Friday, 2 December 2011

Review of 2011

I can't believe that another year is nearly over. In the run up to Christmas I like to take a break from fishing and spend time with the family.

I suppose I miss the "closed seasons" that used to be a part of the coarse and game angling year. I think that this field sport our ours is all the poorer for it. An enforced break is the ideal time to reflect on the years fishing, sort out the tackle and make plans for the year ahead. Newbies will never know the excitement that came with those first casts of a new season.

During 2011 I fished on 47 days, most but not all of which are written up in this blog. Six days were spent game fishing with seven days coarse fishing. 2011 was totally dominated by the call of the sea. I failed to catch a fish on only three occasions. 

Although I had intended to do some midweek coarse specimen hunting during 2011, I had not realised just how much time is needed in planning trips and preparing one's equipment when almost every trip is targeting a different species.


I fished in 16 counties during the year (Cornwall, Dorset, Hampshire, Sussex, Kent, Essex, Somerset, Gloucestershire, Warwickshire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Argyl, Wrexham, Carmarthenshire, Gwynedd and Anglesey). 

At the start of this year my target was to reach 90 species during 2011, so I am pleased to end the year on 98. The weather frustrated my plans with at least half of all the charter boat trips I booked, being cancelled due to strong winds. I suspect that if the weather had been kinder on my October holiday that I may well have reached the 100 a year early.

If the windy weather was the low point,  some of the fishy highlights are pictured on this page. I must take the opportunity to thank the charter skippers, fishery owners and tackle dealers that have helped put me on fish. One of the nice things about fishing is the "brotherhood of the angle" and I have met loads of great lads (and lasses) who have added greatly to the enjoyment of my fishing trips.

I was so focussed on the 100 that I surprised myself when I counted up my species count for the year. I managed 73 species of which 54 were saltwater species. I was not aiming for a high species count, merely looking to add new species. It has made me think about just how many species it might be possible to catch in 12 months.  

 Only two species of fish that I had previously caught in British waters have eluded me so far in this challenge, the blue shark and stone loach.

In addition to the species I caught, I witnessed and missed out on a further six species: brill, common dragonet , butterfly blenny, greater weever, red mullet and trigger fish.

The largest fish I caught during 2011 was a "back breaking" common skate of 202lb, the smallest a two inch motherless minnow.

I have drawn up a list of over twenty species that I hope to target during 2012 which will take me to the West coast of Scotland, Wales and the Southern coast of England. I suspect that I may make several trips down to explore the species rich waters off the beautiful and rugged cornish coastline. Hopefully in 2012 I will get out a couple of times on average each week, life really is too short to let work get in the way of your fishing.

My hitlist for 2012 comprises of porbeagle shark, blue shark, black mouthed dogfish, small eyed ray, stingray, three bearded rockling, tadpole fish, brill, megrim, streaked gurnard, greater weever, butter fish, viparious blenny, pilchard, canary goby, butterfly blenny, yarrells blenny, smelt, shad, red mullet, trigger fish, powan, gilthead bream, red bream and stone loach.

I like to set targets each year and have set myself two for 2012. Firstly I hope to reach my challenge total of 100 species from British waters in three years during the first half of the year, and add a few more as the year progresses. Secondly to make life interesting I am also going to see whether I can beat my 2011 total of 73 species. 

I have thoroughly enjoyed my fishing during 2011, have you? Join me in 2012 to see whether I finally reach my target of catching 100 species of fish from British waters, and find out just how many species is it possible to catch in just 12 months?

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

100 Species of fish from British Waters - The Rules!

A number of people have asked me what the rules are behind this challenge! I am sure some of my non fishing friends see it as an organised event rather than as a personal challenge. I thought it might be fun to put down my thoughts and and come up with a draft set of rules for anyone embarking on this mad challenge.

Use of a Net?

In Discovery Channel's Rod Race Matt Hayes and Mick Brown included Stone Loach and Bullheads in their species count caught with their trusty friend, the child's fishing net. The logic behind this was that these mini species were almost impossible to catch on Rod and Line.

In my view if a fish isn't caught on rod and line by fair angling it doesn't count. I suspect most anglers would be in agreement on this one?


