I am always up for a challenge when it comes to fishing. I have always had a thing for adrenaline sports and feel there should be no reason why you can’t add a bit of excitement to your fishing.
So when I was asked if I fancied a trip to the Shetlands to target cod I was all ears, especially as it would be with my mate, Adam Cain, on his kayak and me in my 2.7m RIB with a 4hp 2 stroke motor.
We planned to fish for seven days and out of the seven days we managed just under two on the water due to some extreme weather that was far too dangerous to venture out in.
With very little information available about where to fish or how to fish off the Shetlands we decided to concentrate on areas that we might be able access and look at favourable depths for catching cod. Due to limited literature this trip will always be known as the recce and I will never divulge the exact locations we visited.
Even when we arrived in Lerwick we tried to find out information from the local tackle shop (LHD Marine Supplies). This shop stocks everything from hooks to smoking sawdust and they like their fishing too. With a few questions asked in LHD it was apparent either no one fished for cod in the way we intended or they didn’t want to divulge any information. So even when we arrived there was no extra advice so we were going to have to go it alone.
We had spent a year preparing our week’s adventure, practicing out in the RIB and kayak together in some pretty serious weather on the North Coast of Yorkshire. We have always been fully equipped when venturing out. There are simply some things I would not head out to sea without.
Drysuit – a decent quality dry-suit can save your life. Although an expensive bit of kit, we both use Typhoon dry suits which are arguably the best on the market.
VHF Radio – a life line and something NEVER to leave without. You will need to complete a marine radio course.
Life Jacket – an invaluable bit of kit but it needs to be maintained and checked so when you do need it you know it will work.
Zip ties and fillet knife – when out fishing do you not need to fix things? Zip ties are incredibly versatile and a knife can be a life line. Ever had your anchor snagged and you need to cut yourself free or got line caught around your prop?
First Aid Kit – does what it says on the box!
Charged kit – always make sure your kit is fully charged and working before you head out. There is nothing worse than discovering something is not working when 3 miles off- shore. An extra 10 minutes checking can save hours.
Knowledge – knowledge is power! Check and triple-check weather reports and look at more than one and compare. Check tide times and sea states, a lot can change in a matter of hours. Get local information about the local area from sailing clubs or locals who live in the area. Check charts for wrecks, reefs, depths and rocks etc. and check the direction of tides and their usual strength. We have used www.rocksandroots.org.uk the Sea Kayak section with OS Map and overlay, as well as the Navionics Boating App. This app gives you depths and marks rocks, wrecks etc.
Food and water – sounds obvious but a hungry and dehydrated angler is a very unhappy one. And if things go wrong you could be struck out at sea for a long time! Kendal Mint Cake is always a winner for me.
The reason I mention this before the fishing kit is that the sea and Mother Nature are scary bas#$%&@ and have a habit of putting you in some very difficult situations. If you have gone out of your way to make sure your trip is safe and with only calculated risks you stand a far better chance of enjoying your day, catching more and coming back alive.
Kit for the job….
We went armed with 20-30lb class 7.6’ boat rods. I had the Sonik S4 and SK3XTR coupled with Shimano Charter Special 2000 Multipliers loaded with 37.5lb braid.
End tackle was varied. We had spent ages trying to find decent heavy jig heads with plenty of hook clearance but couldn’t. I made contact with Mark at Lure Factors who offered to help me sort something. I found a decent mould and hooks used on the large Real Eels as well as VMCs Barbarian hooks and got some 10oz jig heads made up that enabled enough clearance on the larger lures.
Lure Factors were also kind enough to help me with making up some awesome sand-eel lures and curly tail grubs which turned out to be very effective.
Weights – a variety of 10-16oz cannon ball leads were taken along with 11-14oz perk bars.
Hooks – Cox & Rawle Meat Hooks 10/0, O’shaughnessy hooks 12/0
Leader material – 80lb mono and 100lb rubbing leader.
Clips and Swivels – Cox & Rawle 200lb (very strong – but who wants to have a weak link?)
Lures – a mixture of 6-10” curly tail grubs, 20cm sand-eels, varied gummi macks, large hokkai feathers, cutbaits and a few other bits and pieces
The Garmin 45dv sonar – we would have been lost without it; a piece of kit that not only locates fish and identifies the features you are fishing over but, most importantly, it has some safety features. GPS enables you to see your route and drifts. If you get caught out in fog you can follow your track back to shore without any other visuals. Small things make serious differences.
The journey took over 24 hours in total to reach the area on the Shetlands we wanted to fish. This included the interminable journey on the ferry from Aberdeen to Lerwick.
On arrival at our base camp we realized that the weather could not get much better so, with tent erected, we headed-off to find a decent launching area. It was 3pm when we finally made it afloat and this gave us eight hours of light at this time of year.
