Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Salmon chanted days

I've been a member of a wonderful salmon club that has access to some superb stretches of the river Tyne, for 17 years now. A dear friend of mine, Richard, introduced me to the club back in the mid 90's. I fished as his guest on a few occasions & was then lucky enough to become a member in my own right. Richard provided me with the most amazing detailed insight into how to fish various marks on the river. It was watercraft second to none. His intimate knowledge would be so beneficial to me over the years that I have fished for salmon. But never in my wildest expectations did I ever think that I would get 2 red letter days on the Tyne the likes of which I have just returned from.
Despite a long drive from the south east of England, I arrived back in my town of birth late in the evening. The drive had been not too stressful but the roads always seem busy no matter what time of day you drive. A quick chat with my parents & I hit the sack for a few hours kip. My friend Kevin had assured me that conditions on the Tyne would be ideal. A small flood earlier in the week had brought some much needed water into the system & fish would be moving. Weather conditions looked favorable as well so things were looking good. Reels had been checked, clutches set, rods ready and the all important trebles sharpened on my lures. My preferred lure of choice is the traditional IW blair spoon in 16gm & 22gm sizes.
I cursed the alarm at 5:15am-but not half as much as the thoughtless drunken scum that were shouting outside my parents house at 1:30am that night. Clearly the single celled pond life that had been on the lash at some local watering hole, had no regard for anyone who might have been sleeping that night. So I was not too impressed when the alarm clock woke me up at 5:15am having only had a few hours sleep-thanks to the anonymous pond life a few hours earlier. A quick coffee and a wash & I was ready to drive up to the Tyne. I decided to put my waders on to save me a few minutes once I got there. Note to self-it's not much fun driving in waders! The sun was just popping up from behind me and the sky looked clear & starting to get colour. The temperature was a numbing 5 degrees-which is pretty tropical for the North east! I arrived at the club hut at just before 7am and 2 anglers were already set up & about to start. Greetings shared, we went our separate ways. They went up river, I chose to go to my usual haunts down stream. The river did indeed look good. It had been a year since I last fished that river & last time I fished it it was in partial flood & the colour of drinking chocolate. This time, the river was the colour of tea without milk-the perfect conditions for salmon fishing in my opinion. It was also a perfect height as far as my own preference was concerned. Some people like the river a bit higher, some prefer a bit lower, but for me, it was perfect. The 'Goldilocks' syndrome!
I had already decided to start my days fishing at what has been quite a productive mark for me. It's a small overgrown outcrop opposite a big rock that lies almost in the middle of the river. It has been thought that at some point way back in the past, this rock served as support for a bridge that once crossed this part of the river. There was a slight mist coming off the river & it was very calm & settled. I unfurled my landing net in readiness and sorted out my tailer just in case I hooked something very large. Some years ago I was caught out by this and lost a very very big salmon through my own stupidity at the net when I should have used the tailer. I wouldn't make that same mistake ever again. The anticipation of that first cast was building and I had already clipped my favorite blair spoon model (22gm) onto the snap link swivel. I was using 17lb invisibraid and an 11 foot abu zeus spinnig rod. The blair spoon soon whizzed across the Tyne on it's first speculative trawl. A large fresh fish splashed behind the rock just to my right. It's a good holding spot but a real bugger to get a good run past with the spinner-the current always brings it on too fast a swing past. But I tried a few chucks in the direction of the fish but to no avail. A few small sea trout also lept about for good measure and I'd only been there 10 minutes. I kept spinning away & despite a few fish moving, nothing took an interest in the blair spoon. It was time for me to move on down to my second favorite mark.
It's a very deep pool- a long straight stretch of inky dark water which is a holding area once the salmon have run up the fast flowing stretches. In places it must be 15-20 feet deep & there are some really big boulders on the bottom. I have found it is best to spin quite deep here-slow & deep. Net was unfurled & tailer was laid next to it & the first cast went out to the far bank. A slow retrieve produced nothing but the second cast was half way in on it's retrieve when it was suddenly stopped with a very determined thump. This was followed by a good nod, indicating a fish had taken the lure. What followed next was a very boring, very unsalmon like fight lasting about 2 minutes. The net slipped under the fish & my first salmon was landed. A nice fish too at about 10.5lbs & very silver. Good start to the day.
Just as I landed the fish, I noticed a good fish move to my right. Having dispatched my first 'keeper', I decided to try for the fish showing to my left. As this was a holding area, the fish don't tend to move too quickly. Good job as well as the undergrowth was wild & it took a good 5 minutes to crawl & pick my way through the brambles, holly & folliage. As I was wearing breathables, I didn't want to have a stray bramble or rose thorn sneak through the waders & create a nasty leak so I took great care to make sure I pushed anything that looked like it had a thorn on it, out of the way. Of course, nets don't like being dragged through the undergrowth & it took several attempts to get the net past all the fauna. My target was a slightly submerged rock which has just enough showing to get a foothold on-about 6 feet out from the bank. I stood on it & then had to work out how to get a cast out as the tree branches had grown a lot more since I last fished this spot. I had to manufacture a cast slightly to the right which was duly hammered by the fish I had seen. A good scrap ensued & another low double figure salmon was in the net, unhooked & then released. It was a fresh fish but having had one fish on the bank already, and the time was not yet 8am, I felt confident of more fish, so I returned the fish unharmed.
I then moved back to the mark I landed my first fish from, and then moved up about 30 yards left to another of my favorite spots. It's tricky on the old feet because it's a very angled rock just in the water. Your feet end up pointing at about 45 degrees downwards so you need to be sure you have a good foot hold. Half a dozen casts here and then right under the rod tip as I was bringing the lure out of the water, another salmon grabbed the blair spoon & took off. Wow. That fish was netted & returned-again around the 10lb mark. This was turning out to be one hell of a day. It was time to move again and off to my favorite mark.
This was a mark down a very steep bank & a relatively short wade out to a rock that in ideal river height conditions, is just showing above the surface. Today, it was ever so slightly submerged but it's location was given away by a tell tale riffle of the surface. The wade however short, is not an easy one & the large stones & mini boulders on the river bed make wading difficult. A wading staff acts as a great 3rd leg but it is still a bit of a chore wading out with net, tailer, rod & wading stick. The way to fish this particular mark is to aim for some over hanging tree branches on the far bank which is quite shallow-about 4-6 feet & then slopes away quite steeply t o about 12-15 feet. The area is strewn with huge rocks & boulders & it takes a lot of water craft knowledge to know where these rocks are & to cast & retrieve between them. I have had many good salmon from this mark & also lost my biggest ever salmon which easily went 30lb, because I tried to bet it instead of tailing it. I've lost many fish in my angling life, but none have hurt as much as that fish did. I had battled it for almost an hour & my arms were shaking like a nervous jelly. Having finally got the brute into the shallower water behind me, I lost my concentration, stabbed at it with the net & made a complete goof of it, netting the spinner & allowing the mighty salmon to swim free. To be fair, the salmon had earned it's freedom but that fish would have been the club record & still haunts me to this day. And so I stood in the river, eagerly looking at the far bank & wondering, just wondering if there was another zoo creature sitting there?