Matt Hayes and Mick Brown also counted common, mirror, koi and ghost carp as distinct species. In reality these have all been selectively bred from the original fully scaled wild carp. Biologically they are all King Carp. Likewise Golden Tench, Golden Rudd, Golden and Blue Orfe have been selectively bred for the ornamental market.

Some trout fisheries offer the opportunity to catch Blue and Golden Trout, which are colour variants of the Rainbow Trout.

 It is true that some of these variants behave differently from their wild coloured parents. Golden Trout, for example, are very wary, this might be because they are more vulnerable to predators being brightly coloured, or it could be that being visible more anglers target them? I have enjoyed targeting and catching most of these variants over the last couple of years but do they count?  In my view to count Tench and Golden Tench as two species would be wrong, however I would feel comfortable as counting a Golden Tench as a Tench if I hadn't caught one. I suspect that a majority but not all anglers would agree with me. Despite in my view these not counting I still intend to target an Ide and Golden (Rainbow) Trout to complete my "variants" collection.


Hybrids are produced where two species interbreed, this usually occurs in freshwater where both parent species share the same spawning grounds.

I enjoyed a whole summer fishing for massive Roach/Rudd hybrids on Hollowell reservoir in Northamptonshire, catching fish to 4lb. They are a beautiful quarry, fighting harder than either of their parents, likewise the few large Roach/Bream Hybrids I have caught have also fought harder than their parents.

Trout and Char species can also be deliberately crossed to produce Tiger (Brown x Brook Char) and Cheetah Trout (Rainbow x Brook Char). The Tiger Trout is rarely stocked these days and the Cheetah has passed into the history books. The appallingly named F1 is a selectively bred cross between the King and Crucian Carp.

I know that Dave Park did not count hybrids towards his tally of 100 species. I vaguely recall Mike Thrussell (and I apologise to him if my memory falls me) stating that he includes hybrids within his species tally. Who is right? I have sided with Dave Park and chosen to exclude hybrids.  Incidentally Mike Thrussell had caught 103 species at the last count (so by either measure, Mike has exceeded 100 species). I suspect anglers would be divided on this one and that it is a personal choice as to include or exclude hybrids.

British Rod Caught Record List

The vast majority of fish species that can be caught in British Waters appear on the listings produced by the British Records (Rod Caught) Fish Committee. Ireland have their own record listings.

However some fish list are thought to now be extinct in Britain, for example Walleye and Burbot. Some species are still to be caught, most years a new saltwater species is added to the list, certainly if I caught a new species from British waters I would count it!

Some species are protected and the lists have been closed, for example Powan. To discourage illegal imports distorting the record lists, records for some coarse species have also been closed, for example grass carp and wels catfish.

Likewise new records for alien species established in British Waters will not be accepted. These would include the Motherless Minnow (or sunbleak) and the Topmouthed Gudgeon.

British Waters

Wikipedia states "Great Britain refers to England, Scotland and Wales in combination, and therefore also includes a number of outlying islands such as the Isle of Wight, Anglesey, the Isles of Scilly, the Hebrides, and the island groups of Orkney and Shetland. It does not include the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands which are not part of the United Kingdom, instead being self-governing dependent territories of that state with their own legislative and taxation systems."

Although I have not fished in Ireland, the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands I would have no qualms in counting any species landed in these waters despite these not being politically part of Great Britain or indeed the United Kingdom. Mike Thrussell counts species landed in Irish waters and if it is good enough for him it is good enough for me.

Although it is true that when wrecking from many of the South Coast ports that you could be fishing closer to France than England, as long as I sail from and return to a British port the same day I am happy to include any species resulting from the trip.

So here are a set of proposed rules for would be species hunters:

Rule 1 - Fish must be caught on Rod and Line by fair angling.
Rule 2 - Selectively bred colour and scale variants do not count as separate species.
Rule 3 - Hybrids do not count (not sure about this one)
Rule 4 - The species should appear on the BRFC listings. However established alien species in freshwater or "new to Britain" saltwater species can be counted.
Rule 5 - British Waters include English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish inland waters and surrounding seas
Rule 6 - Saltwater boat fishing trips should leave and return to a British Port on the same day

Unfortunately family and work commitments combined with strong winds at the weekends mean that I appear to be stuck on 98 species until next year when I hope to finally reach my target of 100 species from British Waters in three years. However with the 98 species I have caught during the first two years of this challenge and another two species I had caught earlier in my fishing career (Blue Shark and Stone Loach) I have caught a total of 100 species from British Waters.  To date only Dave Park and Mike Thrussell have stated that they have caught 100 species from British (and Irish) waters, so that makes me the third to declare that they have achieved this (although I am sure others have achieved this and chosen to remain anonymous).

