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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Blast Frozen on Leven

Now I know what an Ammo sandeel feels like… Out with Ian on the loch yesterday and the wind was blasting down from the east, straight off the snow fields of the Mamores and Rannoch Moor. Frigid!

Frigid Loch Leven
Frigid Loch Leven

And pointless 🙁 Our total catch was 1 crab and a solitary clappy doo (although in my defence it was fairly hooked).

Catch of the day - one large clappy doo, or horse mussel
Catch of the day:-(

I don’t think we can be accused of not trying, but it was a struggle to get baits out far enough and to keep the retrieve out of the weed. And something down there was hungry all right, as the baits came back well shredded – admittedly probably only by crabs.

Arctic blast on Leven
Arctic blast on Leven

Late in the day the wind dropped a little, but by then we were pretty much chilled through and called time as the light faded away.

Ian casts out
Ian casts out

At least it stayed dry, apart from the snow on the way over, but it’s reminder we’re not through with winter yet.

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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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Shorefishing on Loch Leven

Well, the original plan had been a session from Ian’s boat, chasing St. Andrews cod and Pollack, but the virtual closure of the Forth Bridge put the brakes on that. It’s been a good while since I was last shorefishing on Loch Leven so a hasty rethink saw the rods packed in the car and Bonnie and myself scurrying along the road in the pre-dawn darkness.

Battered Abu 7000c and even more battered Zziplex to match it

The forecast was for light winds and grey skies, and that’s what we got – it was dry and not too cold so no cause for complaint as I set up for the day. Apart from the dog who immediately went into chuck a stick mode (a log, in this case) and got a bit grumpy as I ignored her for a few minutes.

Bonnie focussed on sticks

Two quite slow hours went by before I got my first fish – a nicely marked LSD

Nicely marked lesser spotted dogfish from Loch Leven

And Bonnie had plenty of time to chase her sticks as I continued to reel in very little.

Retrieving gear from the depths of Leven

At last a little thornback put in an appearance, admittedly leaving it’s tail behind. I’ve had a few of these from Leven, but it doesn’t seem to cause them any obvious problems.

Small shore caught ray from Loch Leven - without a tail

Despite morale rising having actually caught one of the target species, the rest of the session was a series of dogfish – nice to have more action, but I’d have preferred to see another few rays.

Fishing Loch Leven in December

I needed to get back to Edinburgh for early evening, so I’d to pack up around 3, doubtless just as the rays came on the feed.

And to cap it all, it took 4 hours to get home, rather than the more usual 2.5, care of huge jams on Edinburgh’s bypass. Rush hour is usually bad, but an inch of snow seemed to stop almost everything.

Then Ian phones me up to tell me all about the pollack he caught…

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A Pilgrimage to Sandwood Bay

Very remote, often stormy, and always stunning, Sandwood is a broad sandy bay guarded on either end by sandstone cliffs hundreds of feet high which sits in the extreme and rather inaccessible NW corner of the Scottish mainland.

Camping at Sandwood Bay
Camping at Sandwood Bay

Over the years it has acquired an almost mystical reputation as a place to visit, complete with the ghosts of drowned sailors and the odd mermaid. Remoteness and grandeur certainly attract legends, but unfortunately what Sandwood doesn’t possess is a reputation for top class fishing, with the few reports available suggesting the odd flatfish, seatrout and possibly a bass.

I’ve trekked the 4 mile access track from Oldshoremore to Sandwood a couple of times before, but never with a fishing rod and not for over 25 years. However I’ve fancied a trip north for several years now and this time I took a rod along with me, along with a tent for an overnight stay.

Something like five and a half hours and 280 miles after leaving home I arrived in the car park at Blairmore, to find I wasn’t the only person interested in the Bay, as there was a good fistful of cars and camper vans there already.

The first part of the walk along was dominated by sheep and a load of lambs.

Lamb
Lamb

The view down the coast was wonderful – it’s amazing how a little bit of sunshine transforms the Scottish countryside.

