Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Everything clicking into place.

Last Wednesday despite a pretty grim weather forecast I drove across the country to Loch Linnhe and had an evening session targeting conger eels. Driving up through Glencoe the colours of Autumn were very evident and there was snow on the mountain peaks. 

Winter is on its way.
The imposing Buachaille Etive Mor never fails to impress.

Sure enough once I got to Loch Linnhe conditions were far from ideal but I gave it a go from a small stone pier on the eastern shore of a small bay. Five hours soldiering on in very strong wind and moderately heavy rain showers only produced a single dogfish and I left questioning my decision to leave the house to fish on such a horrible night.

On Sunday there was a break in the weather and it turned out to be a lovely sunny day with hardly a cloud in the sky. I headed south west to a rock mark north of Port Logan with my mate Martin to have another go for a conger eel with three bearded rockling also being a possible catch. It was our first time visiting the mark and after parking the car we discovered that to reach the grassy clifftop above the rocky shoreline we had to negotiate a few stone walls, a field that had a bull in it and as I would discover a few live electric fences as well. Ouch! Once we finally got along to the mark we clambered down and started fishing two rods each, one with a big bait for conger eels and the other with smaller baits for three bearded rockling. There was a slight swell breaking on the rocks but apart from that it was a lovely evening and as we waited on darkness we caught a few small pollock and coalfish. 

As the sun set we were both hopeful that our two targets would start feeding.

As it got dark I got a bite pretty much as soon as I cast out after rebaiting and reeling in I had a double shot of fish on my rig. A shore rockling and a mackerel, possibly the oddest double shot I've ever caught. It was even odder because I had literally just said to Martin that visiting in the summer and catching some fresh mackerel would perhaps make a difference to the success of a conger eel trip. The fishing gods having heard my comment and delivered me some I was keen to take advantage so the mackerel was dispatched and a nice fresh fillet was used along with a whole squid for my next conger bait. It was out for a while when my reel's ratchet clicked rapidly in short bursts twice in fairly quick succession. Martin said it was an eel straight away and I picket up the rod and put it into gear. Waiting a little longer I struck into the fish and feeling the weight of it began winding in quickly to get it up away from the bottom. The fish felt small though, was no match for my rough ground setup and was quickly wound in. Coming into view Martin was proved correct and we made our way down the rocks closer to the water to land it. Martin was ready to lift it out but as it was so small and it looked like it had the bait far enough inside its mouth I took a risk and just quickly lifted it up with my rod. Luckily it stayed on and was swung up behind us where it couldn't fall off and make an escape.

Scottish saltwater species number sixty this year.
Yes!

My heart was pounding and as well as being very happy I also felt a great sense of relief. Relief that I had reached a milestone that I may never get the opportunity to reach again. We fished on for a couple of hours more and I switched my attention to fishing smaller baits closer in to try and tempt a three bearded rockling but things went rather quiet so we called it a night and headed back to the car, thankfully avoiding any nasty shocks or angry bulls. This year's Scottish saltwater species hunt has been an epic adventure but I now plan on having a short break until I go to Tenerife next month on holiday. Switching off might be tough though and I may find this difficult! In the back of my mind I'm wondering if I could add any more saltwater species to my Scottish 2015 tally between now and the end of the year. The list of potential targets is now very short so it would be tough but if the conditions are right and an opportunity to do so presents itself I'll no doubt abandon my self imposed fishing ban and give it a bash.

Tight lines, Scott.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The sweet smelt of success.

I drove up to Dundee yesterday to have another session fishing the Tay Estuary in the hope that I would get lucky and catch a smelt. I decided to fish a bit further up the river than my last visit, mainly so I could fish out of the boot of my car and quickly pack up and head to a second spot should the first not prove productive. In contrast to my last session things were very slow, perhaps because the water was a bit more coloured, and it took quite a while before I got any bites. I missed the first few but on my third cast my rod tip nodded a couple of times and I wound in to find a double shot of a small flounder and a smelt on my rig. Needless to say both were quickly swung up the wall.

Only my second ever European smelt, known in Scotland as a sparling. My fifty ninth species from Scottish saltwater this year.

