Friday, October 27, 2023

Anything goes!

I've never been an angler who limits myself or gets snobby when it comes to different styles of fishing. Fresh or salt. Day or night. Shore or boat. Traditional or unorthodox. Bait, lure or fly. I don't care really! As a species hunting angler, I'll use whatever method I think will be most effective and is at my disposal in any given situation. I may enjoy some types of fishing more than others but as long as I'm catching fish, I’m usually happy. When I braved the cold easterly winds and accompanying showers on Tuesday, to visit Drumtassie Trout Fishery in the afternoon for a few hours, I fished on its fly fishing ponds and went with an approach that would probably boil the blood of your average traditional fly fisherman! 

A single puddle bug cat, fished under an Air-Lock sight indicator.

To my mind it’s more akin to float fishing, but it was certainly very effective. The colour of the puddle bug cat didn’t seem to matter too much either. On three different colour variations I had eight trout in six hours. A few more were hooked and managed to successfully eject my not so natural offerings. All bar one were rainbow trout, the odd one out being my first blue trout of the year. Technically, a rainbow trout as well, just one with a genetic mutation that is responsible for the colouration difference. 

Blue trout usually have fewer spots than a standard rainbow. As their name suggests they’re also a blue colour across their backs. This one looked a deeper shade of blue from above when it was upright in the water. It looks more like a green trout in the photo above!
A bog standard rainbow trout. Looks nicer than the blue variant in my opinion. 

All things considered, it was not a bad little session in less than ideal conditions. It’s not my favourite method to fish or type of venue to visit, and if I’m honest the only reason I’d visited the fishery again so soon was in the hope that I’d get lucky and catch a brook trout, which I'd failed to do. I guess I just can’t switch off species hunting mode, but as long as I'm able to get out over the coming winter months and catch a few fish that’s fine!

Tight lines, Scott..

Monday, October 23, 2023

Nothing's gonna stop me now?

Having hit my 2023 species hunting target of two hundred species whilst on holiday on Crete, and by the end of the holiday having reached two hundred and twenty one species this year, I’ve been in two minds about what I should do between now and the end of the year. Maybe I should think about taking a well-earned break? I have been fishing a lot this year and do feel ever so slightly "burnt out"! Maybe I should take my foot off the gas, just relax a bit and enjoy some fishing without focussing on adding further species to my tally. Maybe I should make a serious effort to keep trying to add more?

Last Tuesday, I decided to head to Drumtassie Trout Fishery, with a couple of mates, Brian and Ryan, to hopefully catch my first rainbow trout of 2023. Perhaps catching another species this year would give me some indication of how motivated I was to keep species hunting. Lazily fishing a nugget buzzer three feet under an indicator, and letting the surface ripples do most of the work, it didn't take me long at all to achieve that goal. I hooked five and landed three after a couple of hours.

Not a bad looking fish for a stocked rainbow trout.

I then turned my attention to catching a brook trout, another species I've not caught this year. Switching to a sinking line, I tied on my favourite Ally McCoist lure, and spent some time fishing this close to the bottom. This didn’t produce any fish, so early in the afternoon I left the lads to continue fly fishing, and headed over to Drumtassie Coarse Fishery to try and tempt a barbel or a small Siberian sturgeon from their large coarse pond. Both would have been new Scottish species for me and also additions to my 2023 species tally. By this point the cold easterly wind had started to pick up a fair bit, and it soon got very cold. The fishing was tough. Float ledgering a whole dendrobaena worm over some feed pellets for three hours only produced two small ide.    

Greedy little swine!

Before I knew it, the sun had started to set, and it was time to call it a day and head back to pick up Brian and Ryan. I'd added one species to my 2023 tally. Being honest I’m still not sure what I’m going to do between now and the end of 2023. Had I somehow managed to catch a brook trout, a barbel, a Siberian sturgeon or two or even all three of them, I may have taken that as some kind of sign to push on with a determined effort to catch a lot more species this year. There are still quite a few species that I could target that I’ve not already caught this year in both freshwater and saltwater. As it gets colder catching some of them may become more difficult. If it warms up slightly again I might revisit the two Drumtassie fisheries again. I also intend to target grayling and zander over the coming months, two species I've not caught for a few years. I think I will keep trying to catch more species this year, I can't help myself! I'll just do it in a much more relaxed, pressure free, manner, with no target number in mind!

