Monday, October 16, 2017

Three bearded by name...

I drove down the A1 to Cove last night for a session targeting three bearded rockling. Quite often in the past fellow anglers have told me they've caught them on the east coast only for them to show me photos of shore rockling. Despite having never caught a three bearded rockling, to my mind the two species cannot really be mistaken for each other. Having seen a photo of an actual three bearded rockling that was caught from the mouth of Cove's harbour I was hopeful that I might get lucky and catch one myself. Ledgering strips of mackerel things were very slow and I spent six hours basically feeding the crabs and winding in to put a fresh piece of bait on every twenty minutes. I only caught one fish all night just after the tide began to ebb and whilst it was a rockling with three beards it was sadly not a three bearded rockling!

The fish I caught last night was a shore rockling. It is a pretty drab looking fish, not pink with brown spots like its three bearded cousin.
As well as having a lovely purple ring around the eyes it also has three "beards" which I think is why some anglers who aren't really interested in rockling misidentify them.
For the avoidance of doubt the fish above is a three bearded rockling. Pretty hard to confuse the two given the three bearded rockling's much more colourful appearance.

I've been doing more research recently into potential hotspots for targeting three bearded rockling. They seem to be much more prolific on the west coast of the country so that's where I'm going to try next. I'm off to the north coast of Devon next week to try my luck at Ilfracombe Pier for six days. As well as holding plenty of three bearded rockling it seems that this venue is also known to produce both Connemara clingfish and shore clingfish so I'll be fishing tiny baits straight down the side of the pier to try and get lucky during the day. Telling them apart shouldn't be too hard either.

The Connemara clingfish has banded eyes and orange markings on its cheeks.
The shore clingfish has two bright blue spots on the top of its head. It is also know as the Cornish sucker.

I'm really looking forward to this trip. It's always exciting fishing somewhere new. It's a long way to drive and it's also been a while since I was down there so depending on how I get on catching my three main new species targets I might try and visit some other more familiar venues while I'm down there.

Tight lines, Scott.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

More species hunting adventures on Crete : Part 4.

Midway through the second half of our holiday we headed through the mountains to the south coast again, this time to spend an afternoon in the remote village of Loutro. It really is remote and can only be reached by foot from a village up above it in the mountains or by boat. We decided to take easy option, taking a ferry from Hora Sfakion and after no time at all we arrived.

Loutro is very picturesque with all its buildings painted in the traditional Greek island style, white with blue doors and windows.

The small street that runs along the front of the village is full of restaurants so we had a wander all the way along through them before picking one to have lunch in. Most of them had someone trying to tempt you to eat in their establishment but one restaurant took a rather different, feathered approach to its promotion.

This is Coco the parrot. He talks to potential customers. Really they should teach him to say "Try our moussaka!".

After lunch I got the green light to fish from the end of the village's small pier. Around it were large submerged concrete blocks so I fished in the gaps between them. This was productive and after catching a few ornate wrasse I added a couple of species to my tally.

My first scorpionfish of the trip was this Madeira rockfish.
There were also a few parrotfish in amongst the ornate wrasse.

The water out in front of the pier looked pretty deep so after a while I switched my attention to fishing that. The bottom further out was sandy and from it I caught a few common combers, a goldblotch grouper, some Atlantic lizardfish and a couple of wide eyed flounders on various soft plastics fished on a drop shot rig.

A local who saw me catching the wide eyed flounders informed me the Greeks refer to them as "tongues".

I then tried fishing lures further up in the water column too but apart from the numerous small garfish hitting my paddletails I didn't get any interest so I tied on a tiny metal and caught a few of them before packing up so we could sit in a bar in the shade enjoying a cold drink and an ice cream while we waited for our ferry back to Hora Sfakion to arrive.

The next day I decided to get up early and made my way to the rock mark I'd seen from Nikos' boat. Access was relatively easy with goats having made several fairly well worn paths most of the way round the headland and just a little bit of straight forward rockhopping at the end had me in position ready to fish as the sun appeared over the horizon.

The sun rises.

It was quite deep but the bottom was fairly rough close in so after losing a few leads and catching nothing but rainbow wrasse I began exploring the sea bed a bit further out. After casting around in a few different directions and catching a few more rainbow wrasse I then found an area that held some couch's seabream and caught half a dozen of them before things went quiet.