To say I was over the moon would be a massive understatement and I felt like jumping around shouting like an idiot, but didn't want to startle a nearby dog walker. After putting the fish back I took a moment to compose myself before rebaiting and casting out again. I carried on fishing but after a while with no more interest shown in my small cocktail baits, having caught my target, with rain beginning to fall and more dark clouds heading towards me, I decided to end the session prematurely, quickly packed up and headed back down the road. Only one more species stands between me and a tally of sixty saltwater species from Scottish waters. A conger eel seems the most likely species to see me achieve this but a three bearded rockling, black mouthed dogfish or fifteen spined stickleback are also possible targets over the next few weeks that might also get me there. I can't see myself being in this position again so will be going all out to get the final species. 

Tight lines, Scott.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Fishing flat out.

On Tuesday evening, taking advantage of a drop in the wind, I had another go for a conger eel from an Eyemouth rock mark. This unfortunately only resulted in lots of lost gear and a blank so the following day I headed up to Dundee to fish the Tay estuary. I've been told that a few European smelt were caught recently during a match so I was hoping to get lucky and catch one myself. To increase my chances I fished two rods. Three hook flappers were my rig of choice and I went with light snoods and Nordic bend hooks baited with black lug and tipped with a mackerel sliver. My first rod tip was going before I had finished baiting up the rig on my second and the first fish of a hectic session was a dab. This was soon followed by a sea trout and then more dab and flounder. More flatfish followed and I was kept busy unhooking dabs and flounders, the rod still in the rest often registering interest as I was rebaiting the other one.

The first dab of many. 
A nice looking fish. 
Lots of flounder were around too. 

As the tide picked up weed and debris building up on my line became a pain and I began to wish I had mono mainline as removing it from my braid was a real chore. I ended up cutting off my rig, sliding the weed off from my braid and tying my rig back on again repeatedly to speed up removal. As the tide dropped off this became less of a problem again and I caught a second sea trout. As high tide approached it started raining and did so constantly for an hour or so. Looking like a drowned rat I fished away and had caught just short of fifty flatfish by the time I eventually run out of bait. This was no big deal as by that point the tide was ebbing and combined with the flow of the river had produced a down stream current that was gradually becoming too strong to fish effectively so I packed up and headed off. It had been an enjoyable session despite not catching any smelt. I might return and try from Broughty Ferry or from the Fife side at Tayport. I might also try a night time session as well. The Estuary offers reasonably sheltered fishing in windy weather and looking at the forecast there's plenty more of that over the next few days.

Tight lines, Scott.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Most Wanted : Atlantic Halibut.

Recently I've been watching a few videos on fishing in northern Norway. It looks awesome and whilst massive cod and huge coalfish feature heavily it is an even larger fish that has captured my imagination, the Atlantic halibut.

The Atlantic halibut is the largest flatfish in the world a can reach over an incredible 700lbs in weight!

Whilst they normally swim gracefully close to the bottom, where they feed on other fish and crustaceans, they are also capable of very fast bursts of speed when hunting and have a large cavernous mouth that is full of small sharp teeth.

They have an impressive set of nashers.

It's easy to see why the species has a god like status amongst some Norwegians and seventeenth century poet Petter Dass romanticised about the much revered fish writing: "You loveliest halibut, you queen of the waters.".

Big cutbait shads and pirks worked slowly close to the bottom on the drift seems to be a good way of catching them. My mate Martin has been to Norway several times, enjoying great success targeting halibut using this approach and has put me in touch with someone who organises fishing trips over there.

A happy Martin with a nice big Atlantic halibut.

Atlantic wolfish, already on my "Most Wanted" list, along with torsk and Norway redfish are also possible targets too which also make arranging a trip appealing from a species hunting perspective.

The Norway redfish is normally only found in very deep water. It would be a nice bonus to catch a few. Martin tells me they taste great as well.

I already have next year's holidays all planned out so a trip to Norway will have to wait. Definitely a trip I'm keen to do though although I'll need to get a few more anglers to go as well. Anybody fancy it?

Tight lines, Scott.

Friday, November 06, 2015

The hunt continues...

Over the last two weeks I've been out a few times trying to add to my 2015 Scottish saltwater species tally of fifty eight. Fifteen spined sticklebacks are proving elusive but I suspect that the conditions are a major factor and having treated myself to new waders and a new headtorch I plan on doing some shallow night time wading in weedy areas if there is a period of settled weather. Two spotted gobies however seem to be around whatever the tide and weather throws at them. I'm spotting them all over the place at the moment and have caught a few whilst trying to tempt fifteen spined sticklebacks out of hiding using my micro fishing float rig.

Dunbar Harbour produced this specimen two spotted goby. 

