Thursday, January 30, 2014

Slugging it out.

On Tuesday I headed south west to Portpatrick to have a go for a three bearded rockling. I've read online that as well as being a good spot for targeting conger eels, specimen three bearded rockling can also be caught from the rocks at the harbour mouth. I would happily settle for a small one though! Traffic was horrendous on the way to Glasgow and after a brief stop to pick up some tackle I headed down the UK's longest stretch of average speed cameras to arrive just after noon.

Making my way around the harbour to the entrance I climbed over the rocks, found a comfortable spot to fish from and I was soon ledgering a black lug and squid cocktail very close in amongst the weed. The first four hours were very slow to say the least and after casting my bait around in various directions I was starting to think about a move before it got dark when finally I got a bite. Reeling in, the fish was hooked on my #1/0 fine wire circle and quickly retrieved.

A most welcome little codling indeed!

Light was now beginning to fade and as it did and the harbour filled up the action increased dramatically. It started raining too but I didn't mind so much because before long I'd caught a few more small codling. My black lug and squid cocktails and mackerel strip baits were hardly getting a chance to settle before the rod tip was nodding away and a few more codling, a couple of pollock and a coalfish were caught, all nicely hooked too. 

Circle hooks are great. Every fish I caught was cleanly hooked ensuring minimum damage was done.
Strangely the light of my head torch made this pollock appear quite coalfish like in colouration.

Then I hooked a fish at close range that I could see had a longer profile as it appeared from the slightly murky water. Alas I knew when lifting it up that whilst it was my first rockling of the session it was too dark in colouration to be the one I was after. Still, unlike some other anglers I don't consider rocklings as nuisance bait stealing pests and was happy to catch one.

"Slugs" are OK by me.
This shore rockling is a rather handsome chap if you ask me.

I carried on fishing, adding a few more codling, pollock and coalfish to my tally before my bait began to run out. I finished the night with a second shore rockling before packing up and heading back up the road having failed to catch my target species but I still enjoyed what turned out to be a very good session. I think next time I head down I might try fishing the rockier ground towards the ruins of the old pier or from the rocks to the south of the harbour. I'll also try to arrive just before dusk on a rising tide too!

Tight lines, Scott.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Sh-- Sharks!

I love sharks. Sharks are awesome. At the end of last year I tried to meet up with my mate Martin several times to fish Loch Etive for spurdogs. Each time the agreed date arrived our plans were scuppered by some truly awful weather. Sunday must have been the fifth or sixth time we'd arranged such a session and finally the weather cut us some slack. After picking Martin up in Glasgow we drove up there and were soon at the quarry in Bonawe on the western side of the loch. Martin led the way to a rocky outcrop and we were soon getting set up. We set ourselves a little challenge of catching a shark hat trick of a spurdog, a thornback ray and a dogfish and decided to fish a variety of baits on single hook pulley rigs. I was using a fairly soft rod, a fixed spool reel loaded with 50lb braid and circle hooks whilst Martin was using a shorter stiffer rod teamed up with a multiplier loaded with 18lb mono and a more traditional hook pattern. The water in front of us was very deep but there was a weedy ledge to negotiate when reeling in. It didn't take long for Martin to get a few bites and whilst I was struggling to get my lead to hold bottom and constantly trying to tighten up he hooked a fish.

Martin gets the first fish of the day. A nice cod taken on a strip of rainbow trout.

After losing a rig due to the current pulling it into a snag I moved a few yards to an area where I could cast a little easier. As a result I was getting a bit more distance and a few knocks too. First good bite and I lifted the rod, reeling into a fish. It was hard work trying to quickly get it up over the ledge and I was regretting my choice of tackle if I'm honest.

Reeling like a madman. Sweaty work in several layers and a floatation suit jacket!
A nice thornback ray. Double sandeel proving a tempting snack.

Martin then opened his shark account with a small spurdog before I got my second fish and second shark species of the day, a dogfish.

Martin's spurdog.
I don't care what anyone says, dogfish are cool.

Another spurdog for Martin and a few dogfish too left him just needing a thornback ray to complete the day's shark challenge. We fished on but were both struggling to get gear and fish back up over the ledge. As the tide dropped the black rocks being exposed in front of us were making things difficult too if we had to go down onto them to try and free out gear or return fish. Martin's Vibram soled boots made it particularly treacherous for him. It wasn't too long before I hooked my third fish of the day.

Three fish. Three species of shark. Hat trick completed!

