Friday, 29 July 2011

Britain's Bonefish

Llangenith beach on the Gower Peninsula is a surfers paradise. Set between two rocky headlands this long sandy beach faces the full force of the Atlantic.

Although surf beaches are associated with bass I was after the rare golden-grey mullet for which Llangenith is famous. Golden-grey's are the smallest of our three mullet species and can be identified by the golden spot on the gill cover. They can be found between the first and second breakers in water only a couple of feet deep, here they feed on marine invertebrates dislodged by the backwash.

My research suggested that the first hour of the flood would be the best time, so my plan was to fish an hour before low water and through the flooding tide. Using polaroids I hoped to spot the mullet working along the water table, indeed I had been told that they often tail like bonefish. I headed left from the access point away from the surfers and holiday makers.

My barbel rod was matched to ten pound line. I had tied up some two hook flapper rigs with 15 inch hooklengths and size 6 aberdeen hooks which would be loaded with maddies. The first couple of maddies were threaded up the hook shank and the remainder were head hooked, so that the bait resembled a medusa's head.Using a light lead of an ounce or two would mean that the rig would only just hold bottom and occasionally the lead would shift in the tide.

Second cast in and the tip rattled resulting in a flounder which put up a reasonable fight on the light tackle. A cast just beyound the second breaker resulted in a more positive bite with the rod pulling right over. This fish zoomed all over the place at speed. I was surprised how hard a pound golden-grey mullet fights. These mullet really are Britain's bone fish, If only they grew larger.

As the tide flooded I added a further five flounders including a double shot, a pristine bass of perhaps two pounds and a second golden grey mullet, slightly smaller than the first. My final fish was a small turbot

I really enjoyed my first experience of fishing a surf beach, it is really exilerating standing in the surf with the waves crashing against your legs.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

You are Absolutely Topeless!

Gethyn Owen is one of Wales best skippers and I recently enjoyed four days fishing aboard My Way. After talking to Geth I decided to target a cuckoo wrasse, tope and spotted ray for my species hunt. Rather than recounting on a daily basis the fish I caught I thought that I would take the opportunity to give the reader a flavour of what the fishing is like off Holyhead.

With the exception of the superlative smoothound fishing available in late May the fishing here falls into three main categories.

I have a soft spot for wrasse fishing and most days will see an hour or two spent drifting over a variety of rocky marks around south stack or behind the breakwater. The lead should be heavy enough to keep the line vertical, every rock can be felt through the braid and line should be given or retrieved as necessary to maintain contact with the bottom. Expect to lose some tackle but lifting the lead a couple of inches every five seconds miminises snag ups. Resist the urge to strike the rattles and merely lift into the wrasse when the tip pulls right over.

A section of ragworm is the best bait, I added a three quarter inch strip of mackerel to increase the chance of a cuckoo wrasse. After Geth demonstrated how to catch a cuckoo wrasse on the Monday, I finally caught a female cuckoo on the Tuesday. Mackerel strip results in pollack and coalies. During my trip the crew caught ballan, cuckoo and corkwing wrasse, poor cod, pollack, cod and scorpion fish on the drift. Although we spent some time feathering up mackerel they were thin on the ground, I managed a sprat (literally), others added codling and the largest launce I have ever seen.

Colin the seal has visited the boat on a regular basis over the last few years and associates Geth with a free meal. Talking of free meals a trip on My Way includes lunch, sausage butties, chilli, cake and cheesecake were on offer during my visit.

The banter on board is excellent. Don't leave a rod unattended..... you never know what you might catch. Young Ryan's running commentary on the fight with the rubber chicken that Geth had put on the end of his line was priceless.

During neap tides if the weather allows, it is possible to fish the Holyhead Deeps for a few hours around slack water. According to Geth the fishing was poor, despite this on the Monday most anglers aboard managed a double figure bullhuss. A couple of spurdog and three pack tope were also landed. Tuesday was slower, again three few tope were landed. I was still waiting for my tope leading to Geth commenting that I was absolutely topeless at fishing. On Wednesday I was part of a three tope tangle, mine was the smallest by far. We all had plenty of bites although the dreaded LSDs abound.

Ever noticed that when ladies are on board they usually outfish the blokes. I am sure Annie's huss is bigger than mine. Geth had a photo of a huss with the number 17 on it's flank which I refused to accept as genuine, after seeing the number 3 on another huss I am now not so sure!

When the wind or tide doesn't permit a trip to the Deeps there is a variety of inshore fishing at anchor available. As I was aiming for a spotted ray I fished with a three hook flowing trace with size 4 aberdeens baited with a three inch thin strip of mackerel.

As well as a couple of spotted rays, I managed red and grey gurnards, LSDs, codling, dabs, whiting, bulhuss and a starry smoothhound. I had thought that I had jammed out a common but on closer investigation it had faint spots. Other anglers added plaice and thornback rays to the bag. After the rays I scaled down and fished baited size 12 sabikkis hoping for a dragonet.

A light boat rod covers the inshore work, I used a boat quivertip which both maximises fun and gives great bite indication. A twenty pound class rod covers the deeps where up to two pounds of lead are required to hold bottom.