Also known as the red porgy, Couch's seabream was my fortieth species of the trip.

Heading back to the car there was nobody on the beach yet so I had a few casts from it. Slowly working my way along it I caught some Atlantic lizardfish, striped seabream, plain red mullet, black goby and lesser weever.

Later that morning we drove into Rethymno and this time had no trouble parking the hire car down near the harbour. After wandering along the front of the harbour for a while we doubled back and headed up to explore the Fortezza, a large Venetian fortress build upon Paleokastro Hill in the town.

The Fortezza from the road below. There are only a few buildings left inside its walls.

Lillian likes old buildings and castles so she loved it. Not really my thing if I'm honest and walking around in the afternoon heat the non stop noise of the female cicadas was driving me mad. There were so many of them I even managed to catch one from a tree.

What a racket these bugs make!

Wandering back down into the shade of Rethymno's old town's narrow streets was nice and it was quite relaxing just rambling around. Eventually we stumbled upon a lovely little restaurant where we had some lunch.

The old town in rethymno was lovely.
This is the restaurant we found by accident. It's called To Pigadi. "The Well" in English.
A tasty selection of appetisers to tide us over.

For some strange reason after lunch Lillian was desperate to spend an hour or so throwing small chunks of bread into Rethymno harbour. Pretty strange I thought but I went along and threw some in myself, with a hook stuck in each piece of course. Lillian did a great job of attracting some fish and it didn't take long at all for a few mullet to arrive. The usual frustration soon ensued but after a while I managed to get my presentation right and caught three of them before the loaf was all used up.

I was hoping for a flat headed grey mullet which would have been a new species for me but I happily settled for it's thin lipped cousin as it was still another species added to my tally.

The next day we headed to the south coast yet again. I had booked us on a day trip on a boat to a private beach that included a spot of fishing on the way to catch our lunch. I couldn't wait though and before we even left the harbour I had caught some fish in the shape of some annular seabream and a plain red mullet.

Plain red mullet have no markings on their fins and have much shorter feelers under their chin than their striped cousins.

Cruising west along the coast we stopped briefly to visit a cave before headed to the fishing area. The boat was small enough to go right inside but having been on boat trips before whilst on holiday on Greek islands I'd seen my share of "blue caves" before and wasn't that impressed.

Greek island boat trips to see "blue caves" are pretty common and if you've seen one blue cave you've seen them all really. 

After headed further along the coastline we eventually stopped to catch lunch. Whilst everyone else was given a hand line to fish with I used my own tackle and this undoubtedly helped me catch more fish. Everybody caught fish though, mostly common combers but some Couch's seabream, rainbow wrasse and the odd painted comber got caught too.

I caught a solitary painted comber which would be my only one of the trip.

As we fished it became apparent that there were some larger fish around as well. Reeling up a fish my rod bent over briefly before straightening out again after a few seconds. Something had grabbed my common comber and bitten its body off leaving me just the head to wind up. This happened to another angler too so there was obviously a shoal of predators around. after stopping at a few different spots we'd soon caught enough fish to eat so the boat then took us to a small secluded beach where we all got off and relaxed. The crew then set to work preparing our lunch and we enjoyed it under the shade of a small wooden shack built at the top of the beach with wooden benches inside it.

 Delicious freshly caught fish and Greek salad was washed down with some wine.

After driving back to Georgioupolis in the evening I had an hour at dusk down at the river. I focused on fishing soft plastics on jigheads and had fun catching barracuda and bluefish. The odd bass also showed an interest, following before turning away as I worked the lure back closer to me. I was beginning to give up on catching a bass when one appeared from nowhere deep down right in front of me, charging up and swallowed my lure before turning and heading out into the current. It put up a reasonable scrap but with no snags in my vicinity I just took my time and let it take line when it wanted to run. When it tired I quickly landed it and took a photo before returning the fish, much to the disgust of a couple of locals who were fishing further along the rocks.

Released to fight another day. Someone has to release some fish as the locals almost always don't.
The combo the bass took. I'd forgotten how good these particular jigheads and soft plastics were.