Tight lines, Scott.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

A Canadian species hunter in Scotland.

Back in July I received an email from a Canadian species hunter named Brad. He told me he was coming to Scotland in September, asked if I could help him out with some advice and also if I would like to meet up with him, if I was free. He wanted to focus on freshwater fish, so I told him that I’d be happy to give him some info on places to fish for a few different species, but sadly I’d only be able to meet up with him for one short evening session, as I’d be flying off to Crete shortly after he arrived here.

We met up on the Sunday evening before I went on holiday, just as light was about to begin fading. Our targets from the Water of Leith were minnow and bullhead. I arrived a little while before Brad did and caught a minnow almost straight away.

Bingo! A small piece of a maggot on a tanago hook fished simply with a single split shot proving to be an effective combination.

Once Brad arrived he quickly set up his rod, we fished away and chatted about fishing, in particular species hunting, something we’re both passionate about. It didn’t take Brad too long to catch his first ever minnow, so we headed downstream to my top secret bullhead spot, the one I take everyone to. Once it got dark they began appearing from out underneath their rocky hiding places in good numbers. They find maggots right in front of their faces pretty irresistible, and we had both caught quite a few of them in no time at all. I mentioned it was possible to catch the same fish a few times if you watched where it went when you returned it. This challenge was quickly accepted, and Brad managed to catch the same fish four times. Each time he released the ravenous little fish, it just swam down onto the nearest small rock right at our feet and sat still. Dropped his maggot in front of it again, it gobbled it again. Four times!

The bullhead certainly isn't the brightest of fish, or maybe they just have a very short memory!

I enjoyed our brief session together and the next day Brad popped into my work to get some fishing tackle before heading off to continue his Scottish adventure. It would have been nice to have fished with him again, but he had left Scotland before I returned from Crete. Whilst I was away, and he was species hunting around Scotland, we kept in touch and exchanged updates about the species we had both been catching. Some of the information I gave played a part in some of his successes and that was pleasing. I think Brad is maybe the fourth person who I’ve successfully taken minnow and bullhead fishing this year. I like helping out other anglers regardless of the target. Perhaps I should start advertising my services as a multi species guide!?

Tight lines, Scott.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Not more species hunting adventure on Crete?!: Part 4.

On the penultimate day of our trip I decided we should head all the way back up to the north coast again! Every time we've been on Crete we've visited the Aquaworld Aquarium & Reptile Rescue Centre. We both enjoy our visits there and I didn't really want to break that little tradition! I didn’t tell Lillian we were going there so it was a nice surprise when she figured out where we were driving to. The fish on display are awesome but if I'm honest it's the reptiles I enjoy seeing the most. I think Lillian prefers them too.

My old nemisis Bill was in one of the tanks! The crafty swine and this dusky grouper seemed to be the best of friends.

Out the back of the venue there were plenty of reptiles on display and the opportunity to handle some of them was not missed by myself or Lillian. We both got our hands on this small albino boa constrictor, or perhaps it had got its scales on us?

The quite adorable, very friendly and imaginatively named Albi.

After our visit, we grabbed a large slice of feta and spinach pie each from a nearby bakery then headed down to Hersonissos Harbour where I had a few hours to fish.

It was pretty slow to begin with, and I didn't have any bait with me, so I went with the next best thing, good old tried and tested Angleworm on a drop shot rig! I tried fishing from the seaward facing rocks out onto a sandy area on the outside of the harbour initially. I was hoping to catch a pearly razorfish, but the sea was a little bit coloured up and there was a lot of suspended dead seagrass in the water too from the last few days of stormy conditions, and I didn't catch anything at all. I then turned my attention to fishing straight down the inside of the harbour walls, having a seat while I waited for something to bite.

Patience required.

Eventually, I did start getting a few little rattles that I thought felt like wrasse. After missing a few bites I switched to half a piece of Angleworm on a smaller hook and caught a few of the culprits. The first few fish were indeed small wrasse, East Atlantic peacock wrasse, but moving along the wall towards the corner I caught a bigger one and a couple of other species too, that were unexpected, in the shape of a small barracuda and my first new species of the trip, a mottled grouper!

