Sunday, August 30, 2015

Species hunting adventures on the River Ebro and Catalonian coast : Part 1.

On Tuesday the 18th my mate Martin and I flew out to Spain to spend a week fishing on the River Ebro. It was an early start and after landing at Barcelona's El Prat airport we picked up our hire car. To break up the drive to Caspe, our base for the trip, we stopped on the way down the coast at Salou and fished on the Punta del Cavall, a rocky peninsula I spotted on Google Maps before we travelled. An hour or so fishing Angleworm on a drop shot rig saw me catching a few mini species. Martin fished a metal in the hope that something bigger would take it. 

My first fish of the trip was a ringneck blenny. I caught several of them from the rocky bottom close in. 
A couple of Mediterranean rainbow wrasse beat the blennies to my little lure. 

Casting out past the rocks into clean sand saw the bites dry up until I cast much further out. A few taps were eventually converted into a single lesser weever that had the decency to unhook itself and landing at my feet before flipping itself back in. A good thing as a weever sting wouldn't have been a good start to the trip. 

Martin patiently thrashed the water but didn't have any joy under the sunny Spanish sky which you could be forgiven for thinking was a sunny Scottish one. 

Back in the car we left the coast behind and headed inland. It was a nice drive and on the way we passed the Ebro a few times. Arriving in Caspe we passed a few tackle shops as we got lost trying to locate our hotel. One had several catfish stencilled on the walls outside.

Most anglers who visit the area do so to target the huge Wels catfish and carp that the river holds. 

Meeting our guide for the week, Lee Carpenter of Pro Predator, in our hotel bar we had a few beers and discussed the week ahead. He didn't pull any punches and warned us that the fishing of late had been tough but obviously we were still looking forward to getting out on the river the next day. 

The following morning we met Lee and were soon at the slip launching his boat on the river. Heading up stream we started off trying to catch zander using light tackle and a variety of different lures. We didn't have any success so did a bit of trolling lures for Wels catfish. Trolling is not really a method I've done much of or had the inclination to do so either but it soon became apparent that like other disciplines it has its own unique set of skills that need to be mastered. Lee knew his stuff in this respect and had one lure in particular that he has found to be very effective. The fishing was quite tough and sitting holding a rod can be a bit monotonous but when you do eventually get a take it is worth the wait, usually being very sudden and exciting too. 

My first Wels catfish on Lee's killer lure was just a small one
These Spro Pike Fighter jointed lures were very effective.
My first zander of the trip took one as well. 

After a while we had a go for zander around the pillars of a bridge. There were plenty of fish showing on Lee's fishfinder but getting them to bite proved difficult so we tried different lures and retrieve speeds which eventually saw Martin find out that spinnerbaits were effective. 

Martin's first fish of the trip was this nice zander. 

Then a rather big Wels catfish took Martin's spinner bait. As he was fishing using a light lure rod quite a battle soon commenced although to start with the fish stayed deep before deciding enough was enough and kicking off.

Fish on. To start with the catfish didn't really do much. It just plodded around and Martin patiently waited for it to start misbehaving whilst Lee slowly moved the boat away from the bridge. 
The big fish soon realised something wasn't quite right with its last snack, started to get a bit annoyed and as the fight intensified with each successive run it began heading back towards the bridge, slowly pulling the boat back with it. 

Martin did his best to try and maintain the upper hand but with the tackle he was using it was always going to be a difficult task. Eventually the fish ran under the bridge and when it went around one if its concrete pillars Martin's braid went and he lost the fish. He was gutted and the air turned blue as he vented his frustration. Putting it behind us and switching back to heavier gear we did a bit more trolling before calling it a day although this didn't see us getting any more catfish. 

Next morning we went back to the same stretch. Lee told us that some bait anglers were due to start fishing for catfish from the bank nearby the following day and their groundbait would draw the catfish away into the shallows. A spell trolling soon saw Martin get his first Wels catfish.

