Loch-side spurring partners
Up-and-coming east coast shore angler, Shaun Cumming intrepidly goes west with a couple of pals in search of feisty spurdog, and finds them off the beaten track. From the banks of near bottomless Loch Etive in Argyle, this is his story.
Hardly a ripple stirred Loch Etive's glassy calm as Russell, Kenny and I passed through Bonawe en route to what we hoped would be some cracking shore fishing action. Recent reports hadn't painted the brightest of pictures however, and Etive's trusty staple specie, the spurdog, was, by all accounts, proving to be rather illusive. An eternal optimist and lucky Etive angler by virtue of previous experience, I was confident of fish regardless of the grapevine rumblings, but what to do, and where to go now we were here?
The choice was simple: either fish the nearby emergency marks that seldom fail to deliver a few fish, or head out into the wilds, and up to deeper water where there is no middle ground, and fish feast or fish famine normally awaits. I'm not much of a gambler. The lazy sod in me leaned strongly in favour of an easy night and the friendlier option of resting one's pasty rump on one of the closeted little slipways cutting into the lower narrow part of the loch.
My friends - one of who was the car driver, and hence the boss - had different ideas however, and opted to drag me off into the Argyllshire wilderness to a beautifully bleak rough ground mark that I'll probably never find again if left to my own devices. If my companions were to be believed, and I have no reason to doubt them, they have fished the mark of choice numerous times before and never failed to find those spiky spurdogs that I so wanted to lock horns with.
Edinburgh angler, Russell Roberts is an experienced fisherman who somehow manages to divide his time between small boat fishing and loitering along lonely shore marks. He told us about some frantic sport he had enjoyed whilst boat fishing further up in some of Etive's deepest water: it drops to well over 300 feet in places. "Those spurs were coming aboard three-at-a-time on most drops, with good thornback rays also contributing to the toll of demolished Hokkai rigs! It was the same night I broke the British hake record with a fish of 25 lb 12 oz" he gushed unashamedly while buffing the nails of his right hand on the front of his stinking jacket.
For the adventurous shore angler, Loch Etive has miles upon relentless untamed miles of fishable coastline. But access in places is less than fantastic, and those wanting to fish the seriously deep water east of Bonawe and Taynuilt are effectively limited to a few high rock stances which rarely give room for more than a handful of anglers.
We rattled the car as far as we could along the potholed hell of a track, before parking up and walking to a mark that we knew would put us directly into 200 foot of clear, cold water. I bit my petted lip and tried to console myself with thoughts that the easier marks would probably only have seen me messing about with tiddly codling, gurnards and perhaps a miserable dogfish or two. Thankfully, the latter half of our planned eight-hour session was timed to incorporate the flooding tide: the flood has always produced better numbers of fish for me in this particular sea loch.
We carried mackerel, squid, sandeel and ragworms for bait; various cocktails of which hit the water a couple of ticks after setting up camp. Cod had been the focus of our attentions on our native east coast throughout the long winter months, and the prospect of some promised species variety fuelled our enthusiasm for the hours ahead.
Depths of several hundred feet are a common feature of many of western Scotland's glaciated sea lochs, and those who haven't encountered this kind of extreme depth before will undoubtedly find their first experience an unsettling one. These venues at first seem bottomless, and it can take up to five minutes for a 6oz lead to sink all the way to the seabed.
In absolutely no time at all, the rods began signalling the attentions of small fish...and any fish at all were welcome at this stage in the proceedings. Sure enough, a string of whiting came ashore first; all were undersized, but in this loch, where there are whiting, there are sure to be hungry spurs. Best not to tempt fate however; we maintained a busy silence, keeping all such thoughts firmly to ourselves.
Russell was first to earn a respectable bend in his rod, and after much cranking, up popped a dogfish. Reasonable whiting soon moved on the baits; these were continually taken by Russell and Kenny over the next few hours, while by contrast, my own rod twitched only occasionally.
