Saturday, May 18, 2024

Name that fish!

Being a bit of a geek, I pride myself on my knowledge of fish. From time to time, I get asked to identify fish by fellow anglers who catch species they might not be familiar with. Last weekend, I was sent some pictures of a tiny clingfish by my mate Andrew. “Is this just a juvenile Connemara clingfish?”, he asked. I didn't think it was, but after looking at more of his photos of the fish in question, photos of the clingfish I have caught myself in the past, and quickly consulting some books I own to jog my memory of the clingfish species found in the UK, I was certain it was not.

The tiny fish in question. Those black marks are millimetres apart!

The fish’s dorsal and anal fins were too small and were also separate from the tail fin for it to be a Connemara clingfish. The Connemarra clingfish has much bigger dorsal and anal fins that reach the tail fin but aren't connected to it. Both the shore clingfish and the Cornish sucker, now recognised as two distinct species, also have much larger dorsal and anal fins which are connected to the tail fin. By elimination, it could only be one of the two remaining UK cling fish species, the two-spotted clingfish or the small-headed clingfish. Colouration varies greatly, so their teeth require examination, as this is the only key identifying feature that can be relied upon to distinguish between the two. Both possess small, rounded incisors at the front of their jaws. The small-headed clingfish also has one to three large canine teeth on each side of their mouth, whilst two-spotted cling fish have none. Obviously Andrew had not checked his fish’s teeth, so we cannot be certain of its identity one hundred percent, but after showing his photo to others who have encountered both these small clingfish, the consensus seems to be that it is a small-headed clingfish.

Either way, I was very excited by his capture, and we hastily arranged to meet up midweek to see if we could catch another one. On Wednesday, I drove through to Greenock, and we met up at East India Dock to fish there for a couple of hours while we waited for the tide to go out so we could visit his clingfish mark. Predictably, the resident goldsinny wrasse were soon munching my slightly unorthodox choice of hookbait.

Double maggot! Normally used for freshwater fishing, they’re a perfect little wriggly snack for small saltwater species too!

After catching lots of wrasse, it was soon time to head off to hunt for clingfish. After a short drive and parking the car, walking a short distance and scrambling down some rocks, we were soon fishing in the area where he’d caught the clingfish a few days earlier. Things were a little slow, but eventually we both caught some corkwing wrasse and a few painted goby.

Painted goby, a new species for Andrew.

After a while, Andrew switched to dropping his rig down into gaps in the boulders we were standing on. He was hoping to catch a large short spined sea scorpion he’d hooked and lost a few days earlier. He didn’t get one, but was rewarded with a nice tompot blenny instead.

Andrew’s first tompot blenny of 2024.

After a couple of hours, I had tried a few different baits on my tiny hook, but hadn’t caught the clingfish I was after. Eventually, the tide forced us to leave the mark, so we spent an hour fishing under a nearby pier. As well as catching a few more painted goby, I caught what I was confident was a common goby.

A lateral line scale count was later carried out to confirm this was indeed a common goby.

By midafternoon, Andrew had already stayed a couple of hours longer than he had originally planned, or should I say, been given permission for. That’s married life and being the father of a newborn baby for you I suppose!

On my own for the rest of the day, I headed back to East India Dock, where I fished for a few more hours. All I caught were a few goldsinny wrasse, with only a solitary long spined sea scorpion taking an interest in my squid tentacles.

I love long spined sea scorpion.
They're such charismatic little fish!

Feeling a bit hungry by this point, I headed off to get some food and to check into my accommodation for the night. I was planning on revisiting the cling fish spot again the following day. It was at this point I noticed I was a little bit sunburnt. Oops. Overcast or not, that's what will happen if you go fishing without a hat and don't put any SPF on! Despite this, I decided to head out for another hour's fishing near where I was staying. I quickly got setup again on some benches with some fishy mosaics embedded in them.

The mackerel are in!

After fishing next to the benches for a while and catching nothing, I walked a hundred meters or so along the promenade and fished near some rocks. This proved to be a good decision, as after a chunky corkwing, I caught a pollock and a codling that took my squid strip and put a good bend in my ultra light rod.

A nice pollock.
Followed up a few casts later by this nice codling.

I returned to my accommodation and had a reasonably early night. I didn’t sleep too well though, due mainly to my pulsating head, and in the morning I decided to have a lie in. Once up, I checked out of the hotel and went to a supermarket to grab some food, a hat, and a bag of raw prawns to use as bait. I’d tossed the remainder of my squid into the sea the previous evening, as it didn’t smell too great, but I had some maggots left to use as well.

