Summer Fishing off Dunbar

I’d a nice day out of Dunbar earlier this week – nothing exceptional in fishing terms, but a fine, relaxed time afloat on a sunny summer day. I even allowed myself to sleep in until shortly before 6 before hitching up the boat.

First up were a few mackerel for bait. There weren’t huge numbers, and they were small, but I soon picked up enough for bait just off the harbour.

I worked my way eastwards during the morning, trying a few different spots. The wind and tide ran against each other most of the time, so the drift was generally slow. It wasn’t too uncomfortable though, and whitecaps were scarce.

I found plenty pollack on both lures and thin slivers of silver mackerel belly. All on the small side but still able to heel the rod right over!

A couple swallowed the hook and joined the filleting queue in the coolbox, but most went back.

I picked up fair numbers of codling too, on both the bait and the spinning rods. Again, most were on the small side and only a few got knocked on the head for dinner.

I eventually added a lonely ling to my species count. Slippery and wriggly, hence the rather upside down photo below, taken just before it jumped out my hands!

The codling kept coming and there seemed to be more around the Torness area. Only the one double shot though, taken on mackerel baited hokkais.

I managed to forget my sunscreen on my sunniest day afloat this year, hence the hat and gloves. Just trying to avoid a beetroot red face and a lecture when I got home!

I picked up another couple of pollack as I filleted the days catch, but again they were small.

I finally packed in around 90 minutes before high water, despite being tempted to hand around until later in the evening. My phone was out of battery and I’d said I’d be back late afternoon, so I didn’t fancy a 999 call when no-one could contact me!

The harbour itself was anything but relaxing on my return, with a large cabin rib and a yacht planning to launch near the top of the tide. Hordes of visitors too, wandering around the road oblivious to a reversing trailer. If only the Skateraw slip was back in action, it would be easier and safer all round!

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Starting Back…

Like everyone, I’ve had lots of plans cancelled due to Covid house arrest over the last few months. And, after all these disappointments, it’s good to finally get back on the saddle.

My first trip out was at Skateraw, with the SIB for company. I’ve not used the old Avon for a couple of years now, so it seemed fitting to dust it off at the same time as myself! Unfortunately I had to carry the whole shebang from the car park to the beach as the little slip I used has been blocked off.

Red cod

I’m happy to confirm that there are oodles of fish out there – just very small ones. I found tiny codling everywhere, with a couple of little pollack and a solitary coalie as well. I managed one string of mackerel, which sorted out lunch for next day, but generally hung around close inshore. My 5hp Tohatsu was a bit unhappy, which discouraged me from heading out too far. Spitting petrol ain’t a good sign – probably a blockage somewhere, but easier fixed ashore.

This was just a quick hour or two afloat after work, so I was happy to catch a few fish in exchange for very little effort.

St. Andrews

Yesterday was a bit more full on, with a trip out on Ian’s Raider from a very wet St. Andrews. We cleared the harbour under skies so grey that it looked more like November!

We stopped for mackerel in a couple of spots, but only managed two between us. Heading further east we tossed the grapnel over and started on the local pollack – or Ian did, to be more accurate. His float fished mackerel proved pretty deadly for a bunch of fish in the 2-4lb range, whilst shads and metals struggled to get much interest. I managed a couple of pollack around the 4lb mark and a few small codling, but was well behind.

Inshore codling

We tried anchoring two or three marks for a few hours before switching to drift fishing for cod. Heaps of little kamikazee codling promptly queued up to attack our baits. We picked them up 2 or 3 at a time, but sadly most didn’t make 1lb in weight.

We managed a few more respectable fish though, topped off by this very nice cod of 7lb 4oz. I’ve no idea how many fish we caught, but it was a lot, and it’s nice to see that there are some better ones hidden amongst them.

A nice St. Andrews cod, making 7lbs 4oz
Fine little cod

Next mission is to get my own boat out on the water – it’s only got wet once so far in 2020!

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Fogbound at Dunbar

I’ve not been out much over the summer, with a trip up to St. Andrews and a couple of excursions from Dunbar.

