Saturday, September 21, 2013

Another superb Swanage Pier jolly.

With the summer drawing to a close I fancied one last crack at catching a black faced blenny. This of course was a convenient excuse for a trip down south to the mini species rich Swanage Pier so I asked my mate Lee if he could get a couple of days off work and would he like to go. His answer was yes on both counts!

After two trips already this year to Swanage I was hoping that it would be third time lucky and I'd catch a black faced blenny. I'm not sexist and wasn't fussy if it was a brightly coloured male (top left) or a rather more drab female (bottom right).

On Monday I headed down to Porthmadog in Wales and picked Lee up from his work, we popped to his house in Harlech to get his gear and off we went. As we were leaving Wales at about 18:30 we opted to stay in a cheap hotel on the way down so we weren't arriving in Swanage in the very early hours of the morning. After about four hours sleep we got up and completed the drive down arriving at the pier just as the gates were being opened at 8:00. It was quite windy but at least it was dry and we paid for our permits and walked out to the end of the old Victorian pier. To maximise my chances of catching the little triple finned fish I began fishing a two up one down rig in the openings in the middle of the pier, baiting my #8 Sabpolo Wormer hooks with little sections of ragworm. I also wanted to try mackerel baits too but as I didn't have any with me I would try to catch some and planned on working a metal around the pier later in the day. We both began fishing and soon had our first fish of the day. The action was quite steady with lots of wrasse taking my ragworm chunks whilst Lee's natural Gulp! Angleworm lure on a drop shot rig was initially attracting lots of pouting and pollock and after switching to a slightly smaller hook he was soon catching lots of little wrasse too including his first ever Baillon's wrasse.

My first fish of the trip was unsurprisingly one of the most prolific that inhabit waters around the pier, a corkwing wrasse.
A small pouting gets Lee of the mark. We both agreed they are quite pretty fish with their dark banding and large fins.
Lee was very pleased to get his first ever Baillon's wrasse.

After a while Lee started fishing from the side of the pier to see what was around in the open water using a small paddletail lure on a jighead fished "on the drop". This resulted in a few pollock being caught before he called me over as he had hooked something different that he thought he'd need help landing. Before I got over though the fish had made a final surge under the pier and had escaped. Having only gotten a brief glimpse, Lee wasn't entirely sure what it was but was still quite annoyed to lose it and not find out. He carried on fishing to see if he could get another but after catching a few more pollock he rejoined me, began catching lots of fish again and this seemed to take his mind of the lost fish. The rest of the morning we both had a lot of fun catching lots of fish. However, when you are having so much fun catching lots of fish it's very easy to forget that you are there to try and catch a specific species. When I hooked a small fish just before noon I got a little reminder though.

Lee fishing into the bay to try and catch another "one that got away".
 When I lifted this up I thought it might be a female black faced blenny and got rather excited for a brief moment before I realised it was in fact my first Swanage Pier rock goby.

Despite this little reminder I decided to have a break from trying to catch a black faced blenny after seeing the anglers fishing from the upper deck return a garfish. Knowing that some shirvy would increase my chances we popped into town and I got some more bait. As I'd not even tried to catch any mackerel I bought some frozen packs to make up the shirvy with. As we made our way back to the pier it started raining and by the time we got back out onto it was really windy and a large rain cloud was headed across the bay in our direction.

Rain shrouds the cliffs to the north.

A loaf of bread and most of the fish went into a bucket along with a little sea water and it was all pounded up into a sticky paste. A few generous helpings were thrown into the water next to the pier. After a short time lots of small bait fish appeared. I set up a small float and set the depth at six feet. Casting it out,  it didn't take long for a fish to take my strip of mackerel and my float slowly disappeared under the surface. Letting some line out before closing the bail arm and lifting into the fish, a pollock was soon landed.

Not a garfish but good fun on my ultra light gear.

