Thursday 13 March 2014

Loch Long/Eilean Donan Castle - Aug-Sept 2013

View from the mark to Eilean Donan Castle
My job affords me little windows of opportunity to fish up and down the country and one of the best is opposite the village of Dornie on the shore/bank of Loch Long.

Fishing from the jetty where the old ferry used to dock gives a splendid view back east towards Eilean Donan castle, reputedly the most photographed castle in the world and Loch Duich beyond.

Eilean Donan castle sits at the junction of three sea loch's. Arriving from the north is Loch Long which meets Loch Duich coming from the east. The inner sea to the west of this 'junction' is Loch Alsh.

Being sea loch's, as the tide recedes, Loch Long flows like a river under the Dornie Bridge and on into Loch Alsh. At other times of the tide it can be fairly stable.
Endearingly up for it - Long Spined Sea Scorpion

I've heard that the locals are well versed in when to catch migratory Salmon or Sea Trout, but my ambitions don't reach that far just yet.

With my sessions limited to short 20-30 minute bursts, I've been travelling light with jigheads and Isome.

My first success was with some small Coalfish and a Pollock. These fish seem to be prevalent wherever you fish on the coast.

The water has been very clear so watching the lure on the retrieve always pays off. But there are large clumps of weed that require a bit of navigating at times, especially if the current is dragging.
Dornie Bridge - Eilean Donan just out of shot to the right

I often explore close in, in the slack water, sight fishing between the weed and bouncing the small piece of Isome over any clear patches of sea bed. Often there is enough interest from various small fish, but too often intent on bashing the lure rather than biting it.

On one of these occasions I was dangling the Isome down the wall of the jetty seeing if anything was patrolling when a typically aggressive Long Spined Sea Scorpion attacked with gusto. So using basic tactics in a fairly short time this mark provides a variety of species, albeit on the small side, but with loads of potential for the odd bigger surprise.

Fishing aside, an absolutely fantastic spot to pass some time!!!

21/11/2013 - Pumpherston Pond

At the end of a fine day I was tempted to try a quick evening session at Pumpherston Pond.

While the good weather is nice, it increases the chances of golfers on the adjacent course and I've no intention of getting in their way. However I was pleased to find I had the place to myself.

The wee pond was still fairly choked with weed and finding a large enough channel to drop my bait was a bit of a challenge. I settled on the likeliest looking gap. Fishing my usual straightforward Pumphy set-up, maggots on a small hook under a float at varying depths, I adjusted my depth to try to avoid the weed problem and probed around the channel a bit more.

My patience was ultimately rewarded, taking four nice Perch up to 8 inches.

11/03/2014 - Loch Lomond

0855 outside the tackle shop - H on a mission
A braw change in the weather saw me and H head through to Balmaha on Loch Lomond to see what we could tempt to the bank. H has been unsuccessfully pursuing a Ruffe for a while now. While unable to get one himself, he's been in attendance as nearby anglers have had some success and was becoming increasingly frustrated. I was just happy to be out on such a lovely day and hoped to break my Lomond duck after a few short and fishless attempts.

West to Inchcailloch Island - note submerged pier
Loch Lomond is unusual for Scottish loch's in that it straddles both the highlands and lowlands. The Highland Boundary Fault line runs right through the loch right at Balmaha. To the north is your typical highland ribbon loch, long, narrow and deep, to the south it widens and shallows quite substantially. The loch which has the greatest surface area of any body of freshwater in the UK provides a diverse range of habitats and conditions for it's piscine residents. Balmaha is on the south eastern side of Lomond just at the fault line, the best places to fish there are either in the boatyard (relatively shallow) or at the pier (up to around 12 metres deep).

The problem with Loch Lomond however is that it is stunningly beautiful, and not too far from 'civilisation'. This means it is usually busy with walkers, hikers, fishermen, sailors etc and peace and quiet is unlikely to be something you'll find if the weather is at all fair.

First fish of the day, lovely little Roach
Fish on offer in Loch Lomond are many and varied. We could fairly expect to catch Roach and Perch, with Ruffe or the odd Powan caught there recently. Probably still a bit early to stumble across a trout or any of his seagoing cousins, Lomond does have the potential to produce a record British Pike.

