready to drop you into the water if you did trip.

A smallish Leven thornback
A smallish Leven thornback
Looking west, down Loch Leven on sunny March morning
Looking west, down Loch Leven on sunny March morning
A beautiful spot to fish on Loch Leven, but a killer to reach.
A beautiful spot to fish on Loch Leven, but a killer to reach.

Although it was chilly the lack of wind meant it was pretty pleasant relaxing and soaking up the scenery – which was all I did for the first hour or so as I waited for a bite. For no obvious reason I then managed to miss the first two good knocks, followed by hooking a nice ray which got hung up on the bottom on the way in, and it started to feel a bit like it wasn’t going to be my day. However a small ray finally appeared on my next cast and the blank was off! It was followed by another three, each one getting a bit bigger, until I finished off by losing my last fish in the weed again. Total of four thornbacks, plus another couple lost on the way in, so I was happy enough – especially for a shortish session. Best fish pushing around 5lbs, so no monsters.

And the less said about the climb back up the hill the better – only about 150 feet, but over murderous ground.

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12 Feb 2012 – Rays galore at Loch Leven

Weather:Calm, or light WNW wind. Dry and cloudy. Cold
Time:0845-1715 – 8.5 hours

Given two less than fantastic trips to Loch Etive this year I thought I’d revisit a loch that I’ve not fished for several years – Loch Leven. I snuck the boat in at the old ferry slip under the bridge – a bit steep and a fair run of tide past it, but pretty straightforward. A short spinning session under the bridge produced nothing at all, so I headed up towards the fish farm on the north shore and anchored fairly close to the cages, in around 90 feet of water.

The first couple of hours had me wondering whether I’d have been better off at Etive – only 2 thornbacks and a solitary dogfish put in an appearance. However things started to improve and more thornbacks were being boated regularly – mainly Etive sized 2-4lbs fish, but with a sprinking of larger beasts. The best was a really thick but tail-less ray that made 9lbs, with another of just under 8lbs. By 2 p.m. the total stood at 32 rays and 7 dogfish and I decided on a shift to see whether we could get any different species.

A move well up the loch saw me stop off for a bucket full of mussels – both for bait and dinner – and anchor close in to the south shore and try for a conger at the base of the rocks. Things were quiet, but another 4 rays turned up to make a final score of 36 ray and 7 dogfish.

Overall a good trip and better than I expected, as Leven has never been particularly kind to me in the past. Glad I made the effort!

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5 February 2012 – Etive (yet) again!

Weather: Cold – but calm. A few showers and a little sun, but mainly overcast
Sea: The usual Etive millpond. Surface water temperature up over 2 degrees in past 3 weeks – 6.5, up from 4.3 degrees last trip.
Time: 0830 – 1930 – 11 hours
Tides: HW 0605 (1.5m) LW 1325 (0.4m) HW 1840 (1.6m)

The forecasts during the week were tantalising, but slightly on the windy side of what I enjoy when sitting in a small boat for several hours in winter, so it was a Saturday morning decision to give the west coast a go again. A forecast of 5-6 mph, even with a little rain and heavy cloud , seemed too good to turn down and so the boat was loaded up for an early start on Sunday.

Given a westerly wind forecast, and an ebb tide for the morning, I decided to tuck in close to the fish farm off Airds Point, reckoning that I’d be sheltered and also just downtide of any trail of fish food that might escape the farm. In practice there was no wind at all, just a nice calm morning, but I stuck with the plan and anchored a couple of hundred yards down the loch from the farm.

After about 15 minutes there was a good run on my uptider and I hooked into a reasonably solid weight which turned out to be a respectable thornback of 6.75lbs. A good start, but alas the remainder of the morning was fairly poor, with a slow stream of rays, spurdogs and a few gurnard adding to the catch. Low water saw a move down to the Abbots Isles area, near where I’ve done well once or twice from the shore. I stuck it out here for a couple of hours, but with zip to show for my efforts – quite disappointing in ideal conditions. However, with a little bit of sun to warm the boat up I wasn’t too bothered. Next was a shift up towards Ardchattan, towards a spot that usually fishes well. Another hour, another disappointment, as only 1 micro cod showed up, alongside a couple of LSD.

By now it was heading towards sunset, so my next move was probably the last for the day, and I decided to head back up to Airds but to fish the opposite side of the loch where the water is considerably deeper. Sunset was around 5 p.m. and that seemed to trigger more activity as I picked up a double shot of rays soon after, followed by a stream of smallish spurs, LSDs and more rays, with a codling and a poor cod thrown in for good measure. Given there was no wind it was very pleasant out on the loch, so I stayed on for a couple of hours enjoying quite relaxed fishing and watching the stars come out.

The final tally for the day was around 40 fish, with 13 spurs, 11 rays and a motley collection of LSD, grey gurnard, codling and poor cod. Nothing huge, with the best fish my first one. In return for 11 hours afloat it couldn’t be considered a great catch (with virtually nothing at all during most of the flood tide), but it was actually a great day to be out and a perfect antidote to a 9-5 style city life.

