Gar, wrasse and flattie fishing off Alderney

Gar fishing off AlderneyHow to get there

  • By air: Getting to the island is only possible with Aurigny Air Services, who fly from Southampton Airport, Jersey and Guernsey all year, and from Bournemouth in the summer. Ask your travel agent or phone 0481 822886 for details.
  • By car: Fort Doyle is about 1/2 mile east of the port on the north coast. It is ten minutes drive from the centre of St Anne.

map of fort DoyleMost species visit Alderney at some time during the year. Summer sees huge bass, wrasse, pollack, sole, plaice, porbeagle, mackerel and garfish. Mullet and conger are also a possibility, but winter is the best time for them. Then they visit the island in numbers only dreamt of on the mainland. Gar fishing off AlderneyIt isn’t just crabs for wrassing that live under the boulders around Alderney’s coast . Sand rag are also fairly common, and the flatties love ’em.

To find them just grub around with a small trowel or something similar in the sand under the rocks.

sliding float rig baited with a sliver of mackerel bellyNigel flicks out his sliding float rig baited with a sliver of mackerel belly. He’s hoping that he can tempt one of the island’s garfish which are being unusually shy and retiring.

You can’t quite see Nigel’s smug grin as he holds up the elusive gar, but that’s only because he’s trying to look casual.

garfish caught off AlderneyNigel unhooks a slimline beauty – the garfish which kept him waiting right until the end of the third day of the expedition. Still, the best things are worth waiting for and Nigel is certainly well pleased.

multi-hued ballan wrasse caught off AlderneyThroughout the day Rob Larbalestier amused himself by catching a variety of multi-hued ballan wrasse (or rockfish as he calls them) while Nigel tried for a gar.

Nigel settles down to fish, having just recast his flatty rod. Behind him Rob prepares to swing out another rockfish bait.

one of Alderney's shore-caught plaiceNot one of Alderney’s huge 6lb (2.7kg) shore-caught plaice, but it is red-spotted, flat and hungry. Nigel returned it, as he does all flatties, but you shouldn’t eat fish taken at a sewage outfall anyway.garfish caught off Raz Island AlderneyAt last! Nigel finally swings in a sinuous garfish which was feeding in the strong tide run off Raz Island.

shirvy for mullet fishing As the island’s butcher, Nigel is the main supplier of shirvy for mullet fishing – a scrummy mix of animal innards (especially lungs), rusk and blood. shirvy for mullet fishing After mixing, Nigel leaves the shirvy to mature for a few days. This allows any air pockets in the lungs to escape, so it can sink in an attractive, smelly cloud.

thick-lipped mullet caught off Alderney Nigel’s thick-lipped mullet waits for unhooking before being returned. Still in its mouth is the piece of pork on the size 8 hook which tempted it. clip_image008 After a scramble over the rocks and round the corner after an angry mullet, Nigel draws the exhausted fish into the net. Rob (with net) also landed a mullet from the same shoal.

running one hook paternoster For flatties use a running one hook paternoster. The attractor beads and stop knot prevent small fish shredding the bait up the line.  There’s not much to be said about the night time conger expedition to Dog Rock, mostly because Rob caught both eels and it’s supposed to be Nigel’s feature (eels of 16lb/7.3kg and 22lb/10kg, despite a fairly full moon which Alderney conger don’t like). Nothing much to say except that leaping unfamiliar rocks in the dark is a chastening experience, no matter how easy the Robs and Nigels of this world make it look.

Three days of solid fishing ends in the small hours – hard work; it’s almost a relief to be going home, but not quite. So now it’s over – a three day species hunt that turned up loads of fish and proved what Alderney has to offer. When can we go again?

After two days of wrasse and pollack with Rob Larbalestier , Nigel Loving, Alderney’s butcher and Rob’s fishing partner, has decided it’s time to catch some other species on the last day. ‘I’m going to catch a garfish or die trying,’ says the determined angler. ‘Yeah but what about the mullet, bass, plaice, sole and conger?’ asks Rob, with an evil glint in his eye. ‘We’ll see…’ is all Nigel has to say.

