Shooting the Breeze at St Andrews

Late August saw Ian, Trevor and I bouncing around on Ian’s Raider a few miles along the coast from St Andrews. Aside from a few codling it proved a rather rollercoaster style experience so we snuck back inshore, under the shelter of the low cliffs along this part of the coastline. Once tucked in out of the worst of the wind I dropped a grapnel down into the rocky, kelp covered, seabed little more than twenty feet below us.

Ian and Trevor fishing for codling from Ian Raider boat on an overcast and windy day at St Andrews.
A grey day off St Andrews

In these conditions fish tend to come fairly quickly, or not at all, as the boat sweeps from side to side, pendulum fashion, at the end of the anchor rope. Fortunately the fish were hungry, so when Ian and I pinched a few of Trevor’s rag we were soon knocking out ballans in various sizes and colours on spinning gear. These were my first wrasse of the year and really quite good fun to catch, with some bright red codling mixed in with them.

A small kelpy coloured ballan wrasse for me from St Andrews.
A small ballan wrasse for me.

Trevor and Ian were catching pollack on lures, whilst I just took a lazy approach and suspended a mackerel belly strip on a flowing trace a few feet above the kelp. If conditions were calm I’d be able to see it clearly, maybe fifteen to twenty feet below the boat. As it was, the fairly rapid pendulum action gave a pretty decent action to the mackerel strip whilst the choppy sea seemed to reduce what little inhibition the pollack had.

A pollack for Trevor, caught on a lure close to shore at St Andrews
A pollack for Trevor

Maybe not quite top drawer fishing, but we’d a reasonable pile of pollack (most sub-4lb, but a few better ones too) and more wrasse than I’ve seen in years. A fair number of codling, and the usual mackerel and coalies. I think Trevor picked up a small ling too, which he does pretty consistently.

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Around and About on the East Coast

I’ve not been posting that much recently, so this is a quick catch up of a few trips on the east coast over the last couple of months.

Tayport

This is going back to June, but worth a mention as it’s the first time I’ve fished here. Easy short(ish) range fishing for flounder and dabs in our case, to a mix of worm, crab and fish. A laid back way to spend an afternoon!Both these specimens (and the photos) were taken by Ian. We were using rather overkill gear for here, and spinning or carp rods with an ounce or two of lead would be a better idea.

St Andrews

Late June saw me aboard Ian’s Raider for the first time this year, and heading out of St Andrews in search of a few fish suppers.

Ian fishing a baited rig for codling off St Andrews
Ian fishing off St Andrews

One of the minor hazards of sea fishing are the gulls, but they seemed unusually persistent today, and quite determined to get themselves some mackerel. At one stage we were surrounded by 7 or 8 black backs closing in for the kill, and they weren’t easily put off either.

A persistent black backed gull demands feeding, perched on the bow of Ian's Raider 18
Persistent seagull

I didn’t take any pictures of the fish for some reason, but suffice it to say that the freezer got a healthy boost with a selection of decent fillets.

Dunbar

I don’t really fish Dunbar that much these days, as it gets awful crowded during the summer. However it’s still nice to launch early in the day before it gets overrun and you can find a place to park. That’s what I did last week, and I’d a fine few hours drifting for codling, ling and mackerel. All pretty small, with the biggest fish a pollack of 4.5lbs, but there in reasonable numbers.

A short spined sea scorpian from Dunbar. They look mean but are completely harmless
SSSS! (Short Spined Sea Scorpian)

I ended the morning with about 30+ ling and codling, a couple of pollack and a useful contribution towards the winter bait supplies – about 45 mackerel. Also my first scorpion fish for a year or two, perhaps because of the small tides and fairly slow drift.

St Andrews – again

Gulls were the pest last time out of St Andrews, but the plague was a little more exotic today. Ian warned that he’d been pestered by hoverflies the night before, but I didn’t really believe him. OK, they look like wasps but that’s as far as it goes. They don’t bite and they don’t sting…

A mile offshore from St Andrews and we were plagued by hundreds of hoverflies, presumably chased off the fields by harvesting.
A plague of hoverflies

… but they can crawl all over you, up your nose and into your mouth. Ye gods!, I’d never have thought they could be such a pain. Presumably we were the only safe haven for them a mile out to sea, and they made full use of us.

The bugs thinned out a bit as the breeze picked up, but they definitely outnumbered the fish. We did get a load of codling but mainly small stuff.

Nicely coloured inshore codling - these fish take on the colour of the kelp beds and range from orange to deep red in colour
Nicely coloured inshore codling

However there were a few pollack about in the 5-5.5lb bracket, and Ian managed a couple of dogfish too. These have a novelty value on the east coast as we don’t often catch them on this side. They add even more shine to Ian’s “dogfish magnet” reputation too!

This little codling also demonstrated his appetite quite nicely. Note the mackerel tail sticking out his gob – he’s swallowed a whole mackerel frame, including head, that we’d chucked over on a previous drift.

This fish swallowed a whole mackerel frame, discarded after being filleted. The tail of the mackerel is still sticking out the codling's mouth, and it was still ready to eat more.
A greedy fish, feeding off discarded mackerel frames

 

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East Coast Round-up

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.

Ian's Raider berthed at St Andrews
Berthed at St Andrews

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.

A nice, dark coloured, ballan wrasse for Ian, caught off St Andrews
Nice ballan wrasse for Ian, caught earlier this year

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.

A very calm North Sea, not quite what you expect in November
Not bad for November!

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.

A small ling from St. Andrews
Small ling

Nothing like the 100+ fish we’ve had in the past, but a steady catch rate of codling cheered up the day.

Ian with a fairly typical St Andrews codling
Typical codling

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.

Ian aims high with his eye-catching latex lure
Ian aims high with his eye-catching latex
A very greedy little codling tackles Ian's hi-viz latex monster lure
A very greedy codling

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.

Little and large - a pollack and a whiting from St Andrews
Little and large – a pollack and a whiting

My equally late West Coast update still to follow…

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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.

Fishing Loch Leven

Fishing, boating and camping in the Loch Etive wilderness

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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 - 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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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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