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Fishing on St Mary’s can be hugely productive and enjoyable. If you have ever fancied trying your hand at sea fishing then St Mary’s in the Isles of Scilly is the place for you!
Just to keep this readable we’re not going to look at fishing trips. You can do those from the Quay on St Mary’s and they deserve an article of their own. We’re also not going to look at the sort of sea fishing that you need your own dinghy or kayak for.
We’re going to look exclusively at fishing from the shore.
Thankfully the shoreline and seabed is varied enough in Scilly that fishing on St Mary’s gives you a lot of options and variety.
Before we dive in – metaphorically, not physically – I’d like to add that this is by no means a complete list. It is simply the result of many fishing trips by me, and what I have learned from other people who have been there and done it too.
What you can Catch Fishing on St Mary’s
These sleek bodied beauties are a favourite of pretty much any sea angler who is fishing for the pot. There is not a lot to beat freshly grilled Mackerel on a bbq. Wrapped in foil with a bayleaf inside and either tossed on the coals, or in the oven for just long enough to cook through and they are truly heavenly.
Thankfully they are also very plentiful in the waters around Scilly. You can catch them they way everyone does everywhere by dropping a line of feathers into deep water. Look for seagulls feeding in the water, mackerel won’t be far away.
That isn’t the only option though. You often see mackerel darting through the seaweed in the shallower waters of the beaches on St Mary’s. Throwing out a spinner or lure on lighter tackle can lead to a very enjoyable fight. And if you want even more of a challenge then try using fly tackle if the water is still and clear. The only real challenge is finding enough space for a decent back cast.
Scilly is famous for its Pollock, and fishing on St Mary’s gives you the chance to try for some of the biggest. Pollock are famed for putting up a good fight, but in Scilly that is even more the case. Make sure you are using heavy duty tackle if you are after Pollock as they will surprise you.
Try using mackerel fillet on a sliding float rig in deep water for your best chance of a good sized pollock. A metre or so off the bottom on the end of the quay in St Mary’s is a good place to catch your dinner.
You can also catch smaller Pollock using a lure around the rocks in the quitter areas of the island, but more often than not you won’t catch Pollock, you’ll catch the most common of fish in St Mary’s .
Cook them pretty much any way you would with cod. Personally I love to fry a fillet of freshly caught pollock in butter and serve with a little salt and pepper and a light squeeze of lemon. Mainly because I did this in the campsite in the Garrison in the fading light of dusk on my first ever visit to the islands. It was delicious!
Most fishermen are hugely disdainful of wrasse. Whether it is the common Ballan Wrasse, or the smaller and less common Cuckoo wrasse they are considered a nuisance. The common wisdom is that they are not worth the effort of cooking, but there is a growing movement of people who would disagree.
As the numbers of more popular fish have fallen over the years, more and more people are turning to less popular fish.
Wrasse have a delicate flavor and most people are happy to use them for stock, but fried and served in a creamy white wine sauce they are stunning.
Thankfully they are also a lot of fun to catch. They like to swim around the rocks and seaweed of the sheltered beaches looking for food. You can often see them if you are snorkeling.
The simplest way to get them is to cast out a lure, let it drop to the bottom and then retrieve it at a decent pace. Resist the urge to strike at any small knock, when they take it there will be no doubt.
Just like pollock they will immediately head deep into seaweed or rocks. You’re going to have to fight to keep their heads up. If your tackle isn’t up to the job then you are likely to lose it. They are almost always there, so if they aren’t biting then switch to a different colour lure. Sometimes the smallest changes can make the world of difference.
Throwing a ledger rig out onto the sandy seabed can lead to some very varied catches. From the bizarre looking gurnard, to the sought after plaice. There are also some good sized mullet reported to have been caught in the vicinity of Porth Hellick as well as the occasional ray or dogfish.
The one thing you will not catch for neither love nor money is bass. Legends say the last one was caught up in a trawler net in the 70s. SO if you do catch one, make sure you get a good photo or no-one will believe you.
Where to go fishing on St Mary’s
The rocky headland between Porthcressa and Old Town is a good place to head for deep water fish. Whether you are looking for bigger wrasse close in to the rocks, or big pollock deep in the waters further out then you stand a very good chance off the rocks on Peninnis.
If you don’t have heavy duty tackle then you can target smaller fish like Mackerel. But be aware there is little between you and America, so the bigger of the open water fish can be found surprisingly close in.
A good sized chunk of mackerel fished deep can get you a big dog fish, or even a conger if you are lucky.
St Mary’s Quay
If the tide is right, early evening off the end of the quay is a great time to target decent sized pollock.
