Ice and Fog (and a few cod) at St Andrews

Ice and fog pretty much sums up this morning, from scraping ice off the Raider’s windows (inside and out) to setting out into uncomfortably thick fog and a light but freezing NW wind.

De-icing the Raider before heading out
De-icing the Raider

We were both chilling down rapidly by the end of our first drift, as the conditions cut to the bone despite our layers of thermals. Another hour in the Gulag saw the fog beginning to break up but only a couple of small codling to show for our frozen fingers.

Ian's rod with a nice bend on it after hitting into a nice codling
Rod hoops over to a decent fish

The fog formed into smoky clouds that gave a very arctic feel to things, with a temperature to match and I was praying that the wind didn’t rise as it would’ve made things unbearably chilly.

Freezing fog on the Fife coast looks like smoke on the water
Freezing fog on the Fife coast

Fishing stayed fairly slow until after the turn of the tide, but we did pick away and added one or two better fish to the fish box.

Happily, by lunchtime, the day had changed beyond recognition – with the fog replaced by bright November sunshine. This was a big morale boost, although it didn’t actually do very much to defrost my fingers.

Freezing, thick fog gives way to bright November sunshine on the seas off St Andrews

This small codling crunched a bright yellow banana coloured mini-pirk
Codling eats banana – one of Ian’s killer lures

We were hooking fish fairly steadily now, and Ian had the best of them (as usual) with a fish getting on for 5.5 lbs. They seemed happy feeding on both lures and baited hokkais and muppets, but were noticeably greedy and several engulfed more than one hook as they gorged themselves – not that we were complaining.

Ian with a 5lb codling
Ian with a 5lb codling

Almost at last orders Ian pulled another little oddity out of the hat, with a nice ballan wrasse which took a large shad-like lure.

A very green looking late season ballan wrasse
Late season ballan

For late November this has to count as a good day out, with around 40 codling and a few hangers on in the shape of ling, wrasse and coalie. Bumped up my freezer stocks nicely too!

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Redeeming Myself at St Andrews with some Autumn Codling

After my dismal showing at Aberdeen a fortnight ago, I was keen to catch a few fish for the table and I happily took up Ian’s offer of a hunt for a some autumn codling from St Andrews. An easy run up from Edinburgh saw me at the harbour a few minutes early on a fine, clear morning. Ian had had fish a couple of days before and conditions looked good, so I was pretty optimistic about our chances.

Several miles along the coast and a couple of hours later, confidence was evaporating somewhat with only two fish between us and a fairly chilly SW wind reminding us that summer had well and truly gone. With the anchor down Ian had a try for Pollack whilst I bottom fished in the hope of a wrasse or two.

Float fishing for pollack with ragworm off St Andrews

Our totals built steadily but rather too slowly to mixture of anchoring and drifting, mainly with codling and one or two ling showing. Only one pollack showed up – to Ian, of course – and also this little scorpion fish, which came to Ian as well and is the first I’ve seen for ages.

Short-spined Sea Scorpian - looks fierce but is quite harmless and definitely not poisonous

To be fair to the cod, they were all in good condition after a summer spent stuffing themselves on crab and baitfish – autumn and winter is definitely the best time to take a few plump fish for the freezer round here.

Decent pan sized codling from the boat off St Andrews, late autumn

Happily our last ninety minutes turned into more of a sprint for the finish which pretty much doubled our catch for the day as the fish came on the feed a bit more robustly. We’d a couple over the 5lb mark and a decent number got turned into freezer fodder, although most got returned to grow a bit bigger.

Autumn sun setting over Fife

Final tally was around 32 codling between us, plus ling, pollack, scorpion fish and a single last-gasp mackerel. We took the hint as the sun set over Fife and headed home over what was now an almost flat calm sea – not something I expect to be able to say too often over the next few months!

