Ian, Trevor and I spent all last week hunting for tope and smoothhounds down in Galloway. Loads of fish, although decent tope proved a bit more elusive than last year.
Tope and Smoothhounds - Galloway 2016
Bar a single session from Isle of Whithorn, our time was spent fishing out of Port William and Garlieston into Luce Bay and Wigtown Bay.
Tope were very scarce out of Port William, although we did pick up some decent huss and thornbacks, plus loads of smaller stuff including a lot of tub and grey gurnards and the usual whiting hordes. Mackerel were generally easy to find, although a little bigger than last year, and there were a few herring and launce mixed in amongst them. Ian managed to up his personal LSD record up to 63 in one day, which I can’t imagine he’ll want to beat anytime soon.
Garlieston held plenty of smoothhounds and small/baby tope plus more thornbacks. Ian picked up the best hound, at over 12lbs (which took a mackerel bait), but most were in the 2-5lbs range. I’d 57 one day which is way more than I’ve seen before, although other days weren’t quite as hectic.
I’ve never seen so many small tope, which were picking up crab and lug baits as well as mackerel, and we must have had many dozens on the days we fished there, but with the best only going 24lbs. I’d one tiddler that looked that it had just avoided becoming breakfast for an older brother.
A few hours on the banks off Isle of Whithorn produced the largest tope (predictably for Ian again!) with a couple at 35lbs each, but we didn’t hang around for the tide to run against the wind on the flood.
Our last day saw a combination of boat weariness and squally weather push us out on a shore trip, which resulted in our first shore-caught hounds and a tope bite off for myself.
Incidentally, the petrol station at Port William is now open 24 hours with a self-service card machine, which will prove handy for future trips. And there is also a nice new coffee shop above the Inshore Rescue Boatshed, with a great view out over Luce Bay.
The GoPro got dropped over the side for a quick view of the seabed at Luce Bay, revealing a complete doggie-fest with a few dabs thrown in – plus this smoothie roaming about. We didn’t catch any hounds here, so interesting to see it on video.
Plan A for this year involved a serious fishing session in Galloway, for the first time in over twenty years, and I was pretty happy when Ian and I finally made our escape down to Scotland’s fishing paradise last week. The only downside was that Trevor’s mum had been taken ill and it seemed unlikely that he’d be able to join us.
Saturday evening saw us tottering down the mini-steps at Monreith Bay and making our way across the sand, leaning into the strong north-westerly wind that blasted across the beach. A couple of hours later we reversed the process, with nothing at all to show for our efforts except mild hypothermia. It’s a pretty enough place to blank though, but perhaps not the best start to a week’s fishing.
I was up early doors on the Sunday and took a walk round the nearby loch with a view to sussing out the pike fishing possibilities. Half-way round I encountered this little fellow who was obviously out looking for breakfast.
The wind was still a moderate NW, but looked to be dropping slowly, so we decided to head out of Sandhead for the afternoon and have a try off Ardwell. Launching about two in the afternoon we had a reasonable session, although the wind stayed around a force 4, and I eventually lost my hat to the breeze, much to Ian’s amusement.
Mackerel were around in modest numbers and we soon had enough for bait, and settled down with a mix of rigs to see what was feeding.
First blood was a nice huss to Ian, weighing in at around 10lbs.
And was followed by a succession of rays, all but one of which also belonged to Ian.
Lots of smaller fish such as whiting, gurnard, etc. appeared and Ian notched up a personal “best” with something like 25 LSDs in an afternoon.
The forecast for Monday was for lighter winds, and we launched from Isle of Whithorn a little after low water. An hour spent under the cliffs proved very unproductive and the wind appeared to have died away completely so I pointed Alcatraz in the direction of Luce Bay and Port William and we bounced our way round the coast for around 10 miles or so until we hit our chosen mark.
Snack sized mackerel appeared very quickly, along with a few Galloway tarpon (herring), which were soon sent back down to the seabed in search of our target fish, tope.
Our wait wasn’t too prolonged and we started to hit some good runs on whole mackerel.
It wasn’t just the tope, as this bull huss also put in an appearance – not a biggie, but my first of the year.
And, in between tope runs, this little beauty had me shouting for a net. A nice bass of a little over 5lbs on a whole mackerel bait – lucky for it that it was caught early in the week, as the temptation to knock it on the head and pop it under the grill might have been irresistible on our last day.
We finished the day on 15 tope between us, not too shabby a result considering we only fished this mark for a few hours.
Retreating to the cottage for the evening we spent a little while sorting out gear and tidying things up generally, before the midgies started to appear in some numbers.
