Here I try to let you into the secrets of my favourite holiday destination, Portpatrick on the West Coast of Scotland.
There are many places to be fished in this part of the world, the best known being The Mull of Galloway. However, for ease of access and the variety of species non-can compare with Portpatrick Harbour. Within 100yards of the car park, you can catch conger, mullet, coalies by the bag full, and plate sized plaice. Wrasse and Pollack just yards out on light float fished tackle, huge rockling that take baits that are meant for conger and on the odd occasion decent sized shore caught ling and the odd bass. With the inevitable dogfish
One of the easiest species to catch within the confines of the harbour is coalfish. They are generally in the 1-3lb bracket. However the odd clonker to 6lb has been taken. There is two ways of catching coalfish inside the harbour either float fishing or ledgering. For bottom fishing I use a very light spinning/ledgering rod and for good sport a fly rod and reel for float fishing. Terminal tackle is quite simple with a one or two hook paternoster rig with 1/0 hooks for bottom fishing and a 1/0 hook suspended below a small float weighted with lead shot. For all my float fishing I always use small floats rather than the large floats a lot of anglers prefer. For coalfish there is only one bait to achieve best results, fresh or frozen peeler crab. Using the mashed up legs and discarded baits as ground bait, but once you get the fish on the feed this will be unnecessary. Coalfish will take another bait, which I will mention later.
The hardest species to catch around the port are the Mullet. There are two marks that are fished for Mullet, the easiest being the round end at the entrance to the inner harbour. Unfortunately with the round end you may just be starting to get the fish interested, with the first few silver flashes in the water after sitting for a few hours. As the heart starts to beat faster in the anticipation of a take, suddenly a pair of bare legs appears over your shoulder. As one of the local lads decides to go for a swim, or the kids from one of the yachts decide to take a small dingy for a blast. Early morning or late evening is the best time to fish this mark. The other mark is the rocks just through the arch at the north end of the village, past the kiddies play area.
The quest for these hard fighting fish begins with the daily routine of ground baiting. You can always tell when I am making up the ground bait, regardless of the weather outside my wife has every door and window open in the caravan, must be wanting everyone to share the odour of freshly boiled mackerel. After boiling, the mackerel mash it up well (ground bait is just a taster) with good quantities of bread and bran. I have found that adding the brine from canned Tuna also works. However, I suspect that any type of fish oil will work. Many anglers say that ground baiting is for attracting fish, but I also believe that it is also getting fish to take food that is not normally present. This is proven by the number of coalfish that will take your hook bait after ground baiting for a few days. How many harbours have a diet of boiled mackerel, bread, bran, and tuna served up on a regular basis? Ground baiting usually takes place most days before a suitable calm day comes for the fishing. On that day a small onion sack with well mashed ground bait should be hung on the surface of the water and gently moved now and again. Your hook bait should be a small piece of mackerel, bread or if possible a mixture of both pressed onto the hook. There are two methods I use for mullet fishing, either ledgering with a two-hook rig or float fishing. With float fishing it is essential to alter your fishing depths every so often, this is easily achieved by tying a piece of high power gum line on your main line to use as a stop knot, and sliding it up and down when required. Both methods can be used inside the harbour with float fishing advisable for the arch mark
Bites on either type of tackle can be ferocious as the fish takes the bait and runs or the gentlest nibble. When float fishing without bobbing up and down the float can sometimes even move very slowly across the surface, quite often being mistaken for tidal movement. Generally for mullet, fishing lines (opaque lines are essential) of around 4-6lb breaking strain are advisable but with so many ropes around in the harbour, lines of 10lb breaking strain are advisable. Enabling you to turn a mullet with side strain (laying the rod to the one side to turn the head of a fish) during one of its powerful dashes towards the ropes and freedom. I also prefer having my reel in free spool rather than setting the drag, and control the pay out of line with the reel handle. This again gives better control over hooked fish. In my early days I when I used the drag on one occasion I had it set far to tight. When a good-sized mullet took the bait on the run heading for the outer harbour. With the combination of the 10lb line, tight drag and the fish’s momentum, it actually came up in an arc and about five feet out of the water. All the holidaymakers watched at what they thought was a skilful angler playing a hard fighting fish, not some incompetent doing the wrong thing. I still took a bow when I finally got the fish in the very essential landing net.
Conger and ling can be taken all along the back of the north side of the harbour, amongst the huge weed strewn rocks. But my favourite mark is the remains of the old pier at the north side of the harbour entrance. However this mark is only accessible for a couple of hours at low water under calm conditions. And with the best time to fish being around dusk you only get the chance to fish a couple of nights. Fishing also depends on the weather, if the conditions are rough for those couple of nights. Bang goes your conger and ling fishing.
