Experience the arm-wrenching power of a massive skate, or the weird green eyes of the spurdog
Sample the sea lochs of Scotland.
From the massive common skate to the tiny black goby, many species that are uncommon around the rest of Britain’s shoreline can be realistically targeted in the sea lochs of the Western Highlands of Scotland. The fishing is in some of the most scenic landscapes in Britain, where there are around 80 sea lochs that are all well served by the huge tides.
Most of the angling on these huge expanses of water involves fishing from boats, but for shore anglers, the lochs offer instant access to seriously deep water. The beauty of shore fishing in Scotland’s sea lochs is that it can provide sport all year round. Some stay away from the area from June to September to avoid the constant attacks of the midges. However, in my experience these little beasties will always find a way to irritate you. The spring fishing can be prolific at times, with the fish feeding hard after the long winter.
Tides are extremely important when choosing a mark to fish. Due to the serious depths, and sometimes narrow bottlenecks within the lochs, some areas can become unfishable on bigger tides. On some marks, the spells either side of slack water allow you to position bait where the fish are feeding.
Due to the vast variety of species, the choice of rig must be matched to the intended quarry. Heavy-duty snoods of thick mono or wire traces should be added to rigs where you are likely to encounter a spurdog.
Many anglers adorn their rigs with luminous beads that act as attractants in the deep, peaty water. Hooks should be strong enough to cope with demands of pulling a large fish through underwater ledges and patches of bladderwrack and kelp. Thicker-gauge hooks in size 4/0-6/0 should be sufficient to land almost all the species available.
Some anglers opt for a rotten-bottom pulley rig with an added wire biting piece. There is no need for a Pennell rig for spurdogs – despite their appearance, they can be a delicate fish and should be handled with respect.
Powerful rods and larger reels that can hold significant amounts of line are essential when targeting deep-water species. Braid or heavy mono, it’s a matter of personal choice, but braid helps with bite detection when fishing the deep marks. A correctly-set ratchet will indicate a bite/run, and rods should never be left unattended.
The spurdogs can be found in most of the deeper waters around the west coast and frequently reach double figures. They possess a razor-sharp row of teeth that can make short work of any baits that are not supported by extra strong mono or wire.
The common skate is perhaps the biggest shore fish that can be realistically targeted from the shore in our waters. As deep as a breeze block with a wingspan dwarfing even the biggest of our other rays, the skate is as powerful as anything that we can expect to encounter from the shore.
The thornback ray can thrive in these deep waters. On certain marks they can be plentiful, although often they are smaller fish. There is a wide variety of other species including conger eels, ling, pollack, coalfish, whiting and cod.
Loch Etive is perhaps the most popular loch to fish on the west coast. Approximately 20 miles long, and in parts almost 500ft deep, a Google search will throw up a wide variety of marks for the visiting angler.
Due to its depth, it is not unusual to make a decent cast only to find your line dropping directly below the tip of the rod, similar to if you were fishing in Norway.
Loch Etive is perhaps best known for its all-year-round spurdog fishing. Bagging a double-figure fish is a strong possibility. An average size for the area is perhaps 2-4lb.
Loch Etive also holds thornback rays, especially in the shallower areas, while the ever-present dogfish often sport darker colours than their southern cousins.
Skate are present, with boat anglers often catching them, but they seem to be less numerous from the shore.
Loch Leven is extremely deep in parts, but approximately half the length of Etive. Surprisingly narrow in parts (250 metres), it produces some substantial conger eels.
This loch has numerous areas to fish, and some marks that involve very little walking. Surprisingly, there seem to be very few spurdogs, but skate are present, although not as numerous as in the other sea lochs. The main targets are thornback rays and dogfish.
While the remoteness of these lochs may deter some visiting anglers, the rewards can be astounding for those willing to travel.
Loch Etive is perhaps the most popular loch to fish
A common skate for Paddy Dillon
Paddy with a 20lb-plus spurdog
Below: Joe Gallacher with a 200lb-plus common skate
Spring time on Loch Leven
A typical skate bait