Tuesday meant a launch from Port William, to have a serious try for the tope in the shallow waters of Luce Bay. Today started cool and calm, but the sun became progressively hotter and I really started to regret losing that hat at Ardwell!
Fortunately for us the tope were in the mood to feed and we fairly quickly started to add to our tally.
Ian had the best fish of the day, with a nice one of 39lbs, and it was noticeable that there were none of the small sub-15lb fish you often encounter, with most being in the high teens to mid-twenties in weight.
By the end of the day our total was 28 fish and hands that were rather worse for wear as a result of hauling on traces a little too carelessly. Easily my best tally for the boat in one day, and we were both happy running over the day’s events as we worked our way through the menu at the Clansman later that evening. Trevor had phoned to say he could make it next day, so another session off Port William was planned…
Trevor arrived early on Wednesday morning after a long drive from Aberdeen and we launched from Port William again, with high hopes of bettering yesterdays total of 28 tope. Luce Bay was flat calm as we headed out the short distance to our chosen mark and dropped the anchor in around 45 feet of water.
Trevor had first blood within a few minutes of dropping a bait in the water, and we fairly quickly built up a score of 8 tope between us before things went pretty quiet for a while.
The fish did eventually come back on the feed, but not to the same extent or with the same enthusiasm as on Tuesday, and we only gradually worked our way up to a very respectable 22 over the day.
The jury was out a bit for Thursday, but in the end we decided to have another pop at Port William, with a view to changing marks if the tope didn’t play ball.
I dropped the GoPro over the side for a look at the sea bed – no fish at all were showing in the time it was over, and it wasn’t quite as stony as I’d expected from the feel of baits rolling around in the tide.
A couple of hours on the tope resulted in only one or two fish, with a few more dropped runs, and we decided to head down the coast a bit to try an inshore reef.
We gave it a couple of hours but this was largely fruitless apart from a steady stream of dogfish. A drop down with the camera again showed it was clearly rougher ground.
We headed back to the tope grounds again for the latter part of the afternoon, but it was becoming baking now in the sunshine and I popped up the Alcatraz’s pram hood for the first time in several years, and for the only time we’ve needed shelter from the sun!
The tope were still playing hard to get, with very few runs and many of them dropping the bait, but we gradually added to the fish total and ended the day with seven – ordinarily I’d be pleased enough with that total, but it was a little anti-climactic after the previous couple of days.
There were still some little fish playing, including this pretty little tub gurnard for Ian
and a nice grey one as well
Launce and a gazillion whiting put in an appearance as well, but no herring today.
After our roasting and relative drubbing on Thursday we were up for a change from Luce Bay on Friday and elected for an earlier start at Port Logan. The forecast was fine through to mid-afternoon after which the wind was rising from the NW and would probably cut things short.
Aside from a quick drift at the entrance to the bay, which produced very little, we headed out to the banks pretty much immediately to try for both haddock and something a little larger.
Ian soon hit a modest haddock in amongst the droves of whiting, and we also picked up one or two codling before anchoring in the tide run. I’d hoped for some fresh mackerel but these proved elusive and we only had modest numbers all day.
The fishing was very poor with only dogfish and a handful of codling and haddock appearing alongside the whiting. Nothing larger even hinted at being out to play despite fishing most of the ebb tide into increasing windy conditions.
Given the forecast was for a rising wind I headed back inshore to Logan Bay a little after slack water and we spent an hour or two wasting bait inside the bay before heading back to the beach.
It proved a busy day on the VHF as well, with Hamish Currie’s Predator 2 coming to the rescue of a local boat with engine failure near Portpatrick, and Belfast coastguard calling out the lifeboat for a yacht aground somewhere on the Irish coastline – nothing like a little reminder of how easily things can go wrong in these waters.
Next morning saw us packing up in near perfect conditions, although a week was probably enough tbh – the collective battering does take a toll and you need a day or two to recover. Ian was pretty much held together by sticky tape by this point 🙂
I love Galloway on many levels – it’s wild but not as bleak as the NW Highlands; has a particularly appealing mix of hills, lochs and sea; plenty of interest for a younger family; and easily the most varied and exciting fishing in mainland Scotland. In recent years I’ve only managed to snatch the odd day here and there, but this year I managed a total of 6 during June, which is definitely a record for the last 20 years.
