It’s a drear day in early May on the Galloway coast near Kirkcudbright. The drizzle is just persistent enough to get down the back of your collar on the mile long walk from Borness to Borness Point.
The area is a shore angler’s dream, with miles of rock and weed giving way to clean, snag-free sand. The combination attracts many species — from flounders and wrasse to spurdog and conger – can’t be bad, eh?
Today’s a practice session for Jack McKinnel. He’s after a bag of LSDs (lesser spotted dogfish) to get him ready for the Open on Sunday. But he’ll take anything that comes along, though it’s a bit early in the year for wrasse and pollack.
Sandeel or ragworm tipped with mackerel (held on with fine knitting elastic) is a top dogfish bait, and it also takes a variety of other species, especially pollack, huss and spurdog.
Mackerel fillet or squid on a size 6/0 takes cod, conger, thornback and all kinds of dogfish.
Lugworm is excellent for big cod and flatties.
Rock fishing can be dangerous, especially at night or in winter when it’s always very slippery. Don’t take risks – no fish is worth drowning for.
The lesser spotted dogfish – the rock matchman’s friend. They’ve got tough mouths so it takes a sharp hook and a good strike to make sure you’re going to avoid unnecessary losses.
- By car From Kirkcudbright take the A755 over the River Dee and then the first left along the B727. Take the first left through Borgue beside a disused quarry down to Borness. From there it’s about a mile to Borness Point.
- By train The nearest stations are Dumfries and Stranraer. From there take a bus.
On some days you can catch 70-80lb (32-36kg) of doggies and other fish in one session.
Frozen mackerel can be an excellent bait, but it does tend to be soft, making it easy to cast off the hook.
To avoid this, sprinkle it with salt when it’s half thawed. This helps to toughen it without spoiling it as a bait.
As the wind gets up, Jack stands atop the rocks and hurls out a freelined ragworm as he tries to tempt a pollack or two from the weedy, rocky depths. And tempt them he did, as this fit specimen testifies. It’s no monster, but to catch one this early in the season bodes well for the fishing later on. Something disgusting this way comes! Foul things from the deeps appeared like killer slime from a cheap sci-fi film on Jack’s hooks, trying to consume the baits. Just one more of the wonders of rock fishing.
Perched high above the sea, Jack winds into another Solway Firth doggie. Even on a grey day there can be few more dramatic-looking venues
Kirkcudbright area rock marks
- Abbeyburn Foot, near Dundrennan.
- Barlocco Isle, near Carrick (access at low tide only).
- Meikle Pinnacle, east of Borness Point.
- Balcary Point area and Flat Rock, near Auchencairn for big cod.
- Castle Point and Colvend Rocks, near Rockcliffe.
It’s approaching the end of the low water slack when Jack baits up and makes his first cast of around 100m (110yd). He’s using a clipped-down two hook paternoster —not because he needs distance but because clipping protects the bait in the cast.
One size 2/0 Viking hook is loaded with half a sandeel and tipped with a short piece of mackerel; the other holds ragworm. He tightens up to the 5oz (150g) lead. He’s using a plain lead because when the water’s not moving too fast ‘a bit of movement seems to encourage the doggies’.
In any case, the point is protected from the main tidal flow by the surrounding coast, so a wired lead isn’t really necessary. Plenty of fish come in to take advantage of the sheltered feeding – with any luck!
Jack’s eyes never leave the rod tip. Dogfish can be a bit awkward at times — shredding and stripping the bait but somehow missing the hook. At other times, they can feed so hard that they hook themselves like flounder.
The rod tip dances, Jack takes hold of his 13ft (3.95m) fast taper match fishing pole, and waits for further interest. There it is -he winds down and strikes, producing a wholly satisfactory bend in the rod, and a smile. ‘Aye, there must be a few about today then.’
Dogfish aren’t the hardest battlers in the fishing world, but there’s still something exciting about bringing in a kicking fish that you can’t see till the last moment. Up it comes – a plump doggie of around 0.7kg on the ragworm and it’s straight into a suitably deep rock pool with it.
Jack has tackled up another rod and decides to have a go with lugworm for the odd flatty. The tide has started to push a bit, so a bite wouldn’t be a total surprise.
He brings in his rag and sandeel set-up, only to find a monster hermit crab making merry with the ragworm. Nothing particularly odd about that. Except that this hermit is naked… Have you ever seen a shell-less hermit? Is it on the way from one winkle shell home to another? Or what?
We decide it’s a squat lobster and with that, Jack puts it back to steal more bait. By now the wind’s beginning to make itself felt – it’s quite chilly unless you sit behind a rock. The rod tips shake disconsolately, making bites hard to spot.
