Fishing Loch Leven

Loch Leven, looking towards Ballachulish
Loch Leven, looking towards Ballachulish

An excellent mark for rays, from both shore and dinghies, Leven is a small, sheltered sea loch that can produce some quality fish. It’s one of a few areas where I’d say that fishing has actually improved in recent times. The video below gives a flavour of what’s available.

Winter thornback from Loch Leven
Winter thornback

I first fished Loch Leven a few times around the year 2000, but moved on after experiencing very poor fishing – supposedly the loch was commercially fished for a while, which decimated the ray population. Whether this was true or not I don’t know, but I left it alone for many years and only decided to try it again after a run of poor fishing on Etive. This resulted in an excellent day’s ray fishing, with over 30 caught on my rod, and put Leven firmly back my personal angling map.

Leven thornback ray
Leven thornback ray
Moonrise, looking towards Kinlochleven
Moonrise, looking towards Kinlochleven

Leven is smaller and shallower than either Sunart or Etive, and is mainly a thornback ray venue. That’s a bit of a grand generalisation as plenty of other fish get caught there too, but it’s been my main experience of the loch. Some of the rays are of a good size, into low double figures, and some very good conger have also been taken. It can also (fairly) reliably produce small numbers of mackerel during the winter months.

Popping ashore for a bag of mussels
Popping ashore for a bag of mussels

The main launch site for boats is down near the Isles of Glencoe hotel, where there is a rough grass access track to a steep slate beach at the far end of the car park. There is a car park barrier in place, but you can get the key from the watersports centre or from the hotel reception (pretty much 24 hours a day I think). The access track is fairly steep and can be muddy, so a 4WD is probably essential. I’ve had most success fishing across the loch near the large fish farm (watch the anchor chains though), but there are several spots up the loch which have done well for me too. Tide is rarely a problem except down nearer the mouth where it can run very quickly in places.

Launching at the slate slip, Ballachulish
Launching at the slate slip, Ballachulish

I’ve frequently fished Leven from an inflatable and it’s a pretty good venue for this style of fishing (or for kayaking), being small, sheltered and not too deep when it comes to hauling up an anchor.

Thornies two at a time
Thornies two at a time
Thornback sitting on a SIB tube
Thornback sitting on a SIB tube

Shore access is generally good – plenty of anglers fish from the steep slate banks east and west of the hotel, into around 80-90 feet of water, but I prefer some of the less popular marks well up the loch. The north bank is easily accessible for most of its length and several spots will provide good shorefishing for rays and dogfish. It can be difficult to scramble down the steep slopes of the south bank between Ballachulish and Kinlochleven (and dangerous in places), but there is access to deepish water and some decent ray fishing. Close in can produce codling, smallish Pollack, etc.

Fish on! A thornback near Callert, Loch Leven
Fish on!
Leven attracts good numbers of shore fishermen
Leven attracts good numbers of shore fishermen
Fishing the south shore of Loch Leven
Fishing the south shore of Loch Leven

Personally I fish Leven mainly during the winter months, but that’s mainly because there is better fishing to be had elsewhere during the summer, and because I get driven beyond distraction by midges in the warmer months.

Winter shore fishing on Loch Leven
Winter shore fishing on Loch Leven
Taking a break from February fishing in a SIB
Taking a break from February fishing in a SIB

Being sheltered and 2.5 hours or so from Edinburgh it does make a fairly easy venue to visit in quieter spells of winter weather, and the scenery can be hard to beat.

Winter on Loch Leven, near the Caolasnacon Narrows
Winter on Loch Leven, near the Caolasnacon Narrows
Sunsets - another reason to fish Leven
Sunsets – another reason to fish Leven

For shore fishing I usually use a pulley rig with a 3/0 or 4/0 baited with mackerel and attached to a 6oz grip. Most of the loch is fairly snag free, although you regularly get snarled up in the thick seaweed around the margins. Boat fishing is usually a running ledger with a 6 or 8oz lead, although you can easily use a spinning rod in many places.

For the most part Leven is shallower than Etive, and you usually end up in 70-100 feet, although there are some deeper parts.

