Ian’s had a fish or three up the coast at St Andrews over the past few weeks, but he’s had to work hard for them. For my part I resisted what little temptation there was to pop my boat into the North Sea until yesterday. However, sun, no wind and a day off coincided and I found myself joining the Edinburgh bypass around 7, before the traffic gets too silly. Destination Dunbar, for the first time in many months.
Out of the harbour and heading east, I hit a steady swell from the NE as I ploughed on down towards the wreck I planned to fish. I saw a few potters working their creels, but no sign of any other angler out in the sunshine.
Being a lazy sod I stuck with the wreck all morning, mainly because experience suggests that it is the best place to find early season fish, before their numbers explode at the end of May. I kicked off with baited hokkais which chipped away at some smallish codling and an even smaller ling. Down in the depths of the ironwork I go hit by a much chunkier fish, which had me thinking about a decent codling until a silvery coloured Pollack appeared at the surface. It went over 5lbs but you wouldn’t have guessed that from the lacklustre fight it put up.
Switching over to my spinning rod and leadhead I continued to pick away at both Pollack and small codling. Eventually I upped my Pollack total to six, all of which looked a bit manky, presumably post-spawning. Size-wise the biggest was 6lb 4oz, and it was the only one that put up a proper fight. Sadly, it had completely engulfed my lure and was so deep hooked that it ended up in the fish box.
I headed inshore for a final drift off the lighthouse as I filleted the fish I’d kept. Just one more little codling took a jellyworm I’d left fishing as I wielded the knife. Incidentally, the Pollack I’d kept had no fish in its stomach, only 4 or 5 crabs, which suggests there aren’t that many baitfish around yet. All the Pollack were well underweight for their length, about 10% or so, and pretty battered looking.
Total of 12 codling (most undersize), 6 Pollack and a little ling. Quite happy with that as a result for about 4-5 hours fishing, and I expect things at Dunbar should pick up quite quickly now. Famous last words…
I needed to get shot of my cabin fever after last week’s snow, and conditions looked good for Oban last Sunday. Unfortunately Ian was lurgied with man-flu and didn’t seem to keen to spend a day on the boat passing on his germs. A solo-skate session was one possibility, but I decided to explore a bit further afield and visit the wreck of the Meldon, which lies close in to Mull.
Spring Pollack from Mull
Mull is a splendidly dramatic island, perhaps not quite as inaccessible as Skye but with plenty of forbidding looking coastline just waiting to be explored. Cliffs up to 1000 feet high line its southern fringes and the shoreline is largely ironbound for little boats like ours. Not a location to get complacent!
However, every now and again the rock has lost it’s battle with ice and sea, and sea lochs like Buie break into the cliff line. And it was here, 21 miles from the slipway at Ganavan, that my 21g leadhead and firetail worm cocktail first hit the water in search of a pollack. With a rusting scrapyard only 45 feet below me I didn’t give the worm too long to sink before starting the retrieve. Only seconds later my rod slammed over as a hungry fish beat his comrades to my jellyworm, and doubts about my choice of mark vanished.
My first pollack of 2018 was a typical inshore fish, apart from the fact it was extraordinarily plump. In excellent condition just prior to spawning I assume, but it looked ready to burst. However it was safely returned and I carried on exploring the wreck.
The scrapyard in question is the Meldon, a fairly large WW1 casualty that hit a mine. It made it ashore but sank before it could be salvaged and remains in surprisingly good condition considering its exposed location. Sometimes visited by divers, it doesn’t attract too much angling attention, probably because it’s quite a long way from anywhere.
My drifts were fairly short and I’d to keep an eye on the nearby shoreline, but the fish were certainly hungry and I soon amassed a respectable collection. All returned bar one which completely engulfed a shad – and which delivered a surprise when properly weighed back home. I’d assumed it to be around 3lb 8oz, and the weight for length tables gave 3lb 12oz, but the (new and fairly accurate) scales went 4lb 10oz. Fat indeed, and this fish was pretty typical of the day.
