Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Another year comes to an end.

On the 21st and 22nd of December I had a trip down to Anglesey to target three bearded rocklings and conger eels planned but heavy rain and winds gusting to 40mph forced me to reluctantly abandon it. I was pretty disappointed because I was going to fish with two of my mates, Ad and Lee. The weather locally wasn't great either so to make matters worse I ended up not fishing at all on the two days I had taken off work.

On Boxing Day the wind finally dropped to single figures so I headed down to Torness Power Station outflow with my mate Nick to spend a few hours targeting mullet. We arrived to find the water was quite coloured up and a slight swell was breaking over the area we planned to fish. Not ideal but we gave it a go anyway and besides, Nick had a new fishing setup for mullet to hopefully christen. Chucking in plenty of groundbait a few small mullet eventually arrived but bites were few and far between and the small waves breaking in front of us made spotting them very difficult. Nick's float eventually went under though and a little golden grey mullet was soon in the net.

A new species for Nick. Species hunting isn't really his thing but he was chuffed all the same.
His lucky sunglasses made all the difference. A #18 hook I gave him no doubt played its part too. 

We carried on fishing and tried a second spot but didn't catch any more mullet. I dropped a bread flake into a rockpool and pulled out a blenny to avoid a blank. Not satisfied with a tasty appetiser of Warburton's Medium loaf it helped itself to a meaty main course.

It seems even blennies indulge themselves over the festive period. This one held on for about a minute occasionally clamping down which Nick and I both found quite amusing.

Returning our attention to trying to catch mullet we didn't have any joy so after a while called it a day and headed home. It may have been a fairly slow days' fishing but Nick really enjoys fishing for mullet and his nice new float rod will also be put to good use on a few coarse fisheries next year too.

I had two more days off work to go fishing before the end of 2014 and my mate Ross was came up from his family home near Manchester for a spot of blenny hunting. Not the vicious common blenny though, he was after a Yarrell's blenny and a viviparous blenny to add to his UK caught saltwater species list. Being a blenny lover myself I was happy to take him to the marks where I had caught both of these species earlier in the year to hopefully help him catch them.

The day he arrived the weather was OK for the time of year but for some reason Ross decided not to take a coat when we headed across the Forth to Burntisland Harbour late in the morning only choosing to tell me this once we arrived. The sky was clear but the harbour wall cast a shadow over us and a slight breeze blowing with its associated wind chill factor made it rather cold in our static positions as we ledgered small baits down the harbour wall. I suspected a Yarrell's blenny might be a big ask and sure enough it was tough going. We stuck it out for a couple of hours, Ross doing the odd star jump to try and warm up, with only a couple of tiny fish I caught to show for our efforts.

Ross patiently watches his rod tip for signs of interest as hypothermia slowly sets in.
Tiny bites and a switch to smaller hooks produced two sand gobies.

To defrost Ross slightly we decided to move, set the car heater to full and slowly drove along the coast to Kinghorn to see if we could winkle out some long spined sea scorpions from the rockpools there. I managed three from the same crack in a small pier including one with a rather strange face.

A rather large nose and slightly crossed eyes had Ross and I in stitches.
It had a very flat face. Perhaps it had swam into a rock or two?

The hilarity couldn't stop Ross from starting to freeze again so we decided to head back to Edinburgh to get some food and Ross's coat. A tasty roast ham and veg was devoured as we watched a couple of fishing videos filmed in the much warmer climate of Australia then off we went to Dunbar Harbour. Arriving as light was almost gone we fished at my nicely sheltered viviparous blenny hot spot and unsurprisingly Ross soon got his first fish of the day, a small coalfish. To try and avoid them and give any viviparous blennies a chance I used a #6 hook. This seemed to do the trick and after only twenty minutes or so when a larger fish finally had a go and got hooked it was our target for the evening. Ross was quite excited and perhaps a little jealous too but needn't have been as he didn't have to wait long at all to get himself one as well.

Viviparous fish are unusual becuase they give birth to live young that have developed inside their bodies. This one was either a pregnant female or had also enjoyed a hearty lunch.
This was the 84th saltwater species that Ross has caught from UK waters in the last three years. He was quite pleased. Not that you can tell from this photo.

