After two years having bad weather cancel our trip to the shetland islands, finally the weather was looking fantastic for us, with light north west and north east predicted which was only dropping further each day. We had high hopes of big cod, ling and coalfish with the added chance of something special such as and angler fish, halibut or maybe a giant turbot. You can’t even rule out something as yet unseen, as these waters have the potential to throw up just about anything!
After a 9hr car journey and 14hr ferry crossing, plus another 45 min drive on the island, we arrived at the community hall accommodation quickly chucking our food into the kitchen and wash bags on the beds before it was time to grab the gear and head out to the Flugga!
Everyone set up with 50lb braid paired with 30lb class rods and large cut bait herring shads. Some opted to fish a bit heavier but, I set out to slow jig for the cod and coalfish. After a few chats and many people telling me my gear would be too light to handle the tide and large fish in deep water and swell, even chatting to the skipper Kevin, who seemed slightly concerned when he inspected my gear!
So, first drift we all dropped, my slow jig got to the bottom first. 3 hops and a fall bang! Fish on! But, I instantly got cut off at this point. I was gutted leaving a jig in a fish but more so thinking my tackle may not handle the ground and fish.
Undeterred, I re-tied an fg to 80lb mono onto my 28lb jbraid and sent a 300g majorcraft jigpara to the bottom. At this point my brother, Rob, and dad, Tim, both had fish on. After several hop and falls I too was into another fish. This time I had no issues, my dad landing a nice ling around 15lb, myself a ling around 10lb and my brother a healthy cod.
After a couple more drifts and a few cod landed we moved out to deeper water away from the building tide. I upped my jig to 350g with single assist and orange muppet. This was a winning combo for myself, bagging several cod on each drift with the biggest going 24lb.
My brother’s biggest cod went 23lb and Tony had a 26lber which was a new pb for him. 90% of all the cod caught were quickly released and they powered back down with no problems at all. It was a short first day, but with everyone on board bagging some cod. The action was a lot slower than we expected though as for some reason the huge numbers of cod and coalfish just weren’t there as in previous years. Talk of algae blooms resulting in a lack of fish seemed to be going around, however, even though it wasn’t manic we still had a great day with some lovely fish landed
Day two – This day, we had decided to head for the submarine wreck in search of some monster ling. Two guys on board have had previous experience fishing this wreck, with Bruce Hough landing a massive ling of 62lb a few years earlier and Tommy having many 30lb plus fish into the high 30s. I have never been lucky enough to hit any ling from the boat having fished for them dozens of times from Cornwall to Weymouth and out of Lymington, only ever landing a few small ones but watching big ling being caught around me. Was this going to be the trip I finally broke my duck?
We stopped and feathered some cracking baits, coalfish and mackerel and, with flat calm conditions and hooks sharpened, we steamed out to be greeted by a slack tide. My brother, dad, Ian and I dropped a flying collar rig down. Bruce and Tommy opted to fish a baited perk whilst Tony baited gummy macs. My brother and I had gone all out with whole coalfish as bait around the 2lb mark! With just a few slashes on them before being sent down.
Well, I’ve never experienced anything like it, bites were instantaneous! Large solid thumps whilst giving the fish 20 seconds to take the bait before pointing the rod at the water, winding down and setting hooks in the deep water. I lost 3 fish on the same bait one after the other! Was this it again? Was I going to miss my chance at landing a ling? My brother, dad, Tommy and Tony all hooked into fish and I had another solid bite so fed it some line and tried again.
This time the fish stayed on, it was heavy and lunging, rolling and twisting. This was the first time I had used my Daiwa Tournament 25/40lb class rod and this fish had it pretty bent! 20ft down and with colour just starting to appear my leader came out the water and pop it had come off! But, fishing for ling in such depths their swim bladder expands and they float.
As I waited for the fish to pop up, I wasn’t expecting to see what hit the surface 10 yards in front of me, a massive ling, the biggest I had ever seen! I lost it at this point shouting LOOK AT THE SIZE OF IT! LOOK AT IT! LOOK AT MY LING!!!
Kevin started the boat and reversed back so I could get the fish onboard. As soon as I could get the gaff in I did and pulled it in to the boat. This was it for me, the moment I have dreamt of. This is the fish I’ve wanted for years and years! The emotion nearly got me with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. We put her on the scales and at just over 40lb I was a happy, happy boy. With the first drift resulting in three high 20lb ling and my 40, we repositioned and dropped again.
Fish were hooked straight away, but with large hooks and the depths we just kept loosing them, fish after fish after fish. The only person hooking and landing them each drop was my dad!
