Way back in the mid - 80's, I made my first visit to the shores of Kilchurn Bay, Loch Awe. Inspired by the Beekay Publication, Pike Fishing in the 80's by Neville Fickling (ISBN 0-9507598-3-X) we, the motley crew from Hemel Hempstead, fished the small rocky hillock on the southern side of the bay, slightly to the west of Kilchurn Castle. Immediately Cuddles christened it "Fraggle Rock" and has been known to us by this name ever since. In Neville's book there is a photo of Trevor Moss with three nice pike, topped by a twenty, taken from the very swim we first settled on. Our results were patchy although, between us, we did rack up a few doubles - so we were well pleased.
|Cuddles with our first decent pike from Kilchurn Bay - May 1988|
In the water, directly behind him, is a keep-net full of livebaits which we'd brought with us. All very much part of the
pike angling scene during this era, yet totally illegal today!
In 1988 we decided to try another area of the bay, this time directly opposite the castle. Water levels were low and the majority of fish we landed were small jacks, but action was enjoyed by us all and Cuddles managed to bag himself a nice upper double; things were looking up? I continued to visit the loch, annually, up until the May of 1992 with much the same sought of success, odd mid-doubles but nothing to get over excited about.
|Kilchurn Bay - as seen on Google Maps.|
I apologise for the poor quality of the image (I photographed the screen of my lap-top) and lack of
any additional labelling. Fraggle Rock is that tree covered appendage on the southern shore.
Our original efforts were casting east from Fraggle Rock, into the adjacent bay. Since May 2011, all
of our sessions have been concentrated along the shoreline, west of Fraggle Rock, directly opposite the
My return, in May 2011, was to be a complete revelation - it was like someone turning on a light in a dimly lit room! Right from the off it was obvious that we had started to unravel some of the mysteries of Kilchurn Bay and the pike which inhabited the peat stained waters of this superb venue.
So it is here that I'll start my story:-
The planning leading up to that first trip was as thorough as we were able to be. As there had been such a long gap since our previous experiences, a lot of advances had been made in tackle technology. Although I still wanted to use the gear (rods, reels, alarms, etc.) that had been hidden away in the attic during my birding sabbatical, there was no getting away from the requirement to use the best available terminal tackle that we were able to purchase. Japanese hook technology was amazing, as was the modern mono-filament line and American trace wire. Don't forget that, although I hadn't been fishing for eighteen years, Simon and Benno were both heavily involved in the specimen hunting side of angling! We now knew that live-bait transportation was a non starter, the use of live bait let alone bringing it to the loch, from Kent, being illegal in Scotland, we did, however, have access to some of the finest frozen sea baits available anywhere. These were to prove to be a major asset, and still are to this day. What we lacked, on our first couple of trips, was the ability to keep these baits frozen for more than a few days, after which they started to lose their attractiveness, almost to the point where they were virtually useless after a week. Our catch rates certainly took a dive towards the final days of those particular trips.
|Benno and I with a double apiece, from that first trip back in May 2011|
Braided line was a step too far, for me, during the first three outings, I stubbornly stuck to my guns and continued to fish with mono (12 lbs b.s. Diawa Sensor) and experienced little problem, until I finally changed over to braid and realised what I'd been missing.
I think that it is still fair to say that our early successes were still attributable to the quality of our bait and little more? We were restricted to bait presentation within the casting range of our rods; and chest waders - so there was more than a little of the "chuck and chance" involved?
|Simon with the second largest pike of the 2013 trip - 19 lbs 12 oz|
In 2013 all of this changed! This trip was a pivotal experience, between us we captured 48 pike, 38 of which were doubles! There is absolutely no getting away from the fact that water levels and seasonal conditions played a major role in our incredible success, but we did also have another piece in the jig-saw - a bait boat which incorporated a "smart-cast type" echo sounder unit. For the very first time we were able to actually pinpoint those areas of deeper water and associated drop-offs, placing our baits exactly where we wanted them. This piece of kit was custom-built, by Simon, and has been the proto-type of several similar examples, each one better than the last!
|Luke and Benno with a brace of doubles, something which has been repeated many times during|
the passed couple of trips!