Martin's first Wels catfish comes to the surface. 
Then it heads back down into the murky depths again. 
Eventually it tired and Lee brought it on board for a quick photograph. 
They really are strange looking fish. Their tiny eyes can't be much use to them in the murky water so I guess they detect the movement of their prey with their long feelers and their lateral line sensors. Inside their rather big mouths they have crushing pads made up of hundreds of tiny sharp inward pointing teeth. 

We then did a bit of vertical jigging around the pillars of the bridge with some setups suited to the purpose. Plenty of big fish were showing on Lee's Humminbird screen but it took a while for one to strike at our lures, Martin's large white curlytail grub, as recommended and provided by Lee, being the lure taken. This saw him locked into another epic battle with a big fish. Armed with a setup perfectly suited to the task the biggest catfish of the trip was eventually boated after a lengthy but controlled fight. 

The short stiff catfish rod allowed Martin to apply more pressure to the fish helping him to keep it away from the bridge's concrete superstructure. 
108lb of Ebro predator.
Martin was left covered in smelly catfish slim but he didn't complain (too much). 

With no more takes fishing soft plastics vertically we did a bit more trolling and with Lee's jointed black and pink deep diving hard lure on the end of my line I caught another two catfish. 

After plodding around for a short period another angry catfish heads off on a short run. 
The catfish I was catching were getting bigger. 
I hold on tight as my second catfish of the day motors off up the river.  
My biggest one of the trip at 82lb. 

Our second day's fishing had been quite tough again but when we did get some action it was intense. Catching the catfish had been great fun but the following day we decided to have an earlier start to head down the river to the clearer waters there to target largemouth bass. 

A beautiful start to the day. 

On the way to the largemouth bass holding bays we stopped off to try for zander but despite lots of them showing up on the fishfinder we didn't have any luck tempting them. At the first largemouth bass spot Lee suggested that we work lures quickly near the surface over some submerged rock platforms and this advice soon saw Martin catch his first Spanish largemouth bass after he had a few bumps from fish. 

This fish took a Berkley Ripple Shad in white with a red tail. 

As we slowly worked our way around the bay Martin had a follow from another, much bigger fish but it turned away as it got closer to the boat. I meanwhile was getting a few knocks but wasn't having any joy connecting with them so I scaled down until I eventually caught a very small specimen that took my lure almost as soon as it hit the water very close to the rocky shore. 

A bit of finesse saw me catch my first, small but perfectly formed, largemouth bass

A visit to two additional largemouth bass holding spots didn't produce any more fish although we did see five or six of them close to the surface lazing in the sun that we couldn't tempt with anything we threw at them. Heading back up the river we fished soft plastics and eventually found a few fish. Martin had quite a bit of success slowly fishing a craw bait on a jika rig along the bottom. 

A nice zander for Martin. 

I fished my soft plastics on a drop shot rig. Lake Fork Trophy Live Swimmin' Slug, which are heavily scented with garlic and salt, caught a few nice perch. 

A nice chunky Ebro perch.
Jika rigged craw does the business again. 
Perch love worms. Gulp Sandworm is probably the deadliest worm imitation I know of. 

As our session finished late in the afternoon I talked Martin into heading to the coast for a couple of hours light game fun in the sea in the evening. L'Ametlla de Mar was our chosen destination and we headed all the way to the end of its outer breakwater to see what we could catch. Martin hadn't really tried this style of fishing before so I set him up with a drop shot rig baited with Angleworm and he was into a nice saddled seabream on his first cast before I had even finished setting up my own drop shot rig. I followed suit and we then enjoyed fairly steady action over the next couple of hours. 

Casting my rig out just past some boulders produced a few taps and eventually an East Atlantic peacock wrasse.  
This was the biggest of several annular seabream caught. 

After a few more annular and some saddled seabream Martin called over to say he had hooked a bigger fish. I was quite jealous when he landed this lovely looking fish.

I'm pretty sure this is a brown meagre. It had a beautiful purple sheen on its head and nicely coloured fins too. 

Shortly afterwards we both caught a black scorpionfish each and I also caught a single striped red mullet. 

Another new species for Martin. 

Exploring further around the rocks I spotted a few small black fish. Tying on a #14 soon saw me catch a few of them. 

