Monday, December 30, 2013

Light fantastic.

Over the last week or so I've read a few reports online from other anglers catching flounder using heavy tackle with the anglers concerned asking how to avoid deep hooking flounders. I offered some advice and decided to practice what I preach, heading out on Boxing Day to have a go for them on light tackle and using circle hooks. I drove down to West Barns, parked the car and crossed over the Biel Burn before strolling down to fish from its mouth at the end of Belhaven Beach.

This bridge is partially submerged either side of high water. This catches a few people out and results in either getting quite wet or a very long walk.

It was a lovely day with hardly any clouds and a slight off shore breeze flattening the sea. Perhaps a little too flat. I prefer to fish for flounders when there are a few small waves breaking as it stirs up the bottom and encourages them to feed but I gave it a go anyway.

Not the Bass Rock again! It's been on the horizon at the last few marks I've fished. I'd love to visit it one day.

My setup for the session was my Nories Flat Fish Program Rough Surf 88, Daiwa Caldia 3000 reel spooled with 15lb Sunline Castaway braid. At the business end I tied on about five feet of 15lb leader using a uni to uni knot onto which I slid a 1oz egg sinker followed by a bead and tied on a small swivel.

Get with the program. Light is the way to go for flounders. This 8' 8" rod is rated 10-40g and combined with braid the bite detection is very good. 

I then snelled a #4 Mustad Demon Fine Wire circle hook using a knotless knot onto a fairly short 6" 10lb snood and tied this onto the swivel. My bait cocktail of choice was a small section of black lug, which I doubled over and bound with bait elastic, tipped off with a small sliver of squid.

Snelling circle hooks will help them work properly by turning them into the mouth of the fish.

Casting out I found my lead was resting on the bottom. Flounders are attracted by movement and I would have changed to a lighter lead so that the current could wash it and my bait around a bit but didn't have any lighter leads with me so instead every minute or so I would turn the reel handle a couple of times to bump my bait along the sand and try and tempt any fish that were in range. My setup was very light and comfortable and holding it at right angles to the line I watched the tip for signs of activity whilst feeling the line also between my thumb and finger.

Holding your rod tip at a ninety degree to the line also helps with bite detection.

Fishing with circle hooks it is important to remember that you do not strike when you feel a bite. Instead you let the bite develop before slowly reeling in or lifting the rod tip, feeling for the weight of the fish which will hook itself as the shank of the hook is draw out of its mouth and the hook point turns into the lip. After forty five minutes or so of casting out in various directions and slowly working it back I felt a gentle pluck of a fish and waited a few seconds before slowly reeling in. My rod soon had a nice bend in it, the fish on the end nodding its head so I knew the circle hook had done its job and a nice flounder was soon on the sand ready to be easily unhooked and returned to the water.

Success! A nice flounder perfectly lip hooked.
Off it goes again to grow bigger!

I carried on fishing for another hour or so but had no more bites before I headed home. Still it was very satisfying that everything had come together as it had been a while since I'd fished for flounders on an open beach using this method. Circle hooks are great and really reduce the chances of deep hooking. It can still happen occasionally if you don't notice the bite though and this alone is a good reason to fish lighter particularly if you are a catch and release angler. However even if using Aberdeen patterns whilst fishing light for flounder it is still so much more enjoyable than the two heavy rods and a tripod approach and the additional bite detection provided should still reduce the chances of fish swallowing baits right down making unhooking difficult. I would even go so far as to say that the tackle I was using was still a little on the heavy side as the use of ultra light tackle really transforms flounder into a sporting fish so the next time I go I'll be going even lighter!

Tight lines, Scott.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Wind of change.

I headed out for a few hours fishing with my mate Nick on Sunday. We selected "Ghegan Rock" near Seacliff beach as we thought it would be quite sheltered but as the wind seemed to be blowing from a different direction to the forecast we weren't sheltered at all. Oh well, having walked a fair distance and scrambled down a rather muddy embankment to get to the mark we decided to give it a bash anyway and were soon fishing a selection of baits fairly close in. Nick fished a single rod and opted for a fairly big bait hoping to catch some winter cod. I on the other hand fished two rods and lobbed out two small baits on small hooks hoping to tempt a three bearded rockling.

Not an unpleasant view with the ruins of Tantallon Castle and the Bass Rock in front of us. 

