When an Offshore Wind Blows …

ACG-(2)tbnailThere is no need to board a plane to get to great salt-water fly fishing. We have it here on our doorstep. This is a growing area of Scottish fishing and it is easy to see why. On the north-west coast where my fishing is done, we have some of the most splendid coastline in Europe, clear clean seas and some wonderful, indigenous fish that readily take a fly.

Landing any species of fish on a flyrod is fun. The fight is intimate, exciting and not entirely weighted in the angler’s favour.  This is especially true in the often demanding locations where good salt water fly fishing can be had from the shore in Scotland. Anyone who has hooked a good Pollock on the fly off the kelp-covered rocks will confirm that you need to hear a whole choir of large ladies singing before you can say you have landed your quarry. The great thing about using a fly rod is that even modest half-pound fish, fought in the surf and swell, will test your tackle as much as any trout – and often more so, if truth be told. As an angler of over thirty years experience, I can confirm the old adage that it is not about the size of fish you catch it’s about the way you catch them, and where you catch them that makes for a good day.

Success in the surf – the fish don’t have to be big to be fun.

Success in the surf – the fish don’t have to be big to be fun.

My best memory of catching sea fish on the fly happened many years ago off the rocks at Ardnamurchan point on a blisteringly hot and wonderful summer’s day. Having been out sea fishing from my boat using standard methods in the morning (and been rewarded with a fine haul of mackerel for filleting and smoking later) I was not seeking more of these wonderful summer visitors for the pot. However, we arrived for some gentle sight-seeing at the lighthouse to be greeted by a flat calm sea and the sight of a young basking shark feeding open-mouthed just yards from the shore.  Between the shark and the rocks was a huge shoal of mackerel filter-feeding in much the same way, right on the surface. The temptation was just too great… On the right tackle mackerel fight like diminutive tuna and so the memory of standing on the rocky shore, my legs in the surf, casting a fry imitation into the shoal of fish whilst watching a basking shark yards further away (alas out of casting range…) will live with me forever.

One of the best aspects of fishing in the sea is that you never know just what you might catch. Unlike the lochs and rivers of our land, the sea has a much larger variety of fish and there’s just never telling what you might catch. Even though the majority of your catch is likely to be crash-diving Pollock and Coalfish or fast running Mackerel – there are, as they say, plenty more fish in the sea, and so you certainly can’t rule out a variety of other fish such as wrasse, sea-trout, salmon, codling, flatfish, Launce (Greater Sandeel), even ‘exotic’ species like trigger-fish (yes – I’ve even rescued one from  a rockpool myself so they do appear in Scottish waters) and of course Bass, the range of which is extending further northwards due to our changing climate.

Portuairk, Ardnamurchan – where great fly fishing from the rocks can be had

Portuairk, Ardnamurchan – where great fly fishing from the rocks can be had

Another beauty of home-spun sea fly fishing is that you don’t need to spend a fortune on new tackle in order to do it. All of the above species can be targeted from the shore using nothing more than standard reservoir tackle such as you would use early season loch fishing for rainbow trout. Salt-water is, of course, massively corrosive and so the caveat is that you must wash down all your tackle after a salt-water foray to prevent the demise of what may be your treasured reel. That apart, and the need for stainless/rust-proof hooks, this ability to make use of standard tackle makes it easy for the fly-angler to indulge themselves during the family holiday without any great preparation.

In addition to a standard reservoir rod, reel, 8lb monofilament and both slow and fast sinking fly line the only additional and perhaps bespoke items required are flies suitable for salt water and a line-tray. This latter item is essential not only because coastal rocks are covered in a range of highly abrasive molluscs (barnacles are the worst) which will wreck your flyline within an hour but also because casting any distance requires your fly line not to be trapped by/caught round/under every bit of kelp/bladderwrack/mussel shell on the shoreline which is exactly what will happen if you don’t use a line tray. In terms of economy the good news is that such a line tray will cost you less than a fiver in most good ‘pound-shops’ as a simple small plastic laundry basket serves far more effectively in this role than all the high priced versions sold by tackle manufacturers (I should know, I went through three bespoke versions prior to my ‘pound-stretcher’ variety). As long as it has open wicker-style sides you should be able to feed a belt through it and wear it round your waist as you will need to do. Blue Peter advice over.

The joys of taking youngsters fishing – they will often be your companions when fishing on holiday.

The joys of taking youngsters fishing – they will often be your companions when fishing on holiday.

Your choice of fly need not be prissy either. A tenner spent in a tackle shop on ‘small sand-eel imitating lures’ on saltwater hooks will see you started and such flies are readily available these days thanks to bass fishing and ‘destination fishing’ to warmer climes. As I tie all my own flies this has given me a great excuse to experiment with all manner of fry and shrimp imitations but I can confirm that most sea fish are not fussy eaters… it is all about getting your flies to where the fish are rather than being fancy with pattern. T’was ever thus.

As the title of this piece suggests, wind direction is of prime importance, as casting largish flies into a strong west-coast onshore gale will not enhance your holiday. An off-shore wind is pretty essential to make your foray pleasant – but as to tide, this is something that you will have to experiment with yourself. I have found marks which fish well at high-tide, others at low-tide and almost at every state in between. Slack-tide is rarely a good time for sea fishing, however, and is to be avoided.

Many of the marks I have fished are dependent on tide in as much for the effect it has on where you are fishing as to how it affects the fish’s behaviour. One of my favourite spots fishes well at low tide because this allows me to cast over a steep rock shelf without my line having to clear a band of kelp that makes this inlet much more of a challenge at high water. I like the challenge of salt-water fly fishing, but spending all my time hooking strong-gripping kelp fronds is not a rewarding pastime.

A hard-fighting Pollock straight from the kelp and the ‘fly’ that tempted it.

A hard-fighting Pollock straight from the kelp and the ‘fly’ that tempted it.

So why not give this fun experience a go this summer? Leave the spinning rod behind and experiment with the fly rod instead. The reward can be great fun.

Anthony Glasgow

Leave a reply