You can see my posts relating to Loch Leven here

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  1. hi im staying in Ballaculish new years week and will have sea tackle with me , any tips what to do and where would be great
    thanks colin

    1. Hi Colin,
      Leven can fish pretty well for thornbacks and doggies at that time of year, plus whiting, codling, etc. I even had a mackerel last year from the shore near the fish farm opposite Ballachulish. Three areas to think about would be the slate heaps around the Isles of Glencoe Hotel, casting towards the islands just offshore; the area just to the west of the fishfarm opposite Ballachulish; or several spots well up the loch on the north side between the small cemetery near the holiday chalets at Callert and the Narrows near Kinlochleven. All get you into 80-100 feet of water with a modest cast, and I normally just use a mackerel strip with a 6oz grip. Be very careful on the rocks in the last two areas – they are extremely slippery when wet.

  2. i started fishing loch leven waaay back in 1970 with a bit of stick , 12′ long ,a 12 ‘ length of line , two “penny” hooks from Barr Stores , now the Quarriers Kitchen , and some sheep’s wool taken from the fence in the Crochan . the idea was you whipped the wool onto the hook rather like mackerel feathers , attached the line to the pole ,then just like a fly cast you tied your hooks ,the set up was called a darrow . various colours could be made by dyeing the wool , onion skins gave you an orangy/yellow , blaeberries gave you purple . the idea was that you and another person would row over the reefs and the pole was put vertically down in the water so the line would drag 12′ behind the boat and about 10’ down . when you got hits you reversed the hands ,up came the fish, hit off your chest ,and landed in the boat , a quick hand reversal and you were fishing again . on a decent evening you and your mate would catch six/seven dozen fish ,a mixture of “cuddys” and “lythe” and if you were lucky a couple of drams in the Ferry . it sounds a lot but by the time the catch was divided up to the family, nothing was wasted , incidently a typical mid day meal when the quarry was going was a plate of porridge and a cuddy .

  3. Hi Corkwing, just after a bit of advice. I have fished Loch Leven a few times from the south shore, rays, pollack and codling.
    I will be taking a couple of my young volunteers (18 yrs, young by my standards!) fishing soon, we won’t be getting to the area until after 7pm, I am torn between finding a slot on the north shore, or perhaps the Ballachulish Hotel. Is this the hotel by that slatey harbour just south west of the group of wee islands?
    Any suggestions would be gratefully appreciated,
    Regards, Jeremy.

    1. Hi Jeremy,
      The hotel you’re thinking of is the Glencoe Isles Hotel – the Ballachulish Hotel is right beside the bridge at the mouth of the loch, on the south side just on the Oban road.

      Fishing-wise it can be a bit of a toss-up between south and north shore. The slate marks are easy to access and safe, and give a reasonable range of fishing.

      I like to fish the north shore (the area just immediately west of the fish farm can be good, as can several places well up the loch – drive up past the cemetery until you find a decent sized layby on the loch side of the road, then try off the rocks there). However, a lot of the rocks can be very slippery indeed as they’re worn smooth by the ice, so quite a lot of care needed and I wouldn’t choose to do a night session here unless you’ve been in daylight. Being a wimp, I tend to choose south or north bank largely on which gives the most shelter from the wind, etc.

      You’re other option might be to try at either of the slipways at the mouth of the loch – drop a bait in to see there are conger about. Not sure about this time of year, but later in the year there are some decent fish caught.

      I find that Leven can be quite a dour place at times, and even from the boat it can switch off for hours at a time, so it is a little random as to what you can catch on a given day.

      Good luck,

  4. Hi, I am just getting into fishing and have tried Loch etive 3 times with no success. I would really love to catch a Ray, I’m just looking for a bit of advice on the best place to go. I have read your posts referring to the Loch being good in the winter. Do you think it would be worth a go this time of year? I’m trying to find somewhere that I could have a nice day out or would evenings and nights be a better time to visit. I would be fishing from the shoreline. Any advice would be much appreciated.

    1. The lochs fish year round, but I tend to target other locations (east coast, Galloway) over the summer and there is also the midge problem to contend with.

      Keep the gear simple – mackerel strip on a 3/0 or 4/0 hook using a pulley rig will do all you need it to. I generally use a 6 or 7oz grip lead and 80 or 100lb mono to help protect against spurdogs.

      Tides don’t matter that much, although I prefer a bit of movement. Water depth not that important either in the summer, although I’d prefer over 30 feet. Very deep water tends to be hard work, although rays are quite comfortable with it. Soft mud to sand on the seabed matters.