My usually effective spur rigs weren't working and my trusty mackerel offerings tempted few takers. At times like these that you tend to pay attention to what others are doing right, and I couldn't help but notice both my buddies were now slyly using multi-hook rigs and thin strips of squid to good effect. After a quick rummage through the rig wallet, I changed over to a three-hook clipped rig armed with 1/0 hooks, and rapidly regained some dignity in the 10oz Whiting stakes.
Crash & burn
I was pondering the turn of the tide and the beginnings of the flood, when my rod tip arched over and stopped dead. It stayed locked in bent stasis for a couple of seconds only, before bouncing violently and slowly recoiling a bow of slack. I was some 10 feet uphill from my rod, and made the fatal error of rushing things. In the panicked act of sweeping the rod up and winding like a mad thing to set the hook, I slipped spectacularly and tumbled a**e over breast, right into a deep puddle that lurked alongside my rod rest. My painful acrobatics were hysterical fare for those who helped me to my feet, but I had to set embarrassment aside and get on with it.
Back on the job, I quickly recovered the limp line, and immediately bent into a protesting heavyweight fish that demanded I slacken back the drag. A five minute battle ended in tragedy as one of my other two hooks snagged on a loose rope no doubt from to the mussel farm sited along to our right. No amount of trickery would free it, so resigned to the inevitable, I pulled for a break. It felt like a very good fish indeed: possibly a ray...who knows? After a brief sulk, I dusted myself down, sorted myself out, and got back to the serious business of trying to catch something substantial.
Spurred to action
As the flooding tide picked up pace, so too did the fishing: The whiting started coming two at a time, with a few grey gurnards and poor cod joining them. The first spurdog of the night fell to Kenny who did a better job of wrestling a bouncing rod tip than I had earlier. At just short of 5lb it was a good fish from the shore, if not a huge one. Russell followed this with a further two spurs that looked identical in size to Kenny's fish. While in the melee, my ratchet screamed off twice in a row only for the fish to drop the bait on both occasions.this was really starting to get on my wick!
The next half-an-hour was dead with not so much as a whiting rattle. This gave us a chance to re-organise in anticipation of another pod of fish filtering through. Suddenly, the whiting were back; all rods began tapping to the tune of these nuisance tiddlers, before all hell broke loose and we enjoyed, or more accurately, endured, a spell of spurdog madness.
Everybody was engaging fish at the same time. I leaned into an aggressive ratchet run and quickly humped in my first spurdog of the night. This fella was also a tad short of 5 lb, but I'd broken my duck and would've happily accepted a fish of half that size. Kenny and Russell meanwhile had a trio of Spurdog each; all between 4 and 51/2 lb. We landed another fish apiece before the bites dried up and a deafening quiet draped us
We where collectively confident of another pack of spurdogs bursting into the swim, and 45 minutes later, things went truly mental, with fish slamming into the baits almost as soon as they touched down. The action was relentless for the next hour-and-a-bit. With a fish a cast, the atmosphere was utterly electric as excited bodies dashed about busily unhooking, fighting fish, or blasting baits back out in search of the next willing taker.
Razor teeth to bite you with!
We brought in several ravaged whiting; one was just a pitiful head, while another was a sure shredded victim of wicked spurdog teeth. As the night wore on, the spurdogs we were catching gradually got smaller. But, we had a further five between us all around 3lb.
What would have been my last spur spat the hook late in the fight, leaving me the gruesome remains of what was once a poor cod! Raving Russell commented on how strange it was that none of us had suffered the ignominy of a bite-off all night. Moments later 'Sods Law' footed him right up the jacksy when his 60lb mono snood was clinically razored clean through by the sharp gnashers of a substantial spur.that's what happens when you snigger at the misfortunes of your friends you know.
Fully sated, this time when the fish moved off, we agreed to call time on our magical session. Luckily gambling on the yomp to this boom or bust mark had dealt us a cracking hand. With the benefit of the uplifting experience still stirringly fresh in my bones, from now on, I think I'll endeavour to resist any lethargic inner instincts to fish the easy and unchallenging marks.they seem very dull by comparison. Instead, at the next time of asking, I'll readily agree to be dragged of into the night by lunatic mates whose jackpot judgement thus far brokers no counter arguments.
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