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

A Bite Adventure!

The sea around Penzance is a species hunters paradise with a number of species that are rare in other parts of Britain. After a couple of days where we couldn't get out due to strong winds, on the Wednesday I finally boarded Bite Adventure skippered by Chippy for a species day. Chippy was confident he could add several species to my challenge total.

We sailed close to the Cornish coastline towards Lands End, where we would be drifting a range of marks. However the swell out at sea meant that some reef marks would not be fishable today.

The rig was a three foot flowing trace of twenty pound fluorocarbon to a size 2/0 hook baited with a long thin strip of mackerel.

We needed 10oz of lead on the first mark so I started with the 12lb outfit. Chippy advised that we were likely to catch haddock and and sure enough within a couple of minutes the rodtip announced the arrival of my first haddock. Another small haddock soon followed along with a cod. Despite being on virtually every fish and chip shop menu, haddock are an unusual catch in British waters.

We moved to the sand banks off Porthcurno to drift for turbot, brill and a vast range of other species. I dropped down to a 6lb outfit as only 6oz of lead was required to hold bottom. I finally managed to catch my first tub gurnard, a very pale fish compared to those I had seen off Weymouth.

A couple of greater weaver fish (a Porthcurno speciality) were caught by other anglers. I managed to add a small turbot and some mackerel, although I did miss a couple of rattly bites, possible weavers?

A short session was spent at anchor, legering sandeel in the hope of a small eyed ray. The rays were not playing, however I managed another tub gurnard and some more mackerel.

Our final mark was further offshore over a reef. I joked to Chippy that he had brought us out to a top pouting mark as that was all we could catch. The next drift I hooked into something that tested the light outfit was to its limit, as a hard fighting fish repeatedly made long runs for the bottom. Chippy suspected a pollack, but the bite was definately breamy.

The culprit turned out to be a couches bream weighing 4lb 12oz, the lad next to me landed a slightly larger couches at 5lb 1oz. This warm water visitor to the British Isles is more at home in the Mediterranean and is at the northern most extent of its range. Apart from the Channel Isles this is the only place where you have a chance of seeing this beautiful fish.

Thanks Chippy for getting me that bit closer to the 100, I will definately be back for another bite adventure.

Monday, 10 October 2011

The Buggeration Factor!

Fishing is not like Golf! Despite rain, snow, wind, heatwaves or fog you can still hit the little white ball into the hole a few hundred yards away. The hole doesn't decide to move and rarely is a golf course closed to golfers!

Fish do move in response to the weather and may decide not to feed. In the case of the silver tourists the salmon and sea trout the river may be literally devoid of your target fish. The hole is no longer there!

Indeed the following fishy saying has a lot of truth to it.

"If the wind is from the north, do not sally forth,
If the wind is from the east the fish bite least,
If the wind is from the west the fish bite best,
If the wind is from the south it blows the bait into the fishes mouth"

One thing I have discovered about sea fishing is that strong winds are to be avoided unless you are a shore bass or cod fanatic. Shore fishing suffers as fish move offshore as the shoreline colours up.

Boat fishing is even more affected. This year upwards of 50 percent of my planned boat trips have been "blown off" and cancelled, with a number of other trips being limited to inshore waters.

During this latest holiday I only managed to get out on three occasions with two Penzance trips and a sharking trip out of Milford Haven cancelled.

I did get in some shore fishing hoping for a gilthead bream and a three bearded rockling but despite my best endeavours and help from Chippy and Richard at Camborne's County Angler  I failed to catch either species. I had to settle for some ballan wrasse, pollack, shore rockling and a strap conger. Thanks guys, I am sure that your advice will result in the target species responding when I return next year.

The weather had one last surprise for me, with dense fog making it difficult to find my way off this rock mark in the dark. I spent a worrisome ten minutes trying to locate the route from the rocks up to the cliff path above. Golfers normally make their way safely to the nineteenth hole in broad daylight!