I then watched a mackerel charging in and attacking the bait fish before quickly vanishing again. Then I spotted a garfish close to the surface quite close to my float eating some of the small bits of bread from the shirvy. Very excited by this I called Lee over and we watched it as it moved about quite slowly, eating another small piece of bread before suddenly shooting off. Hoping a few more were around I kept the shirvy going in and fished the float for a while after it had run out but all I caught were a few more pollock and by this point the rain and wind were making fishing out in the open quite unpleasant so I joined Lee under the cover of the upper deck and we caught a load more mini species. Just after Lee commented that it was odd we hadn't caught any tompot blennies yet he hooked a fish and hoisted it up. He didn't realise it was his first tompot blenny and hesitated a bit too long for my liking before swinging it in away from a potential last minute escape so I reached out and grabbed his line and pulled it in. Just as well too as it was very lightly hooked in the upper lip!

Speak of the devil and a colourful cheeky little fish with mad eyebrows doth appear!

The wind and rain continued to batter us and before long water was dripping down from the upper deck and we were pretty wet. We were supposed to be heading along the coast to Weymouth in the evening but when I checked the forecast and it said it was going to keep raining and the wind was going to get worse with gusts up to 40mph we changed our plans. Both soaked and quite uncomfortable we soldiered on until I had caught my 500th wrasse of 2013 and then we went and checked into our hotel. Both feeling pretty tired we decided to go for something to eat and to have an early night unless the weather cleared up later in which case we would pop out and fish the bay for a few hours.

My 500th wrasse of 2013 was a small female corkwing.

As per usual the forecast proved to be way off which really doesn't come as a surprise anymore and in fact it turned into a reasonably nice night with no rain at all and the wind dropping off! We headed out and decided to fish small metals to see if there were maybe any bass or perhaps scad around. We started fishing on the small stone pier at the southern end of the beach next to the amusement arcade. After a while I hooked something very small at range and was expecting a small pollock but was quite surprised to land a sand smelt that had attacked my 7g Hansen Pilgrim and was hooked cleanly in the mouth.

This sand smelt attacked a lure over half its length!

As it got dark we moved around the bay under some lights and fished over the clean sandy ground there. The tide was fully in and the water was very clear so we could see the bottom. I thought I spotted some small fish moving about over the sand which I suspected may be weevers and started jigging my lure up and down slowly. As my lure hit the bottom and puffed up some sand I was sure I could see these fish move towards it to investigate. Just as I started to lift my lure up again a small flatfish suddenly appeared from the sand and grabbed it. Quickly brought to the surface I could tell by its shape that it was a small turbot and quickly swung it up into my hand.

How cool! My first flatfish on a metal jig too.

What an aggressive little fish indeed. I kept trying to tempt the small fish and switched over to a much smaller Reins Palpuntin metal. I kept seeing them moving about but couldn't induce a take which made me start to think I was seeing things in the shifting sand as the current moved it around because weevers are very aggresive little fish. We went along to a second stone pier but when Lee got a wind knot and was struggling to sort it out we headed back along to the well lit and more sheltered spot where I'd caught the turbot. I tried again to catch one of the small fish but couldn't however my efforts were rewarded with a second turbot. By this point we were both very tired so we called it a night and headed back to the hotel.

We got up at 7:00 on Wednesday and first off we headed to the spot where I caught the turbot the night before so I could try and catch one of the mystery small fish this time using a tiny piece of ragworm on a running ledger. The tide was almost fully in again although the water was very dirty. I had no joy which makes me think I was seeing things! Lee managed to catch a small pollock before we headed along to the pier. The weather was much more settled and I decided to start by trying for a garfish again and made up some shirvy. The current was taking it under the pier though so I moved to the opposite side so it was drifting out into open water. I decided to try fishing a small metal high up in the water but after about an hour or so with nothing to show for my efforts I turned my attention back to fishing the open sections in the middle of the pier with my mini bait rig. Lee too had been struggling with lures in the open sea and joined me. Even this was much slower than the day before but the third fish I caught was a goldsinny wrasse.

The smallest goldsinny wrasse I've ever caught.

Thinks started picking up a bit more as the tide started to ebb and Lee caught a nice long spined sea scorpion. Lee thinks long spined sea scorpions are the coolest "rockfish" in U.K. waters and I can't say I disagree. We discussed the short spined variety which can grow much larger. We'd both love to catch a big one on ultra light gear as the small ones can't half tear about and we think the bigger specimens would be very powerful indeed!

