Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Annual Applecross trip.

For the last two years I've been visiting the Applecross peninsula with two of my mates, Alan and Mark. Every August we head up there for a week, fishing during the day and enjoying a nice meal and a few drinks in the Applecross Inn every night. It's a great trip and we always catch a few fish and have a great laugh. Last Tuesday was the beginning of this years trip and Mark picked me up at 6am. We headed over the Forth Road Bridge, up to Perth and then drove up the A9 to Inverness to meet up with Alan, who was driving from Aberdeen where he now lives. The weather on the way up there was pretty horrendous but it cleared up slightly as we approached Inverness. We met Alan and popped into Woody's Snack Bar for a big breakfast before jumping back into the cars and heading west to Applecross and by the time we reached the campsite the weather was lovely. Alan and Mark put their tents up and I dumped my gear in my luxurious wooden hut. We then headed up to Fearnmore to a spot we fish every time we visit. I was first to get set up and decided to start the session with a Slug-Go in Arkinsas Shiner on a Savage Gear Sandeel Jighead. First cast and I had a fish on. A nice pollock was soon landed. Second cast  I had another pollock take my lure but it came off. Third cast I hooked another nice pollock and quickly bullied it up over the ledges below with my Daiwa Powermesh 902MS and Daiwa Exceler X-3000 combo loaded with 20lb Power Pro Braid. This all happened so fast that Alan and Mark were still setting up their gear! I suppose taking photos of my fish slowed them down a bit.

Off to a great start!
Soon followed by a second.

As soon as they started fishing they joined in the fun with Alan catching a few pollock and Mark getting one also. All nice fish averaging about 3.5lb. Alan's best fish was 4lb 2oz and Mark's best was 3lb 12oz.

My turn on net duties.
A nice pollock for Alan on his new Savage Gear Parabellum Rod.
Mark gets his first pollock of the trip.

I then got a forth pollock. Suddenly bait fish started breaking the surface signalling the arrival of some mackerel. I quickly changed to my Nories Rockfish Bottom Ultra Light and Daiwa Steez ultra light combo and tied on a 7g Toby. I caught two as the shoal passed by and before it moved off into deeper water out of casting distance. Just as it did though I was thinking about switching back to my light spinning setup to target pollock again when one came up and smashed the Toby almost right in front of me. I very quickly adjusted my drag and raised the rod high and managed to keep it near the surface. It swam into kelp at the edge but I managed to pull it up through this a couple of times before Mark climbed down and netted it for me.

A nice fish on ultra light gear!

I then switched back to my light spinning rod and fished a Lunker City Ribster in Green Pumpkin on an AGM 10.5g #2/0 Ultra Ball jighead. Dropping it down over the ledge I let it hit the bottom before twitching it every so often before slowly bringing it up in front of the kelp hoping for something to smash it. I was soon getting a few taps near the bottom though so I knew there was a wrasse down there. After a short while the wrasse bites dried up and as I slowly began retrieving back up I got smashed by a big pollock that charged up and grabbed it before diving back down again in a huge power dive before suddenly coming off. I decided to try the same thing again and a few casts later got hit again as the lure came up over the kelp covered ledge. Drag almost locked up it still took line and I struggled to bully the fish up. I knew it was a big fish. As I gained line it made another charge down. After a third dive though it came up and after a few more thrashes on the surface it was guided over the net being held by Alan.

A superb shore caught pollock and a new PB of 6lb 11oz.

Back it went to grow bigger for next year. Things went quiet after that as the tide slackened off so we tried for wrasse again. I stuck with the Green Pumpkin Ribster and tried fishing over the top of a submerged shelf. I had a few small bites again as I worked it over the kelp but no hookups. At this point I spotted a female cuckoo swimming up above the kelp before disappearing again. I found this very encouraging as having seen Alan catch them on bait here the last two years I had one on my little list of goals for the trip. I switched to my LRF gear and rigged up an IMA Trilobite in watermelon. I spotted a few small ballans poking their heads out of the weeds to have a little look but they weren't biting though. It then got very dim and the light faded. A huge rain cloud approaching was the cause so we called it a day and headed back to campsite. That night we went down to the pub for dinner and a few drinks. We got chatting to a few locals that we've met during our previous trips and they told us that in the recent boat competition the best fish section was won with a 6lb 4oz pollock and also that my 6lb 11oz fish was one of the best they'd heard caught from the rocks at Fearnmore. This made me even more pleased by my catch.