Another pretty little species that is common in the Mediterranean, Damselfish have tiny mouth and an equally tiny hook and bait is needed to catch them. 

It was soon getting dark so we headed back through the mountains to Caspe. We had reached the half way point in the trip and whilst the fishing on the Ebro had been tough at times we had also caught some nice fish. It had been a long day and due to this we had arranged to meet Lee at noon on day four for an afternoon into darkness session. We were both keen to catch some more largemouth bass and bigger zander. The forecast was not looking great for the morning with thunderstorms and lightning forecast. We had our fingers crossed that these wouldn't continue into the afternoon but were optimistic that perhaps a bit of cloud cover would maybe see few more fish biting. 

Tight lines, Scott. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The final countdown.

Last Monday I managed to get away from work early and headed through to Galston in Ayrshire to my mate Martin's in preparation for our flight to Spain the following day. It was a lovely afternoon so on the way I made a slight detour, picked up a small tub of ragworm and decided to visit Greenock's Victoria Marina to have have a go for a common dragonet. There were lots of juvenile cod and hadock around and I thought that getting through them might be a big ask but before I had used up my first worm I caught my target.

Number forty in my Scottish saltwater species hunt. A fantastic start to my time off.

Having caught what I went for fairly quickly I decided to head south to Troon. Martin had told me there were plenty of rock gobies to be found in the rockpools there and he wasn't exaggerating. When I slowly approached them I could see my target sitting on the bottom before shooting off into the weeds when they saw me. A #14 hook and single split shot was soon on the end of my leader and a little piece of ragworm was soon being dangled in close to potential fish holding areas. Rock gobies are not shy but a particularly bold blenny bullied its way past one to be my first fish from the mark. Not to be outdone in the kamikaze mini species stakes, three rock gobies all took my miniscule offering, darting out to gobble it up, were hooked and quickly landed.

The biggest of the trio.

Grinning like an idiot I headed off to Martin's, grabbing a couple of celebratory bottles of beer en route. I now have nine species left to catch to reach the fifty mark. Looking at my list of remaining potential targets I'm feeling fairly confident with a day out of Port Logan already arranged and a second in the pipeline where I have a good opportunity to tick off a few more. Those trips along with shore sessions on my days off work will with any luck see me achieve my goal over the next four months.

Tight lines, Scott

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Beauty and the beast.

Two weeks ago on my days off I organised a couple of trips with some of my fellow fishing addict friends. The first trip saw me heading to Bonawe Quarry with Col and Nick to target spurdogs. The first mark we fished was very hard going and tackle losses were high. We did manage a few fish but after a while we decided to move to another spot.

This dogfsh was as rough as the ground we were fishing. Not the shark I was after either.

At the second spot the ground was much more forgiving so as well as fishing our bait rods we also had a bit of light game fun which saw us catching a few small cod, poor cod, coalfish and pollock. One of my smaller pollock was a particularly nice looking little fish. 

A lovely little bar of copper.

We also caught dozens of grey gurnard, a species Col had never caught before so it was nice to see him catching a few. On the heavier gear a few cod were caught and I also managed a few more sharks but again the spurdogs failed to put in an appearance.

As well a second dogfish I also caught a couple of thornback rays. Their eyes are quite beautiful.
I love watching rays swim off, effortlessly using their wings as they slowly glide away out of sight.

Before we left we put the bait gear away and had half an hour or so fishing right up inside the quarry with our light game gear. This saw us catching more pollock, cod, poor cod and grey gurnards. Arriving back just before midnight I could have done with a lie in the following day but instead I headed out again with my lure maniac mate Dimitrios.

After picking him up at Waverley train station I drove us down to St Abbs Head so we could spend the day fishing for pollock and wrasse with lures. At the first mark things were fairly slow apart from a few small pollock and coalfish. There were quite a lot of boats out either taking divers out or collecting lobsters from the many pots that are dropped in the deep water around the rocks. After a while a pod of dolphins appeared, something that I've never seen before down there.