We changed hooks a few times and started using smaller baits. My brother then hooked what looked a good ling. He’s always been very good at catching ling on wrecks but this fish was clearly a pb for him. She hit the surface and it was another stunning fish at 35lb! Tony soon landed 3 fish over 30lb, the biggest at 32lb and a new pb for him too.
I then hooked into something enormous, it was like snagging the wreck! The head shakes and rolls made it clear this was a special fish, with the Scottish record coming from this very wreck I was shaking and begging please don’t come off please don’t come off! It crashed to the bottom, everyone including the skipper looked at me and knew this was the one, a true giant and after gaining around 40 yards of braid back it was head shaking violently and lunging about before pop went the hook! Gone! I shouted a few expletives, absolutely distraught.
By this time we were drifting away from the wreck and Kevin said it looked like some coalfish marking on the sonar just off the wreck. I grabbed my slow jigging rod with Bruce also grabbing his set up for a coalfish with a savage gear sandeel. Bang! We both hooked up half way down. What fantastic fish they are and, after screaming drags we landed a pair of nice coalfish in the mid double range.
Rob then hooked a fish 100 yards away from the wreck on a coalfish bait that was very heavy, with savage head shakes. Unsure what it was, it came up with not much trouble just plenty of weight, but around 20ft below the rod tip the fish turned and went on a blistering run so fast that in his panic to back his drag off, he knocked the reel out of gear and it fluffed his braid. Fortunately he managed to untangle it but after a few more pumps the hook hold gave way!
On inspection of the bait, teeth rakes could be seen over the coalfish but with no puncher wounds visible we think this may have been a halibut. It was another disappointing end to a great fight but left just enough time for one more drift over the wreck. We went back around and dropped down. I would like to point out that the skippers on shetland will only allow each trip a couple of hours on one day to fish the wreck to ensure they preserve their fishery. Ling don’t really go back, so every one caught reduces the stock so it will be gone in no time if hammered too hard.
This drift everyone hooked ling. Bruce nailing a lovely 27lber and my brother another high 20. Ian bagged his first ever brace of ling with the biggest at 27lb. With the boat not moving we were able to get in another drop resulting in more ling hooked up! Ian the biggest of the day, a stonking fish at 43lb and having never caught ling before he was made up with this beast!
With a few hours left in the day we headed back to the Flugga area to drift the turbot bank for cod and possibly a turbot or a halibut. This proved to be very slow, with only one small cod falling to Tommy. Later that day we heard that Kenny, skipper of Oberon, had lost a halibut on the surface and Keggy, the other charter skipper, had landed a double figure halibut. It was now time to steam in, fillet all our ling and pack into boxes ready to put onto ice.
On day three, we headed out in the hope the cod and coalfish would be feeding at the flugga lighthouse. Breaking my slow jigging gear out again we set up the first drift, which was a very, very slow start with a few small cod landed and a couple lost around the boat.
We soon decided to push out to the bank where we found a few cod on the first day. Sure enough, on the very first drop I was into a cod, then my brother having switched to a jig hooked up as several of the other guys managed to land a few cod all around the 8-15lb stamp.
Fishing really was slower than expected, drifting over a mile at a time trying to spot fish on the sounder. It took a lot of patience to nail one or two fish each drift. Bruce asked to use a slow jig as he and the others had noticed how effective it had been over the older methods that had never failed in the past. As soon as he set up with one, bang! Fish on!
On this drift I hooked into what felt like a monster of a cod, staying tight to the bottom and lugging away. It was really heavy and taking line. I really did think that this was the one and I even ended up with a crowd and Kevin coming out the wheel house saying “You still playing the same fish!?”
With fish being lost on most drifts I played it very carefully but it turned out to be a cod only around the low 20’s that had just given a great account for itself. Back she went to fight another day, but the fishing really died after this, with only a few cod being caught.
Bruce, Tony, Tommy and my dad were having a break and a coffee before the tide turn. Fortunately this switched the fish on for an hour. Bruce dropped a perk with a gummy mac on the top down and worked it very close to the bottom. Not long after he hit into a small fish with a very juddery fight. Winding it up, thinking it was a very small cod or ling I heard “what the hell is that?”, then a shout from my brother in disbelief, “IT’S A HAKE! A HAKE!”. He’d only gone and got a hake, the first specimen of this species we’d ever seen and only the second ever landed on Kevin’s boat.
