Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Who let the dogs out?

My mate Stewart has a mild case of galeophobia so on Sunday we headed west to Loch Fyne for a nice relaxing days' fishing. In order to prove to him that whilst sharks should command respect and require careful handling when caught they are also very interesting, beautiful creatures that are worthy of admiration and are not really that scary, the main targets for the session were dogfish and thornback rays.

It was a lovely sunny day and after a quick stop to pick up a few packs of frozen mackerel and a couple of boxes of squid on the way, we were soon at our chosen spot, a comfortable mark very close to the car. Two rods were quickly setup, one with a pulley rig and the other with a three hook flapper rig. I explained the rigs to Stewart and quickly gave him the lowdown on using my slosh multipliers before baiting up with mackerel and casting them out. Last year I fished the same spot with very light tackle and caught dabs, dragonets, black gobies, sand gobies, haddock and cod so I started to set up a third, lighter rod to fish very small baits on #10 wormer hooks to see if I could tempt any mini species that might be present. Before I had finished doing that however one of the other rod tips started bouncing away.

Lifting the rod it kept nodding so I handed it to Stewart and told him to wind in quickly. Sadly he didn't reel quite quickly enough and the fish was lost on the way in as it came up over the weedy ledges in front of us. Fortunately it didn't take too long for another bite and I thought it would be best to demonstrate how to quickly retrieve a fish up over the ledges to hopefully help Stewart minimise any further fish or tackle losses. Feeling slight pressure to land the fish I was glad when I managed to do so, the first dogfish of the day was soon on the bladderwrack and a quick lesson on handling and unhooking dogfish could begin. I explained how confidence is key when handling sharks and to maintain control of them two hands should be used. Unhooking the dogfish I gripped it firmly behind the gills and brought It's tail forward, holding it against the side of the sharks body leaving one hand free to work on removing the hook. I explained that alternatively the tail of the shark could be placed between the thighs again leaving a hand free to unhook and that the reason for handling them in this way is that dogfish have extremely rough skin, will try to wrap themselves around your arm and attempt to rasp your skin from it causing nasty wounds that will bleed for a prolonged period. Maybe Stewart was right to be cautious!

Dogfish are quite strong for their size. This one was particularly feisty and refused to behave for a photo.
Put back into a shallow bay to our left it adopted a defensive position. As well as being efficient hunters and scavengers they are also pretty tough. Easy to see why they are so prolific in places.
After a while it uncurls itself and gracefully swims off.

It wasn't long before another fish was attacking our bait and Stewart lifted the rod to feel for the fish. Once he confirmed it was on he kept the rod high, wound in fast enough to clear the ledges and soon he was looking rather worried as his first ever shark came through the weed. He was clearly still a bit nervous so I unhooked it for him and again explained how to hold it before he had a go himself.

Stewart lifts the rods and feels for a fish on the end.
Still slightly unsure Stewart faces his fears and gets to grips with his first shark.
A rather cute one if you ask me!

Pretty soon we had landed a few more although it was a bit of a pain getting the three hook flapper rig back through the weed so I swapped that over to a second pulley rig. I also swapped the circle hooks from #3/0 to a #1/0 because a couple of the dogfish had the hook points penetrate close to their eyes and gills and I didn't want to risk causing unnecessary damage to these delicate organs on future catches. This worked a treat as the next few fish were all hooked nicely in the bottom jaw. After about ten dogfish between us I decided to put out a couple of sandeels wrapped in squid, a cocktail that has produced rays for me in the past. I asked Stewart to reel in one of the rods whilst I prepared the baits and low and behold a tiny thornback had taken the mackerel bait.

Speak of the devil and a cute little ray doth appear.
Stewart with his second shark species of the session and he was a bit happier handling it.
Popped back the little ray sulked in the shallows for a while before heading off.

We carried on fishing, hoping for some more rays but all our sandeel and squid cocktails were attracting was more dogfish. Meanwhile my mini species rod hadn't attracted anything at all which was quite a surprise so I decided to pack it up. I then headed along the shore to check out another spot. When I returned Stewart had caught a dogfish, unhooked and released it on his own. I was suitably impressed. In the early evening we headed along the shore to try the other spot but this turned out to be not as productive as our first mark. The water there was a lot deeper but the ledges proved more difficult to get our gear and fish back up over. Three more dogfish were caught before we called it a night taking our tallies to ten sharks each making the day a fairly busy one with plenty of exposure to sharks for Stewart. 

Another lovely evening making it a real pleasure to be out fishing.

After our failed attempts afloat on Loch Etive a couple of weeks ago it was good to see Stewart get his first sharks and I think he has gone some way to curing his mild phobia of them, although more "therapy" is probably required. Maybe in the summer we can up the ante and target tope and bull huss. Stewart's isn't keen on conger eels either so maybe that's an issue we can work on too. He does seem to be enjoy our fishing trips though which is of course the most important thing. Next time we go fishing we'll have a break from sharks but whilst we may target some smaller species I can't promise Stewart we won't encounter some vicious Blennies. If he thinks sharks are nasty he's in for a shock!

Tight lines, Scott.


  1. the picture of the doggie in the water is brilliant!

    1. Thanks Col. Fish always look better in water I think. I'd take up diving but that's probably even more expensive than fishing! ;-)