I love a good road trip, though when organising a trip well in advance you will always be at the mercy of the weather. Aspects can be planned down to the finest of details, but as I’ve found out on too many occasions, the outcome can be far different from what you’d hoped.
My previous two trips to Scotland had suffered badly from unpredictable weather, was this one going to fair better?. The quick and simple answer is no, the weather was at best challenging and on the most part, horrendous!
The journey started for me late on Thursday evening, leaving home around 10pm to travel 440 miles during the night to pick up my Dutch friend Daniel from Glasgow airport. I’d planned to arrive at Glasgow 3 hours before Daniel’s flight was due to arrive so I could get some sleep, but by 2am I was failing and had to pull in to sleep. My sleeping bag was handy, but I should have taken one with a drawstring at the top. Sitting in the passenger seat (I couldn’t recline it due to the car being full!) I endured a cold and very uncomfortable sleep for a couple of hours. I hit the road once more, downing Red Bulls like they were free.
Early hours fuel stop
Daniel arrived on time and we headed north with 180 miles remaining to reach our destination of Balmacara on the northern shoreline of Lochalsh. It’s a slow drive due to the never ending winding roads, we were also somewhat hampered by the high winds, horizontal rain and patchy snow. Driving through the Trossachs and Glencoe is always an uplifting experience and you soon forget the weather, until you step out of the car that is!. As we travelled up Glencoe the wind was being funnelled down the glen and was almost howling. We hopped out at one scenic vantage point to grab a couple of photos. The car next to use was rocking on its suspension, the wind was tearing through my thin fishing shirt… straight back into the car!
We eventually rolled into Balmacara at around 1pm and had a good view over Lochalsh, only the view wasn’t good at all. Waves right across the loch, as far as the eye could see. The wind was very strong, conditions were totally unfishable, so much for fishing the Friday afternoon into evening. We unpacked a bit of gear and later in the afternoon ventured down the loch in the hope of locating some calmer water. Looking to the south side from a good vantage point, it looked relatively calm close in, so the decision was made to launch from the southern side of the loch.
We sorted out gear from the back of the car and were rigged up, perhaps not in record time. The water was indeed far calmer, though that didn’t last for long. We found ourselves being battered by the wind and rain, at times conditions were beyond dreadful. I dropped my deep water anchor into over 100 metres of water and once the kayak settled Daniel tied off onto my bow. With the wind hitting both kayaks hard I was unable to hold bottom and we began to drag anchor all too quickly. I pulled anchor after a while (took a while!!) and found a large buoy to tie off to. I’d hoped it would provide a really solid tethering point, though my GPS showed us to be dragging the buoy, and whatever it was tied too, after only a few minutes… it was frustrating!
The weather showed no sign of improving and the light was beginning to fade, so we decided it was time to call it a day. The bar was calling and we could only hope that the Saturday would bring us some better weather.
We were accommodated at Balmacara House on the northern shore of Lochalsh. It’s a military outdoor centre and despite being a little basic, it’s perfect for kayak fisherman. The rooms are warm and comfy, the food is good, it has a bar, drying room and wash down facilities. Before you email me, it’s not available for public bookings.
We were joined that evening by four other anglers who had travelled over from Ireland, lots of fishing chatter over a few beers, who could ask for more?.
We awoke on the Saturday morning to the sound of wind buffeting the old house, not the sound you want to hear. Peering out of the window permitted a view of waves and gloom, the strong south westerly wind tearing up the surface of Lochalsh. Typically, we’d been informed that the loch has been wonderfully calm all week prior to our arrival.
After looking over the charts we decided that Loch Duich offered the best chance of shelter and an opportunity to fish. It joins onto the end of Lochalsh and offers deep water up to 120m. Though would it hold any Common skate?. To be honest I was extremely doubtful as there a mile long stretch of shallow water before Lochalsh joins onto Loch Duich, my gut feeling was that Skate were unlikely to have ventured over such an extensive length of shallow water.
We headed down to Loch Duich and turned the corner, watching the rough water of Lochalsh disappear in the rear view mirror as the calmer waters of Loch Duich appeared in front of me. We ended up heading all the way around to the south western shoreline to launch and by late morning we were afloat and fishing!
The scenery was breath taking, snow covered steep-sided mountains, coniferous woodland with multiple shades of winter colours covering the hillsides, living the dream!
The deep water anchor was deployed once more and it held myself and Daniel in place in the sheltered deep water loch without an issue. Depth was around 115m.