Haar

No-one likes it, but haar is a fact of life for anyone boating on the east coast. It wasn’t too bad though, and you could still make out a horizon when headed out just after six in the morning. Two miles out, and a dozen mackerel later, and visibility disappeared.

Thick fog cuts visibility to a few tens of metres a few miles off Dunbar.
Keeping a good lookout

Maybe 30-50 metres at best, and as thick as I’ve seen it. Not good, so I edged my way down to an inshore mark and stuck it out for the rest of the morning.

Pollack

There were a few fish going about, and I’d cod, ling and pollack to supplement my mackerel. However, the tide was small and drift non-existent, so it was hard going.

Thick fog cuts visibility to a few tens of metres a few miles off Dunbar.
Thick Fog!

Hearing other boats moving around, and the thump of lobster creels hitting the decks close by, meant that it was a fairly nervous session. Fortunately only one boat emerged out the haar and she was going slowly so we avoided each other without any drama.

Dinner

I wasn’t really sorry to head back in – although the sun was now rapidly clearing away the haar and the horizon was visible again by the time I arrived back at the harbour.

Fishless Wrecks

Every now and again I let heart rule head, and set up for a day trying the many wrecks that litter the seabed of the Firth of Forth. Other than one or two piles of scrap close inshore I’ve never had a successful trip doing this, although it’s always a buzz to see a wreck materialise on the sonar.

It was a fine morning as I drove along to Dunbar, with little wind and small tides forecast, so it was as good a set of conditions as I’m ever likely to get. No sign of haar, unlike my earlier trip.

Lovely early morning light as I drive along to Dunbar in the first few days of September.
Dawn light

Edging out of the harbour just as the sun rose, I encountered a reasonable NE swell, which would add to the fun of fishing a snaggy wreck but otherwise wasn’t an issue.

The remains of the old castle on the cliff guard the narrow entrance to Dunbar harbour
Harbour mouth
The sun is just appearing above the horizon as I pass the Yett rocks which line the approach to Dunbar harbour
Sunrise

I spent the next few hours working round in a large semi-circle about 7-10 miles out. A variety of WW1 and WW2 merchant ships and a U-boat all duly appeared on the sounder, in depths of 130-210 feet. A few drifts on each with bait and lures – and leaving some gear behind on most of them. Total catch zero, except on my reliable inshore friend which threw up a couple of pollack

Small pollack

I did get a partial success, but on an offshore reef rather than a wreck. It’s been a few years since I was last here, but there were plenty mackerel for the bait freezer and a little codling. Species of the day was this little Redfish (or Norway Haddock, I’m never 100% sure), which seem to inhabit this particular mark. Certainly, it’s the only place near here that I’ve encountered them.

A redfish, or Norway Haddock, taken from a reef a few miles NE of Dunbar
Redfish

So, a top up for winter bait and a bonus species, but otherwise a fairly predictable disappointment. Enough to cure me of wreck fishing for a season or two, probably.

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Kicking off at Dunbar

A fine morning towing my boat along a very queit A1 with a few early mist patches
Fine early morning

Last Sunday saw me arriving at Dunbar for the back of six in the morning, heading out of the harbour for the first time in many months. It was a lovely morning, despite a steady 3-4 foot swell rolling in from the NE. There was no wind at all, so I’d actually a very gentle ride, and it dropped away steadily until it was more like 2 feet by late morning.

Early May, fishing out of Dunbar on a windless, sunny morning
Gentle swell from the NE

I spent most of my time fishing an inshore wreck a few miles down the coast. She coughed up a steady stream of codling with a few other bits and pieces on a series of slow, easy drifts. I took most fish on a mackerel belly strip and 2oz bullet dropped to the bottom and slow retrieved, but a fair number hung themselves on hokkais too.

A small but well conditioned codling from Dunbar
Small codling
A bait sized coalfish from Dunbar - just a nice snack for a skate
Skate sized coalie

My catch were all small, 1-2lb fish, with the biggest not much over 2.5lbs. This was a little disappointing as I can often pick up the odd 5-7lb fish early in the season, albeit generally looking like they lost a boxing match.