Tackle is very basic, with a good stiff rod and good sized multiplier. Once when fishing for conger I had my bass rod and 6500 cast out into the channel with a sliver of mackerel on a size 2 hook, for the Pollack, Wrasse, Plaice and the odd Bass that frequent the area. Yes you can guess what happened a conger took the bait. Had a hell of a scrap before the hook snood finally gave. Terminal gear is a 6/0 hook attached to 6 inches of 50lb wire trace attached to a swivel with 2-3 feet of 50lb line attached to your main line with another swivel. From this swivel attach a short length of 50lb line with a loop in the end. From this loop attach your sinker with a short length of weak line (rotten bottom). For casting push the loop of the 50lb line through the sinker loop and insert a panel pin. The best bait is a good slice of fresh mackerel, but most fish baits will take conger.
Conger can be taken as close in as 10 yards or as far as you can cast your bait. There is no need for a rod stand as there is some nice holes bored into the old blocks ideal for your rod. The bite of a conger is unmistakable and quite alarming the first few times. Your rod will lunge right over and then your line will go slack, this may happen more than once. But even though the bites can be very ferocious quite often the fish gets away with the bait. Sometimes however your rod may keel right over and not bounce back and when you pick your rod up you are solid. What has happened here is that the conger has come out from it rocky lair, grabbed the bait and gone back in. What you must do here is keep a constant pressure on the line and most times the fish will come out. If you let out any slack the fish will simply go further into its hole. Once in the open the fun begins. The fight will be similar to the bite very hard lunges followed by slack line when you should reel like hell. Then the easy bit getting the fish onto the ledge and the hook out. The average size of the conger encountered will not be enormous with the biggest 15lb-20lb. Bigger fish are hooked but in the rough ground they easilly get away. Along with the conger this is the only mark I have fished that regularly gives up ling. Most however are only a few pounds but I have had a few decent ones the best about 8lb. While my main objective is to catch conger and ling I have also taken some of the biggest rockling I have ever seen from here. Can you imagine the size of a rockling that can take a 6/0 hook and chunk of mackerel easily. The girth on one that I caught was the same diameter as my 7000c. I have my suspicions that I have probably thrown a few records back. While waiting for the bigger fish to take, float or ledgering with ragworm or fish strip on the standard float tackle previously described for coalies, will take wrasse and pollack to a few pounds. Although good sized pollack will sometimes take your big fish baits.
As with most of the fishing around The Port long spells of calm conditions give the best results. This is especially so for the plaice. Although plaice are not inside the harbour in great numbers what you do catch will generally be of a good size. The best marks are the two round ends at the inner harbour mouth, fishing from the beach into the deepwater channel. Also fishing from the rocks either side of the main harbour entrence into the deep water channel. Tackle again should be a light spinning rod with a reel loaded with 15lb line. As baits to attract plaice are normally quite big, hooks of up to 1/0 can be used. Baits; cocktails made up of either rag or lug tipped with razor fish, crab or fish strip account for most plaice. However for ease ragworm on its own will also take fish. Attractors can also help, whether these are a row of brightly coloured beads or a small spoon or both. Most bites at first are quite tentative so do not be to eager to reel in, but some fish will practically pull the rod over. I suspect that these have actually been taking the bait without giving muchindication on the rod and then suddenly moving off. Pulling your bait slowly over the sandy bottom can also entice a fish to take the bait.
For my pollack fishing I actually leave the confines of the harbour and either fish the rocks beside the car park at the South of the village. But my prefered mark is the skeers left of the small valley on the south side of Dunskey Castle, probably because I stay at the Caravan Park overlooking Dunskey Castle.
The best time I have found for pollack is around high water during a calm spell at dusk. When sport can be fast and furious with good sized fish to 7lb. Although good sport can be had spinning and float fishing during the day for smaller fish. My tactics for the bigger pollack are quite simple. After catching a few fresh mackerel for bait (always take a few frozen fillets or sandeels incase they don’t show) Using my Daiwa Bass Rod coupled with a 6500 reel I simply cast out a long strip of fresh mackerel on a 3/0 hook into the tidal flow, and let it bounce around. To prevent tangling I attach a link swivel to a two ounce bomb incorporating a rotten bottom. Using a three way swivel to attach my hook trace of about four foot to my main line. Bites at this time of day tend to be very fast and hard so it is best to be close to your rod at all times. And there will generally be no need to strike if the fish doesn’t hook itself your bait will have gone. Once hooked the fun starts, as pollack of any decent size on light gear will dive and run, and look out for a lunge for the bottom when you get close in. In some cases the pollack will run straight into the rocks below you before you know whats happened.
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