I was hammering a fairly small patch of seabed so it wasn’t surprising that catches gradually dropped off during the day. However a final total of 29 pollack to over 8lbs and a couple of coalies left me a happy bunny.
Incidentally, aside from the Meldon, there is another wreck en route, namely the Maine which was a hospital ship that went aground in thick fog back in 1914. Aside from some wreckage onshore there is no sign of it on sonar, but I may pay another visit there over the summer as I suspect something must still remain from what was a fairly large vessel.
*** Anyone planning a visit to the Meldon must be aware that part of the stern dries at low water and sits just below the surface at other times. Hit it and you’ll most likely join the wreck yourself. The stern is nearest the shore and the hazard is real! ***
After a couple of weeks of cold, windy and snowy weather I really welcomed the prospect of a calm, sunny day on Friday. Ian was up for the challenge of an early morning start, so high water saw us slipping the dinghy into the cold waters of Loch Etive around half-eight.
I followed my usual habit of fishing a spot or two down the loch on the ebb tide and we got what has become the usual result – very little. Only 3 or 4 whiting in fact, which suggests I need to revamp tactics a little. Or perhaps building the new fish farm nearby has disrupted things a bit?
Reversing course well up the loch put us into more fish friendly territory. Micro-spurs to be more precise 🙁 I don’t know which is worse – catching nothing, or hauling tiddlers 250+ feet. We were kept busy hauling them to the surface and soon shed our jackets as we started overheating in the sunshine.
Happily things started to improve and a handful of better fish appeared. Ian provided this nice fish of just over 9lbs and I added another not long afterwards.
A sprinkling of whiting and a suicidal poorcod mixed it with the spurs and Ian did his usual efforts to clear any LSDs from the vicinity. I think he managed 8 to my 1!
A couple more spurs around 9lbs came along as we basked in the sunshine and munched a bacon roll or two. Not exactly fantastic fishing but a lovely day to be afloat in midwinter!
Towards the end of the day I picked up a codling in the 2.5lb bracket and Ian added the only thornback of the day with a decidedly muddy specimen. The temperature plummeted as the light faded so we didn’t hang around into the dark
Our final tally was around 50 spurdog (the vast majority very small), perhaps 10-12 whiting, 9 LSDs, and one each of thornback, codling and poorcod.
Lochearnhead was a freezing -5 degrees when Ian and I met up on Sunday in the pre-dawn darkness. We didn’t hang about, quickly shovelling the rods and gear into my car before heading across to Oban with the boat in tow. Gallanach managed a balmy -2C as we launched and headed out to Kerrera, very grateful for the shelter of the cuddy. First trip of 2018 and we were targeting skate …
A little while later and the gentle SE breeze still managed to cut right through us as we waited for the boat to settle at anchor. Skate were the target, but getting a bacon roll and a hot coffee on the go to ward off the chill felt more like my priorities. However, even with 530 feet of water below us, it didn’t take too long to get the baits out and settle down to defrost.
Maybe half an hour passed before Ian’s rod keeled over to the steady run of a skate. I went into cameraman mode for a few minutes, until the ratchet screeched on my own reel (the ratchet on an Avet reel is definitely not subtle, and makes a horrible racket). A double hook-up!!
Whilst it’s all very nice to know that there are skate around, hooking two simultaneously creates a wee bit of a problem in a small boat. The obvious difficulty comes after 20 minutes of exhausting, backbreaking, slog when you bring the fish alongside. Trying to haul one fish over the gunwhale without losing the other as you do so isn’t easy, especially if you’re both a bit knackered. However we sort of managed and filled the cockpit with a brace of skate – almost identical males in the 120-130lb bracket.
Hasty measurements and a photo or two and then they slimed their way back over the side and into the depths again. A new coalie on the hook and then it was time to get serious with the bacon rolls as we’d definitely earned one by now.
Another good run to my rod came to nothing, but a repeat a few minutes later hooked me into a small skate. I wasn’t complaining though, and this little 32lb fish was a lot easier to handle than its predecessor.
