A two week holiday with the family in the Isles of Scilly recently provided the perfect opportunity to brush up on my saltwater fly fishing. I knew my “go to” approach on the rocky marks around the Scillies would inevitably involve lure fishing primarily followed by float fishing, but it made sense to take along the fly rod too. The only other time I’ve caught sea fish on the fly to date has been in the Scillies the year previously, so I knew it was the perfect location if the weather behaved itself.
We were to be taking the Scillonian to the islands, to save money and ensure we wouldn’t struggle with luggage allowances – especially important as alongside my fishing gear I had to bring along wetsuits and towels and all the other beach paraphernalia that a children’s beach holiday entailed. We weren’t looking forward to the journey as the ferry has a well deserved reputation as being vomit inducing even in calm weather given its shallow draft and tendency to roll somewhat. A serious storm on the day we were due to sail led to the boat being cancelled and we were rescheduled for the following day. Thankfully the whole family it seems has good sea legs like myself, and we all successfully braved the roller coaster ride through heavy seas for the 3 hour duration. Many of the other passengers didn’t fare quite so well….
Despite the lost day and delayed start to our trip we were then blessed with pretty good weather for the rest of the fortnight. In amongst the exploring and beach trips, as well as visits to other islands I was fortunate enough to manage to sneak in quite a few fishing sessions even if they were often of a short couple of hour duration.
The main technique inevitably ending up being the lure rod. Being a multi piece travel rod with a nice crisp light action it was not only a pleasure to fish with but easy to carry around when we visited other Islands. Paired with a small fixed spool reel loaded with 15lb braid this made for a really fun set up which I mostly used rigged up with a cone lead, worm hook and jelly worm fished weedless setup. This over the holiday accounted for the vast majority of both pollack and wrasse. None of which were particularly massive but the wrasse especially put a good bend in the rod. Given that most of my sessions during the two weeks were short, I couldn’t justify sitting watching a float for that long, so really didn’t give it much of a go this time, other than to tease out a couple of wrasse on float fished limpet.
With the jelly worm I tried crushing down the barb on the hook after the first few fish, to make the hook effectively a barbless hook. I use barbless hooks all the time for freshwater fishing and really found it so much easier, quicker and kinder to the fish when unhooking the wrasse in particular. Couldn’t say it resulting in me losing any fish and the benefit of the ease of unhooking really made it a no brainer when lure fishing. Thats not to say I’ll be using barbless hooks for the rest of my sea fishing in future, but for lure fishing where I would expect to be keeping a tight line and generally feeling for a bite, there really seems to be no downside as far as I experienced.
When it came to fly fishing, I had brought my Greys #8 rod – not because I thought I’d need anything that heavy, but more because being a 4 piece rod it was most transportable. That and I didn’t want to ruin any of my other rods / reels on the rocks and salt water. I’d also decided to bring a reel loaded with a shooting head set up. This was to be the first time I’d tried a shooting head and I have to report being really impressed with it – whilst it may of lacked a little finesse it made up for this with the ease with which I could get a reasonable distance. I made the shooting head myself from a mill-end #10 intermediate line, cut down as per instructions found in a quick google search, along with a braided mono running line. For a tippet I just used 6-8 foot of 10lb fluorocarbon. The braided mono running line allowed a nice smooth transition to be formed between fly line and running line. It all seemed to work perfectly well and I have no complaints with it.
We were staying on the main Island, St Mary’s so this was naturally where most of my fishing was done. Whilst we visited all the inhabited islands on day trips with the family, I only fished Bryher and St Martins in addition to the main island of St Marys.
I caught numerous pollack and wrasse, mostly caught on jelly worms but a few wrasse did fall to float fished limpets, when the tide was too low to sensibly lure fish. I found that the wrasse fishing was better in the shallow weedy areas rather than the deeper water rock marks. The pollack were the opposite with deep water being better. Alongside fish on the more conventional tackle, I also had a few fish on fly – mainly pollack but also had a wrasse. I’ve caught pollack on the fly before, but this was my first ever wrasse on a fly! definitely a thrilling catch, especially as I saw it follow the fly in under the rod tip before nailing it. Really exciting in the gin clear water.
I tried various flies on the fly rod but most successful was a self tied 4” mackerel like fly. This worked for the wrasse and pollack equally well.
I didn’t catch any really big fish over the holiday, but had pollack to just over 3lb and wrasse to 3.5lb. All good fun on light lure or fly tackle.
In addition to the pollack and wrasse, we did see plenty of very big mullet, some in very large shoals of impressively sized fish. I couldn’t resist casting a few flies to them as they were within range but had no interest at all. Still, worth a go, and it was just too tempting not to cast a fly into a shoal of such big fish even if I didn’t really think there was any chance of hooking any.
My parents also came over to the Scillies for the last week we were there so I had a couple of fishing sessions with my father. We mainly fished Tolman Head near Old Town, for it’s easy access to comfortable fishing and deepish water. Dad had pollack on lures but most interestingly, also had a nice pollack on float fished limpet… not a bait I’d normally associate with pollack fishing but in this case it did the trick. Staying with the float fishing he also had a feisty wrasse on float fished sandeel.
The scillies has so much potential for rock fishing – miles of deserted coastline and crystal clear water. During this trip I really felt that I’d got to properly explore St Mary’s as well as a fair sampling of the other Islands. There’s still plenty of parts of the various islands I haven’t explored and a massive amount of fishing potential, but at least when I next go back I’ll have a very good idea of places and techniques to focus on.
It was noticeable that this year we did see a few other fishermen – which is a first, as I’d never seen another on any of my other visits to the islands. Maybe it was because we were here longer, or maybe the Scillies are becoming a bit more “on the radar”?
I have to admit that the lure fishing was by far the most productive technique, but really did enjoy the salt water fly fishing and really must endeavour to focus more on it in future. In particular I’d like to try chasing mullet with a little more determination..
Maybe something to aim for next year.
On that note – next years trip to the IOS is booked up – seems a longtime away now, but looking forward to it already.