Ian with a nice brace of autumn codling caught from St Andrews
Ian with a nice brace of autumn codling

 

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Epic Fail with Aberdeen’s Cod

There’s not too much you can say about blanking when shore cod fishing. Especially when pretty much everything is in your favour – but that’s what happened at Aberdeen last weekend. The easterly gale had died away but the sea was still pounding in hard, with foam thick on the surface and a fine coffee colour to the water. My hopes were high!

Pre-dawn fishing from the Aberdeen coastline with the lights of oil service boats in the background
Just before dawn

Trevor and I set up camp at the Flat Stone in pretty pleasant conditions with no wind and much warmer than I’d expected. Shredded weed and other debris in the water was a pain but otherwise the conditions were pretty much perfect for cod. I baited my pulley rig with fresh rag and chucked it 60-70 yards out onto mixed ground. And then it was rinse and repeat for the next 5-6 hours…

First light on a grey autumn day fishing just south of Aberdeen
Grey day on a grey North Sea

We were out from dawn until lunchtime and we didn’t have a touch between us, so it was a rather deflated angler who tramped back up the fields to his car.

An atmospheric sunrise over the North Sea just south of Aberdeen

Casting out a fistful of ragworm bait in search of autumn codling at Aberdeen

Just to cap it all the wind, which had been rising since mid-morning, blew over my tripod and dumped the GoPro in a rock pool. Normally this wouldn’t matter, but the fall triggered the waterproof housing to open and dropped the actual camera in the salty stuff. RIP one GoPro 🙁

High waves hammer into the Aberdeen coastline after an autumn gale

I have to say that Aberdeen has been very unkind to me this past year and I don’t know what I’ve done to offend it! My average catch for a shortish session has been averaging 4 or 5 codling, but I’ve managed just 1 fish in the past 3 trips…

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Westward Ho! – Revisiting Lochs Leven and Sunart

I hadn’t really planned on a trip to the sea lochs, but the forecast was mixed to poor and Trevor was still recovering from the damage inflicted the last time he came fishing with me, so we took the Mr. Sensible route and headed westward – besides which, I haven’t fished Sunart for a couple of years now and it is a very pretty place.

Loch Leven

We got launched easily enough at Ballachulish, once the hotel reception had found the key to the car park barrier, and skipped across to the fish farm for a couple of hours.

A small thornback from Loch Leven
Baby thornback

Smallish mackerel soon added to our bait supply but the rest of the fishing was pretty slow, with only a few rays showing. Getting a little fed up of this we upped anchor and went for a bit of exploring.

Trevor feels for a bite as we fish on Loch Leven
Concentration: Trevor on Loch Leven
A nice ray from Loch Leven for Trevor, but nothing like the quality of fishing that the loch can produce from time to time
Ray of the day. Umm!

Heading up the loch in far calmer conditions than the forecast promised, we passed through the Narrows and into the upper loch. We dallied for a few minutes at the cliffs, but the codling didn’t really want to play ball and we’d to settle for a few poorcod as additional bait.

A warm afternoon afloat on Loch Leven had us both getting a little sleepy
Nodding off
A peaceful scene on Loch Leven - vastly better than the near gale and heavy rain that was forecast
Tranquility… despite the near gale-force forecast

A mooch over to the mussel farm saw a few more rays and absolutely the tiniest mackerel I’ve ever seen – large shoals of fish the size of a large minnow.

These tiny mackerel were around in large shoals on Loch Leven
Micro-mackerel
Another miniature mackerel falls to Trevor on Loch Leven
Another miniature mackerel

The final move for the day saw us try some reefier ground in the middle of the loch, but with only a few dogfish to show for it. Heading back to the slate slip we duly retrieved Alcatraz after the usual palaver of getting the keys for the barrier.

Ballachulish now boasts a chippie, but before heading off to find it we’d a chat with the skipper of one of the big ribs that plays with tourists on the loch. Aside from the tale of the witches curse on the Ballachulish bridge, it was quite blood curdling to hear of the fuel consumption of these ribs at full blast – 110 litres per hour – per engine!

