Volcanic Adventures in the Faroe Islands
Sitting at his desk over the festive period Ally Campbell’s thoughts turn to planning fishing trips for 2016. High on his list of venues for the coming year are the volcanic Faroe Islands where he relished some great sport last year in and around the sheltered fjords.
The Faroes was somewhere I had wanted to visit from a young age after watching Paul Young fishing there in the popular Hooked on Fishing program. You can imagine my delight therefore when my good mate Davy Proudfoot dropped me an email asking if I fancied a trip up there to fish aboard an established charter boat and try some untested shore fishing. After a quick look at the Fishing with Blástein website it was safe to say, my usual email response time of 2 weeks was swiftly cut down to 2 minutes and with a very positive response. Soon after, the local skipper, Magni Blástein and the Faroese Tourist Board had all the arrangements in place for our flights, accommodation, car and boat in mid-July it and the anticipation built over the next few months.
Travel on the Fly
One of the reasons behind this trip was that the Faroese airline Atlantic Airways had re-started direct flights from Edinburgh and as Edinburgh airport is only 40 minutes from my house this was very handy. Davy and myself were booked on the 10.10am flight from Edinburgh and it was to be a surprisingly short flight with a scheduled flight time of 1 hour 25 minutes but in reality it was even quicker. A quick nod here to the Atlantic Airways staff, who when the ground staff at Edinburgh Airport had difficulties getting everyone’s outsize baggage sorted for the day, kindly waived the fee for our extra luggage due to the inconvenience, even though it was a separate company. The flight itself was excellent in a very spacious and modern Airbus A319, with a free meal and enough legroom for me and my travelling companion. The approach to Vagar Airport is spectacular with the last few minutes feeling like an Indiana Jones film with monstrous cliffs above you on either side and unlikely to be forgotten.
At The airport the hire company had our car waiting and we headed off to Vestmanna which was to be our base for the week. Vestmanna is a traditional fishing base, all population centres are in the Faroes, located on the west coast of the island of Streymoy and facing Vagar across the narrow Vestmannasund. It was only a 20 minute drive to Vestmanna but even on that short trip you could see the breathtaking beauty of the island that attracts so many tourists every year. The islands themselves are largely just huge peaks emerging from the ocean with very little in the way of flat land for farming or houses and almost all human infrastructure is concentrated around the vast coastline. When visiting the Faroes, I would recommend taking the passenger seat so you can enjoy the scenery, as long as you have a strong constitution as there are some steep drop offs from the side of the roads.
Upon arriving at Vestmanna on the Friday morning we were met by our host Magni Blástein who runs his charter boat “Blastein” named after his family, from a pontoon in the harbour. Magni had told us he would organise accommodation in the town for us and we were delighted to be shown to a three bedroom, self-catering former family house with all the mod cons including the essential Wi-Fi, which would be an excellent base for a family holiday never mind a couple of guys on a fishing trip.
Quick Trip Out
We had thought that our first day would be spent settling in, unpacking and preparing for fishing on the Saturday but Magni offered us a couple of hours fishing that afternoon. We happily accepted and hurriedly rifled through our bags for rods, reels and some tackle to head out on Blastein. By 14.30hrs we were heading out of the harbour to target plaice. As we left the harbour I pulled out a chart of the area and asked Magni where we were going, but he just pointed out the window and throttled back on the engine. I don’t think we had been steaming for much more than ten minutes and we could still see our house when we stopped to commence the first drift.
After a quick chat with the skipper we rigged up with one down flattie rigs which we use back home in Scotland for flatfish but with slightly larger hooks around the 2/0 to 3/0 mark. All three of us dropped to the bottom with our rigs and with the steep sided shore all round us we sat in the tidal channel called Vestmannasund at the mouth of the natural harbour. I expected some relatively deep water but I was surprised to find we were in less than 20 metres of water. Magni confirmed that he tended avoid the deeper water and concentrate fishing around the many sand banks found within the channel. Within seconds all our rods were rattling with bites and we started taking in large dabs continuously.
This proved to be an issue for us as the dabs were stripping our bait very quickly, we were using the local favourite cooked prawn. Not a bait I am that accustomed to using but it certainly was effective and as always, local advice is best. To try and outlast the dabs we started binding our prawns tightly with bait elastic and tipping with strips of sandeel. This was the first time I had used the Ullcatch bait elastic dispenser and on a cold fiddly day it proved its worth. Not long into the second drift, I felt a large weight on the end of my Greys rod after a soft take, very unlike the dab rattles we had experienced up to that point. For the first few turns I thought I was pulling in a lump of seaweed but a quarter of the way to the surface the fish realised what was happening and started to make some powerful dives.
