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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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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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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March Pollacking

After 5 months away from the east coast boating scene I ventured forth with Ian on his Raider 18 from St Andrews on Sunday. I don’t think either of us harboured any delusions as to the likely quality of fishing in mid-March, but it was a fine day and worth a try.

Some quality ragworm encouraged me a little, as I find them a good general bait and particularly tempting for early season fish.

King Ragworm, an excellent early season baitIan spent a good part of the day assiduously spinning for pollack alongside trying for any bottom dwellers. His lack of success just underlined the fact there weren’t many fish about, as he can normally be relied upon to smoke out any hungry predators.

Optimistic fishing session in March - Ian spinning for pollack

Well along the coast we encountered a group of three kayakers who seemed even more optimistic than us, to be out that early in the season. Despite having been fishing for several hours they were yet to find some fish.

Not to be too down-hearted we anchored up and plugged away with bottom baits and more spinning. It was a big tide and there was a good surge of water flowing past the Raider, but it didn’t seem to do much for use other than to push Ian’s lures into yet more snags.

In the event it was my rag baited sabikis that drew first blood, with this nice little ballan wrasse – probably the earliest I’ve had from the east coast.

Early season wrasse from the east coast at St Andrews

It was safely popped back, and it was back to trying to defeat the odds as we tried a range of tactics both on the drifted and at anchor. Ian did eventually manage to catch the only cod in the North Sea, but that was it.

By way of consolation what little wind there was died away to nothing and we headed home over calm seas into a stunning sunset over St Andrews.

Late evening on a calm March day as we head home on Ian's Raider

St Andrews Sunset

Dusk falls over St Andrews

So not much luck on the day, but no regrets for giving it a go. Back to the west coast for next time, I think. (And thanks to Ian for about half the photos in this entry!)

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Indian Summer at St. Andrews

New look St. Andrews harbour pontoons

Late summer or early autumn? – either way it was a great day to be out at sea. The harbour at St. Andrews was looking a little different when I turned up late in the morning, with a row of shiny new pontoons sitting in the inner basin and making access much easier than dangling heavy gear over the harbour wall and clambering over boats as we had to before.

Having made a quick exit, we stopped off for a mackerel bash about half a mile out from the harbour and bagged a respectable number after a slow start – certainly enough for the day and to sort out most of my winter bait needs.

A handy plate sized cod for Ian
A handy plate sized cod for Ian

Next step was a haul along the coast where we spent several hours coddie bashing. The fish were a bit smaller than on Ian’s previous trip, but we plugged away and added a decent number for the freezer.

Kayaker at work

Nothing to get over-excited about, but there were a few ling and pollack showing up amongst the cod, plus a single small ballan for me (actually my first of the season). Quite a few other boat-owners thought it a good day to be out, so there were a number of small boats around, plus a couple of kayakers near Kingsbarns.

Nicely coloured pollack
Nicely coloured pollack

As the tide turned the cod went off the feed and we ended the fishing at anchor for a while, which increased the pollack count somewhat, although no large ones seemed to be hungry.

Back ashore, and with the fillets safely in the coolbox, there was even time for a plate of chips and a coffee at the harbour cafe (kindly supplied by Ian’s wife, Caroline), before the afternoon cooled down too much. Almost civilised you might say.

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Prophet of Doom calls it right (almost) :-(

I’ve not clambered down the harbour wall at St Andrews for ages, and was looking forward to a bit of coddie bashing on what was quite a reasonable forecast. Perhaps I should’ve paid more attention to Cassandra, in the form of skipper Ian, when he pointed out that there had been a couple of days of north-easterly winds and the water still had some colour. And the tides were too small. Basically, the fishing was doomed…

An ominous sky near St Andrews
An ominous sky near St Andrews

Three hours later, with a combined catch of sod-all, things were not looking very good, and Ian’s power of prediction was looking vindicated. I was also running out of lead rapidly as I kissed goodbye to weight after weight, much to Ian’s amusement.

Very colourful, but where are the fish?
Very pretty, but where are the fish?

The flood tide saw an improvement and we picked up small codling, coalies and Pollack on several drifts, with a single mackerel for Ian. The best codling also went to Ian with a decent fish of around 4.5lbs, but most were far smaller. In terms of numbers we probably didn’t disgrace ourselves too much (I’m guessing around 40 fish between us, maybe half of which were codling) but it did feel rather slow by comparison to the usual standard for this time of year.