Trevor hauls up a thornback from Loch Leven
Something meatier
It would be nice to say Loch Leven coughed up loads of thornback rays, but that would be a fib.
A small ray comes out to play

And across to Resipole and Loch Sunart

By now the rain was starting, but the plan called for a run to the Corran ferry and then an overnighter at Resipole campsite before a day on Loch Sunart. We reached Resipole as it got dark and pitched the tent quickly in what was becoming quite heavy rain – and then promptly fell asleep.

Resipole is a very nice and scenic campsite, but the still, damp air at half-past six next morning meant there were a million midges hovering outside the tent, just waiting for us me(!) to step outside. I’d say it took around 60 seconds to clear the tent and sleeping gear into the car…

Launching wasn’t too bad, as we’d a few minutes grace before the little bar-stewards figured out where we were, but we didn’t hang around on the slip and were soon heading out on the loch.

A very atmospheric early morning on Loch Sunart
A very atmospheric early morning on Loch Sunart

We tried a couple of different marks in the morning, and both were holding good numbers of spurdog – but just the wrong size, maxing out at maybe 5lbs. Mackerel, dogfish and a solitary thornback made up the numbers, but quality was distinctly absent.

Not great - a typical sized spurdog for this trip on Loch Sunart
Not great – a typical sized spurdog for this trip
Clearing skies on a windless Loch Sunart - but only small fish around
Deep water + small fish = hard work

A shift to shallower marks for the afternoon added some smaller species – whiting and gurnard, plus a conger eel for Trevor. We were trying for thornbacks but had none at all, so it was a little ironic to get an eel from relatively shallow, clean ground when we’d spent all morning trying for them without success on the more recognised marks.

This Loch Sunart conger eel was a slight surprise from the mark it was captured on - shallowish water and clean ground
Sunart conger
A low double figure conger for Trevor - and our best fish of the weekend from Loch Sunart
Trevor with his conger

And the whelk population just here seemed enormous – I don’t recall seeing any from Sunart before.

A "shoal" of whelks feasting on a whole mackerel bait in Loch Sunart
Whelk-fest!

So we ended up with better weather and fewer fish than we probably deserved, but it was fine just to mix a bit of fishing with a bit of fossicking about in search of new ground – and I don’t see anything to regret in having a relaxing weekend in the Scottish fjords, rather than a full-on fishing trip.

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Summer fishing mini-reports

I find I tend not to do too much fishing in the height of summer, if there is such a thing in Scotland, but I do try and wet a line from time to time and here are a few mini-reports that didn’t get the full treatment.

An Afternoon on Loch Leven

Bonnie and I headed over to Loch Leven for a few hours shore fishing in July. A bit blustery with a mix of sunshine and showers, but warm enough. We pretty much fished all the way up a rather large tide.

High tide on Loch Leven covers most of the marks
High tide on Loch Leven
Bonnie waiting for her turn to play, as we spend the afternoon shore fishing on Loch Leven
Bonnie waiting for her turn to play

I can’t say as the fish were very co-operative, but I managed a couple of rays and a dogfish through the afternoon so a blank was thoroughly averted. Poor dog wasn’t so happy when I’d to deal with her tick fest later on though …

A small shore caught thornback ray
A small shore caught thornback ray
A great backdrop for an afternoon's fishing
A great backdrop for an afternoon’s fishing
Lesser spotted dogfish are one of the most common catches in Loch Leven
Ever-present dogfish

Early August off St Andrews

St Andrews threw up a few Pollack and a good number of codling for Ian and myself at the beginning of August, although we’d to wait the best part of four hours before they switched on as the tide turned and light started to fade. No monsters (I say that all too often!), but a useful top up for the freezer. Mackerel were fairly plentiful and I added coalie, ling, and a dogfish to the total for the day.

My fish of the day was this Pollack - kind of underlining the lack of quality from St Andrews today.
My fish of the day was this Pollack… (pic courtesy of Ian)

As usual the zig-zagging through the lobster pots in near darkness added a little interest at the end of the day.