I would recommend a trip out with Geth to anyone, as even a poor day's fishing is entertaining aboard My Way!

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Mr Skate!

Oban is the place to catch a common skate and Ronnie Campbell is the best skipper in town. Ronnie has built up his knowledge of these waters and the giant skate over thirty years.

On the way to the skate grounds we stopped off to feather up some mackerel by a small island, where some seabirds had obviously been working earlier. Despite several moves the only mackerel we caught were on the small side. Ronnie had bought some frozen mackerel along as insurance as mackerel had been thin on the ground.
 Ronnie explained that skate could be found on large flat areas of mud in depths of up to 750 feet. We anchored up in 450 feet of water in the Firth of Lorne.

The skate rods were prepared and a frozen mackerel minus the tail was hooked through the head and lowered down slowly to the bottom. Although appearing crude the end rig had been developed over a number of years, a three foot trace of 250lb mono was followed by an eight foot rubbing leader. A tube boom made from electrical piping held the 2lb lead and allowed line to run freely on a take.
 I rigged up a second rod which would target a black mouthed dogfish or spurdog, any LSDs (Lesser Spotted Dogfish) would be kept for bait. Unusually according to Ronnie, I proceeded to catch a string of LSDs. Normally spurdogs and black mouthed dogfish would outnumber the LSDs. Two skate rods were rebaited with half a dogfish and would now be safely left until the end of the session. Even retrieving a dogfish from that depth is hard work.

After enjoying a white tea without milk (in England we call it black tea!) the ritual of periodically checking baits continued.

Eventually as the tide started to strengthen I had a more positive bite and Ronnie stated that I had hooked a spurdog. It proved to be a male of around 4lb and was quickly followed by another.

Three thirty and the rachet clicked on one of the skate rods, I would like to say screamed but I would be lying. Four hundred and fifty feet below me a skate was clamped to the bottom, no doubt throwing mud over its wings to resist the pressure being applied from above.

Initially I was unable to make any line and we had to resort to hand lining a foot of line at a time to get the skates nose up. Eventually I was able to start pumping the fish up to the surface. Sometimes I would lift the rod and not even put an inch of line back onto the reel, and on one occasion the skate dived back down to the bottom.

 It was clear that this was not going to be a spectacular fight, but a brutal battle which quickly took it's toll on my back despite the butt pad and shoulder harness. After a glorious day the heavens opened and I was going to get soaked.

Ronnie warned that once up in the tide the skate was likely to go downtide of the boat and we would be hard pushed to get the fish back up to the boat. True to form the angle of the line shallowed as the Skate spread its wings and used the tide to its advantage. Fifty yards from the boat the skate surfaced, line was slowly being taken and things were looking grim. Time for that old salmon anglers trick of walking the fish, I clamped down on the spool and walked slowly back up the boat towards the cabin before running back whilst retrieving line. If you keep a constant pressure on and don't drop the rod tip the fish should start to swim against the current/ or in this case tide. It worked, I was now reeling in fast to keep pace with the skate. Eventually a huge fish surfaced by the boat. Ronnie opened the door of the boat, to land the skate a gaff was placed in the edge of the wing and together we slid the fish sideways through the door. The gaff hole would soon heal as evidenced by recaptures. This fish was unusual in that she didn't already have a tag and was covered in huge leeches.

Years ago skate would be killed and taken back to port for weighing on a gantry, followed by the inevitable big white hunter photos. In these enlightened times fish are measured and the weight calculated on this basis. Ronnie's initial estimate of 180lb proved to be well short, as the vital statistics 86 inches from nose to tail and 67 inches from wing tip to wing tip gave me weight of 202lb.

Mr Skate had made another anglers dream come true............. thank you Ronnie!

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Small boat fishing on Loch Etive

I am lucky in having a wife that lets me indulge in my passion for angling, even when we are on a family holiday. I had arranged for us to rent a small boat for the afternoon on Loch Etive.

After getting some advice from Doug the boat owner, we motored out from the stone jetty at Taynuit up the loch towards a fish farm, where I tied up to a bouy.

The target species were a spurdog and a grey gurnard and I set up two rods, one with a fillet of bluey on a flowing trace and the other with small strips of bluey on a mini hokeye rig.

The weather had been changeable for the last few days, and today was no exception. We had motored out in the rain and within minutes the sky cleared and we were bathed in glorious sunshine.

It didn't take very long before the rod tip nodded on the hokeye rig and I had my first grey gurnard which was quickly followed by another. I then took a decision to change to a set of large hokeyes and larger baits to increase my chances of a spurdog.

Although I was getting bites I couldn't connect, I suspected that either LSDs (lesser spotted dogfish) or small fish were demolishing my baits without getting themselves hooked. A foul-hooked small codling seemed to back up my theory. After several missed bites I found myself connected to an obviously larger fish which I unfortunately lost in a snag. Apart from a baby thornback ray, which Jacky thought was extremely cute, that was it.

I had enjoyed my first small boat session, and the "skippering" was as much fun as the fishing.