While the morning in the east was crisp and clear as we met before 8am, by the west of Stirling we were driving into and through a heavy morning mist and this is how we found the loch. We both set-up variations of swim-feeder set-ups baited with maggots and began in good spirits. I managed to get off the mark first, landing what I'll generously call a baby Roach. H soon had a nicer Roach and kept me entertained by losing two more within millimetres of the net. H rigged a second rod and after a few taps on a drop shot rig added a Perch to his tally. Not to be outdone, I added another Roach from the swim feeder and a couple of smallish Perch on jigged isome.
Inchcailloch Island through the mist

With a variety of hikers, dog walkers, foreign exchange trip pupils, meditators and even a musician recording a music video right behind us, we were seldom alone and continually being asked what we were fishing for. I would hate to think how incessant the public must be when it's properly busy.

Into the afternoon and H, reacting to a bite and striking, began getting excited on the retrieve that he may finally have a Ruffe. Once in sight he confirmed his suspicion and rejoiced as it hit the net. While species hunting is not my thing, it's good to see his dogged pursuit of whatever it is he's after that day. And when he land's a long sought after species, you'll struggle to find a happier angler. It was also a relief of sorts. I didn't want to turn up and start bagging Ruffe on my first attempt, using half his kit before he'd gotten off the mark.

Looking south, the mist slowly lifting
Not too long after this,  I landed my first Ruffe, a lovely we fish tipping the tape at 5 3/4 inches in plump condition and fine colours. Very similar to a Perch in build and to the touch, it is browny bronze with vivid blue flashes. I soon made it two to briefly become King of the Ruffe before H bagged his second as well.

As the day wore on, the already sedentary action slowed even more and by 5pm we'd called it a day. I finished with two each of Roach, Ruffe and Perch. My Lomond blank busted and a new species to boot. A good days work.

05/03/2014 - Magiscroft

Common Carp, excellent surprise
Magiscroft near Cumbernauld is one of the most prominent commercial coarse fisheries in Scotland and it's been long overdue a visit from my good self. With the year so far being generally a bit too cold, windy and sometimes wet too, I've not been bothering the fishes too much. H had filled his boots with Roach and Gudgeon here already just a couple of weeks before, so I took the opportunity to join him and see what it was all about.

Permits are £7 which isn't too bad and there are a few ponds to choose from. First impressions were OK, although I was a bit underwhelmed at the lack of imagination in the larger ponds, essentially big rectangular troughs and with the quite small size of the smaller ponds. Maybe my expectations were a little too high?

My first F1, no barbules compared to the Common Carp
H took us to one of the smaller ponds at the back of the venue where once again I was unimpressed finding the odd empty can, tackle packaging or discarded equipment. It wasn't as if there were no bins around. It annoys me no end when people drop litter, it is also annoying when you are then charged to pay to fish amongst it. Most of it would easily be cleaned up by a round-up each night by someone with a litter picker.  Maybe not very important in the grand scheme of things, but it's these small things that can make a big difference.

Both H and myself began with maggots dangled under a float. He was soon in amongst the Gudgeon with the odd Roach, but I was having no joy at the adjacent peg. I swapped sides and began to explore a bit more and soon began connecting with Roach, Guj and some small Perch. The numbers were racking up, but H's head start meant any concerted attempt at racking up numbers was simply me keeping the deficit the same at best as H was embroiled amidst a Gudgeon frenzy.

Excellent surprise number 3
I continued my exploration around this small pond reaching the opposite side from H without anything much different appearing. Almost at the point of returning to where I could make hay with Perch and Gudgeon for the rest of the day and see what total I could rack up, I felt a much more serious fish connect with my bait as it dropped through the water. I was delighted to find a Common Carp nicely hooked in the top lip and was able to bring it into the net (hurriedly delivered by H). After a couple of photos it was sent back. Almost immediately I was into another one. My career Carp tally to this point stood at two, and here was my second inside five minutes. It turned out to be a F1 (barbule-less compared to the Common). I then lost another, landed another and lost another making it all very exciting. Once the carp seemed to quieten down a bit I was then taken by surprise once more. Leaning into another decent fish, I fully expected my fourth carp of the day only to find a PB Perch (13.5 inches) in outstanding condition taking me on. After a few photos it was returned by a very satisfied angler.
13.5 inches, a new PB

With 'my' side of the pond quietening down appreciably, I began to try my luck in the next pond along. H was shouting out his Guj as he caught them - 46...47...48 - as I entered my Roach 40's. In the new pond I quickly began landing more small Roach and got to 49 before a small impasse in bites allowed him to take his 50th Gudgeon of the session beating me to the half century.

