Codling Galore at St. Andrews

After an hour trundling along at 40mph in a pensioner rally I arrived at St. Andrews to find plenty of water in the harbour. Far too much water in fact, as the harbour gates were closed with Ian’s boat on the wrong side 🙁

Sluice gates in the harbour are opened
Sluice gates in the harbour are opened (not my image, but borrowed from YouTube)

Getting them opened again involved a tense race against time to allow the water levels either side of the gates to be equalised before the tide dropped too low to allow us out anyway. “Race” gives completely the wrong idea, as the sluices equalised water levels at roughly the rate your fingernails grow. It was a painfully slow wait until, finally, Ian managed to scrape through the half-opened gates and we crept out of a rapidly emptying harbour and out to sea.

A nicely marked codling which fell to ragworm on a purple muppet lure
A nicely marked codling which fell to ragworm on a purple muppet lure

A brief stop to confirm that the mackerel weren’t in yet and we headed eastwards towards cod territory. Fish were a little patchy but we hit clumps of them from the start and the rods were soon getting action. Fairly typical early summer fish – a bit thin and most around 2lbs – they were certainly hungry and happy to eat anything. Ragworm did nicely, but mackerel hammered quite a few, and Ian’s lure rod was very busy.

A typical inshore ballan wrasse - the colours of this one are a little subdued
A typical ballan
A cod with two tails, or two codling - it's hard to tell in this shot
Twin tail or two fish?

After a fairly slow hiatus over low water action picked up again with the tide. Pollack weren’t much in evidence, probably because the tide was fairly small, and codling certainly dominated the day. With an empty freezer I was happy to keep a few to restock, although the vast majority went back.

Nicely coloured fish and lure!
Nicely coloured fish and lure!

Ian’s plans for a final attempt to wheedle out a pollack or two were bushwhacked by a pod of dolphins feeding over the same territory. They weren’t exactly chasing us, but when we moved so did the dolphins. There didn’t seem to be much point in competing with them so we called it a day and headed back.

One of a small pod of dolphins working close inshore near St Andrews
Dolphins close inshore

The body count for the day was just shy of 70 cod plus a couple of pollack, a ling, ballan wrasse and a handful of small coalie. The ling was mine and the rest fell to Ian’s rod.

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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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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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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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Definition of Insanity…

Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. (Albert Einstein)

Three trips afloat “out east”. Poor fishing again, and again, and again. Draw your own conclusions. At the very least it’s frustrating as things are usually starting to pick up by now.

The inner harbour at St Andrews
The inner harbour at St Andrews

Yesterday was probably my worst ever trip ever from St Andrews in terms of fish caught. When I say that Ian cuffed me with a single codling, a pair of coalies and a pollack you get some idea that things were a tad slow.

Ian playing a St Andrews pollack
Ian playing a pollack

Anchoring or drifting made no difference, as the fish remained resolutely sullen. Lots of activity on the sonar, but nothing hitting the bait or the mini sabikis, so maybe too many sandeel in the water. Perhaps.

Ian with a St Andrews codling
Ian with a smallish codling

Apart from some squalls early on the weather was decent and the drift manageable. Tactics varied through jellies, metals, shads, sabikis, bait and we cycled through the marks all right. Fish there, but not feeding, or fish not inshore yet?

A slim early season Pollack from St Andrews
A slim early season Pollack from St Andrews

So what did I actually catch? One little herring. I can barely bring myself to put that in writing 🙁

 

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Early days for Dunbar

The smooth, easy rollers running in from the NE were on the small side and no hazard to Alcatraz, but the occasional spine jarring impact into a swell served to remind her crew that they weren’t getting any younger. With no wind and a fair bit of hazy sunshine it was actually a fine day to hit the east coast, even if it was early days for Dunbar to be fishing well. Happily, our destination lay only a few miles down the coast so we could afford to cruise along at a fairly modest pace and keep personal damage to a minimum.

The wreck of the River Garry has been here for around 130 years now, beaten down into a mass of plates and girders with only the boilers standing well clear of the seabed. At times it can hold good numbers of cod, ling and pollack, which makes a very popular mark for anglers over the summer months. At other times it can be a slow, hard, spot to fish and very reluctant to reward a fisherman. Yesterday was more towards the latter end of the scale, although there was a bit of life about.

Small and thin - a typical early season codling
Small and thin – a typical early season codling

We were joined a little later by Alcatraz’s near identical sister, but everyone was struggling to connect with fish. Ian retrieved a very beaten up pollack with some rather nasty bites and scrapes on it, and I added a couple of ling to our total. Another 165 off Dunbar

Small and hungry ling
Small and hungry ling

We were also treated to the sight of the schooner Flying Dutchman passing just inshore of us – I do like the looks of a tall ship and the sense of adventure they always seem to exude, although this one spends most of its time as a mini cruise ship.
The Flying Dutchman off Dunbar - the Flying Dutchman passes inshore of us
The Flying Dutchman off Dunbar

We did try a couple of marks inshore for 90 minutes or so, but it was pretty dead with only one undersize codling to Ian. With no wind, a nice steady drift of around 1 knot, decent water clarity and a pair of anglers who can actually catch a few fish (despite appearances sometimes on this blog), you’re left with the conclusion that there wasn’t very much fish life around – yet. Another couple of weeks should hopefully change that fairly radically.

A switch back to the wreck for a few more drifts brought a few more codling and ling as the tide finally died away, with Ian (as usual) bagging the best codling with one of 4lb 9oz.

A codling glides towards Alcatraz
Coming alongside

Even at arms length this cod for Ian isn't really a monster
Cod of the day for Ian

By now the sun had largely been swallowed by the haze and it was getting quite cool, so it wasn’t difficult to call a halt and head back to Dunbar, just in time to catch the slip before it dried. The final tally between us was a dozen, so quite hard work although not far off what I’d expect in early May.

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