The largest of my first East Atlantic peacock wrasse of the trip.
I'm pretty sure this is a small European barracuda. It had some distinct barring all along its flanks that doesn't show up well in this photo. Not a species you'd expect to take a very small piece of Gulp fished in an almost static position!
This mottled grouper also took half an Angleworm! I was over the moon to catch this as it was my first new species of the trip! Visible in this photo, the small black saddle over the top of the tail root is a key identifying feature in juveniles of this species.

Feeling a little bit lucky at this point, I had another go trying to catch a pearly razorfish. The dead seagrass was a real pain though, and I didn't catch one, but I did manage to catch a nice Mediterranean rainbow wrasse closer in over rockier ground before Lillian finished her book and declared it was about time for us to go for dinner!

A colourful male Mediterranean rainbow wrasse.

Sometimes, I just can’t get out of species hunting mode and my eagle eyes spotted some reasonably sized thick lipped mullet as we walked back around the harbour to the car. Permission was grovellingly sought and grudgingly given to set up my rod again, and I quickly tied up a two hook freelining rig. Whilst I did that, Lillian grabbed a loaf of bread from the boot of the car and started throwing a few pieces in to get the fish feeding. Once the mullet were all competing for the free offerings I baited up my two hooks with bread flake, dipped them into the water to add a bit more weight, and flicked them out into the jostling fish. Working as a team, in no time at all I had hooked half a dozen thick lipped mullet and Lillian had netted them all for me! We were having a lot of fun, but the icing on the cake was a small sand smelt that grabbed a tiny piece of bread that was left on my hook as I wound it in to bait up my rig again. I didn't realise at the time, but it was my second new species of the trip!

Teamwork does make the dream work!
When I caught this I wrongly identified it as big scale sand smelt, a species I have caught before. Doing further research when I got home I realised I'd made an error. It is in fact a wide-banded hardyhead silverside, one of the very first recorded Lessepsian migrants having been discovered in the Mediterranean for the first time in 1902!

So, happy to have added five more species to my tally we headed off to have our last evening meal of the holiday in a lovely restaurant called Fabrica located in nearby Koutouloufari. We discovered it, and its eccentric/slightly mad owner Yiannis, the last time we visited Crete. The beef stifado there was superb, so we had it again as part of another very enjoyable meal. I then had to drink all the post meal raki, as Lillian was driving us back through the mountains south to Agia Galini.

The last day of our holiday had arrived. The wind had dropped off to a very gentle breeze and after checking out of our room we headed down to the harbour of Agia Galini armed with some bread. I wanted to try and catch a salema, having hooked and lost a few relatively big ones during a day trip there the last time we visited Crete. The harbour walls had received a lick of paint since then and some nice artwork had been installed too.

Nice new fishy tile art. I have no idea what the species are!

Lillian took on groundbaiting duty again and her efforts soon attracted a lot of fish. Damselfish, rabbitfish and puffer to begin with but eventually some salema showed up too. They are quite easily spooked so I tried to be as sneaky I could, staying out of their line of sight. They were hugging the harbour wall, swimming up it quickly, grabbing pieces of bread from the surface with a splash, then swimming back down the wall again.

Trying to be stealthy. Not easy when you’re a big chap.

For some reason, they seemed pretty adept at managing to successfully avoid taking the piece of bread that had my hook in it. When they did go for it they were also high skilled at stealing the bread and not getting hooked! Feeling rather frustrated, I added a couple of split shot to my line and tried to catch them subsurface. This saw me catching a few marbled rabbitfish that put up a good scrap and every time I hooked one for a moment I though I had caught my target species. After a while I took the split shot off again, switched back to fishing my bread on the surface and eventually hooked a nice salema. It tore off at a fair pace down the wall a couple of times and thrashed about a bit so I felt reasonably confident that I had a good hookset, but just as Lillian came over with the net, it thrashed on the surface and threw the hook. By this point I was quite frustrated and almost about to admit defeat, but shortly afterwards my efforts were finally rewarded when I tied on a smaller hook and a much smaller salema took my much smaller breadflake. It was very quickly swung up to hand.

Several hours of effort went into catching this small salema! If I had any hair it would have been pulled out for sure!