A rather battered looking early season pollack taken from Dunbar
Battered pollack


I managed just three pollack, with the best somewhere around 5-5.5lbs – a fat, mean fish which had a nasty hole in its shoulder and various other scars. However, it still managed to give a very good account of itself and was returned to get even fatter and meaner. Also rans included a couple of tiddler ling and ditto for coalfish. I had a final 45 minute drift inshore which added some more codling but nothing else. So, my final tally was 19 codling, 3 pollack, 2 ling and 2 coalies for about 4.5 hours fishing. Not exactly setting the heather on fire , but a respectable showing.

A small ling from Dunbar
Bug eyed ling


I have to say that Dunbar grows ever harder to deal with as a launch site. At six in the morning I got the last available parking space within 300 yards of the slip! The rowing club now have the equivalent of two car and trailer spaces, the burger van another, and miscellaneous parked boats all the rest.

The newly “improved” slipway is more than a little daunting too, as it’s now lined with huge boulders at the upper end, on both sides. I suppose the effect is more psychological than real as the boulders are perched on top of rocky outcrops anyway, but the diggers have managed to cover the only soft area with sharp shards of rock so it’s a far from healthy environment to park a boat on whilst to try and find somewhere to park a car.

An easy day fishing out of Dunbar in calm conditions
Easy fishing
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November Codling

A little café culture on a warm November day in St Andrews, preceded by a few hours coddie bashing afloat.

Catching up on a few recent sessions…

Mid-November saw Ian and I slipping out of St Andrews harbour in search of some codling. Just as we set out, we were treated to a fine, if cold, sunrise over a placid North Sea.

The sun rises over a placid North Sea as we leave St Andrews harbour in mid-November
Sunrise

It was a small tide, and we’d to work for our fish today. There were some lengthy slow spells, but with some hectic spells in between. Irrespective of size, the fish were in fine early winter condition and good looking specimens. We kept a few for the fish box, but most went back to get a bit bigger!

Some fine early winter codling destined for the table
Some fine codling

This was a short morning session, with only a few hours to fish. However, back ashore we treated ourselves to a bacon roll and chips at the harbour café. It’s not often you can sit out in warm sunshine on the Scottish east coast in November. I’m not complaining though 🙂

Bacon roll and chips in warm November sunshine, an excellent way to end a morning's fishing
A civilised end to the morning
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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.Share this:
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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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Hauling Haddock

It was a little after 8 in the morning when Ian and I trundled into the harbour. Rather unusually for NE Scotland the sun was shining and the wind minimal, although there was a slight but definite swell rolling in. We could see Trev and his Icelander 18 just offshore, launched a little earlier to beat the ebb tide. A quick phone call and we completed a rather hairy pickup from the bottom of a harbour ladder and headed out to sea.

Trev Icelander 18 has a cosy cabin - perfect for winter fishing
A cosy cabin – perfect for winter fishing

I haven’t fished these grounds for a very long time and instead of the normal coddie bashing, we were after it’s tastier cousin, the haddock (IMHO, of course!). I haven’t had these in decent numbers for ages so it was music to my ears when Trev mentioned he was getting haddock nearby.

The marks are fairly loosely defined here, and we drifted over a mix of gritty sand and shell with only the odd snag. Not too far offshore, but in roughly 150 feet of water. After a slowish start we began to pick up fish in reasonable numbers – small codling, haddock and dabs.

A typical smallish haddock for the day, caught by Trevor
Trev and a haddock

Fine day, not quite so fine anglers
An angler selfie…

We’d a bonus or two along the way – Ian pulled in the only mackerel of the day and a wee scorpian fish, whilst I was very happy to see a small plaice on the end of my line. None of the haddock were big although most made it above the size limit, unfortunately for them!

The one and only plaice of the day, and my first of the year
Small plaice (although the more I look at it the more I think “hybrid”?)

As the tide slackened off so did the fishing, so we headed a few miles down the coast to give a local wreck and some reefy ground a try.