Before the sun set we decided to move to another spot that was more comfortable and easier to fish in the dark. Whilst the water we were fishing into wasn't as deep there was no big ledge to contend with, there was also a bit less tide running and it didn't take long for us to start catching fish again. I had a second spurdog followed by a cod. Martin set up a second rod and after a string of dogfish taking his crab baits he got a cod too followed by a thornback ray.

Shark hat trick completed by Martin.

It then went quiet for a while and as I watched my rod tip I suddenly noticed how clear the sky was and how many stars were visible. Enjoying the view and using an app on my phone to see what constellations I was looking at I also picked out one "star" that was very bright which turned out to be Jupiter. I pointed it out to Martin who was trying to spot an owl which had broken the silence. It sounded like it was very close by and eventually it gave its position away when it turned its head and its eyes caught the light from Martin's headtorch.  A couple more fish were caught before we called it a night, my last one being a tiny thornback ray and Martin ended the session with an equally tiny dogfish.

This little thornback ray was only about ten inches across. Still managed to gobble a pretty big mackerel and squid cocktail though!
The smallest dogfish Martin's ever caught. Note the small parasites on its eye. A lot of fish in Loch Etive have these unfortunately.

All in all it was a good days fishing although I think next time I fish Loch Etive I'll be taking heavier gear and 8oz leads instead of 6oz ones to make holding bottom and retrieving gear and fish easier. On the plus side the circle hooks are proving effective with all bar one of my fish nicely hooked. I'm going to start debarbing them to ease unhooking though. The weather was actually quite nice too being very mild for the time of year and dry most of the day with only a couple of showers in the early afternoon. Martin commented that it was the driest day's fishing he's ever had there.  I always enjoy fishing with Martin and I'm looking forward to meeting up with him regularly throughout the year if possible. We've discussed a few things including him joining me to try and catch a ruffe from Loch Lomond and I'd like to go and target smoothhounds, a species of shark I've never caught before, from the shore down the south west coast of Scotland with him in the summer as well. We're also planning a few days fishing afloat and no doubt we'll squeeze in our annual Zander pilgrimage at some point too so lots to look forward to.

Tight lines, Scott.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Most Wanted : Norwegian Topknot.

Growing to only 12cm, the Norwegian topknot is the smallest of the three UK species of topknot. The common topknot and Ekstrom's topknot being the other two. Unlike the common topknot which clings to harbour walls, upside down under boulders and in recesses in reefs and wrecks, the Norwegian topknot uses its ability to change colour to hide. It can change its markings into a variety of colours from drab browns to brilliant reds and pinks. It uses this ability to camouflage itself against a wide range of different background surfaces from sand to rock and algae.

This Norwegian Topknot has just moved making it stand out.

In shape it is much more elliptical than both the common and Eckstrom's topknot and it has relatively large and well defined scales. I should have little problem with identification should I manage to catch one. According to divers there seem to be quite a lot of them around St Abbs Head so I'll be down there trying to catch one this year. 

Tight lines, Scott.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Taking the ruffe with the smooth.

Last week I went fishing with my mate Nick down at the Ghegan Rock again. It was a pretty poor night's fishing and we both blanked. He told me it was his third blank in a row, something he considers to be a bit of a disaster. No angler likes blanking but it's just part of fishing and you have to take the rough with the smooth. On Sunday afternoon I fished at Balmaha Pier on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond for a few hours to try and catch a ruffe. I must have tried there about a dozen times now and the little fish that's supposed to be the most prevalent in the loch is proving very elusive indeed. I ended up blanking for the second consecutive time but I did see two ruffe being caught by another angler so I was at least encouraged to know that they were actually there to be caught! Interestingly he also caught two powan, another species I've never caught. I was planning on a visit to Portpatrick Harbour to try for a three bearded rockling on Tuesday but instead opted for another trip west to have a crack at ruffe again and if I accidentally caught a powan I certainly wouldn't complain. Arriving just before sunrise I had the place to myself, set up my feeder rod and began fishing. Loading my 30g black cap with hemp and maggots I fished a single maggot on my #18 barbless hook on a simple running ledger arrangement. It was a damp misty morning and luckily it didn't take too long for me to catch my first freshwater species of 2014 dispelling in the process any concerns I had in the back of my mind about reaching Nick's milestone of three blanks in a row. Two is bad enough!

Of to a good start with this lovely little pristine roach.

Shortly after this as more light flooded through the mist I suddenly realised that I wasn't alone after all and would be sharing my swim with another angler. I knew straight away that just like on Sunday I'd be out fished by him. The simple fact being he's much more proficient than I'll ever be at catching fish. It was nice watching him do his thing and he'd soon overtaken my tally.

A real fishing expert.