The short answer was no. Not today. 15 minutes of casting blair spoons produced nothing-but far from being despondent about that, I remained positive & waded out of the river, back to the bank & then a short walk to what is probably the best spot on the entire beat. It looks like something out of the Canadian rockies doesn't it.
It's a prime spot where fish show constantly & there are 3 distinctive channels that they run up in order to get further up the river. The knack to fishing this mark is to wade out about 5 yards to a distinctive rock that should be just visible in ideal river height conditions. You can then cover the whole part of the river from this rock. However, it's a very narrow rock to stand on & it's about thigh height so needs a bit of careful manoevering to get onto.
Once I'd got to this mark, I decided to take stock for a few minutes, have a cup of hot chicken noodle soup & just observe the surroundings. You can learn so much just from sitting & watching. And so I sat quietly, listening to the birds & enjoying the beautiful late summer sun and even had chance to take off a few layers of clothing. It was now a t-shirt day! The net was made ready & placed strategically on a nearby rock that I knew I could get to if I got a fish on. The tailer was placed next to it. I then waded out to the rock & slowly climbed on top of it. I'm not as young as I used to be & I'm not as steady on my feet now as I was when I first joined the salmon club so I'm a bit more nervous when I fish this mark. I continued to stick with the 22gm blair spoon & searched the waters hoping to find a running fish. There were fish showing all over the place. They were coming up in pulses-about 20 minutes between pulses. There would be alot of activity for about 10 minutes, then a lull & then the next batch of fish would start showing. Fish began to show almost instantly & I felt really confident. It wasn't long before the slow constant retrieve was stopped in mid retrieve by something. The line tightened & the rod bucked. The clutch began to give line as the fish started to realise it was hooked & a good fight began. I had to get off the rock in order to even think about landing the fish so that was the first job on my mind. Having done that & still maintaining contact with the fish, I made my way slowly bank wards & got my net handy. After about 10 minutes, the fish slid over the net-another fine fish of about 9lbs & this was returned to the river.
I returned to  the fishing & was soon into another fish-which turned out to be a good sea trout that gave a great account of itself before leaping well clear of the water & then spitting the spinner out back at me-that was the end of that. I fished on & had several more 'bump offs' from other fish before latching into another good salmon at lunchtime. I actually saw the take-it came right up behind the spinner-fins breaking the water before positively taking the lure at the end of it's swing and then tore off. Once more I had to wade back to the bank & get the net ready & a superb silver salmon slipped into the net. I decided to keep this fish as my second & limit fish for the day & this knocked the scales round to 11.5lb.
A fine mornings fishing by any standards & now I had a pleasant walk back to the car to meet up with my good friend Kevin where we shared a pork pie & a chat on the mornings fishing. Kevin had enjoyed his own battles on the fly earlier but had unfortunately lost the fish.
Having satisfied our hunger & quenched our thirst, we both headed back off to the river to see what the afternoon would bring. It was now glorioulsy sunny, and quite warm indeed. We started at a pretty little run which Kevin likes to cover with the fly-and a fine fluff chucker he is too. Having covered the water superbly, Kev worked his way down to a large rock that is a favoured lie of salmon. And then, as he was covering the water expertly, Kev began to loose his footing & then for some strange reason, everything began to happen in slow water. Kevin slowly sank up to his armpits & bobbed back up to the surface again. Soaked, he waded out & I couldn't believe what I had just seen. Luckily, Kevin had brought some spare clothes (he'd fallen in on previous trips usually when I'm there!) and once he had got dry clothes on, we fished on into the afternoon. The very odd fish was showing but no where near as prolific as the mornings activity. And so at around 4pm we decided to call it a day and go back home for a well deserved rest & reflection on the days fishing. I spent a good few hours later that night at my parents, filletting the salmon & my mother then bagged & tagged the filletts up ready to bring back down to my home. I was going to spend the next day back on the Tyne again-I was not expecting to have a similar experience as the previous day.
I had enjoyed a reasonable nights kip & thankfully there was no repeat of the drunken scum that had selfishly woken up the neighbourhood the previous night. The alarm clock went off again at 5:15 & I was up & at it again & on the river at 6:45am. I had the river all to my self this time & it was cloudy & cooler than the previous day. My dilemma was where to start. Should I start at the same place I did the previous day, or do I go straight down to the 'Candian' mark & see whether the fish were still running. It was a no-brainer. I decided to go down to the Candian mark & it was surprisingly quiet. I fished until 8am when almost as if someone had flicked a switch, the salmon began to show and I started to feel confident. At about 8:30am, the blair spoon was nailed by an agressive fish & that turned out to be a nice sea trout of around 5.5lbs. I hadn't had a sea trout for a good few years so that was a grateful addition to my tally. I continued fishing & got several more bump-offs which frustrated me. Then I hooked a good fish- a very good fish & it had a big tail pattern. It was a strong fish & belted off down stream-which is not a good sign as it was heading towards the rapids. It wasn't on long before the hook was thrown. I hadn't done anything wrong but it's just one of those things with fishing. But I carried on regardless & my efforts were duly rewarded at just after 10am when the spinner was stopped again by a very angry fish. It was a very determined fish that ran me all over the river for a good 10 minutes before I finally got the net under it. It was a cracker of a salmon and at 10.5 lbs, another double.   
I then decided to do something completely alien & completly against every fishing sinuse in my body. I looked at the water, looked at the fish I'd just landed & decided to call it a day! I stopped fishing. I've never done that before in my life. But you know-I just felt that things couldn't get any better. I'd landed a good many salmon in the last 48 hours & now taken my 4th fish out. Fishing on would, in my opinion, only spoil things & I wanted to remember my trip with my last catch.You don't get many sessions where you can end successfully on a fish-especially a double figure salmon, and so having convinced myself that it was the right thing to do, I packed up my stuff & walked the half mile walk with a smile wider than the Tyne itself. It was such a fantastic achievement & one I will remember for the rest of my life. It's going to take some beating & although it's a long drive for me to get from my home in East Anglia to the Tyne, it's sessions like this that make it all the more worthwhile. For me, that is likley to be my one & only salmon trip of the year & I look forward to next years trip & wonder if I can get the conditions right for that trip too.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

