Recreational Sea Angling

The Solway Firth is one of the best sea angling locations in the UK.  Large tides and complex currents help supply plentiful nutrients, which in turn support a rich diversity of marine life.  The warm waters of the Gulf Stream attract most of the fish species found in British waters.  Up to fifty species may be caught from a boat and to catch nine different species in a day from the shore is quite possible.  The opportunity for such a catch along with some of the finest tope, ray and pollock fishing in Britain make the area a popular angling destination.

The Solway carries an exceptionally high number of landscape and wildlife conservation designations.  This reflects the quality of the natural environment, from the immense flats of intertidal sand and saltmarsh of the inner estuary to the rugged cliffs and rocky shores further west.  Much of the Cumbrian coastline is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, while the Dumfries and Galloway coastline carries three National Scenic Area designations.  The mountains of the Lake District to the south, the Galloway Hills to the north and the Isle of Man nearby create a dramatic backdrop.

Angling is variously regarded as a hobby, a sport, a science and an art.  This web page is intended as an introduction to angling in the Solway Firth for both locals and visitors to the area.  Its aim is to help you enjoy your fishing without compromising the natural environment.  Boat launch points are illustrated on the Fishing Marks page and there are details of charter boat businesses below that will get you out on the water.  Local angling shops are a mine of more detailed information on the best bait, tackle and target species at any time of year.

Catch of the Day

Some fish are fairly easy to catch and even regarded as a pest by serious anglers.  Dogfish are scavengers and will seek out just about any bait you care to chuck in the water with their keen sense of smell.  They are hardy types and stick around even in the depths of winter so are good targets for those just starting out.

Similarly, mackerel in the summer months can be stunning fish for beginners.  You might spend a few happy hours bobbing about in a small boat before hitting a shoal with all the excitement of multiple hook ups.  They have beautiful iridescent markings and are delicious cooked and eaten very fresh.

The shallow waters and fine estuary mud of the Solway are perfect for many flatfish or ‘flatties’ as they are known.  Plaice are the most glamorous with their bright orange spots.  Flounders can be caught quite easily in shallow water with hook and line or by the messier method of ‘tramping’.  This involves literally walking around shallow muddy parts of the shore and feeling for the fish with your feet.  Strange but true – ask the locals!

Catching a Flatfish

For those who take the whole business a bit more seriously, the Solway coast supports a fantastic variety of fish that pose more of a challenge.  Cod can be caught from shore marks but your chance of success depends on understanding the behaviour of the beast. Elusive mullet cruise tantalisingly in clear shallow water almost asking you to have a go.  The host of other species you might want to try your luck with includes haddock, whiting and pollock.

Screaming reels

Bass are an impressive species with their striking bright silver appearance but unfortunately their stock continues to decline. Spinning is the usual method with bigger bass around rocky reefs and smaller schooling bass in more sheltered bays. In 2017 the catch for recreational anglers is set at one fish a day per angler from July to December with catch and release in place from January to June.

Tope are the biggest inshore shark species in the UK and the Solway is renowned for its exciting summer tope fishing.  Record breaking numbers and individuals have been caught in the area so be prepared for an energetic experience.  Your best chance of success is from a boat but tope are also caught from shore marks along the Galloway coast.

Catching a Tope at Luce Bay

Sharks, skates and rays are all related and share the characteristic of being slow to reproduce.  As a result, stocks are vulnerable to exploitation and many species are protected by law.  However, they are tough characters and can be caught and safely returned to the depths if handled carefully.

Smooth-hound are amongst the various smaller sharks you might catch from both boat and shore and still provide a real taste of shark fishing adventure.  Just make sure you know what you’re doing and follow codes of good practice for catch and release.

Thornbacks are the most common of the rays and, just like sharks, should go back in the water.  They can be caught throughout the summer from boats or from the many sandy beaches around the Solway where they feed on crabs and shrimps.

Lewis catching a Thornback Ray

One for the pot

To eat a fish you’ve caught yourself is a special treat.  Freshly caught mackerel is superb on a summer barbecue and Solway flatties need little more a couple of minutes in the frying pan and a squeeze of lemon.  Just remember to take only what you can use, observe recommended minimum landing sizes (MLS) and stick to species that are sufficiently abundant.

MLS is the size of your fish from nose to tail. Some of the recommended MLS below are higher than the legal MLS and are based on the size species need to reach to breed.  Remember that some species are protected by law and salmon and sea trout must be returned unless you are licensed.  The information below should help you identify what you should and shouldn’t take home for tea.

 

Fish to eat Recommended

Minimum Landing Size

 

Bass 45cm
Coalfish (saithe) 60cm
Cod 50cm
Dab 25cm
Flounder 30cm
Haddock 40cm
Gurnard 25cm
Ling 90cm
Mackerel 30cm
Grey mullet 47cm
Plaice 31cm
Pollock 55cm
Sole 30cm
Turbot 40cm
Whiting 27cm

 

Species it would be better to put back:-

Ballan wrasse

Bull huss

Conger eel

Cuckoo wrasse

Lesser spotted dogfish

Smooth-hound

Thornback Ray

 

Species you must put back:-

Common eel

Spurdog

Tope

Catch and release

Fish that you want to put back, perhaps because they are undersized or not very good eating like wrasse, need to be handled carefully and confidently.  You might be able to unhook your fish in the water if you’re fishing from the shore.  If it needs to come out of the water, handle the fish with wet hands and get it back to its watery world as soon as you can.  If possible, gently support fish in the water facing into the current to give the best chance of recovery.  Use a net to gently lift and lower fish if you’re fishing from a boat or steep rocks.