100% attitude.

I then caught a common dragonet and whilst unhooking it I got spiked by the spikes on its gill covers which was quite painful. The tiny would would not stop bleeding and Lee found this very amusing. I had to make an improvised dressing using some newspaper from my ragworm wrapping and a piece of gaffer tape that I had to stick down the end of my line onto its spool to finally stop it!

This weird looking fish has nasty little spikes on its head and has a habit of thrashing around once it gets you with them.

Lee had never caught a goldsinny wrasse or a common dragonet before so he started fishing in the spot I'd caught them for a while. I went and tried a new spot to see if I could locate a black faced blenny. By this point it had turned into quite a nice day and a few other anglers had joined us on the pier. We both failed to catch the species we wanted but a steady stream of small corkwings the odd Baillon's and a few tompot blennies kept us amused.

Another Baillon's for me. The marking not so vivid as others I've caught.

After a while we both moved out to the edge of the pier to enjoy the sun whilst it was managing to break through the clouds. This move paid off and soon saw Lee catch his first common dragonet which he quickly swung in when I spotted what it was as he hoisted it up. After seeing the damage they could do he handled it very carefully managing to avoid the spikes although truth be told after he had laughed at me bleeding all over the place I was hoping it would spike him! Shortly after that I hooked a fish that put up a short but spirited little scrap, taking a little line twice before being brought to the surface. It was my first bass of the year. Quickly returned I followed it up with a long spined sea scorpion, my first from the pier.

My 75th species of 2013.
Little aliens!

After a while the sun vanished behind some clouds again and I returned to fishing the open sections in the middle of the pier. I then caught a second rock goby and again for a brief moment thought it was a female black faced blenny. Lee was still keen to get a goldsinny wrasse so I suggested we went along the coast to Weymouth for an hour or so to try and get him one at a spot where I'd caught a few of them before. Before leaving the pier we had our photo taken in the traditional seaside manner.

I may not have had a black faced blenny on Swanage Pier but this bearded lady was almost as unusual.

After an hour or so we arrived in Weymouth and were soon fishing in the harbour. We left most of our gear in the car and just took a few drop shot weights, hooks, leader and some Isome and Gulp! Angleworm. It quickly became apparent that getting through the dozens of pouting would be a problem and the line spiralling in little circles as we brought each fish up was a dead giveaway that we'd caught one. We managed to get the odd small pollock too and Lee also caught his first whiting on a lure and a couple of tompot blennies as well. The second one had a chomp on Lee's finger which took him by surprise and made him cry out which we both found hilarious. A bit of justice too I felt for him laughing at my bleeding finger earlier in the day!

A single whiting successfully battled through the pouting.
I've found tompot blennies are normally a lot less aggressive than their common cousin but this one had other ideas.
The business end that Lee was on the receiving end of.

Trying to fish tight into the walls only seemed to result in fewer pouting so I tried casting out and working my lure back close to the bottom by adjusting the depth of my rig to about an inch or so. This resulted in a single black goby and this ballan wrasse which was the final fish of the trip.

Nice way to end the trip.

We grabbed a bite to eat and then made the drive back up to Wales were I'd be spending the night at Lee's before heading back up the road in the morning. So another most enjoyable trip to Swanage was over and the rare black faced blenny had eluded me yet again. My failure to get a garfish also meant I'd not caught anything new either but I added a bass to this years tally taking it to seventy five. It was great to catch up with Lee again and we had a lot of fun. He's already talking about wanting to go back to Swanage! I can't blame him, the pier is a fantastic venue for mini species fun and the rest of the coast is also well worth exploring. We'll be back there for sure next summer. Black faced blennies may have avoided capture again but it's only a matter of time!

Tight lines, Scott.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Most Wanted : Lumpsucker (Sea Hen).

Another quite bizarre looking fish is the latest addition to my "Most Wanted" list. Like gobies and clingfish, lumpsuckers have adapted their pelvic fins into a sucker which they use to cling onto rocks. Scaleless with rows of hard bony lumps and a large hump their appearance makes them quite unmistakable.