The wrong sort of weather has always been used by fishermen as an excuse for not catching. In this species challenge it has become my buggeration factor!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

RNLI Two Day Species Competition

Day 1

 I had expected to be blown off, so it was a pleasant surprise when Colin confirmed that we would be fishing, albeit with an early start as the winds were expected to build during the day. We drew for our place on the boat and had the rules explained to us before Flamer 4 sailed out to sea in the early morning light.

We started by drifting the back of the bank and experienced some superb black bream fishing with over forty between us in little over an hour. I struggled at times to get my baits down to the bottom past the mackerel.

Colin decided that we would have a few drifts across the shambles before moving inshore. The competition fanatics tried for sandeels whilst I baited with a long thin mackerel strip hoping for a brill. On each drift my rod top rattled flatty style, however the hoped for brill turned into two dogfish, mackerel and a tope (worth loads of points apparently........face, points, bothered). Dodgy Dave managed a plaice and a turbot and was pronounced a real angler by Colin.

A session drifting followed, with wrasse of all colours and sizes being boated. My male cuckoo was the prettiest, with Stephan catching the two largest ballans, both four pound plus. Rather than anchor the mud as originally planned Colin took us to a nearby reef, where bullhuss, conger and ling obliged.

A Chinese meal rounded off a very enjoyable day, however I suspect the other diners were pleased to see the rowdy party of anglers leave.

Day 2

Strong winds meant that we were restricted to Portland Harbour and the surrounding area. We started by drifting for wrasse under the cliffs before anchoring up on the muddy bit. Once again I suffered the ignominy of seeing other anglers land the dragonet and butterfly blenny I was targeting. My tiny pieces of rag worm only attracted small smooth hounds and a solitary goby.

We then anchored on the red band spot, by bouncing sabikkis around I managed to tempt three along with a raft of assorted gobies including at least black, and sand gobies.

A drifting session on the Portland entrance saw pout galore and loads of wrasse before a blast on the ships horn signalled the end of proceedings.

Richard Ferre was the winner, with Andy Collings the runner up. Other awards were given for most species, best fish and weakest link. Yours truly finished mid table.

Again to many species were caught to list on the labels as blogger has a 200 character limit for labels!

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Dracula isn't the only creature with teeth in Whitby!

Whitby is famous for its associations with Dracula, Bram Stoker wrote the novel whilst staying in the town. Many of the locations used in the book can be found in Whitby such as the churchyard where Mina first encountered Dracula in lupine form.

As well as the locations some of the events are based on real life. In the book, Dracula arrived in Whitby when the Demeter ran aground. Just prior to Bram Stoker arriving in Whiby the Russian vessel Demetrius had ran aground with only one survivor.

Twice a year, in April and October, the town is invaded by Goths, and one bed and breakfast even supplies garlic to hang on your bed posts!

Dracula might be fictitious but vampires are not the only things with teeth to be found in Whitby. Whitby is one of the main charter ports in the north of England and famous for its wreck and rough ground fishing where cod, pollack and ling can be targeted with the occasional haddock, halibut and even porbeagle shark being landed.

I had booked a days' wreck fishing on Shy Torque skippered by Rich Ward to target ling. On the way out we stopped at Bell Buoy for mackerel and again they were few and far between, luckily I had brought a few frozen mackerel and garfish with me as an emergency bait supply.

The sea around Whitby is littered with wrecks, most of them dating from World War 2. As the weather was good Rich steamed out to an offshore wreck 18 miles from shore.

I rigged up with a 30lb class rod as I would be working a baited pirk. To minimise snagging I replaced the pirks' treble hook with a single 6/0 adorned with a luminous green muppet. A whole fillet of mackerel provided the bait. Ling are predators with teeth and need to be targeted with big baits.

The technique is to jig the pirk up and down with short movements of the rod. As you drift across the wreck occasionally line needs to be let off to ensure the pirk continues working just above the wreck.

On the first drift I landed a small ling, and although a few fish were landed in subsequent drifts, Rich soon moved to hopefully more prolific wrecks inshore. Despite a number of moves it was a slow day, but with four ling and a cod to my rod I was well pleased with the result. I can confirm that ling make superb eating, firm and meaty, like cod but better.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Portland Species Competition!