It was nice to see them but their arrival seemed to kill the action off for a while.

Waiting for things to hopefully pick up again I began losing a few rigs to snags which was starting to get a bit frustrating. Dimitrios then thought he was snagged too. He quickly managed to get his paddletail lure free and moving again although with a bit of extra weight attached. At first he wasn't entirely sure if he had a fish on or perhaps some kelp but a fish soon slowly appeared from the depths and what a beast it was! 

Easily the biggest short spined sea scorpion I've ever seen being caught.

Dimitrios was quite rightly over the moon with this capture. I found witnessing it quite surreal and pretty hilarious. The size of the mouth on the fish was utterly obscene. After we stopped laughing we decided to try a second mark. Accessing it was quite tricky but we took our time and were soon at the end of a long rock skeer. Fishing away we both soon caught a ballan wrasse each.

My first East Coast ballan of the year.

Things then went a bit quiet again so Dimitrios started exploring the area a little more and soon found some fish again, catching a succession of nice pollock that put a good bend in his rod.

His elevated position gave him an advantage in the ensuing fights.

Soon it was time to make the climb back up, head back to the car and drive back up the A1. I hadn't enjoyed as much action as Dimitrios had but then he's a much more accomplished lure angler than I am and is much more patient when it comes to fishing certain methods at times when the fishing isn't very productive which usually sees him rewarded eventually. It had been a nice day out and seeing the dolphins and witnessing Dimitrios catch the big short spined sea scorpion had made climbing up and down the cliffs well worth the effort.

Tight lines, scott.

Monday, August 10, 2015

No gold but happy with silver.

I popped down the coast on Sunday evening for a few hours to try and add to my Scottish saltwater species tally. First I visited Gullane Bents to try for lesser weever and turbot. Armed with a set of sabiki and a small tub full of little chunks of bluey I spent a couple of hours wandering along the beach as the tide started to flood. My baited sabiki attracted no interest whatsoever so I headed further down the coast to Torness Power Station outflow to try for golden grey mullet. My groundbait soon attracted a small shoal of fish and freelining a tiny piece of bluey on a #18 hook saw me land my first ever Scottish sand smelt. 

Sand smelt are easily identifiable. They have a dark green back and a very shiny silver "thread" that runs inside the length of their almost translucent flank. Good eating too when fried whole in a light batter I'm told but you'd need to catch quite a few to make a meal of them.

I caught three more before setting up a bolo float to target golden grey mullet. Adding more groundbait eventually saw some mullet arrive but judging by the size of the disturbances on the surface as they attacked larger pieces of floating bread I think they were thick lipped grey mullet. None of them were tempted by my hookbait and after an hour or so with no sign of any golden grey mullet and my groundbait all used up I called it a night. At least one more trip to Torness Power Station outflow on the cards then. 

Tight lines, Scott.

Thirty eight.

I turned thirty eight last Thursday. I didn't get a chance to do any fishing but the following day looking at the evening's forecast I spotted an opportunity to have another go for the mullet at what can be Scotland's least pleasurable mark to visit, Torness Power Station outflow area. I picked up my mate Nick at 19:00 and off we went to fish the last few hours of the flood into dusk. There weren't many other anglers fishing when we arrived and with no boats or netters around either we didn't have to watch undersized fish being targeted and taken illegally on the same disgusting scale we had to during our last visit. Things were slow to begin with but small groups of mullet did start turning up to munch on our groundbait before heading off again. The odd fish nosed our bread flake hook baits but not in a really positive way. Once the tide had flooded enough to cover our favourite spot sufficiently we moved over to the rocks next to it and it didn't take long at all for the mullet to "switch on".  This saw us hooking nine and landing six in fairly short period. The three we lost were down to us both tightening up our drag too much to bully hooked fish away from the gaps in the rocks we were standing on. As ever the fight the mullet put up was quite something else and it was a real pleasure catching them. 

Even fairly small thick lipped grey mullet have incredible stamina requiring a patient approach to playing them out.

