Thursday, February 21, 2013

Escaping the winter blues down in Wales.

With my mate Ross heading over to Jersey to work at the end of March my other fishing mate Lee and I were keen for the three of us to meet up before he left. The weather in Scotland has been pretty crap so far this year and the fishing has been disappointing as well to say the least. The trip was planned around Lee's time off work and unfortunately this meant that Jake wouldn't be able to make it as he had a gig that weekend so I booked a train and when the time came headed south for five days of fishing.

To say the last few big trips I've done have not been blessed with the best weather would be a complete understatement but for a change the forecast looked quite good for the duration of my stay in Wales

A mixture of fishing styles was planned but to be honest I was just looking forward to having a laugh with the lads and catching some fish. In the back of my mind though was the desire to catch a few new species. Top of my list were rockling. Having tried a few times locally with no reward I was assured before going down that they were plentiful on several marks around Anglesey. We'd also be targeting rays at night and Ross and his mates had already caught a few this year including a couple of the small eyed variety. This would be a new species for me if I managed to land one. Ross also caught a nice greater spotted dogfish, more commonly known as a bull huss, whilst fishing for rays. This is another species I've never caught. So with these in mind I was excited by the bait fishing. We also planned to do some lure fishing for pollock and wrasse as well as some lure fishing for pike. My ultra light gear made the trip too as a spot of mini species hunting was also on the cards. The chance to catch a tompot blenny or two isn't something I can pass up easily! All in all a nice varied selection of target species and styles to enjoy.

I arrived in Bangor just after 22:00 last Thursday night and was picked up by Ross from the train station. He'd been out trying for bass but had drawn a blank. After grabbing something to eat we headed back to his flat where I'd be crashing for the night and enjoyed a few pints of cider and watched a film before calling it a night.

Friday morning we headed out for a spot of piking. Ross had a text from his mate Terry telling him that he had caught a few pike earlier that morning so our hopes were high. When we arrived at the venue though spot where Terry had caught all of his fish had been taken already by an angler dead baiting. We worked our way around the waters edge but there was little sign of any fish. Finally after a while Ross hooked a small jack that released itself at his feet. He didn't seem too bothered about it though. We fished on for a while but with no further action, apart from a few low flying fighter planes overhead, we decided to head to the coast for a spot of mini species fun.

These RAF planes flew over us at regular intervals.

A short drive, walk and scramble down rocks later Ross and I were perched on a ledge fishing for mini species with drop shot rigs. The usual suspects were in attendance at the mark and over the course of the next few hours we managed to catch most of them between us although I didn't manage to catch a tompot blenny despite Ross getting a few. I was quite pleased to get my first few corkwing wrasse though.

Pretty little male corkwing wrasse.
Funky fish. Ross seems to have a knack of catching them.

Ross also managed a small thick lipped mullet on a piece of freelined bread. I had a go at this too but after being given the run around by them I was soon trying to catch a tompot blenny again as I wasn't sure if we'd be back at this mark again. After a catching a few common blennies it was time to head back to Bangor to pick up Lee. After dropping our stuff off at the hotel and sorting out our bait gear we were picked up by Ross again and after grabbing some food off we went to a rock mark that Ross said he had caught quite a few three bearded rocklings from whilst targeting congers. We soon arrived and walked down along a path to the rocks and climbed down. Lee and I set up one up one down rigs and fished small mackerel and squid cocktail baits close in whilst Ross lobbed out larger baits to try and tempt a conger eel. Fishing was slow for the first couple of hours but as a bit more water covered the ledges and gullies beneath us Lee and I started getting bites. I then had a decent bite and as I was using circle hooks I lifted my rod and began reeling in until I could feel the weight of the hooked fish. It didn't feel very big so I thought it may be a three bearded rockling but as it came to the surface my hopes were dashed when a small codling came into view. I quickly re-baited and cast back down. Another hour or so passed and during this time Ross and Lee both hooked and lost what they thought were small congers before I hooked another small fish and this time I got what I came for, my first ever rockling.

A small shore rockling. My first new species of 2013.
Another species disliked by anglers as they take baits intended for other fish.

We carried on fishing for a bit but despite a few rattles on the rod tips that Ross thought were lobsters clawing at our baits we didn't manage any other fish. On the way back to the car we passed a couple of white horses that gave me a bit of a fright as they suddenly appeared out of the darkness.

I'm lovin' it.

