Saturday, September 21, 2013

Another superb Swanage Pier jolly.

With the summer drawing to a close I fancied one last crack at catching a black faced blenny. This of course was a convenient excuse for a trip down south to the mini species rich Swanage Pier so I asked my mate Lee if he could get a couple of days off work and would he like to go. His answer was yes on both counts!

After two trips already this year to Swanage I was hoping that it would be third time lucky and I'd catch a black faced blenny. I'm not sexist and wasn't fussy if it was a brightly coloured male (top left) or a rather more drab female (bottom right).

On Monday I headed down to Porthmadog in Wales and picked Lee up from his work, we popped to his house in Harlech to get his gear and off we went. As we were leaving Wales at about 18:30 we opted to stay in a cheap hotel on the way down so we weren't arriving in Swanage in the very early hours of the morning. After about four hours sleep we got up and completed the drive down arriving at the pier just as the gates were being opened at 8:00. It was quite windy but at least it was dry and we paid for our permits and walked out to the end of the old Victorian pier. To maximise my chances of catching the little triple finned fish I began fishing a two up one down rig in the openings in the middle of the pier, baiting my #8 Sabpolo Wormer hooks with little sections of ragworm. I also wanted to try mackerel baits too but as I didn't have any with me I would try to catch some and planned on working a metal around the pier later in the day. We both began fishing and soon had our first fish of the day. The action was quite steady with lots of wrasse taking my ragworm chunks whilst Lee's natural Gulp! Angleworm lure on a drop shot rig was initially attracting lots of pouting and pollock and after switching to a slightly smaller hook he was soon catching lots of little wrasse too including his first ever Baillon's wrasse.

My first fish of the trip was unsurprisingly one of the most prolific that inhabit waters around the pier, a corkwing wrasse.
A small pouting gets Lee of the mark. We both agreed they are quite pretty fish with their dark banding and large fins.
Lee was very pleased to get his first ever Baillon's wrasse.

After a while Lee started fishing from the side of the pier to see what was around in the open water using a small paddletail lure on a jighead fished "on the drop". This resulted in a few pollock being caught before he called me over as he had hooked something different that he thought he'd need help landing. Before I got over though the fish had made a final surge under the pier and had escaped. Having only gotten a brief glimpse, Lee wasn't entirely sure what it was but was still quite annoyed to lose it and not find out. He carried on fishing to see if he could get another but after catching a few more pollock he rejoined me, began catching lots of fish again and this seemed to take his mind of the lost fish. The rest of the morning we both had a lot of fun catching lots of fish. However, when you are having so much fun catching lots of fish it's very easy to forget that you are there to try and catch a specific species. When I hooked a small fish just before noon I got a little reminder though.

Lee fishing into the bay to try and catch another "one that got away".
 When I lifted this up I thought it might be a female black faced blenny and got rather excited for a brief moment before I realised it was in fact my first Swanage Pier rock goby.

Despite this little reminder I decided to have a break from trying to catch a black faced blenny after seeing the anglers fishing from the upper deck return a garfish. Knowing that some shirvy would increase my chances we popped into town and I got some more bait. As I'd not even tried to catch any mackerel I bought some frozen packs to make up the shirvy with. As we made our way back to the pier it started raining and by the time we got back out onto it was really windy and a large rain cloud was headed across the bay in our direction.

Rain shrouds the cliffs to the north.

A loaf of bread and most of the fish went into a bucket along with a little sea water and it was all pounded up into a sticky paste. A few generous helpings were thrown into the water next to the pier. After a short time lots of small bait fish appeared. I set up a small float and set the depth at six feet. Casting it out,  it didn't take long for a fish to take my strip of mackerel and my float slowly disappeared under the surface. Letting some line out before closing the bail arm and lifting into the fish, a pollock was soon landed.

Not a garfish but good fun on my ultra light gear.