I headed to East India Dock whilst the tide dropped. Once there I set up a three hook flapper rig with #18 hooks and cast them out as far as I could as I was hoping to catch a dragonet. I hadn’t been fishing long when Andrew drove along from the end of the breakwater, he had been out “walking his dog”, who was in the back of his car. He told me he’d had a short session on the inside of the pier, and he had lost a nice ballan wrasse in the rocks there.

I fished away, but things were pretty slow. The wind had also picked up, so I decided to just stay put for the rest of the day. Eventually I caught a sand goby, a few dabs and a black goby at distance on tiny pieces of prawn.

My setup was so sensitive that I saw this sand goby’s bite.
I caught quite a lot of these small dab.
My little tank is great for seeing all the features of small fish like this black goby.

In the afternoon, the wind dropped off and the clouds parted. By early evening, it was a beautiful day. Slathered in SPF 50, I hid in the shade of my car’s open boot and turned my attention to dropping maggot into the rocks directly in front of me. This had predictable results and I caught quite a few wrasse. Mainly goldsinny, but I did also catch a couple of corkwing and a solitary rock cook.

A lovely calm sunny evening.
Fishing in close produced this colourful male corkwing wrasse
I love catching rock cook wrasse. They’re so cute with their tiny little lips.

After a while, I switched back to fishing at distance, but the current had dropped off and so did the bites. After over an hour with no fish showing any interest in my baits, I packed up and made the drive home. Before I left I had a brief chat with another angler who told me that some topknot had been caught recently from down in the rocks at East India Dock. Greenock, and the surrounding area, really is a bit of a species hotspot. No doubt I’ll be back there again soon to hunt for topknot and tiny clingfish.

Tight lines, Scott.

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Not a new nemesis after all.

I visited Drumtassie Coarse Fishery on Thursday to try my luck at catching a Siberian sturgeon again. I've had a few attempts now and was beginning to think it might take me a long time to eventually get one. A potential new nemesis. Having chatted to a customer in work who had caught them during a recent session, I arrived very early to ensure that I got a peg in the area he had been fishing. During my last visit, I had fished in fairly shallow water, whilst he had caught them from the deepest part of the pond. I quickly got set up, and was soon catching a few fish using a pretty straight forward approach.

Nothing fancy, just a couple of pieces of chopped worm, ledgered on the bottom using a light feeder rod.

After four hours, I’d caught several common, mirror and F1 carp, a few tench, an ide, and a perch. After a short break for a bite to eat, I started fishing again. In my head I'd imagined how a sturgeon might fight, in some strange way given it looks so different to other freshwater fish, so when I hooked a fish that didn’t fight in any way unusually, I thought nothing of it. When it came close to the surface however, and I got a brief glimpse of a shark like tail fin, my heart rate instantly increased quite dramatically! I’d hooked my target!

Don’t come off. Don’t come off. Don’t. Come. Off!

Playing the fish carefully, trying not to bully it too much in case I pulled the hook, it eventually tired, came to the surface, and was drawn into my waiting net!

A juvenile Siberian sturgeon. My first sturgeon of any kind!
A small but perfectly formed, if somewhat odd looking, freshwater fish.
Its head was hard and bony, with a quartet of barbules.
They also have a protrusible mouth, that reminded me of the mouth of a saltwater ray.

I was ecstatic, and even better, soon followed it up with a second shortly afterwards. I'm not sure how many of them have been stocked, but I think they must be swimming around the pond in groups. Anyway, it was another species mission successfully accomplished! It's very satisfying to catch what you are after, and another species had been added to my Scottish lifetime list, edging me a little closer to my goal of one hundred, leaving me with only four to go! 

For the remainder of the afternoon, I decided to move to the smaller of the two coarse ponds at the fishery. There, I wanted to try and catch one of the very colourful koi carp, that have been recently stocked into it. I changed my tactics and switched over to a method feeder, fishing a bright purple 5mm wafter on a bait band. 

Wowsers "Hi Vis" wafters in bright purple.
A nice contrast against my 2mm feeder pellets.

The move proved to be a good choice, as I enjoyed fairly steady sport for the remainder of the session. Each time I hooked something, I was hopeful that a brightly coloured koi would appear, but it wasn’t to be. I can't complain though, as I caught plenty of nice fish and the sun even came out for a while.

I caught several bream,…
…lots of F1 carp,…
…a few small tench,…
…and few carp, including this nice mirror.