Well chuffed to have caught what we came for we fished on for a while to see if we could catch some more but the resident coalfish became much more active and after a few dozen of them we decided to head up the road for a celebratory drink. This was overdone slightly and the next day we didn't do any fishing at all, electing to have a lie in and then watch a few more fishing videos as we nursed hangovers. Ross headed up to Aberdeen the next day. It had been good to fish with Ross again, help him catch something new whilst having a few laughs. I'm fishing with him in September again as he has booked the charter boat Bite Adventures for three days. We should both have the chance of some new species during that trip so I'm really looking forward to it but hopefully we'll get the chance to fish together before then.

Tight lines, Scott.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Ask the expert?

I've been exchanging emails recently with an angler from Fife called Dan who had been reading my blog and decided to get in touch. Feeling fed up of fishing in the sea in his local area using traditional methods and reeling in relatively small fish using fairly heavy tackle he has been exploring light rock fishing or LRF. For the avoidance of doubt this is the presentation of ultra light lures using a variety of methods and balanced ultra light tackle to target various species in saltwater. I was flattered when he said he wanted to ask an expert some questions but an expert in LRF I am not, by any stretch of the imagination. I was however happy to try and help him out and increase my circle of fishing friends in the process so I arranged to meet up with Dan last week and taking advantage in a drop in the wind we headed down to Dunbar Harbour for low water.

First off we started off drop shotting Gulp! and Isome in the old harbour for flounders but this didn't produce any bites. At this point I should say that both these products are examples of a hybrid of lure and bait because whilst they both take the form of an artificial soft plastic they both also contain active ingredients that fish can identify as belonging to something edible. This makes them incredibly effective and really they require little skill to achieve immediate results. Elitist, lure only anglers who use these hybrid products please take note, you might as well be using ragworm! Personally, being an angler who enjoys fishing with bait, lures and everything in between this doesn't bother me at all and I've caught lots of fish using both. On reflection though using these hybrid products does become the easy option when "lure" fishing and perhaps to the detriment of exploring other methods using wholly artificial lures.

As the flounders weren't around I suggested we headed over the back of the harbour to try and catch a few mini species in the rockpools. After explaining to Dan the types of features to look for in a rockpool that might hold some aggressive little fish we set about exploring to find some. The first thing I caught was a small hermit crab, one of several that stirred from their static positions and scurried across to attack my piece of Gulp!. Dan was quite surprised by the way everything in the rockpools, including the hermit crabs, reacted as soon as my chunk of Gulp! was dropped in even if I just let it sit on the bottom motionless.

The rockpools I searched soon produced a few gung-ho long spined sea scorpions.They charge out of their hiding places and attack with lots of aggression.
Dan was soon happily exploring on his own catching a few small spiky fish too.

After an hour or so, catching about ten long spined sea scorpions between us, we then headed further down the coast to St Abbs to try and catch some coalfish after dark using on the drop (OTD) methods. We probably could have stayed at Dunbar but usually down at St Abbs the fish are more numerous, occasionally bigger and there are usually far less seals too. Both armed with solid tipped rods we had a chat about the benefits of using them for fishing OTD. I started of with a mini Savage Gear Sandeel paddletail, casting it out and flicking the bail arm over as soon as it hit the water. I kept tension in the line, simply allowing it to fall back towards me in an arc. Fishing like this as well as feeling for positive bites you also have to watch your rod tip and line because some takes are not so obvious. If a fish takes your lure and swims upward or towards you the only sign might be a release in tension, the line going slack or even a subtle change in the slight bend in your rod tip as it straightens a little. Basically when fishing this particular OTD style I find that less is more and usually select a lure whose action works even at slow retrieve rates. Metals are also a great choice of lure for OTD fishing as again they have a nice action as they fall through the water attracting fish to investigate and strike. On this particular occasion however I found them to be not as effective as the paddletails. Again it didn't take long for Dan to try a few lures, make a few adjustments and start catching coalfish too. Over the next few hours we carried on messing about and must have caught about a hundred small coalfish between us by the time the wind picked up and our wet hands started to become unbearably cold.

These ravenous little buggers provide a good opportunity to practice fishing on the drop with both small soft plastics on jigheads and small metals too.

