Wednesday, July 16, 2014

South Coast and Channel Island Fishathon Part 3 : Alderney.

The south coast half of my fishathon over, Ross and I got our gear sorted on the morning of Friday the 27th of June and loaded it into my car. We said goodbye to the rest of the lads and drove to Southampton to catch our flight to Alderney. Mark had left before us to drop off his car at Poole so it could be shipped back over to Alderney. The traffic was pretty bad though and we ended up missing the check-in for our flight. I was worried about incurring extra costs getting the next one but to my surprise Aurigny put us on the next flight later that day at no extra charge. Ross and I had a couple of lagers in the Airport before heading through to departures. It was soon time to board the plane and along with four other passengers we were taken out to it. Ross had warned me it was small but I still got a slight shock when I saw it.

With only eighteen seats this was easily the smallest plane I've ever travelled in. I was glad it was a nice day!

The short flight soon almost over it soon became clear just how small Alderney is as we approached the island. Mark kindly picked us up from the equally small airport and dropped us of at Ross' house. Ross and I then went for a quick drive around the island, Ross pointing out a few of his favourite marks as we went and we stopped at the harbour to mess about for an hour or so. Things were quite slow and Ross told me that high water wasn't a great time to fish there. Despite this Ross caught a small ballan wrasse and I hooked one too but lost it. I was quite surprised that they were in the harbour though as its bottom was pretty featureless. This would set the tone for rest of the trip however and I would discover that ballan wrasse can be caught pretty much everywhere. Looking forward to finding out what else could be caught we headed back to the house and enjoyed a tasty curry.

In the morning Ross had to work so I headed down to the Douglas Quay to see if anything unusual was hiding in the harbour walls. Ross has caught a topknot and a clingfish down the side of the harbour walls on Alderney so you never know what can turn up!

I thought the rocky breakwater may hold some surprises.

Working my way along the breakwater I missed a few bites before hooking a big ballan wrasse. I was fishing with ultralight tackle however and the fish charged off, snapping my braid on a piece of metal that was sticking out of wall. I was disappointed to lose another fish but carried on searching and soon caught my first fish on the island, a giant goby.

Fairly small for a giant goby but I was glad to finally land a fish.

Keen to see what else was hiding in the cracks I kept working my way round the end of the breakwater and back along the outside wall. With no more joy finding fish I climbed up on top of the wall on the outer edge of the first half of breakwater and decided to try a team of two lures. Removing my drop shot weight from the bottom of my rig I replaced it with a jighead and put two Reins Rockvibe paddletails on. Casting them out past some rocks and reeling them back I had a follow from a pair of bass. One turned away but the second kept following. I paused my retrieve and the fish swallowed the jighead mounted lure, turned and charged off. My drag was set fairly tight but it was a decent size fish, was taking line fairly easily and was headed straight towards some partially submerged rocks further out. I thumbed the spool to try and turn the fish but after a few seconds my leader snapped. Disappointed to lose yet another fish I carried on experimenting with the new rig but had no further action. I quite like this tandem lure presentation however and will no doubt try it again.

At this point Ross text to say he had finished work so I headed back to his house to meet him. He was taking part in a species hunting competition later in the day on the breakwater so I was happy to tag along and see what I could catch. Before that however we headed off so I could try and catch a Montagu's blenny. Ross had on previous visits caught two from the area we visited and was confident I would get one. I set up spilt shot rig with a #26 hook and nicked a tiny piece of Gulp! onto it. Before long dangling this into likely looking gaps in the weeds had a few small common blennies and rock gobies appearing. Then a blenny appeared that had some vivid gold markings on its flank. "That's a Montagu's blenny" Ross told me so all my efforts went into trying to tempt it. Trying to keep my tiny piece of Gulp! in front of it was very frustrating and when it eventually had a few goes at it and I finally hooked it the tiny fish came off as lifted it up through the weed lining the rockpool. I carried on and after a while another, or perhaps the same Montagu's blenny appeared. Its attacks were less aggressive though so I replaced the tiny chunk of Gulp! with a fresh piece and this seemed to get the tiny fish interested again and I eventually hooked it. This time I managed to get it up out of the rockpool before it spat the tiny hook and Ross quickly grabbed my second new species of the trip before it could wriggle back into the water.