So, having caught my ninety-sixth species from Scottish venues, what’s next? Well, I’ve got a few ideas around what species I can target, but I think things are really going to get very tough now. I’ll probably be doing a lot of travelling over to the west coast of Scotland over the coming months, and the weather will no doubt play a massive part in how many trips I can do. Fingers crossed the summer gives us better weather than what we've had so far in 2024.

Tight lines, Scott.

Saturday, May 11, 2024

We meet at last.

I visited East India Dock in Greenock on Wednesday with my mate Ryan. We arrived pretty early in the morning, and were soon joined by Ed, a long time reader of this blog. Ed and I have kept in touch via email sporadically for many years, talking about fishing and travel mainly, and decided to finally meet up to wet a line together. We’ve met before, because he also happens to be a customer in my work, but for some reason we’ve never fished together.

East India Dock is a bit of a species Mecca and has produced some unusual fish in the past, so I thought it was the ideal place for a short session. Last year, a lumpsucker and a streaked gurnard were caught there! Things were quite slow to start with, as the three of us tried to tempt the fish with small pieces of ragworm and squid, but it didn’t take too long for the three of us to start catching a few. Probably the three most common species that reside there, so nothing to get excited about, unfortunately.

My first UK saltwater species of 2024 was a goldsinny wrasse,…
…and was followed soon after by a small pollock.
The amount of male corkwing wrasse in the vicinity was ridiculous.

After a while, fishing straight down the harbour walk, Ed caught a couple of black goby, and then wound up a long, pink and brown fish that I recognised immediately. It was a species he had never caught before, so he was over the moon to catch it.

Ed admires his first Yarrell’s blenny.
A very funky little fish!

After a while, things slowed down considerably, so we moved to a second spot. Ed and I spent some time fishing further out, hoping to catch a dragonet, but sadly neither of us got any bites. We all also spent some time fishing inside the harbour, but this was also almost completely unproductive, with just a few more corkwing wrasse taking our baits. Returning to fishing into the rocks close in on the outside of the harbour didn’t throw up anything other than a few more goldsinny wrasse, the odd pollock and dozens of corkwing wrasse. At about noon, something very unusual did appear, in the shape of the world's last seafaring paddle steamer.

“The Waverley”. An unexpected and rather majestic sight.

The time to pack up soon arrived, just as our bait was about to run out anyway, and sadly we hadn’t caught anything else of any great interest. So, not the diversity of species we had hoped for, in fact we had only managed five species between the three of us! Despite this, it had been an enjoyable day's fishing. It was great to finally meet up with Ed, catch a few fish together and have a few conversations about our passion for fishing and travel. In all honesty, it’s something we should have done much sooner. I’m sure I’ll fish with him again at some point in the future.

Tight lines, Scott.

Friday, May 03, 2024

A new nemesis?

I had another session at Drumtassie Coarse Fishery on Wednesday, targeting the small Siberian sturgeon that are in their coarse pond again. Chopped worm was the bait of choice, and this was fished over a bed of 2mm halibut pellets. Fishing with two rods for ten hours, I was fairly optimistic I’d catch what I was after, my first ever sturgeon, and coincidently my 96th fish species in Scotland. Things were pretty lively to begin with, when a few small F1 carp and a common carp picked up my bait and got hooked.  

There were quite a few of these little F1 carp in my swim,…
…and this nice common carp too. 

In the afternoon, things went very quiet for a few hours. There were two other anglers fishing and they both packed up and left. Eventually a few fish started biting again, and I caught a couple of bream and a few more F1 carp. 

Mid-flip. This bream didn’t want to lay still for a photo. 
Happy to pose. Some of the F1 carp I caught had a lovely golden colouration.

Just before I used up the last of my bait, I caught another couple of fish. Both were the same species, but sadly not the one I was after. 

The last two fish of the day were both ide. 

The second ide ate my last section of lob worm about thirty minutes before the fishery closed. So, I didn’t end up catching a Siberian sturgeon, and will just have to keep trying until I do. They have been getting caught recently, so I’m sure eventually I’ll get lucky and get one myself. There’s also a solitary large Siberian sturgeon, called Maisie, up in the fishery’s specimen pond that I might have a go at catching. Either way, I won’t be giving up until I catch one!

Tight lines, Scott.

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

The Environment Agency are aware.