I really enjoyed the session and Dan said he felt he had learned from it too. It was nice to have helped another angler to get more from their fishing. I've lost count of the number of times in the past I've benefited from the advice of other anglers so it was good to share some of what I've learned for a change. It also made me realise that whilst Gulp! and Isome are highly effective fish catchers, other choices of lure when fished with the right technique can also produce fish if you are willing to put in some effort and on that front perhaps I am a bit of a lazy bugger. Anyway, going forward I think Dan and I will be meeting up again as his genuine interest in learning about the different approaches that LRF encompasses has kind of rekindled my own desire to try different methods within that particular subset of lure fishing. Gulp! and Isome are very effective weapons to have in your fish catching armoury but hopefully when we head out again we can both ditch them most of time, do some fishing with proper lures and broaden our LRF horizons a little further in the process.

Tight lines, Scott.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Most Wanted : Starry Smoothhound.

I did intend to head down the South West coast of Scotland and have a go at catching this species of shark from the shore this year with my mate Martin but we just never got round to it unfortunately.

Starry smoothhounds come inshore to feed mainly on crabs which is normally the bait anglers targeting them opt to use.

The starry smoothhound is virtually identical to its cousin the common smoothhound except the common smoothhound lacks the "starry" markings on its back. These are variable however and some starry smoothhounds lack these which poses an identification problem because there is no reliable method of distinguishing between the two species in live specimens apart from these white spots.

Spots the difference? Starry top and common bottom (or is it?).

The distribution of both however means that virtually all of the smoothhounds caught in UK waters are almost certainly the starry variety. A good illustration of the very low probability of coming into contact with common smoothhounds is the findings of a recent study into smoothhounds in the North East Atlantic. Over four hundred smoothhounds from around the UK were examined by survey scientists. Initially the sharks were all identified visually with the majority thought to be starry smoothhounds and only ten percent thought to be common smoothhounds. When their DNA was tested however it turned out that every single one of them was in fact a starry smouthhound. Presumably the misidentifications were due to a lack of dorsal spots and if marine biologists can get it wrong what chance has your average angler got?!

Interesting identification issues, species distributions and scientific studies aside, next year I will definitely be heading down to the South West coast of Scotland to have a go for them. I'm not sure if I'll try from the shore or go out in local skipper Spike's boat. Targeting them from afloat offers an opportunity to use lighter tackle and as they are renowned as one of the hardest fighting shark species perhaps this would be a more enjoyable approach to take. Hopefully Martin or some of my other fishing mates will be able to join me.

Tight lines, Scott.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Not a big fan?

At the weekend I made a comment on an online messageboard about not really being a big fan of winter cod fishing. My mate Ad, who lives in Aberdeen and does a lot of it, read this, questioned my manliness and invited me up to the North East for an evening clambering up and down its rugged coastline in the dark to target them. I couldn't refuse and drove up to meet Ad on Tuesday afternoon. Having checked the forecast before I left I knew the sea might be a bit rough but due to the direction the wind was forecast to be blowing from I didn't think it would be too bad. When I was almost there and the A90 approached the coast however I could sea that it was pretty rough. When I met Ad we quickly checked out a mark nearby to see how bad it was but it was just to dangerous to fish really.

Bit of a swell running and breaking over the rocks. Ad insisted on going down just to double check.

Undeterred, we headed north and found a slightly more sheltered bay although there was still a fair swell running. Ignoring the notice at the top of the cliffs we carefully made our way down to a comfortable grassy ledge high above the turbulent water below.

The North East coastline is a cod angling Mecca but fishing there is not without its risks. Great care is required even accessing marks.

Setting up a rod each with a pulley rig incorporating a rotten bottom link we had a few casts with black lug, squid and bluey cocktails being the baits of choice. After an hour or so with no interest shown we decided to head to another mark though. By the time we got there it was dark so on went the headlights. The wind had started to die down a bit and the large peeble beach we made our way down to offered us a bit of shelter too. The rain came on for a while and as the ebbing tide started to reveal some rocky skeers off to our left we stared getting a few bites. These were all missed until I connecting with a couple of them and landed two nice cod of about 2lb that I returned to get bigger.