Loch Etive Spur-fest

Last weekend saw me having a lazy day out on Loch Etive, trying a couple of new marks for me and trying to get a better understanding of a couple I’ve fished before.

About half the day was spent chasing small spurs and middleweight pollack miles up the loch, with a few whiting, doggies and a single codling making up the numbers.

A pair of Spurdog from 400 feet down in Loch Etive
Spurdog from 400 feet down in Loch Etive
This plump Etive whiting coughed up a load of fish farm pellet food
Plump Etive whiting – full of fish farm pellets

Shifting further down towards Bonawe and into deep (over 400 feet) water seemed to ignite more interest and I had a solid 90 minute spell of fish two at a time within seconds of hitting bottom. All of which would’ve been more fun if it didn’t involve a long, long haul to get them aboard!

A double hit of whiting and spurdog from Etive
A double hit of whiting and spurdog from Etive
A pollack from Loch Etive, taken on a lead head and firetail jelly worm many miles from the open sea
Loch Etive pollack

New Videos

I also found the time to put together a couple of videos for Loch Etive and Loch Leven, based on trips there in recent years and fleshing out Corkwing’s pages on each.

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Bonus Pollack from Dunbar

Well, I headed out of Dunbar early-ish this morning into a very calm North Sea. There was a small fleet of visiting boats in the harbour – a Mitchell 31 and a couple of other similar sized boats so someone has obviously been fishing their way up (or down) the coast for their summer hols.

A typical Dunbar codling
A typical Dunbar codling

I picked up a few mackerel whilst I sorted my gear out just off the harbour and then headed down to the River Garry wreck. The first 90 minutes here produced loads of small ling and a fair number of codling, including my best this year at around 6lb 2oz. I also caught the 5lb or so cod in the photo, which looked a bit like it had been sand-papered – I didn’t fancy eating it, so it’s acne saved it’s life this time around. The fishing tailed off after that, with the final straw being a large poorcod, so eventually I headed back in towards the lighthouse for a few drifts in shallower water.

A 5lb cod with skin infection, caught off Dunbar.
This cod skin looks painful
A brace of codling from Dunbar, summer 2016
A brace of codling from Dunbar
 I spent a couple of hours in near Barns Ness, picking up a few more codling (fewer ling in here), and also this fine pollack which I think is my biggest from inshore Dunbar, apart from one over 9lbs from the wreck. It played hoopla with the Teklon until I could get it in the net and then weighed in – 8lb 6oz. Not the best photo, but it was in great condition and gave a good account of itself.
A cracking inshore pollack and fully fighting fit - this 8lb 6oz fish was caught off Dunbar and took a leadhead lure.
Pollack – 8lbs 6oz
A boxful of inshore codling from Dunbar
A growing boxful of codling
That was it, apart from a few more codling and mackerel, and I made it in not long before the rain arrived. Retrieval was very slick – if I say so myself, it’s largely because there was a large audience lining the harbour – I’d say less than 5 minutes from gliding to a halt to driving up the slip. Pure professionalism! 🙂
Final total was 23 or 24 codling, 15 ling, 2 Pollack and 1 chunky poorcod – plus some mackerel of course. Enough to keep a smile on my face.
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Humbled by my GoPro

All was good – not a red letter day, but a decent enough morning, with a fair collection of coddies, ling and mackerel. No wind, a little swell and some welcome sunshine. All you could expect from a summer trip out of Dunbar really.

A nice codling of around 5lb from Dunbar
A 5lb codling

And then I watched The Video. I’d been playing with the GoPro during a quiet spell and dropped it down to the sea bed to try and catch a view of the reef about 60 feet below me. Appearing on my screen back home was a very handsome reef – and a succession of codling, pollack, ballan wrasse, cuckoo wrasse and one or two unidentifiable others. My catch from this shoal was one solitary codling 🙁 I don’t think I’ve ever even caught a cuckoo from Dunbar either. OK, it was a small, dead, tide but it does make you think a little. You can see the short version below…

I did manage around 25 codling to 5lbs, with another 5 or 6 ling to similar size, plus enough mackerel to start restocking the freezer, so humiliation was not total. Despite catching a few, no ling showed on the video, which was taken on a reef about a mile out from Torness.