Wednesday morning we got up at 7am and got ready. Alan was on breakfast duty and rustled up some tasty black pudding rolls and off we went to the rocks at Fearnmore again. I was determined to catch some wrasse with a cuckoo being my main target but it was quite overcast. Not ideal conditions for wrassing I thought. We arrived at the mark just before high water and I rigged up an IMA Trilobite and dropped it down in the area where I'd spotted the cuckoo wrasse the day before. Straight away I had the distinctive tapping of a wrasse and hooked one.

I find wrasse seem to love the watermelon IMA Trilobite more than any other colour.

I returned the fish and dropped my lure down again. More bites. I soon hooked a second. Retrieving the fish I was willing it to be a cuckoo but it was another small ballan. I imagined if I were to have any chance of catching a cuckoo I may well catch quite a few ballans first. Next drop I again felt the distinct tapping of a wrasse and hesitated before gently striking. Fish on. I slowly began bringing it up. Again willing it to be a cuckoo. I looked down to catch a glimpse of my catch and I recognised the light pink colouration of a female cuckoo wrasse and got very excited. Lifting the fish up was a nervous moment but I soon had it up and safely in my hands.

Mission accomplished! I was over the moon!

I carried on wrassing for a while hoping to catch a male cuckoo. I began exploring different areas and found wrasse in almost all of them but had to settle for a further seven ballans.

Plenty of wrasse caught dropping lures straight down the side.
Most of them were dark brown but this one had a touch of yellow markings too.

Meanwhile Mark had caught a ballan wrasse on bait and Alan had managed a couple on lures. Our attention then switched back to pollock again although Mark also fished a bait rod. Whilst waiting for bites on that Mark caught a couple of pollock. He then caught a lesser spotted dogfish on his bait rod followed by a brightly coloured orange rock codling.

Mark is now a big fan of dogging.
I'm talkin' about sharkin'!
The locals tell us these bright orange rock cod are common in the area.

The weather didn't know what it was doing and went from being sunny and fairly hot to quite heavy rain showers. We kept putting on waterproof jackets and then having to take them off again! This didn't stop us from fishing however and Alan caught a nice pollock just after the rain stopped again.

Another nice pollock for Alan.

I then caught a nice pollock on an Arkansas Shiner Ribster just shy of 5lb. Action dried up again so I switched to a Savage Gear Psycho Sprat to try for fish at distance. After a few casts, working it at different depths I hooked into what felt like a great fish. Calling to Alan for assistance he scrambled down to the platform I was on and readied the net. After a great fight and a few power dives the fish was guided over the net and landed.

The fight this fish gave me made it feel like it was twice it's weight.

When it came into view I was surprised by its size and when it was weighed it surprised me further being just shy of 4lb. I guess it felt like a better fish and fought so hard because it was hooked at range. Despite allowing it time to recover in the net this fish didn't want to go back so we kept it to eat. The action slowed again after that and after another heavy shower and soaking we called it day. We dropped the fish off at the pub, Mark and I had it for dinner and it tasted amazing. You really can't beat fresh fish!

Pollock monster loves pollock. Nom, Nom, Nom!
The best fish Mark has ever tasted!

On Thursday, for the first time during a trip up there, we decided to do some freshwater fishing and headed over the pass to a couple of Lochs to the south of Plockton. The first loch was a man made reservoir and was surrounded by soft mud. We carefully made our way to a spot we could fish from and started exploring the area with a variety of lures. Apart from a fish that Mark saw shooting off there was little reward for our efforts so we decided to head to the second loch. On the way back to the car I spotted a dragonfly resting on a boulder and got a few nice photos of it.

Relaxing on a rock, this dragonfly didn't seem too bothered by me taking photos.
Insects can be just as interesting and beautiful as fish. Apart from midgies of course!