The cavernous mouth of an eating machine.

As the tide turned the bites dried up so we decided to have a break and grabbed a tasty portion of chips before heading to try one final mark. Once there we started fishing from some rocks but as the tide flooded we were forced onto another large peeble beach nearby by waves breaking in front of us sending a lot of spray up almost soaking us a couple of times before we got the hint. There was not much action from the beach until Ad's rod tip violently came to life not long before we were going to call it a night and a cod of about 3lb was soon landed before we packed up.

A nice fish to end the session with for Ad.

It had been a fairly mild night temperature wise, we managed to find some shelter and a hat trick of cod. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and it was good to catch up with Ad. It's a wonderful stretch of coastline and I can see that whilst fishing it can be dangerous it can also rewarding. Ad, like many other winter cod devotees, is chasing a double figure cod from the North East shoreline and has come pretty close. Big fish are what attracts most anglers who focus their efforts solely on cod over the winter, driving them to fish in tough conditions on dangerous marks and it takes a special type of angler to do it I think. I'm happy to admit that I'm just not one of them. I'll stick to the odd occasional winter cod session in good company when the opportunity arises.

Tight lines, Scott.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Most Wanted : Madeira.

When it was pointed out to me earlier in the year that one of the budget airlines were launching a new route from Edinburgh to Madeira next year I had to have a look once the flights went live and when they did I couldn't believe how cheap they were. I spoke to my mate Lee and after spotting some cheap accomodation we both agreed it was too good to miss out on and booked ourselves up for a week at the beginning of March to escape the miserable UK winter!

As always I like to do bit of research into what species we are likely to encounter and as well getting an another chance to catch some of the species already on my "Most Wanted" I've picked out a few potential targets that I'm going to add to it as well that I'd like to catch. As usual a lot of the fishing we will be doing will be at the ultra light end of the specturm so I'll start with a few of the smaller species. It also goes without saying that no fishing trip abroad would be complete without a spot of exotic blenny hunting so I've indulged my fetish for the cheeky little fish and have included one!

Blacktail Comber.

Having caught common and painted combers I know that as a group of fish when they are in the mood they are super aggressive predators. They usually find small lures slowly worked through their territory most irresistible. I believe these to be fairly common around Madeira so finding a mark that holds some should be my only problem.

Red Banded Seabream.

A close relative of the red porgy (Couch's seabream) they have a very similar shape but a very different colouration having red and silver banding. This is most prominant in juveniles, fades in adult females and almost completely dissapears in adult males. They also have elongated fin rays on their dorsal fin. A very attractive fish indeed. 

Hairy Blenny.

Hairy blennies are found on both sides of the Atlantic and are so named due to the small rows of cirri on the top of their heads. Males (top) and females (bottom) look quite different. Males are smaller and more colourful with a dark body and a red head whilst females are, as is often the case with sexually dimorphic species, fairly bland by comparison. Both sexes have a dark spot on their gill plate that will aid identification should I catch any of them. 

Whilst Lee and I had lots of fun with smaller fish on Menorca some of the most exciting hookups were without question with the bigger, more powerful fish. Lee tells me he's been having a recurring dream about the European barracuda that he lost on Menorca so that will no doubt be pretty high on his agenda as they should be around. We've also been told that there should be a couple of pelagic species inshore when we are there so I have chosen one of them to add as well.

Bluefish.

A powerful pelagic predator with strong jaws and an impressive set of razor sharp teeth. A wire trace will be a must if we target these. Lee was on cloud nine when he landed a greater amberjack and a leerfish in quick succession during our trip to Menorca and I think if he catches one of these he'll be a very happy angler.

After enjoying an excellent fishing trip to Menorca with Lee in October this year I'm really looking forward to another species hunting adventure in foreign waters with him. I've set myself a little species hunting target of twenty five species including five new ones. Fishing in the UK over the next few months can be tough at times where we both live and this trip has given us both something to really look forward to.

Tight lines, Scott.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Under my nose the whole time!