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15 October 2011 – Loch Etive

Weather: Mild night with no wind and some light showers
Sea: Calm
Time: 2000-2330 – 3.5 hours

A shore caught spurdog and thornback ray from Loch Etive
A shore caught spurdog and thornback ray from Loch Etive

It’s been ages since I’ve tried Etive from the shore, and years since I’ve tried the south bank, but I’d identified a decent and fairly accessible spot when dinghy fishing a couple of years ago. Having a few hours free in the evening I decided to give it a quick bash and see whether it held anything after dark. Access was even easier than I thought and my first cast found something like 70 feet of water and clean ground. It was a calm night and fairly clear between some light showers, so it was no hardship waiting for a bite. After nearly an hour a decent nibble translated into a small spurdog of around 1.5lbs, which was quickly followed by several others. Highlight of the evening was a spur of around 4lbs on one rod, plus a slightly larger ray simultaneously on the other.

A final total of 6 spurs and 1 thornback ray was quite satisfying for a few hours on a new mark, especially given how out of practice I am at fishing Etive from the shore.


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18 September 2011 – Loch Etive

Weather: Calm or light winds, warm and quite sunny
Sea: Calm, fair peaty colour to surface water further up loch
Time: 0830-2000 – 11.5 hours
Tides: Moderate tides, HW approx 1100

Lovely day to be out although the fishing was a little slow. I tried about 5 marks during the day, mainly between Airds and the Priory, but finished up well up the loch near Cadderlie. Finished up with a dozen small spurs and 14 thornbacks, plus more whiting than I’ve seen for a while (if you include a couple of head-only captures). Fish seemed pretty evenly spread across all the marks – nothing outstandingly good or bad.

To be honest the day was a lot better than it sounds, as the loch was looking beautiful in the late summer sunshine and the lovely calm evening was completely relaxing – a great antidote to city living.

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20 November – Loch Etive

A fairly typical day at Etive, with decent numbers of thornback and small spurs showing – plus my first ever tagged spurdog recapture. And don’t forget a few mussels picked up for dinner later in the week – a little bonus for the effort spent getting a boat too and from the west coast.

Weather: Light E wind, dry and mainly overcast. Pretty cold.
Sea Conditions: Flat calm, 8 degrees C.
Time: 0930-1700 – 7.5 hours
Tides: HW 0626 (1.9m) LW 1340 (0.4m)

Alcatraz on Etive
Alcatraz on Etive

Mainly thornbacks today, with 9 or 10 coming aboard. Nothing huge with the best around 5lbs, but only one micro fish for the day which is an improvement on the last couple of trips. Tried a couple of new marks, both of which produced 3 or 4 rays but only one spurdog – both look interesting for another time, although there were a fair number of LSD present as well.

Around low water I stopped off to collect a few mussels for dinner later in the week, although there were only a few visible and it took a wee while to get enough – a bit chilly on the hands when picking them up underwater!

A tagged spurdog
A tagged spurdog

Afterwards I headed further down the loch, to the deep water opposite the church where there were a few more spurs. However these were small ones so I didn’t hang around for too long, particularly as the tide had swung the boat stern on to the very cold breeze.

Back up to a deep mark near Airds Point and I decided to stay here until darkness fell, and see if any spurries were moving around. Initially things were very slow but picked up after around 30 or 40 minutes with a couple more thornbacks and a few spurdogs to 5lbs or so, alongside the usual LSD. Best fish of the day came in the shape of a 9.5lbs spurdog which was carrying a tag from the shark tagging programme.

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5-6th June 2010 – Galloway Weekend

No fishing at all for a couple of months due to a combination of work and family commitments, plus a load of hassle with trailer brakes (spit!). However, a decent forecast plus a free weekend meant a quick phone call to Ian and a scurry around to dig out the tent.

Ian turned up nice and early on the Saturday and we headed off to Brighouse Bay on Saturday for a wee play about in Wigtown Bay. Although it had been nice and sunny on the way there,  the Solway was covered in a layer of thick cloud and looked pretty misty. It wasn’t actually too bad initially although it got fairly thick later in the afternoon. At least the wind kept down and the sea was reasonably flat.

As it turned out fishing wasn’t the best, with only small hounds showing and not in huge numbers. However I had a decent bass and lost a respectable tope alongside the boat when it decided it didn’t like being tail hooked and went a little beserk when it got close. There were piles of dabs showing, including a decent one of 12oz for Ian, and a single example each of a flounder and a plaice. We packed in around 9 p.m. and headed back to Brighouse to set up camp for the night.

An early start on Sunday saw us move over to Ardwell on Luce Bay, launching into quite a stiff NW wind just before the On Yer Marks crew
arrived. Despite being told that there were virtually no tope being caught we decided to give it a go on one of the marks and see how we got on. Mackerel were around in large numbers, so bait was no problem – alas, so were the dogfish, and Ian switched over to a small livebait to get away from them.

A few minutes later his rod keeled over as a tope hit home, and he soon landed a fish in the high teens. The smaller rigs pulled out a succession of whiting, doggies and gurnard, mainly for Ian as I dozed off in the sunshine. A further smaller tope followed for Ian, before he got into his stride with the rays, pulling out 7 or 8 thornbacks and a spotted ray. Over slack water the dabs came out in numbers, so the fish were pretty continuous during the day, although I was well cuffed by Ian on all counts. My consolation prize was the smallest tope I’ve ever seen, at around 1.5lbs.

Eventually we called it a day around 5 p.m. and hit the slip at Ardwell just as the tide reached it again, which made retrieval a little easier.

Not a spectacular weekend, but still collected 13 species – Dab (12 oz), plaice, flounder, grey gurnard (14oz), tub gurnard (1lb 5oz),   mackerel (1lb 6oz), bass (4lbs 5oz), starry smoothound (tiddlers), tope (18lbs), whiting, thornback ray, spotted ray.

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