Sunday, July 29, 2012

Variety is the spice of life.

My mate Jake picked me up at 8:45 yesterday morning, we headed down into East Lothian and to be honest we didn't decide where we were actually going until we were half way there! We parked up and walked down the path, through a small dark tunnel and arrived on the sandy shore of Cove harbour.

The sun was shining and the water was crystal clear. We started of exploring close in amongst the rocks and weed. There was no sign of life though and just as we were about to move I spotted a submerged large flat rock and dropped my Isome down the edge. I was soon getting little taps and then a more solid little bite resulted in a small blenny being hoisted out. I repeated this and was rewarded with a small long spined sea scorpion.

Jigheads? What are those?

Jake had a go at the same spot but didn't have any luck. He then waded out onto a skeer of rock and I headed round to the outer harbour wall. I managed another blenny but the lack of action was quite surprising as it just screamed fish. Perhaps it was just too bright. Jake came around to join me and we decided to head to another spot.

On the walk back up to the car we looked over to a rocky peninsula to the north west and discussed its potential. By the time we had reached the top of the path we had decided to go and check it out. After a walk down a dirt road, hopping over a few fences, walking along the edge of a field and climbing down a grassy embankment we were finally on the rocky platform. However it was a lot shallower than we thought it would be, with boulder fields stretching out as far as we could see. Jake cast out a Ribster but lost it in a snag on his first cast. After trying Isome at close range with no reward we quickly decided to leave although I think it looked like a good mark to try for bass with surface/shallow diving plugs in the right conditions so we may be back there!

Heading back up the grassy path and back to the car we were both pretty sweaty and Jake was also a bit grumpy as well. He only had about another hour or so to fish and was facing a dreaded blank. We decided to head to the outflow at Torness Power Station to try for a bass or worst case scenario raid the rockpools for a blenny.

Arriving on the reef Jake went with his Major Craft Crostage and started lobbing his new found favourite Lunker City lure, the Ribster in Arkansas Shiner. I went with my Shimano Diaflash and half a large pink Isome. After 10-15 min Jake hooked a fish and had a nice bend in his rod and a big grin on his face. I looked over anticipating the fish coming to the surface as bass normally do fairly quickly but it didn't. Strange I thought then the reason became apparent when the fish finally did come up. It wasn't a bass! Jake had caught a nice ballan wrasse!

Blank busted and the grumpy angler cracks a smile!
Quite an unusual catch from this mark although Jake has caught them before many years ago but on ragworm.
Jake's last Arkansas Shiner Ribster. He would lose it shortly afterwards. Just as well he's ordered a few more packs!

We fished on for a while longer but no bass were caught and Jake had to head up the road. Blank avoided though he was a happy man. I wanted to fish some more though and got Jake to drop me off in Dunbar where I headed down to the harbour. I sent local angler and fellow The Lure Forum member Nick Aitken a text to see if he fancied joining me as he lives near the harbour. He text back to say he was on his way home from work and would pop down when he got back. To pass the time whilst waiting for Nick I headed to flattie corner and stuck with my #14 hook with two 0.8g split shot and put a tiny section of pink Isome on. Casting out I was quickly into a small flounder. Couple of casts later a second. Then a small plaice, my first from this harbour. By the time Nick arrived I had caught five flounders and four plaice. I caught another two flounders and gave Nick a #14 hook so he could join in the fun but whilst he was getting plenty of follows they were tormenting him and he just couldn't manage to catch one although he did hook one but it came off. Here are a few photos of the flatfish. Can you correctly identify all seven?

The correct answers are at the bottom of the report.

Next up I got a little surprise. After travelling 250 miles during the week to get a sand goby I caught one from Dunbar harbour! I couldn't believe it! Anyway, nice to know they are still in there.

Where have you been every other time I came to Dunbar harbour trying to catch you this year?!
At this point Nick suggested a move so we headed over the back of the harbour to target wrasse. On the way we passed some nice big rockpools that I'd never fished before and I couldn't resist! It wasn't long before one of the regular inhabitants of the rockpools at Dunbar appeared and greedily scoffed the little chunk of Isome.

