Friday night fishing proves a big hit at new Winter Shore angling series
It was eerily silent, apart from the calming sound of waves lapping the shore. Lights twinkled in the distance towards Fife and along the Forth coastline on a calm, moonless night, with a light offshore breeze.
The thermometer hovered at around 13c, ideal conditions for walking the dog near the sea.
Curiously, lights were also evident around 200 yards from the well-lit coastal walkway at Portobello, behind the busy bus garage and locals were curious about the unusual activity on the beach.
Several could not keep their curiosity at bay and wandered out across the damp sand to enquire.
The answer was simple. It was the first-leg of the new winter Edinburgh Winter Shore angling series.
It was held on an ebb tide, with low tide at 22.42, so the water disappeared rapidly after the fishing start time of 7pm.
Anglers were constantly moving their equipment to keep pace with the water and they looked, from a distance, like ants with headlamps.
The disappearing water certainly disturbed their routine, but needs must and one quipped: "We'll end up in Kirkcaldy at this rate."
Anglers were strung out on pegs around 15m apart and most in the 22-strong field had plumped for three hook flapper rigs.
With the fish reluctant to come out to play, different bait combinations had to be tried, lugworm, ragworm on its own, lugworm tipped with mackerel strips and even peeler crab featured and the variation was evident on the neatly laid out bait tables.
However, as the three-hour event wore on, even the noise of the gentle waves on the sand was not enough to keep some of the entrants calm. Some began to get increasingly agitated as their bait was eagerly gobbled up by an army of marauding crabs which seemed to inhabit most pegs.
Under-sized fish were also landed, but sizeable flounders, which were the target, kept their own counsel despite the best efforts of the field which included seasoned match anglers, including one from Arbroath, and one woman, Buffy McAvoy, a silver medallist with Scotland at the Home Internationals near Weymouth during the summer.
This was a new adventure for the Aberdeen-born competitor, the first time that Edinburgh-based angler had fished in a competition at night. She had, however, popped down to Portobello earlier in the week for a taster.
Then, she landed a sizeable plaice and she declared: "I could have been doing with that in the competition."
Andrew Boath, who lives ten minutes away from Portobello, was one of the anglers in what was termed "crab corner", and he landed nine, a far cry from the 21lb halibut he hooked into during a recent fishing trip to Norway. That was a personal best achieved on his first trip to Norway. It won't be his last.
However, the positives far outweighed the negatives. The fact that more than 20 people came out on a Friday night to fish was significant. All agreed that this type of competition was needed in the Edinburgh area.
Stewart Falconer, who had driven down from Arbroath, urged more to come out an support this initiative and he said: "I'll got home at around 1am and had another competition on the Saturday at Inverbervie mid-afternoon.
"It is important that people come out to support this type of initiative as we want to encourage more people into the sport and into match fishing.
"The fishing was not great, but the camaraderie was good and we injected some cash into the local economy from the likes of meals and petrol. I'd never fished Portobello beach before, but an East Coast beach is an East Coast beach and, as with everything in fishing, local knowledge counts.
"Luckily enough, I know quite a few guys from the area and they shared knowledge. I'm a regular competition angler and I will be back for more."
Gordon Mcleod lives in Barnton and has been a fisherman for over 50 years. He revealed: "This is the first time I've ever fished Portobello beach as there has always been somewhere else to go."
Looking out into the darkness with a headlight, Macleod pin pointed a sandbank, but he did not know how far it went. That's where local knowledge comes in and it was was an issue.
He added: "It is a very big tide, bigger than normal, and the water seems to be disappearing by the second, hence the reason that everybody is running up and down the beach to keep pace. They're like ants.
"Three-hook flappers are what most of the guys are using, the hooks quite far spaced out, and we're using small hooks, with lugworm and a touch of mackerel on the point, but everybody tried a bit of everything to entice the fish.
"I hooked a coalfish of 19cm, which is small for a coalfish, and a lot of really small fish are coming in. It was hard going but it's good that a competition has been organised within the Edinburgh boundary during the winter.
"There have been little competitions in the past, but a fairly close knit group of guys have fished them. This one is open to everybody, anybody can come, one rod, three hooks, no more. Not complicated.
"Nobody minds beginners coming. It's encouraged. Most of the guys, if somebody asks a question, will give some advice. We've had a lady fishing and it is good to see a lady involved."
The lady involved was McAvoy who using the series to hone her match techniques. She plans to take part in as many of the Edinburgh matches as work allows as she prepares for the Home Internationals due in Wales next summer.