The rest of the day proceeded in similar fashion and we ended up with six skate in total, with the best around 169lb. Ian had a number of smallish spurs to his lighter rod and I also picked up a bonus of a small conger, something I’ve never caught round here before.
We stuck it out until the sun set before finally hauling yet another heavy weight from the seabed as we retrieved the anchor. Job done, we headed home cautiously in the dark, looking forward to defrosting in a nice warm car. Six common skate and a similar number of spurdogs, not forgetting a small conger, makes a pretty good start to the year in my book!
It’s not often that icebergs stop play when it comes to sea fishing in the UK, but it came close yesterday. I was out on the boat near Kinglass on Loch Etive and the fish were (almost!) being protected by large shields of ice drifting down from the Glen Etive end. A very dramatic winter scene on a beautiful calm day, but I did manage to winkle a few fish out as well. Have a look at the video and see for yourselves – if nothing else the sound effects from about 4:25 onwards should bring any boat owner out in a cold sweat…
Ice Fishing on Etive
I’d launched from Taynuilt just before dawn and followed my usual routine of first trying down the loch towards Ardchattan on the ebb tide. A good shot here yielded only a couple of thornbacks and a pair of spurdogs, all small, plus a collection of whiting and a doggie. The whiting were shredding baits quite quickly so I didn’t take much persuasion to shift up the loch and try a spot which held good numbers of fish the last time Ian and I were across, about a month or so ago.
All went smoothly until I reached somewhere near the bothy at Cadderlie and started to encounter more and more sheets of slushy ice stretching across the loch. I’ve seen this a couple of times before and, given the very cold weather over the last week, it wasn’t much of surprise. Pressing on it became less and less slushy and obviously too thick and extensive to make any sensible attempt to fish. Maybe not quite icebergs, but close enough as far as I’m concerned! I retreated back to a mark off Kinglass which seemed relatively ice-free and dropped anchor in about 280 feet and dropped frozen mackerel into water of about the same temperature – less than 2 degrees according to my sonar.
Clearly things were a lot warmer down at the bottom, or else we’ve some very hardy fish around here, as there were a steady stream of takers. Mainly little spurdog, but a doggie or two and a few more whiting. Even a little cod which dropped off right at the surface.
The fishing was kind of mixed in with the ice crunching past the hull of my Longliner 2, and I wouldn’t have wanted to fish in anything thicker. Even as it stood the boat and anchor were dragged a couple of hundred metres by quite thin ice floes.
Pretty much the final fish was the ling you see in the pic, which is the first I’ve had from this far up Etive and was clearly eyeing up a whiting which was on the other hook – quite a scabby specimen and probably about 4lb or so, but I wasn’t complaining.
I chucked in the fishing a bit earlier than I usually do, partly because of the cold but also because I didn’t fancy ploughing into more ice at speed on the way home. Apart from having two blocks of ice for feet it wasn’t uncomfortable afloat, and the conditions made for a memorable day afloat.
I’ve been very remiss in reporting this year’s events on the Scottish east coast boat fishing scene. Maybe there’s not been much to write about, but I have fallen way behind. A mid-November trip out of St Andrews may be my last trip afloat on the east coast this year (hopefully not!) so kind of forces me to write up or shut up as far as the fishing afloat is concerned.
It’s not a great year to be honest – modest catches of this and that, but little outstanding or memorable. Pollack, cod, ling and mackerel, with the odd coalie and wrasse thrown in.
However, last Wednesday saw me heading out of St. Andrews on Ian’s Raider on a fine, calm morning. Our target was codling, aiming to repeat Ian’s success of a few days earlier in what had been far worse conditions. Apart from a few dog walkers and joggers the harbour was deserted as we headed down alongside the historic old pier and then accelerated down the coast in the direction of Fife Ness. November is traditionally a shore fishers, rather than a boat fishers, month and we had no competition out on the water.
Miles along the coast, and several drifts later, we were contemplating digging out the beachcasters ourselves. Nothing doing. However, experience had long taught us that fish switch on and off the feed, and that patience can really pay off. A couple of hours and a few ling and pollack later, the codling finally decided to start showing themselves.