After ten minutes, during which I thought I had hooked a cod, we saw a flat shape down in the clear water, Davy identified it as a turbot and I called it a wee halibut where as the local skipper correctly identified it as a plaice. Magni skilfully netted it and the biggest plaice I have ever seen was sat on the deck. As we had rushed out after our flight we didn’t have scales with working batteries but the fish was measured at 73cm and we were confident it was a 10lb plus fish. We had another drift and Magni had a plaice at 50cm and I had another at 53cm but I was still buzzing from that first fish.
After no more than an hour and a half we were heading back to port, all of ten minutes away, and I told the skipper that the 10lb fish had made the whole trip worthwhile. By the time me and Davy arrived back at our digs it was almost teatime, from leaving Edinburgh after breakfast we had managed to the Faroes, unpack, go out on a charter boat, catch some cracking fish and make it back in time for dinner, not bad going if you ask me.
Luring the Fish
The next day Davy and I were back out for a few hours with Magni to target a few other species, again within 20 minutes of the harbour. The skipper took us out round the coast a little and positioned us over the side of large sand bank which dropped from around 10 metres to 30 metres. We were hoping to target coalfish and sure enough we managed a few with the best falling to my rod and weighing in at 6½lb. Magni informed us that the usual stamp of coalfish is much better but unfortunately the sandeel shoals, which were usually inshore, were still some miles off-shore due to the cold start to the season. We also ended up catching several cod at this mark and again I had a personal best of 12½lb. Fishing for the coalies and cod is largely carried out in the Faroes with pirks and artificial flyers above but we also tried slow retrieving large plastics without a huge amount of success. In fact the largest cod came to a baited muppet I dropped down to see what might be lurking on the bottom. We also had a few drifts for the plaice where Davy enjoyed great sport on a light spinning rod. The slow drift and clean bottom allowed the use of light tackle and it was possible to maintain contact with the seabed with weights of around 50gms.
Having a bit longer on our second day and not being just off a flight we were able to have a good chat with Magni to get a bit of history to the fishing in the Faroes and his own background. Magni himself is from a fishing family as are most people in the Faroes. His father owned a long line boat which focussed on the once prolific halibut fishing in the area and Magni shared with us many stories of great catches in his youth. The “Blastein” we were fishing from was in fact itself an ex-commercial halibut boat, although not the one used originally by his father. Magni started his charter business in 2003 and it has grown from strength to strength with his main market for anglers being in Denmark and Germany. His fishing is mainly centred around the excellent cod fishing in the area but he entertains visitors with other types of fishing such as the excellent plaice fishing we enjoyed on the first day.
A Shore Thing
Our third day and on two more through the week we decided to mix some sightseeing with some shore fishing. The Faroes are exceptionally beautiful and with Davy wanting to try out all the lenses on his camera we visited most parts of the island of Streymoy enjoying some spectacular views. What did catch my eye however, was the amount of infrastructure present across the islands. Almost all the islands are now connected by excellent sub-sea tunnels and every collection of more than a few houses has its own pier and boating facilities. It is truly remarkable how an island with such a small population has developed and would put most larger countries including my own to shame. I don’t remember hitting one single pot hole on the entire trip.
We tried a few spots of the shore but with almost no shore fishing being done on the island, as every man and his dog owns his own boat, it was a bit of a shot in the dark. We ended up spending most of our time fishing of a couple of piers in Vestmanna. Fishing with standard shore flapper rigs baited with mackerel we had liberated from the chalet freezer we experienced some excellent fishing although not catching anything monstrous. Our catches included cod, ling, dab, plaice and whiting. We were hoping for a large plaice as we were only fishing a few hundred metres from our initial boat mark on the first day but unfortunately we failed to find any large red spots.
There was however the sight of several large sea trout circling our fishing spots. We made an attempt to catch them on small lures and mackerel belly strips but they were far too smart for us and after catching my third seagull, all returned safely, I decided it was best for everyone not to try for them anymore. Speaking to our skipper the next day he informed us that there are several good sea trout and salmon rivers on the islands and if I get to back again I will be making sure I organise a day trip to one of these venues. For an avid shore angler the Faroes would be an excellent challenge as there are obviously good fish available close to shore as is evidenced by the boat catches and with nobody locally fishing any marks it could be a real goldmine for the adventurous angler. Before my next trip I will certainly be scouting some likely spots on Google Earth and packing my walking boots.