Montagu's blenny. A very pretty little blenny with gold markings along its flank.
Nice light blue spotting on its gill plate too.

Quite happy to have caught a new species and in particular a new blenny we returned to the breakwater and Ross signed in to the competition. We headed along to the slipway at the start of the breakwater and got started straight away. I was using the two up one down mini species rig I used at Swanage Pier and baited my hooks with ragworm. We didn't have any luck there though but a move along the breakwater soon saw us catching a few ballan wrasse. The multitude of colourations ballan wrasse have is quite extraordinary and it's one of the reasons I like catching them.

Alderney Breakwater at low water.
Some ballan wrasse are mottled like this brown one.
Some are plain like this bright green one.

Ross thought about a dozen species would be required to win the competition and by the time we got all the way along to the end of the breakwater Ross had racked up five species. His luck however started to run out a bit at this point and despite changing his tactics and bait, species that would normally be easy to catch proved elusive. I spent a bit of time at the end of the breakwater trying to catch a rock cook wrasse after a few of the other anglers caught some but all I could catch was more ballan wrasse. I wasn't complaining though as they were good fun on my ultra light gear and I was still enjoying their beautiful colour variations.

Dark green with a stripe of small spots.
Deep red with grey spots.
Plain brown.

As the evening progressed we moved back and forth to various points on the breakwater trying for different species. Going all the way back to the slip at the start of the breakwater as high water approached I caught a few more ballans whilst Ross spent some time trying to catch a goby, eventually managing to get one.

Dark brown with light blue spots.
A funky shade of green and possibly the cutest ballan wrasse I've ever caught.
Deep red.
Mottled chocolate and lime.

We fished into darkness but Ross surprisingly had no joy adding to his tally of six despite us going all the way to the end of the breakwater again to try fish baits for species like rockling and dogfish. In the end his boss Mark won the competition with a tally of ten species. Quite unbelievably despite over a dozen species being caught by the other participants throughout the competition I only caught ballan wrasse so it was just as well I was fishing for fun! It had been a very long day walking back and forth along the length of the breakwater and rather tired we headed home.

The next day Ross was off work so after a cooked breakfast we went giant goby hunting in some nice big boulder filled rockpools. Ross clearly knew their hiding holes very well and quickly caught a few of them. Being a generous host however he very kindly left a spot or two for me to catch them from. I'd never noticed before but the edge to some of their fins is bright blue in the water. I guess this has escaped my attention because they are normally thrashing around when hooked. We caught a few specimen fish and they sometimes have ragged fins too. This is probably a result of fighting or being attacked by predators.

I popped one of mine into a small rockpool to try and capture its blue fin edges but couldn't get the light to catch them properly.

The half a dozen boulder filled rockpools all fished out we headed around the island and over the exposed tidal causeway that leads to Raz Island to fish soft plastics for ballan wrasse.

Fort Ile De Raz on a beautiful day. 

After getting a few knocks but not hooking up I tried a lure I'd not used for a while and my next cast produced a fish.

I'd forgotten how much ballan wrasse love a Nories Ladyfish.
Ross chucks soft plastics in the general direction of France.
A few more wrasse fell to the Ladyfish including this heavily spotted one. 
Pouting at me seductively as I looked over it.
It had a brightly coloured underside too.
Moving along the rocks soon produced a few more fish including this green, brown and heavily spotted one. 

Satisfied with our efforts we headed home and Ross cooked us a tasty beef chilli before we headed out at night to try a spot of bait fishing from a nice clean beach. The target there was bass with a slim chance of sole after dark.

Two rods out the waiting game begins.
It was a lovely beach and a nice sunset too.

Sadly we had no luck but it was quite nice just sitting there relaxing whilst watching the rod tips. It was however dawning on me that getting any more new species was going to be a big ask and my attentions began to turn to adding more to my tally instead.

The next day I had a lie in while Ross went into work for a few hours in the morning and when he returned just before noon we spent a few hours targeting mini species from the Commercial Quay. Ragworm baited sabiki were the weapons of choice this time and after no luck at our first chosen spot we soon found a pocket of fish at a second.

My first rock cook wrasse of the year.

These horrible parasites must be what cause the abscesses on some of the corkwing I'd caught previously during the trip.

