Shetland Isles Recce in Small Watercraft

by Andy Loble

Andy Loble is constantly up for a challenge when it comes to fishing. He has always had a thing for adrenaline sports and feels there should be no reason why you can’t add a bit of excitement to your fishing. Hence the Shetland Isles trip.

So, when I was asked if I fancied a trip to the Shetland Isles to target cod I was all ears. Especially as it would be carried out with my mate Adam Cain on his kayak and me in my 2.7m RIB with a 4hp 2 stroke motor.

typical Shetland Isles voe

Typical Shetland Isles voe

We planned to fish for seven days but out of the seven days we managed just under two on the water due to some extreme weather that made it far too dangerous to venture out.

Preparation is Everything

Despite research we could find very little available information about where or how to fish the inshore waters off the Shetland Isles. We decided to concentrate on areas that we might be able access and search favourable depths for catching cod. Due to limited literature, this trip will always be known as the recce and I will never divulge the exact locations we visited.

Even when we arrived in Lerwick we tried to find out information from the local tackle shop, LHD Marine Supplies. This shop stocks everything from hooks to smoking sawdust and they like their fishing too. With a few questions asked in LHD it was apparent either no one fished for cod in the way we intended or they didn’t want divulge any information. So even when we arrived there was no extra advice for us so we were going to have to go it alone.

Traditional craft in harbour

Traditional craft in harbour

We had spent a year preparing for our weeks’ adventure, practicing out in the RIB and kayak together in some pretty serious weather of the north coast of Yorkshire. We have always been fully equipped when venturing out and there are some things I would not head out to sea without doing or having with me.

Equipment for Shetland

Drysuit – A decent quality drysuit can save your life. Although an expensive bit of kit, we both use Typhoon dry suits which are arguably the best on the market.

VHF Radio – A life line and something NEVER to leave without. You will need to complete a marine radio course.

Life Jacket – An invaluable bit of kit but it needs to be maintained and checked so when you do need it you know it will work.

Zip ties and fillet knife – When out fishing, do you never need to fix things? Zip ties are incredibly versatile and a knife can be a life line. Ever had your anchor snagged and you need to cut yourself free or got line caught round your prop?

First Aid Kit – Does what it says on the box!

Charged kit – Always make sure your battery powered gear is fully charged and working before you head out. Nothing worse than finding out something is not working when 3 miles of shore. An extra 10 minutes checking can save hours or lives.

Knowledge – Knowledge is power! Check and triple check weather repor

ts and look at more than one and compare. Check tide times and sea states, a lot can change in a matter of hours. Get local information about the local area from sailing clubs or locals who live in the area. Check charts for wrecks, reefs, depths and rocks etc. and check the direction of tides and their usual strength. We have used Rocks and Roots Sea Kayak section with OS Map and overlay, as well as the Navionics Boating App. This app gives you depths and marks rocks, wrecks etc.

Food and water – Sounds obvious but a hungry and dehydrated angler is a very unhappy one. And if things go wrong you could be struck out at sea for a long time. Kendal mint cake is always a winner for me.

The reason I mention this before the fishing kit is that the sea and Mother Nature are scary bas#$%&@ and have a habit of putting you in some very difficult situations. If you have gone out of your way to make sure your trip is happening safely and with only calculated risks you stand a far better chance of enjoying your day, catching more and coming back alive.

Finally, the Fishing Kit

We went armed for the Shetland Isles with 20-30lb class 7.6’ boat rods, I had the Sonik S4 and SK3XTR coupled with Shimano Charter Special 2000 Multipliers loaded with 37.5lb braid.

End tackle was varied. We had spent ages trying to find decent heavy jig heads with plenty of hook clearance but couldn’t. I made contact with Mark at Lure Factors who offered to help me sort something. I found a decent mold and hooks used on the large Real Eels as well as VMCs Barbarian hooks and had some 10oz jig heads made up that allowed clearance on the larger lures.

some of the fishing gear for the shetland isles

Some of the fishing gear for the shetland isles

Lure Factors were also kind enough to help me with making up some awesome sandeel lures and curly tail grubs which turned out to be very effective.

Weights – A variety of 10oz-16oz cannon ball leads were taken along with 11oz-14oz bar pirks.

Hooks – Cox & Rawle Meat Hooks 10/0, O’Shaughnessy hooks 12/0

Leader material – 80lb mono and 100lb rubbing leader.

Clips and Swivels – Cox & Rawle 200lb (strong but who wants to have a weak link?)

Lures – A mixture of 6-10” curly tail grubs, 20cm sandeels, varied gummi macks, large hokkai feathers, cutbaits and a few other bits and pieces.

Andy Loble with a qualitty Shetland Isles cod

Andy Loble with a qualitty Shetland Isles cod

Garmin echoMap 45dv sonar – We would have been literally lost without it. A piece of equipment that not only shows you where fish are and features you are fishing over but most importantly it has some safety features. GPS, enables you to see your route and drifts. If you get caught out in fog or similar, then you can follow your track back to shore without any other visual aids. Small things make serious differences.

The Trip Dawns

The journey took over 24 hours in total to reach the area on the Shetland Isles we wanted to start our fishing. This included the very long journey on the ferry from Aberdeen to Lerwick, the capital of the Shetland Isles.

On arrival to our base camp we realised that the weather conditions could not get much better so with tent up we headed off to find a decent launching area. It was 3pm when we finally made it afloat which would give us eight hours of light due to the limited hours of darkness during July.