Unfortunately this also coincided with the slowest start to the mackerel for years, with the cold spring seeming to hold them back on both east and west coasts. A first foray in early June found nothing worthwhile in Luce Bay, although a switch across to Port Logan did pull in a haddock or two amongst the small codling and whiting that seemed to swarm over the offshore banks. A week later and I was back at Isle of Whithorn for an overnight trip, and things were picking up, although mackerel were still very slow. A steady drift along under Burrow Head produced the odd one or two, plus a nice tope of around 30lbs and a solitary herring. Despite the boost provided by the tope there were no others following in his wake so I followed plan A and headed offshore to the banks a few miles SW of Burrow Head.
Out here the tide was screaming through, and a good bit stronger than I’d expected and it was very hard going getting any fish to the boat – doubly so as I’d forgotten my butt pad and was soon getting a nice collection of bruises. The fishing wasn’t great, but there were a few spurdog and a single huss that just made it into double figures, plus a few more mackerel.
My final session in June was a three day trip with Trevor, based at Burrowhead caravan site. We kicked off at Ardwell on Luce Bay and covered something like 50 miles in a fruitless search for tope, including another session on the banks beyond the Scares Rocks. It was too beautiful a day to stay downhearted for long, but the lack of mackerel certainly seemed to be a factor. Monday saw us starting early after a well-earned sleep at Burrowhead, and we were soon oing our best to catch a mackerel or two – an hour of this saw us with a handful, and we decided to head round to Port William where there had been reports of tope taken.
We dropped anchor in 35 feet of water and little tide and slung a collection of baits in the water, and settled down to wait. Fortunately it wasn’t too long before our rather battered optimism was restored by the first tope run of the trip, which was first of many that afternoon, and brought our total for the day up to 14 fish boated. Alongside that was the first sign of mackerel in numbers, plus a good succession of whiting, grey and tub gurnards, a dab and a fair number of doggies.
Tuesday was a re-run of the day before – run round to Port William, followed by a succession of tope and a couple of huss. A few launce put in an appearance too, but by mid-afternoon the fishing slowed, so we decided on another try offshore for a little while. The banks produced another 3 or 4 tope and a huss before we called it quits, so all told a good way to end the trip.
The grand total was 29 tope between us, mainly in the 20-30lb range and with non of the very small tope that sometimes appear. However it was fairly obvious that they weren’t as widely spread out across the area as you’d expect by this time of year, which is probably down to the relatively small numbers of mackerel.
Weather: Dry, calm and sunny all day. Great weather for boating. Sea Conditions: Flat calm and clear. Tides:Large Tide. LW 1100 HW 1700 Time:Launched 0900 and recovered 1800 – 9 hours
Decided to make a daytrip to the sub-tropical paradise of Galloway yesterday, and for once the forecast was too pessimistic. No wind and sunny all day, so it actually got a bit too hot at times.
I struggled to find mackerel to start with, but eventually picked up a few very small ones (5-8″ long – good snack size for a tope) and headed off to some banks about 8-9 miles SW of Isle of Whithorn, arriving there about just before LW. These are quite chunky structures I first fished about 4 years ago, and rise from 120 feet to 70 feet or so, but have a fierce run of tide over them with a quite pronounced tide rip on the surface – not a place to go near on anything other than a really calm day.
The anchor went down perfectly just at the top of the bank which let me fish the downslope behind it, and dropped a pair of baits down to the seabed. First up was a smallish huss, maybe 5lbs or so and was followed by a small tope which came up quite easily to the side of the boat and got quickly lifted aboard – before I realised it wasn’t a tope and had a pair of large spikes right alongside where I’d grabbed it! Lucky escape/carelessness aside, it went 12.5lbs which is my best for several years now.
By now the tide was really starting to motor, so leads of 1.5 lbs came out, although I could hold bottom OK. Got a series of hard knocks on one rod and hooked into something really substantial, which I eventually got moving but really struggled to make progress with in the tide. Of course, after about 10 minutes of this, my other rod started screaming away as a tope made off with the bait… Another 10-15 minutes went by with very little progress on the first fish (in fact I think I was steadily losing ground to some slow, solid runs back down to the sea floor), and the second taking another run every minute or so, when the leader knot finally parted on the biggie 🙁
The tope was now about 150 yards away, so it was another lengthy job to get it back to the boat but eventually mission accomplished and it got lifted aboard. A good fish of 32lbs, which equalled my PB, it went back fine. New mackerel on and drop down again – and Bang, an immediate hookup, this time from a 30lb fish. This went on for 2-3 hours through the main part of the tide and I don’t think I’d to wait more than 10 minutes for a bite in that period (fishing only 1 rod by now). It was very hard work in the tide run and each fish took a good while to land and deal with, particularly since I was taking care to avoid getting bitten by some very angry fish.