Aptly named indeed. This fish is literally a lump with a sucker. 

Normally grey or blue in colour the males' underside can take on a red or orange hue during their breeding season during the early spring when they move inshore and this will be when I try and catch one. A difficult one to target perhaps, especially if they are stuck in a static position and aren't moving around much. One of those species that you need a big slice of luck to catch but I'd still love to get one and I have been told about a few spots where they have been spotted by divers so that should hopefully give me a chance even if it is only a very slim one!

Tight lines, Scott.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Location, location, location.

Locating marks where your target species can be caught is half of the battle when you are a species hunter. Sometimes this is a simple case of looking online for info or asking fellow anglers where they have caught what you're after. Sometimes a bit of research into a species' preferred habitat and having a go on a suitable mark will produce your quarry. Occasionally you just get lucky and stumble accross a new species completely by accident whilst out fishing for something else entirely. Once you know a spot where your target is the rest is normally fairly straightforward and it is usually just a case of getting your tactics right if you want to deliberatly target them. In addition, I normally find that once you've caught a species, return trips will often produce them again due to most fish being creatures of habit even if the time between trips is considerable. That being said, their movements may be seasonal and their feeding patterns might be dependent on various factors but even so location remains for me the single most important thing to figure out when trying to track down a species.

With improving my knowledge of good marks to fish in the future for two of my latest targets in mind, on Friday morning I headed down the coast to meet up with my mate Nick as he had very kindly agreed to show me some spots where he has caught lots of rockling whilst targeting cod. He also showed me the exact spot where he caught a Yarrell's blenny a couple of years ago. Whilst there we had a go for Yarrell's blenny, fishing small baits on light gear we had a laugh and caught a few fish.

Lots of small codling around the Scottish coast can only be a good thing!
Lots of small coalfish around the Scottish coast can only be a good thing?
After a coalfish and codling I caught a single blenny but it was the common cousin of the one I was after.

I also foul hooked a lobster that managed to shake itself off as I lifted it up out of the water. We then moved to another spot and caught a couple of long spined sea scorpions from an area of partially submerged large boulders. Nick caught one that was an awesome purple shade with strange lichen like markings. I caught one like that before in the same area last year.

Sea scorpions are cool little fish with a lot of attitude. Nick really enjoys catching them too.
Very cool.

After a few hours Nick had to head home and I decided to hit Dunbar Harbour for a couple of hours before driving back to Edinburgh. I caught a few coalfish, a single plaice and a nice flounder which some small children asked to see. They were quite surprised when I briefly explained how the fishes eyes weren't always on the "top" of its body and were also amazed at how quickly it swam away when I put it back!

A good scrap on my light gear and caught on my "last cast".

So, quite a relaxing way to spend the morning and early afternoon, fishing three locations in the process. Obviously the last one I know quite well but thanks to Nick I now have a better idea about exactly where to keep trying for a Yarrell's blenny and have somewhere else to spend winter evenings trying to catch a three bearded rockling with the added bonus of perhaps catching a cod or two!

Tight lines, Scott.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

"Street Fishing"... not something I'm particularly a fan off. Popular in France in the Parisian canal system, a key requirement seems to be that you look cool whilst fishing and have all the latest gear. I'm not cool and never have been. Besides, for me, fishing should not be about what you are wearing and how flashy your tackle is. Rant over. That being said I think "street fishing" is a perfect way to describe this mornings efforts which I think more than qualify for the application of the term. Sneaking about in the centre of Edinburgh at dawn wearing black clothes like a ninja, brandishing a £19.99 rod and reel combo and free lining bread crust in the pond of a large financial services company's head office may not be cool but it was certainly very effective. First chuck and I was into a fish.

A golden orfe. Briefly borrowed so I could admire it before returning it to its concrete pond.

