Johnshaven - Cod Heaven by Peter Foster
When top Scottish Rod Alan Combe, maestro of the north-east coast gives you a call to say the fish are in, you don't ignore him, to do so means you run the risk of missing out on some prime time cod action so with a red letter day on the cards I headed East to meet up with Alan and a couple of mates from this years World Championship Shore Squad, Lindsay Wilson and team manager Drew Higgins.
The brief was to meet up with Lindsay and Drew just South of Glasgow and then head north across country to catch up to Alan at St. Cyrus with a view to casting a bait or two from the massive, flat slab of a rock at Usan. We stayed here for just an hour managing to nick a couple of fish before Alan reckoned the tide and water state would be just about right for some cracking sport a little further up the coast at Johnshaven, 4 miles south of Inverbervie. If I knew then just what was in store for us, I would have taken a detour to buy a lottery ticket, ride your luck while it’s in, that’s what I say.
Johnshaven Breakwater-sea state perfect
Driving along the headland, we could follow the contours of the coastline, the sea state looked absolutely bang on, - Alan had called it right. There was a big easterly rumble with breakers queuing up four and five in a row and the water colour was perfect. We drove onto the Johnshaven breakwater protecting the tiny fishing harbour just before 5pm with the light fading fast, just enough time to get a couple of location shots in the bag while the lads were tackling up.
Alan Coombe takes up position to the left of the gully
The harbour mouth is the spot to head for because of a fairly deep but narrow gully, “this is the fish holding area explained Alan, but be careful of the rock skeers either side, it’s a tackle graveyard”. With this in mind, the gear was simple, 40lb mainline straight through to a 6 ounce lead on a rotten bottom and a one hook rig. Bait was a massive bunch of lug and mussel lashed to a size 4/0.
Premier east coast cod bait, crab and lugworm
Alan Coombe, Drew Higgins and Lindsay Wilson
No need for big casts, a gentle lob would get you into the gully and in the path of the fish. Within 10 minutes, it was Drew who was the first to lift into a fish and judging by the grunts and groans coming from his direction, it was a "good un". His rod was bucking wildly as he put the pressure on, a sure sign of a good fish. “Too big to lift, said Drew, I’m going to walk it around to the steps”. Lindsay was a head of him, already positioning himself at the bottom of the stone steps with the water lapping his feet. The fish stayed deep as it was coaxed around the breakwater and into the harbour, another sign of something a bit special. It didn’t show itself until it was just in front of Lindsay then when it surfaced in the combined pool of light from 4 headlamps we all let out the odd expletive or two not least Drew who by now was like a dog with two d****.
First fish for Drew, a cracking double.
The scales banged round to read 12lb 10oz, not a bad start. Five minutes later, Drew was up again. Assuming the position with rod in hand, he struck and fish number two was on its way to the base of the steps. At 7lb plus, Drew had nicked two fish in two casts within 15 minutes for 20lb. Could it get any better than this I thought, and me still to get a bait in the water. Lindsay was next to get in on the fish fest with a “tiddler” around 4lb.
Another cod gets the step treatment courtesy of Drew
Fishing over to the left, it was Alan’s turn as he lifted two out around the 3.5lb bracket in quick succession. By now cod were coming ashore at regular intervals, most in the 4-5 lb range, time to put the camera away and get into the action myself. A cast to the left of Drew put me into the rough ground and a hook up with the rocks. Pulling for a break was hard work and the gear only came back when the hook straightened out.
Nice plumper for Alan and not a bad brace for Drew.
The next cast was closer to the “hot spot” and a plumper around 4lb saved me from a blank. Fifteen minutes later, a second fish of about the same size hit the bait and took a trip to the breakwater. With a couple under my belt so to speak, (they were admired and returned), and the water ebbing at a fairly fast rate, it was time to pack the gear and concentrate on what the others were doing.
Alan Coombe gets ready as another cod shows interest
Alan had moved closer to the action because his first spot was fast drying out and the only place left worth fishing was by now the deeper gully at the entrance to the harbour. Sport was slowing up a little but the cod were still about although on a less regular basis. Lindsay hit into a good fish that required the step treatment and moved the scales round to just over 6lb.
Sometimes you just worry about a guy
It was just after 8pm when the gully became visible in the fallout of the harbour lights and it was about this time Alan reckoned we could best utilise our time with a stonking fish supper at the famous “Bervie Chippy”, twice winners of the British chip shop of the year. Drew and Lindsay reeled in and began to tackle down; Alan started to clear the decks but opted to leave his bait out until the last moment - the ploy paid off.
With just about all his gear stowed and the other two looking around to see if they had everything packed away, his rod lurched forward and sprang back in the classic style. It was a nice fish in the 5lb range and had the step treatment courtesy of Drew. On reflecting, we landed 17 cod between 3.5lb and 12.10lb for an approximate weight of 85-90lb, all in an action packed session lasting just 3 hours. Believe me, it doesn’t come much better than this and if I were to be asked for any advise it would be this; “the next time Alan Combe says anything about fishing the north east coast of Scotland – listen”.
Three amigo's, who wouldn't smile after a session like that