Saturday and with Ross working during the day Lee and I grabbed our ultra light gear and headed to Menai Pier in the straights hopeful that we could enjoy some mini species fun. The tides there can be very strange, switching direction and changing in strength very quickly. After fishing jigheads and letting them swing round in the current with no reward I fished a drop shot rig using a 15g lead. Bites were pretty much non-existent until I caught a shore crab. After a while it became evident that there weren't any fish around especially when I switched from Isome to a chunk of ragworm and still had no bites. Crabbing became the sole source of entertainment for us and we caught about twenty between us. I caught the most including a double shot both holding onto the same bait. Lee got the biggest one.

No fish but we still had a laugh.

We were quite glad when Ross finished work and we headed all headed out for more night time bait fishing. Ross headed to a conger mark with his mate Steve and dropped Lee and I off at Almwch breakwater. Lee chucked out a bait rod and also fished lures down the inside of the harbour wall. I meanwhile fished two bait rods. One up one down rigs with mackerel/squid cocktails and also ragworm were the choice and I also continued my experimentation with circle hooks. Bites were soon coming and I manged to catch a few fish mainly whiting but also a few small codling, a single poor cod and my second shore rockling of the trip. Lee meanwhile got a codling and some whiting on bait and his first ever poor cod on lure.

Circle hooks in action. All my fish bar one whiting were cleanly hooked in the mouth.
Scales coming off easily is an easy way to tell poor cod apart from pouting.
Lee was happy to get off the mark with a whiting.

Ross meanwhile had manged to land a couple of conger eels and winkled out a long spined sea scorpion from a rockpool. Steve caught a dogfish but unfortunately lost the conger eel he hooked which would have been his first ever. They both returned to pick us up at about midnight and we headed home shortly afterwards when we ran out of bait.

Ross doing the conger.
A nice reward from a rockpool whilst waiting for a run on his conger rods.

Sunday morning and we decided to go and have another crack at pike but unfortunately the result was the same. An angler dead baiting at one of the good spots and no action anywhere else so we decided to head off for some mini species fun again. I was keen to get a tompot blenny and as Lee has never caught one he was keen to get one also. Again a steady stream of common blennies and corkwing wrasse were caught before I finally managed to get a tompot blenny.

Another nice corkwing wrasse for me.
Ragworm proved irresistible to this tompot blenny.

That night we headed back to the mark where Ross had fished with Steve the previous night to try and tempt a conger or two. The only run of the night saw Lee hook an eel but after experiencing the fight for a short time the fish came off. Lee was gutted but admitted that this had stirred his interest in bait fishing and may lead to him doing more in the future. As we were packing up Ross couldn't find one of his conger traces. After looking all around the area and failing to find it Ross turned around and we found the trace, complete with luminous muppet and half a mackerel still on the hook hanging from Ross's back. He must have laid back on it whilst watching his rods. A very funny moment indeed.

The next day we headed down to the Llyn Peninsula to hopefully try for pollock and wrasse from some rock marks. Ross thought it would be too rough but we went anyway only to find Ross was right. The area was very beautiful and I can see that on a calm day it would no doubt produce plenty of fish. Having travelled all the way down there we decided to have a look at a slightly more sheltered spot further down the coast. There was still quite a swell running but the water looked a bit clearer so we decided to have a go. This eventually paid off with us all catching pollock.

A 4ft swell breaking over the rocks and dirty water meant a short trip further down the coast.
Perseverance pays off and a change of lure helps. This small pollock took a Lunker City Ribster fished on a Carolina rig.
Lee gets a pollock too.
Ross joins Lee and gets in on the action too with a few pollock.
I would certainly like to revisit this area on a calm summer day.

Returning to Bangor we decided to try a spot of Ray fishing that night. Arriving at the mark though we found that the preferred ledge had already been claimed by another angler so we headed along the cliffs to another spot. Fishing pennel rigged sandeel on long pulley rigs we cast them out as far as we could to reach the sandy area beyond the rocks. Ross was first to hook a fish and after a tricky landing had a nice ray on the rocks. This would prove to be the only ray of the night though. Some time later I landed a dogfish and unfortunately Lee blanked. By this point we were all rather tired and agreed to call it a night. On the way back we agreed to have a later start the following day and just decide what we wanted to do in the morning.

Ross gets the only ray of the session, a particularly thorny thornback.
I make do with a dogfish and was happy to avoid a blank.