Mission accomplished, we jumped in the car and drove all the way to Kalyves on the north coast. I wanted to try and catch an Atlantic stargazer from the harbour there. I thought that would be a very cool species to end the trip on, if I could catch one!

Kalyves Harbour at the eastern end of the town's sandy beach.

The fishing inside the harbour was very tough. I slowly fished a small metal jig fitted with an assist hook along the sandy bottom, hoping I would land it in the vicinity of a buried fish, that was waiting to pounce. This didn’t produce any takes, so I tried bouncing a small Reins Rockvibe paddletail lure along the bottom rigged weedless on a cheburashka weight.

The weedless hook probably killed the action of this fantastic lure a little bit, but the sandy bottom of the harbour was also littered with ropes.

This did get hit by something, but I failed to get a hook up. Whatever had grabbed the tail of the lure had clamped on and when I struck it had pulled the lure all the way around the hook before letting it go. I reset the lure and had a few more casts over the same area but didn’t get any more bites sadly.

Slightly disappointed not to catch my desired species, after a while I switched my attention to fishing small plugs around the mouth of the harbour hoping to catch a bluefish or some other juvenile pelagic predator. This produced a couple of lazy follows from a small barracuda, but nothing else showed any interest, so I had one last throw of the dice with my old friend, a piece of Angleworm on a drop shot rig. Casting this out over the sandy beach next to the harbour, I had a few little taps almost every cast as soon as it hit the bottom. I had an idea what might be responsible, and after a few more casts managed to hook a small fish. Winding it in my suspicions were confirmed.

Not handled at all. The last thing you want at the end of a holiday is to be stung by a lesser weever. Not the weever species I really wanted to catch either, but it was the final fish of the holiday, and one last addition to my trip’s tally.

We still had a bit of time left before we had to drive east to Heraklion Airport, so we shared some delicious mousaka, chicken souvlaki and one last Greel salad in a restaurant by the beach. It had been another very enjoyable holiday on Crete. The weather had been a mixed bag, but I’d still managed to catch thirty seven species, adding thirty two to my 2023 tally, including the two new ones which are highlighted in bold below...

  1. Annular Seabream
  2. Atlantic Lizardfish
  3. Black Goby*
  4. Black Scorpionfish
  5. Bogue
  6. Boxlip Mullet
  7. Cardinalfish
  8. Common Comber
  9. Common Two Banded Seabream
  10. Damselfish
  11. Derbio
  12. East Atlantic Peacock Wrasse
  13. European Barracuda
  14. Giant Goby*
  15. Goldblotch Grouper
  16. Greater Amberjack
  17. Incognito Goby
  18. Lesser Weever*
  19. Madeira Rockfish
  20. Marbled Rabbitfish
  21. Mediterranean Rainbow Wrasse
  22. Mottled Grouper
  23. Ornate Wrasse
  24. Painted Comber
  25. Parrotfish
  26. Peacock Blenny
  27. Red Mullet
  28. Reticulated Filefish
  29. Rock Goby*
  30. Rusty Blenny
  31. Saddled Seabream
  32. Salema
  33. Thick Lipped Mullet*
  34. White Seabream
  35. Wide Eyed Flounder
  36. Wide-banded Hardyhead Silverside
  37. Yellow Spotted Puffer

* = already caught in the UK this year.

The amount of yellow spotted puffer I caught was probably the only disappointing aspect of the fishing. They’re a real problem as is Lessepsian migration in general. Also, I didn’t really make any kind of concerted effort to deliberately target lionfish, silver cheeked toadfish or moray eel. Three species I definitely intended to have a go for before we went. I even took a heavier setup and end tackle to use for those species but it never got used! On reflection, the weather was a factor in my fishing decisions and also once I’m in species hunting mode I find I focus on racking them up as quickly as I can!

Special mention yet again to Lillian who, as usual, was unbelievably tolerant of my obsessive behaviour. I often worry that she gets a bit bored when I’m fishing away! At one point during the holiday when I asked her if she was fed up with my fishing antics she told me that my passion was quite infectious and she enjoyed being a part of it!

