Britain’s very own “almost tropical” paradise

Believe it or not this is England!

MARTIN SALTER heads to the Scilly Islands just off the Cornwall Coast and discovers that Britain has its own little piece of tropical paradise right next to home.

SINCE I retired from the British Parliament some six years ago I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to some pretty amazing places with a fishing rod in search of reel screaming blue water action. There can be few lifelong anglers who haven’t dreamed of wading the flats, on a Caribbean island or an Indian Ocean atoll, sight casting for bonefish and tarpon or battling to keep a giant trevally or kingfish out of a rocky reef with the sun lighting up the spray as the line cuts through the water at frightening speed.

And I’ve done this stuff and yes, it really is as good as it sounds but it ain’t cheap. In fact, the only way I’ve been able to enjoy some of these experiences is by living for a while with you guys in Australia, having some generous friends with access to dream fishing or by occasionally getting a lucky invitation courtesy of my various bits of fishy writing.

Destination fishing – as they call it – is truly addictive and most addictions can be destructive on the wallet. I’d love to be able to fly out to the Northern Territory, Costa Rica, Florida or anywhere else that is remote, hot and full of fish on a regular basis but the bank balance won’t stand it. However, I need at least an annual fix and I’m pleased to say I’ve finally found somewhere closer to home that fits the bill. Why it took me more than half a century to finally visit the Scilly Islands I really don’t know.

This delightful little archipelago is the most southerly part of the UK and is situated some 27 nautical miles off the South West tip of Cornwall. With a mild temperate climate, shimmering white sands and clear blue shallow water it is as close to our very own “almost tropical” paradise that we Brits have got. It’s certainly a million miles away from the stereotype that many Aussies have of fishing in Britain – five fat poms camped around a pond in the pouring rain catching pet carp with names!

A big, beautiful Ballan Wrasse for Martin from the Scilly Isles.

The Isles of Scilly consists of five inhabited islands; St Mary’s, St Martin’s, Bryher, Tresco and St Agnes and numerous other small rocky islets. The total population barely exceeds 2000 although this is swelled by a factor of twenty during the holiday season.

Although the enticing holiday photos show the same crystal clear water that I’ve seen in the Seychelles and around the Great Barrier Reef there is a marked difference in temperature. Despite its southerly location the sea is considerably colder here than in other parts of England which, I’m told, is why there are seldom any sea bass to be found on the Scillies. Apparently, there’s a kink in the Gulf Stream which by-passes the islands taking the bass with it. However, there are plenty of other species to keep a visiting angler happy and very little of the large scale commercial exploitation that has so badly diminished stocks elsewhere.

There is an abundance of pollock which can be caught from the deeper rock marks and from the reefs, many of which are accessible by the smaller self drive boats that can be hired from the two boatyards on Bryher. Further offshore there are ling and conger to be had along with the usual smaller species including black bream, mackerel and whiting. For those wanting to tussle with bigger critters there’s a good chance of sizeable poorbeagle and blue shark with the occasional capture of the more aerobatic threshers and makos.

Luckily for them wrasse are rubbish to eat but they look cool and pull hard!

But I don’t do any of this as for me fishing on the Scillies is all about one species only. The big, beautiful, bruising Ballan Wrasse. If the Scilly Isles are the closest thing we’ve got in the UK to a tropical idyll then the brightly coloured wrasse is the nearest we’ve got to a tropical fish.

Although the Ballans are the largest of our three species of wrasse they are seldom caught much above four pounds and the average is probably less than a pound. Not so in the Scillies I’m pleased to report where I’ve landed four pounders on each of my last three visits and occasionally been shredded by bigger beasts despite using 15lbs leader as standard. Local expert Del Thompson has had them to seven pounds and doesn’t bat an eyelid until they are five pounds plus. The other joy about wrasse fishing in the Scillies is that they are quite happy to inhabitant comparatively shallow water which gives the fish a massive and impressive colour range.

For me the wrasse has it all. They keep “gentlemen’s hours” so no need to lose sleep and they like hot, sunny and still days. I don’t have to bother with bait as they hit soft plastics with great abandon and its a much more fun way of fishing. I can travel super light with just a 9ft spinning rod, a reel and a selection of four and five inch rubber worms and imitation crays which are mounted on size 2/0 weedless hooks weighted with a 5-15gm cone lead depending on depth and swell.

A selection of suitable wrasse grubs

This year I had my best day wandering the beaches of St Martin’s as the tide slowly dropped away revealing rocky outcrops behind which the wrasse were lurking. Casting beyond the rocks at a 45 degree angle allowed me to impart a nice hop, skip and jump action to the lure as it entered their field of vision. Sometime the takes are just a series of gentle plucks followed by the rod loading up but best of all is when they follow you to within a few feet of your rod top and then smash the lure with such aggression that you are nearly knocked off balance.

2016 has been a good year on the fishing front. I had some clonking great perch from my local river Kennet in the winter, a fabulous trip Down Under in March / April with some great fishing on Lord Howe Island. The Irish pollock were big and willing and the winter roach fishing has got off to a cracking start with a trophy fish (2lbs plus) gracing my landing net from the tidal Thames in the heart of London.

But standing on a sun kissed rock facing the the setting sun with my clutch screaming as yet another big Scillonian wrasse makes a bid for freedom remains one of my favourite memories of this summer gone. I’ve a feeling that I’ll be back for more.

What's your reaction?

Related Posts

Load More Posts Loading...No More Posts.