With the gates to the fishery closing at 5pm sharp, we called it a day and headed back to the car. H totted up his fish making a total of 90. My  totals were 17 Perch, 17 Gudgeon, 3 Carp and 54 Roach making a grand total of...91.
Smile for the camera

A good days fishing, a bit of a numbers game, but it's difficult to complain when catching so many fish including new species and a PB. The fishery might scrub up a bit more nicely on a less gloomy day and the constant renovations and subsequent hammering at the pavilion should be absent the next time.

St Marys Loch & Loch of the Lowes - August 2014

Where Loch of the Lowes narrows onto St Marys Loch
An overnight stay at the Tibbie Shiels camp site allowed me to purchase a 24 hour permit for St Marys Loch and the adjacent Loch of the Lowes.

Beginning on the latter at the south west shore with a jighead and Lake Fork Baby Shad lures I began exploring my way up the loch side. The resident species are Perch, Pike and Brown Trout, so I felt quite confident that something was possible. Although the Loch of the Lowes isn't as renowned as its larger neighbour, they are connected by a small stream and it certainly has the potential to hold decent fish.

However, despite my enthusiasm, there were no takers. I was kept interested though by the follows into the shallows of the occasional small Perch in the 6" range. With only an unidentified bird of prey to report, I headed camp wards with the increasingly bored offspring in tow to where the wife would hopefully have constructed our home for the evening.

Blank well and truly busted
Jettisoning the sprogs with their mother, I made my way keenly the 10 metres or so to the loch side. There was a small jetty which I walked to the end of before lobbing the lure as far as I could into the clear water of St Marys Loch.

Boom, a fish was on first cast and then the reel began to squeal as whatever it was made off on a hefty run. Having been told a 5 pounder was a wee one in here, I was immediately worried as I was netless with relatively light tackle and was going to have to struggle alone with this beast. My six year old daughter had tagged along, but no matter how much I told her to go and get her Ma, she extremely annoyingly refused, seemingly preferring to watch her old man lose a potential PB.

After a few minutes I was able to bring the fish into sight identifying a quite decent but not earth shattering jack Pike. He was also being tailed by another slightly smaller pike attracted somehow by the exertions of his larger buddy. But he was sturdy and angry and put up a decent scrap making quite a few runs before I was finally able to beach him/her.

Excitement ahoy
By this time it seemed half the camp site had been alerted to the commotion, the first quote on the scene saying something like "they fished it all last night and didn't catch a thing, how long have you been fishing", to which the truthful reply was simply "eh, first cast mate"!!!

By the time I had the fish measured, photographed and returned, five fellow anglers had appeared and were now getting their lines wet (wee boys and 'holiday' anglers really - I set up a young German boy with the same set up I was using to help him along - to no avail).

And I really should have stopped there as it was the only bite I had for the rest of my stay!!! Not to say I didn't give the venue a good thrashing. I worked round the entire north shore and up round the western (road) shore and off the larger jetty and berthed boats in the south eastern corner too. Some really nice looking spots, but absolutely nothing. The only other sign of encouragement (aside from the multitude of young fish along the margins) was the next morning when a trout of a good pound and a half leapt three feet clear of the serenely still loch. Later that morning after the wind had gotten up a fair bit I explored around the north eastern shore, distracted a little by a lady training sheep dogs in a nearby field whilst I ploughed on in ultimately futile pursuit of fish number two.

The lack of surface activity by the trout was interesting enough that I mentioned it when emailing my catch return. In reply I was told that this was of some concern to those who look after the loch and preliminary investigations have suggested that the brown trout are evolving from surface feeders into bottom feeders as a result of the pike in the loch. This made me think of the very similar conditions at Loch Chon, somewhere I'd expect to see brownies rising, but the abundance of Pike and Perch, may have forced the trout down to the bottom for food there too.

The final mention goes to the the 8 or 9 fighter planes that roared (not very far) overhead during the course of the stay. If you decide to have a dabble at St Marys Loch be sure to bring some spare pants.

Loch Portree - Aug/Sept 2014

The Black Cuillins , Loch Portree and Portree Harbour
Spending a lot of time on Skye since July, my base has been it's capital, Portree. This has allowed me to begin exploring around the shore and harbour and I'm seldom disappointed.