After the lord mayors show.

After such a stunning days fishing with Steve & Kev on the previous day, it was always going to be hard to follow that and the mood in the caravan on the sunday morning was slightly downbeat. It had been a somewhat disturbed night at times with very strong winds battering the sides of the caravan & the rain sounding like someone throwing stones at the outside of the carvan all night. It was cold as well, and as I cooked up the last of the bacon, sausages & eggs, we discussed the plan of attack for fishing on such a vile summers day. Indeed, the key word here was 'summer'. It was in fact the back end of June & here we were on the west coast of Scotland, staring at gale force winds and driving rain & a daytime temperature of 9 degrees. Had this been April or October, I wouldn't have minded, but the end of June? It just didn't seem right & I couldn't get my mindset into the fact that this was summer.
The full English breakfast went down well, and we began to sort out the gear that we would need for the days session. Watching tv was ruled out so we got our gear together & prepared to do battle against the elements. I had decided to err on the side of caution & wore 7 layers of clothing - a wicking base layer, followed by a thermal body suit, then a tee shirt, another mid layer, a fleece shirt and 2 - yes TWO rain coats. Over the top? I don't think so. I had wanted to wear full neoprene chest waders but I let Steven & Kevin talk me out of that as they figured that I'd sweat like a pig on the long walk to the mark we had decided to fish-the same mark as the previous day. I must admit they had a point, but I did like the idea of keeping dry. But I let my mind rule my heart & I opted for light waterproof over trousers in a vain attempt to compromise lightness yet maintain dryness. I was wrong!
It was a predictably wet walk-very wet. And the wind sounded like a constant express train in your ears. Standing up was a challenge, let alone walking. Now I like watching Bear Grylls. I think he's great & admire him so much, but I tell you, the conditions we endured on that walk to the fishing mark would push even his reserve to the max. It took an age to walk to the rock mark. It was then that I discovered that the lightweight waterproof over trousers weren't. And my supposedly water proof walking boots were not. In fact, I would have been altogether drier if I'd jumped straight into the sea which was by the way, in a state of 'getting rough'. And then there was the cold. Bone chilling, skin numbing cold. Combined with the rain & the wind, it was not a million miles away from how we would fish during the depths of winter on the north east coast for codling. But now it was the end of June & it was a strange way to fish in summer.
We arrived at the location  & began to set up the gear. Even that was a struggle. With the extra layers on, everything took so much longer to do so I had decided to stick to simple rigs & hopefully not have to re-rig too often during the day. And so we began to fish the area. It was predictably hard. The fish were not as abundant as they were the previous day which is hardly surprising given the drastic change in conditions. All credit to Steven & Kevin-they battled away in the elements & caught pollack throughout the day. Another ling came in, this time to Steven & it was a good fish at about 3lb. Finding any sort of shelter or protection from the elements was almost impossible as we were on a very exposed rock ledge. It was a simple matter of put up & shut up. But it's hard to keep spirits up when conditions are so extreme. We were all wet & all cold but despite the conditions, we'd still managed to catch. Steven ended his day with a cracking 6lb 6oz pollack
which justified all his efforts & was a well earned reward for such brutal conditions. Kevin averaged a good 4lb catch rate & he too got fitting reward for sticking in at the task. I finished the day with a 9 pollack haul with the best fish knocking on the 5lb mark. Photos were rare on that day given that it was so windy & wet, but I did manage a few snaps for the photo album. It was a brutal walk back to the car & it was made all the more hard by the condition we were all in. I'm sure Steve & Kevin were looking forward to getting into the dry caravan & tucking into a hot dinner-which was going to be sausage casserole. I have to say that it was the best meal of the 4 days, and it was a perfect meal to warm us all up. We stoked up the small gas fire in the caravan & started to attempt to dry out the clothes. It wasn't going to work. But it was our last night so we really didn't mind that much. We agreed that this had been probably our best trip to date even though the weather had done it's level best to spoil our last day. We had discussed what we hoped for on the journey up & what tactics we would use and I think it's fair to say that we succeeded in most of what we wanted. We fell short of the elusive double figure pollack that we have so longed for, but it's likely that we may well have lost fish that came very close to that. The biggest landed was 7.5lb and with a second biggest fish at 6.6lb, which by any standards was a great result. An average fish of 4lb and plenty of happy memories for us all to take away. Job done.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Red letter day