Nothing like the 100+ fish we’ve had in the past, but a steady catch rate of codling cheered up the day.
Ian even tried his flying d*ldo rig, a ridiculously large fluorescent yellow shad more suited to Norwegian halibut, and managed a greedy little codling in exchange.
I’m guessing the final total was 30-40 codling and maybe 12-15 or so assorted pollack, coalies, ling and a whiting (a comparatively rare fish in these parts). Best fish was a pollack that Ian landed, 5lb 4oz or thereabouts.
My equally late West Coast update still to follow…
A couple of years ago I sketched out a plan to take a boat around the Isle of Jura, more just to explore this remote place than to do any serious fishing. Of course, doing so involves traversing the Gulf of Corryvreckan which, depending on who you believe, is either the second or third largest whirlpool in the world…
Despite its terrifying reputation (30 foot high standing waves, the roar of the sea being heard 10 miles away, etc, etc.) it was pretty obvious that lots of small craft, from yachts to kayaks, made it in one piece and it was more a question of the right tides, weather and timing. Aligning these three with enough time off work delayed things, but last week saw me trailing the boat across to a spot called Carsaig (near Crinan).
The Longliner was loaded up with a little more than normal, to allow for a tent and sleeping bag, before nosing out into the Sound of Jura and taking advantage of the late summer sun as we headed over to Jura. There was a little time to kill before the tide was right for Corryvreckan so I had a little fish around the farmhouse at Barnhill (its main claim to fame being the place where George Orwell wrote “1984”). One lonely coalie later I continued on my way, along an equally lonely coastline. Barring a hikers bothy the next human habitation was another 30 miles ahead of me.
In the event a light NW wind, very small tides and slack water saw me heading through Corryvreckan in very anti-climactic fashion with a small swell of less than a metre and no overfalls to worry about. A few minutes later I popped out the far side and into a pretty rugged stretch of coastline. At that point it dawned on me that the Yam must have completed it’s 10 hour run in period somewhere in the middle of Corryvreckan. Pretty much academic really, but it gave me a little satisfaction at the thought.
30 minutes fishing saw loads of mackerel and some coalies, plus pollack to 3lbs or so on feathers close in to the small islands at the edge of Corryvreckan, but I didn’t hang around here given that I’d quite a way to go and the tide run was quite noticeable even at slack water. As I mentioned nobody at all lives on the west coast of Jura, with a single bothy and a summer house owned by the Astor family being the only buildings, so pretty genuinely a trackless wilderness.
Full of raised beaches and with a neat ring of rock lying just offshore that varies between just above or just below the surface – so very tricky to get ashore unless you’re in a kayak.
I’d kind of hoped to do just that near the bothy at Glengarrisdale, but the swell was washing onto a boulder beach and it looked a distinctly bad idea at that stage of tide (around mid-tide it’s pretty much a sandy beach). Glengarrisdale is also the home of the Cave of Macleans Skull, or at least was so up until comparatively recently. The story goes that one of the many, many skirmishes between the clans occurred here sometime in the 1600s and no-one got around to burying all the casualties at the time. Consequently Maclean’s skull had a cave to himself for a few hundred years, barring the odd visiting hiker, until he finally disappeared about 40 years ago. The tale perhaps underlines how remote this area is, as I can’t quite see the same thing happening in Edinburgh.
I trundled down the coast for a few more hours and stopped off to fish a sandy bank just offshore from Loch Tarbet. Perhaps 50 feet of water and very little tide and my baits were completely shredded by small critters quite quickly. I tried a livebaited mackerel in case some tope had headed up from Islay, but nothing doing in the hour or two I gave it. Perhaps not too surprising given the tide, relatively short time and generally random nature of the mark, but I headed into Loch Tarbet to find somewhere to sleep overnight.