I then watched a mackerel charging in and attacking the bait fish before quickly vanishing again. Then I spotted a garfish close to the surface quite close to my float eating some of the small bits of bread from the shirvy. Very excited by this I called Lee over and we watched it as it moved about quite slowly, eating another small piece of bread before suddenly shooting off. Hoping a few more were around I kept the shirvy going in and fished the float for a while after it had run out but all I caught were a few more pollock and by this point the rain and wind were making fishing out in the open quite unpleasant so I joined Lee under the cover of the upper deck and we caught a load more mini species. Just after Lee commented that it was odd we hadn't caught any tompot blennies yet he hooked a fish and hoisted it up. He didn't realise it was his first tompot blenny and hesitated a bit too long for my liking before swinging it in away from a potential last minute escape so I reached out and grabbed his line and pulled it in. Just as well too as it was very lightly hooked in the upper lip!

Speak of the devil and a colourful cheeky little fish with mad eyebrows doth appear!

The wind and rain continued to batter us and before long water was dripping down from the upper deck and we were pretty wet. We were supposed to be heading along the coast to Weymouth in the evening but when I checked the forecast and it said it was going to keep raining and the wind was going to get worse with gusts up to 40mph we changed our plans. Both soaked and quite uncomfortable we soldiered on until I had caught my 500th wrasse of 2013 and then we went and checked into our hotel. Both feeling pretty tired we decided to go for something to eat and to have an early night unless the weather cleared up later in which case we would pop out and fish the bay for a few hours.

My 500th wrasse of 2013 was a small female corkwing.

As per usual the forecast proved to be way off which really doesn't come as a surprise anymore and in fact it turned into a reasonably nice night with no rain at all and the wind dropping off! We headed out and decided to fish small metals to see if there were maybe any bass or perhaps scad around. We started fishing on the small stone pier at the southern end of the beach next to the amusement arcade. After a while I hooked something very small at range and was expecting a small pollock but was quite surprised to land a sand smelt that had attacked my 7g Hansen Pilgrim and was hooked cleanly in the mouth.

This sand smelt attacked a lure over half its length!

As it got dark we moved around the bay under some lights and fished over the clean sandy ground there. The tide was fully in and the water was very clear so we could see the bottom. I thought I spotted some small fish moving about over the sand which I suspected may be weevers and started jigging my lure up and down slowly. As my lure hit the bottom and puffed up some sand I was sure I could see these fish move towards it to investigate. Just as I started to lift my lure up again a small flatfish suddenly appeared from the sand and grabbed it. Quickly brought to the surface I could tell by its shape that it was a small turbot and quickly swung it up into my hand.

How cool! My first flatfish on a metal jig too.

What an aggressive little fish indeed. I kept trying to tempt the small fish and switched over to a much smaller Reins Palpuntin metal. I kept seeing them moving about but couldn't induce a take which made me start to think I was seeing things in the shifting sand as the current moved it around because weevers are very aggresive little fish. We went along to a second stone pier but when Lee got a wind knot and was struggling to sort it out we headed back along to the well lit and more sheltered spot where I'd caught the turbot. I tried again to catch one of the small fish but couldn't however my efforts were rewarded with a second turbot. By this point we were both very tired so we called it a night and headed back to the hotel.

We got up at 7:00 on Wednesday and first off we headed to the spot where I caught the turbot the night before so I could try and catch one of the mystery small fish this time using a tiny piece of ragworm on a running ledger. The tide was almost fully in again although the water was very dirty. I had no joy which makes me think I was seeing things! Lee managed to catch a small pollock before we headed along to the pier. The weather was much more settled and I decided to start by trying for a garfish again and made up some shirvy. The current was taking it under the pier though so I moved to the opposite side so it was drifting out into open water. I decided to try fishing a small metal high up in the water but after about an hour or so with nothing to show for my efforts I turned my attention back to fishing the open sections in the middle of the pier with my mini bait rig. Lee too had been struggling with lures in the open sea and joined me. Even this was much slower than the day before but the third fish I caught was a goldsinny wrasse.

The smallest goldsinny wrasse I've ever caught.

