I first heard about Luce Bay almost thirty years ago as a child. At the age of around three, I’d already started developing an appetite for all things aquatic, later fuelled by stories from my Dad about trips to Luce Bay in South West Scotland and the various species they’d catch. 

Fast forward to a quiet afternoon in March 2016, and I found myself on the A69 and A75 making my way from Newcastle to the Mull of Galloway area, having made a spur of the moment decision to drive over for the day to scope it out. I only needed to be there for 20 minutes to realise that I’d be spending a significant amount of time there in the years to come! 

The imposing cliffs, full of pollack at the foot of them

The Mull of Galloway area is unique because it is on a long narrow peninsula, making it almost like an island is some respects. The beauty of this is that there is usually somewhere you can find some shelter to wet a line, be it boat or shore. As well as offering a vast range of species, it is a superb place of natural beauty which plays host to an abundance of wildlife.

Initial trips were shore based where we’d spin for pollack into the Irish sea during the day, then head out in the evenings onto the Luce Bay side with plugs in search of bass. At the time, I kept “Wicked Jack”, my 16ft Alaska 500, in Amble Marina in Northumberland. It soon began to cover plenty of road miles over to Scotland and gave me the ability to fish from the boat as well as the shore. It didn’t take me long to leave Amble and permanently keep the boat on the Mull. Incidentally, Wicked Jack moved on to pastures new with ‘Freeliner’, my 18ft Raider Fisherman, now facilitating access to the offshore fishing grounds. 

Besides the three species targeted in this competition, the area holds a lot of other quality species, such as this huss caught by Henry

Being Newcastle based, I now tend to aim for a minimum of three-night trips, along with at least two full weeks – generally around June and September. This trip was a full week which provided the opportunity not only to prepare and fish the competition, but also to target some other species throughout the week. 

The competition itself is run by the Mull of Galloway Sea Angling Festival (MOGSAF) who, along with the three species event, also run the renowned Tope Festival, Species Hunt and Bass Competition. This was my first MOGSAF competition and I have to say that the guys did a superb job of organising and running the event. Needless to say, I immediately signed up for next year’s Tope Festival which I’m thoroughly looking forward to.

All of the boats ready for the competition

The three species competition is based on the combined length of each boat’s longest cod, pollack and haddock. Therefore, in order to qualify, each boat must catch at least one of each species. As part of the registration process each boat is given a number card and MOGSAF measuring tape. Fish are therefore required to be photographed with both items present in the picture. The beauty of this system, of course being that fish can be returned or kept for the table.

The competition was to be held on the Sunday and myself, Thea and Henry had arrived on the Saturday. With light easterly winds forecast for the entire week it was looking like Luce Bay would be off the cards and fishing would be from the deeper Port Logan side of the Mull into the Irish Sea. 

There's always some shelter to be had here, regardless of the weather

My plan was to get a bit of practice in for the competition and try a series of deep drop offs between 100 and 200 feet up to two miles offshore. Drifting with baited Hokkai rigs, muppets and daylights would be the tactics, finishing the day with anchoring up for tope. I have to admit my plan was a total disaster… hour after hour of fruitless drifting accompanied by rather sore shoulders from all of the up and down winding.  The strategy for the competition certainly needed to change! At around 5pm I made the call to drop the anchor and bait up with some large mackerel flappers and head and shoulder baits in the hope for a tope (or anything else for that matter).

I’d spotted a steep south facing ridge on my chart and with the tide now ebbing it would be facing directly into the flow. After a slow half hour, the ratchet on my Fin Nor reel screamed off and I was into a tope. No sooner had I started retrieving and Thea’s rod ran off, she set the hook home and began to play the fish. My fish came in five minutes or so thereafter, and was safely unhooked by the side of the boat. Thea’s fish however had a lot more attitude and was giving her quite the run around. 

A tope for Henry

After a very good scrap the fish was brought onto the boat, unhooked and photographed. A slightly out of breath Thea was extremely happy with her capture which turned out to be a nice fish of around 30lbs, by no means huge by tope standards but great sport on light 12‐20lb class gear. Day one had been a shocker on the competition preparation front, but luckily we’d salvaged something with a couple of tope to round the day off.

The next morning saw us arrive at Port Logan at around 8:15am. There was certainly a buzz about the place with people launching, chatting and getting stuck into the bacon sarnies that’d been put on, a very nice touch. Fishing would be from 9am – 3pm with the competition HQ and prizes at the Sands of Luce Holiday Park. With all 21 boats launched by around 8:50am we all sat bobbing around patiently waiting to give it some throttle and head out to our marks. 9am came and we were off into what can only be described as a very lumpy sea, very different from the flat conditions we’d enjoyed the previous day. 

A lovely tope for Thea

The strategy this time would be to aim for cod and haddock first, with pollack covered in the afternoon. We knew that the haddock would be the main challenge and would be the difference between qualifying and not. The pollack fishing around the Mull can be superb and we were more than confident that we’d locate them and given their numbers, connect with one or two larger ones. 

We elected to fish shallower water this time and started off with a drift over some rough ground in around 60 feet of water. Down went our baited Hokkai rigs and we were fishing. The bites weren’t exactly thick and fast, but we hit the odd small pollack as the tide moved us around. After a decent bite I struck and was into a better fish. A nice codling of 49cm broke the surface and was guided into the net, we were off! After a quick photo with our boat number and measuring scale present the fish was returned to fight another day.