On Tuesday morning we decided it would be a good idea to pack up and travel light as Lee and I were heading home at about 17:00. We headed back to the mini species spot and enjoyed another fun session. Lee was keen to try and catch his first ever tompot blenny and Ross and I were just happy catching anything although I would have liked a few more tompot blennies. Lee was quickly into a few corkwing wrasse whilst the common blennies seemed eager to grab my lure as soon as it entered the water! Ross manged another mullet also as well as a few tompot blennies much to the annoyance of Lee and myself who for some reason just couldn't seem to hook one.

One of many corkwing wrasse Lee caught in quick succession on his drop shot rig.
Second thick lipped mullet of the trip for Ross. On Isome this time.

Soon it was time to go and we all clambered back up from the ledge to begin the short walk back to the car. Another good trip to see my mates in Wales had come to an end and despite the fishing being difficult at times I think we made the most of it. 13 species in total between the three of us in 5 days isn't too bad for February, the worst month to fish in the area in Ross's opinion.

I climb up from the mark to end the trip.

Unfortunately on the way back to Bangor I realised that I didn't have my phone. A quick search of the car and a return to the mark to look for it without success also meant I missed my train back up the road. A pretty bad way to end the trip. We headed back to Ross's and Lee was picked up by his wife. I've promised him that I'll visit him during the summer and we can spend a few days down the Llyn Peninsula camping and fishing. Ross is off to Jersey in April and I'd like to go over there too so that's something else to look forward too if I can make it over. I booked a train up the road for Wednesday morning leaving at 5:14 and went off to bed early. With Ross about to start working ten days in a row and the tides not really ideal for night sessions he popped out for a short bass session whilst I slept. He got back about 01:00 and told me he had managed one bass.

Will this be Ross's last fish for a while? I doubt it somehow.

I really enjoyed fishing with Ross and Lee again and despite losing my phone, which made the trip quite an expensive one, I had a great time and managed to add eight species to my 2013 saltwater tally and also caught my first new species of the year. Not sure when the three of us will meet again and we are talking about a trip to the Mediterranean to beat the winter blues next year but I hope we'll be together again before that!

Tight lines, Scott.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Most Wanted : John Dory.

Many people have no doubt enjoyed eating this fish without having the slightest idea of what it actually looks like. Indeed if it were put in a fishmongers display I doubt many people would order it, such is its bizarre, alien appearance!

The John Dory is a weird looking fish.

The round, thin plate like body of the John Dory means when viewed head on they almost vanish, no doubt useful when they are hunting sandeels and small goby species. Varying in colour from olive to yellow with a large spot on their flank that serves as a both a defensive feature being flashed at would be predators to scare them off and also as a hunting aid when it is used to confuse prey fish before they are scooped up in its enormous, extendable, trap door like mouth. This huge mouth along with the rest of its head is somewhat out of proportion with the rest of its body. A rather spectacular set of elaborate and elongated fins also add to the odd look of this fish. This strange, and some may even say cumbersome, appearance makes them slow but graceful swimmers. Normally a solitary fish they are quite widespread throught the worlds oceans. I think my best chance of catching one would probably be of the south west coast of England although they are another species that have been spotted in the waters around St Abbs Head a lot closer to home.

St Abbs seems to be a bit of a strange species mecca.

Being realistic, I'm not sure if they are really a species I can deliberately target so hopefully I can be in the right place at the right time and get lucky. This doesn't change the fact I'd still love to catch one though!

Tight lines, Scott.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Most Wanted : Red Band Fish.

Another bizarre fish I'd love to catch. With it's bright orange colour with deep purple fin edges and long slender ribbon like body it's one of the strangest looking fishes found in U.K. waters. Living in vertical burrows in soft muddy areas of the sea floor that they use to keep safe and also to ambush small prey that pass overhead. It's only found in a few areas around the U.K. coast.

A red band fish pokes its head out of its burrow.
Cuddling a conger eel. Is this red band fish brave or stupid?

Having done some research on possible locations I've chartered Weymouth skipper Colin Penny's boat "Flamer IV" in July. He seems to be the man to put anglers onto this species along with other oddities including a few other species on my "Most Wanted" list like butterfly blennies and Baillon's wrasse. Hopefully I can get this trio of rarely caught fish in the one outing! Ambitious perhaps but I believe a session aboard "Flamer IV" is the only place where it's been done before and I'm looking forward to attempting to repeat the feat!

Tight lines, Scott.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Most Wanted : Ruffe.