It is an over used title for sure. I'm sure most of us as anglers have had at least one red letter day. That special fishing trip where we caught unforgettable fish or weight of fish. I've had a few red letter days in my fishing life. I've had spectacular codling sessions from the shore when conditions were perfect, I've had great cod sessions when conditions looked unfishable, but I adapted to those conditions & had some great catches. I've also had superb salmon sessions with one memorable red letter day when I had 2 salmon & 2 sea trout in half an hour-the salmon were 12 & 14lb & the sea trout 6lb & 4lb. Those days will live with me for the rest of my life, but the latest red letter day on the west coast of Scotland ranks up there with the best of them.
The day started like the previous morning-a few sleepy looking characters waking up to a full English breakfast and a good cup of coffee. We then discussed where we would fish. Conditions were quite different to the previous day-gone was the clear blue sky & light winds. We now had over cast skies, a bit more wind & it was a lot cooler. Steven has always been of the opinion that sunshine & flat seas are not good for pollack fishing. After the previous days disapointing session in those conditions, I was coming round to agree with him. And so we all agreed we would have to return to the mark we fished when we arrived. It would mean a bit of a hike across fields again, but we'd have daylight this time & we knew the area we would be fishing.
Which leads me onto the tackle we use. I haven't mentioned the specific gear we use for our pollack fishing-it seems like a good time to go in to that. My own personal choice is for a good beefy carp rod-12 ft 3lb test curve as standard. I have found the TF range of carp rods suit these needs perfectly as these give me great feedback & power when I need it. For the reel, I prefer a Shimano fixed spool reel. I find these are dependable, strong & have superb clutches. I've never had any problems with shimano reels & have used them for 20 years now. Choice of line is extremely important for us & I've been a fan of braid for many years now. It's direct response is just wonderful. I'd just invested in some whiplash braid but I was finding that it wasn't quite responding well to hard casting. I decided to go back to using one of my spare shimano reels loaded with fireline-which I find is a much more resistant to my style of hard casting. But that's down to choice. I prefer to use 17lb braid-purely because of habit. I used to use 17lb nylon or co-polymer & the diameter was just right to fill up the spool on the reel with. Obviously with braid you get more bang for your buck, but I've never changed the breaking strain & so I stuck with 17lb mainline. The business end of the gear is as simple as you can get. There's no point making anything complicated for pollack. You have to get down deep for them & you are fishing rough ground. If you get too fancy with rigs & end tackle, you just end up asking for problems. So keep it nice & simple. I use 1oz ball leads straight on the main line with a small bead running up to a swivel. A 2 or 3 foot rubbing leader is then tied direct - usually about the same breaking strain as the main line. If you are using frozen sandeel, a 3/0 or 4/0 hook is tied direct. I have experimented with using the leads on a sacrificial drop line-still running through the main line but in the event of a snag, there is a good chance the weight will snap still leaving you connected to the fish.
Kevin prefers to use an 8 foot beach caster tip section & reducer butt coupled with a 6500 size multiplier & 30lb braid. I used to think that was too much for the fish, but Kevins approach gives great security & can easily deal with one of those unexpected biggies that we are sure we will connect with. It works for Kevin.
Steven uses a similar set up to me-carp rod, fixed spool reel & also 30lb braid. As it would turn out, the lads choice of braid was probably a wiser choice than mine.They had that extra security to increase their rubbing hook leader to 20-25lb whereas I was limited to 17lb or less. A good haversack or hiking backpack, some containers to carry weights, hooks & odd bits and a good assortment of lures & you are good to go. As far as the lures went, we had built up a substantial assortment of different & favorite lures over the years. My recent favoured lures were of the slug type. There are slug-n-go eels that give superb action in the water, and there are also hogeys which are similar in make but give an astonishing action when worked in the water. Fished texas style, they give a little bit of extra help when fished deep as the hook is fished upwards & therefore avoids immediate hook ups in weed & rocks. We also love using redgills with red & natural a firm favorite but we had also got some newer versions to try-blue mackerel & glow in the dark versions. Would they work on the pollack? We'd have to wait to see.