I've also had a few sessions targeting conger eels and three bearded rocklings. The first was locally with my mate Nick at the back of Dunbar Harbour but unfortunately we both blanked. On Sunday I headed down to the Mull of Galloway to explore some new marks there. This first two were on the northern side and involved descending a fairly steep grassy bank before carefully climbing down the rocks at the bottom. A misty morning had left the ground damp which meant I had to take my time so as not to slip. Once down however both offered a comfortable grassy fishing platform, I quickly set up and the waiting game began. 

East Tarbet along to my left. 
Reel in free spool with the ratchet on. I waited for clicks. 

The sea floor was very rough so I fished a mackerel fillet on a #8/0 hook at the end of a 200lb mono hooklength on a running ledger incorporating a rotten bottom. Standard shore fishing conger tactics really. My battered old Ron Thompson Axellerator sat motionless for a while and winding in to change bait the rocks and kelp claimed some tackle before I finally got a bite and landed the rather greedy culprit. It never fails to amaze me how big a bait a dogfish will try and munch. 

I don't care what other anglers think about dogfish, I still like catching them. 
They are quite adorable really. 

Over the next few hours more end tackle was lost and two more ravenous little sharks were landed but sadly my ratchet gave no indication that a conger eel had taken my bait. As I wanted to head up to West Tarbet while it was still light to find a spot on the rocks to fish for three bearded rockling into darkness, I packed up just before 16:00, climbed back up and headed back across the cow filled field to the car. Soon on the southern side of the peninsula I found a comfortable spot just as light faded and got as comfortable as I could wedged into a ledge. Focusing on three bearded rockling I swapped my hooklength out for a much lighter one with a #1 hook and fished strips of mackerel straight down the side. It was not as snaggy as the afternoon's marks and I was soon catching a few more dogfish. Then I felt a slow pull and reeling my rig up felt a dead weight which turned out to be an octopus. I carefully unhooked and put it down next to me to photograph. Trying to pick it up again to put it back the octopus turned white, went fairly rigid and refused to let go of the rocks so I let it make its own way back to the water. Watching it slowly makes its way down the rocks, squeezing through narrow cracks on the way, was fascinating.

 A highly skilled contortionist.

It went quiet after that but sitting on the rocks holding my rod I suddenly realised I had some company. A few rather large sea slaters had emerged from their hiding places for an evening snack on small mackerel chunks that I had dropped whilst preparing my baits.

Most fish will readily take mackerel. So do sea slaters. 

With a long drive home to make it was soon time to head off. I hadn't caught either of my two targets but it was good to fish some new marks and I'll be back to try them again.

On Tuesday I returned to the area, popping into the tackle shop in Stranraer for a box of ragworm and some advice on my targets from the shop's owner Eric. After receiving both I headed to Port Logan and made my way south looking for a new mark to try for three bearded rockling. Once I found a jagged rocky skeer that I could safely access I set up my rod and started fishing. The sun had not yet set and trying a section of ragworm on my hook saw me hooking a fish almost straight away. Given it's November I was slightly surprised to reel in a chunky ballan wrasse. It was followed by a few more. I guess the warmest start to November since records  began has delayed their departure to deeper water. 

The first and largest of seven. 

As light faded the wrasse stopped feeding and I started catching a few small pollock. It wasn't until it was really dark that my bait got the opportunity to sit unmolested on the bottom long enough to attract a rockling but unfortunately when it did it wasn't the three bearded variety.

A small shore rockling. Not the species I was after. 
Almost as greedy as a dogfish. This little chap managed to cram a #2/0 hook into its mouth. 

Shortly afterwards I caught a second shore rockling and then it went very quiet for a couple of hours so I made my way back to the car and headed north to Portpatrick Harbour. Eric had suggested that fishing a certain area inside it from low water up might produce a conger eel. As the chances were that any eel that I came into contact with would be relatively small one I scaled down my hooklength to 135lb mono with a #6/0 hook and fished mackerel fillets. Lowering my bait down the side close to some submerged blocks I got comfortable and waited for the ratchet to click. Sadly over the next four and a half hours it remained silent.

Feeding the crabs with mackerel fillets.

I was almost out of bait when it started to rain just after 03:30 and I was struggling to stay awake too so I decided to end the session and made the long drive back to the capital stopping for a sleep on the way. The seven hours plus of driving to and from the area is a the only thing I dislike and I really wish I had a good conger mark a lot closer to home. I do think the area offers me the best chance of catching both a conger eel and a three bearded rockling though so I'll be making the drive again soon when the conditions are favourable.

Tight lines, Scott.