McAvoy was into fish, sadly undersized, but she said: "This is a learning experience for me fishing in the dark. Cutting up bait with a knife using a head torch is a little different to what I'm used to in the light, and it is a wee bit eerie as all you can see are the head torches moving around the edge of the water and the lights at the top of the rod to help detect bites."
She admitted: "I don't think I'm experienced enough of fishing in the dark to know if I am casting short or long, but the more of these matches I do the more I will learn and other members of the Scottish team are doing similar competitions elsewhere to build their knowledge.
"Gill Coutts, for example, is doing David Neil's event of the West Coast, but the Edinburgh one, being on a Friday makes it easier to fish rather than one in the middle of the week because of work commitments. We will see how it goes. It is all practice."
The series is run by well-known sea match angler Ian Campbell who lives in Falkirk and is boss of the busy Edinburgh Angling Centre at Granton.
The company have donated prizes and the matches are due to run every two weeks with the next match scheduled for November 11 at Newhaven. Registration is at Western Harbour EH6 6PG from 6.15pm to 6.30pm and fishing from 7pm to 10pm.
The best five scores from the eight rounds will count and Campbell would love to see some new faces there. Information will be posted on Facebook sites including The Scottish Shore Angling Match Group and Sea Fishing Scotland.
Campbell was pleased with the response from anglers. For the record, of the 22 who fished the event, 19 caught 55 fish.
David Cooper from Edinburgh won with seven fish for 193cm with Steven Barrett second also with seven fish for 183cm and Ryan Venters third with five fish for 105cm.
Barrett caught the longest fish, a 31cm coalfish.
Campbell added: "All the winners were from pegs towards the Portobello end of the beach, but there were fish everywhere. Looking forward to seeing new faces for the next one. League placings will be the best results from five of the eight matches so there is plenty of opportunity for new entrants to win the Edinburgh Angling Centre vouchers."
Meanwhile, Airflow have confirmed that their Open Fly Fishing Championship will go ahead this year. Teams of six can enter and teams can only enter one heat. The Lake of Menteith is the Scottish venue with heats during the day and in the evening of June 15 and there are tackle prizes for each heat.
Three qualifiers per heat with the Grand Final on October 3 and 4 at Rutland Water with an entry fee of £200 for each team.
Anglers are reminded that Harlaw Reservoir, administered by Malleny Angling, is now closed until April next year. Nearby Loganlea is also closed and will reopen on Saturday, March 4, 2023. Phone 07412 079031 to book dates next year.
Clubbiedean will remain open throughout the winter, weather permitting, and owner Steven Johnston said fish are still being caught at the top of the water. Klinkhammer patterns have produced.
Hot head damsel and cat's whisker have also been productive with fish around 6ft down and fish have been caught all over the water which is open daily from 9am to 4pm.
Allandale Tarn poss Iona Allan confirmed that she is now on winter hours of 9am to 4.30pm daily - closed every Tuesday - and the water near West Calder has been fishing well with some regulars hooking into 30-plus fish during a session.
Spiders and beetle patterns have been scoring as the warmer weather continues.
Pottishaw remains open seven days from 9am to 4pm and diawl bach and buzzer flies continue to produce but dry flies have also been scoring on the right day as water temperatures remain high.
At Bowden Springs near Linlithgow, Billy Wilson Jun tempted eight fish on cormorant, FAB and snake patterns while Billy Wilson Sen, his father, had five on black lures. The bait pond has also been producing with Olaf Bien landing six for over 17lb on Powerbait while S Jarvie and his friend had six with the biggest over 3lb. Bowden Springs is open six days, closed Wednesday.
Linlithgow Loch will be open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday during November but secretary Tom Lambert said they would review the Friday session if demand is not there.
Members and guests held their fun day last Sunday with 20 boats out and George Bellini tempted a fine 5lb trout. Yellow dancer patters, unusual for this time of year, worked well along with black and green lures and other anglers were also into trout over 4lb.
Francis Donnelly from Glasgow, fishing from the bank, temped an outstanding brown trout estimated to have weighed between 12lb and 14lb fishing from the North Bank
on a black Viva and he also used hare's ear and sedge on a floating line to temp several other fish up to 5lb on two other trips.
The Lake of Menteith are remaining open during the winter and they will confirm hours in the next few days.
Meanwhile, the reputation of Drumtassie as a course fishery grows. George Howie fished for four days and hooked Maisie the sturgeon plus 16 carp up over 18lb, including thee at 16lb and three at 15lb. He said: "The sturgeon was 38lb 9oz and what a fight."