A float set up with a mackerel bait not far off the bottom is a very good way to entice them onto your hook.
Be aware of boats, and also the seagulls that will try to steal your bait as you cast.
You’ll either need a very heavy duty set up to haul your catch up to the quay, or preferably a rope net.
Unless you are planning to leave the second you catch your first fish, you’ll also need something to put them in to stop the ever present herring gulls from stealing your supper.
Follow the path down the side of Old Town bay past the old salting trough to the WWII pill box on the end and you are on Tolman head.
The water here isn’t as deep as Peninnis, but the currents that are created by the tides flowing into the bays on either side stir up a lot of food and can make fishing here a successful experience.
Mackerel or Wrasse are your most likely catch here.
If you follow the coastline around the island away from Old town, past Giants castle and Porth Hellick you will get to Deep Point. The name is not in any way ironic and it is possible to cast into extremely deep water from the shore. Treat this as if you are fishing from a boat and you won’t go far wrong.
If you are looking for Big Pollock, Conger, or even rarely blue shark then this is the place to be. Start off with feathers for mackerel and then use them as bait on heavy duty rigs and you are unlikely to be disappointed.
What Equipment you need to go Fishing on St Mary’s
This is the eternal question, and sadly it isn’t one that is simple to answer. The equipment you need depends massively on where you will be fishing on St Mary’s.
The sort of rod that works best for using a spinner to target Mackerel will not work for hauling in a 10lb Pollock from the depths of the Atlantic. However there are compromises to be made.
Assuming you aren’t already fully equipped and bringing all of your tackle along then you may want to consider a decent telescopic rod.
I picked up a very nice one from the now long gone Sports Mode in Hugh Town. I believe the Stone Shop just across the road has taken over the role of tackle supplier. But if you want to make sure you have one that will do the job and fit inside a suitcase before you go then something like this is a perfectly acceptable starter rod.
You will of course need a reel as well, and unless you already know exactly what you want you have to decide whether you are after a multiplier, a fixed spool, or a center pin.
They all have they fans, but for simplicity’s sake, and familiarity I tend to recommend a fixed spool reel.
Something like this is sturdy enough to do the job, but not so clunky you can’t target the smaller fish if that is what you want. It’ll hold a nice amount of line, and the fact that this is a matching pair allows you to have two completely different set-ups at a very reasonable price.
I’m not going to patronize you by telling you all the details of what you will need. It basically comes down to a lot of line, and the right sort of tackle to catch the fish you are after.
The simplest way to get that is to ask on the island. Go into the stone shop, tell them what you are hoping to catch, and they will let you know what the best things to use are. They’ll also know where is fishing well and where isn’t, which you’ll only find out by chance otherwise.
If I am being completely honest I had many a blank session fishing on St Mary’s until I swallowed my pride and asked a local what I should be doing. I took their advice and the very next time I went out I caught more pollock than my entire family could eat.
Safety while fishing on St Mary’s
No article about fishing on St Mary’s would be complete without the obligatory section looking at safety.
Before you skim through this section, just take a second to remember how many people have died in the waters around the islands. Don’t let yourself join their number.
If it is windy then don’t clamber out on to precarious rocks, or try to hold on to the chains on the end of the quay. If you really need to fish and it is blowing a gale then find a sheltered spot and throw out a spinner into a sandy bay
Be aware that the rocks around Scilly can be very slippery, especially if it has been raining. Wear good shoes with a decent amount of grip.
Remember that just because you might be able to climb out somewhere without your tackle, it doesn’t mean you can still climb there while carrying everything. And remember that hopefully on the way back you’ll have a few fish with you too.
Keep a very close eye on the tides. In some places it comes in quickly, and it is perfectly feasible to find yourself cut off if you aren’t paying attention.
Make sure you take a mobile phone with you. A lot of the newer ones are even waterproof. If yours isn’t then strongly consider getting yourself one of these.
If you aren’t wearing one when you go, take a waterproof jacket with you. The weather can change very quickly on Scilly, and it’s never fun to be cold and wet and have to walk a long way home.
One last thing
The last bit of advice is to get a local tide table. You can get tide times on a massive number of aps, but every year there is a small booklet printed with that year’s tides. It also, and this is the bit we love, has a wealth of information about where to fish, what to go for, Scilly records, and even a selection of knots you might like to use.
You can pick them up from a few places, The Bordeaux Shop and Mumfords to name but two.
The most important thing about fishing on St Mary’s is to enjoy it. Fishing can be an awful lot of fun, and extremely rewarding too. If you do decided to give it a try came back and put something in the comments and let me know how you got on!
Also if I have missed something you think I ought to cover please let me know!