The codling was the first fish recorded of the 3

The next hour or so saw more smaller codling and the odd pollack. Beginning to get slightly concerned that the haddock would elude us, I opted to head slightly further out into around 90ft of water where I’d seen an interesting looking feature on my plotter. Henry rigged up some rather strange looking, yellow squid shaped lures and sent them down baited with mackerel. After a nice bite he was into a good fish which turned out to be a huss of around 8lbs. Not the target species but a welcome sight all the same. 

Swift rebait and he was back down, Thea and I at this point eagerly waiting for a bite. Henry announced he’d had another knock and his rod was again nicely arched over, ‘please, please be a haddock’. The colour slowly began to emerge from the depths, I could see it was a very light-coloured fish but still couldn’t make it out. As it broke the surface the fish came into full view – it was exactly what we’d hoped for and turned out to be a nice haddock of 43cm. There was certainly a lot of excitement and there may have even been one or two celebratory hugs!

We'd done it! A nice haddock of 43cm

It was now noon, the hard work was done, so we steamed inshore tight to the cliffs to take our pick of good sized pollack – or would we?  Sea conditions were considerably more pleasant inshore with most of the bays being flat calm and sheltered from the wind. Tactics would be to cast and jig a combination of metals and soft plastic shads in and around deep kelpy gullies and drop offs where the pollack would be waiting in ambush. 

My experience has shown me that depths in excess of around 40ft tend not to be as productive as the 25ft – 35ft areas. Typically, at these depths, the sounder will show heavy strands of dense kelp with the bottom becoming cleaner and offering less habitat for food and ambush as the depth increases beyond 40ft. So we began to work our lures around a series of very scenic bays and small headlands. 

Getting a pollack wasn't hard. We knew this wouldn't be large enough to compete though

We were into pollack more or less straightaway, but the vast majority were on the small side in the 1 – 1.5lb bracket. Persistence paid and eventually we hooked into a couple of better fish with both metals and sidewinders doing the business. By now it was 2pm and our best pollack went 50cm. By no means a big pollack by Mull standards and we remained confident that we’d get a better one. 

Unfortunately, time passed very quickly as it tends to when fishing, and before we knew it we were on to our final casts. I announced this would be my last cast and no sooner had my 28g silver metal hit the surface, I’d connected with a better fish and, after a couple of turns my braid went solid as the fish had immediately gone for ground and buried me fast in the kelp. After a couple of sharp pulls, I felt everything go worrying light; sure enough my braid had parted on what was presumably a sharp rock – game over. It was now time to head in and see whether we were in with a chance. 

Hooked up at sunset

We knew that our pollack would not be anywhere near the largest taken and indeed it turned out to be the 14th largest (or 7th smallest!). However, I had greater hopes for the cod and even greater confidence in the haddock. Upon arriving to a busy bay of boats at Port Logan there were rumblings of some big pollack of up to 70cm+, which we had fully expected. The noises around the cod and haddock situation were far more encouraging and resulted in us driving back to the Sands of Luce debating whether we might be in with a chance of a half respectable position in the league table. 

After a very welcome cold drink and craic with other anglers, it was time for the results to be announced. Fifth place would be read first and so on. After fifth had been announced with a combined length of 134cm we realised that we had actually placed! Fourth was next with 136cm followed by “Freeliner” with 142cm and an envelope scooping us £120 – a very welcome end to what had been a challenging but enjoyable and memorable competition. 

How had 'Freeliner' done?

Second was Striker III with 146cm with Rosie M taking top prize with a solid 156cm total length. As we expected our modest pollack of 50cm was our Achilles heel. Both Striker III and Rosie M had landed very nice fish of 70cm and 73cm respectively. Our thoughts around the cod and haddock were also correct with our cod being the fourth largest and our haddock being the largest of the day by a margin of 8cm!

We arrived back to our chalet tired but very happy with our winnings. The debut competition had been thoroughly enjoyable, and it has to be said that the guys who run the MOGSAF competitions did a superb job at running a very well organised event.

The final results

Monday was departure day for Henry and Thea, but only after we’d had a short three-hour session close in for a conger. Alas we missed the only bite that we were sure was a conger, but it was still an enjoyable morning to be afloat. Henry did however sneak a beautifully marked cuckoo wrasse which was the first I’d ever seen. Henry and Thea made their way home and I was fortunate enough to be staying for the remainder of the week. 

A couple of other friends arrived mid-week for four nights and again due to the constant easterly winds we were back out in the Irish Sea from Port Logan. The target species was predominantly tope and although we did manage a nice fish of around 30lbs, the remainder of the trip proved to be fruitless, despite a lot of time and effort having been put in – that’s fishing I suppose. 

A nice scrappy bass for Hodge

We did however hook into some nice wrasse and finished the week with some close in-plug work for pollack and bass. Luckily, we hooked into a couple of bass with Paul taking the best, a very fit and hard scrapping fish of around 3lbs which was slipped back to fight another day. 

The week had been challenging due to the constant easterly winds, but we had seen a variety of fish and we had at least connected with some tope, albeit not as many as we’d have liked. The competition had brought a new dimension to the fishing, and we are certainly keen to participate in future events. All in all another memorable trip at the Mull of Galloway… roll on the next one!

Some wrasse to finish the trip off
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