It was only a short drive to the second loch. As it came into view it looked like a much more promising pike water with a nice bay, lots of reeds and lily pads that could hold fish. We quickly started fishing. Alan's rod soon had a nice little bend in it and after a short scrap I netted the fish for him.

Alan's first ever pike!
Alan was so happy he gave it a kiss.
The feeling wasn't mutual!

Encouraged by this we carried on fishing and worked our way around the loch. No sign of any fish though despite some great features that I was sure should have held them. We reached another nice bay but there were a few lads dead baiting so we worked our way back around to the car.

Alan works his lure past some reeds to see if a pike is lurking in them.

No further action though. We fished the first bay again and spoke to the guys who had been dead baiting when they returned to their car a while later. They told us about a small stream entering the loch further along in the opposite direction. We had to leave soon however and didn't have much time left but we went along anyway. Mark fished the mouth of the stream whilst I fished a reed bed near the car. I wasn't getting any action and spotted another reed bed on the other side of the stream and headed over.

A desperate last gasp attempt to avoid a blank?

After a few casts I decide to have one more "last cast" before accepting defeat and making my way back over to the car. Just as my lure passed the near edge of the reed bed I felt a bump. I decide to have another "last cast" back to the same spot and hooked a fish but just as I thought my luck had changed, it quickly threw the hook. One final "last cast" and as the lure is almost under my rod tip I was hit again and this time the fish stayed on. My drag was set quite loosely and the fish made one short run before I steered it back towards me. As I was near the bank I quickly landed the fish. Just as well too as it was barely hooked in the corner of its mouth. If it had performed any kind of head shake or had decided to go airborne I would have lost it for sure!

Blank off on the "last cast". Ok, it was my third "last cast".

We made the drive home and as is customary Alan and I gave Mark a hard time about blanking or "being bald" as it's known on our trips! I was quite relieved that I had managed to avoid the same fate! We got back to the campsite and as it was quite sunny we enjoyed a few refreshing beverages before heading down to the pub.

Relaxing over a few cans Mark is still gutted that he didn't get a pike. Alan and I tease him a little. Mark isn't impressed.
Alan and I celebrate our monster pike with another can and some rum. Ok, we drank the whole bottle!

Another early start on Friday and we made the long drive over onto Skye. Our destination was Neist Point. On the way however the weather was particularly grim. Grey skies and heavy rain most of the way there. Low and behold however as we drove over the crest of the last hill and Neist Point came into view the rain stopped and the sky above it had the odd clear blue spot in it. We got our gear out of the car and headed down. We got to the mark and the weather had really started to improve.

One of the many cliffs at Neist Point. You can see some very strong currents in the distance and some blue sky!
Mark is impressed by the mark.

Our main objective for the day was to catch some spurdogs. We were worried about being able to catch some mackerel to use as bait but when we arrived our fears were soon dismissed. The amount of surface activity was incredible and we soon had plenty of bait and had also caught a few small coalfish too. Bait rods set up and cast out it was soon apparent that the tide would make holding bottom difficult even with 8oz of lead. After losing a few sets of end gear we decided to target pollock on our spinning gear. There was no sign of any pollock though. The current started to drop off so we cast out the mackerel fillets again and after a while both mine and Alan's rod started nodding. Reeling in we both had fish on but Alan's came off as he brought it up. As my fish came up the way the line was moving on the surface told me it was a shark. Mark threw the drop net down and my first ever spurdog was soon on the rocks.

As it came up it rolled and I could just make out the spots of a spurdog.
I'm talkin' about sharkin'!

Next cast after about 30 minutes my rod started nodding away again. I lifted the rod and struck into it. Fish on but it was something smaller. My money was on a dogfish and sure enough up it came and spat the bait as it reached the surface. Mark meanwhile had dropped some bait down the side and soon caught a nice little orange ballan wrasse.

A nice brightly coloured fish.

I decided to see if I could get one and dropped down an IMA Trilobite. Distinctive taps soon turned into a hooked fish and I soon landed a ballan too. It was followed quickly by a second which we think was same fish that Mark had caught about 5 minutes earlier.

Not the first time I've seen the same fish caught twice.

