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.

Fishing Loch Leven

Fishing, boating and camping in the Loch Etive wilderness

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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…

Cod on the reefs off Dunbar

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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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 - over 2 feet long when relaxed
King Ragworm, an excellent early season bait

Ian 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
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
Early season wrasse

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
Late evening on a calm March day
St Andrews Sunset
St Andrews Sunset
Dusk falls over St Andrews as we head back to harbour
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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Opening My Account for 2016 (just)

After my dire showing at the end of December I thought I’d give Aberdeen a second try, with my first outing of 2016. Gales and heavy seas (and flooding) have been pretty much continuous for the last couple of weeks but it looked like the worst of the seas had dropped back enough to make some of the marks fishable.

Sunrise over Flat Rock
Sunrise over Flat Rock

Pre-dawn found me sploshing my way along to the Flat Stone through some quite deep water on the cliff paths – the worst I’ve seen along here for years and it showed the amount of rain that had fallen recently.

Fishing off an Aberdeenshire rock mark in January
Fishing off an Aberdeenshire rock mark in January

The sand lining the bottom of the rock pools was evidence of the pounding received by the waves as the water here is around 35 feet deep and it takes quite a wave to really get the bottom disturbed.

Light was creeping across the sky as I popped out a pair of rods – one with mackerel and another with lug and mussel, and then sorted out the obligatory coffee. And then another, and another. Still no bites.

A plump codling from Aberdeen
A plump codling from Aberdeen

Two hours went by before I got a slack liner on the mackerel bait and managed to scrape a nice looking 4 1/2 lb codling up the side of the rocks without losing it to the swell pounding the rocks. This one was full of lugworm, probably shaken loose by the recent storms.

I stayed on the Flat Stone for a while longer but by now the seas were running a little too close for comfort so I decided on a move to the Square Stone, just up the coast.

Chucking a bait our for cod at the Square Stone, Aberdeen
Chucking a bait our for cod at the Square Stone, Aberdeen

A couple of fishless hours later I even got forced off the Stone as towards HW water started washing over the bit I’m standing on the photo below. The swell appeared to build steadily from the ENE during the day although the wind stayed light, so probably a combination of the flood tide and something brewing offshore, but the Flat Stone was lethal by this stage.

The swell is building during the flood tide
The swell is building during the flood tide

A traipse back towards Red Rock saw me finish off with another 90 minutes on the high mark there – complete with seaweed washed up 70 feet or so above the sea, so it must have been quite a storm at its height. However nothing doing so I admitted defeat and packed up for the drive home.

Not exactly a sparkling start to the year but at least a blank was avoided and the freezer is no longer completely bare.

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Braving the Swell at Aberdeen

Headed up Aberdeen way yesterday in search of a codling or two in what was forecast to be a large SE swell. Supposedly around 12 feet although I’d say it was a fair bit more than that, but with some real monsters thrown up by the back eddy.

Fishing off the cliffs in rough seas
Fishing off the cliffs in rough seas

Maybe it was the angle of the swell, but effect was to make most of the marks dangerously unfishable and I had to beat a retreat to high mark at Red Rock, which is 60-70 feet above sea level.

Two other refugees eventually joined me on my platform above the waves, but we probably spent as much time photographing the sea as we did fishing.

Wave breaks over the Furnished Rooms mark, Aberdeen
Wave breaks over the Furnished Rooms mark, Aberdeen

Oddly enough it wasn’t too difficult to fish as it was mild and only a light wind blowing until late morning, and I could generally hold bottom with a 6oz grip lead.

Red Rock Gulley
Red Rock Gulley

All of which makes it strange why all the baits came back untouched. I blanked 🙁 So did the other two anglers, so at least it wasn’t just me. I’ve had fish from the same spot in very bad conditions before so I’m a little stumped why there was nothing around, so all I can do is hang my head in shame.

However the seas were impressive enough to persuade me to add a short video.

Fishing off the Aberdeen cliffs in heavy seas December 2015

– although it’s difficult to convey their full impact without a life-size figure acting as a suitable target on one of the ledges getting blasted by the waves.

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