Jim Dobie and the red cod of Eyemouth

Jim Dobie and the red cod of Eyemouth

It’s June the 14th, but there’s no time to polish your lift (3.35m) Avon and sort out the rest of your coarse fishing gear. Not when there are red cod to be heaved from the kelp at Eyemouth in the Scottish Borders. So pick up your 13ft (3.95m) beachcasters, pack your sturdy 7000 size multipliers with 25lb (11.3kg) line straight through, and follow Jim Dobie down to the weed-covered rocks.

Jim’s fished for the England shore fishing team since 1980 and has a trophy cabinet positively groaning with cups and medals. He’s fished this stretch of coastline for over 20 years, so if anyone’s going to find the cod, it’ll be him. ‘You can’t really predict anything in fishing, but as long as it doesn’t get too rough, the cod should be there. And there are all sorts in the rocks. It’s deep and weedy and you sometimes get fish you’d only expect from a boat.’

The path down the cliffs isn’t the most clearly marked route in the world, but with a little common sense and a little care, it’s fairly easy to find.

The wind is a blustery north-westerly, making the clouds scud across the sun, so it’s never going to get really warm. It’s also causing a bit of a chop. ‘There’s a bit more of a sea than I’d like,’ says Jim. ‘Well, it’s really a bit more than the fish like. They live in the kelp, and it’s only about 20ft deep. When it’s really rough, they get battered about a bit, so they move offshore into deeper water.’ No battered cod jokes please. ‘Mind you, this is the calmest it’s been for weeks. We’ve had an easterly kicking up a big sea, so with any luck, the fish have just moved back in to feed.’ The water is clear, so let’s hope it’s calm under the waves.

Jim baits up each of his 3/0 Vikings with fresh peeler held on with elastic. Cod love it. The rig is simplicity itself: the less there is to a two-hook paternoster, the less there is to snag in the rocks and weed. He casts each of his two rods and settles back.

Twenty minutes later it’s time to rebait -fresh bait is attractive bait. The first lot hasn’t been touched, so perhaps the crabs will leave well alone today. Jim recasts and has a look at his other rod.

Just as he moves to bring in the bait a thumping great codling bite pulls the rod tip round. ‘Will you look at that,’ says Jim, tightening up. The bend in the rod shows the size of the fish. ‘This is well over five, but it’s still in the weed.’

Famous last words. That’s where it stays. This clever codling stayed deep and the hook snood frayed on a rock and broke. The air turned the same colour as the June sky for a few seconds. ‘Still, it means they’re definitely there. It’s a good sign.’ Always look on the bright side…

Nothing happens for about an hour. Well, the tide ebbs a bit more, and there’s only an hour left to the low water slack. Then, just after Jim rebaits, there’s something of a feeble pull at one of the two rod tips.

Jim waits a while but when nothing comes of it he winds in. ‘A crab, probably.’

But this time the optimist in Jim is wrong. ‘A bullhead. And quite a big one too.’ For an ugly fish it’s actually quite pretty, if you like yellow sides, a red belly and big white polka dots.

A quick check with the books later on reveals it to be a kind of bullhead called a father lasher. Though whether it is a father which lashes, or a lasher of fathers, the books don’t make clear.

Another hour passes and the tide stands idly at its lowest point. Slack water isn’t the best time for codling but things should pick up when the flood starts. Coalies on the other hand, do feed at slack water and they keep pecking at the baits – though the 3/0 Vikings are too big for them to hook themselves.

Somewhere out there a codling isn’t paying attention. The rod tip nods about ten minutes too early. Jim picks up the rod to feel for a more definite take. There it is – he winds down slowly, feeling the fish on to the hook. Finally he’s satisfied and begins retrieving a lot more quickly to avoid losing another fish to a snag.

And before you know it Jim’s got the first codling. It’s barely 2lb (0.9kg) but it’s pretty red, and that’s what he’s here for. Perhaps now they’ve started to move in.

Just 20 minutes later, the flood has started and Jim rubs his hands together in anticipation. ‘I could do with a nice fat codling now,’ he says in his thick north-east drawl.

About five minutes later, something does its best to oblige him. The rod tip nods, gently the first time and then more violently. Jim picks up the rod and feels for more interest. After a few seconds he’s in no doubt. ‘This is a good fish… Aye. This is the one.’

He must be right, there’s something pulling away at the other end all right. ‘He’s a bit lively for a codling.’ Well well, that fast taper rock fishing rod is ach; ally bent in the middle section. Now that’s something you don’t see every day.

The codling shoots off to the right, presumably heading for a snag-laden pate h of weed, but it doesn’t make it. Jim’s got the measure of it now and he draws it stea dily towards him. Then with a flurry of spray it’s on the surface.

That’s far too ugly for even a Quasimodo cod. Jim breaks into a big grin. ‘I don’t believe it! It’s a catfish. Lucky or what?’ Lucky? From the looks of it, that’s not the word that springs to mind. The catfish or wolf fish is the ugliest and most vicious-looking sea creature around, so ‘doomed to an early grave’ seems more appropriate.

Jim swings the writhing two and a half foot (75cm) full-fanged relative of the harmless blenny on to the rock. Close up (though not that close) it’s easy to see why it’s called a wolf fish. It has got the most absurdly aggressive set of gnashers you could ever hope to see. ‘That’s made my day, that has,’ says Jim, ‘I’ve always wanted one from the shore -they’re deep water fish really. Me mates’ll never believe me till I show them the pics.’ And back goes the wolf fish to terrorize the sea’s inhabitants once more. ‘Right, now for some codlin’.’

The wind has picked up to about force four. Jim doesn’t like it. ‘Still, as long as there’s a bait in the water there’s a chance.’ The occasional shoal of coalies still zips past, rattling at the baits.

Just to show that they can be caught, Jim changes to 1/0 O’Shaughnessies on one rod, baited with half a frozen peeler. Coalies seem to prefer the frozen variety, perhaps because as they melt they release all their juices at once, giving a very powerful, though short-lived, scent trail.

Within 20 minutes Jim’s had two coalies of around Xlb (340g) and he switches back to two-rod cod fishing. However, it’s not from any real conviction that he’s going to catch another codling. ‘I think we’ve had the best of it. That wind’s making it very hard.’ Add that to the tide, which is soon going to surround the rock which is Jim’s fishing platform, cutting it off from the shore, and it’s very nearly time to go.

There’s no putting it off. If Jim doesn’t move now he’s going to have to swim back — so he retreats. But they breed them tough in the north-east. He continues to fish over the rock on which he was standing, skimming the baits along the surface to retrieve.

After another biteless half hour, Jim has to move again, but he’s stubborn and won’t give up. This time he has to move right back so that he can only fish the shallow water close in.

Even the coalies have stopped rattling at the baits. On Jim’s next cast the baits remain untouched. ‘That’s our lot I reckon,’ he says, casting out a final time, and he packs up the rest of his gear. ••,-

It’s time to go. Jim winds in his end tackle but Eyemouth has one last surprise. Attached to his lower hook is another codling of the kelp. But this one’s really red.

Okay, it’s not the biggest codling you’ll ever see, but as Jim releases it, you can’t help feeling that he’s bested the conditions. Two codling, some coalies and a wolf fish (not to mention the father lasher) can’t be bad. When are we going back?

As the tope grounds are a fair way off Mick fills the time checking tackle. Uptide rods are teamed with 7000C multipliers, filled with 18lb (8.2kg) line and a long 50lb (22.7kg) leader. A running leger ends with a 60cm (2ft) wire trace to cope with the tope’s fierce set of teeth and a 6/0 Uptide hook.