Undeterred by being second best I continued fishing and caught a few more roach before catching what I initially thought was a small bream but upon closer inspection I realised it was in fact a bream/roach hybrid.

I've yet to catch a bream in Scottish water. At least I know there must be some bream in Loch Lomond I suppose!

Just after I put the hybrid back and cast out again the feeder hardly had a chance to settle when the tip arched right over. Grabbing the rod and lifting into it I could feel the weight of a decent fish. I took my time playing it and when it came into view I realised it was a rather nice powan. I've read that they are fragile fish and do not like being kept in nets so after landing it I took a couple of quick photos before carefully putting it back, cradling the fish until it swam off.

The powan is only found in a few Scottish waters and numbers have dropped in Loch Lomond due to egg predation by my target species the ruffe.
They have a very odd looking mouth. Somewhat like that of a herring.

I was quite pleased to catch my first new species of the year but I carried on fishing hoping a much smaller spiky fish would be next to take my bait becoming my second new species of the year in the process. After a few more roach however I decided to change from maggot to a small section of chopped worm on the hook. This resulted in fewer bites but when I finally connected with a good one I knew what had taken it was far too large to be a ruffe and had soon landed a  perch.

Ruffe love worms allegedly but so does their cousin.

A nice looking fish and whilst it was certainly a bit more colourful than the last ones I caught form the Grand Union Canal it wasn't a patch on a Loch Lubnaig perch. Those really are hard to beat in the appearance stakes and I'm looking forward to fishing there again at some point this year. Anyway, longing for stunning Lubnaig perch aside, I fished on until the light began to fade and caught a few more roach but alas the little blighter I was after yet again failed to fall foul of my efforts.

A rather nice roach to end the session with. He doesn't seem to happy about it though.

So despite another failure on the ruffe front it was still a pleasurable day's fishing, I was certainly glad not to reach the dreaded three blanks in a row and it was very nice to catch a fairly rare new species. In a way it felt like my ruffe hunting efforts had finally been rewarded, even if not with a ruffe! I'll certainly be back to Balmaha Pier to try again but may have to start thinking outside the box. I may try fishing into darkness next time as I've read that ruffe will feed nocturnally. I might also try some rigs that have multiple hooks. This is something I've been thinking about for a little while. It's quite odd that in coarse fishing almost all rigs are designed around a single hook. I'm not sure why this is and over a clean snag free bottom I don't really see why this wouldn't produce more fish without any other issues preventing it doing so. Purist coarse anglers might very well be horrified by this suggestion but if it increases my chances of catching my first ruffe I don't care!

Tight lines, Scott.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Happy New Gear.

With one fishing trip to the Mediterranean later this year already booked and a couple of holidays there also in the pipeline I decided that rather than pay the various airline's excessive sports equipment fees I would instead invest in a travel rod. With my favourite style of fishing being ultra light I decided to treat myself to a Graphiteleader Finezza Compatto. Prices in the UK for these are, to be brutally frank, a rip off so I opted instead to import one from Japan. Unfortunately the only retailer I found who had one in stock doesn't sell internationally but lucky for me I found White Rabbit Express, a forwarding service who help shoppers all over the world purchase products from Japan by ordering them for you and then sending them on to you. Anyway, to cut a long story short my new rod arrived a few days ago and having saved myself a considerable amount of money I was very pleased with my first experience of ordering tackle from Japan and was keen to get out and try my new rod. Work and the weather had other ideas however and in the end I decided to go out on Sunday night in the howling wind, heading down to Dunbar Harbour to hopefully find a bit of shelter and try out the new rod on the most obliging resident coalfish. When I arrived the water in the harbour was quite coloured and because of the wind I opted to fish a drop shot rig. A red Gulp! Angleworm on a #8 Sabpolo Wormer hook soon did the trick.

My first fish of 2014 and my first fish on my new ultra light rod.

Bites were not as frequent as they normally are. Obviously due to the coloured up water but I caught a few more fish before my mate Nick who lives nearby popped down with his dog to say hello. We had a quick chat and shortly after he left the wind picked up and the rain came on so after a couple more fish I decided to head home pleased with how the short session had went. The rod performed pretty much as expected really. Very sensitive and being very light it was very comfortable to use. Any concerns I had were quickly dismissed and after a few casts I forgot it was a five piece travel rod. It has a nice action with no flat spots at the joins and it has a bit of power lower down to help land bigger fish. It has a very short handle which I did find a little odd and that will take a bit of getting used to but otherwise the rod is lovely. I'm really looking forward to using it again and I think I'll go torment some blennies and long spined sea scorpions with it.