Each fish I caught got progressively smaller. This had me hopeful that I'd get a golden grey mullet too but all the fish caught were the thick lipped variety. When it was too dark to see our float tips anymore we called it a night but I dare say the fish were still active. It was nice to get my thirty eighth Scottish saltwater species as a belated thirty eighth birthday present. Fishing for mullet is both frustrating and exhilarating and both Nick and I love it. I guess my love-hate relationship with Torness Power Station outflow will have to continue until I capture a golden grey mullet to add to this year's tally. Nick and I really need to find some alternative venues to target thick lipped grey mullet though as we both love targeting them and if I'm to stop frequenting the outflow permanently we'll have to get our fix elsewhere. 

Tight lines, Scott.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

The lesser of two sandeels.

My mate Ryan recently caught a couple of lesser weevers and a turbot from an East Lothian beach so on Monday evening after work I headed down to have a go myself. Conditions looked good when I arrived at about 21:30 and the tide would soon turn and start flooding. I started off with good old tried and tested, catches anything that swims, Angleworm on a drop shot rig. Casting it out, holding my light game rod feeling for bites, drawing it a few feet closer in and repeating this until the rig was under my rod tip before moving along the beach to cast it out again, I was sure something would attack it eventually. Nothing did however. After a couple of hours and with the moon rising into the dark night sky I admitted defeat and trudged back to the car.

On Wednesday afternoon I decided to try again but from a different beach and looking at the weather forecast decided that Gullane Bents would be a good choice. I arrived just after low water and headed west along the beach to a rocky peninsula I've fished from in the past with heavy bait gear. There were a few terns diving into the water catching sandeels so as I was armed with a light game outfit again I decided to try fishing a small metal very slowly close to the bottom in the hope the a buried weever or turbot might emerge and attack it. After an hour or so moving around trying to cover lots of ground with no interest shown in my lure I switched to Angleworm on a drop shot rig and worked the area again hopeful that its strong scent might draw one of my target species out of the fine sandy botttom. Rather frustratingly however this also failed to produce any interest either so I started slowly working my way back along the beach. Soon arriving at a nice rock formation that jutted out into the bay I went out to the end of it and started covering as much ground as I could. Eventually the tide began forcing me back towards the beach. When I got about halfway back I finally had a good firm bite and the fish hooked itself. I was fishing the metal again at the time so was slightly surprised to see a small flounder had taken it.

A small milestone. My first flounder on a light game metal.

Confidence in my chosen approach restored somewhat I carried on fishing the metal and once I had been forced back onto the beach I carried on slowly working my way east along it. After a while I had my second positive take and hook up of the session, on the drop just after casting out. The fish on the end barely put a bend in my rod so I knew it was something small. As I carefully reeled it in I thought it might be the poisonous of my two targets but as it came into view I could see it was in fact a sandeel. Quickly unhooked I was about to throw it back when I noticed it lacked the dark spot on the snout that a greater sandeel has so thought I'd better inspect it more closely. I was glad I did because I soon realised it was in fact a lesser sandeel.

Its protrusible upper jaw gave away its identity. The greater sandeel lacks this.
Quite a large lesser sandeel. Of specimen proportions actually.
The metal that caught both fish. A 5g Reins Palpuntin. It's a great little lure but it's also quite an expensive little metal that I'd be hesitant to fish near any snags. Perfect for use over clean ground.

Quite pleased to have unexpectedly added a species to this year's Scottish saltwater tally I carried on working my way along the beach. When I got to the far end I switched to Angleworm on a drop shot rig and worked my way back along to where I had first arrived on the beach. The sun, which had been fighting a losing battle with the clouds all day, managed to break through a small gap in them illuminating a patch of the sea.

A Scottish summer evening in all its glory.

I had a few more casts but when it started raining I decided it was time to head home. Another failure on the weever and turbot front and with only two bites over several hours of fishing it was hard going too. Catching the flounder on the metal was pretty cool though and the surprise lesser sandeel might prove vital in reaching my goal of fifty species from Scottish saltwater this year. I'll be back to try for lesser weevers and turbot again soon although I might try fishing baits for them next time.

Tight lines, Scott.