Sea lochs – wild west coast waters

You couldn’t wish for more beautiful fishing venues than the sea lochs of Western Scotland.

The sea lochs on Scotland’s west coast are unique and varied. The shoreline changes from loch to loch, and within each one there are deep rock marks and shallow beaches, sometimes only a few metres apart.

When exploring these waters you may find large mussel beds, gravel bars and muddy estuaries. All of these features can produce in the right conditions – if the fish decide to feed, of course.

Maps and tides

Get hold of a sea chart or an Ordnance Survey map (in the largest scale you can find) showing the loch you are going to fish. This provides an invaluable guide to water depths around the loch shore – and farther out too, if you are considering boat fishing. You can then plan your fishing according to the species you want to catch.

Get down to the shore at low tide, (better still at a low spring tide if you can) as this is the time for picking out any fish-holding features too small to appear on the map. Rock ledges often show up on the maps and charts and when they are heavily weeded they are excellent places to find conger, wrasse, pollack, coalfish and codling.

Both shallow and deep water marks can produce, but on bright, sunny days, the deeper the water the better. Deep water is sometimes available where hills at the side of the loch rise straight up from the water with little or no beach. These marks aren’t always the easiest to fish – there’s not much room to stand and cast – but they provide a good chance to get to grips with many species.

Watch out for mooring buoys close to the low water mark. These are an excellent indication of deep water close in to shore.

Low tide sorties can also reveal rocky, weedy areas just below the low water mark. Work out how far they are going to be from the shore as the tide rises. The best time to fish such marks is usually when they are completely submerged – and it helps to know how far you need to cast to reach them.

The head of the loch is frequently the best area for common eels and flatfish. In most cases there is a stream or small river flowing into the loch at such places, providing the brackish water these fish often seem to prefer.

The water around this area tends to be shallow with beaches of shingle, sand or mud. Sometimes all three types of sea bed are present in a small area, giving you plenty of variety and choice.

At low tide the places where one type of sea bed gives way to another are often visible. In many places you can also find gullies which run between various sand and shingle beds. These gullies are excellent places to find flatfish and any other species which may be around.

Tides and the weather

A big tide can provide some marvellous fishing, but you’ll need a wired lead to hold bottom. This is especially true where a spit or point sticks out into the loch. At such places you can often get the best of the tidal flow.

Which state of the tide is best varies from place to place, but in general the two hours before and after low tide are excellent. The hour before high tide is also good. For conger and thornback ray, slack water is best, though there are few rays left in the lochs nowadays.

The weather does not affect loch fishing very much. However, if it rains heavily for a few days, the water turns brown with peat brought in by rivers and streams. In these conditions fish are hard to come by – they either move out of the loch, or simply stop feeding altogether.

If the wind is very strong, one of the biggest advantages of sea loch fishing becomes obvious. It is always possible to move around and find shelter – even if this means moving to the opposite shore!

The varied terrain of a sea loch provides many different challenges to the angler within a very small area. This is part of their attraction – it’s up to you to take advantage of it.