Alan was still trying to catch pollock but could only manage a few more mackerel. With a long drive back to Applecross it was soon time to go but not before we put my camera on a rock and got a group photo.

Fishermen in black.

We packed up and headed back up to the car slogging all our gear. After a 30 minute climb we all agreed that Neist Point is definitely a mark that it is better to pack light for! After driving back we went down to the pub and had our dinner and a few drinks with some of the locals again and had a great laugh hearing about their, often drink related, exploits. They really are some of the nicest people you could meet.

On Saturday we were supposed to be going out in a boat with a local skipper but the wind had changed direction and a swell had blown up which was forecast to get bigger so we ended up heading for another session off the rocks at Fearnmore. This time though we wanted to try fishing bigger baits at distance to see what is around further out in the deep water. We also fancied a spot of wrassing at high water but again with bigger lures to try and tempt some bigger specimens. When we arrived however the wind really picked up and we had waves breaking straight onto the rocks so we had to change our plans. We moved back from the end of the mark and set up next to a kelp filled gully. With no bait however and unable to catch mackerel we focused on wrasse but with little action at our new spot I decided to explore a rocky outcrop even further inshore, the far side of which I thought would be even more sheltered. I also thought I could collect some shellfish to use as bait whilst over there. A short walk later I was on the rocks and fishing onto a nice rocky weed covered shelf. Straight away I could see a wrasse having a look at my lure before having a few nibbles. Very interesting watching how the fish moved around and attacked the lure from a few angles.

This wrasse circled the lure and had four or five tentative bites before being hooked
A second ballan appeared from the rock shelf and was way more aggressive.

Aware that the tide could cut me off I made my way back to Alan and Mark, collecting some muscles, cockles and limpets on my way. Mark soon had some of the shellfish dropped down the side and caught a ballan wrasse. Alan and I baited up too and cast out into the gully. Mark decided to head over to where I had caught my two ballans and after a while caught a nice pollock. Alan and I had a short break and watched the bait rods. After reeling in and changing our bait I decided to climb down the rocks onto a small ledge and fish for wrasse whilst Alan fished down the edge too but from further up.

I enjoy a little bit of rock climbing. Sometimes it's the only way you can fish hard to reach spots.

I had only been down there about 10 minutes when Alan called me to let me know my bait rod was gently nodding away. I climbed up and reeled in to find a ballan wrasse had taken the bait.

This wrasse couldn't resist a cockles and limpet cocktail.

Alan was now getting worried about blanking. Having given Mark a hard time the day before he thought it was his turn to be mocked relentlessly down the pub. Just as we were about to go though he caught a ballan wrasse on a small section of Gulp! Sandworm and was very relieved to say the least! I also managed one final fish before we had to head back.

Alan avoids a blank and the related abuse down the pub later that night!
Last fish of the day for me. This wrasse took a small section of Gulp! Sandworm.

Our last night in Applecross and our time there had flown by as it usually does. As is tradition on the final evening, Alan and Mark had steak. I decided to break from this ritual though and had plaice with squat lobsters in a lemon and parsley butter. Delicious! As we enjoyed our dinner I looked outside and the sunset was quite striking so I nipped outside and took a photo.

The sun sets over Applecross Bay under a few menacing dark clouds.

Sunday morning and it was a beautiful day, perhaps the nicest of the trip so it made leaving even harder. After packing all our gear back into the cars we headed up over the pass one final time on the trip.

You just can't get tired of driving over this. Especially if you're not driving!
A beautiful day over Loch Kishorn and Loch Carron.

The trip may have been over but we still managed to squeeze in a little more fishing. We stopped off on the way to Inverness and try to get Mark his first pike. There are a few lochs on the way but we chose Loch Chroisg as the road ran by it and it was easily accessible. We parked up and 5 minutes later we were fishing. The loch didn't have any obvious fish holding features so we started at the mouth of a burn and worked our way along the bank.

Loch Chroisg. Looks great but has no real obvious places to start fishing.
Similarly stunning view towards the eastern end.
Alan and Mark work their way along the shore.

They weather was absolutely lovely and with no midgies either we enjoyed three hours of relaxing fishing before heading home. No sign of any pike so we all finished the trip with a blank but we really couldn't complain.