The tope melted away as the tidal flow dropped back, but I picked up a final fish to bring the tally to 9, with the best 36lb and 5 of 30lb+. A couple more spurdog appeared in the slacker water before the tide went dead and I hauled the anchor. I couldn’t risk the tide turning on me, as it would have been very difficult to get the anchor up in the speed of tide run, or I’d have stayed on a bit longer.
As to what the lost fish was – I don’t know. Probably a large tope, although there was no tope like run. I did wonder about a blonde ray, as I’ve had a small one here before, but think that’s unlikely as it wasn’t kiting up particularly in the tide run.
Note to self on this mark – take along the 20-30lb class gear, as 12-20 was getting well outgunned.
Weeks of frustration had been building during a very windy May, so the first possibility of a weather window was seized with both hands and Ian and I arranged a couple of days targetting hounds and tope in Wigtown and Luce Bay.
Saturday involved a lazy start that saw us launch at Brighouse around 1 p.m. after sticking the tent up first. The wind was stronger than forecast, but manageable, and we headed round into Wigtown Bay to try some of the marks in the Cree. At anchor it became clear that the north easterly forecast was in fact a south easterly reality – a big disappointment as it meant fishing wind against tide rather than with the tide, and a very uncomfortable beam on chop. Hey-ho, that’s what happens all too often in Scottish sea angling, so we carried on and tried to minimise the bruising from being thrown about.
The fish were there, but not entirely cooperative. We’d 10-12 smallish hounds, plenty of doggies and dabs and a solitary tub gurnard and bass (to Ian), but there was no sign of tope. We did try closer in to Ravenshall point for over an hour and this was more sheltered but the fishing was very poor and we moved back out again – at this point the outboard threw a wobbly as well and started misfiring above 1600 rpm (i.e. 6 or 7 knots). Just what you need 10 miles from launch site in moderately snotty weather! Given the engine problems I decided to finish earlier than planned and we hauled anchor about 8 p.m. and started back, only to find the Etec was now behaving normally. Not sure it made much difference really, as it was a slow trip back into a quite nasty set of waves with anything much above 12 or 13 knots proving pretty horrible. However we got back safely and soon had the boat put to bed before heading off the Kirkcudbright and a well-earned chippie.
A fairly leisurely start on Sunday saw us parked on the slip at Ardwell around mid-morning in “will we, won’t we” mode, as Luce Bay looked less than inviting in the strongish E wind and grey skies. After checking out the beach I reckoned we’d be OK provided we dry launched Alcatraz above the soft sand patches that had obviously bogged down some previous vehicles. After a rather damp struggle through the surf, and killing my mobile thanks to a pair of leaking waders, we headed carefully out through the rocky minefield of Ardwell and out towards our chosen mark.
Fish were pretty much instant, with small mackerel and a couple of herring hitting feathers. Whilst these ended up as tope baits I sent out a crab and worm bait on the uptider in case there was something else hanging around. We didn’t get much chance to settle down, as there was a steady stream of mackerel, gurnards, doggies and whiting coming to the small rods which kept us pretty occupied as we lurched around in fairly unpleasant seas (admittedly better than yesterday’s beam on rolling). There were a few bites on the crabs and worms, and several smoothies and a respectable thornback ray put in an appearance.
The missing guest was the tope – not a whisper on either rod for almost 4 hours until I hooked a decent fish that eventually shook the hook. Half an hour later a smaller companion saved our embarassment as a 15lbr briefly graced the deck before being returned.
So a good day for numbers and a decent range of species, but poor for the tope. A final mention has to go to the scad – we had a dozen aboard during the day, and I finally broke a very long running duck with this species.
Overall a poor weekend weather wise, with the forecasts significantly out, but at least we got out and had a couple of days catching rather than just fishing.
No fishing at all for a couple of months due to a combination of work and family commitments, plus a load of hassle with trailer brakes (spit!). However, a decent forecast plus a free weekend meant a quick phone call to Ian and a scurry around to dig out the tent.
Ian turned up nice and early on the Saturday and we headed off to Brighouse Bay on Saturday for a wee play about in Wigtown Bay. Although it had been nice and sunny on the way there, the Solway was covered in a layer of thick cloud and looked pretty misty. It wasn’t actually too bad initially although it got fairly thick later in the afternoon. At least the wind kept down and the sea was reasonably flat.
As it turned out fishing wasn’t the best, with only small hounds showing and not in huge numbers. However I had a decent bass and lost a respectable tope alongside the boat when it decided it didn’t like being tail hooked and went a little beserk when it got close. There were piles of dabs showing, including a decent one of 12oz for Ian, and a single example each of a flounder and a plaice. We packed in around 9 p.m. and headed back to Brighouse to set up camp for the night.