Possibly the most aggressive salt water species of fish I've encountered. 9 times out of 10 they just charge out into the open and smash your lure.

After that we headed out to the end of a rock skeer and started fishing 3-4" soft plastics down the edge. It wasn't long before we were both getting bites but we couldn't get any hook ups. Shortly afterwards we spotted the culprits. Two small ballans were coming out from underneath a huge boulder and nipping away at the lures. This continued for a while and then I decided enough was enough and switched from my Shimano Speedmaster Drop Shot rod to my Diaflash and dropped down the split shot rig I had been using previously. I missed the first couple of bites but let the third one develop a bit more and the fish hooked itself. Drag locked up the Diaflash had a nice bend in it but I just raised it up to stop the wrasse getting back into its lair. Soon pulled out away from the weed it was hoisted up into my hand.

My first Scottish ballan wrasse for a while. Lovely!

I soon followed it up with a second wrasse from the same spot. 

Nice dark brown fish with a bright orange underside.

At this point Nick, who had persisted with the larger soft plastics, switched over to an Isome on a #4 aberdeen hook. After this change he was still getting bites but no hook ups. I then pulled out a third wrasse.

Chocolate and Lime. My favourite!

Seeing this Nick quickly switched over to the #14 hook I had given him earlier and carried on trying. He soon hooked a wrasse but it charged into some kelp and came off. I then went to check on our exit from the mark as the tide was flooding in behind us and would soon be cutting us off. It had a little bit to go though so I returned to close to where Nick was but decided to try dropping my Isome into a nice big gap in the kelp. I let it land on a large rock and just let it sit there. A small fish appeared and tentatively had a little nibble. I gave the Isome a little twitch. It had another nibble. I then raised it up off the bottom slightly and that did the trick nicely! I quickly lifted the fish out to discover it was a leopard spotted goby!

Looks like a black goby I hear you say.

These can look very dark and it can be vary hard to make out their markings when they are out of the water. I popped it into a small rockpool to reveal the beautiful electric blue edges on its fins.

Hard to believe it's the same fish isn't it?

I felt a bit sorry for the goby as it looked like the local wrasse had been nipping at its tail fin as it was in a bit of a ragged mess! I popped it back where I caught it from and returned to Nick. He was still patiently trying to catch a wrasse and whilst I was trying to sort out the tangled mess that the goby had made of my split shot rig he finally hooked and landed one. Nick having only really taken up fishing with soft lures this year having enjoyed many years as a successful bait fisherman had just caught his first wrasse on one and was a very happy man.

Nick's first lure caught ballan wrasse. The first of many no doubt.

At this point we had to leave the mark before we got trapped and we timed our exit to perfection really! It was about 6pm and I had to go and catch my train up the road so we called it a day. We walked up the road and Nick went home to order a few packs of #14 hooks! All in all a great days fishing. A few different marks. Two great guys to fish them with. Seven species and 23 fish caught between the three of us. Happy days!

Tight lines, Scott.

Flatfish I.D. challenge answer.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Oban species hunt.

On Tues I headed to Oban with my long suffering girlfriend Lillian who is also an excellent ghillie. My mission was to add a few more species to my 2012 tally. About half way there we passed the beautiful Loch Lubnaig. It looked like a mirror. As we drove passed the north end I could see lots of weed beds and began thinking about all the big perch that may be hiding amongst them. As we continued west through the mountains we passed a few of the other Lochs in the Trossachs national park. Beautiful scenery all around it was a very pleasant drive indeed. Passing Loch Awe it was easy to imaging huge pike and shortly afterwards as we drove along the shore of Loch Etive my mind was going through all the different species of fish it contains. All of this fishy daydreaming made the journey seem a short one and we soon arrived in Oban, checked into our B&B and headed down to the harbour for a spot of ultra light fun.