Thinks started picking up a bit more as the tide started to ebb and Lee caught a nice long spined sea scorpion. Lee thinks long spined sea scorpions are the coolest "rockfish" in U.K. waters and I can't say I disagree. We discussed the short spined variety which can grow much larger. We'd both love to catch a big one on ultra light gear as the small ones can't half tear about and we think the bigger specimens would be very powerful indeed!

100% attitude.

I then caught a common dragonet and whilst unhooking it I got spiked by the spikes on its gill covers which was quite painful. The tiny would would not stop bleeding and Lee found this very amusing. I had to make an improvised dressing using some newspaper from my ragworm wrapping and a piece of gaffer tape that I had to stick down the end of my line onto its spool to finally stop it!

This weird looking fish has nasty little spikes on its head and has a habit of thrashing around once it gets you with them.

Lee had never caught a goldsinny wrasse or a common dragonet before so he started fishing in the spot I'd caught them for a while. I went and tried a new spot to see if I could locate a black faced blenny. By this point it had turned into quite a nice day and a few other anglers had joined us on the pier. We both failed to catch the species we wanted but a steady stream of small corkwings the odd Baillon's and a few tompot blennies kept us amused.

Another Baillon's for me. The marking not so vivid as others I've caught.

After a while we both moved out to the edge of the pier to enjoy the sun whilst it was managing to break through the clouds. This move paid off and soon saw Lee catch his first common dragonet which he quickly swung in when I spotted what it was as he hoisted it up. After seeing the damage they could do he handled it very carefully managing to avoid the spikes although truth be told after he had laughed at me bleeding all over the place I was hoping it would spike him! Shortly after that I hooked a fish that put up a short but spirited little scrap, taking a little line twice before being brought to the surface. It was my first bass of the year. Quickly returned I followed it up with a long spined sea scorpion, my first from the pier.

My 75th species of 2013.
Little aliens!

After a while the sun vanished behind some clouds again and I returned to fishing the open sections in the middle of the pier. I then caught a second rock goby and again for a brief moment thought it was a female black faced blenny. Lee was still keen to get a goldsinny wrasse so I suggested we went along the coast to Weymouth for an hour or so to try and get him one at a spot where I'd caught a few of them before. Before leaving the pier we had our photo taken in the traditional seaside manner.

I may not have had a black faced blenny on Swanage Pier but this bearded lady was almost as unusual.

After an hour or so we arrived in Weymouth and were soon fishing in the harbour. We left most of our gear in the car and just took a few drop shot weights, hooks, leader and some Isome and Gulp! Angleworm. It quickly became apparent that getting through the dozens of pouting would be a problem and the line spiralling in little circles as we brought each fish up was a dead giveaway that we'd caught one. We managed to get the odd small pollock too and Lee also caught his first whiting on a lure and a couple of tompot blennies as well. The second one had a chomp on Lee's finger which took him by surprise and made him cry out which we both found hilarious. A bit of justice too I felt for him laughing at my bleeding finger earlier in the day!

A single whiting successfully battled through the pouting.
I've found tompot blennies are normally a lot less aggressive than their common cousin but this one had other ideas.
The business end that Lee was on the receiving end of.

Trying to fish tight into the walls only seemed to result in fewer pouting so I tried casting out and working my lure back close to the bottom by adjusting the depth of my rig to about an inch or so. This resulted in a single black goby and this ballan wrasse which was the final fish of the trip.

Nice way to end the trip.

We grabbed a bite to eat and then made the drive back up to Wales were I'd be spending the night at Lee's before heading back up the road in the morning. So another most enjoyable trip to Swanage was over and the rare black faced blenny had eluded me yet again. My failure to get a garfish also meant I'd not caught anything new either but I added a bass to this years tally taking it to seventy five. It was great to catch up with Lee again and we had a lot of fun. He's already talking about wanting to go back to Swanage! I can't blame him, the pier is a fantastic venue for mini species fun and the rest of the coast is also well worth exploring. We'll be back there for sure next summer. Black faced blennies may have avoided capture again but it's only a matter of time!

Tight lines, Scott.

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