Looking back to Blairmore
Looking back to Blairmore

Another of the local wildlife, although there were relatively few beasts of any sort after the first mile or so.

Highland Cow
Highland Cow

The path is in good condition (there was a volunteer party from John Muir Trust working on it) and easy to walk or bike along.

Footpath to Sandwood Bay
Footpath to Sandwood Bay

First view of Sandwood is both sudden and dramatic.

First view of Sandwood Bay
First view of Sandwood Bay

I worked my way along the beach towards the northern end, not far from where the river hits the sea. Exposed by the winter storms there are the remains of a WWII Spitfire which crashlanded here in 1941.

Sandwood Beach with Spitfire engine in foreground
Sandwood Beach with Spitfire engine

The other famous occupant of Sandwood Bay is the sea stack Am Buachaille.

Am Buachaille sea stack
Am Buachaille sea stack

I set up my gear and fished with a combination of mackerel strip and lugworm, hoping for a flattie and possibly a turbot. Nothing for the first couple of hours, until the tide had covered the very shallow part of the sand, and then this little seatrout took the mackerel strip.

A small seatrout from Sandwood Bay
A small seatrout from Sandwood Bay

The rest of the afternoon was spent fishing near the old Spitfire (the pilot escaped unharmed, incidentally), and it yielded several more sea trout in the run up to HW.

Remains of a Spitfire engine lie in the sand
Remains of a Spitfire engine lie in the sand
Seatrout swims off
Seatrout swims off
Nice sea trout
Nice sea trout approaching the 2lb mark

I set up camp on the beach itself, largely so I could fish on into the evening. Normally I’d prefer to get some more solid ground but it wasn’t forecast to be too windy, and I can handle a little bit of dry sand getting blown into the tent.

Camping on the beach at Sandwood Bay
Beachfront camping
Returning another bar of silver
Returning another bar of silver

As the tide ebbed the fishing died off, so I’d a little look around the beach and dunes. A little surprisingly there was very little in the way of flotsam or driftwood (any hopes of an evening bonfire were soon dashed), but I did find this old iron fishing float.

An old iron fishing float cast ashore
An old iron fishing float cast ashore
Looking inland towards Sandwood Loch
Looking inland towards Sandwood Loch

The sun set around half-nine and I took a few pictures of it disappearing, although it never really got fully dark – a mixture of the clear sky and the distance north that Sandwood Bay is compared to most of the UK.

Last of the sunshine
Last of the sunshine
The sun nears the horizon
Going, going…
The sun goes...
Gone!
Nightfall at Sandwood, with Cape Wrath to the left of the image
Nightfall at Sandwood

By now the last of the other visitors had left and the beach was mine for the night. Undisturbed by the local ghosts I fell asleep to the sound of the surf on the beach and had some much-needed kip for a few hours. Next morning saw me awake fairly early to get a bit of breakfast and have a short try for more fish before the tide ebbed too far.

Early morning on Sandwood Bay
Early morning on Sandwood Bay
Breakfast in the early morning sunshine
Breakfast in the early sunshine
Looking inland towards Foinaven
Looking inland towards Foinaven

Unfortunately things were a little quiet and nothing else appeared before I packed in and headed back along the path.

Last chance for a fish
Last chance for a fish
Rod watching at Sandwood
Rod watching at Sandwood
Seatrout heads back
Seatrout heads back

 

Simple short range fishing
Simple short range fishing

And finally… It’s easy to say that catching isn’t the central experience of a trip, especially if you haven’t actually caught so much as a baby flounder, but it’s very much true for me in such splendid surroundings. Immersed in magnificent isolation a fishing rod gives some sense of purpose, a little figleaf to fend off those who ask why you journey there, but it’s very much an accessory rather an essential requirement.