Trev's Icelander 18 can show a good turn of speed on a calm sea
Powering across the sea

Fishing here was slow but we managed a couple of decent codling mixed in with the small stuff. The best made about 5lb 12oz, although it looked a bit of a bruiser with its battered tail. Loads of tiny ling, as Trev demonstrated with a double at one point.

A rather beaten up codling from a small inshore wreck
Fish of the day

A lingfest! We had a lot of small ling during the day
A plague of ling!

A shift back to our original marks as the tide ebbed had us hitting plenty more dab and haddock. I managed a haddock threesome and Ian brought three dab aboard to cement his reputation as the flattie king of the day.

Haddock three at a time
Haddock threesome (pic courtesy of Trev)

Ian catches dabs three at a time
Dab-meister in action

We didn’t leave it too late to head in to harbour, as Trev had to retrieve the Icelander and Ian and I had a fair journey to get home.

Retrieving Trev's Icelander 18 at the end of the day
Retrieving at the end of the day

Species for the day – cod, ling, haddock, scorpian fish, plaice, dab and mackerel – not bad for the east coast. We didn’t make it to 100 haddock for the day but were getting within striking distance of that number. Loads of dabs too, and a decent sprinkling of small codling and ling.Share this:
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Early Days at Dunbar

Ian’s had a fish or three up the coast at St Andrews over the past few weeks, but he’s had to work hard for them. For my part I resisted what little temptation there was to pop my boat into the North Sea until yesterday. However, sun, no wind and a day off coincided and I found myself joining the Edinburgh bypass around 7, before the traffic gets too silly. Destination Dunbar, for the first time in many months.

Out of the harbour and heading east, I hit a steady swell from the NE as I ploughed on down towards the wreck I planned to fish. I saw a few potters working their creels, but no sign of any other angler out in the sunshine.

Beautiful calm sea and looking towards the Bass Rock from a spot a few miles east of Dunbar
A hard day to be afloat!

Being a lazy sod I stuck with the wreck all morning, mainly because experience suggests that it is the best place to find early season fish, before their numbers explode at the end of May. I kicked off with baited hokkais which chipped away at some smallish codling and an even smaller ling. Down in the depths of the ironwork I go hit by a much chunkier fish, which had me thinking about a decent codling until a silvery coloured Pollack appeared at the surface. It went over 5lbs but you wouldn’t have guessed that from the lacklustre fight it put up.

A pollack and a codling caught early season from a wreck a few miles from Dunbar
Pollack and a codling

Unhooking a small pollack just before returning it to grow a bit plumper
Unhooking a small pollack

Switching over to my spinning rod and leadhead I continued to pick away at both Pollack and small codling. Eventually I upped my Pollack total to six, all of which looked a bit manky, presumably post-spawning. Size-wise the biggest was 6lb 4oz, and it was the only one that put up a proper fight. Sadly, it had completely engulfed my lure and was so deep hooked that it ended up in the fish box.

With my rod hooped over as he dives, this pollack makes it clear it doesn't want to come aboard my boat
Fish on!

Using the net to bring a decent inshore pollack aboard my boat
Netting a decent pollack

This is a nice but thin pollack from Dunbar and looking decidedly weatherbeaten after spawning
Pollack of the day

I headed inshore for a final drift off the lighthouse as I filleted the fish I’d kept. Just one more little codling took a jellyworm I’d left fishing as I wielded the knife. Incidentally, the Pollack I’d kept had no fish in its stomach, only 4 or 5 crabs, which suggests there aren’t that many baitfish around yet. All the Pollack were well underweight for their length, about 10% or so, and pretty battered looking.

A view of Dunbar harbour entrance from the seaward side
Returning to Dunbar

Leading my boat the last few yards to the slipway at Dunbar harbour
Back at the slipway

Total of 12 codling (most undersize), 6 Pollack and a little ling. Quite happy with that as a result for about 4-5 hours fishing, and I expect things at Dunbar should pick up quite quickly now. Famous last words…Share this:
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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…Share this:
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