Today, I was a guest angler amongst the regular Friday Species League crew aboard Colin Penney's Flamer 4. Although I not personally into match fishing of any kind, you can learn a lot from match anglers. The fishing today would be restricted to the areas in and around Portland Harbour, a species hunters paradise.

After a short sail we arrived at Colin's secret muddy mark where the rare red band live. These unusual fish live with their heads sticking out of the mud grabbing shrimps and the like. A set of mini sabikkis were baited with tiny strips of squid ready for the first of several short drifts. By the time we moved we had acounted for more than twenty red band fish between us. They are truly stunning looking fish being a pinky orange colour with electric pinky purple edging the fins. If Barbie was a fish she would be a red band fish. I also managed a goby or two including a Jeffreys Goby (it has an elongated 2nd ray on its first dorsal). Unfortunately I managed to drop it back in before getting the photo.

We spent some time drifting a range of marks including the harbour entrances. The rocky areas were wrasse city and a wide variety of species were caught including ballan, cuckoo, goldsinney and the rare ballions wrasse. Tompot blennies, gobies, mackerel, scad and pollack also showed.

Gurnards manly tubs showed, I only managed to catch reds........again! Several anglers caught dragonets which again evaded my hooks. Andy Selby from Weymouth Angling even managed a couple of red mullet, the first Andy had ever caught. Two trigger fish were also landed.

In retrospect I should have fished short flowing rigs to keep all three baits on the bottom, rather than a paternoster rig. I am back for a two day competition in October which will allow me to test out my hypothesis. Most of the anglers on board had homemade bait containers divided into sections and hung on the boats rails, which immediately means less time is spent baiting up and more time spent with a bait in the water.

The planned drifts over the wreck of the Hood had to be abandoned due to the presence of divers.

Our final mark was at anchor over a muddy patch where I targeted butterfly blennies and dragonets on tiny hooks baited with slivers of ragworm. I became a smoothound pup magnet landing four of them along with some dogfish.

Richard, the angler next to me landed the only butterfly blenny of the day. Again I suffered the indignity of seeing others landing dragonets and tub gurnards.

What an enjoyable day in good company. I added three species to my challenge total and missed out on five others (butterfly blenny, dragonet, red mullet, trigger fish and tub gurnard). In excess of tweny species were landed by the crew and I ended the day with 14 species, in fact too many to record as labels on this blog item (blogger has a limit of 200 characters)!

Monday, 29 August 2011

Right time, wrong Plaice!

Although I failed to catch my target brill or tub gurnard, I have just enjoyed a couple of enjoyable days fishing onboard Colin Penney's Flamer 4. Two days were spent drifting the mussel beds and the Shambles Bank out of Weymouth with a short spell at anchor.

Weymouth is is the place to catch specimen plaice and Colin Penney is the man to put you onto them. Don't expect to catch numbers of fish but where else do you have a realistic chance of a specimen place of over 5lb. Whether you can catch them is another matter!

Although I improved my personal best with the 3lb 12oz plaice pictured, this was believe it or not only an average fish amongst those landed. Whilst I was there fish of 7lb and 6lb 14oz were landed along with a few fives.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Pompey and the Pop Art Ray

The undulate ray is perhaps the least common of the ray species targeted by anglers, indeed all undulates must be returned by law. Marine biologists are currently in the midst of a scientific survey of the undulate ray in the Solent to understand more about this rare and beautiful fish. The albeit limited data collected so far, suggests that these rays stay in the same general area throughout the year, much like their bigger relatives the common skate.

I travelled down to Portsmouth the night before as I had an early start ahead of me. My hastily booked bed and breakfast turned out to be a recently decommissioned care home complete with emergency night nurse alarms, that story will have to wait for another day!

I boarded Sea Juicer skippered by Rob Hicklin ready for a 6.45am sail. Portsmouth is an interesting place to sail from, as there is lots to see on the outward journey. There are a number of naval craft including the oldest commissioned ship in the navy, Nelson's Victory.

As well as the ships there are some interesting buildings. The Spinakker Tower at 170 metres in hight dominates the skyline as you leave Portsmouth Harbour. The Palmerston sea forts were built in the Solent to protect the eastern approaches to Portsmouth Harbour in 1859. One of these forts is apparently being developed as luxury apartments, presumably complete with helipad?