Like so many places on Skye, Loch Portree, basically the sea in the bay area where Portree is located, can be almost amusingly picturesque. The harbour front itself is classic picture postcard material whilst the views south to the Cuillin mountains, east towards Ben Tianavaig and beyond to the adjacent island of Raasay, or north past the black Rock where Bonnie Prince Charlie is said to have fled from government troops, up towards the imposing cliffs of Scorrybreac, make it an absolutely outstanding place to lose some time before nightfall.
My first Portree Pollock

These have been the most numerous of my sessions on Skye. I've been treated to the sight of a White Tailed Eagle soaring high above me and often spotted the odd seal hanging around the fish cages towards the sound of Raasay. Out in Loch Portree the youths from the sailing club are often out practicing in the conducive conditions. I think it gives a real insight into how past generations on Skye utilised this, like so many other sheltered sea lochs around the 'Winged Isle', to hone their sea faring skills in much the same way in the old Birlinns that frequented these waters in times gone by.

A quick mention here for the other wildlife you find in abundance, namely, the Midgie. In the absence of any wind, for any session to last more than a couple of casts you will absolutely need a midgie net.
Come back in a couple of years

My first few sessions involved hurling a jighead as far as possible (3.5g, so quite small) and jigging some Isome back at varying depths and speeds. Interest was frequent and I'd take some small Pollock and Coalfish in between the wee blighters nicking my lure.

The first few sessions were at the higher end of the tide. The Black Rock on the cornere of the sea loch is said to be a good mark, but is only accessible at low tide. For my first visit out there, I'd have to wait.

I doubt this wee one was even 3 inches
One evening was spent fishing my Isome into the clear waters of the harbour front itself. Actually being able to see the fish reacting to your offerings is extremely informative. Whilst hoping for a flattie of some sort, instead I was again amongst small coalies and Pollock. Or so I thought. One evening whilst out with Hutch at Cove harbour, he brought ashore a bay cod no more than six inches, making me realise that one of the comedically small Pollock I thought I'd caught at Portree harbour, was actually my first ever cod!!!!

Echoing the sentiments of the great species hunter himself, the sheer frequency of small Coalfiish and Pollock that seem to be almost everywhere you try in the sea around the coast can only be a good sign for the future.

Gully to the right
Back round between the Black Rock and Scorrybreac I variously observed the clarity of the sea under normal conditions right through to the dark colouration after heavy rain when the peat stained spate rivers that are abundant on Skye empty into the sea. On the much more frequent clear water days, the sea bed can be seen to alternate between weed covered rocks and sandy bottoms. Some tantalising gullies dissect the three or four outcrops where fishing is most possible. Pollock and Coalfish up to 8 or 9 inches have been the staple round here.

Gully to the left
Grey Gurnard
However, on my second last visit, finally the tide was low in the evening and I was able to scurry over the sea weed covered rocks and onto the Black Rock itself. I quickly discovered that the optimum place for bites was on the sand just outside the fringe of weed that skirts the rocks. Here I hooked my second baby cod, then a wee coalie, before something altogether different chomped my Isome and was brought to the surface. Confused I took a quick pic in the fading light and fired it off to Hutch asking "Whats this?". "A Grey Gurnard" came the reply from the walking fish encyclopedia, "they're usually red" he followed up. I was stoked, a brand new species. Grey, red or fluorescent purple, didn't matter to me.

In discussion with Hutch, he advised that the amount of missed bites I was reporting might be negated with a drop shot tactic instead of the jighead. The next night I was back with a drop shot set up and a better camera. First fish was a wee Pollock making that four fish, four different species in a row from the Black Rock. Then I tempted another Grey Gurnard, getting a much better snap for posterity. More Coalies and Pollock followed. Whilst the drop shot was hooking more fish, my rod and especially reel were making actual bite detection less successful than it should be. The LRF would make its way to Skye with me the next time.

Baby Cod (or Whiting?)
And so it did. I arrived to find relatively high high tides over 5 metres and began covering the sandy bottoms north of the Black Rock (inaccessible). Every tap and take was felt, but with every assault on my hook, I was losing Isome and was quickly going to run out. More Coalies and Pollock to about 8 inches continued to oblige, but I endeavoured to source some prawns instead for the following night.

Getting (a bit) bigger - Pollock
Encouragingly, but frustratingly, I also witnessed a Salmon leaping clear a bit further out. I know they do show in the sea around Skye awaiting the rivers filling up and it is extremely tantalising to know they are there. But I wouldnt like to hook something that big with that much space to swim around in on the LRF. So the next night I was back with prawns for the LRF and my spinning rod for distance casting with a lure. While a Salmon is still an outside chance, the lure I'd use was the sand eel I'd been advised were good by the gent in Dunvegan's tackle shop, and that the other guy had been catching decent Pollock on at Neist Point.