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Three badgers and a Wedding

Yes, it was a rather short but surreal trip last night…

I occasionally take the dog and a rod for a short flattie bashing session on a quiet East Lothian beach. Not being particularly into either beach fishing or flatties I usually only give it an hour or two at dusk, and yesterday looked to be a decent enough evening with some chance of flounder activity.

The beach requires a short walk through farmland and some woods, and I wasn’t surprised to encounter a couple of deer just before I reached the dunes fringing the beach. Walking across the sand to my chosen spot I was hailed by a rather friendly chap who then asked if I’d be willing to perform a marriage ceremony for him and his beloved. Faced with such a radical change from “have you caught anything yet” style questions I was too gobsmacked to argue, and duly spent a few minutes going through wedding vows with a mildly new-age theme. I can only assume there was no-one else around, which is why a random dog walking angler was selected to officiate, but the setting sun on Mayday, standing on a beautiful beach seems to me like a good enough place to get hitched. Good luck to Nicholas and Helen!Dusk-at-Beach-2

A few minutes later your newly appointed wedding registrar was setting up shop for flounders near the bottom of the tide. As the sun faded it was pleasant enough, but a little cold as the light force 2-3 wind was blowing off the sea. There was a little weed about but nothing too bad so I lobbed out a couple of small mackerel baits and kept the dog amused with her ball whilst I waited.

I only gave it a hour, given I was out for some fresh air as much as any fishing, but my shiny new Teklon 802 spinning rod duly broke it’s duck with a surprisingly fat flounder a little while after the sun disappeared completely. No monster and well short of a pound it was still a welcome visitor and another species for the year to date – a total of 11 so far. Not long after something long and low caught my eye as it scuttled across the beach in the last of the light – at first I thought it was someone’s dog before it dawned on me that it must be an otter heading off to prowl the nearby rocks. No chance of a photo, but that’s the first time I’ve seen an otter along the east coast shoreline.

A fairly plump spring flounder
Flounder

To cap off the evening the woods on our walk back seemed full of activity, with several deer and no less than three badgers crossing our path. So a very brief trip, but no shortage of activity last night.

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Shore rays

I didn’t fancy the hassle of a boat today, so just chucked the shore rods in the car and headed west. The idea was to split the day, with a few hours fishing at Loch Leven and then spend the afternoon having a bash at Loch Creran, which I’ve never tried before.

Sun catching the mountain tops
Sun catching the mountain tops

Leven was both calmer and sunnier than forecast and I was starting to overheat by the time I reached my mark, a well known spot on the north shore but not one I’ve fished before. I started off by dropping my camera and buggering the auto-focus 🙁 which is why some of the images ain’t the best. At least it was a cheapo lens which I was looking for an excuse to replace anyway…

A beautiful winter day on Loch Leven
A beautiful winter day on Loch Leven

Half an hour later I reeled in a small ray and things were looking up as the sun kept shining and only the snow on the hills reminded me it was winter.

A small thornback
A small thornback

Sadly this was the high point, and a succession of dogfish suggested that the rays had better things to do than play with my bait. In between the doggies came a surprise winter mackerel – I’ve had them often enough from the boat at this time of year, but this one took a lump of mackerel sent out on a 4/0 and fished hard on the seabed.

Mackerel in December - from the shore
Mackerel in December – from the shore

By half-twelve it was decision time – stick with Leven for the rest of the day or move down to Creran and give it a little try. I elected to stick with the plan and headed down to a mark I’d identified earlier as a fairly deep candidate in an otherwise shallow loch.

Loch Creran doesn’t really feature on most angler’s list of possibilities – it’s small and further to travel than both Etive or Leven. It does hold Pollack and sea trout for lure anglers, but I was interested to see if there were any numbers of ray available as well.

A promising spot on Loch Creran
A promising spot on Loch Creran

The mark was easy enough to fish and went into reasonably deep water (it felt something like 45-50 feet) with no obvious tide run. However baits were stripped fairly quickly and proper bites were distinctly lacking until shortly before I packed up for the day, when a consolation doggie made an appearance.