The view from Oban's North Pier.

Straight away I could see lots of small fish down the side. I rigged up a #14 Kamasan Animal hook and squeezed on a 0.8g split shot. Dropping down a tiny chunk of Isome I soon hooked one of the little fish, hoisted it up and inspected it, the small scales coming off told me it was a poor cod.

My first poor cod of 2012.

A good start to the trip with another new species for my 2012 tally so I was chuffed. The harbour was plagued with them though and despite seeing a small wrasse I couldn't get through the poor cod. After hooking twelve of them I did manage something different, a very small codling. My second addition to my 2012 tally.

The smallest codling I've ever seen!

We then headed north to Ganavan Bay. The target here was a sand goby but on arrival the tide was too far out to fish for them so we went for a walk along the coast and I had a few casts with a small silver wedge lure over some kelp beds from a rock mark.

Large kelp beds in front of me could contain...

After 10-15 min I hooked a fish, it put a nice bend in my Diaflash and took a little line as well before Lillian helped me land it, getting a wet foot in the process. What a woman!

...pollock. Good scrap on my Diaflash.

A few casts later I caught a second smaller pollock and then we headed back along the beach to try for sand gobies as the tide had risen a bit covering the sandy area where I'd caught them before. These gobies are very small and to catch them you really need to scale down. A #20 hook was tied on with a single 0.8g split shot squeezed on a few inches above it. I cast this out and began very slowly twitching it back along the sandy bottom. The gobies are very hard to see. As well as being small they are incredibly well camouflaged and you can only really see them when they move. This wasn't really a problem though as I was soon feeling their tiny bites on the ultra sensitive solid tip of my Diaflash rod. I also had a few tiny flatties chasing the tiny section of lure and manage to catch one.

The smallest plaice I've ever seen. Nothing escapes the #20 hooks!

After a little while longer I then caught my intended target and my third new species for 2012 of the trip, a sand goby.

The sand here has literally hundreds of these tiny fish all over it as the tide floods covering it.

A few more gobies were landed before we headed back to town to head out for dinner at Room 9 and then retired for the evening.

Wednesday morning we headed back to Ganavan Sands as I wanted a few more shots of the gobies in better light. With the tide fully in there was a lot more of the sandy beach underwater and as result a lot more fish were around. In an hour I caught two pouting, five sand gobies, five codling and two plaice much to the amusement of some young lads who came down to see what I was catching.

Banding on pouting is good way to identify them
Sand gobies are quite difficult to tell apart from common gobies. Something I'm determined to master though!
A few more tiny codling to add to my tally for 2012.
I love the way these tiny fish are perfectly formed little versions of adult fish.

With the tide being in I wanted to go back along to the rocks where I had caught the pollock the day before to try and target wrasse, which I felt would move into feed amongst the weed close in. When we arrived I could see lots of small fish swimming about and was concerned that getting through them would be an issue so I started with a 4" Keitech Shad Impact rigged on a weedless jighead. Then I saw a small brightly coloured wrasse grazing on the rocks. At first I thought it was a corkwing wrasse but as it moved around I got a better look at it and could see brilliant blue highlights on its dorsal fin when the light caught it which meant it was in fact a rock cook wrasse! Trying to keep calm I quickly scrambled up the rocks to my bag to get my gear so I could quickly scale down. A #14 hook was tied on with three 0.8g split shot squeezed on above it to get it down through the small fish. I returned to the spot where I saw the rock cook wrasse only to find it had moved on. Determined to find it or another I started slowly working my way along the edge. I soon found a small weedy shelf that seemed to have a lot of small wrasse around it but I was sure they were all goldsinny wrasse as they were very light in colour and I could just make out the spot on their tails. Watching them closely though I thought I could see one or two that were darker and had the distinctive blue markings of rock cook wrasse. Dangling my tiny offering of pink Isome in front of one of them it eagerly devoured it and was very quickly hooked and hoisted out. It was a indeed a rock cook wrasse. I was ecstatic.