      I ‘m not much of a night fisherman, but the dusk and dawn periods at this time of year would be my favourites – but you’ll need a light breeze or be eaten alive by the bugs. Weather makes no difference to the fish but greatly affects how well you can fish – a gale in your face makes life much, much more difficult and I’d change mark if I found myself in that position.

      Leven is my favourite for rays, but I do OK on Etive and it gives a good chance of spurdog as well. Linnhe produces good bags of ray too, although it’s not one I tend to fish myself. You do need to give them time to fish though and it can sometimes take several hours to get fish feeding. Do change baits every 30 minutes or so, and have a spare rig made up so that you take advantage when the fish do come on. I’d be inclined to try the north bank of Leven as there are several good spots between the fish farm opposite Ballachulish and the Narrows; Loch Etive on the north bank up from the quarry (have to hike here, and it’s deeper water and more like spurry territory) or possibly Linnhe, opposite Fort William near the bend round into Loch Eil.

      Good luck,

    1. Hi Lindsay,
      I launch at the Isles of Glencoe hotel at Ballachulish, but you really need 4WD unless your boat is very light. Apart from that, your choices are limited.

      There are two old ferry slips down by the bridge. One is owned by the sea safari company at Ballachulish but you may be able to agree access (probably at a price). The other is on the north bank just beside the hotel. As far as I know it is still usable, although there are strong tide runs at times and you probably want two people to launch. It’s also fairly steep, so it depends a bit on the size of your boat/towcar as well.

      The campsite at Glencoe village/Invercoe also has a slip, although you may need to be staying there to use it. The campsite at Caolasnacon also has access, but probably only 4WD – however there are quite a few anglers use it, so you may be able to get some help. Other than that there is a slip near Kinlochleven, right at the head of the loch, but I’ve never been down to it and couldn’t say whether it’s still usable.

      If you timed it for when the ferries aren’t running you could probably use the slip at Corran, which is 5-6 miles from Ballachulish bridge. Just don’t be tempted to cut the corner going round from Loch Linnhe to Loch Leven as there is a line of boulders runs just under the surface there!

      Personally I’d check the campsite at Glencoe as my first option.

  5. Hi,

    My name is Ari and this summer I’m visiting Scotland with scouting, we’ll be hiking from glencoe to fort william. We are interested in fishing in Kinlochleven or Fort William but we don’t have a lot of experience, we’re excited to learn more about fishing and the culture.

    Is there a possibility that we could join you during a fishing trip? Or do you have any tips regarding fishing in the area?

    We hope to hear from you soon.

    Kind regards,
    A. van Ijzeren
    Scouting group Petrus and Paulus

    1. Hi Ari,
      It sounds like you’re hiking part of the West Highland Way, which runs through Kinlochleven and on to Fort William. I know you can catch mackerel at Kinlochleven later in the summer, but I’ve never fished there myself – the places I fish are several miles away. I’ve never fished Fort William either, although I know you can fish from the main carpark there for mackerel and a range of other species. There will also be small brown trout in the streams and lochs along the way.

      Since you’ll be carrying it all, I would take only a spinning rod and a small selection of lures (Mepps 0 or 00 for trout, 10-30g Toby or Krill type lures for mackerel). Maybe a couple of 20-30g lead weights and some small hooks if you want to try for some other species down the side of the pier at Fort William.

      Mackerel are probably your best bet for action during the summer months, as there are often large shoals around. Bigger fish like rays or dogfish normally need heavier and bulkier tackle and (smelly) fish bait which might be hard to transport if you’re hiking.

      Have a search of the World Sea Fishing site for Fort William car park, as there have been quite a few posts over the years. Other places, such as the “picnic site” are several miles from the town, so not very realistic if you’re on foot.

      Good luck!

      1. hi i live at loch leven. the old pier at kinloch is not accessable anymore for boats. its a shame because it would be great for the village. there is talk from the community council to do rejuvenate it and would be great if it comes off.

        back to fishing. if its mackarel you want the number 1 spot used by all the locals and anyone else that gets to know is the pier at corpach, just take the road to mallaig from fort william and turn off to the left at the caledonian canal, if you pass the co-op youve gone to far. its very easy to find. just drive down to the canal over the railway track and you will see the wooden pier to your right. walk past the canal office and your there.