It’s another hot June day as Nigel leads the way to Fort Doyle, where the rock gives way to clean sand, and the water is 10.7m (35ft) deep at high tide. Though Alderney water is generally clear, it’s muck that attracts fish to this venue. One of the secrets of Doyle’s success is a sewage outfall.

However unromantic that may sound, fishing is partly about making use of whatever helps with catching fish. And if it happens to be a little sewage, that’s fine… once you’ve got used to the smell. ‘Mullet in particular like it here,’ says Nigel. ‘You can almost guarantee there’ll be a shoal around, even in summer when we don’t see big numbers of them. Of course, getting them to feed is another matter. But the garfish come in close too.’ ‘Don’t forget the wrasse,’ adds Rob. ‘There’s loads at Doyle.’ ‘Will you keep quiet about wrasse? You’ve had your chance. Now I’m going to catch something else.’ ‘Well, I’m going to fish for wrasse, anyway,’ mutters Rob.

Nigel ignores him. ‘I’m going to put out a worm bait for flatties, and float fish for garfish, or mullet if I see any.’

What a beautiful morning. Blue sky, clear water, small waves lapping, sea breezes ruffling and smells wafting. The aroma from the pipe isn’t too strong at the moment. Let’s hope it stays that way.

Nigel baits up his one hook running paternoster with sand rag and casts about 80m (88yd). ‘I love plaice and sole,’ Nigel enthuses. ‘And not because they’re delicious -1 always put them back.’

Next he rigs up a carp rod with a sliding waggler and 6lb (2.7kg) b.s. line straight through. ‘Line strength for mullet depends on the water clarity. Use up to 8lb if you can get away with it, and no less than 4lb, or they smash you in the tide.’

Next he starts to ladle in the shirvy. Shirvy, Nigel’s speciality, is Alderney’s idea of a tasty groundbait for mullet (mackerel, garfish and pollack too). They seem to adore the mix of minced offal, rusk and blood which has been left to go off for a few days. ‘You’ve got to keep a low profile if you don’t want to scare any mullet that turn up,’ says Nigel, crouching down below the skyline. ‘And stay as still as possible.’

He ties on a size 4 Aberdeen, baits it with mackerel strip, sets the depth at about lm (3ft), and flicks it out. ‘I use Aberdeens for gars because the long shank protects the line from the teeth in their bills. I don’t think we’ll have to wait very long — there are usually a few about,’ he says confidently. But after an hour without a touch, his confidence is beginning to flag a little.

Rob, meanwhile, is happily wrassing away. He has had a few rockfish (as they’re known in the Channel Islands) pull his rod tip round and that’s enough to keep him happy.

Without changing position, Nigel suddenly gives out the impression of intense concentration as he stares into the depths. ‘Look,’ he hisses, pointing. ‘Mullet.’ And after a short period of eyeball adjusting, the dark but silvery shapes become clear.

This is where Polaroid specs are essential. They make mullet spotting a reasonable proposition. They also prevent those glare-induced headaches you get from staring at a float all day.

Nigel ladles in some shirvy and the small shoal changes direction, swimming back and forth through the dispersing cloud of goodies. With suppressed excitement he deepens his float to the fishes’ depth and hooks up a small piece of pork on a forged size 8. Surely one of them must be hungry enough to accept the tiny meaty offering? ‘I’m going to catch a gar if it’s the last thing I do,’ swears Nigel. Almost three days without a sniff of one — and they’re supposed to be common. ‘We’ll go back to Raz Island,’ he says. ‘If I can’t catch one there, I’ll give up fishing.’