Shortly afterwards I headed further upstream to fish just down from the bridge. Sticking with soft plastics mounted on a jighead I caught some yellowtail barracuda and bluefish before switching to a split shot rig baited with ragworm to sight fish for smaller species. This saw me catching blennies, gobies, bogue and I added another species to my tally when I caught a few small axillary seabream.

Rusty blennies have reddish brown tips to their pectoral and tail fins which I'd guess is where they get their name.

The end of our holiday was approaching fast and on our last full day on Crete we drove east along to Hersonissos to visit Aquaworld Aquarium. We love it there and visit every time we are on the island. As we reached Hersonissos however we began passing loads of roadside signs for Dinosauria. Quite by accident we then drove right past the dinosaur theme park. I loved dinosaurs when I was a kid so after asking Lillian if she fancied going for a look we turned the car around and went in.

With lots of large animated models roaring loudly I'd have loved to have visited a park like Dinosauria when I was a kid.
Some of us don't really grow up though.

After finding somewhere to park and quickly grabbing some lunch we headed in to see Aquaworld Aquarium's fish and reptiles. Obviously I enjoy looking at the fish but for me the highlight of our visits is always handling the reptiles. First off we spent a bit of time having a look at the fish though. The majority of the tanks contained local species, most of which I have now caught, but one fish in particular still caught my eye. It was a rather plump red scorpionfish, a species I'd love to catch.

We were informed that this handsome chap had recently devoured two of his tank mates and was relaxing behind this rock digesting them.

In the area of the venue dedicated to reptiles we spent a lot of time looking at the various creeatures on display. The opportunity to handle many of them is what I like most and I happily took anything that was thrust in my direction.

A bearded dragon.
A blue tongued skink.
A small Burmese python.

Lillian, whilst quite happy handling various lizards, wasn't overly keen on the snakes. With a bit of coaxing by the time we left she gotten right into the swing of things.

Lillian worked on her fear by holding this small rather docile royal python which seemed to like her as well.
She was soon confident enough to be cuddled by this large Burmese python.

Before we left we got to see one of the latest additions to the reptile collection, a pair of young basilisk lizards. These are also known as Jesus lizards as they can run very quickly along the surface of water.

This handsome male is called Basil.

Having travelled over 100km to get to Hersonissos it seemed stupid not to wet a line whilst there so I had a hour or so fishing in the town's harbour. It was pretty slow going but after catching a few rainbow wrasse I got a nice surprise when I caught a fish and didn't have any idea what it was. My knowledge of the fish species found in the Mediterranean is pretty good now so this was very exciting! I took a few photos before releasing it and would do some research later on to try and identify it.

The mystery fish. My money was on a wrasse of some kind.

As we were walking back to the car Lillian spotted what she thought was a fish sitting between two rocks on the bottom in a shallow corner. I quickly put my rod back together and as I still had a drop shot rig on I tapped my lead on what we thought was the fish several times. It didn't move to begin with but eventually it must have been sufficiently annoyed by my lead landing on it repeatedly and suddenly came to life. It was a rather big black scorpionfish and after a short swim it took up a new position and sat motionless again so I tried to get my lead in position so that my lure would fall in front of its mouth and be twitched around. The fish just didn't look interested in the slightest however. Perhaps it was already digesting something like the red scorpionfish we'd seen in the aquarium. I was about to give up when it lurched forward, grabbing my lead then quickly spat it out again before swimming off under a large rock out of sight. I tried to tempt it out from its new hiding hole but had no luck. I was kicking myself for not changing from my drop shot rig to a more suitable presentation but luckliy as we were about to leave I spotted another much smaller black scorpionfish sitting on the bottom. Lillian kept an eye on it while I tied on a hook and squeezed on a piece of split shot just above it. A bit of ragworm was slowly dropped down in front of it and the fish gobbled it up straight away.

Dynabait dehydrated ragworm. The very best there is. When you absolutely, positively gotta' catch a black scorpionfish from a harbour, accept no substitutes.

On the way back to Georgioupolis I had a think about what else I could possible add to my tally before the holiday was over. A dusky grouper was probably the most obvious target so I sent my mate Andy a message asking him for more info on where he'd caught them when he last fished Geogioupolis. We arrived back just as light was fading and having had a reply from Andy I had a quick go for a dusky grouper. I lost two drop shot rigs in two casts though and as we were hungry I put the rod back in the car and we went for a meal in the excellent Arkadi fish taverna.