Tarbet is one of these lochs that just keeps on going and it very nearly cuts Jura in half, but with three or four channels maybe only 20 metres across and others with plenty of rocks in them it requires quite a lot of care even in a wee boat like mine. It was getting on a bit by now and I was tired so I decided to stop playing dodgems with the reefs and find somewhere to rest up and get some food.
I dropped anchor in shallow water, just in the lee of a headland and sorted myself some dinner as the light faded (Wayfarer’s Chilli con Carne if you want to know, and not at all bad). With the cover on the Longliner she converts into rather a large tent and was quite comfy on a calm night so I got a decent night’s sleep. I could have headed ashore and popped up the tent but it was easier and more midge-friendly to stay afloat this time around. Morning saw me spend a couple of hours trying a hole in the loch in search of rays, but really just repeating the experience of the day before – lots of wee things having their breakfast at my expense.
Somewhat frustrated I headed back down the loch aways and came inshore to scrunch around an impressively massive shingle bank that represents multiple layers of raised beaches. My boat is in the photo, so gives some sense of scale.
Further round Jura and you get into the Sound of Islay, where the coast is a little more civilised but overshadowed by quite impressive mountains in the form of the Paps of Jura. Round here I was extricating myself from between some rocks near the shore when I encountered a pair of otters. One was a bit shy but the other just swam towards me and seemed quite curious rather than nervous – I’ve never seen that before, as usually they disappear quickly if any anglers appear.
Pollacking on Black Rock
I tried a couple of spots along the way but had only coalies and small pollack until I made a final stop at the Black Rock near the SE tip of Jura. A big tide rip even in a tiny tide and a chart that was clearly not 100% right (my sonar showed 8 feet above the rock, where the chart clearly said a minimum of double that…). However it screamed pollack and duly obliged to mackerel trip and jelly worm on a 1 oz lead.
Loads of smaller fish to 4lbs or so, and I hit three much larger ones – one shed the hook, one straightened it and I landed one at 7lb 12 oz. All these came close in to the very shallow top of the reef. No photo unfortunately as the GoPro threw a wobbly filming it, just after I popped it back 🙁 I only managed about 45 minutes here before I’d to head back up the east coast of Jura to get back before the tide dropped too far, but it must hold larger fish – although whether I’d want to be near here on a large tide is a bit doubtful.
84 mile round trip, with an overall mpg of 9.4, so quite happy with that
dimension too. It was more of an explore/wander about than a fishing trip, but (unsurprisingly) there are some good fish around the tide rips at the north and south ends. Not so sure about the bits in the middle though!
Sunday looked to be a nice day so the target was to be Dunbar pollack, codling and ling again. Boat and gear were sorted and I set the alarm to give me a fighting chance of hitting the slip before boats started to stack up. As a result a rather bleary-eyed angler edged his boat out of the harbour and parked just outside the Yetts to try for a few mackerel. Fishing whilst struggling out of bulky neoprene waders isn’t really a sensible idea, but I did pick up 5 small/tiny mackerel as I did so.
Drifting along further whilst I sorted out other gear and a caffeine hit saw a few more mackerel, with some better sized ones hiding below the tiny ones nearer the surface. Having sorted out the bait it was time to cruise down towards Barns Ness for a longish drift or five.
The breeze was a little strong for the River Garry wreck, but the drift speed was generally OK and a bit less than I thought it might be, given the lightness of the Longliner. Somewhere in the 1.2-1.5 mph range, which is fine for fishing with.
Codling were rather thin on the ground and mainly on the small side, but I’d two or three before my spinning rod dramatically keeled over as it got hit by a pollack (the video captures that quite nicely). The next couple of hours were much the same, with only a scattering of fish showing.
Eventually I decided to head a few miles eastward to try some ground that is occasionally kind to me. I didn’t have great expectations, but it was a good excuse to get another hour on the outboard and edge a little closer to completing its break-in period.
Weaving in between the pot markers on this mark I set up a few drifts but had little in return bar a couple of pollack and some decent sized mackerel. A little disappointing but I wasn’t too bothered given it was a nice sunny day and there wasn’t much doing elsewhere anyway.
