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Rock Fishing

If two words can sum up a chilled-out, Tresco holiday spirit, then “Gone Fishing” comes pretty close.

With a comforting mix of laid-back Huckleberry Finn-ness, vague sense of purpose and dash of outdoorsy adventure, “Gone Fishing” says it all... and where better to enjoy a bit of fishing than an island?

And there’s plenty of fishing to be had. You can charter a boat from Bryher Boats to take you on the high seas or you could hire your own from Bennett Boatyard and pootle about the waters around Tresco and Bryher. However, it is worth remembering that you don’t actually have to get in a boat at all. There are plenty of suitable spots along Tresco’s coast where, with a rod and line, there are good fishing times to be had.

You don’t have to be an expert or have expensive kit, as I found out myself. Admittedly I was in the company of Del Thompson and Neil Hansen, two of the islands’ best rock fishermen. Readers may be familiar with Del and Neil’s daytime roles. Del runs the Tresco taxi between the quay and the airport, while Neil is a boatman for Bryher Boats, ferrying passengers between the islands. When not providing vital transport links, both Del and Neil are expert rod fishermen.

“There are lots of good spots to fish on Tresco, from Long Point round to Cromwell’s Castle,” said Del. “You can catch mackerel, pollack, the odd plaice or whiting and even mullet if you are very patient but our favourite fishing is for wrasse. The Isles of Scilly have some of the best wrasse fishing in the country.”

Wrasse, most commonly the ballan wrasse, is a handsome fish that is to be found along rocky coastline, often lurking about in the weed.
“What you’re looking for is an area with some large boulders and rocks, with plenty of seaweed and limpets. If the rocks are clean, then there’s no life and no fish,” advised Neil.

We were standing on the rocks near Long Point, on a cool, grey day. The tide was going out. “Ideally you would look to fish on a flood tide, just before it’s high and during the following hour of lack tide before it ebbs,” said Del as he cast into the channel. Despite this being “the wrong time” to be fishing, five minutes later he landed his first wrasse.

It was a ballan wrasse, which Del slipped into a rock pool for me to take a better look. It was a beautifully coloured fish with thick, slightly protruding lips.

“The wrasse has a fairly mixed diet but limpets are an important food source, so it has a powerful set of jaws and teeth. When it comes to the wrasse itself as food, I think it makes good sashimi when sliced very thinly and it’s a great bouillabaisse ingredient... but we always catch and release,” commented Neil as he saw me admiring the fish. Del and Neil use unbarbed hooks, which are far less damaging to the fish and much easier to remove. In addition to the hook, they attach lures to their lines to entice the fish to bite. Within a few minutes, Neil and Dell had caught two more wrasse.

As the tide was ebbing, we moved with it, heading north along the coast from Long Point. They were looking for that rocky, weedy habitat but also for a spot tucked away from the wind. Del remarked: “It’s nice for us to be fishing somewhere sheltered but it’s also what the wrasse prefer – a bit of calm water.”

An hour or so later and we were out at Gimble Porth. Neil and Del had both had fish bite but not actually stay on the hook. Neil explained: “To be honest this isn’t really the best time to be fishing – ideally you should be looking at a flood tide, which generally has more fish. I’d choose to fish in the hour and a half either side of high tide.” Almost as soon as he’d uttered those words, his line went taught and he reeled in a 4 ½ lb wrasse.
“The wrasse is a pretty obliging fish in terms of fishing,” said Del, as Neil pulled his catch out of the water.
“Always keen to take a hook and wants to put up a bit of a fight too. The wrasse is what makes rock fishing on Scilly so much fun.”

As the tide ebbed away, our fishing came to a natural end. Neil and Del had caught four or five wrasse each. Unfortunately, I had caught nothing but I had spent a wonderful morning by the sea, in good company and beautiful surroundings. I still had a disproportionate sense of achievement and I was on my way to the New Inn for a well-deserved pint.

Del’s handy blogspot

It has lots of useful information about fishing on the islands but here’s a few basic tips:

  • Always check the tides and weather before going fishing.
  • Don’t fish alone.
  • If you are not familiar with the spot, watch the rocks and the sea for 10-15 mins before you use it.
  • Look for a varied habitat in the water (seaweed, limpets etc). Clean rocks mean no fish!
  • The best wrasse fishing spots are sheltered with calm water.
  • Use barbless hooks for easy release – barbs can be “removed” from hooks with a pair of pliers.
  • Only keep fish you are going to eat.

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