An early start on Sunday saw us move over to Ardwell on Luce Bay, launching into quite a stiff NW wind just before the On Yer Marks crew
arrived. Despite being told that there were virtually no tope being caught we decided to give it a go on one of the marks and see how we got on. Mackerel were around in large numbers, so bait was no problem – alas, so were the dogfish, and Ian switched over to a small livebait to get away from them.
A few minutes later his rod keeled over as a tope hit home, and he soon landed a fish in the high teens. The smaller rigs pulled out a succession of whiting, doggies and gurnard, mainly for Ian as I dozed off in the sunshine. A further smaller tope followed for Ian, before he got into his stride with the rays, pulling out 7 or 8 thornbacks and a spotted ray. Over slack water the dabs came out in numbers, so the fish were pretty continuous during the day, although I was well cuffed by Ian on all counts. My consolation prize was the smallest tope I’ve ever seen, at around 1.5lbs.
Eventually we called it a day around 5 p.m. and hit the slip at Ardwell just as the tide reached it again, which made retrieval a little easier.
Not a spectacular weekend, but still collected 13 species – Dab (12 oz), plaice, flounder, grey gurnard (14oz), tub gurnard (1lb 5oz), mackerel (1lb 6oz), bass (4lbs 5oz), starry smoothound (tiddlers), tope (18lbs), whiting, thornback ray, spotted ray.
Had a “use it or lose it” day so bit the bullet, set the alarm for 4.30, and headed off to Port Logan to take advantage of the fine weather. Launched no bother, but half way across the bay the GPS/Sonar just cut out. I assumed it was just a loose connection, checked them and it came back on again. However the same thing happened again a few minutes later, and the problem became a little clearer – the voltage reading on the GPS was climbing as I increased engine revs, and the unit cut out when it hit 13.8v. Swapped to the second battery, but the same problem persisted, so I assumed the engine output was the source – a bit of a bugger as the threshold seemed to be about 2200 revs.
I’d planned on a few drifts at the entrance to the bay anyway, so I set up a mackerel trace on one rod and a bottom rig on the other and carried on. 40 minutes just inside the bay produced next to nothing – 1 mackerel, 1 cuckoo and 1 ballan wrasse, so I shifted out about half a mile and carried on. The fishing wasn’t great, but there was a steady flow of gurnard (including some beautiful red gurnard), numbers of codling to 3.5lbs, a few pollack, a couple of small haddock and a handful more mackerel.
After about half an hour fishing the two rods, I was fiddling around with the mackerel rod and turned round just in time to see the bottom rod vanish overboard. Aargh! I could see it sink slowly out of sight, but couldn’t grab it in time, as the boat was moving at a decent pace in the tide. I still had the mackerel gear in the water, so started jigging it to see if I could catch the li.ne, but without any great expectation of success. Much to my surprise, after about 20 seconds I felt a steady pressure on the rod, and gradually and very carefully managed to winch in all the lost gear. Lucky or what! – but it was down to one rod after that.
I drifted on for a couple of miles but the fishing gradually dwindled as the tide ran faster, so I ran back downtide to retrace my steps. This time the engine seemed to behave itself properly and it certainly speeded things up being on the plane. However the fishing remained slow, so I decided to have a two or three hours anchored on one of the banks a little way offshore.
The tide was running fairly strongly, and it took 1.5lbs of lead to hold bottom properly, although the light rod was bouncing down the tide with 8oz, picking up a good number of gurnard and a few whiting and mackerel every time it hit bottom for a dew seconds. The main rod produced only dogfish until the tide slackened off a bit, when it suddenly hooped right over as a decent fish hit. This was pretty obviously a tope and it gave a good account of itself despite the lead it was hauling about. At 30lbs it’s my biggest for the year, so I was quite happy to finish the day on a high note.
Weather:Dry, sunny, light or no wind Sea Conditions:Calm and reasonably clear Time Spent:0815-1845 Tides:LW 1300 – Moderate tide
Took 3 hours to get to Garlieston where I launched with no difficulty and headed out to the Cree and set up for smoothies.
Fishing varied during the day, with the best of it early on and then on top half of the flood. The run up to low water was very slow, with only a couple of fish showing in the last 90 minutes of the ebb. Immediately after LW I landed a couple of small bass and missed a third one, but then it went quiet again until mid-tide when I had a flurry of smoothies between 4 and 5 pm, and a couple more and a pair of tope in the last 90 minutes before packing in.
Final total was 12 smoothies (none big, but a 5lb fish makes for huge fun on a spinning rod), 2 bass and 6 tiny tope – none of which made it into double figures.