On these days off I also got to experience what must be a particularly Faroese taste, a chalet filled with Nicolas Cage DVD’s and some double digit strength Faroese beer. I think after the fifth Cage instalment Davy was reaching for the beer just to get through he evening.
Before our week ended we had two more full days aboard ship with Magni and both these were to spent with tourists who had booked the boat out and kindly let us tag along. On the first day we headed south down through Vestmannasund to the main inshore cod ground. This mark is one large sand bar that runs for several miles through the centre of the fjord and attracts vast shoals of sandeels during the summer which the cod come in shore to feed upon. Unfortunately as Magni had said previously, the sandeel shoals had not appeared yet so the fishing was not going to be to its usual quality. However with a boat full of keen anglers all jigging their pirks there were still several good cod taken. The pirking here was slightly different to what we might be used to in the U.K with two main methods seeming to prevail. The first been to bounce the pirk in the sand to create a puff of sand to attract the fish in or secondly to jig very high up in the water inside the sandeel shoals, where the fish will be attacking.
With the lack of sandeels though, working the lures close or touching the bottom seemed to work best on the day and the young Canadian girl who out fished the rest of the boat, achieved this by keeping contact with the bottom at all times unlike some of the less experienced anglers on the boat who were letting their pirks come up high in the water with the drift. The Faroes get a very diverse mix of visitors and on this boat alone there were Canadians, Italians, Germans, Danes and of course a couple of Scots. Myself and Davy tried for a halibut through the day, hopping large shads on the bottom but it was perhaps a bit early in the season to have a good go at these. Magni showed us several photos of cracking halibut caught aboard over the years and although they are not as prolific as they used to be a bit of effort in the right areas would yield a fish and is perhaps something we would target on a private charter on our next trip.
It was interesting to examine the skipper’s traces for porbeagle shark, which regularly appear in the tide rips around the coastline. Unlike the common UK style of drifting for these large sharks Magni mostly targets them by trawling with spreader style rigs. He organises catch and release outings for the sharks throughout the season but they can be sporadic and it difficult to determine when they will be inshore chasing the shoals of small coalfish.
On our last full day at sea we were taken out north of the island of Vagar to open ocean, fishing under the cliffs and in our very first swell of the week. The Vestmannasund is so well sheltered that our skipper assured us that he could get fishing in anything short of a hurricane, very handy for the visiting angler. This is another mark that is usually fished by Magni for his cod hungry clientele and the anglers aboard ship all went down with the standard arsenal of pirks and jigs. Davy and I thought we would try out some bottom fishing with bait as we were over the first hard ground, as opposed to the normal sand or mud, of the trip. Although we only spent about 90 minutes in this area it proved to be extremely interesting with several torsk and ling coming over the rails to mackerel baited spoons. There weren’t many cod coming aboard however and we made a move to deeper water over another sand bar to try and chase them down. If you could spend several hours targeting this rough ground, then we would get some excellent variety and possibly some interesting catches. As Magni informed us, the locals would never fish this type of ground when you can catch quality cod on clean ground, but for the angler looking for something a bit different, which may be more likely from the British market, it would be an excellent bit of variety to try out on their trip.
The second part of the day was spent over the afore mentioned sand bar with cod coming at a reasonable rate throughout the afternoon. However, the Scots persevered with the bait fishing and were pleased to catch plenty more species such as haddock, whiting, plaice and several redfish. These two marks showed off the great potential the area has for anglers not seeking cod or just wanting a bit of variety for the day and I am sure I won that day’s species competition against Davy.
The Final Plaice
Our boat fishing for the week wasn’t quite finished as we to convinced Magni to give us another couple of hours at those plaice of his before we got our flight. A quick couple of hours on our last fishing day was just the way to cap of a cracking trip. Sure enough we caught some more excellent plaice just like the first day with several fish up to 8½lb along with the ever present large dabs and a few codling to spice things up. On our way back to harbour we were full of chat about coming back again and trying for even bigger plaice and perhaps trying to beat some line class records for the species. With the soft ground, shallow and sheltered water I can’t think of a better venue to target the full range of records.
That night we packed up our bags and agreed that we had experienced an excellent weeks fishing with great hospitality, fantastic facilities and superb fishing which we would recommend to anyone and everyone. Special thanks must go to Magni Blastein and the Faroese Tourist Board who hosted and organised our trip. They did an excellent job and I am sure would do an equally great job for anybody else visiting. I would also give special mention to all the local supermarket staff who understood our very poor English and non-existent Faroese and to the fish soup maker in the café on the harbour. Magni has special package deals from the U.K flying out on the Friday and back on Monday, transfers, accommodation and boat hire with wet weather gear, just visit his website for more details.