I took my time heading back, doing my best to heed Yamaha’s run-in advice, and stopped off at a couple more marks to add one or two more codling.
So 4 hard-fighting (rather than big!) pollack, and 12 or so codling, plus a fair number of mackerel to add to winter bait supplies. I’ve had far better catches but the sunshine certainly helped take the edge off the day.
The east coast looked a bit breezy so Ian and I decided to try a sheltered west coast sea loch, namely Leven, for some summer thornbacks. In the event we met up at Lochearnhead at a fairly civilised 7.30 in the morning and trundled across with the early morning traffic.
After a short skirmish with an advance guard of the midge hordes at the slate slipway in Ballachulish we were launched and heading out across the loch to try for mackerel and thornies at the fish farm. Typical Scottish summer weather with a mix of grim grey clouds and some nice warm sunshine to knock you off guard!
Mackerel proved easy enough, although most were smaller than I’d like, but it took 90 minutes or more before the thornies put in an appearance. Both Ian and I had fish straddling the 5lb mark within minutes of each other (Ian’s straddling the right side of 5lbs whilst mine fell short – an all too typical story in my experience).
Sadly, the anticipation generated by a brace of nice fish soon wore off. There were more rays about but they steadily dropped in size towards the embarrassing end of the spectrum. When the mackerel are larger than the thornbacks you are definitely struggling…
Upping anchor we decided to give it a try outside the loch, where the mouth drops into 100+ feet of water. New territory for me as I’d never fished out here before, and I doubt I’ll bother again given the highlight was a 3 inch whiting impaled on a 4/0 hook. ’nuff said!
Our final mark was a slightly off-the-wall offering courtesy of Ian, and we ended up in very shallow water (for a sea loch) with the anchor in around 30 feet. A slow start gradually improved as a succession of tiny/small thornbacks appeared, and at least the size appeared to be increasing. There was a reasonable trickle of tide and I could believe the claimed 8lb’ers were certainly possible at times.
It’s been something like 10 or 11 months since I last ventured out on the east coast from my own boat. Consequently I was feeling well out of practice as I edged my way down to the harbour for my first Dunbar trip in ages early last Sunday morning.
As on her maiden trip to Etive, the Longliner proved a doddle to launch and I soon edged out the harbour and parked myself out past the Yetts whilst I got the gear sorted out. A set of mylars attracted 5 or 6 mackerel for bait as we drifted very slowly along and once suitably tackled up it was time to head down to the wreck and try for something a little larger.
This took a little longer than usual as the outboard is still getting run in, but mackerel baited muppets hit the seabed around half-seven. It was an easy drift, especially as the wind died right back, but more or less one fish each time rather than any great numbers.
Eventually the inevitable in wrecking happened and I found myself attached very firmly to a large lump of rusting metal. As usual, my frantic tugging and jigging had no effect at all and I was resigned to losing gear when the wreck pulled back – and hard! This was clearly a decent fish as it broke loose of the seabed and fought hard as it realised it’s predicament. My Shimano wasn’t exactly smoking, but it was conceding respectable amounts of line until my opponent gradually tired and a very nice looking ling appeared. The scales bounced round to 12 lbs 2 oz, which put it in my top 5 ling. It was popped back, hopefully to grow nearer the 20lb mark…
Fishing fell away a bit as the ebb started so I decided to try inshore for a bit and see if there were any more codling about. Between Barns Ness and Torness the balance shifted more to pollack, albeit nothing more than 2-2.5lbs plus a couple of codling of similar stamp, but it was relatively slow going. However I took the opportunity to fillet the catch and save some effort once I got back home.
By midday it was time to call it quits as the tide dropped, so I headed back west towards the slipway, avoiding a large bunch of paddleboarders near the harbour entrance – Dunbar seems to get more cluttered every year!
Final tally – 7 each of cod, ling and Pollack, a solitary coalie and a smattering of mackerel. Very pleased with the ling but otherwise a nice, middle of the road sort of morning – and the rain held off until I got home.