I was on edge the whole time I was there and have to say I found the ten minute session quite bizarre, particularly as it was ended by Police Scotland's finest who arrived just as I was unhooking my third golden orfe. They told me they were just passing and had stopped to see what I was up to but admitted they weren't sure that I was breaking any laws. I was honest, told them I probably was and that I'd pop the fish back and be on my way which they seemed to agree was a reasonable solution to my minor breach of the peace. However, I may have to return as I think I spotted a few goldfish in there too as well as a blue orfe amongst the golden ones! I'm starting to question my sanity.

Tight lines, Scott.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

My first wrasse grand slam.

On my two days off this week, Tuesday and Wednesday, I was planning to fish at Orchill Coarse Fishery in Perthshire on my first day off with my mate Keith and head up to Lochaline the following day to have a go at a wrasse grand slam, catching all five main U.K. species in one session. It was also a chance to maybe pick up a surprise new species if I got lucky fishing small baits on light tackle with one of my current targets, Yarrell's blenny, being one that has been caught there before. On Monday though, with all the rain over the weekend, Keith was tempted to chuck fluff and Mepps around at the trout in some of his local rivers. My fly casting is pretty poor and I feel I get in the way a bit when Keith takes me to these small waters with him so after checking the weather forecast for Lochaline and noting it looked better on Tuesday I decided to change my plans, wished him luck with the salmonids and decided to head up to Lochaline a day early. So on Tuesday morning I got up early at 5:00 and drove west through the Trossachs and up through Glencoe. The scenery on this route is quite breathtaking.

Glencoe. An awe inspiring landscape.

After three hours or so I reached Ardgour, drove onto the small ferry and made the extremely short crossing to Corran on the western shore of Loch Linnhe before making the final thirty mile drive south to Lochaline, the final twenty miles along a single track road. Lochaline is a very remote small village that sits at the mouth of Loch Aline where it meets the Sound of Mull. I would be fishing from the rather run down, but still working, west pier that faces out onto the Sound of Mull just past the village.

After all the stunning scenery along the way the pier was a rather uninspiring place to be fishing. I didn't mind as long as there were plenty of fish around its submerged structure.

From various reports I had read I knew it was very deep water just out in front of the pier but I wasn't sure how deep it was close in and around the sides so I quickly setup my gear and had a few casts at various spots to find out how deep it was. Around the sides it wasn't that deep. Along the front directly next to the pier it wasn't that deep either but casting any further than a couple of metres and it was taking a ridiculous amount of time for my lead to hit the bottom. I decided to start fishing off of the right hand side of the pier and work my way around it until I located some fish. Fishing a two up one down rig with #8 Sabpolo Wormer hooks and a 1oz bomb the first bait used was small chunks of raw prawn. First drop down the side and I got a few bites which resulted in the first fish of the day being caught. It was a coalfish though and I was worried about how many were down there.

I thought they were mainly an east coast species. I was concerned about hundreds of them making my task difficult.

Next drop I started getting the distinctive bites of wrasse though, a very welcome feeling through my rod. The bites weren't overly aggressive, just steady sharp little plucks that soon resulted in the rod tip nodding away signalling one of the culprits had been hooked and when I reeled in I was delighted to find I had a double shot of a goldsinny wrasse and a cuckoo wrasse on my rig. What a great start to my first real grand slam attempt!

Quite a dark brown goldsinny with nice deep red and golden markings.
A small female cuckoo wrasse. All small cuckoo wrasse are female. They are born that way and change sex later in life!

These were followed by a few more of each before I caught my first ballan wrasse of the session. A nice mottled brown fish. I caught a few more goldsinny, cuckoo and ballan wrasse and after another twenty minutes or so I caught my first rock cook wrasse of the morning.

Third wrasse species of the five required.
I really like rock cook wrasse. Especially this one as it left me with only one species of wrasse to catch!

Having only been fishing for about forty five minutes and with just a single corkwing wrasse required for me to complete my first wrasse grand slam I was very excited. I carried on fishing away at the same spot and steadily caught more fish including a few other species. Every time I hooked a wrasse I was hoping for a corkwing. Every time I hooked something else I was hoping it was something odd and new.