We packed the haversacks with an assortment of lures, some waterproofs & food & drink. I'd brought some Asda pork pies for lunch on the rocks. We loaded the car with the gear & set off for a relatively short drive to the mark we fished 2 days earlier. Although it was overcast & cooler than the day before, it was still a good day to fish. As we drove up to the small car park area, we happened to bump into the farmer we saw on the night we arrived. We thanked him for such wonderful information & he divulged some further information on the better of the 2 marks. We were getting very excited about this & we had high hopes of a good day ahead.
We set off in search of the mark-through the fields, looking for landmarks & avoiding the rabbit holes that were abundant in the area. As someone who has suffered more than his fair share of sprained ankles, I am extra cautions about walking over ground like this as one misplaced step will result in me spending the next few hours in some casualty department waiting to get one of those expandable ankle socks. I really didn't want that this time.
After an hour of pretty stiff walking, we had failed to find the better mark & so we had agreed to go to the mark we started at 2 days previously. It was a fairly comfortable mark to fish and didn't seem that brutal on the end gear. Having had a very good couple of hours there previously, we all wondered if it would produce the same sort of fishing over a longer spell & during the day rather than in the evening. The sea was a little choppier than before & it was certainly not t-shirt weather so a coat & jumper were needed to keep the cool wind off. We chose our first cast baits & lures & got ready to send the first casts seaward. I was starting off with rubber lures again-a hogey this time. I also had flashbacks to the seal attack & scanned the sea for any sign of a bobbing head-just in case. There seemed to be no sign of the seal & so we aimed our cast seaward & crossed our fingers.
The first few casts produced nothing. Was this a good idea? Then, suddenly Kevin & Steven got some action-the frozen sandeels were doing their job. Then my shimmer eel got hit by my first pollack. Steven & Kevin were getting almost a fish a cast. I decided to move slightly down from them onto a more exposed point which was on the corner of a bay. That worked for me. I started to get some hard takes from pollack averaging 4lb each. We were also having to deal with changing currents. One minute the current was pulling slack, then it began to pick up to a much stronger level & we then found our lures and weights getting hung up on a ledge that was about 10-15 yards out. But the pollack were also sitting on this ledge so it was a trade off. Speed up the retrieve before the ledge & avoid the inevitable snag, or keep the lure working & tempt a take from the pollack. The frozen sandeel continued to keep a steady rate of hits for Steven & Kevin whilst I persisted with a variety of latex immitations. Steve & Kevin were also at an advantage to me because they had sensibly stepped up their mainline to 30lb braid which gave them a much greater chance of bullying a fish out of the ledge & kelp. Kevin's beachcaster tip set up also enabled him to really bully stubborn fish out.
Steven decided to change to a red redgill & this was an inspired change. 8 fish in 9 casts came in from that. Kevin continued to haul out pollack on his reliable & beefed up outfit & then produced a small ling on a frozen sandeel. That was a first for us-we'd never seen that before. By mid afternoon, after several hours of arm wrenching pollack action, I called for lunch-much to the annoyance of the lads who were reluctant to give up their fish a cast average. But the promise of an Asda pork pie was enough to get them both to have a rest for 20 minutes & we chatted about the mornings action. For sure, we'd not experienced anything like this before and we were keen to get started after lunch.
However, things went strangely quiet & for the first 5-10 minutes, we didn't get any hits. I was beginning to think that lunch was perhaps a bad idea & then the fun started again. The fish were back on the take & we were getting 2 & 3 ups.
The tide hit top water & the actions slowed down, but once the tide began to shift & the current picked up again, the fish were still keen to take. We all moved up & down the rock mark, finding different platforms to cast from. By about 7pm, we'd noticed a very positive drop off in takes & we decided to call it a day. A red letter day at that. We all reckoned we had landed 30 fish each-and that was being conservative. At an average of 3lb a fish and allowing for the odd bigger fish that we had all had, we estimated that we had landed 300lb of pollack between us. By any standards, that is a phenomenal haul and made the walk back (not as boggy as the previous visit) all the more sweeter. And to round off the day, circling over the car was an eagle. We're not that good at wibbly-wob spotting so none of knew for sure what kind of eagle it was, but it rounded off the perfect day. And for tea, it was a home made chilli, washed down with a few bottles of cold beer. What better way to finish off the day. The only downside was the forecast for our last day-end of the world stuff. Gale force winds and persistent rain. It was not going to be a pleasant day to finish our short trip on, but we'd come to fish & fish we would.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Perfect weather, not so perfect fishing