Having done a fair amount of research into identifying UK grey mullet species, thick lipped and golden grey varieties in particular, I was already aware of a few key distinguishing features that can be used to tell them apart and the reality is they are actually quite distinct from one another. On Thursday night however I stumbled across a diagnostic method that I'd not heard about before. According to a post on an online forum discussing mullet, golden grey mullet have a two tone caudal fin which has a darker band on its edge that is visible when the fish is in the water whilst the caudal fin of a thick lipped mullet appears monotone. This immediately had me quite excited. Every session I've had down at the power station outflow there has been lots of very small mullet around and I was pretty sure that they had this dark tail edge. Early this morning I set off armed with my usual mullet gear along with some 2lb fluorocarbon, a packet of #18 hooks and a 3mm bread punch to try and find out if I was right. When I arrived the tide had just started to flood and the wind was no where near as strong as the forecast had predicted. It was actually fairly pleasant and when the sun appeared over the hills to the south east it was quite a sight. 

What a lovely way to start the day.

I quickly made my way down to a long gully in the rocks and made up my groundbait using two loaves of white bread, a couple of cans of sardines and some sea water. A generous amount was thrown in and then I waited for the small mullet to arrive. It didn't take too long and they did indeed seem to have the dark edge to their tail. I flicked my tiny bait past and then slowly drew my bolo float back in amongst them. After a minute or two it dipped under but I missed the bite. Reeling in my tiny bread plug was gone so I put another on the hook, casting back into the feeding shoal it only took a minute or two to go under again and this time it stayed under. Fish on and being only a few ounces it was very quickly brought to the surface and swung up into my hand. Was it a golden grey mullet though?

Yes it was! My one hundredth species from saltwater in 2014. Mission accomplished!
The golden spot on the gill plate is much more clearly defined on a golden grey mullet. They have a much more streamlined body too. Various other features were also quickly checked just so I was sure. 

Needless to say I was quite pleased to catch the little fish and shortly afterwards I caught a second. I was however slightly annoyed with myself that I had seen these fish every time I had been down there and hadn't tried to catch one to see if it was a golden grey. In truth had I not stumbled across the forum post I probably wouldn't have tried either. Anyway, the wind started to pick up and put a bit of chop on the surface of the water making things difficult so I decided to head up the road to get ready for work. With most of December left I don't think I'll be setting any new goals but I'd really like to catch up with a few of my fishing mates before the year is out so a few trips are in the pipeline. The fishing will be relaxed but if I'm lucky another species or two will get added to my tally before what has been an epic year comes to and end.   

Tight lines, Scott.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Calm before the storm.

Looking at the weather forecast for the next week or so yesterday things were about to get pretty grim as far as float fishing for mullet was concerned with very strong winds due to arrive over the weekend. Annoyingly the conditions as I sat in the staff canteen looking at the forecasts were great but that's not much use when you are stuck in work. Very frustrating indeed but with similar conditions forecast today before the predicted increase in wind strength started tomorrow I managed to wangle a shift change so I could go fishing this morning and early afternoon. I text my mate Nick to let him know my plans and still keen to catch his first UK grey mullet he was up for joining me.

Gear loaded into the car along with a few loaves of bread I headed down the A1, picked up Nick and drove down to Torness Power Station. As with previous sessions the first couple of hours were quiet as we fished from the rocks into a small bay. It wasn't until the tide pushed us back onto the sea defence boulders and the tide rose a little further that we started getting some interest from some mullet. A few blennies did guzzle our bread though and we caught three each before a mullet finally gobbled a fluffy white bait and sunk a float. I was first to hook one and it took my bread flake shortly after it hit the water. A small mullet was carefully played out and netted for me by Nick.

Another thick lipped grey mullet added to this years haul.

My next two casts also saw my float pulled under by fish but I failed to land either of them. The first was about twice the size of the one I landed and was on for a while but the hook pulled as it made a short powerful run when it saw the net. The second was not hooked for very long at all, throwing the hook after a couple of thrashes. By now Nick was desperate to get in on the action and soon it was his turn for three takes in rapid succession. He did the opposite to me and lost the first two before landing the third.

Nick with his first UK mullet. It gave a good account of itself and Nick told me it was the most fun he's had playing a fish all year. Mullet are good sport I have to agree.
Thick lipped was an understatement.