Sad! - reduced to photographing a doggie
Sad! – reduced to photographing a doggie

OK, so Creran was a waste of time but never venture, never gain and there are a couple of other possibilities that look worth trying so I might be back one day.

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A modest start to 2014

My 2014 fishing season kicked off in modest style on the Arbroath coastline with an early morning visit to Auchmithie. It’s been several years since I was here and in the dark it took some time to find the track down to the beach, negotiating a minor cliff-fall along the way.

A cold January sunrise cod hunting on the Arbroath cliffs
A cold January sunrise cod hunting on the Arbroath cliffs

Alas, my effort was in vain as the beach proved to be full of weed and I rapidly lost two sets of gear in a ferocious undertow. Deciding that this was a losing game I relocated to the Arbroath cliffs and made my way along towards Needles E’e in the early dawn light. The sea was still piling in but the mark was easily fishable and I settled down to wait.

My first fish of 2014 - a plump little codling from Arbroath
My first fish of 2014 – a plump little codling from Arbroath

First up was a decent codling of about 3 3/4lbs which was a nice start for the year and raised hopes of a few more of her cousins. Unhappily the next fish would’ve struggled to make 1lb, and the one that followed it was even smaller. Both got returned safely enough, but that was it for the morning and I packed it in about 1030 as I ran out of bait.

Nothing dramatic, but at least not a blank to start the year!

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Rough Day at Aberdeen

Rough in more ways than one… I was lined up to drive my M-I-L back to Aberdeen from Edinburgh after spending Christmas with us, so thought I may as well get a bit of shore fishing in as well, given that the weather looked suitably awful. Duty done, I hit the cliffs around 2 in the afternoon to find a very large sea running.

A rather feeble sunset brightens the sky on a stormy afternoon just south of Aberdeen
A rather feeble sunset brightens the sky on a stormy afternoon just south of Aberdeen

It was clear that most of the marks would be suicide to fish from so I headed for the Red Rock, hoping to find the Furnished Rooms still fishable and with the top of Red Rock as a fallback. A few minutes at the Furnished Rooms and it was clear that things were a bit too lively here and were only likely to get worse as the flood tide picked up against a hefty southerly swell, so I moved back to my “last resort” mark of Red Rock. Here things were pretty comfortable and well sheltered from a wind that had back to the SW so I managed to fish without difficulty.

Keeping an eye on the rod tips whilst night fishing from the top of Red Rock, around 60 feet above sea level.
Keeping an eye on the rod tips whilst night fishing from the top of Red Rock, around 60 feet above sea level.

I fished roughly 2 – 9 p.m. for a total of 3 little codling, plus 1 about 4lb lost coming up the cliff and another much larger one (at least 8lb, probably more) that I just couldn’t lift out the water at all. I was up on top of the Red Rock, so I knew there was no chance with the bigger fish, but I was annoyed about the 4lber as it was my own fault in letting the line go across a rock 🙁 Everything came to plain old lug baits, although I did try mackerel for a while on one rod.

A meagre catch from Red Rock, Aberdeen
A meagre catch from Red Rock, Aberdeen

There was nothing at all for the first 4 1/2 hours, and baits came back untouched or got rolled into rocks by the sea, then I lost the bigger fish. All the other fish came between 7 and 8 p.m. and were stuffed with lugworm, so it was pretty concentrated fish-wise. Overall a pretty disappointing session as I’d hoped for better, but it was a nice afternoon/evening to be out – quite mild and well sheltered from the wind so not really a hardship to be out wave watching rather than catching.

Some of the seas were huge, and the top of Red Rock was one of the only places you’d have been safe. Another angler came down to the Furnished Rooms and was standing right on top of it when a wave just lipped over his feet – if he’d been down on the bit that people normally fish he’d have been washed off. He came round to see me afterwards to see if anything was doing (it wasn’t at that time) and then headed off to Nigg Bay. I’d expected it to be rough, but it was worse than I thought, especially when the flood tide kicked in.

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