June 2011
The 'wind' had died down during the night-or at least it had died down in Stevens bedroom! We woke early on the Friday morning and it was time to refuel our bodies with a good old fry up. Bacon, sausage & eggs were hastily rustled up & served along with some fresh cups of coffee. Outside, the weather had turned summery-cobalt blue skies, a few drifty little clouds & a very flat calm looking sea. We had a picture perfect setting in our little caravan & once we'd got breakfast out of the way, we assembled the gear for a full days hard fishing and loaded the car up ready to set off for our next chosen mark. We couldn't set off before taking a few choice photos of the harbour we were situated in, so we could remember it in all it's glory.
An hour later, we were pulling up at a very remote spot. It looked simply gorgeous. A yacht was slowly making it's way round the headland & it was just begging to be photographed. We were being given the full treatment today from the area we were going to fish. If nothing else, it was going to be a nice day to fish. But before that, we had the small matter of a few steep hills to negotiate. Normally I wouldn't mind, but when you have a days worth of tackle with you at an area notorious for it's snaggs, plus spare rods, food & drink, those hills become mountains. Half an hour later, we were setting up our gear again, ready to do battle with pollack again on day 2 of our 4 day expedition. Steven & Kevin had opted to start off with frozen sandeel-a wise choice at this location given it's reputation & the devistating effectiveness of frozen sandeels on pollack. As with the previous night, I had opted for rubber (lure that is, not attire). I'd selected a shimmer eel which given the extreme depth we'd be fishing, I figured I'd be at an advantage with the strong sunlight & reflectiveness of the latex lure. A quick dip in 'pollack crack' - aka sandeel oil, and I was ready to cast.
As with the previous day, we all cast out together & I must say we were all tense winding in that first cast. But we had nothing on the first cast, or second. In fact, despite the perfect weather, the pollack were not playing. Then after an hour, something grabbed my frozen sandeel (yes, I'd changed to the real deal and also boosted it's appeal by giving it an oil bath). The line went tight & then sizzled off the reel. The rod kicked & buckled under the strain & I knew this was either another seal attack, or I was connected to something substantial. Several agonising minutes passed & I had to work hard to bully this fish out & stop it from getting it's head into the kelp & rocks. I was still suffering from a serious shoulder injury & my arm was aching & I had to adapt how I played the fish as I just couldn't give the rod as much clout as I normally would. Then, out of the crystal blue depths I got my first glimpse of what I was connected to and I knew it was big. I shouted for the drop net & Steven duly came to my assistance. As the fish wallowed on the surface, I could see this was my best pollack by a long way. I was nervous as Steven skillfully guided the net towards the monster and I slid the fish over the lip. Stevens timing was perfect & he hauled the fish up the side of the rocks and we then got our first look at the prize. It was obvious that this was indeed a very nice fish & we weighed the fish in the net. We had a small audience-a dutch couple had stopped to watch us & they were clicking away on there cameras. The scales went on & the fish & net were weighed. Taking into account the weight of the net, we put the pollack at 7.5lbs. Cameras were at the ready & a few trophy shots were taken. Bragging rights were mine now. My priority now was to get the fish back into the water quickly & we put the great fish in the drop net & lowered it back into the sea. It took a few anxious seconds but the fish slipped away out of the net & bolted straight down into the clear blue water. So, that was the target we had to beat. But for some reason, the fishing was agonisingly slow. Kevin picked up a few nice fish-all between 2 & 4lb. We worked through the lures-redgills, shimmer eels, frozen sandeels, shads. They all got an outing. But despite all our efforts, we just couldn't get any action. We decided to pass an hour by fishing for wrasse. Kevin was the first to lure these beautiful fish out of the kelp with float fished ragworm. Steven then got into the action and these were the first fish he had caught this day.
I managed to winkle out a small wrasse but went back to trying to tempt pollack. The sea state changed slightly as we moved into the afternoon but it was still a very pleasant day to fish. But still the pollack were elusive. By 4pm, we were more than frustrated & Steven suggested giving it one more hour before calling it a day. This was unheard of. Steven is a formidable pollack angler. He never blanks. But here he was looking at a blank session at a mark that had been so productive for us in the last 2 visits to it. But, as with all the best trips and with time running out, Steven had his day saved by a passing pollack that probably nudged 3lb but as far as Steven was concerned, it had saved his blank and all credit to him, he fished hard & persevered & this is the ultimate lesson to all of us. We fished on with slightly renewed enthusiasm, but we still were unable to catch any more pollack. By 5pm we all agreed it was time to say goodbye to what was usually our most productive mark. Whilst it didn't produce numbers of pollack, it did produce my best pollack to date & that was worth it's weight in gold. I was assured that it took an hour to drive back to the caravan, but I thought it only took 20 minutes. Someone reckoned I was alseep. We all tucked into a good hot curry-another home made effort by me and the lads agreed that it was a fitting end to the day. The lads ended the night in a local drinking establishment whilst I sorted out my gear ready for the next day. The forecast was not as good and it was not looking good for a couple of days ahead. But we'd have to see what the next day would bring.....