On the way out we stopped off to catch some mackerel for bait, however despite trying three marks only a handful of mackerel rewarded our efforts. I am convinced that substituting the lead weight for a shiny pirk improves the catch rate, especially when the mackerel are thin on the ground.

We drew lots for our fishing position and I drew a peg at the stern of the boat, generally considered the best spot for downtiding.
Rob explained that we would be anchoring in sixty foot of water over an area of broken ground off the Isle of Wight, where we could expect to catch smoothhounds, thornback and undulate rays. We arrived just before slack water and were told to expect rays in the first hour of the flood and again when the tide slackened off at high water. I tackled up with 20lb class gear and a four foot trace of 80lb line with a 4/0 hook which was baited with a fillet of mackerel.

Within a few minutes I had a series of vicious bangs on the rod tip and landed a small tope. We were to land several small tope between us during the day and lose a couple through bite offs.

You can usually tell when a ray bites, as there are a few gentle knocks as the ray settles on top of the bait, followed by the rod pulling over as the fish moves off. As Rob predicted an hour into the flood I landed a specimen 16lb undulate ray. The markings are exquisite, indeed Trevor Housby called them the "pop art ray". Other anglers added a couple of small thornbacks to the bag.

Rather than stick with the rays I decided to change tactics hoping for a common smoothhound. As we all know, smoothhounds love crab. These hounds hadn't read the rule book and my crab was ignored whilst squid produced. Baiting up with squid (a la Colin Penney) I didn't have to wait long before catching a couple of starries, the largest at 9.5lb was my best to date. I had a couple more smaller hounds including my first common before the bites dried up. Despite fishing through the flood the easing of the tide towards the end of the afternoon failed to produce the expecting run of fish.

Once the tide eased I unsuccessfully fished baited hokkais hoping for a tub gurnard. Other anglers who fished light had some black bream, scad, mackerel and a red gurnard between them. It was one happy angler that sailed back into Portsmouth Harbour that evening.

I spent a few hours fishing at Brighton Marina the following day hoping for a Red Mullet or Twaite Shad. Ideally I would have liked an evening tide rather than high tide at 4pm. I fished a two hook flapper with lugworm on one rod and floatfished mackerel strip on the other. Mackerel and garfish are great sport on light tackle, and although not numerous, I caught enough mackerel and garfish to feed the family and supplement my bait freezer. One of the problems with trying to mix styles is you do neither well and I missed a couple of bream bites on the legered bait. To avoid the wrasse I fished about twenty yards out and landed four small black bream, the angler next door asked me to ID his gurnard which turned out to be a small red mullet! With the wind strengthening I called it a day at 4pm as waves were starting to crash over the breakwater.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Britain's Bonefish

Llangenith beach on the Gower Peninsula is a surfers paradise. Set between two rocky headlands this long sandy beach faces the full force of the Atlantic.

Although surf beaches are associated with bass I was after the rare golden-grey mullet for which Llangenith is famous. Golden-grey's are the smallest of our three mullet species and can be identified by the golden spot on the gill cover. They can be found between the first and second breakers in water only a couple of feet deep, here they feed on marine invertebrates dislodged by the backwash.

My research suggested that the first hour of the flood would be the best time, so my plan was to fish an hour before low water and through the flooding tide. Using polaroids I hoped to spot the mullet working along the water table, indeed I had been told that they often tail like bonefish. I headed left from the access point away from the surfers and holiday makers.

My barbel rod was matched to ten pound line. I had tied up some two hook flapper rigs with 15 inch hooklengths and size 6 aberdeen hooks which would be loaded with maddies. The first couple of maddies were threaded up the hook shank and the remainder were head hooked, so that the bait resembled a medusa's head.Using a light lead of an ounce or two would mean that the rig would only just hold bottom and occasionally the lead would shift in the tide.

Second cast in and the tip rattled resulting in a flounder which put up a reasonable fight on the light tackle. A cast just beyound the second breaker resulted in a more positive bite with the rod pulling right over. This fish zoomed all over the place at speed. I was surprised how hard a pound golden-grey mullet fights. These mullet really are Britain's bone fish, If only they grew larger.

