One annual trip that never fails to whet the appetite is my trip up to Luce Bay in southwest Scotland. I have ventured up to this beautiful part of the world for many years. A place of outstanding natural beauty, the area also offers some superb boat fishing for many species.
There is also another big plus for any boat angler wanting to fish these waters, due to the area being a large peninsular running north to south, ending at the picturesque Mull of Galloway lighthouse, you get a great deal of protection from the wind. The ability to fish within Luce Bay itself or out into the Irish Sea depending on wind direction have saved many a trip that might otherwise have been cancelled all together.
My charter boat of choice for these trips is ‘Onyer Marks Sea Fishing’ run by Ian Burrett. A Yorkshireman by birth, Ian has been chartering in and around Luce Bay since 1988. Initially his trips revolved around traditional species such as cod and rays but, due to their decline from commercial pressure, Ian was forced to look at other options.
The result of this change of tack resulted in the area quickly becoming ‘The Tope Capital of Scotland’. Ian was at the forefront of developing a more sporting style of fishing for the inshore pollock. He has also been instrumental in protecting the quality fishing in Luce Bay for future generations through his work with SSACN (Scottish sea angling conservation network).
In recent years Ian`s son Bradley has joined the ‘Onyer Marks team’ and now skippers one of the boats in their fleet. A passionate skipper like his father, he is proving to be highly successful and a fit “heir to the throne.” The boats themselves are small which lends itself to a much more personal type of charter fishing, Ian and Bradley are in amongst their anglers all day offering help and advice. Ian being the stoic Yorkshireman would add “whether they like it or not”
Like many anglers during lockdown, I was desperate for something to look forward too. Following a phone call to my dad we decided to book a family trip up to Luce Bay. We had gone the year before and had a bumper catch of spurdog and pollock but unfortunately weather had kept us from the tope grounds. Calls were made, messages exchanged, and Ian booked us two good tides, I have always found smaller tides better due to the huge tide run they have up there. Time rolled on, Spring nudged winter in the back, Summer eased past Spring and things were looking good. Social media was full of great catches from ‘Onyer Marks’. Pictures or numerous tope with the odd large common skate only served to add to the anticipation. Then it happened… rough weather on the horizon.
For a while it looked like we would not get out at all, then a ray of hope. A message from Ian calling the trip on, but with the advice to try get some ragworm and bring some smaller hooks. A huge thanks to Darren Breen from Gerry`s of Morecambe who answered a message well after his paid working hours and came through with some worm for us. The van was loaded, and we were on our way!
With Luce Bay being a three hours’ drive from my home in the Northwest of England we headed to our accommodation the day before our first planned day afloat. The lovely Torrs Warren Country House Hotel would be our base for a couple of days. A lovely quaint hotel with comfortable rooms and a nice bar for essential refreshments. After a quick check in, clean up and a few drinks, three overly excited anglers tried, unsuccessfully on my count, to get some sleep ready for the following day.
The boat rocked gently at anchor. I watched my rod tip against the beautiful backdrop of steep cliffs plunging into the sea and took a deep breath. It looked like we had gotten away with it! The rain which had hammered against the restaurant roof during breakfast had subsided. We had launched from Port Logan and headed into the Irish Sea under heavy, slate-coloured skies full of hope. The decision was made to head away from the crowds of boats fishing a species competition to fish inshore for bottom feeding species such as tope. Then, there was nothing… the odd doggie rattle but no sign of anything bigger. Ian, a skipper always thinking and trying to put his anglers on fish was not happy.
“Five minutes lads and we will have a move”
Click, click. My ratchet gave a little line. In my best Captain Quint from Jaws impression, I quietly picked up the rod. A heavy fish promptly headed off at speed giving head shakes as it went, then, slack line! I’d lost it…
“Well, we best give it another five minutes” announced Ian with a grin. This time it was my father Robin`s rod that set off on cue. He managed to stay in touch with a fish that charged away taking fifty yards of line then turned and ran back at him. A few more runs and dad guided a lovely, fit tope to the boat that was quickly unhooked, photographed, and returned to fight another day. Mission accomplished! A few bull huss followed before we decided to head off and enjoy some pollock fishing for the rest of the day. The pollock fishing in Luce Bay is, in my opinion, some of the best sport fishing available in the UK. It is done remarkably close to the shore on the very light gear. I prefer to float fish for them whenever possible. Seeing a float disappear and that crash dive from a hooked pollock is guaranteed to bring a smile to any angler’s face. Over the next few hours, we managed a good number of fish to over 5lbs before heading back in to Port Logan… Tired, but happy.