The wind made fishing pretty uncomfortable but we soldiered on and as we patiently watched our rod tips for signs of activity we had a chat about the pros and cons of various approaches to bait fishing. One rod versus two, fixed spool reels versus multipliers, complicated rigs versus keeping things simple and the benefits of braided mainline were all discussed. After a couple of bait changes I reeled in to do a third and found this greedy little swine on the end of one of my running ledgers.

This cheeky little long spined scorpion fish was a nice surprise.

Nick laughed and said his bait was bigger than my catch which was no doubt true. A short while later I caught another in exactly the same way. As light faded the coalfish bites started and after catching one I decided to switch to slightly bigger hooks. After darkness fell and the headlamps were switched on, the tide turned and began to ebb and I had a couple of good bites. The first almost pulled my rod from the stand but when I picked it up and struck there was nothing there. The second time I was holding my rod but again when I struck I failed to connect. By this point the wind had really picked up however, it had started to rain as well and we were taking a bit of a battering so we called it a night.

It was good catching up with Nick and our discussion of bait angling methods has cemented a few thoughts I've had recently about how I want to bait fish next year. I've realised that fishing two rods can be counter productive at times and can lead to missed bites. It also means you are less inclined to move around. Fishing and focusing on one rod is the way forward for me. Also it's better to hold your rod if possible, be able to feel what's going on and quickly react to bites. I also plan on keeping my rigs very simple and most of the time will fish a running ledger or a one hook paternoster. I think most of my fishing will be done at close range too in clean to mixed ground so no need for anything too fancy. More species hunting is on the cards next year so I'll be using smaller baits and hooks which will hopefully mean more fish being caught and also less damage to the fish that are to be returned. I also want to use snelled circle hooks whenever possible too, again to minimise damage to my catches. I'm thinking I may treat myself to a new setup but in the meantime I'll start putting these changes into practice and I'm keen to try for a three bearded rockling at the "Ghegan Rock" again with Nick when the conditions make fishing more comfortable.

Tight lines, Scott.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Lucky Horseshoe?

The rather windy weather of late is making it rather difficult to get out fishing so when I looked at the forecast and spotted a slight lull in it on Tuesday night off I went. With a three bearded rockling still on my radar I picked a spot near North Berwick known as "The Horseshoe", arriving about an hour before sunset.

I don't have a superstitious bone in my body but maybe some luck would rub off on me anyway?

Simple running ledger setups incorporating rotten bottoms were my chosen approach on both rods. Black lug tipped off with squid was the bait for the evening and I decided to fish it on #1/0 hooks to try and stop small coalfish from taking them. This of course did not stop them from tapping away and before long one managed to get the hook in its greedy mouth. Quickly unhooked and put back I think it was at this point I spotted an odd light coming from behind the bass rock. I soon realised it was the moon and as it rose up and tried to get through the clouds it was quite a nice sight so I tried my best to capture it with my camera, taking loads of photos in the process.

This image is probably the best but try as I might I couldn't really capture the scene with my camera. It was one of those moments when you forget you're there fishing and are just glad to be out.

After messing about and probably missing loads of bites I couldn't miss the next one. It was a right good rattle and I quickly lifted my rod and felt the weight of a fish. As it came towards me I was of course hoping it was a nice big three bearded rockling but I knew from it thumping away that in all likelihood it was a small codling and was soon proved to be correct.

Bloody pest! Now I know how those targeting cod feel when they catch rockling!

As the tide continued to drop the wind picked up a bit and I found myself hunkering down behind some rock. It was hard to see bites and what bites i did see were few and far between and were no doubt small coalfish slowly stripping the bait from my hooks. As low water arrived even these seemed to become increasingly sparse so I called it a day at about 20:30. With my first rod broken down I lifted the second to find my end tackle was snagged. Pulling for a break the rotten bottom did its job and I felt a little bit of extra weight as I reeled in. Probably another greedy coalfish I guessed or could it be a small rockling perhaps?

No. It was a rather plump starfish. 

Well there's no sign of a let up in these strong winds and if anything they are going to get stronger. The only positive thing is that if they remain offshore they'll flatten the sea on the East Lothian coastline. If I'm to brave these howling winds I'll have to try and fish from a mark that offers a lot of shelter. Luckily my mate Nick is off work at the moment and he may know a spot or two that fit the bill nicely.

Tight lines, Scott.

Friday, December 13, 2013

More beards than ZZ Top.

Well it's that time of year again. No, not cod season. Rockling season! Having caught my first rockling species, shore rockling, at the start of this year I was keen to add another before the end of it. With the largest of the UK rockling species, the three bearded variety in mind, and after gathering some intel, I decided to visit Anstruther in the East Neuk of Fife to try and catch one. I was told that some had been caught there recently and conditions looked good so off I went on Tuesday for the first of two evening sessions.