Just for a change, this one's actually a bit bigger than it looks
Just for a change, this one’s actually a bit bigger than it looks

Overall this must rank as one of the few days when I’ve left St Andrews carrying less weight than when I arrived – the ratio of leads lost to fillets gained was pretty poor (doubly so when most of the fillets weren’t even caught by me in the first place).

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A bucketful of codling

St Andrews can fish quite well in the autumn and early winter, if the weather behaves itself, so I was more than happy to take up Ian’s offer of a trip out even though it was mid-November. A November day fishing out of St. Andrews The day turned out better than expected with a fairly light SW wind and a bit of sun, so full on thermals and gloves were tucked away for another day, and we settled down to a bit of drift fishing a few miles down the coast.

Late in the year, but still decent Pollack mixed in with the codling Fishing inshore provided a few codling, but the numbers started to ratchet up once we headed out a little way. Nothing big, but mainly in the 2-3lb mark with the odd fish to over 5lb thrown in, and very few complete tiddlers. Ian knocked out a few Pollack on lures – no large ones, but fish to around 4lb and quite late in the year to still encounter them here in quite shallow water. There were loads of little coalies at times, plus some tiny ling, but it was the consistent coddie fishing that ultimately made the day and we finished with around 80 between us, plus an assortment of Pollack, ling and coalie. All in all, an excellent day out and a good bit better than I’d hoped for.

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Hunting off St Andrews

I’d had a cold for the last couple of days and wasn’t expecting to be doing much over the weekend given the forecast wasn’t great either. However an email from Ian suggesting a Saturday trip was too good an offer to refuse, especially since the fishing off St Andrews and the east coast generally had been pretty good of late, so I duly turned up at the harbour around half-eleven in the morning.

A view of St Andrews harbour from Ian's Raider as we set off for an early October sea angling trip.Looking ahead from Ian's Raider 18 - the entrance channel to St Andrews harbour and the historic harbour wall.After the usual messing about shipping loads of fishing clobber across a couple of boats to reach Ian Raider we got ourselves set up and headed out into the sunshine, with only a modest SW breeze chasing our tails. A few miles along the coast we stopped off to try for some mackerel only to find nothing was interested in our lures – the colour in the water from heavy seas earlier in the week probably had something to do with it, and the shoals are probably starting to break up now anyway. A move to a mark further along the coast produced a couple of codling for Ian and a coalie for me, but still no sign of mackerel despite the clearer water.

The view back into the harbour as we leave the entrance channel heading out to sea.An octopus landed by Ian aboard his Raider 18 fishing out of St Andrews, October 2013.A shift out to slightly deeper water saw us start to pick up codling on the drift, together with the odd coalie and small pollack. No monsters but one or two decent concentrations of fish, and our tally increased at a reasonable pace until the tide slackened off and we decided to anchor up rather than drift fish in what was becoming a considerable breeze. This proved quite a good move and a large number of smallish coalies appeared, plus a few decent codling and a single mackerel – the only one caught all day. Ian added a very lively octopus to our tally, which managed to sprint around the deck quite nicely until we chucked it back after a photo or two.

The fishing activity dwindled over time, as often happens, and we eventually up-anchored and headed a little closer inshore to see whether any pollack wanted to play. Fishing was fairly slow, although there were a few smallish pollack to around 4lbs as well as more codling and a few more coalies. Ian added several small ling to our total as well – in fact more than doubling his personal total for the year.

The approaches to St Andrews are blanketed with lobster pot buoys and need a careful lookout, especially after dark.

By now it was well after five, and we needed to head back before getting caught out in the falling tide, so it was time to head back to harbour in the autumn sunshine – very pleasant from the shelter of the cabin although a little chilly when you stuck your head over the parapet. I took a few pics of the lobster pot minefield on the way into the harbour – there are a huge number of the things sitting waiting to trap an unwary propellor, and you do need to be very careful approaching the harbour entrance at night!

I sort of lost count during the day, but I’d have had have 15-20 codling to around 6lbs, maybe 30 smallish coalfish, 1 mackerel and 3 or 4 pollack. Ian had more codling, pollack and ling, but only a few coalfish, so somewhere between 80 and 100 fish between us – not at all bad for mid-Autumn fishing on the east coast. Most of the fish came to lures or smallish mackerel baits.


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