When I saw a post on Instagram recently of a topmouth gudgeon caught in the UK, I’ll be honest, I was quite excited. They’re a pretty nasty little invasive species that have found their way into several waters in England and Wales since the Eighties. They breed four times a year and eat the eggs of native fish, so they’re not a welcome addition to any body of water. Anyway, I’ve always wanted to catch one, so I quickly made some enquiries. Before too long I’d started a conversation with a fellow species hunter named Donny who told me that the Environment Agency are aware of their presence, that the angling association responsible for the water were still permitted to fish the venue, but were no longer allowed to fish matches or use keepnets. Day tickets were available, so we arranged to meet up last Wednesday to go and catch some. As an added unexpected bonus Donny told me that the pond also contained a population of motherless minnow, also known as sunbleak, another non-native species, but one I have caught previously, many years ago.

After driving south on Tuesday night, we visited a local tackle shop the following morning to buy our permits. A short drive later, we arrived at the pond and set about catching some diminutive invaders. It didn’t take us long to start catching lots of them. 

A tiny piece of pinkie on a tanago hook was the presentation of choice, fished under a tiny float. Perfect for small fish with small mouths. 
The topmouth gudgeon seemed to prefer hanging out under floating debris. 
Donny focuses on his tiny float, looking for any sign of movement. Sometimes the float didn’t go under but slowly moved sideways, indicating a fish had taken the bait. 
Before too long, I'd caught my first ever topmouth gudgeon! Also known as the stone moroko.
It was soon followed by a few more. They seem to come in two colourations. One, like my first, with green and purple hues with a lovely pearlescent sheen. The second has silver scales with a black edge, like the one above in my little photo tank.

We fished for a few hours before Donny had to head off, and I fished on for another hour before I called it a day. As well as a few dozen topmouth gudgeon, I also caught a few small rudd, perch and about a dozen motherless minnow.

My first rudd of 2024.
The biggest motherless minnow of the session. I last caught one of these about ten years ago!

I caught my largest topmouth gudgeon of my session shortly after Donny left.

I really enjoyed meeting Donny and fishing together, I was very happy with the way the session had gone, and pleased to have met another tanago rod owner too!

Later in the day, I set off across England in preparation for a visit to a coarse fishery in Lincolnshire the following day. Whilst talking with Donny before the trip, he had mentioned to me there were populations of Prussian carp in a few fisheries there. Yet another non-native species, also known as the Gibel carp and a close relative of both the crucian and the goldfish. The Environment Agency are aware of their presence in the venue I was going to fish, and have also studied specimens gathered from it, confirming their identity. The venue in question is a members only water, but when I spoke to their committee they generously agreed to allow me a one-off visit to target their stock of Prussian carp.

When I arrived last Thursday morning, I was welcomed warmly, told a bit about the history of the venue, taken to a peg that regularly produces Prussian carp, and given a few pointers to help me catch them. I started off fishing maggots on the bottom under a waggler. This produced a few roach, rudd, perch and gudgeon. I love catching gudgeon!

The swim in front of peg nine. Up the left was where I was told to fish.
Plain old gudgeon. Still one of my favourite little fish.

After about three hours it started raining, and I was feeling quite hungry, so I had a break, sitting in the car whilst I ate some lunch. Returning to the peg, I decided to switch over to fishing colourful wafters on a method feeder with 2mm pellets. 

Yummy. Who doesn't like banoffee?
Hair rigged on a bait band. Simple but very effective.
There's something satisfying about a nicely loaded feeder.
Any second now...

I was expecting to have to build up a bed of groundbait before I drew some fish into the area, but on only the second cast, my rod tip twitched a couple of times before being pulled round. A short scrap later, I netted the culprit and began carefully examining it. 

Large scales? Check.
29–33 scales along the lateral line? I counted 31. Check.
Stubby nose? Check.
No barbules? Check.
Silver halo around the pupil? Check.
First ray strongly serrated? Check.
Almost straight or slightly concave dorsal fin. Check.
Anal fin has five and a half soft rays. Check.
A deeply forked tail. Check.

I’d caught my first Prussian carp! Over the next few hours, I caught a few more and a solitary common carp that did its best to get into the vegetation to my left, but I managed to turn it away from them a few times before drawing it over my waiting net. 

A golden common carp.

After catching my twelfth Prussian carp, things went very quiet. I persevered for a while but with a third long drive to do in as many days to get back up the road, I packed up, thanked the guys at the fishery for allowing me the opportunity to fish at their lovely venue for the day, and hit the road. I’m on a bit of a roll at the moment. Adding a Siberian sturgeon to my Scottish Species Tally is my next objective. 

Tight lines, Scott.