Having been to Crete five times now, I’m not sure when Lillian and I will return, although I’m sure we will. In the meantime I might visit with some mates for a dedicated fishing trip! Lillian and I are thinking about visiting Corfu or Malta next year. Two islands that we've never been to. Hopefully there will be less yellow spotted puffer regardless of which destination we choose!

Tight lines, Scott.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Not more species hunting adventures on Crete?!: Part 3.

For the majority of the third night and well into the following morning it rained heavily. When it finally stopped, we decided to head out, despite the fact that it was pretty windy and even more rain was forecast. I had a deep water fishing spot that I wanted to check out, so we drove to that. Upon arrival though, the terrain looked ever so slightly more difficult than I had imagined it would be. As I told Lillian, it’s something that can be hard to gauge when you're looking at new fishing spots on Google Maps!

The spot I wanted to get to. The rocks on the far side of this peninsula at the left hand side of Istron Bay.

Given it could be difficult to access, and more rain was probably on the way, we opted instead to take the elevator of the Istron Bay Hotel down to the lower levels of the resort and then make our way down through those to the beach. Once on that we headed along to the small harbour at its eastern end.

The Istron Bay Hotel from the end of the small harbour where I would fish and Lillian would read a book. The whole time both of us keeping one eye on the heavens, looking for signs they were about to open!

It didn’t look particularly promising to start with, being very shallow and without too many obvious features, but the little harbour actually turned out to hold a variety of species. To begin with I tossed in some bread and freelined small pieces of it in amongst the fish that arrived to feed. Doing this I managed to catch some small derbio and, after much frustration, a solitary boxlip mullet.

They are great fun to catch, and I was hoping some derbio bigger than the palm of my hand would show up, but sadly none did.
It took me a while to catch this boxlip mullet. Like all mullet species, they seem to be experts at nibbling bread from your hook without getting hooked themselves somehow. One for my tally was all I needed!

I then turned my attention to fishing pieces of prawn close to the bottom around the edges of a large submerged rock on the seabed. After a few rabbitfish and puffer were caught, I caught a few Atlantic lizardfish and some small goldblotch grouper. Then a few scorpionfish came out from beneath the big rock and sat motionless to see what all the fuss was about. Dropping a bait near them saw them pausing briefly before lurching forward and gobbling it up. I caught two different species of the aggressive little predators.

As well as a couple of Madeira rockfish,..
…I also caught several black scorpionfish too.

Then Lillian pointed out a small red fish tentatively poking its head out from beneath the rock a little bit before it turned and darted back under it again. Catching a glimpse of it I knew straight away what it was, and a bait was dropped as close I could get it to the curious fish. After having a couple of swipes at the prawn, the fish was hooked and quickly swung up to hand.

Eventually this bright red cardinalfish got brave enough to dart out and swallow my bait. Normally a species you catch after dark, they hide in dark places during the day.

Just after I had returned the cardinalfish, the rain started. Slowly at first, but knowing it could quickly start pouring down, I quickly packed up, and we began heading back through the resort to find the lift. We got a bit lost though, and by the time we figured out where we needed to go, it was raining torrentially, and we got a bit of a soaking. After seeking shelter, it didn’t look like it was going to let up, so we decided just to bite the bullet and dash back to the lift and then to the car. Drying off back at the apartment, the rain persisted, so we chilled out for a while and went out for dinner in the evening. By that point the rain had stopped and looking at the forecast for the rest of the holiday it was staying dry for the remainder of our trip.

The following day we checked out of our accommodation and drove west to the small coastal village of Georgioupolis. It’s a lovely place, and it’s also a great spot for a bit of species hunting, throwing up many different types of fish. Giant goby are present in large numbers and were the first fish I targeted, sight fishing for them in shallow areas up next to the bridge over the town’s river.

There are lots of these super aggressive giant goby around.

Casting out into the deeper water to see what else was around, I immediately caught a few yellow spotted puffer. I think that’s the first time I’ve caught them there, so they’re obviously also tolerant of brackish environments too. The Red Sea is a harsher environment than the Mediterranean Sea in that respect.

Cute? They are a total pest!