Tight lines, Scott.

Most Wanted : Blackbelly Rosefish (Bluemouth).

What a cool name! This poisonous member of the scorpion fish family is found, amongst other places, in the deep waters several miles off the south west coast of Ireland so catching one is an excuse for another trip!

Sulking in the depths.

Also known as bluemouth because, you've probably guessed it, the inside of their mouths is a shade of blue. Scorpionfish are one of my favourite families of species so taking all of the above into consideration I have to add the blackbelly rosefish to my "Most Wanted" list.

Tight lines, Scott.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

2013. A very fishy year.

Well 2012 was a great year for me fishing wise. I knew when it came to an end that it would be hard to top but I think it's safe to say I actually did it by quite some way because 2013 was absolutely phenomenal! I had a great time and fished all over the UK, as far north as the Shetland Islands and as far south as Jersey. I also got my first taste of fishing in the Mediterranean and did a fair amount of it whilst on holiday on the Greek island of Crete. Over the course of last year I caught almost three thousand fish and over one hundred species including over fifty new ones. For the record here's what I caught...
  1. Annular Seabream x 13 *
  2. Baillon's Wrasse x 36 *
  3. Ballan Wrasse x 212
  4. Bass x 2
  5. Black Seabream x 3 *
  6. Black Scorpionfish x 1 *
  7. Black Goby x 34
  8. Blue Runner x 9 *
  9. Bogue x 23 *
  10. Bream x 26 *
  11. Brown Trout x 5
  12. Buchichi's Goby x 6 *
  13. Chub x 16 *
  14. Cleaver Wrasse (Pearly Razorfish) x 1 *
  15. Coalfish x 535
  16. Cod x 71
  17. Comber x 9 *
  18. Common Blenny x 188
  19. Common Carp x 9 *
  20. Common Dragonet x 24
  21. Common Eel x 1 *
  22. Common Goby x 2
  23. Common Pandora x 1 *
  24. Common Two Banded Seabream x 6 *
  25. Conger Eel x 1
  26. Corkwing Wrasse x 297
  27. Cuckoo Wrasse x 15
  28. Dab x 8
  29. Dace x 40 *
  30. Damselfish x 9 *
  31. Derbio x 4 *
  32. Dusky Grouper x 2 *
  33. Dusky Rabbitfish x 5 *
  34. European Barracuda x 1 *
  35. F1 Carp (Common/Crucian Hybrid) x 1
  36. F1 Carp (Common/Goldfish Hybrid) x 14
  37. Five Bearded Rockling x 1 *
  38. Flapper Skate x 1 *
  39. Flounder x 15
  40. Garfish x 1 *
  41. Ghost Carp (Common/Koi Hybrid) x 1 *
  42. Giant Goby x 11
  43. Goldblotch Grouper x 2 *
  44. Golden Orfe x 3 *
  45. Golden Tench x 1 *
  46. Goldsinny Wrasse x 31
  47. Greater Sandeel (Launce) x 3 *
  48. Greater Spotted Dogfish (Bull Huss) x 1 *
  49. Greater Weever x 1 *
  50. Grey Gurnard x 13
  51. Grey Wrasse x 1 *
  52. Grayling x 10
  53. Gudgeon x 12
  54. Haddock x 4
  55. Horse Mackerel (Scad) x 3 *
  56. Ide x 9
  57. Leopard Spotted Goby x 2
  58. Lesser Spotted Dogfish x 10
  59. Lesser Weever x 10
  60. Lizardfish x 14 *
  61. Long Spined Sea Scorpion x 67
  62. Mackerel x 85
  63. Madeira Rockfish x 13
  64. Marbled Rabbitfish x 9 *
  65. Minnow x 3
  66. Mirror Carp x 14 *
  67. Ornate Wrasse x 24 *
  68. Painted Comber x 7 *
  69. Parrotfish x 4 *
  70. Perch x 220
  71. Pike x 7
  72. Plaice x 10
  73. Pollock x 121
  74. Poor Cod x 46
  75. Pouting x 102
  76. Pumpkinseed x 1 *
  77. Rainbow Trout x 1
  78. Rainbow Wrasse x 11 *
  79. Red Band Fish x 3 *
  80. Red Gurnard x 1 *
  81. Red Porgy x 3 *
  82. Roach x 243
  83. Roach/Bream Hybrid x 9
  84. Rock Cook Wrasse x 7
  85. Rock Goby x 15
  86. Rudd x 57
  87. Rusty Blenny x 3 *
  88. Saddled Seabream x 5 *
  89. Salema x 11 *
  90. Sand Goby x7
  91. Sand Smelt x 19
  92. Salmon (Parr) x 7 *
  93. Shore Rockling x 2 *
  94. Short Spined Sea Scorpion x 3
  95. Slender Goby x 1 *
  96. Small Eyed Ray x 1 *
  97. Striped Seabream x 1 *
  98. Tench x 6
  99. Thick Lipped Mullet x 2
  100. Thornback Ray x 3
  101. Three Spined Stickleback x 8
  102. Tompot Blenny x 61
  103. Tope x 1 *
  104. Tub Gurnard x 1 *
  105. Turbot x 3 *
  106. Two Spotted Goby x 1
  107. Undulate Ray x 1
  108. Viviparous Blenny (Eelpout) x 2 *
  109. White Grouper x 2 *
  110. White Seabream x 11 *
  111. Whiting x 13
  112. Wide Eyed Flounder x 1 *
  113. Zander x 3
* = New Species.
In the process I had the pleasure of fishing with some great people too. You all know who you are and I'm looking forward to fishing with you all again this year. Looking back it's very hard to choose highlights from so many great fishing adventures but here goes.