My first ever rock cook wrasse!
Stunning violet markings on its head.
This small fish made me so happy!

I was tempted to try and catch a few more small wrasse but Lillian reminded me quite rightly that I was there to species hunt so I scaled up again and cast out to see what else might be on the bottom a bit further out. I tried various soft plastics and did hook one small pollock that took a Slug-Go but it came of as it came to the surface in front of me. Still buzzing from a catching my first ever rock cook I wasn't too bothered. After another hour or so we headed back to the car and I was still pretty excited by the rock cook wrasse. So much so I ran up a small hill and celebrated!

I want the world to know how much I love wrasse!

We got back to the car and had a snack and cold drink from a catering van named "Midgie Bites". The only midgies bites I've actually enjoyed let me tell you! We then began the drive home but not before doing a quick detour to Bonawe on the northern shore of Loch Etive. Here my luck would run out however! Not so much as a nibble.

Should be called Loch Empty. No fish in it. Well not on Wed afternoon anyway!

I really can't complain. Four species added to my 2012 tally and only another four will see me reach my target of 30 on lures. I fully expect to reach this at some point in Aug which means I can get smelly fingers chasing another 13 species which would take me to my target of 45 saltwater species on any method for the year. The highlight of the trip though was undoubtedly the bonus rock cook wrasse. I love wrasse and this was my first time catching one of this pretty little species. Looking forward to hopefully catching the beautiful cuckoo wrasse whilst on a boat trip soon.

Tight lines, Scott.

Monday, July 23, 2012

An idiot's guide to U.K. goby identification.

I've caught a fair amount of gobies now and have a few more goby species in my sights! I thought I would share what I've discovered about the various species that are found around the U.K. This is very much a work in progress so if you feel you can contribute or if something is not right please don't hesitate to get in touch and let me know and I'll amend it. I may also add new species too in the future.

Gobies themselves are relatively easy to identify as being gobies having two dorsal fins and their pelvic fins are fused into a weak suction cup. Apart from a few rarer species (some covered at the end) which are very distinct and easily identifiable, pinning down exactly what type of goby you've caught can be difficult. Colouration can vary greatly and it's easy to misidentify them. I've included photos of fish I've caught as well as a few photos of those types I've yet to catch based on information taken from the following sources...

...and have tried to pick out the key distinguishing feature for each type to aid in quick easy identification.

I'll start with the Common Goby and the Sand Goby as these are very similar and are very easily confused...

Common Goby

Key distinguishing feature: Black spots with white halo on flank are more pronounced than those on a sand goby. No scales on the back in front of the first dorsal fin. The lateral scale count is 39 to 52.

Sand Goby

Key distinguishing feature: Scales on the back in front of the first dorsal fin. The eyes are placed high and close together. The distance from the second dorsal fins last ray to the tail fin is proportionately greater than the same measurement on a common goby. The lateral scale count is 55 to 75.

Rock Goby

Key distinguishing feature: A bright creamy cream/yellow/orange band along top of both dorsal fins but more pronounced on the first dorsal fin..

Black Goby

Key distinguishing features: Black markings at the top of the front edge of both dorsal fins although sometimes difficult to see due to colouration. Third and forth dorsal ray fins on the front dorsal fin are elongated giving the fin a shark fin shape. These however are less pronounced or not present at all outwith breeding periods.

Leopard Spotted Goby

Key distinguishing features: Light pink in colouration with brown/orange spots and electric blue tinges on edge of fins.

Giant Goby

Only really found on the South West coast of England and South coast of Ireland.
Key distinguishing features: Large bulky head and relatively small eyes in comparison with rest of body. They can also change colour rapidly.

Rarely caught but easily recognised gobies...

Painted Goby

Key distinguishing features: Light underside and a dark back with four distinct lighter coloured "saddles" along the dorsal area.

Two Spotted Goby

Key distinguishing features: Two spots, one directly below the first dorsal fin and one on the root of the tail. A line of small light blue spots along its lateral line, although these become faint out of water.