Adam Cain with a nice kayak cod

Adam Cain with a nice kayak cod on a pirk

We headed out to an area showing 250ft on the chart with the tide starting to slow. Out went the drogues which worked beautifully for a decent drift with the wind direction and tide flow. We started out with large hokkais with 10oz jig heads equipped with curly tail grubs as weights curly tail grubs. Instant hits were experienced by both of us, not something we were expecting. Cod to 16lb and mackerel over 1ft long were soon being hauled from the depths. The rods and other gear were certainly being put to the test. We felt like we had hit gold and were shattered after two hours of hauling.

We played around with lures and set ups as the fish were clearly there. The favoured pattern was a 12oz bar pirk with 12/0 O’Shaughnessy hook attached carrying an orange 7” curly tail grub. The cod were loving it!

I decided to try one rod out with a mono rubbing trace and short leader with half a mackerel just to see what else might be down there. It was not long before the rod bent double and I went on to land my first 20lb plus cod all, 22.13lb of it. Adam also went on to land a cod just over the 20lb mark shortly after on the lures.

One of Andy's skate being safely returned

One of Andy’s skate being safely returned

My next drop with the other half of the mackerel was taken very quickly and was clear it was no cod. Eventually, after 20 minutes, I was unhooking my first ever common skate of over 30lb. Shortly after this capture we realised it was already 11pm and decided to head in before darkness was upon us.

Basking in the Afterglow

This session felt like all the hard work and preparation we had put in was all worth it. We could never have dreamed of landing over 40 cod between us averaging 15lb and having a 20lb fish each. And my skate was the icing on the cake.

So, with 24 hours of travelling and nine hours non-stop heavy fishing we were relieved to see the following day was a write-off due to the weather. We caught up on sleep and spent the day exploring and searching out possible new locations to try, with limited success. The Shetland coastline is stunning but also very wild and difficult to access with boats. The exploring was not wasted as we were surrounded by wildlife and incredible scenery.

Second Session Fishing the Shetland Isles

The following day showed signs of the weather easing off with the winds lightening and the fog blowing off. We got the tackle and watercraft set up and headed out at 11am. Sadly by 1pm the wind had picked up and was not comfortable for Adam to carry on in the kayak. We headed back in, dropped off the kayak, refuelled ourselves and loaded the RIB with both sets of tackle and returned to sea.

the Sonik rod feels the pressure

The Sonik rod feels the pressure, but copes admirably

The swell was pretty impressive and we were surrounded by gannets, puffins, razorbills, guillemots and very large birds known as bonxie, great skua. It was clear to see bonxie and gannets are not the best of friends, with the former always looking to steal a meal.

We set about working out how to follow the previous sessions drift. Due to a change in wind direction and strength we were only able to zig zag across our original drift and not as slowly. Heavier leads were used to combat the speed of the drift and keep baits on the seabed.

Skater Boy

We managed to hit some more mackerel and a number of good cod to upper doubles. I decided that I couldn’t ignore the skate potential. Half a mackerel was sent down and the wait began. Just as I finished dealing with my hokkais being tangled on the skate bait rod it hooped over. My comment to Adam was “looks like I’m snagged” with a response of “I don’t see that being possible we are fishing over sand still”.

The larger of the two skate for Andy

The larger of the two skate for Andy

I braced myself for what was hopefully the target species. I recalled that I was still only on 37.5lb braid and 80lb leader couple with a 20-30lb class rod which for common skate would certainly be considered light. A battle of 30 minutes or more ensued, with the fish stripping line and towing us an extra mile off shore and into 330ft of water. The rod was put to full tilt and I expected the braid to break at any point. To finally see the fish and grasp the leader was shear relief. What lay by the boat was the largest fresh water or salt water fish I have ever caught. We estimated it to be over 70lb but we will never know. I will be taking a tape measure in future trips to the Shetland Isles.

With the Skate landed and the weather not improving we decided to head back to dry land fingers tightly crossed for another red-letter day’s fishing to follow.

Weather Takes a Turn for the Worse

Sadly, things got nasty in the north of the Islands and we were forced to make the decision to head back South. The winds increased and rain was forecast for the next five days. We managed to do a bit of exploring on the return journey to Lerwick but didn’t get any more fishing in and reluctantly returned a day early back to the UK.

A dreech day under the cliffs but cod are there

A dreech day under the cliffs but cod are there

This first reconnaissance trip was a real eye opener with regards to the potential of the Shetland Isles. It is definitely not for the faint hearted or ill equipped. We learnt a great deal, met some fabulous people, saw some amazing wildlife and scenery and will of course return better equipped, stronger and ready to haul the next time.

Planning the Return

We have already refined our kit and will be taking stronger rods to target the barn doors, 30-50lb class Sonik S4s and two-speed multipliers which I have just received from Gerrys of Morcombe.

Braid will be a great deal stronger and leader material will be 150lb-200lb and hooks will be 12/0-14/0 for the skate. We will take less lures for the cod but work on the pirk and curly tail grub approach in the main for the cod.

I will also have a 3.5m RIB with 12hp motor which will be much safer and more stable.

a local inhabitant the puffin

A local inhabitant, the puffin

Shetland is an incredible place with so much unchartered water to fish together with breath-taking scenery and wildlife around every corner you come to. If you ever plan to go then really do take the time to plan properly as it is very remote up there with limited supplies.

I look forward to sharing future trips with you from Oban and the Shetland Isles.


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