Friday, 8 July 2011

'Seal' of approval

June 2011
I haven't really had much chance to get fishing down here what with work commitments & a busy family life. I'm getting older & feel older but the urge to fish is as strong as it was 30 years ago. I'd channeled all my enthusiasm into my annual fishing holiday with my 2 great friends Kevin & Steven. For 20 years, we've been searching for big pollack along the west coast of Scotland & having spent many trips to a mark in Dumfries, we recently decided to seek out new & more challenging marks along the west coast of Scotland. To give complete credit to my friends, they have done hours or extreme research into water depths, locations and the such like. For my efforts I look at different reports & blogs from other anglers fishing that area.
But we've found an area that has yielded considerable numbers of good pollack over the last couple of years and an average fish weight around 3lb. The area is wild & has huge potential & having had 2 trips up there, we were all eagerly anticipating this years 4 day trip.
Steve drew the short straw & was elected driver-mainly because it was his nice car we were going in & the cost of additional insurance cover for Kev & myself was cost prohibitive. I was charged with making breakfast butties for all of us and once the car was packed with more rods than your average tackle shop, and an array of tackle, we set off for an interesting drive through some of the most beautiful scenery this country has to offer. A few short coffee stops along the way helped to break up the drive & by late afternoon we arrived at our home for the next 4 days-a caravan. The setting was idyllic if perhaps the weather was not. But our spirits were high & so was our confidence & we had a lot of banter to keep us going. I was cook for the 4 days & had already made up the meals for us. Beef stroganoff was our first meal & having filled up on that, we headed straight out for a few 'speculative' hours looking for a new mark & hopefully having a few casts.
We decided on a location near to a favorite mark of ours and as we made our way along a dry rutted track, a local farmer happened to pass by & we got chatting to him. We would be indebted to him for the goldmine of information he divulged to us & gave us directions to 2 potentially great marks nearby. With a quickening step, we set off in search of a mark that the farmer said "wasn't quite as good as the other mark" but we reckoned we'd save the better mark for a couple of days later-given the weather forecast. Forty five minutes tramp later through some interesting boggy fields, and we got our first glimpse of a very tasty looking mark. It had everything that we were looking for & we couldn't wait to get set up. It was mid evening-around 8:30pm. It was still very much light & conditions were not what you would call summery. There was a bit of a breeze, it was chilly, over cast & the sea had a bit of a slight chop on. We all got set up & ready to cast. I had opted to use a slug-n-go lure as this was a perfect representation of the sandeel that the pollack feed on. I'd also invested in a bottle of sandeel oil which I have to admit is a bit of a throwback to my pike fishing - having utilised bait attractants and oils during the winter pike fishing. Kevin & Steven had opted for artificial lures as well-shimmer eels were given the job of catching the first fish. And with that, we all stood on our chosen mark & prepared to cast. A quick dip of the slug in the sandeel oil & I felt I had something better than the real mccoy.
Steven had a crack off-not a good start. Kevin & I made safe casts & Kevin soon got into the first fish on his first cast. A promising start. A nice 3lb pollack was duly landed & I had a second cast. Steven was still busy setting up his next rig & my second cast produced an aggressive take. The fish battled hard & it had been a long time since I had had a such a hard fighting fish. But as the fish was close to being landed, all hell broke loose. The pollack went absolutely nuts, bending the 3lb tc rod to it's absolute limit. My mind began to rush ahead & started to wonder if this was possibly a double figured pollack-the holy grail for us. Then, as I started to make line on it, Kevin yelled out "shark" and I had a sudden panic. Shark? Here? I suddenly got a vision from jaws. I don't know why-I just did. I peered over the rock ledge just in time to see half a ton of spotty blubber with a twin tail, chasing my prized catch. It took a second or two for it to register but I realised this was no shark, it was a seal and it was after an easy supper. Sadly for the pollack on the end of my line, supper was most certainly going to be it. And with one skillful turn, the seal engulfed the pollack-estimated to be an easy 4lb. The line briefly screamed off the reel before the inevitable snap & with that, it was goodbye to one of my few slug-n-go lures but more importantly a good pollack met an unfortunate end. Much to my mates amusement, I had now adopted a new nickname of 'Seal'.
Steven had now tackled up & was getting his casts away and was soon into the action. Kev & I were also getting a fish every 2nd or 3rd cast. Conditions were good & as the evening wore on, it began to get to that magical dusk time & there was a marked increase in takes & were enjoying superb sport. We easily landed a dozen - 15 pollack each & all bar one was safely returned. Luckily for us, the seal did not return. Maybe it was full after chomping on my first pollack? Before we knew it, it had gone past midnight & we decided to head off for the car. Headlights were duly switched on & we followed 'kev-nav' which is our usually reliable guide. Kev-nav was following a simple approach-straight line. The downside to this was the fact we had to straddle a couple of barbed wire fences. That's fine if you have long legs like kev-nav, but for those of us with not quite so long legs, it puts at serious risk, the family jewells. Kev also guided us through some very squidgy fields. I had donned my lightweight waterproofs & they were keeping my legs dry. Steve & Kev had not brought any waterproof bottoms & so they got wet legs from the long grass.
By 1am, we were enjoying a much deserved cold drink back at chez-caravan and a few packets of pork scratching later, we were all set for a good nights kip. Unfortunately for Steven, I had packed a remote control fart machine & I had hidden the device in Stevens bedroom. I do offer my apologies to Steven for this, but it did provide a glorious 10 minutes of rib aching fun as Kevin was convinced Steven was perhaps not the best choice to be in the bedroom next to! And so we all drifted off into our own dreams that night. Some dreamt of pollack whilst others had nightmares about seals.......