A nice codling from Dunbar
Good eating

There were a few other anglers out and about, with a fair number of fish coming to the surface.

A codling kicks up some spray, caught from a SIB just off Dunbar
A codling kicks up some spray
A Nice Codling from a SIB, caught off Skateraw, Dunbar
A Nice Codling from a SIB

Fish or no fish, it was great to steal such a fine day away from work and remember why you keep a boat in the first place. Notwithstanding the damage to my ego, I think I’ll be using the GoPro for more underwater surveys in future.

Alcatraz on a sparkling North Sea, off Dunbar
Alcatraz on a sparkling North Sea
A seagull's view of Alcatraz on a calm day fishing out of Dunbar
A seagull’s view of Alcatraz
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Galloway Smoothhounds

Ian, Trevor and I spent all last week hunting for tope and smoothhounds down in Galloway. Loads of fish, although decent tope proved a bit more elusive than last year.

Bar a single session from Isle of Whithorn, our time was spent fishing out of Port William and Garlieston into Luce Bay and Wigtown Bay.

Waiting for the tide to rise a little at Port William
Waiting for the tide to rise a little at Port William

Tope were very scarce out of Port William, although we did pick up some decent huss and thornbacks, plus loads of smaller stuff including a lot of tub and grey gurnards and the usual whiting hordes. Mackerel were generally easy to find, although a little bigger than last year, and there were a few herring and launce mixed in amongst them. Ian managed to up his personal LSD record up to 63 in one day, which I can’t imagine he’ll want to beat anytime soon.

A pretty tub gurnard
A pretty tub gurnard
A bull huss for myself from Luce Bay
Huss always look vaguely gangster-ish
Nasty looking bull huss dentistry
Nasty looking huss dentistry

Garlieston held plenty of smoothhounds and small/baby tope plus more thornbacks. Ian picked up the best hound, at over 12lbs (which took a mackerel bait), but most were in the 2-5lbs range. I’d 57 one day which is way more than I’ve seen before, although other days weren’t quite as hectic.

Ready to launch at Garlieston slipway
Ready to launch at Garlieston slipway
Another thornback for Trevor
Another thornback for Trevor
Ian landing no less than 3 hounds in one cast
Ian landing no less than 3 hounds in one cast

I’ve never seen so many small tope, which were picking up crab and lug baits as well as mackerel, and we must have had many dozens on the days we fished there, but with the best only going 24lbs. I’d one tiddler that looked that it had just avoided becoming breakfast for an older brother.

A small tope with distinctive teeth marks in its belly
Tope eat Tope!
Only a small one - but a tope nonetheless
Only a small one – but a tope nonetheless

A few hours on the banks off Isle of Whithorn produced the largest tope (predictably for Ian again!) with a couple at 35lbs each, but we didn’t hang around for the tide to run against the wind on the flood.

The only decent tope from Port William this trip - a 25lber for Ian
The only decent tope from Port William this trip – a 25lber for Ian

Our last day saw a combination of boat weariness and squally weather push us out on a shore trip, which resulted in our first shore-caught hounds and a tope bite off for myself.

Casting a crab bait for smoothhound
Casting a crab bait for smoothhound
A small shore caught smoothhound
A small shore caught smoothhound

Incidentally, the petrol station at Port William is now open 24 hours with a self-service card machine, which will prove handy for future trips. And there is also a nice new coffee shop above the Inshore Rescue Boatshed, with a great view out over Luce Bay.

The GoPro got dropped over the side for a quick view of the seabed at Luce Bay, revealing a complete doggie-fest with a few dabs thrown in – plus this smoothie roaming about. We didn’t catch any hounds here, so interesting to see it on video.