There hasn’t even been a touch on lugworm, so Jack decides to go for strap (small) conger. He replaces the paternoster with a running leger. On to a 6/0 O’Shaugnessy goes a big mackerel fillet. ‘That ought to pick up a strap if one’s about.’
With a rig and a bait like that, it’s not really a good idea to try for more than a gentle lob. In Jack’s case this leaves the bait some 40m (44yd) out. He sets the reel on the ratchet for audible warning of a conger run and turns to the other one.
It pulls over hard and starts to shake. He doesn’t wait for another knock but hits it right away – and a second doggie goes to join its fellow in the rock pool.
After a few minutes, Jack points to the mackerel fillet rod. It’s quite clearly thinking about going bananas. It jumps, it shakes and it twitches. And there go the bananas, but sadly we have no congers, we have only dogfish today. ‘Give it enough time and a doggie’ll fit anything in its mouth,’ says Jack hauling the spotted gut-bucket up the side of the rocks. This one’s bigger though – all 2/4lb (1.1kg) of it.
Another rod, another rattle — Jack’s concentration never wavers. The two hook rod tip shifts twice. He picks it up, waits for the knock, winds down and strikes with all of his not inconsiderable power. And another doggies’s on its way.
Rod recast, doggie Mk 4 in the pool and then the ratchet starts to click. Something has picked up the fillet and is moving off with it. Jack grabs the rod before the fish can stop running. But when it does and Jack feels the fish… ‘It’s another doggie. Would you believe it?’ Yes we would.
Jack comes to a decision. The mackerel strip isn’t staying intact long enough to give the conger a chance to get at it. Time for a more durable bait. It sounds like a job for calamari squid!
Ten minutes later and what’s this knocking on the calamari rod? Another @A<£@ doggie!!! Now I know Jack’s a matchman and this is match practice, but that big hook’s supposed to be there for different fish. It’s the other rod that’s for the doggies.
Twenty minutes later the doggies seem to have moved off, and strangely, you start to miss them. Oops, spoke too soon, there’s another on ragworm. Jack decides it’s time for a break. Time to catch something else.
He gets out a spinning rod, ties on a size 2/0 Viking and throws out a freelined ragworm. Slowly he works it back, close to the rocks. How can any self-respecting pollack refuse that?
Happily, they can’t. The rod tip lunges for the water and there’s a scrap in the offing. Once, twice the rod bends double as the pollack dives for shelter. Then it gives up and comes almost meekly to the net. It’s only about a pound (0.45kg) but it’s a different fish and worth a smile.
The following chuck produces a carbon copy bite, though this fish is only half the size. Still, the sea’s obviously heaving with them. So much for it being too early in the year. Wrong again. Next cast the rod tip remains unmoved. And the next one; and the one after that. And so on. I’m sure you get the idea. Ah, well.
Most of the fish have taken ragworm, but just to prove that dogs don’t care, Jack gets one on sandeel. Well, almost gets one — it drops offas Jack winches it out of the water. ‘Blast!’ he says, but he’s not really annoyed. ‘If this were a match I’d be livid, but today it’s no bother.’
Jack looks at the sky. It still says ‘Miserable day.’ He looks at the sea. It still says ‘Dogfish.’ He looks at his rod and he’s on his feet again. The dogfish doesn’t say much at all on its way to the rock pool. Two more follow, then the bites stop for half an hour or so.
The water’s slackening and so is the fishing. Still there’s plenty of time for tactical discussion. The wind gets up a bit more, making bites even harder to spot. It’s lucky there aren’t any just now.
Yukk!!! Attack of the slimy horrible brain-things from Mars! Jack winds in to find a disgusting… well, thing, has sludged and slimed its way on to the bait, presumably with the idea of eating it.
Of course there’s bound to be a reasonable explanation for it. Perhaps these sea slugs (or whatever they are) only come out to feed at slack water. Maybe it’s the only time when the flow is slow enough for them to be able to find the baits. Who knows? Still, it sends a shiver down the spine.
The tide starts to ebb and suddenly the dogs are back – it’s match practice again. Despite the wind, Jack misses very few bites and those are only because he’s demonstrating or explaining some item of tackle.
The dogfish are feeding well, but the wind has really started to gust now. To overcome this Jack sets up the rods so that the line goes directly upwind from the rod tip.
This gets rid of most of the wind-blown bow of line. The rod tips still bounce about in the wind, but it’s easier to tighten up to the leads, making the bites more visible. Jack strikes another dog on, just to show he can in all conditions, but then we give in to the weather.
Fourteen dogs and two pollack. Not a bad tally, and some pretty good match practice. But best of all, it’s shown how much fun rock fishing is. So get up off those steep shingle beaches and those breakwaters and clamber over some rocks!