We carried on fishing but after this brief but frantic spell of action it went quiet again for about an hour as the tide turned. I had to get back to Edinburgh to start work at 15:00 so at about 13:30 I started having a few "last casts". The very last one producing another small mullet that had my hopes up it might be a golden grey.

Mullet fight hard and dirty. This one was no exception and tried a couple of times to get into the gaps in the submerged boulders.
It was yet another thick lipped mullet. Nick and I had a laugh about how good it is when you catch something with your "last cast".

Oh well another nice session targeting mullet but none of the golden grey variety again and I'm starting to wonder if they are still in the area. The power station has undergone major maintenance work this year and as a result hasn't been pumping out as much hot water so perhaps they have moved away? Maybe I've just been unlucky not to have come into contact with them? Who knows? Anyway, my thoughts are starting to turn towards other targets now with conger eels and three bearded rocklings at the top of my list although I'll need the right conditions to target those as well so really I'm at the mercy of the weather to a point. Mullet are great fun though, when conditions allow I'll be back down to the power station outflow again for more fun and I dare say Nick will join me if he can.

Tight lines, Scott.

I caught ninety nine species now I just need one.

With adding to my 2014 species from saltwater tally in mind, I got up early on Sunday and headed down to Torness Power Station outflow with my mate Nick for another session float fishing bread for mullet. We were expecting a slight swell but unfortunately when we arrived the conditions were far worse than we had anticipated forcing us to head to Dunbar instead for a couple of hours. The harbour is normally full of coalfish but incredibly we both blanked. I had planned to drive over to Anstruther in the evening to try and catch a five bearded rockling but feeling slightly dejected by how things had gone in the morning I decided not to in case I went all that way only to discover the sea state there was also unsuitable.

Yesterday I had a similar itinerary planned, a golden grey mullet session in the morning and a five bearded rockling session in the evening but checking the weather forecast on Monday night I changed my mind and decided to head to Anstruther late in the afternoon arriving just before low water to fish the tide up in darkness.

I arrived on the harbour's "White Pier" just after light started to fade and quickly set up two rods.

The ground outside the harbour where I decided to fish is mixed with some rocky areas and some sandy patches. I went with simple running ledgers incorporating a rotten bottom, #4 circle hooks snelled onto short six inch 15lb snoods with black lug and squid cocktails for bait. Preparing the cocktails I laid a strip of squid alongside the worms and bound it up into a little sausage using bait elastic. I nicked the top end of a one inch section onto the hook leaving the bait dangling and it free to do its job when a fish took the bait and either moved off or I saw the bite and lifted the rod.

The pier is a very comfortable venue to fish and is also very well lit. No rod rest is required either.

Things were very slow until the tide turned and began to flood again, a small codling being first to get hooked after a few little rattles failed to produce hookups. After a while and a few more bites not being converted I was beginning to consider altering my presentation slightly by changing my hooks from circles to Nordic bends to try and improve my hook up rate. Just as I was about to get them out of my box though one of my rod tips registered the interest of a fish so I picked it up. Feeling another tug I gently started winding in and felt a little extra weight. Soon winching my catch up the wall I lifted it up into sight and was very pleased to see a five bearded rockling nicely hooked. Quickly unhooking my ninety ninth species from saltwater in 2014 I took a photo of the handsome chap before putting him back.

As well as having five beards, five bearded rockling have a golden tinge to their gill plates and flanks which makes them fairly easy to distinguish from shore rockling.

Over the moon to be one species closer to my goal I carried on fishing. Shortly afterwards I caught a second five bearded rockling and then a small coalfish before things went quiet again. Having caught what I had came for I decided to end the session early and made the drive home. I now have four weeks to add one more species to my tally to take it to the one hundred mark. Further sessions down at Torness Power Station outflow should eventually produce a golden grey mullet but the conditions will play a big part in that too as Sunday showed. Indeed over the next week or so the wind is forecast to pick up a bit so I may have to try for something else. Luckily there are a few other species I could target that I haven't caught this year so I do have a few options open to me and overall I'm still fairly confident I'm going to achieve my goal. I can't see me catching anything I've not caught before but a three bearded rockling is one potential new species I'd love to catch. Anyway, it's good to have something to aim for at this time of year.

Tight lines, Scott.