After a few more small wrasse we moved down inside the quay and fishing on the bottom fairly tight into the walls we caught a few black and rock gobies and I caught a goldsinny wrasse.

A single goldsinny wrasse took my trip tally to twenty nine species.

Things then went fairly quiet for a while so we headed off and dug some lugworm before going to a rock mark to try for bass. None were tempted although predictably our efforts were appreciated by a few of the resident ballans. In between bites on the bait rod we took turns with my lure setup and jigged a metal around. This resulted in some very positive takes from, you've guessed it, more ballans!

Ross has caught some cracking ballans whilst on Alderney. This one being small by his standards. 
They were loving the Savage Gear Psycho Sprat.
They were loving the lugworm too mind you.

After a hour or so there was a good rattle on bait rod. I lifted the rod and felt the fish was still there so I struck to set the hook and started winding it in, aware that I had to put some pressure on to keep it away from some rocks to my left. Potential snag safely negotiated a cracking black seabream soon came into sight.

I was well chuffed with this fish. Better than a bass in my book.
Like some other fish, their iridescent markings are only apparent when they are in water. 

Shortly afterwards it was soon time to leave with no bass caught but I was pleased with another enjoyable session. We packed up and headed home before going round to Mark's for a few hours to watch the France versus Nigeria World Cup match. Mark's partner Fieona cooked us some delicious food and it was all washed down with a few tasty Rocquette ciders. Later that night Ross and I popped down to Commercial Quay again to try for a rockling at slack water. Two rods were setup with ragworm baits fished on one up one down rigs close to some submerged boulders. Ross expected the target to be caught in rapid fashion and was looking forward to getting back home to bed but there wasn't much action so after an hour or so we decided to head home anyway. Reeling in a rod each Ross reeled in the rig that had just happened to have a small shore rockling on its bottom hook which would have been my 30th species of the trip had I picked that rod up. On the way home we both had a good laugh about it.

On Tuesday Ross was working in the morning again so I went off on my own in Ross' van to explore. Finding some rocks and chucking around some soft plastics I soon added a few more ballan wrasse to my tally.

The amount of ballan wrasse in the waters around Alderney is ridiculous. 
I still enjoyed catching them though!

After a while I headed off to explore another area that I had spotted whilst Ross and I drove around the island. Arriving there it looked quite good and I was just about to climb down when Ross rang to say he had finished work so I went to pick him up. First off we quickly visited some rockpools to try and catch more Montagu's blennies. I didn't have any luck finding one but after a while Ross managed to get himself one. Now early afternoon we went and dug some more lugworm and headed off to try a Couch's seabream. Arriving on the rocks we met Ross' workmate Matt who had just started fishing for them. After the previous night's rockling debacle Ross had assured me that a Couch's seabream would be an easy capture and we would likely get one first cast. We hadn't even cast out when Matt caught one so things did look promising.

Matt shows us how it's done catching a Couch's seabream on his first cast.

Well after this things were very slow and when I did finally get a bite and hooked a fish on both occasions it turned out to be a ballan wrasse again. Admitting defeat we packed up and headed home before popping down to the Thai restaurant at the end of Ross' street for a tasty meal. We had a laugh about Ross' overconfidence backfiring and decided to try somewhere new later that night. Arriving at the chosen spot we put out two bait rods and cast a metal around. Things were fairly quiet with only a single ballan wrasse being caught until light started to fade and then a couple of pollock and a mackerel fell to the jig. Ross then hooked a fish as the sun dipped down below the horizon.

Fish on.
It turned out to be a bass.

As it got darker the bait rods started going but I missed a few bites. It was now quite late and Ross was working in the morning so we decided to call it a day. One of the rods had been ever so slightly nodding away which we suspected was a crab but just to be on the safe side I reeled it in and low and behold it felt like there was something hooked. It felt a bit strange though and the reason was soon apparent when a double shot of a ballan wrasse and a shore rockling appeared into the beam of my head torch and was quickly swung in.

This shore rockling rounded off my species tally to thirty.

Pleased with this we packed up but had to wait half an hour for the tide to recede so we could get off of the rocks were had been fishing on. Back in the van I thought the species hunting was over for the day but Ross had other ideas and we began a bit of a tour of the island looking for another species on the way home. After about an hour driving around, stopping at various spots and wandering around with our head torches on we finally spotted the species we were looking for.