Red Band Fish.

I caught this aboard Colin Penny's boat Flamer IV out of Weymouth. It's probably the weirdest species I've ever caught. They look strange in photos but I can assure you they look even stranger in person! The highlight of a ten day south coast adventure.

Swanage Pier.

I visited Swanage Pier three times last year to try and catch a black faced blenny. I went with my mate Lee the third time and we both had a great couple of days catching lots of fish on ultra light tackle.

A lot of very pretty Baillon's wrasse.
A few funky tompot blennies.
One or two spiky common dragonets.
No black faced blennies though! I'll be back in the summer this year to try again.

Wrasse Grand Slam.

Lochaline's West Pier is rather run down and isn't perhaps the nicest place to fish from but the deep water around it offers a fairly unique opportunity to wrasse lovers like myself. All five main UK species can be caught there and to try and do just that in one session is exactly why I paid it a visit in September.
First drop produced a lovely goldsinny wrasse.
On another hook on the same rig was a small female cuckoo wrasse.
Third wrasse species was a small ballan.
A very pretty little rock cook wrasse left me one to catch.
The only corkwing wrasse of the day after 2hrs and 58min completed my first "Wrasse Grand Slam". I plan on beating that time this year!

Cretan Species Hunting.

A fortnight on the Greek island of Crete and a very tolerant girlfriend meant my first experience of fishing in the Medeterranean was very productive. Fishing ultra light the first fish I caught was this colourful painted comber.
The cleaver wrasse was a most unexpected catch. They have tiny mouths and it was hooked at range. It is a very odd looking fish indeed.
This nice big and venomous black scorpionfish really made me smile. I wish the long spined sea scorpions that are so common here in the UK grew so big!
Just like all juvenile flat fish my first wide eyed flounder was small but perfectly formed. A species I set out to catch and I was over the moon when I got this little specimen. 
These aptly named ornate wrasse were quite abundant and super aggressive. My first experience of fishing outside the UK was superb and certainly won't be my last! 

Viviparous Blenny (Eelpout).

After my long suffering girlfriend and part time ghillie caught two of these back in late 2011 I have had a few unsuccessful attempts to get my first. After each failed attempt I would be ridiculed by her and the shame was almost becoming unbearable when I finally managed to catch one. It was also my 50th saltwater species of the year. A cool fish too.

So another year has come and gone and the species hunt starts all over again! I really love species hunting though and I'll be doing more this year. I enjoy the challenge of tracking them down more than anything and for me I'm not too fussy about what method I use to catch them once I know where they are likely to be.

The fishing I did on Crete had also given me a taste of fishing outside the UK and I'll be doing more of that this year. A one week fishing trip to Menorca in October has already been booked and I'm hoping to take my gear on a couple of holidays too. In the UK I also have a trip to the south coast on the cards including a few days on the Channel Island of Alderney with my species hunting mate Ross and no doubt I'll do a few trips to various other places around the UK as well.

All that being said I also want to spend more time fishing closer to home with St Abbs Head being of particular interest as quite a few species are spotted there by divers that I'd really like to catch. These may require slightly unusual tactics too so hopefully I can come up with an approach that works and improve my angling repertoire in the process.

Finally, I'd also love to do a bit more boat angling and would love to have a go at fishing from a kayak too. Lots to think about and plans to be made but I'm sure I'll have a great time whether going solo or fishing with my mates. Most importantly, whatever I'm up to there will always be something fishy going on.

Tight lines, Scott.