Sunday, 29 May 2011

The first mullet of the season

I'd been keeping an eye on the local river for the eagerly awaited arrival of the first mullet of the season. Living & working so close to the river is an advantage & as I walk along the river every day, then I always look forward to late April onwards as the thick lipped mullet usually start to show in small numbers. We had an unusually warm & dry April & to my amazement the mullet started to show in very limited numbers from mid April. I always carry a few slices of bread with me as I walk along the river just in case I spot any fish. It's then easy to tell if the fish are catchable by noting their reaction to the free bread offerings. I noticed that those few fish that arrived in April were certainly interested in the bread but whenever I brought my mullet gear along with me, they were either no where to be seen, or conditions were wrong-and so I've been waiting for the main bulk of the mullet to turn up before concentrating my efforts on the fish.
I had noticed a good many mullet now in the river recently & had arranged with my good friend Jason to have a couple of hours mullet fishing recently. It would be a nice change for Jason as he has been chasing huge bream & summer pike on lures at a local fishing hole. Jason is a both a skilfull angler and a stimulating person to be with so I was delighted when he expressed his intention to join me for the mullet.
Tackle was as simple as you can get-decent barbel/ledger rod, balanced 4000 size fixed spool reel, 8lb mainline & a few small controller floats. Grab the remains of the weekly loaf from the kitchen as bait & you are ready to get after these wonderfully sporting fish. Jason had brought along a selection of what I thought would be superb alternative bait of artificial maggots. And as mullet love the maggots found in weed on the shore then this was a cracking move by Jason.
A short walk along the river soon brought us to about a dozen mullet in a shallow stretch of the river. They appeared to be feeding on the weed on the river bed & I felt sure Jason's latex lovelies would do the business. I stuck with my tried & tested floating bread flake & targeted fish as they swam about. Several good fish mooched about near Jason's maggots but unfortunately none really showed positive interest. My bread was getting the same treatment. But then, after a few free offerings at close range, one bold mullet made such a commotion as it splashed & slurped up the bread which was typical because I was targeting a few fish on the far bank at the time. A quick re-bait & cast out to 'hungry harry' and suddenly the bait was gobbled up. But as is all too often with mullet in my own experience, the fish seem to pluck & suck the bait rather than engulf it and although the mullet was indeed taking the bait, it wasn't taking it in a manor that would result in a positive strike. I waited and waited until the fish took the bait properly but unfortunately the mullet left the hook clean without me getting a good striking chance. Would that be the only offer of the day?
The mullet seemed to then vanish without warning but my local knowledge led me to believe they'd moved slightly up river with the rising tide. We grabbed our gear & moved about 100 yards up river to a wider section which is a bit harder to fish due to the fact the fish could be anywhere. I observed a few flashes out in the middle of the river so felt we should have a few 'blind' casts in that area. Although I prefer to sight fish for mullet, I find that during certain conditions, you just have to 'trust your gut feelings' and sling your bait in the area you feel has the most likely chance of a take. Jason was still continuing with the artificial maggots & I still couldn't believe that he wasn't getting a take.
On my second cast, within 30 seconds of it hitting the water, a fish showed deliberate intent & hoovered up the bread with a convincing slurp & it was in ideal opportunity to strike. I duly set the hook & was expecting to have a good tussle. Unfortunately this was a dour scrap & within about a minute, the fish was expertly netted by Jason. A quick photo & a weigh to confirm the weight & the fish was duly returned, unharmed & swam off to join the other mullet. At 3 and a half pounds, it wasn't my biggest mullet but it's always nice to get the first mullet of the season weighed & photographed. We fished on for a short while longer but the tide was pushing & the mullet had moved even further up the river & at this stage of the tide, they were staying deep & particularly difficult to catch. Conditions were slightly against us as was the interest of the local duck population. With that in mind, we agreed that we had had an enjoyable session & would meet up later that week over a coffee & a coke to discus the next trip out. Would it be pike or more mullet? We'll have to wait & see......

Friday, 29 April 2011

National fishing day

It's been a while since I have posted a blog. Couple of reasons for that. The main reason is that I was diagnosed with a shoulder injury recently and the injury has kept me away from fishing since February. I'm currently waiting to receive some specialised treatment on the injury but until then, I am pretty well sidelined as far as fishing goes. In fact, today is only the second time I've been fishing since end January & today's session on 'national fishing day' (otherwise translated as royal wedding day) was only a few hours worth of fishing with my good friend Jason & yet again, he showed me how to winkle out a nice pike from the local fishing hole. Although Jason can take the credit for the catch, it was almost certainly my surface popping lure that got Mr Pikes attention & Jason was skillful enough to cast his plug right over the area I had just 'prepped' for him & he was able to coax a very nice jack out from the water.

We continued to wonder round looking for suitable fishy looking areas & although we found plenty of likely looking spots, none produced any offers. Mother nature however, was showing off all her beauty and today we had a wonderful bonus of observing bream in the shallows getting ready to spawn. It was truly a mesmerising sight & one I had never been privileged to see before. Unfortunately for me, my shoulder was causing me considerable pain & carrying a back pack & casting into a stiff headwind was proving more & more uncomfortable for me & so I ended up calling it a day not long into the afternoon.
In less than 2 months, I am having a short trip away with my 2 friends up to the west coast of Scotland in search of large pollack from the shore. I always look forward to a few treasured days away with my friends from the North East. It takes quite a bit of planning and we need that little bit of luck with the weather, but it's always nice to get away from work regardless of what nature throws at us and if we get lucky with a few pollack, then even better.
I caught up with my friends in the North East a couple of weekends ago & we got down to some serious planning whilst spending a few hours aboard my friends boat - 'Wor Lass'. And boy were we lucky with the weather for the planned afternoon in the North Sea a few miles out of the Tyne. Conditions were perfect - very light winds, glorious sunshine and rather warm for the time of year. As we motored out of the Tyne, we kept a close eye on the sonar & before long we were sitting over the first wreck & it produced a couple of fish for us. Using light tackle made the whole experience even more enjoyable but nonetheless hard work winching 3-4lb codling from 100feet. A few hours later, all 3 of us had a nice bag of 4 codling each-a nice share of the spoils & good reward for an afternoons inshore wrecking.

My only sorrow is that I live so far away from my North East friends that it is not easy for me to get time up to see my friends as often as I would like-and the current price of fuel means that for me, those trips will be few & far between. I'll eagerly await the updated reports from my friends as to how well they are doing when they get out in the boat.
Meanwhile, I will have to make do with getting my mullet tackle ready for the arrival of the thick lipped mullet in my local river. They should be starting to show in large numbers in the next week/10 days & with treatment on my shoulder only 19 days away, I'm looking forward to getting back into the swing of things.