With fishing being so slow at the moment and the weather and other commitments limiting our opportunities to get out I've been mulling over what I would like to catch later in the year again with a few of these species making my little list of "Most Wanted" targets. I also thought I should add a freshwater species or two as those on it so far are all saltwater species. Sticking with the theme of unusual or rarely targeted fish I thought the ruffe was an ideal choice even if it is not an indigenous species in U.K. waters. How they got here is open to debate. The most likely possibility is that they were introduced to Scottish waters by pike anglers who used them as live baits and they escaped or were thrown in at the end of the session. However, being a fish of Central European origin they were probably brought to Britain in the ballast tanks of boats. Growing to a maximum size of only about 20cm and being light green/yellow with light black spotting above the lateral line and more predominant dark black spots on the dorsal fins their colouration is in many respects similar to that of the zander. They are however a member of the perch family and have similar spiky fins and whilst they are difficult to confuse a key difference is that both a ruffe's dorsal fins are joined together whilst the perch has two separate dorsal fins.

Appears harmless enough. Looks can deceive though.

This small spiky fish is often an unwelcome guest due to the fact it is quite an aggressive species which breeds quickly and hence can quickly populate new waters where it is introduced, consuming the food supply of other fish, normally altering the ecosystem drastically and often reducing the populations of native species in the process. In Loch Lomond for example they also eat the eggs and fry of the powan, a member of the salmonoid family that resembles the grayling in shape but lacks the large dorsal fin and is silver in colour. The powan population there has declined drastically as a result, which is a grave concern as this species is only found in four Scottish waters.

The powan. One of the rarest freshwater species in the U.K.

So there are obviously plenty of ruffe in Loch Lomond. Their slightly down turned mouth being characteristic of a bottom feeding fish means a swim feeder full of maggots may be a good approach to catch one. Hopefully soon I can head west and have a first attempt. If they are indeed as prevalent as some reports suggest perhaps one trip will be enough!

Tight lines, Scott.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Rockpooling fun and rockling hunt continues.

Conditions looked good for another session targeting rockling tonight so I jumped on the train at lunchtime today and headed to Kinghorn in Fife. I thought I'd adopt a different approach today and instead of taking two beachcasters I opted instead to take my Nories Rockfish Bottom Light and fish small baits on a drop shot rig using a 15g lead to hold bottom. When I arrived instead of walking down the road to the mark I decided to head down to the beach below the train station and then amble my way along the coast doing a bit of exploring. There were plenty of rockpools to search but despite dangling a chunk of raw prawn in front of several likely looking hiding places there was a complete lack of any fish which was quite surprising. After about an hour or so I reached the rockling mark and whilst waiting for low water and the sun to set I carried on with my rockpool fun and finally found a rich seam of long spined sea scorpions in a small concentrated area.

Small but welcome. My first fish in a few weeks!
Very bright belly on it too with lots of white spots.

Out of one small hole between three large rocks I caught a few before deciding to switch to a chunk of bluey on my hook. Fishing a drop shot rig I was using a #8 VMC Spinshot drop shot hook for the first time. My palomar knots aren't the best and I find the hooks don't sit quite right and need constant re-arranging. I also find line twist can be a problem when drop shotting so I thought I'd give these a bash after spotting them in one of my mate Ross's catch reports recently. I must say first impressions are great. Hooks are strong and sharp and hook up occurred pretty much every bite first time and I think this is due to the extra freedom of movement these hooks allow.

This stubby faced fellow swallowed the hook.
VMC Spinshot drop shot hooks. I'll be ordering more.

The sea scorpions kept coming and I found another nice hiding place that produced a few more fish all in quick succession including a couple of specimens. By the time low water was approaching and I decided to turn my attention to rockling I had caught thirteen of them, all from the one relatively small area.

A specimen long spined sea scorpion.
All of them were dark brown today which is quite unusual. Normally you catch a few different shades even from the same spot.

So with the rockpool fun over I turned my attention to targeting rockling in the gullies as darkness fell and the tide turned and began to flood into them. After a couple of hours of working my baits over the sea bed close to some rocky features with lots of long pauses searching for fish I had once again failed to tempt any that may have been around. I spoke to a local angler who came down to fish the gully adjacent to mine and he informed me that he hadn't caught any rockling for a few weeks there despite catching them fairly regularly at the same spot at the end of last year. Oh well, I'm off to Angelsey next weekend and I'm assured that there are plenty of rockling to be caught there!

Tight lines, Scott.