A smoothhound ignores our baits off Port William
A smoothhound off Port William
A lesser spotted doggie lurks on the bottom of Luce Bay, out from Port William
A doggie lurks on the bottom of Luce Bay
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Early morning SIB session

The east coast has been slow to get going this year but I reckoned there had to be fish around by the end of May – besides I’d only a very short session available so it was Dunbar or nothing today.

To be honest I do like an early morning SIB session, as the sea breeze isn’t usually a problem, and there are no traffic hassles, so the idea of setting the alarm for 4 a.m. was OK by me.

SIB launched at Skateraw and ready to go
SIB launched at Skateraw and ready to go

Once afloat I headed over to the River Garry wreck as it’s usually a reliable spot for a few fish on a calm day. And so it proved again today, with a small ling hitting the bait within 5 seconds, and a nice stream of both codling and ling following it.

A small ling from the River Garry wreck, off Dunbar
A small ling from the River Garry wreck

As the tide slackened the bites on bottom baits dried up and I switched over to a spinning rod and jellyworms to target pollack, only to find more codling and another ling.

A gull with eyes bigger than its stomach measures up the prospects of swallowing a cod bigger than it is
A gull with eyes bigger than its stomach

I could’ve kept catching but I’d already outstayed my welcome, given I was supposed to be in the centre of Edinburgh by lunchtime so the Avon was pointed back towards Skateraw.

Enough teeth to make you think twice! A codling opens its mouth to show a set of small needle like teeth
Enough teeth to make you think twice!
A rather battered cod surfaces alongside the SIB
A rather battered cod surfaces

Coming inshore and pausing to fillet the catch the sea near Skateraw seemed filled with kayaks and a couple more inflatables, and it’s quite striking how much more popular the small end of small boat fishing has become in the last few years.

A collection of hopeful anglers off Skateraw, near Dunbar
A collection of hopeful anglers off Skateraw, near Dunbar

Final score was 13 codling and 10 ling, with the best fish going 4 lbs 10oz, and I was happy enough with that result for a few hours fishing.

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A bit of Surf and Turf in Lochaber

Yesterday saw me launching the SIB at Ballachulish before six in the morning, after a few hours kip in the car the night before. I made haste, to try and avoid the midges which are well and truly out of hibernation now!

An early morning launch for my SIB at Ballachulish

I don’t normally bother with Leven at this time of year as the fishing is usually taking off along the east coast and down in the SW. However the east has been very slow to get going this year, and I didn’t have any bait for a session in Galloway. The plan was to fish a fairly short session on Leven and then head for the hills for the rest of the day, exploring some of the other attractions that Lochaber has to offer.

Pap of Glencoe backlit in early morning sunshine
Pap of Glencoe backlit in early morning sunshine

The first hour passed slowly with a little ray and a smaller codling, but then cheered up somewhat as several more rays happened upon my mackerel strips.

A pretty little thornback ray gets returned to Loch Leven

I packed in around 9.30 with 9 rays, a couple of whiting and 1 mini codling to show for my efforts. Best was only 6lb 8oz, but it was a decent enough session, making the best of a windless early morning.

A slightly alien looking thornback ray clings to the Avon's tubes
A slightly alien looking thornback ray

A thorny thornback ray and best fish of the day

And the turf element? Well I’ve never hiked up Ben Nevis before, and thought it was about time I got around to it. I reckoned it would take around 6 hours to complete the round trip, but in the event it was a 5 hour haul up and down the steep access track. It was rather too crowded for my liking, but the weather was kind and it was a pleasant enough afternoon.

A crowded Ben Nevis.
A crowded Ben Nevis.
The view from the summit of Ben Nevis, May 2016
The view from the summit of Ben Nevis

Incidentally, I swapped cars a few months ago, and one of the advantages of the Yeti is that it’s fairly easy to arrange things to get a half decent night’s sleep – even sharing with an inflatable and outboard engine.

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