Anstruther Harbour's western breakwater is known as "The White Pier" due to the white lighthouse at the end of it. About halfway along it would be my chosen mark.

Fishing with two rods I decided to keep things very simple and fished a running ledger on both with #8 Aberdeen hooks baited with black lug and tipped off with a little sliver of squid. It didn't take long at all for one of these small but smelly offerings to attract the attention of this passing flounder.

A nice start to the session. 

After the sun set the pace of the bites increased as the resident coalfish came out and after catching a few of them I caught a few small codling too.

Not the stamp of cod most anglers who visit the venue are after but nicely marked and a welcome change from the coalfish. 

I pretty much had the place to myself until a local lad came down, chatted to me for a bit and I explained what I was hoping to catch, before he headed home to get his gear. When he returned he lobbed out a juicy lug and mussel cocktail to try and tempt any larger codling that may have been around. He didn't succeed in catching any but did manage a few small greedy coalfish. Just before he left though he struck at a bite hooking the culprit and was soon reeling in a small fish. Another coalfish I guessed but as he lifted it over the wall he realised it was a small rockling and called me over so I nipped along to where he was took a look. Upon closer inspection of the fish which was maybe only 15cm long I couldn't believe the thing had managed to get a #6/0 hook into its tiny mouth!  It was a darkly coloured rockling so a quick beard count was completed and it turned out to be the five bearded variety, a species I'd never caught. The whole thing brought a huge smile to my face but I did jokingly tell him that if he caught another I'd have to throw him in! That's fishing though and it was good to know that there were some rockling around at least. I fished on for a while after the young lad called it a night at about 21:00 but left soon after rocklingless. 

The following afternoon I returned to try again. Thinking about the rockling the local lad had caught the night before as well as some of my angling mates advice to "go cod fishing" if I wanted to catch rockling and fish big baits and hooks I decided to try a compromise. I switched to a wishbone arrangement at the business end to hopefully put a bit more scent into the water that hopefully the resident rockling could home in on and this would allow me to continue using small hooks to increase my chances of a hook up should one decide to take a bait. As I set up the wind had dropped off almost completely compared to the previous day and the clouds had almost disappeared. It was a lovely mild evening especially given the time if year. 

A very picturesque December evening. 

Soon fishing black lug and mussel baits tipped off with squid the session started as it had the day before with another flounder and as soon as the sun began to set the bites were fairly frequent and a few coalfish were soon being caught. Reeling them in I was mumbling away to myself, "Please be a rockling, please be a rockling!" After a while I had a double shot of a coalfish and a viviparous blenny which at first glance I thought was a small rockling. It was a nice change from the coalfish though. They are cool little fish and are quite hard to handle as they slither around.

A slippery character indeed.

Shortly afterwards, after catching a few more coalfish and a single small codling, I was beginning to think it wasn't going to be my night again when I hooked another fish and as it came over the wall I was very excited to see it was a rockling. Which kind though? I knew straight away from its dark brown colouration that it wasn't a three bearded rockling so it was quickly unhooked and a beard count was eagerly done.

One, two, three, four, five,
Once I caught a five bearded rockling alive.
Six, seven, eight, nine, ten,
Then I let it go again.

I was over the moon to catch this as it was my first one! I really like rockling, I think they are a very interesting looking fish with their long bodies, small eyes and the barbules on their snout are most intriguing. I may be alone in feeling this way about them however as they are usually considered a nuisance, bait stealing pest by most anglers who catch them whilst targeting other, more prized species. Like all fish I think they are pretty cool fish in their own right. With about an hour or so left I decided to fish some slightly bigger baits on bigger hooks to try and tempt a three bearded rockling. This just resulted in coalfish tapping away but no more fish were hooked. Still a very pleasant couple of night's fishing, I left very pleased to have caught another new species and I'll certainly be out trying for a three bearded rockling again at some point over the winter.

Tight lines, Scott.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Three men and a lady.