I hope you have found this short look at gobies interesting and perhaps this guide may even be of practical use to you!

Happy goby hunting, Scott.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Mini session for mini species.

I headed down to Dunbar harbour with my mate Jake for a few hours yesterday. We didn't realise that it was RNLI day and the new harbour was packed with people enjoyiing the nice weather, watching the entertainment, listening to live music whilst enjoying the food on offer as well as a few beers. We started the session in the old harbour and again I was after sand gobies. I'm sure at one point I spotted a few but they didn't have a chance with little shoals of small coafish quickly appearing and attacking my small section of Power Isome. I was fishing this on a #18 Kasaman Animal hook with a single 0.8g split shot a few inches above it. I've been using this setup a lot recently as I find the hook up rate with smaller species is far higher than when using a jighead. Jake was fishing a red Berkley 1" Fish Fry on a 1.8g #10 Decoy Rocket. It wasn't long before we were both catching small coalfish and the odd blenny that came out of the weed on the harbour wall to get in on the action.

The harbour is full of these at the moment and they are growing quickly.
Blennies now face competition for food.

After a while we moved to the outside of the harbour to explore the rockpools in the hope that something odd may turn up. The tide was covering them fairly quickly though and we didn't get long. I managed a couple of tiny long spined sea scorpions before the tide forced us off the reef.

Small hooks and split shot ensure even the smallest target can be caught.

Next we headed into the new harbour and had a quick drop down the side at "blenny corner". The residents were quite obliging and we were soon hoisting them up much to the amusement of passing spectators, particularly the children.

We then headed over to an area where Jake had caught some launce earlier in the week but a thick soup of coalfish meant the chances of hooking anything else quite slim! A steady stream of small coalfish were shown to passing kids and we also tried fishing the bottom for flounders and whilst we both had a bite or two I think it was just the coalfish!

Finally just before we left we had a quick go over the back of the harbour from the barracks. I switched over to a 2.3g #8 Shirasu jighead and half a pink large Power Isome. Casting this out and working it back very slowly with a lot of small twitches I hooked a small pollock on my third cast and followed this up with another two.

Biggest fish of the day!

Jake meanwhile had been trying to tempt a wrasse in some deeper water but his only reward was another coalfish.

A relaxing, fun session still produced four species and about 40 fish. It was also great to see the harbour so busy with everyone having a great day and hopefully the RNLI raised a lot of money in the process.

Tight lines, Scott.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Every cloud...

With my mate Jake catching a few launce in Dunbar harbour on Tuesday and the weather clearing up yesterday after all the rain the day before, I met up with him and we headed down there again yesterday afternoon. As well as hopefully getting a crack at a launce or two for my species tally I also wanted an opportunity to continue my ongoing search for a sand goby and a viviparous blenny from the harbour as I know they are in there having seen them caught from it in the last year. 

This plan was soon scuppered however as when we arrived at about 14:00 we found the harbour looked like the outflow from Willy Wonka's chocolate factory! We decided to head further down the A1 to another outflow to try our new Lunker City Ribster lures on the resident bass population. It wasn't long before Jake established that the bass liked them and then that the bass were very keen on them!

This greedy bass swallowed the entire lure.

I then caught one too, again on a Ribster. Jake caught a couple more before I spotted him trying to secretly smear some scent on his lure. His little bottle of Captain Mike's Shrimp scent was soon confiscated and some liberally applied to my lure too. Jake's a big fan of it and no sooner had I cast out my stinky lure than I had a bass on.

Thanks Captain Mike!
Ribbed for pleasure!

Coincidence or not, I may have to order some! The action died of a bit for a while although Jake did catch a few more fish. I tried out some new Daiwa Tournament D'Tail lures and had a knock or two but no more hook ups. Not the targets we originally had in mind but I suppose we can't complain too much. What is it they say about every cloud?

Tight lines, Scott.