Sharks and rays are being tagged to gather information about their behaviour.  If you catch a tagged fish, take a note of the species, where and when it was caught and send the information off to the address on the tag.  More information about handling tope can be found on the Scottish Sea Angling Conservation Network website www.ssacn.org

Taking the bait

The messiness and ‘yuk’ factor of digging lugworms makes it huge fun for kids.  The worm’s habit of squirting its watery insides everywhere if handled too roughly only adds to the experience.  Just remember to back-fill the holes.

Peeler crabs are shore crabs in a state of early summer moult when their new shells are still soft to the touch.  Find them on rough shorelines but remember to put rocks back as you found them so other creatures can survive.  Leave any berried (egg carrying) females you find and only take what you need.  Remember to observe any byelaws or regulations that might be in place – check with local contacts.

Safe and sound

All Sea Anglers should:-

  • Check the weather and tides – easytide.ukho.gov.uk
  • Take local advice
  • Wear warm, waterproof clothing
  • Tell someone where you are going/when you expect to return
  • Take care when casting
  • Watch out for wash from large vessels and freak waves
  • Carry a first aid kit and compass
  • Carry a mobile phone and for boat anglers a VHF radio

Shore Anglers should also:-

  • Avoid fishing alone in remote spots
  • At night, take more than one light
  • When fishing off rocks, wear sensible footwear, take a rope and take care on cliffs
  • Be aware of the rising tide, especially in the Solway – don’t get cut off
  • Wear a lifejacket when near the sea as advised by The Maritime and Coastguard Agency

Boat Launching and Fishing Marks

  • It is advisable to use a 4 wheeled drive vehicle to launch your boat
  • Speak to the local harbour master about local tide and current information before launching – telephone numbers are displayed in harbours

Venturing onto the water is a dangerous activity and before taking a boat out you should ensure that you are competent and confident to do so.  There are many safety issues you will need to consider – check out the advice or links below.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s 5 key safety messages are:-

  • Get trained
  • Check the weather and tides
  • Wear a life jacket (all persons onboard)
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Keep in touch

The Fishing Marks shown below have been chosen because they are fairly easily accessible.  However, care should be taken wherever you fish.  Most marks in the Solway are tide dependent and many areas have a large tidal range.  Avoid walking a long way out.  There is a danger of being caught by the incoming tide or in areas of soft mud, or become disorientated in mist.  BEWARE OF LARGE WAVES which can sweep you off rocks.  See below for more safety advice.

In an EMERGENCY dial 999 and ask for COASTGUARD

Fishing Safely – Further safety guidelines can be downloaded from the following websites:

Angling Trust

www.anglingtrust.net

Scottish Sea Angling and Conservation Network

www.ssacn.org

Royal National Lifeboat Institution

www.rnli.org.uk

Leave only footprints

Please take all your litter home with you.

Respect other people’s privacy and property

Keep a respectful distance from houses and gardens

use a path or track if there is one

Do not block access points for landowners, farmers and emergency vehicles

Do not disturb wildlife, especially nesting birds, respect the rules and byelaws of nature conservation sites

Always report anything unusual, for pollution and environmental damage

SEPA  Scotland or Environment Agency, England  Tel: 0800 80 70 60

Bait and tackle shops

Cumbria Angling Centre, Whitehaven 01946 693233
Graham’s Guns and Tackle, Workington 01900 605093
Geoff Wilson, Carlisle 01228 531542
Broom Tackle Box, Annan 01461 700386
David McMillan, Dumfries 01387 252075
Reel-em-in of Dumfries 01387 257452
McCowan and Son, Dalbeattie 01556 610270
McCowan and Son, Castle Douglas 01556 502009
Galloway Angling Centre, Newton Stewart 01671 401333
Ardwell Marine, Ardwell 01776 860698
The Sports Shop, Stranraer 01776 702705

 

Charter boats

Ian Burrett (Luce Bay) www.onyermarks2.co.uk

Tel: 01776 840346

Dominic Wilson (Portpatrick) www.charterboats-uk.co.uk

Tel: 07739 231331

Mike Skinner (Stranraer) www.seaanglingscotland.com

Tel: 01776 820244

Steve Stringer www.lochryan-leisure.co.uk

Tel: 07841 114489

Sea angling guide

Chris Bowman (Carlisle)

Tel: 01228 674519

Useful Contacts

Environment Agency

www.environment-agency.gov.uk

The Angling Trust

www.anglingtrust.net

Scottish Sea Angling Conservation Network

www.ssacn.org

NW IFCA

www.nw-ifca.gov.uk

Scottish Outdoor Access Code

www.outdooraccess-scotland.com/

Fishing information and advice

www.fishpal.com

British sea fishing advice

www.britishseafishing.co.uk

Fishing information and advice

www.worldseafishing.com

Fishing information and advice

https://badangling.com/

Borderlines – removing barriers to angling

www.borderlines.org.uk

Fishing Marks

Fishing marks are points along the coast which are recognised as good places to fish from.  Here are a selection of coastal fishing marks and boat launching points around the Solway Firth.

Go West Mackerel Fishing

 

Fishing Marks in Cumbria

Cumbria Location Fishing Marks

Click here for more detailed information on the fishing marks along the Cumbrian side of the Solway.

Fishing Marks in Dumfries and Galloway – West

Dumfries West Fishing Marks

Click here for more detailed information on fishing marks in the west of Dumfries and Galloway.

Fishing Marks in Dumfries and Galloway – East

Dumfries East Location Fishing Marks

Click here for more detailed information on fishing marks in east Dumfries and Galloway.

Boat Launching Sites in the Solway

Boat Launching Sites in the Solway

Click here for more information on boat launching sites in the Solway.