After several emails asking if I could tag along with them I finally had the pleasure on Sunday of meeting up and fishing with Brian and Col, co-writers of the rather good "Streamside Diary" blog. After driving west and picking them both up we headed west further still to a stretch on one of the rivers they fish for grayling where they've had some success recently. After a short walk to the spot we'd be fishing we were soon tackled up and ready to get into the river. I had decided to try a centrepin reel for the first time and the latest addition to my fishing tackle arsenal was spooled up with 3.2lb Bayer Perlon. I paired it up with a 13ft float rod. An Avon float was employed and I was soon trotting a single maggot on a barbless #18 Kasaman B911 hook about four feet beneath it. I immediately found it a real pleasure to use especially as it only took three trots to hook a fish!

My first "lady of the stream" was in fact a male.

Obviously I was quite pleased and with the pressure off we could all relax and enjoy the rest of the day. Brian soon caught a few grayling, some of them right at his feet which goes to show that feeding maggots regularly can draw the shoal in rather close.

This nice grayling certainly put a smile on Brian's face.

Col had soon caught a few too and it was turning into a rather wonderful mild winter morning's fishing. At this point I noted that Brian's float seemed to be trotting downstream at a much slower speed than mine even though he didn't seem to be slowing it using his centrepin. I figured this was perhaps due to him either fishing a lighter float than mine or fishing his maggot slightly deeper than I was and this acting as a break. I quickly increased the length of the drop I was fishing and this seemed to have the desired effect and also saw me hook a few more fish almost straight away with three more grayling caught in quick succession. After a couple of hours I had to take a break on the bank as my leaking waders meant my left foot was absolutely freezing.

Whilst I enjoyed a warming cup of soup and thawed out my foot Col plays another grayling.

After a while we decided to split up and went for a wander fishing different swims. The clouds had disappeared by this point and this seemed to slow things down a bit. I found that fish were taking my bait a lot further downstream from me. Perhaps the extra sunlight made my presence easier for them to spot and they kept their distance as a result. In the afternoon I only managed a small out of season brown trout and three more grayling but to be honest it was nice just to enjoy the scenery and practice using the centrepin.

We all caught a brownie or two.
My final grayling of the day was probably in the nicest condition.
I admire a really lovely fish. I like their yellow teardrop shaped eyes too.
Beautiful deep red colouration on the dorsal fin.

It was soon time to go and on the way back we had a good chat about fishing. It was great meeting up with Brian and Col and I can't thank them enough for helping me catch my first grayling. Hopefully we can meet up again in the future. They've been dabbling with lures in saltwater this year so maybe I can return the favour and help them catch something new. They both mentioned that they'd tried to catch a corkwing wrasse and had no luck so perhaps a day hunting some down next summer will be a good way to repay them.

Tight lines, Scott.

Most Wanted : Common Dolphinfish (Mahi-Mahi).

I saw a small group of five or six of these whilst I was in Crete. Their humped backs and dark blue dorsal fin giving away their identity as they swam past the rocks I was fishing from one afternoon trying to catch European barracuda. Casting towards them I had one follow my hard lure before turning away. I cast towards them again to see the others in the shoal turn and follow it in for a few second before they all lost interest and swam off out into deeper water. It was heart pounding stuff and now I really want to catch one!

A yellow, green and blue torpedo.

These fish have beautiful colours and a quite odd domed forhead giving them an almost torpedo like shape . Also known as mahi-mahi, which is Hawaiian for "very strong", this is probably very apt as I'm sure once one is hooked it will go off like a rocket. Another species to try and target when I return to the Mediterranean in the autumn next year when I visit Menorca for a week with my mate Lee. I can't wait!

Tight lines, Scott.

No Bull.

I went out on Wednesday evening last week to visit a small stream on the south side of Edinburgh to try and catch a bullhead. Also known as Miller's Thumb it is the only UK goby species found in freshwater. Hiding under rocks during the day they come out when it's dark. A simple running ledger and a small chunks of raw prawn on a #10 Sabpolo Wormer hook were the chosen tactics but after a while fishing a pool with a few rocks in it and no bites I spotted some small fish in a shallow area at the edge of the stream and decided to see if the were juvenile bullheads. A quick change soon saw a #26 Gamakatsu hook baited with a minuscule piece of raw prawn being lowered amongst them and they immediately started fighting over it. One was soon hooked and quickly hoisted up.

A tiny three spined stickleback. Not the fish I was after.

It was quite amusing watching them all assualt my hookbait so I had a bit of fun and caught a few more. They are quite cool little fish. When I got home I spoke to my mate Lee and it's now obvious that he is a bit of an expert when it comes to freshwater mini species and their diets so a trip to his boyhood stream some where down in England next year at some point is now on the cards. Scottish bullheads can sleep safe under their rocks again.

Tight lines, Scott.