It clouds over as Nigel and Rob tackle up – Nigel with his float gear, and Rob, surprisingly enough, is wrassing. In goes some shirvy. The ebbing tide takes it, spreading its siren call through the surface layers.

After half an hour, Nigel has only a small pollack to show, but then he spots something. Following his line of sight, something very odd becomes plain, something small and stick-like snapping in the waves — the bill of a garfish feeding right on the surface.

He shallows off the float and flicks it out. In the swell it’s hard to see exactly what happens, but suddenly the float has gone. Nigel strikes and the garfish registers its amazement by leaping out of the water. The acrobatics continue, but if Nigel can land mullet, he isn’t going to lose this gar.

And there it is, just reward for three day’s fishing, a gleaming gar twisting angrily in Nigel’s grasp. He quickly releases it and smiles. So is that it? Of course not — after supper, it’s time to take on the conger… 80m (88yd). ‘I love plaice and sole,’ Nigel enthuses. ‘And not because they’re delicious -1 always put them back.’

Next he rigs up a carp rod with a sliding waggler and 6lb (2.7kg) b.s. line straight through. ‘Line strength for mullet depends on the water clarity. Use up to 8lb if you can get away with it, and no less than 4lb, or they smash you in the tide.’

Next he starts to ladle in the shirvy. Shirvy, Nigel’s speciality, is Alderney’s idea of a tasty groundbait for mullet (mackerel, garfish and pollack too). They seem to adore the mix of minced offal, rusk and blood which has been left to go off for a few days. ‘You’ve got to keep a low profile if you don’t want to scare any mullet that turn up,’ says Nigel, crouching down below the skyline. ‘And stay as still as possible.’

He ties on a size 4 Aberdeen, baits it with mackerel strip, sets the depth at about lm (3ft), and flicks it out. ‘I use Aberdeens for gars because the long shank protects the line from the teeth in their bills. I don’t think we’ll have to wait very long — there are usually a few about,’ he says confidently. But after an hour without a touch, his confidence is beginning to flag a little.

Rob, meanwhile, is happily wrassing away. He has had a few rockfish (as they’re known in the Channel Islands) pull his rod tip round and that’s enough to keep him happy.

Without changing position, Nigel suddenly gives out the impression of intense concentration as he stares into the depths. ‘Look,’ he hisses, pointing. ‘Mullet.’ And after a short period of eyeball adjusting, the dark but silvery shapes become clear.

This is where Polaroid specs are essential. They make mullet spotting a reasonable proposition. They also prevent those glare-induced headaches you get from staring at a float all day.

Nigel ladles in some shirvy and the small shoal changes direction, swimming back and forth through the dispersing cloud of goodies. With suppressed excitement he deepens his float to the fishes’ depth and hooks up a small piece of pork on a forged size 8. Surely one of them must be hungry enough to accept the tiny meaty offering?

But before he can cast, the smell suddenly worsens and Nigel curses. ‘Oh no. Not now.’ He looks down at the submerged pipe, from which an ugly cloud now begins to belch. The mullet scatter. ‘They pump the sewage through three times a day, and though it’s that which attracts the fish, the fresh stuff puts them off,’ he explains. It’s none too pleasant for us humans either.

While the pipe is doing its stuff, Nigel replaces the bait on the flatty rod. ‘That reminds me,’ he says. ‘Don’t bite your line to trim knots or put your fingers near your mouth. Sewage isn’t good for you.’

The five minute flurry of slurry over, Nigel settles down again. ‘Where are those garfish? The shirvy always attracts one or two.’ he says, staring ruefully out to sea.

The next fish to betray its presence does so on the worm rod. Nigel watches the bite, the fish rattles again and he’s into it. ‘It’s not very big,’ he says, swinging in a small flatty. ‘It’s a plaice. Not a big one, but at least it’s not a wrasse.’ ‘That’s not a plaice,’ says Rob, laughing, ‘that’s a postage stamp.’ Nigel’s reply is unprintable but hinges on the point that a plaice is a plaice and besides, it might have a big brother out there.