With the tide starting to slow, we headed-out to an area showing 250ft. Out went the drogues which worked beautifully for a decent drift with the wind direction and tide flow. We started out with large hokkais with 10oz jig heads as weight with curly tail grubs. Instant hits were had by both of us – not something we were expecting! Cod to 16lb and mackerel over 1ft long were being hauled in so the rods and kit were certainly being put to the test. We felt like we had hit gold and were shattered after two hours of constant hauling.
We were able to play around with lures and set-ups as the fish were clearly there, the favoured pattern being a 12oz perk bar with 12/0 O’Shaughnessy hook attached with an orange 7” curly tail grub attached. The cod were loving it!
I decided to try one rod with a mono rubbing trace and short leader with half a mackerel just to see what else might be down there. It was not long before the rod bent double and I went on to land my first 20lb cod – 22lb13oz to be precise! Shortly after, Adam also landed a cod just over the 20lb mark on lure.
My next drop with the other half of the mackerel was taken very quickly and it was clear this was no cod. After a 20 minute fight I was unhooking my first ever skate, a beauty of 30lb+. We then realized it was already 11pm and decided to head in before darkness was upon us.
This session felt like all the hard work and preparation had been worth it. We could never have dreamed of landing over 40 cod averaging 15lb between us, including a 20lber each and a skate for me.
So with 24 hours of travelling and 9 hours non-stop heavy fishing, we were relieved to see the following day was a write-off. We caught up on sleep and spent the day searching out new locations – but with limited success. The Shetland coastline is stunning but very wild and difficult to access with boats but our exploration was not wasted as we were surrounded by wildlife and incredible scenery.
The following day showed signs of the bad weather easing off with the winds lightening and the fog blowing off. We got the kit set up and headed out at 11am. Sadly, by 1pm the wind had picked up and was not comfortable for Adam to carry on in the kayak. We returned to shore, dropped off the kayak, re-fuelled ourselves and loaded the RIB with two sets of kit then went back out. The swell was pretty impressive and we were once again surrounded by gannets, puffins, razorbills, guillemots and very large birds known as ‘Bonxie’ (great skua). It was clear to see ‘Bonxie’ and gannets are not the best of friends!
We tried figuring out how to follow the previous sessions drift. Due to a change in wind direction and strength we were only able to zig zag across our original drift but not as slowly. Heavier leads were used to combat the speed of the drift and to keep baits down on the deck.
We managed to hit some more mackerel and a number of good cod to upper doubles but I just couldn’t ignore the skate potential. Half a mackerel was sent down and the wait began. Just as I’d finished dealing with my Hokkais being tangled on the bait rod it hooped over. My comment to Adam was “looks like I’m snagged” with a response of “I don’t see that being possible, we are still fishing over sand”. I braced myself for what was hopefully the target species and reminded myself that I was still only on 37.5lb braid, an 80lb leader and a 20-30lb class rod which, for skate, would certainly be considered light tackle.
A battle of 30 minutes or more ensued, with the fish stripping line and towing us an extra mile off shore and into 330ft of water. The rod was put to full tilt and I expected the braid to break at any point…but everything held.
To see the fish and have hold of the leader was sheer relief. What lay by the boat was the largest fish I have ever caught. We estimated it to be over 70lb but we will never know for sure. I will be taking a tape measure in future trips.
With the skate landed and the weather showing no signs of improvement we decided to head back to dry land, fingers tightly crossed for another red letter day’s fishing to follow.
Sadly, things got nasty in the north of the Shetlands and we were forced to head back south. The winds grew stronger and rain was forecast for the next five days. We managed to do a bit of exploring on the return journey to Lerwick but didn’t get any more fishing in and even returned to the UK a day early.
This first recce trip was a real eye-opener to the potential of the Shetland Isles. They are definitely not for the faint-hearted or ill-equipped. We learnt a great deal, met some fabulous people, saw some amazing wildlife and scenery and will of course return better equipped, stronger and ready to haul.
We have already refined our kit and will be taking stronger rods to target the skate (30-50lb class Sonik S4s) and 2 speed multipliers which I have just received from Gerrys of Morecambe.
Braid will be a great deal stronger, leader material will be 150lb-200lb and hooks will be 12/0-14/0 for the skate. We will take fewer lures for the cod but will concentrate on the perk bar and curly tail grub approach for the cod.
I will also have a 3.5m RIB with 12hp motor which will be much safer and more stable.
The Shetland Isles is an incredible place with so much uncharted water to fish and with breath taking scenery and wildlife around every corner. If you ever plan to go, really do take the time to plan properly as the region is remote and local supplies are limited.
I look forward to sharing with you future trips from Oban and the Shetlands.
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