A long spined sea scorpion manages to fend of the wrasse.
All of the goldsinny wrasse I caught had a red or pink hue to their colouration and a golden underbelly. Very dark spots too which makes me think it might be breeding season for them.
Rock cook wrasse really do have absolutely tiny mouths.
As well as some very large cod I've also been catching loads of tiny codling this year. A good sign hopefully that cod stocks are doing well.
A solitary rock goby also beat the wrasse to my bait.

As the day progressed the action slowed down a bit and I was starting to think that a corkwing wrasse would prove elusive when I hooked a small wrasse that came off just as it reached the surface. I only got a quick glance at it but I was pretty certain it was a corkwing. Slightly frustrated this spurred me on a bit and I was considering trying a new spot when I finally got my fifth wrasse species of the day completing the grand slam in the process!

I've done it!

I was very pleased and to be honest having been fishing for less than three hours I expected it to take longer than it did. This left me the rest of the day to explore around the pier a bit more and maybe get lucky and pick up something odd or even better something new to add to my species tally! Unfortunately however the wind  started to pick up and the action slowed to a crawl as the tide went slack as low water approached. I was also beginning to feel a bit tired and quite hungry. I persevered for a bit longer, moving along to the opposite end of the pier and getting a little shelter by fishing from behind the large upright concrete blocks there. I managed to catch a few more wrasse, tiny codling and also found a small pocket of small poor cod but when the wind picked up even more and with the thought of a four hour drive to get home on my mind I decided to leave earlier than I had originally planned. After getting something to eat from the local store I headed home enjoying the drive once again on the way stopping to take this photo of the famous Scottish mountain Buachaille Etive Mor on my way back through Glencoe.

At the time the sun was blinding me but I took this as it disappeared behind a cloud just above the mountain's peak. Whilst you could say I failed to capture the thing I was trying to photograph I still quite like this dark menacing photo.

All in all it was a great little trip, even if I probably did end up spending more time driving than I did fishing! I achieved one of the goals I set myself this year although in hindsight perhaps it wasn't a particularly difficult one, it just being a case of finding the right mark really and I think there are a few spots on the west coast where all five wrasse species can be caught. I love wrasse though and it was another excuse to go and catch loads of them so I enjoyed doing it. Maybe next year I'll try and do it quicker or throw Baillon's wrasse into the mix and try and complete a six wrasse species super grand slam! In the end I wasn't really disappointed about nothing new being caught because I knew the chances of that were fairly slim anyway. I'd certainly like to fish there again and it seems like a great spot for a short break, I'd also love to fish the deep water directly in front of the pier with some heavier gear and I'm sure over a few days a new species would turn up so I'll definitely be back.

Tight lines, Scott.

Friday, September 06, 2013

This week I 'ave been mostly huntin'...

...three bearded rockling an' Yarrell's blenny. No doubt some anglers will be horrified that anyone would deliberately try to catch a rockling and some anglers will be asking what the hell is a Yarrell's blenny!

The three bearded rockling can grow much larger than its cousin the shore rockling, that rather confusingly also has three "beards". Colouration is the key to telling them apart. The three bearded rockling is light beige/pink with dark brown almost leopard like spots whilst the shore rockling is either uniformly dark brown or dark brown with light mottling. Both are easily distinguished from their other two much less common cousins with more impressive beards.
Here's a shore rockling I caught earlier this year.
I'd be tickled pink if I caught a Yarrell's blenny!

A few short sessions at various spots along the coast have so far seen my efforts fail to produce either of these new species. I have instead caught the usual suspects. Coalfish mainly, a few mackerel, pollock, flounder, plaice, codling, common blennies and long spined sea scorpions all keeping me smiling as I try to avoid catching them!

Don't be embarrassed! It's not your fault.
Maybe I'll fluke a new species soon?
The Scottish harbour equivalent of a pouting. Apologies to Lee and Mal!

My two year long viviparous blenny saga proved, if nothing else, that I'm a persistent bugger as well as a reasonably patient species hunter and I'll be having further attempts at catching a three bearded rockling soon. No doubt I'll catch loads of other species in the process and have fun doing so but hopefully a three bearded rockling won't take two years to track down, Yarrell's blenny may be, if you'll excuse the pun, another kettle of fish all together.

Tight lines, Scott.