Fishing Dunbar

A nice cod from Dunbar
A nice cod from Dunbar

It’s my local harbour and I suppose familiarity breeds contempt, but Dunbar never really captures my imagination. Given it produces large numbers of codling together with decent ling and pollack this is a bit unfair. In fact, a visiting angler will probably enjoy quality fishing over the summer months.

A cracking inshore pollack and fully fighting fit - this 8lb 6oz fish was caught off Dunbar and took a leadhead lure.
Pollack – 8lbs 6oz

Aside from codling, pollack and ling, Dunbar produces mackerel and coalies, sometimes in plague proportions. Other species include wrasse, flatties, pout and occasional oddities such as catfish and Norway Haddock. Porbeagle shark inhabit the area at times as well, if you’re feeling ambitious. Fish are not large (I’ve had 4 double figure fish – all ling – in over 30 years fishing), but can be numerous.

A redfish, or Norway Haddock, taken from a reef a few miles NE of Dunbar
An East coast novelty – Norway Haddock

Most fishing is done on the drift using simple baited lure rigs – for example hokkais (with or without a baited pirk). Soft plastics on a leadhead, such as jelly worms or shads can be very effective for pollack and codling. Bait is mainly mackerel, but worm can be a killer at times, especially for species like wrasse.

A fine 12lb ling from Dunbar, off an inshore wreck
12lb ling from Dunbar

I often use a small sliver of mackerel – perhaps 12-15cm x 1cm on the end of a 1.5-2 metre long 15-25lb fluorocarbon trace. Very effective just left to fish by itself a few feet off the bottom on a spinning rod.

Most marks are close in along the shore (generally within 0.5 – 1 mile of the shore, between Bass Rock and St Abbs Head), although there are a few areas offshore that I fish occasionally with variable results. If pushed I would concentrate on the area between Barns Ness light and Torness, but there are plenty of other options. Wherever you go, expect to lose gear.

Dunbar Harbour

I am generally single handed when fishing Dunbar and this does present problems with launch and recovery. It’s a very crowded harbour and trailed angling boats are really pushed towards the bottom of the heap. Space to prepare for launch is very limited (1-2 boats) so you have to move quickly.

I’m used to the slip now and it doesn’t present too many issues for me. However, you need to be aware of two 45 degree doglegs that basically mean you may be launching at right angles to your starting point. It depends on the state of tide, but perhaps 2 hours before/after HW you encounter the first turn, and maybe 3-4 hours after HW you meet the second. Entertaining for the the tourists unless you’re reversing skills are good!

Leaving Dunbar through the Harbour Bridge
Lifting Bridge – the slip drops at the far side

I would not recommend launching at HW without someone to hold on to your boat whilst you park the trailer. Basically you’re surrounded by rock with no safe spot to leave a boat, although fine if you have a boat partner with you. LW (or LW +/- 2 hours on a big tide) can also be tricky, although a ramp has been built to extend the old slipway. This used to end abruptly under the lifting bridge, leaving you feet above the water at LW. I haven’t tried the upgraded version but will update this when I do.

ALL trailer parking (as of 2021) is now across the lifting bridge and behind the storm gates just past the battery.

Generally, I launch before 7 to try and clear the crowds, and ideally before 6. Where possible, I launch and recover in the middle two hours of the tide. Life is much easier if there are two of you, although I’d still avoid the top or bottom hour of the tides. Launch fees (cash) were about £15 in 2021.

The harbour website is kept fairly up to date, so might be worth a check beforehand – yacht craning days, harbour fetes, dredging, etc. could all complicate your day.

With the slipway at Skateraw now back in action (see below), that might be a viable alternative for me next year.

Wrecks

The Forth is carpeted in wrecks, mainly from two world wars, and I’ve found and fished many of them. Generally, I’ve been disappointed in the results as few seem to hold fish consistently. Those that do have all been inshore, notably the River Garry wreck.

A typical Dunbar codling
A typical Dunbar codling

Every couple of years I give the wrecks out towards May Isle another bash, usually with only a few pouting to show for it. It’s good fun doing a bit of wreck hopping but it would be nice to get a better reward for my efforts.

My advice would be to stick inshore if you want to catch fish, although it’s definitely exciting to see a wreck emerge on the sonar. Incidentally this is also true for the offshore reefs. Although these are quite impressive (up to 50 feet high), I’ve never had anything except small ling and codling. Norway Haddock do inhabit one or two of these reefs but are purely novelty species and are small. Shedloads of mackerel at times, though, and probably a snacking area for porbeagles.

Skateraw

Skateraw lies a few miles east of Dunbar but is quite a popular spot for kayaks and SIBs. It provides access to marks between Barns Ness and Torness and is sheltered except from a N/NE swell. It’s a very good alternative to Dunbar and free to use, although the car park is fairly small.

A Nice Codling from a SIB, caught off Skateraw, Dunbar
A Nice Codling from a SIB

There is a slipway at Skateraw which (Dec 2021) has recently been renovated. However it runs onto fairly soft sand above HW so a 4WD is probably essential. Note that there is a 2.1 metre barrier on the access track! (thanks to Ash for details on this).

Pollack and Cuckoo Wrasse wander over a reef near Torness, Dunbar
Pollack and Cuckoo Wrasse wander over a reef near Torness

You can view all my posts on Dunbar here.

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4 comments

  1. hi iam going to stay with family over the festive period in dunbar. i dont drive so would be looking to do a bit of fishing locally. have have you any ideas on location and baits i could try?

    1. I don’t do too much fishing at Dunbar during the winter, but the beaches will hold decent numbers of flounder casting close in (10-30 yards) after dark, as well as smallish coalie and the odd schoolie bass. The Tyne estuary used to fish well for flounder at this time, with some biggish fish taken, but it’s several years since I last tried it – rag used to do well here, whilst lug/mackerel was fine for the beaches at Tyningham and Torness. In rough weather with a heavily coloured sea you can take cod from the Torness inlet gantry, as well as the occasional one from the beaches. Rock marks, including Dunbar harbour, will hold a few codling in stormy conditions but you do need to take care…

      Given you’re not driving I’d be inclined to try whichever of the Dunbar beaches is closest to you, early flood tide, and after dark. Do not overcast – 90% of the fish are 10-20 yards out. Mackerel baits will work OK, but I prefer a 2 hook rig with one mackerel, one lug bait. If you’ve rag bait (dug, not the farmed stuff) that can be very effective.

  2. Ive just bought a 2.6 mt waveco dinghy and have a 2.5 hp engine i have been out in the forth at granton twice and was going to try dunbar , is the fishing good out from the golf course to the lighthouse , how far out do you recommend, I found a nice launch site south of the harbour,

    Cheers Tam, Edinburgh

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