Not a fish but the Alderney Blonde Hedgehog was well worth tracking down. Their blonde colour is caused by a genetic mutation. All hedgehogs on Alderney have it and there are no "normal" brown hedgehogs on the island.

Well pleased with this late night bonus new species we headed home. Ross was working in the morning again so after a lie in I got up and packed up my gear. When Ross returned in the early afternoon we went to try and catch a mullet at the island's sewerage outflow pipe. As is the norm with mullet fishing we had a couple of bites but had no joy connecting with any fish. Not wishing to end my visit to Alderney on such a pungent mark we headed off to another spot and I had a quick go casting a metal jig around. I had a few knocks but sadly didn't hook any fish.

The view from the "s**t pipe" is still quite nice even if the smell is not.
Ross patiently watches for one particular floating object to move.

Heading back to Ross' house we had a quick bite to eat before he dropped me off at the airport and headed off to work again. I had a fantastic time with Ross on Alderney. He is a very talented angler and I like the fact that he just likes catching fish and is happy using any method he thinks will get him his target species, a bit like myself. I think he was quite glad to see the back of me though and was looking forward to getting a rest as he'd been working and fishing pretty much non stop since we arrived. Fishathons are great but they are tiring especially when you have to work too! My fishathon over, I enjoyed another turbulance free flight and made the drive back up the road to a wet and windy Scotland.

It had been an awesome trip overall and over the eleven days I had managed to catch thirty species including two new ones, adding twenty one to this year's tally too.

Here's a summary of everything I caught.
  1. Ballan Wrasse x 74
  2. Black Goby x 3
  3. Black Seabream x 10
  4. Blue Shark x 1
  5. Cod x 2
  6. Common Blenny x 6
  7. Common Dragonet x 4
  8. Corkwing Wrasse x 87
  9. Cuckoo Wrasse x 1
  10. Garfish x 1
  11. Giant Goby x 4
  12. Goldsinny Wrasse x 1
  13. Greater Sandeel (Launce) x 4
  14. Haddock x 1
  15. Leopard Spotted Goby x 3
  16. Lesser Weever x 8
  17. Long Spined Sea Scorpion x 2
  18. Mackerel x 30
  19. Montagu's Blenny x 1
  20. Pollock x 21
  21. Poor Cod x 1
  22. Pouting x 1
  23. Red Gurnard x 1
  24. Rock Cook Wrasse x 1
  25. Rock Goby x 3
  26. Sand Smelt x 7
  27. Shore Rockling x 1
  28. Tompot Blenny x 9
  29. Tub Gurnard x 1
  30. Whiting x 2
I'm looking forward to next year's fishathon already!

Tight lines, Scott.


  1. Love your blog. I just found it, so a lot of catching up to do on my end. As an angler and aquarist, I'm intrigued. I'm also a fan of blennies, but I've never tried angling for them, just dip nets. My favorite blennies are local to me, the striped blenny, Chasmodes bosquianus and the feather blenny, Hypsoblennius hentz. I will be checking back and looking forward to future posts of yours.

    1. Thanks! I'd love to have a saltwater aquarium but alas I live in a small flat and don't really have room. If I did have one the first fish in it would be a tompot blenny. Striped blenny and feather blenny eh, I'm intrigued too! Where do you live?

  2. Scott, I'm in Maryland, USA. These two blennies live along the East Coast of the US from New York to Florida. The feather blenny resembles the tentacled blenny, with the cirri on the head looking like horns. Tompot blennies look really cool. I'm building an oyster reef tank (not sure yet about live oysters or not, but I'm going to simulate an oyster reef), which is the natural habitat of these two blennies of ours. The make their homes and breed in the oyster shells. I hope to have the tank up and running with fish this fall. Once I do that, I may start a blog about them! I really like the concept of trying to see how many species you can get on a hook and line. I may have to try something like that here. I don't think anybody in the states does that, but not sure.

    1. Be sure to let me know if you do start a blog. :-)

  3. I don't really care for this tank (not mine), but what is great about this guy's video is it really shows the character of the striped blenny:

    1. Denny is pretty cool. That's one of the reasons I like blennies. They are full of character.