More than twenty miles off the end of Cornwall lie the stunning Isles of Scilly, a chain of some two hundred islands, with most being uninhabited. St. Mary’s is the capital island with a population of only 2000 residents and other islands nearby such as Tresco and St. Agnes support small numbers of people who are intent on living their lives in the peace and quiet that these islands give. The moment you step off the boat, plane or helicopter, you are struck by the friendliness and tranquillity of the place. More importantly, there are loads of fish all over the islands and many areas have never even seen a baited hook, let alone an angler! I am quite happy to admit that I have completely fallen in love with the Isles of Scilly and will return as much as time and funds allow. Surely one of the driving forces behind why we so enjoy our sport is the desire to explore new grounds and get away from the everyday roundabout of life.
The Isles of Scilly used to be one big island many thousands of years ago; subsequently, the sea is shallow and mainly sandy between them, but those islands with outside facing coasts drop off into very deep water. There are lots of wrecks, reefs and sandbanks that hold fish, but here I am going to concentrate on the unspoilt shore fishing that surrounds these islands. Apart from a few resident anglers and visitors, it's hugely untapped and just waiting for some time to be put in.
A rock angler’s dream
Anyone who has ever fished off the shore will get interested when they hear the words rocks, deep water, fast tides and lots of baitfish; there are times when you will cast a bait or lure out no more than 50 metres and be fishing in over 40 metres of water! You are never going to come across loads of anglers all converging on the same location and there is much to do and see when you want a break from the fishing. Well - that is what I have been assured of, for every time I have been there I spend all my time fishing!
The hard fighting pollack are all over the place; look for places that have some tide and deep water and fish these. The whole south side of the main island, St. Mary’s, is like this; you could travel light with a spinning rod, reel and selection of lures and just wander up and down the coast looking for fish holding features. You will lose a bit of tackle, but it is worth it. It is best to cast the lure out and let it just hit the bottom before starting the retrieve. Slightly heavier lures are useful because they reach the bottom faster and cast further; the best pollack spinner I have found is called the Bridun Saltwater Launce in the 50g weight (contact The Harris Angling Company, email: email@example.com). You will also catch plenty of mackerel and garfish in summer.
It is advisable to use powerful spinning or carp rods, for these pollack will hit lures very hard and crash-dive straight for the bottom, just like those caught from a boat; your job is to try and slow them down and turn their heads! It is actually quite alarming how hard something like a 4lb pollack fights from the shore and there is always that chance of catching a really big one.
But a word of warning: If you are going to have a serious crack at these pollack, you will quickly find it essential to step up your gear to accommodate the larger specimens. Use a standard 4-6oz beachcaster, decent multiplier and load up with 18lb mainline and a long 30’ 50lb leader; then go deep spinning! This method involves a 4 or 5oz lead, 3’ trace and a strong 3/0 hook. Attach a quality blast frozen sandeel (AMMO, available in the sports shop over there on St. Mary’s) and then whack it out. Once it hits the bottom, start a steady retrieve and make sure you do not stop winding for anything; resist the temptation to strike a fish’s knock, wait until the rod bends over and then try like mad to get the pollack’s head up before it crash dives to a kelpy or rocky sanctuary. You stand every chance of hooking an 8lb plus fish doing this, especially off Inner and Outer Head (marked on an O/S map). It may seem surprising to some anglers, but big wrasse can sometimes become a nuisance when deep spinning sandeel, and you will lose some gear, but it's all relative.
The smash-and-grab wrasse
You can ledger or floatfish for wrasse in both deep and shallow water; all you need is a rocky or weed-infested sea-bed, for this is where wrasse like to hunt for their food. Baits such as worms (ragworm and lugworm) or crabs work very well, but do hold your rod all the time; a big wrasse of 4lb plus can hit you so hard sometimes that your mainline will just snap without any warning. A big wrasse’s natural instinct is to hit the bait and then run for the nearest hole; let them get there and you will never see the fish or your end tackle again, so strike the moment you feel a positive bite. There is no point in killing these fish, so unhook them gently and return them to the water to fight again and grow bigger. There are so many variations in colour to the ballan wrasse and you may even see one of the smaller but extremely beautiful cuckoo wrasse; these fish do like very deep water and small mackerel baits.
Water so deep that it's always dark on the bottom
The Isles of Scilly are surrounded by the most amazingly crystal clear water, but in those places where the depth just drops away, it is perfectly feasible to catch nocturnal feeding species in the daytime. The water can be so deep in places that some of the fish must think it is permanently night time!! Big conger eels and bull huss feed in these deep spots on mackerel and squid baits fished hard on the bottom with heavy gear; the biggest pollack do often come to big conger baits. This may seem somewhat ironic after perhaps a day spent spinning for them, but my friend who lives over there has witnessed pollack to 12lbs on big conger baits!! That must be some shock when it hits the surface.
It is also worth casting baits out onto the sandy patches where you can catch dabs, plaice, dogfish (a pain for most anglers, but they are very often over 3lbs out there), rays, codling, whiting, pouting and various other species, but it is the daytime pollack and wrasse fishing that I really enjoy out there. Just be careful though, because these islands can get battered by the full force of the Atlantic; it can be flat calm with a big swell, so watch how close you go to the water’s edge. Obviously avoid fishing on those days when walls of water are running in and swamping every rock.
There are also some big mullet all over the place which respond well to careful groundbaiting tactics Bread and mackerel flesh are the most effective baits, either fished under a float or ledgered in certain areas. There have been some good 5lb plus fish landed, but there are much larger mullet out there; they have so far got the better of the anglers though, either through running and snapping lines or staying tantalisingly out of range. I fully expect the Isles of Scilly to throw up a 10lb plus mullet soon.
There is one main boat that takes anglers out (Kingfisher, run by Alec Hicks, tel: 01720 422 271). The reefs close to shore are alive with pollack, and conger eels when the boat is anchored and during the summer months there are lots of the sleek and fast running blue sharks around. Alec is very good at this type of fishing; blue sharks are best to catch on light tackle so they can really show their true fighting qualities. There are few other fish to catch in UK waters that are as beautiful as the blue shark; 60lbs is an perfectly good shark, although Alec has had a fair few over the magical 100lbs. These are such fun on the light tackle.
If you are after the more quiet and peaceful holiday, then the Isles of Scilly are perfect. Local boats run trips to all the main islands and each one has its own unique feel and atmosphere; I cannot even begin to imagine how many miles of coastline over there are just waiting for their first anglers. There are never enough hours in the day or days in the week!!