As the tide flooded I added a further five flounders including a double shot, a pristine bass of perhaps two pounds and a second golden grey mullet, slightly smaller than the first. My final fish was a small turbot

I really enjoyed my first experience of fishing a surf beach, it is really exilerating standing in the surf with the waves crashing against your legs.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

You are Absolutely Topeless!

Gethyn Owen is one of Wales best skippers and I recently enjoyed four days fishing aboard My Way. After talking to Geth I decided to target a cuckoo wrasse, tope and spotted ray for my species hunt. Rather than recounting on a daily basis the fish I caught I thought that I would take the opportunity to give the reader a flavour of what the fishing is like off Holyhead.

With the exception of the superlative smoothound fishing available in late May the fishing here falls into three main categories.

I have a soft spot for wrasse fishing and most days will see an hour or two spent drifting over a variety of rocky marks around south stack or behind the breakwater. The lead should be heavy enough to keep the line vertical, every rock can be felt through the braid and line should be given or retrieved as necessary to maintain contact with the bottom. Expect to lose some tackle but lifting the lead a couple of inches every five seconds miminises snag ups. Resist the urge to strike the rattles and merely lift into the wrasse when the tip pulls right over.

A section of ragworm is the best bait, I added a three quarter inch strip of mackerel to increase the chance of a cuckoo wrasse. After Geth demonstrated how to catch a cuckoo wrasse on the Monday, I finally caught a female cuckoo on the Tuesday. Mackerel strip results in pollack and coalies. During my trip the crew caught ballan, cuckoo and corkwing wrasse, poor cod, pollack, cod and scorpion fish on the drift. Although we spent some time feathering up mackerel they were thin on the ground, I managed a sprat (literally), others added codling and the largest launce I have ever seen.

Colin the seal has visited the boat on a regular basis over the last few years and associates Geth with a free meal. Talking of free meals a trip on My Way includes lunch, sausage butties, chilli, cake and cheesecake were on offer during my visit.

The banter on board is excellent. Don't leave a rod unattended..... you never know what you might catch. Young Ryan's running commentary on the fight with the rubber chicken that Geth had put on the end of his line was priceless.

During neap tides if the weather allows, it is possible to fish the Holyhead Deeps for a few hours around slack water. According to Geth the fishing was poor, despite this on the Monday most anglers aboard managed a double figure bullhuss. A couple of spurdog and three pack tope were also landed. Tuesday was slower, again three few tope were landed. I was still waiting for my tope leading to Geth commenting that I was absolutely topeless at fishing. On Wednesday I was part of a three tope tangle, mine was the smallest by far. We all had plenty of bites although the dreaded LSDs abound.

Ever noticed that when ladies are on board they usually outfish the blokes. I am sure Annie's huss is bigger than mine. Geth had a photo of a huss with the number 17 on it's flank which I refused to accept as genuine, after seeing the number 3 on another huss I am now not so sure!

When the wind or tide doesn't permit a trip to the Deeps there is a variety of inshore fishing at anchor available. As I was aiming for a spotted ray I fished with a three hook flowing trace with size 4 aberdeens baited with a three inch thin strip of mackerel.

As well as a couple of spotted rays, I managed red and grey gurnards, LSDs, codling, dabs, whiting, bulhuss and a starry smoothhound. I had thought that I had jammed out a common but on closer investigation it had faint spots. Other anglers added plaice and thornback rays to the bag. After the rays I scaled down and fished baited size 12 sabikkis hoping for a dragonet.

A light boat rod covers the inshore work, I used a boat quivertip which both maximises fun and gives great bite indication. A twenty pound class rod covers the deeps where up to two pounds of lead are required to hold bottom.

I would recommend a trip out with Geth to anyone, as even a poor day's fishing is entertaining aboard My Way!

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Mr Skate!

Oban is the place to catch a common skate and Ronnie Campbell is the best skipper in town. Ronnie has built up his knowledge of these waters and the giant skate over thirty years.

On the way to the skate grounds we stopped off to feather up some mackerel by a small island, where some seabirds had obviously been working earlier. Despite several moves the only mackerel we caught were on the small side. Ronnie had bought some frozen mackerel along as insurance as mackerel had been thin on the ground.
 Ronnie explained that skate could be found on large flat areas of mud in depths of up to 750 feet. We anchored up in 450 feet of water in the Firth of Lorne.