2014 - this was to confirm that, by our standards, we were now beginning to get to grips with the complexities of pike fishing this tiny area of the mighty Loch Awe? Another 25 doubles to our landing nets, yet no twenty this trip - Luke taking the best fish, his first, at 19 lbs 7 oz! - sometimes it's just not fair? Simon had added yet another item to our armoury - he'd purchased a "Dometic" gas freezer system, something akin to those used by campers and caravanners. What a result? With a single gas cylinder we were now able to keep all of our bait frozen until we needed it - the result being regular action for the entire holiday. By this point in our journey, Simon, Luke and Benno had developed some form of disease? They wanted to catch pike using artificial lures and flies! Whatever next? Off they all went, leaving me to soldier on with my static dead bait approach - no worries, we're all up there on holiday. Luke had also introduced another concept - pike angling from a kayak!
|The two boys with another brace, Kilchurn Castle as the back-drop, from our latest outing |
2015 - and just the three of us made the journey. For me it was the final part of my quest - I caught that fish which I'd so longed for! We, as a team, caught a good number of pike, using a wide variety of methods, but were to ultimately be beaten by the severity of the extreme weather. So, in order to ensure that my thoughts get recorded, I'll try to categorise the important factors which have contributed to my successes. I'm well aware of a few tweaks that Simon and Benno have used but, as they are not mine, I will stick to my original brief and simple tell of the methodology which has been used by myself during the past five years.
Rods & Reels - use whatever you want! The pike have no idea as to the stoutness of the rod, nor smoothness of the reel? These items should be capable of handling decent fish, yet the requirement to catch sharks is not part of the equation. Use tackle that promotes enjoyment, but without jeopardising pike safety.
Line - the minimum breaking strain should be 12 lbs! My recent flirtation with braid suggests that this is the way forward. Yes, I agree it is expensive, but it doesn't degrade under the UV rays of the sun and, at long range, there is no perceivable stretch. Braid might not make you a better angler, but it will add to the experience of playing a pike at long range.
Indicator systems - If you are a fixed spool angler then an open bale arm and the back-biter is the only way to go! If, however, you are a seeker of adrenaline rushes and hanker for a return to the Alfred Jardine era, there can be no more fun than a centre-pin, pike monkey/needle and a front-runner alarm. There is, of course, a third option - you could always stare at a float!
Bait - I can only give advice on a very specialist area of this massive subject. I have been a static dead bait angler since the late 1980's. I've been very fortunate to have had the company of Eddie Turner for much of my early years. Through this friendship, I'd always been aware of how effective bait enhancement can be. I've played around with buoyancy, flavour and colour (and any variation on this theme) since the late 1980's. It has served me well in Kilchurn Bay.
The one thing about our baits, in this specific venue, is that they are most effective when they are small! I'd always been an advocate of big baits = big fish! Benno and Simon both offered an alternative theory - simply by looking at the shape of the pike we were catching, they are incapable of taking large (wide?) baits.
|Luke doing battle from the kayak - 2015|
Bait boats - what do you do? You can turn your nose up and offer the purist spiel or, being realistic, embrace this advancement and use it to enhance your experiences? Dick Walker had no access to this type of technology but, aware as I am of his quest for advancement (he invented the bite alarm and designed the first purpose built carp rod!) remain convinced that he'd approve of where this use of modern technology is taking the sport of angling?
Location - if you simply want bites, then it's a no brainer - cast your bait anywhere in Kilchurn Bay.
There is, however, another approach which may well provide a better return for the effort? Fraggle Rock has a lot of potential; fishing out towards the castle, could see your bait into 25' of water, an area the boat anglers have constantly targeted. The shoreline that has played such a key part in our recent successes has a channel of 12' , running parallel to the bank, at a range of 80m+ (bait boat territory?) From the castle bank this feature is also reachable, but you require chest waders, it is possible to wade out over 50m. Any effort to cast from the shore will see your bait in less than 3' and a potential target for the local gulls (always a fun time encounter)
|How many seasons can you fit in ten minutes?|
Kilchurn Bay will offer all the challenges any angler could wish to confront.
Have I an overall summary of our tactics? No, I don't think I have. We've been incredibly fortunate to have experienced some fantastic sessions at this wondrous fishery. Do we (I) have any great wisdom which will assist others? I, sadly, am not the judge of such things. Kilchurn Bay is a wondrous piece of water, home to some huge pike given the right conditions. Going up there for a week at a time (always around the same period) is hardly likely to give a greater insight into what is required to master the place. However, if pike are your thing, forget those obese fraudsters of Chew Valley and seek a wild pike from the peat stained wilderness that is Kilchurn Bay. If you catch a big-un you wont be in any doubt as to was that journey worth while. The wild pike of Kilchurn Bay are the fish of legend - and long may it remain so.
|Kilchurn Bay - looking north-east up Glen Orchy (April 2015)|
If you have any questions about these pike, and my approach to catching them, please feel free to leave a question and I will attempt to answer it. Clowns and trolls should get a life?