The varied depth provided me with a good opportunity to try out some of the capabilities of the Lowrance Elite 7 HDI. Lowrance state that the down imaging has a maximum depth capability of 91m and that held up to be accurate, in fact I was still achieving a return at 98m (321 feet) when set at 455Khz. I really do like being able to view the broadband sonar returns alongside the DI returns. Fish returns are much clearer on broadband, the the detail is much superior on DI. There is the option to overlay data, though I prefer to keep them separate.
There was rarely a break in the rain, so the Lowrance unit was constantly soaked with both freshwater and saltwater spray and over 3 days and it never missed a heartbeat. I’ve not had it immersed to test out its waterproof rating and I’m not planning on it to be honest. However, it’s certainly more than capable of keeping the worst of the British weather at bay!
Back to the fishing,… fortunately the stunning scenery made up for the apparent lack of fish. I managed a string of dogfish, to the point where I stopped putting small baits down. I Then had a few tentative knocks which resulted in a Thornback Ray of 8-10lb. I have to be honest in saying that it was pretty lifeless when coming up from 100m.
A short time later I hooked into something that felt far more solid and for a brief moment it felt rather large. However, it some began to come up through the depths, head shaking most of the way, classic Conger eel!. It wasn’t particularly big, short and fat, though it gave a good account of itself on the heavy gear.
The weather began to deteriorate as the afternoon progressed, anglers were struggling to hold bottom with the increasing wind speed and the rain was becoming heavier. Myself and Daniel tried some jigging close in to one side of the loch, though it was hard work. I missed a couple of hits, Daniel managed to land a small Pollack.
The session drew to a close and we retired to the shelter of the bar back at Balmacara House, though not before the rain produced a wonderful rainbow over Eilean Donan Castle.
Another good social was enjoyed by all, though I don’t enjoy the ‘baggy head’ that I have to endure the following morning!
We woke up on the Sunday to strong winds and a wave-covered loch, nothing new there then!. The wind had swung around a little so Loch Duich was also going to be somewhat exposed, not ideal!. We really didn’t want to be catching Dogfish, so we decided to sit out of the weather until midday, in the hope that it would subside a little… it didn’t. We returned to our vantage point over the loch and the southern side appeared doable, so the decision was made to launch on the south coast and head around to the skate grounds.
Well Friday evening’s poor weather conditions soon seemed quite calm and delightful compared to what we endured for the next few hours!. Once out of the relative shelter of the sea wall and headland were hit weather conditions that can only be described as utterly horrendous!. We crossed an exposed bay, steady winds on 40mph, perhaps gusting to 50mph+. I can honestly say that if I’d not been on the Outback I’d probably have been blown over at times. Yes it was raining, though when Daniel shouted over not to look to the right it became clear that it was really going to rain!!!. A solid wall of rain from seal level up was heading in our direction at high speed, something we were to experience on several occasions throughout the session. The rain positively hurt at times, being whipped into my face, generally horizontally.
Deceptively calm from the waters edge!
At times it turned to sleet, even hail, interesting conditions to say the least. At one point I gazed across the loch to view a 2 metre deep channel of spray, ripped from the water surface and being blown down the loch. At times water was being sucked upwards in a circular pattern, perhaps the beginnings of a water spout.
We headed back and found shelter in between some salmon fish farms, dropping some bait down in 80m of water. Apart from one sharp bite it was quiet for the two hours or so that we were there. The sky darkened as evening drew in, though a camera flash caught my attention. Though rumbling thunder immediately confirmed that it wasn’t from a camera at all!. A few moments later lightning hit the ground a mile away, almost instantly an enormous crack of thunder made us feel rather small and vulnerable!.. Rods were laid flat and we slid down our kayaks as we watched to storm head along the mountain ridges and into the distance over a period of twenty minutes.
We called it a day, though the journey back was far from comfortable, certainly some of the worst conditions that I’ve experienced in a very long time. I’d not have considered going out alone, to be honest, if it was not for the fact that we’d travelled so far and put so much effort into the planning of the trip, I’d not have considered going out at all!
We left Lochalsh early the next morning, typically the weather had improved dramatically, the wind had subsided and in places the loch surface was a mirror!… how horribly typical.
The drive back through Glencoe was stunning, beauty I couldn’t imagine anyone would tire of.
So we all travelled up in the hope of catching a Common Skate, though conditions prevented us from fishing the required marks. I got within 150m of my mark at one stage, though I was driven back by the weather, so incredibly frustrating. That said, with the conditions as bad as they were, hooking into and playing a large Common Skate would be been quite dangerous I reckon!.
After 1400 miles I finally made it back home, an epic and tiring trip. Terrible weather, below par fishing and great company in an incredible location. I may yet return, I’ll always be cautious of organising a trip well in advance, it’s fraught with risk and potential disappointment. But, it’s what we do, secretly we enjoy the highs and lows that we regularly experience from the sport of kayak fishing.