The skate rods were prepared and a frozen mackerel minus the tail was hooked through the head and lowered down slowly to the bottom. Although appearing crude the end rig had been developed over a number of years, a three foot trace of 250lb mono was followed by an eight foot rubbing leader. A tube boom made from electrical piping held the 2lb lead and allowed line to run freely on a take.
 I rigged up a second rod which would target a black mouthed dogfish or spurdog, any LSDs (Lesser Spotted Dogfish) would be kept for bait. Unusually according to Ronnie, I proceeded to catch a string of LSDs. Normally spurdogs and black mouthed dogfish would outnumber the LSDs. Two skate rods were rebaited with half a dogfish and would now be safely left until the end of the session. Even retrieving a dogfish from that depth is hard work.

After enjoying a white tea without milk (in England we call it black tea!) the ritual of periodically checking baits continued.

Eventually as the tide started to strengthen I had a more positive bite and Ronnie stated that I had hooked a spurdog. It proved to be a male of around 4lb and was quickly followed by another.

Three thirty and the rachet clicked on one of the skate rods, I would like to say screamed but I would be lying. Four hundred and fifty feet below me a skate was clamped to the bottom, no doubt throwing mud over its wings to resist the pressure being applied from above.

Initially I was unable to make any line and we had to resort to hand lining a foot of line at a time to get the skates nose up. Eventually I was able to start pumping the fish up to the surface. Sometimes I would lift the rod and not even put an inch of line back onto the reel, and on one occasion the skate dived back down to the bottom.

 It was clear that this was not going to be a spectacular fight, but a brutal battle which quickly took it's toll on my back despite the butt pad and shoulder harness. After a glorious day the heavens opened and I was going to get soaked.

Ronnie warned that once up in the tide the skate was likely to go downtide of the boat and we would be hard pushed to get the fish back up to the boat. True to form the angle of the line shallowed as the Skate spread its wings and used the tide to its advantage. Fifty yards from the boat the skate surfaced, line was slowly being taken and things were looking grim. Time for that old salmon anglers trick of walking the fish, I clamped down on the spool and walked slowly back up the boat towards the cabin before running back whilst retrieving line. If you keep a constant pressure on and don't drop the rod tip the fish should start to swim against the current/ or in this case tide. It worked, I was now reeling in fast to keep pace with the skate. Eventually a huge fish surfaced by the boat. Ronnie opened the door of the boat, to land the skate a gaff was placed in the edge of the wing and together we slid the fish sideways through the door. The gaff hole would soon heal as evidenced by recaptures. This fish was unusual in that she didn't already have a tag and was covered in huge leeches.

Years ago skate would be killed and taken back to port for weighing on a gantry, followed by the inevitable big white hunter photos. In these enlightened times fish are measured and the weight calculated on this basis. Ronnie's initial estimate of 180lb proved to be well short, as the vital statistics 86 inches from nose to tail and 67 inches from wing tip to wing tip gave me weight of 202lb.

Mr Skate had made another anglers dream come true............. thank you Ronnie!

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Small boat fishing on Loch Etive

I am lucky in having a wife that lets me indulge in my passion for angling, even when we are on a family holiday. I had arranged for us to rent a small boat for the afternoon on Loch Etive.

After getting some advice from Doug the boat owner, we motored out from the stone jetty at Taynuit up the loch towards a fish farm, where I tied up to a bouy.

The target species were a spurdog and a grey gurnard and I set up two rods, one with a fillet of bluey on a flowing trace and the other with small strips of bluey on a mini hokeye rig.

The weather had been changeable for the last few days, and today was no exception. We had motored out in the rain and within minutes the sky cleared and we were bathed in glorious sunshine.

It didn't take very long before the rod tip nodded on the hokeye rig and I had my first grey gurnard which was quickly followed by another. I then took a decision to change to a set of large hokeyes and larger baits to increase my chances of a spurdog.

Although I was getting bites I couldn't connect, I suspected that either LSDs (lesser spotted dogfish) or small fish were demolishing my baits without getting themselves hooked. A foul-hooked small codling seemed to back up my theory. After several missed bites I found myself connected to an obviously larger fish which I unfortunately lost in a snag. Apart from a baby thornback ray, which Jacky thought was extremely cute, that was it.

I had enjoyed my first small boat session, and the "skippering" was as much fun as the fishing.