The fish was only around the 2lb mark but what a stunning fish it was. The pictures really don’t do it justice but after a few snaps of the hake and Ian bagging 20 fresh mackerel it was time to head in for dinner. On the last day, we had the choice of heading for virgin ground in around 500ft of water or to start on the Flugga early morning, then the bank, then a wreck for a mix up day as the cod fishing was very very poor.
Day four and with bags packed and loaded we drove the 5 minutes down the road to the boat to meet up with Kevin at 6:30. We started the steam out and up till this point Ian had still not managed a cod! We sat and tied up two white gummy macs with a perk on the bottom and baited them with his fresh mackerel from the day before.
The fresh bait worked on the very first drift for Ian, catching his first Shetland cod and a new pb at 20lb! He was chuffed, even though it was again slower action than expected but, on the next drift Ian was in again, this time a double shot! It consisted of his very first haddock, around the 5lb mark, and a double figure cod on the bottom!
Tommy and tony both landed a few nice cod with my dad, brother and I also landing some up to high double on slow jigs and bait. We soon moved out to try the northern end of the large bank we fished the day previous as after chatting to Kevin, he told us they get a few tusk/lumb on this area, a fish I would love to catch but a fish my dad has wanted to catch his entire life. I stayed on slow jigging gear as it was the last day and we wanted some cod to take home for the freezer.
My brother and dad fished flying collar rigs with coalfish strip or mackerel and dragged their baits along the bottom in hope of a tusk. After a few drifts and around 20 cod in the box alongside a few small ling coming to the baits, it was the last drift before moving to the wreck. We all caught fish on this drift, cod and ling but, my dad hooked something that was not very big but gave considerable head shakes to start, then nothing all the way up. I had the net in hand waiting and watching for when it would start to appear in the clear water. It looked like a small cod but then no, could it be? Yessssss! it was a lumb! The net went under the fish and in it came.
My dad cheered and a few handshakes and a hugs were had. It was a lifetime ambition ticked off and a memory that will stay with me forever. At just 4lb and a fish regular northern Norway boat anglers complain about as pests, the excitement may seem unusual, but they are much rarer outside of Norwegian waters. It was a cracking looking fish, yellow with white trim and flashes of blue along the flank.
It was time to head out to the wreck, looking for cod, ling and maybe a chance of a coalfish living around the wreck. Lots of marks on the bottom showed on the sounder with the odd fish in mid water. With some of us fishing lures and some fishing baits, with the chance of a coalfish I opted to stay on the slow jigging outfit using a black hole pioneer rated pe 2-4 80-350g, paired with a small Poseidon and diawa 28lb jbraid. This is ideal for every situation I might encounter.
Bites were instant! Ling and a couple of smaller coalfish around 8lb were coming up. The next drift saw my jig get stopped on the way down. Flicking the reel into gear two hops and whack! Fish on! I’ve never experienced power like this. I didn’t think this fish was going to stop hammering to the bottom taking it to new braid. One fish my dad, brother and I had come for was a big coalfish, famous in this area and after a good 10 minute scrap, up she came! It was another fish I had come for, a stonking coalfish and yet another pb landed on this trip at 22lb.
I was a happy bunny and having seen this my brother jumped into action, changing jigs as a big coalfish had been his dream for a long time! On the next drift my dad was fishing a traditional wrecking method, with a boom and redgill. He hooked into a coalfish, then my brother hooked into one as did Tony and I.
The fish my brother hooked plummeted down and didn’t stop! Mine, my dad and Tony’s fish had all stopped and reached the surface, with mine being around 15lb, my dad’s and Tony’s likely around the same, but my brothers had just stopped running on his 12lb class outfit! He had an amazing fight, with nerves shook we watched and waited for her to surface and when she did, what a stunning fish!
At 25lb, we put the net under her, lifted it in and the emotion that came over him was amazing. This was not just a fish but an ambition fulfilled, a dream and yet another memory that would stay with us forever.
After a few more ling and cod coming up the very next drift my dad hooked a good coalfish. On this trip he was hoping to beat his pb set in Plymouth many years ago at 19lb and sure enough he did! A belting fish at 20lb seeing the last day ending in pbs for Ian, Tony, my dad, brother and I, it was a cracking way to end and it was soon time to head back, fillet and pack fish into boxes ready for the long journey home.
None of us could go home disappointed. A massive thank you to Kevin, the skipper of Compass Rose. He worked every day, non stop, to put us on fish. We couldn’t have had such a fantastic trip without him. I would highly recommend him to anyone thinking of a trip up and a shout out to the kind lady who cooks and prepares your meals for a small price each day. Coming home to a hot meal really saves a lot of hassle. I cannot wait for the next trip back to this stunning UK island!