The garfish haven’t showed. Nor have the mullet returned, but as Nigel explains, ‘During the summer there are only small groups of a few mullet. You just have to wait for one of these groups to meander past and hope that they feel hungry enough to hang about and find the bait.’

Another plaice shows up and disturbs his vigil but sadly it’s even smaller than the first. As he returns it, something catches his attention. ‘They’re back,’ he whispers, moving slowly over to the shirvy bucket. ‘Now, let’s see if they’re hungry.’

He ladles some of the disgusting mix into the path of the grey shadows as they ghost along beside the rocks. There are only five or six, but it’s enough, if they’re hungry.

The lead fish accelerates into the cloud of slowly sinking shirvy, followed by the rest of the shoal, chasing the food. Dry-mouthed with anticipation, Nigel sets the depth, hooks up a piece of meat about half the size of a fingernail and flicks the rig out to land gently just beyond the shirvy.

He draws it back towards the fish, hardly daring to breathe. It settles. The fish continue to circle, sucking in the food particles. The suspense is unbearable as the lead fish approaches the bait, stops a hair’s-breadth away as if to inspect it, and then darts off.

Nigel curses his luck but another fish appears in front of the bait and, almost before it’s clear what is happening, sucks it in. The float hardly moves, but Nigel strikes sideways to pull the hook firmly back into the fish’s mouth.

The mullet seems startled, but only for a millisecond. Then it bolts. By luck or good judgement, the angle of Nigel’s rod as the fish makes off encourages it to swim away from the shoal, leaving the others feeding — and still catchable on the float rig which has magically materialized in Rob’s hands.

Nigel creeps along the rocks, guiding the fish away from the shoal. Or maybe the fish is leading him, it’s not clear. One thing is certain, the fish has the upper hand. There’s nothing Nigel can do to stop it ripping line off against the clutch. No wonder they’re called the British bonefish.

Still, he’s succeeding in keeping it away from the rocks where it might find sanctuary. Or perhaps it thinks it’s safer in the open sea. Whatever the reason, it runs out instead of in, and Nigel lets the clutch take the steam out of this powerhouse of a fish.

Five minutes later it’s lost none of its zip, but after ten minutes it’s clearly slowing up. Nigel looks up to ask Rob to bring the landing net, only to see him bending into a fish of his own. Rob’s fish is smaller and nearly ready for the net. Nigel has to wait.

After what seems like an age, both Nigel’s mullet and Rob are ready. The fish lies on its side, exhausted, and Nigel draws it gently over the rim of the net. It goes just over 4lb (1.8kg), with Rob’s at about 2 1/2 b (1.1kg). A satisfactory conclusion all round — but the fishing isn’t over yet. ‘I’m going to catch a gar if it’s the last thing I do,’ swears Nigel. Almost three days without a sniff of one – and they’re supposed to be common. ‘We’ll go back to Raz Island,’ he says. ‘If I can’t catch one there, I’ll give up fishing.’

It clouds over as Nigel and Rob tackle up – Nigel with his float gear, and Rob, surprisingly enough, is wrassing. In goes some shirvy. The ebbing tide takes it, spreading its siren call through the surface layers.

After half an hour, Nigel has only a small pollack to show, but then he spots something. Following his line of sight, something very odd becomes plain, something small and stick-like snapping in the waves — the bill of a garfish feeding right on the surface.

He shallows off the float and flicks it out. In the swell it’s hard to see exactly what happens, but suddenly the float has gone. Nigel strikes and the garfish registers its amazement by leaping out of the water. The acrobatics continue, but if Nigel can land mullet, he isn’t going to lose this gar.

And there it is, just reward for three day’s fishing, a gleaming gar twisting angrily in Nigel’s grasp. He quickly releases it and smiles. So is that it? Of course not — after supper, it’s time to take on the conger…

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