When all is said and done catching fish is just a bonus really. Great scenery, great company, great laughs and great memories are what fishing is all about. I'm looking forward to next year already!

Tight lines, Scott.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Fly casting practice.

Late last week I headed to a small burn in East Lothian with my mate Jake for a short session of upstream lure fishing for the resident trout. I also took along my brook rod as I thought I may get the opportunity to do a spot of fly fishing, or should I say practice my casting. We parked the car, climbed down the bank and entered the burn. We began working our way up the river and Jake having fished it the day before very kindly allowed me to fish most of the pools and runs, offering advice as we went. With little sign of any trout though, me constantly getting my jighead caught in the rocks and then spooking the fish as I moved upstream to free it, I was glad when we then approached a nice weir pool.

After sneaking up to it, seeing plenty of small fish rising and having a few casts towards them with the lures but with no reward, I decided it was time to try my fly rod. I've not been fly fishing for long at all and my casting isn't very good yet. Trying to keep low so as not to spook the fish I kept catching my fly on the vegetation behind me. Jake offered some advice and after a while I finally managed to get a fish to show some interest, slashing at the nymph under the surface. Casting practice continued with Jake removing the fly from the long grass behind me once or twice before I finally got it where the fish were. I then worked on stripping line at the right speed to keep the nymph moving through the current and must have cracked it when a small trout took my fly and was hooked. I was very pleased and was so grateful to Jake for his great tuition!

My second small fish on a weighted nymph in a week.

Jake then had a go with my brook rod and it didn't take him long at all to get himself a small trout. A little escapee rainbow trout from the fish farm further down stream. My turn again and after some more hit and miss casting I hooked a second small trout. Quickly retrieved and landed, it was another small rainbow trout. I was over the moon and found the whole thing quite hilarious as I've never seen rainbow trout so small before.

My 9th freshwater species on lures of 2012.

We carried on for a while longer before heading back down stream. Jake fished as he went but had no luck so we headed home. A fun couple of hours and I'm looking forward to future fly fishing practice and hopefully hooking a bigger trout on my brook rod soon.

Tight lines, Scott.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Too turbulent for turbot.

I headed out during the week with Lillian to Ravensheugh beach in East Lothian to target turbot. Upon arrival though it became apparent that the conditions were not ideal for the ultra light setups we had with us. To try and salvage the trip we did a spot of rockpooling and I quickly caught a long spined sea scorpion. Lillian was struggling to find any so I explained the type of features to look for in a rockpool that may hold little greedy fish. Cracks, weed, gaps under boulders and shady areas are all good places to drop your Isome into. As I pointed out one such hiding place I caught another one. It had quite a nice colouration so I took a few photos.

"Peppered Rootbeer" flavour.
Like little grains of sand these spots are a key part of the fishes camouflage.
Unlike its brightly coloured underside!

Putting it back I thought the fairly large rock might contain more fish so I dropped my lure into the same spot again. Sure enough another long spined sea scorpion grabbed the little chunk of Power Isome and was soon hoisted out of the pool. Lillian was still finding it difficult to locate any fish so I suggested we headed back to the car and head somewhere else where I knew finding fish shouldn't be a problem. We were soon at Dunbar harbour and as I thought there were more than a few coalfish in it, eagerly taking the Power Isome on the drop or from the bottom if it actually managed to get down there. After watching me catch a few Lillian said that whilst she could feel them biting she couldn't hook them. I put my rod down and gave her a few pointers. Next cast she had a few more bites before manging to hook one.

Lillian gets a fish!

Blank off and feeling hungry, Lillian walked up to the high street to get something to eat. I had a quick go at flattie corner but it was high water and it never seems to produce any when the harbour is full. Today was no different. I then quickly headed over to blenny corner and managed to catch two small ones before Lillian returned with some lunch. Still pretty windy and cold we enjoyed our snack in the car before heading home.

Gutted to not get the chance to target turbot today but still had fun, caught a few fish and I'm chuffed Lillian had a go today and caught a fish! I'll soon have her catching bigger ones!

Tight lines, Scott.