I began with the prawns and was inundated with interest feeling every tap and take. Every fish landed was a Coalfish and they all measured as good as 12 inches. A distinctly different demographic with these fish giving a great fight on the light tackle. I also chucked the lure out on the other rod, but despite a few follows and half hearted takes by smaller Coalies or Pollock, that elusive larger specimen failed to materialise.

Neist Point - August/September 2014

Neist Point Lighthouse
The most westerly point on the Isle of Skye is known to any serious sea angler in Scotland and further afield as a primo location to encounter big fish from the shore. And I've been able to fish there four times since July.

On the edge of the Duirinish peninsula, Neist Point is separated from the Outer Hebrides by The Minch, a channel of the sea where there is a real chance of spotting amongst other things, Minke Whales, Basking Sharks or the largest UK bird of prey, the White Tailed Eagle. This isn't to mention the seals or seabirds such as Cormorants and Gannets that feed in the abundant waters overlooked by the Stevenson lighthouse.

Looking south over Moonen Bay
Immediately to the south of Neist Point is Moonen Bay which is overlooked by cliffs towering over 1000 feet in height, some of the highest in Europe. It is a stunning location and on a fine day, it's hard to beat. But it's not for the faint hearted. Setting out from Dunvegan around Loch Dunvegan and past Loch Pooltiel and Loch Mor, the drive to reach the parking spot alone is challenging enough. From the 'car park' its then a good 20 minute traipse down a steep cliff path, then up and over another mound of rock (the large wedge in the top picture) along unguarded cliffs before the lighthouse even comes into view. Another steep decline takes you down to the lighthouse and the very western tip of the island where your next choice is then a clamber over basalt rock formations (akin to the Giants Causeway) in any direction. This gets the heart going, then there is the exact opposite on the way back where frequent rests are required on the steep climb back up to the car park.
Looking east to the cliffs at Moonen Bay

But it's worth it, even for the 20-30 minute sessions I've been able to fit in.

My first couple of attempts were as much exploratory as anything. My tackle was really too light and my offerings of Isome on a jighead weren't taken seriously by anything swimming in front of me. I did however spook a rockpool full of, I assume, blennies of a decent enough size. These will be targeted again at some point for sure, but on that day my mind was on exploring the sea itself and time was of the essence.

My next trip out, tooled up with more lures and heavier jigheads was hindered by the clunkiness of my new rod/reel. I'd bought an emergency set-up out of the tackle shop in Dunvegan after snapping my spinning rod, but the reel and pre-loaded line were a bit mis-matched, meaning my casting distance was poor.

Pollock, returned for being too big!!!
However, another fisherdude appeared with his ladyfriend in tow and promptly began extracting impressive Pollock on a sand eel lure. He landed three that we guessed were from 2-7lb or thereabouts. I wasn't able to reach the extra 10-15 yards he was getting that was getting him interest on every cast. While frustrating, it only whetted my appetite for the next time, when I would be sure to have more adequate kit with me.

So on the 19th September I returned and conditions were good enough for me to set off on the hike down to where I was sure I'd smash my Pollock record (or anything else I caught for that matter). Whilst I'm relating those times I've managed to fish in relative safety, half the time I visit, the weather conditions would only suit someone with a death wish (literally).

19th September, tougher conditions
But on arrival this time it was immediately obvious the previous mark wouldn't be fishable for two reasons. Firstly the tide was a lot lower making the previous hot spot uncoverable, and even if it had been, the wind was blowing straight towards the mark, the entirely opposite direction from my previous visit. So I'd have to explore elsewhere. This might sound straightforward, but in the limited time available, it meant a mixture of jumping over crevices, rock climbing up and over basalt columns and trying not to slip or fall onto the barnacle covered rocks while I tried to find somewhere on the other side of the rock. Neist Point is not a place you want to get injured.

I found a new spot, but despite fanning around with my casts, I couldn't find any fish and had to just make do with watching the Gannets divebomb for their lunch, admire the views across to Lewis, Harris and the other smaller outer Hebridean islands to the south while a seal bobbed its head up to check me out .

So as yet, I've drawn a blank in this breath taking location. But it won't be long until I'm in the right place at the right time. Watch this space.

The three pictures below are from my 14th September visit. As I emerged over the brow of some rocks at the southern tip of Neist Point, I noticed a flock of Cormorants sitting on the rock. But they saw me at the same time and bolted.