After a while, we crossed over the bridge and wandered down towards the mouth of the river. Fishing from the rocky boulders there, I spent a bit of time fishing with various lures in an attempt to catch a bass, bluefish or barracuda. This didn't produce much. I hooked a small bluefish, but it thrashed around in the current and threw my lure. Lillian then spotted a parrotfish, moving around on the rocks directly below us, so I tried to tempt it using a chunk of prawn. It really wasn’t interested at all, so I decided to see if I could find some small crabs I could use as bait. Parrotfish love crabs. After turning over some rocks at the edge of a nearby shallow area I did manage to find a few. Using these as bait proved to be a great decision. As soon as the first half crab was dropped in, the parrotfish quickly ripped it off of the hook. Before too long a few more parrotfish appeared, obviously drawn in by the scent of fresh crab. Eventually, I managed to hook one, but as it charged down the rocks and I put a bit of pressure on it, the fish threw the hook. The commotion spooked all the other fish too, so before we left I decided to ledger my last small piece of crab out on the sandy bottom away from the rocks at the river’s edge. This turned out to be a good choice and my rod tip was soon pulled round by a red mullet that had found my bait on the bottom with its long feelers.

This is a plain red mullet, cousin of the striped red mullet. It’s not as colourful and its fins lack any markings. It's plain!

We had another long drive to do, to get to Agia Galini, so I packed up after that, and we headed back towards the car. On the way I spotted a small fish that I was sure was a peacock blenny. Lillian gave me the green light to try and catch it, so a tanago hook baited with a tiny piece of prawn was dropped down next the crack at the bottom of the harbour wall that it had disappeared into. It was reluctant to come out, and every time it slowly poked its head out a small goby would steal the bait. Some much bigger rusty blenny and giant goby were also occasionally crashing around on the bottom and this spooked the fish a few times too. In the end I spent a fair amount of time trying to catch the little shy fish. Lillian’s usually incredibly patient with my fishing antics, but even she was getting annoyed! Eventually, it did come out, grabbing the tiny bait and I waited a second before lifting to make sure it was hooked. Thankfully it was, and was quickly swung up to hand before being popped into my tank for a quick photo.

The smallest peacock blenny I've ever caught.

Fishing over for the day, we made the drive from the north coast all the way through the island's mountainous interior to the south coast, passing through the breathtaking Kourtaliotiko Gorge on the way. Arriving just after dark, we checked in to our room and popped out into the town for a stroll. After exploring for a while we had a generous plateful of tasty gyros and washed it down with several large and ice cold beers before calling it a night.

The following day it may have been dry, but the wind was battering the shoreline where we were, so we headed to the coastal town of Matala to see the caves carved into the cliffs there.

These caves were carved thousands of years ago. No one's sure by who or for what purpose. Much more recently, they were inhabited by hippies. Now they are fenced off in a protected area, but you can still go inside and clamber around on the sandstone rocks for the sum of four euros.

After wandering around the town and having some lunch, we jumped back in the car and drove to Plakias. The passenger sitting next to Lillian on the flight to Crete had told her that he had been visiting the town every year for the last thirty five years, so we wanted to see what the fuss was all about! It looked nice enough from the end of its harbour, although it was very windy!. Rather predictably a large population of yellow spotted puffer were resident, but in amongst them, I also caught a few Atlantic lizardfish and my first parrotfish of the trip.

No crabs were harmed in the capture and release of this fish!

After being battered by the wind at the end of the pier for a couple of hours, we visited a marina nearby, but that turned out to be another pufferfest, so we decided to head back to Agia Galini. Arriving just as the sun was setting, I was given permission to have a few casts at the back of the harbour over a shallow area with some large partially submerged boulders. It only took a few casts to get a take, and it definitely wasn't anything inflatable that had munched my piece of Angleworm. After a short but dirty fight, a nice goldblotch grouper was hoisted up, photographed and put back to carry on its own species hunting.

One last cast before dinner...
...was well worth it.

So, my species hunting was going very well indeed. Despite some horrible weather at times, I'd managed to catch thirty species in five days which was a great result, even if the majority of fish I had been catching had all belonged to only one species! Anyway, we only had two days left of our trip and adding more species was going to be tricky. The wind was forecast to drop off though, and I had short list of species that I hadn't caught during the trip that I thought could be targeted. I was also hopeful that I'd get lucky and catch something new!

Tight lines, Scott.

Click here for the final part.