        The other main fishing spot in fort william is the west end carpark very easy to get to can fish right out the back of your car. te last year they have in their persuit of extra council funds put parking charges on the car park but ive never fed the meter while at my van but might be an idea if your in a camper and spending the night as dont want to wake up to the dreaded yellow square on the windscreen and being a council car park you cant just chuck these ones in the bin. this spot it good for whiting, codling, mackarel, and sometimes too good for dogfish. you can get the odd spurdog and small thorny and ive heard some say they have had a conger but in years of fishing here ive never had or seen anyone else get one but maybe im just unlucky. its very rare to blank here and just use a 2 hook flapper with lug worm or use mackarel strip for a guarranteed doggie.

        next spot easily accessable again ( thats what i fish i dont like hanging off cliff edges or slippy rocks) is the picnic area 5 miles south of fort william en-route to glencoe. just climb onto the rocks at head of the picnic area, the spot used to be sourrounded by trees but for some reason the council cut em down no idea why. any this spot in summer is best for float fishing or spinning as it has a serious weed problem you will get mackarel and whiting here as well as sea trout but spin or you will lose your tackle. in winter this is not a problem and can use a rotton bottom rig or a pennel. this is a conger spot and quite deep close in just drop your bait down rather than caste out its a deep ledge. i usually drop one rod baited with a mackarel head close in and then another with a 2 hook flapper baited with whatever i got, frozen lug if i have it or mackarel or mussel etc.

        next popular spot is go over on the corran ferry and come off the ferry and go right, 200 yeds away there is the ferry holding point where the ferry hitches up out of working hours. this spot is great for all species, great in summer for mackarel and trout. its a popular spot with the local kids and others so in height of summer can be a bit busy but then so can corpach i mentioned above. there are half a dozen decent spots all along that side of loch lhinnie basically whereever you can park you can fish its also got some great scenery as well as a complete view of fort william where you realise how small it really is compared to the landscape.

        back to loch leven. the main spots on loch leven are as follows. the old pier at kinlochleven where the river leven turns into loch leven, there is no car access but its a pleasant walk which half the village seem to walk every day and is set up with a path on a loop, just park in the village anywhere and the first villager will point you to the path ( directly beside my house infact 🙂 travel light take a spinning rod set up for sea trout or mackarel feathers and fish the old pier or the rocks at the end of the path. winter take a beach caster and punt it out as fat as you can from the old pier. the water near the pier can be a bit shallow years of neglect ( it was abandoned when the old ferry that ran tourists up and down the loch and the aluminium smelter stopped sending boats of materials along it) the silt has built up and you need to cast a heavier lure to get a bit out this is not such an issue on the ricks where you are lower down by the water and its a bit deeper.

        the old church at ballachulish is the next spot. park at the church its on the main glasgow-fort william road just park here and then walk across the road and fish there right off the path all species are possible best to bait fish a beachcaster here.

        isles of glencoe hotel. this is just a couple of 100 yards from the church mark. drive in as if you were going into the hotel. then you will see the small wooden jetty and boats. you can fish off this jetty though personally ive not had much success and its quite exposed to tourists etc far better is on the area to the right of the jetty anywhere on there will do and on a nice day fine to get the stove out for a cook up or make a brew. here is good for mackarel in august and codling in winter as well as anything else all year round.

        Around the sides of loch leven the only really accesable places on south side are the 2 campsites there is only real parking place and thats to far down a hill to be classed as accesable. the 2 campsites however are geared right up for people fishing. many that come to them fish directly from the shoreline some even launch dinghies or kayaks especially from coalasnacon which is half way along the loch from glencoe. so these are worth a go if your staying over.

        the other side of loch leven. ie from north ballachulish to kinlochleven has numorous places along the loch, once again just stop at the laybyes and car parking areas must be about 6 pr 7 of them along the length, each of them is fishable and easy access and great for campervans to pitch up for the night and just fish along the shoreline right by the van. and thats what many do. if i was going to pick one spot id say directly across from the graveyard due to the fact that the layby curves in so your not parking up directly on the road hebce perfect for a wee bbq and the shoreline is but mere feet away.