Back in our apartment later that night I spent some time online slowly trawling through fishbase on my phone and looking at the wrasse species of the Mediterranean. I eventually found a photo of the species that I had caught earlier in the day. Only first recorded in 2013, Pteragogus Trispilus didn't even have a common name and was yet another species that has found its way into the Mediterranean Sea through the Suez Canal.

In the morning I got up early and headed back to the shallow rocky area to try and catch a dusky grouper again. This time I fished a paddletail on a weedless hook attached to a 3g cheburashka lead,  a much better presentation for the ground I was fishing over. Retrieving this slowly close to the bottom and lifting my rod tip a little when it hit rocks the results were a stark contrast to my lazy, ill thought out approach the previous evening. My first cast produced a common comber and my second a dusky grouper. These were followed by three more dusky groupers before the final morning session of the trip was over.

The right tool for the job...
...yields the right result!

Dusky groupers are great fun on light game tackle, even small ones, so I headed back to spend the next hour or so packing our suitcases with a big smile on my face. Checking out just before noon we didn't have to be at the airport until 19:00 so we drove into Chania to spend a few hours. I couldn't believe my luck when we parked the car and walked around the corner to find a fishing tackle shop! What are the odds? After stocking up on hooks and some soft plastics that I probably don't need we had a walk through town looking around the main market before heading down to the harbour for lunch.

After lunch we still had a couple of hours left before we had to head to the airport so I drove us to Marathi. Its a beautiful little place and I had one last fish from the rocks on the outside of its harbour. The water was fairly deep, the bottom was sandy and after catching some wide eyed flounder, common two banded seabream and Couch's seabream I got a nice surprise in the shape of one final new species when I caught some yellow spotted puffers.

Yet another invader from the Red Sea was my last fish of the holiday.

Before leaving we witnessed some bait fish getting hammered off in the distance around a nearby island. As the area evidently has the potential for targeting larger species and I'd like to revisit it next time I'm on Crete if possible for a session at dawn or dusk.

Predators were feeding hard over by this island. If only we didn't have to leave we could have hired a pedalo.

Sadly the time had come to head to the airport and fly home. Another holiday had come to an end and my Mediterranean species hunt with it. As ever Lillian had been incredibly understanding of my obsessive behaviour and as result my fishing had been very fruitful. Over the two weeks I had caught forty seven species including nine new ones which was a most unexpected bonus. I'd like to thank my mate Andy who offered me some superb information and advice on the fishing around the areas where we were staying as I couldn't have achieved my impressive species tally without his assistance. It would be cool if we could fish over there together in the future.

Here's the final summary of what I caught with the new ones in bold.

  1. Annular Seabream
  2. Atlantic Lizardfish
  3. Atlantic Stargazer
  4. Axillary Seabream
  5. Bass
  6. Black Goby
  7. Black Scorpionfish
  8. Bluefish
  9. Bogue
  10. Bucchichi's Goby
  11. Cardinalfish
  12. Common Comber
  13. Common Dolphinfish
  14. Common Pandora
  15. Common Two Banded Seabream
  16. Couch's Seabream
  17. Damselfish
  18. Dusky Grouper
  19. Garfish
  20. Giant Goby
  21. Goldblotch Grouper
  22. Greater Weever
  23. Lesser Weever
  24. Madeira Rockfish
  25. Marbled Rabbitfish
  26. Ornate Wrasse
  27. Painted Comber
  28. Parrotfish
  29. Peacock Wrasse
  30. Pearly Razorfish
  31. Plain Red Mullet
  32. Threespot Wrasse*
  33. Rainbow Wrasse
  34. Reticulated Filefish
  35. Rock Goby
  36. Rusty Blenny
  37. Saddled Seabream
  38. Sand Smelt
  39. Salema
  40. Striped Seabream
  41. Swallowtail Seaperch
  42. Thin Lipped Mullet
  43. White Seabream
  44. Wide Eyed Flounder 
  45. Yellowstripe Barracuda
  46. Yellowtail Barracuda
  47. Yellow Spotted Puffer
*Since returning home I have contacted the marine biologist who first recorded Pteragogus Trispilus to ask him about how fish species get their common names. He replied and told me that for newly recorded species the person discovering them usually suggests a suitable name which is often related to their scientific name, I this case he has suggested a common name of the threespot wrasse.