We had eaten breakfast and said goodbye to the staff at Torrs Warren in suitable time to meet the ‘Onyer Marks team’ for day two of our adventure. Today we would be fishing inside Luce Bay with the hope of heading offshore in search of a tope later on if the conditions permitted. Glimpses of the sea as we headed towards our launching spot only served to heighten the expectation. The wind had dropped over night and the sea had flattened, it looked perfect! A smooth launch, some swift feathering up of mackerel for bait and Ian put the hammer down. We were steaming offshore.
Chatting to Ian as we headed out, we formed a plan of attack. We would hit a mark first that was either all spurdog or all tope. If it was spurs, we would have an hour on them before moving on. But we would only get three hours fishing before the tide run would force us inshore. Down went the anchor, then, as the boat settled in the tide, down went our fresh mackerel baits. Instantly my dad was into a fish, we all had that spurdog feeling but it turned out to be a small tope, a great start! What happened over the next couple of hours can only be described as carnage, it was a tope fest! Time after time ratchets screamed and fish roared off.
It was a real team effort as rods were swapped, baits cut for each other, and we assisted the skipper with the unhooking of these crazy possessed fish. All in an effort to maximise our sport and keep fresh baits in the water so we did not lose the pack that were feeding around us. A highlight for me was a tope taking a bait I was bringing in to check only a few feet below the surface, what a moment! In what felt like a blink of an eye we had managed twenty five tope to 37lb and several good huss. As the tide run began to pick up, we had a decision to make …. Spend the remainder of the day trying for a common skate, hit the pollock again or, try for a big bass. We decided to go for a silver bar…
A quick blast back in shore and we were soon drifting with light gear hoping for a take. The quality of the bass fishing in Luce Bay has become a welcome addition to the staple tope and pollock fishing in recent years. Luke`s first ever boat trip four years earlier had produced a fish over 7lbs and each year since they have produced more fish, and more consistently.
A couple of fruitless drifts later, my dad threw me a look. I know just how much he loves his pollock fishing and that he was thinking of a change. I reiterated that we were there for one special fish, and it was worth waiting a little longer. Over arched Luke’s rod and line sped from his reel. Instantly we all knew this was not a pollock. A pollock will smash you and crash dive for the safety of the kelp. This fish was running in long powerful surges and kiting uptide. In a flash the skipper was at Luke`s shoulder, keeping him calm and offering advice. Following another long run Ian glanced my way and asked if Luke had his drag set correctly, I assured him it was set from pollocking the following day… “it’s some fish this then” he growled as we all waited with bated breath. Then we saw it, a beautiful big bass cutting through the tide, gills flared and dorsal fin proud. The net was flung in my direction, no pressure! And we waited for it to tire. The bass was now a couple of feet below the surface moving around in tight circles.
Luke did magnificently, not panicking and trying to rush his prize. As the bass broke the surface, I dipped the net beneath it, and it was ours! Only then did we fully realise what a special fish it was. Scale perfect, thick across its back, deep bodied and with those beautiful colourings larger bass seem to have it was a privilege to see such a stunning creature. The stunned frozen moment passed as we rushed to weigh, photograph, and return Luke’s special fish. It went just over 15lbs, a fish of a lifetime for Luke made all the sweeter by seeing it swim away strong to fight another day. Unbelievably we followed it the very next cast with a fish just under 10lbs, dream fishing!
We managed no more bass after those two incredibly special fish although we did get other species. As I tend to do towards the end of a day’s boat fishing, I allowed myself to drift away and savour the moment.
It had been an amazing couple of days angling, made all the more special by experiencing it with my son and father. The laughs, quality of the fishing and moments I hope will stay as fresh in my mind as they are whilst I type this… a tope grabbing my bait at the side of the boat, Luke’s face as a tope did its best to drag him overboard, the camaraderie and helping Ian on the boat, Luke laughing at some funny comment from dad and THAT bass, appearing out the depths its silver flank glinting in the sunlight. Precious memories….
A huge thanks to Ian Burrett for two fantastic days fishing, I could not recommend a day’s fishing with him or Bradley enough. Dad did treat him to a gift before we left for home, a bottle of brandy, what brand you ask? OLD SEA DOG of course …