        for bait. you can get bait from eric wallaces shop in the high street in fort william, the old rod and gun shop closed down about 5 years ago now and i keep seeing people mention it i guess they aint been here in a while, but eric wallaces took on some of the fishing tackle sales so you can get bait though only frozen and bits and pieces of tackle here. also the hardware shop in ballachulish does the same. these are pretty much the only 2 places to get tackle or bait in the area. as for collecting your own bait, due to the fact there are few large estuary or beach of mud flats areas on the lochs this can be difficult, mostly the tidal areas are very short so no real good shoreline bait gathering areas. the main one in the area is the shoreline at coal it does have worm but its somewhere i wouldnt advice to go unless you know that area well i live here and i wouldnt go. its heavy wet mud and in my view to dangerous to safely gather some bait. and every year at least 1 local kid has to be rescued. there is an area at invercoe on loch leven that has some rag worm on a good tide but once again its not the safest place to gather. around argour side of loch lhinnie there are a couple of promising looking spots but i cant say what bait might be available as never had a good look myself. but apart from this opportunities for bait gathering are few and you would be best bringing bait with you.

        hope this all helps you, i started by just commenting on the pier at kinloch and it turned into a long write up about the area. best of luck and please please please leave no litter this place is lovley thats why you come here so please take your litter home.

  6. Hi .,I’m going up to carness west holiday cottage north Ballachulish 12th October,just wondering if there is any places near to where were staying on the shore,I have spinning rod and dead bait rod and a bit of basic tackle and lures,any advice would be appreciated thanks

  7. Hi
    Staying in Ballachulish in November and wondered if you can recommend any spots where I might be in with the chance of a conger from the shore
    Many thanks

    1. Hi Rod,
      I’ve never fished for conger in Leven although there have been some big ones caught by boat anglers. The only place I’ve heard of them from the shore is fishing around the old ferry slipways at the mouth of the loch.

  8. Hi Rod,
    I’m just back from there & there are works on the bridge steps on the south side so it’s a bit congested by the slip. The North side is far quieter & I suspect you wouldn’t be disturbed all day. There’s a convenient hotel/B&B at the top of the slip too if you need one.

  9. Hi. Are there any licenses or permits needed for shore fishing at Leven by Isles of Glencoe hotel? I saw one site that said you can only fish from a boat and not by shore. Is there a season to catch fish or is it ok to fish year round? I am staying at the hotel and could not find any information from them on fishing from shore there. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Also besides rays, any chance of some Pike in there?

    1. Hi Mike,
      There are two Loch Leven’s – a freshwater one in Fife (complete with trout and pike) and the sea loch you’re on, in Glencoe. Google searches confuse the two which is why you’re seeing the stuff about boat fishing only. There’s no problem fishing from the shore anywhere on a sea loch, assuming it’s not someone’s back garden, and you don’t need any permit as long as you’re not deliberately fishing for salmon or sea trout. Leven fishes year round, although it gets most attention over the autumn/winter/spring than the summer, and you’ve got two main targets – rays and dogfish on fishbait, or lighter gear (spinning/float fishing) for smaller fish such as pollack and wrasse. You can do both within 300 yards of your hotel – the slate covered headlands to the right and left of the Isles of Glencoe both hold fish. Cast out a legered mackerel strip on a 2/0 to 4/0 hook and you’ll hit 70-90 feet of water, whilst fishing the edges of the slate mounds will produce the smaller species (ragworm is probably the best bait for this, but a thin fish strip might also work). There will still be mackerel in the loch, but I’m not sure about how many in mid-October. Leven can be quite hit or miss, and it doesn’t fish as well as it did a few years ago, but there are still some decent fish in there.

  10. Hi,
    We’re planing a camping trip to Loch Leven within the next few weeks and also looking to do some spinning from the shore. Can you advise if there are decent places to camp either on the A82 side or we’re happy to cross over the bridge and head down the far bank. There will be 4 of us with tents and any advise would be appreciated.

    1. I’d be a little surprised if you could find a decent spot on the south bank that is close to fishing and large enough for 4 people/tents, as a lot of it is pretty steep ground. There are a couple of campsites along the road but they will be heavily booked over the summer.
      The north bank has more potential but most spots will be very close to the road and quite likely taken over the summer – your best bet would be to drive along the road and see, as most are pretty obvious. You’ll be aware that the crap left behind by many visitors is a big problem in these areas, so don’t necessarily expect a warm welcome!

      Leven has too many crowds for my liking and I haven’t camped there for years, and never in the summer months. If possible, I’d be more inclined to try and book into Caolasnacon campsite if I was going there over the summer as it does have fishing directly from the site.

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