One of the many highlights of the trip was catching the threespot wrasse and not knowing what it was. It's a feeling I've not had for a while and as I'm now starting to think about next year's holidays maybe heading further afield would let me catch more weird and wonderful species that I'm not familiar with. I've got one last trip in 2017 to look forward to first though as I'm off  to Gran Canaria with two of my mates at the beginning of December for a week's fishing. Nine weeks to go until we fly out and I can't wait!

Tight lines, Scott.

Monday, September 25, 2017

More species hunting adventures on Crete : Part 3.

Arriving in Georgioupolis in the early afternoon at the beginning of our second week on Crete we had a couple of hours to kill before we could check into our room so we had a wander around the harbour there. It flanks the river that runs alongside the town into the sea and a small bridge crosses the river a few hundred metres up from its mouth. Standing on the bridge we spotted some mullet and then a few large gobies caught my eye straight down below so the gear was taken out of the car and a split shot rig baited with a piece of ragworm was slowly lowered down right in front of the biggest goby I could see. It eagerly munched it without hesitation.

Geogioupolis Harbour looked full of potential.
A nice big giant goby.

We then had a walk down the left hand side of the river and whilst down there booked ourselves on a three hour boat fishing trip with local skipper Nikos for later in the week before heading back into town for some lunch. When we got booked into our room and unpacked again Lillian said she wanted a nap so I grabbed my gear and headed back down to the harbour to see what other species were resident. Fishing small baits down the sides and angleworm on a dropshot rig further out I soon added a few more species to my tally.

Peacock blennies with their bright blue markings were easy to spot sitting on the harbour's walls and on submerged rocks.
A sandy area down towards the mouth of the river produced a couple of plain red mullet...
...and a striped seabream too.

Exploring the harbour further I began casting out from gaps between the moored fishing boats. This wasn't very productive until I caught a small barracuda that grabbed my angleworm as I was lifting my dropshot rig up from the bottom right in front of me.

I didn't realise until later on that this was my third new species of the trip, a yellowtail barracuda. It's another species that has migrated from the Red Sea via the Suez Canal.

Just to the west of the river's mouth is Kalivaki Beach. Before returning to wake Lillian up I had a few casts out into the bay from the back of a taverna situated on the rocks at its southern end. I caught a white seabream, a wide eyed flounder and a few lesser weever before heading back.

Another weever to carefully unhook and another species added to my tally which had passed the thirty mark.

The next morning we headed up to nearby Lake Kourna, the only freshwater lake on Crete. It's not supposed to have any fish in it but at some point someone has released their pet goldfish into it and there is now a healthy population of them in there. I thought it would be fun trying to catch one so I took some tackle out with us on our hired pedalo to try to do just that. Sadly they were very spooky and every time we got close they just swam off. I did spot some smaller fish attacking my bait however and popping on a tanago hook I managed to catch a couple of them. They turned out to be sand smelt so it would appear the goldfish aren't the only fish in there.

Lake Kourna. If I return to this part of Crete again I think I'll visit the lake early in the morning and try fishing from the shore.
Plenty of goldfish in there.

From Lake Kourna we drove along to Rethymno to have some lunch and a wander around but parking was a bit of a nightmare and after doing a couple of laps of the centre of town looking for a space we decided to return in the morning another day and left. Driving further east we headed to the beautiful village of Bali. After lunch I had a fish from the mouth of the harbour and caught a few ornate wrasse, damselfish, marbled rabbitfish and a single white seabream. I also saw what I think were two small amberjack harassing a shoal of tiny baitfish but they came and went before I could tie on a metal.

Another venue, another species added to my tally.

Later that day when we got back to Georgioupolis Lillian gave me permission to fish at dusk before we went out for a meal in the evening so off I went down to the river again. I had bass in mind so headed to a spot that I thought looked promising. I didn't have the place to myself for long however as a gaggle of geese soon arrived.

There are lots of these geese around the river. Quite nice looking birds but they don't have make a lot of noise!

For a change I gave the angleworm a break and tried some other soft plastics on jigheads and drop shot rigs. Fishing away I didn't manage to catch any bass despite seeing a few small ones follow my lures before turning away. Instead I discovered that the spot was a good one for catching giant gobies.

They're pretty aggressive fish.

As light faded I headed to the other side of the river to fish from some boulders into some slightly deeper water. I switched to a paddletail mounted on a 3g jighead and fished it fairly quickly across the current near the surface. This proved to be a good decision and I caught a few small barracuda which was good fun. In amongst them I caught a slightly larger one that looked a little different to the others I'd caught being a lot longer and having a black edge on its tail fin.

I'm now fairly sure this one is a yellowstripe barracuda making it my second new barracuda species of the trip.

I then caught a couple of fish that I suspected were small bluefish. They fought well for their size and were a most welcome unexpected capture.

Yet another new species. Geogioupolis was being very good to me.

Later that evening Lillian and I had a nice meal in Arkadi, the fish restaurant down by the mouth of the river overlooking one of the villages famous landmarks, a small church build out on the rocks.

What a lovely view.

To help me decide what I wanted to eat I went over to have a look at the restaurant's fresh fish display. Looking at all the potential meals I spotted a fish amongst the various seabream that sparked my curiosity.

This is a red seabream, also know as the blackspot seabream. I wondered if there was a chance of catching one the next day on our boat fishing trip?

The fish on offer looked fantastic but as we'd eaten a fairly big lunch in Bali we ended up just sharing a plate of calamari and a Greek salad.

One of my favourite things to eat on holiday.

At the end of almost every meal you eat in a restaurant on Crete you get a complimentary shot of Raki. Usually it's homemade and it's also rather strong. In the Arkadi fish taverna you get a small jug that contains about six shots of the stuff!

Raki. Personally I'm not a huge fan.

The next morning we headed down to the harbour for our boat fishing trip. Tackle was provided but after consulting with the skipper I decided to used my Rock Rover and trolled a 12g diving plug. After about forty five minutes or so I had a take and my reel started screaming. At the same time Lillian and one of the other people on the trip also connected with a fish. The identity of we had on was soon revealed when behind the boat several dolphinfish began jumping out of the water. It was all very exciting and as I was using lighter gear I took my time playing my fish. After it's initial run though it came to the boat without giving me too much trouble and was quickly netted by Nikos.

My first common dolphinfish. A very cool fish.

We carried on trolling up the coast for a while before eventually turning around and heading back towards Georgioupolis. With no further action on the way we stopped for half an hour and fished on the bottom in very deep water over a reef. My mate Andy had told me he had caught a swallowtail seaperch when he had done this whilst out with Nikos so I was hopeful that I'd get one too. When I showed Nikos a photo of one and told him I'd like to catch one, he was confident I would and he was right, I caught one on my first drop of a set of sabikis baited with tiny squid strips.

What a beautiful little fish.

After catching a few more swallowtail seaperch and a some common combers I asked the skipper about the chances of catching red seabream and red scorpionfish. He told me that red seabream was not a species he'd caught in the area we were fishing and only three anglers out with him had caught a red scorpionfish. Sadly I wasn't to be the forth. We did some more trolling on the way back in but didn't come into contact with any more fish. On the way back I spotted a nice looking rock mark that looked easily accessible that was just to the north of Kalivaki beach.

Ideal for an early morning session and the water in front of the dark rocks looked nice and deep too.

In the evening I had yet another short session before dinner down at the harbour. To start with I focused on small blennies and gobies in the hope that I'd pick a species I might have overlooked and hadn't caught yet on the trip. This tactic paid off in the shape of a few rock gobies. As the sun began to disappear behind the mountains to the west I caught a few bluefish again and inspecting one of them I had a closer look at its razor sharp teeth. It snapped its jaws shut in a rather ferocious manner and I wouldn't like to have my finger anywhere near the mouth of a bluefish when it did this even on small specimen!

I really enjoyed catching these small bluefish.
Nasty little set of nashers on them and a strong bite.

So, the fishing around Georgioupolis had been very good with the unexpected capture of a few new species that I hadn't anticipated encountering being a big bonus. My tally for the trip had almost reached forty species. The last time I visited Crete I ended up catching forty species so I was keen to try and better that. Adding more would be tough but with a few more day trips planned to new places and possibly a second boat fishing trip out of Agia Galini on the south coast I was optimistic about my chances of doing it.

Tight lines, Scott.