01/11/2107 - Spooky goings on down the river

I suppose I was really a day late, but Halloween was spent giving platelets at the Nottingham Blood Donor Centre, which would have been even more apt had the nurses all been dressed up as vampires. Not to be unfortunately! However, having sourced some suitably-sized deadbaits from Matchman Supplies, I was down on the River Trent the following evening to try and catch another kind of maligned, toothy creature - the zander. 

Headed to an area I'd not tried before, but one with lots of features that I thought would appeal to prey fish and predators alike. Soon had two, hair-rigged deadbaits, heads and tails removed, out in position - one in the mouth of the canal next to where I'd set up and the other in the river down the crease formed at the confluence. A bit later, two chaps with lure gear stopped for a chat, one of them providing some helpful reassurance that the area wasn't known for producing zander!

Not that I was put off, as I've often found that such information freely given is actually mis-information. However, I did concede that perhaps conditions were against me, with a low, clear river and clear skies. Wished them well as they headed off upstream and sat watching the sunset. Was taking a few photos when the drop off on the left hand rod hit the rod rest. Wound down into a fish that came in without much trouble - not my target species, but at least it had saved the blank.

Popped on a new bait and positioned it in the mouth of the canal again. By now the sun had completely disappeared to my right and the moon was rising to my left. The temperature had started to drop, so it was on with the coat to supplement the fleece I'd had on until now. As the moon rose higher it started to cast shadows along the bank and I was contemplating packing up when the drop off on the left hand rod jerked slowly in staccato fashion up to the reel and then stopped. Pulled the line out of the clip and then felt the line pull steadily through my fingers. Wound down to.....fresh air! The bait was still on the hook, but was almost completely scaleless. Cast out to the same spot and the bait had only been in a few minutes when the drop off began its jerky, upward dance once more, but again there was no satisfying weight on the end of the line when I wound down and the rig came back minus bait.

Something down there was taking the mick out of me! Put out a fresh deadbait and hovered expectantly over the rod, waiting for the bite alarm to sound. However, when a couple of sharp "bleeps" disturbed the silence, it was the other rod that showed some indication of interest. After feeling the line pulling through my fingers, I tentatively wound down, desperately trying to feel what was happening on the other end of the braid. However, yet again, my subsequent strike met with nothing and I skimmed an empty rig back across the surface. Put another bait out, but half an hour later I'd not had any further interest and packed up, contemplating a frustrating session. Whilst these "phantom" runs are not a new phenomenon on the river and could be casually attributed to eels, I couldn't help feeling on this particular occasion that I'd been chasing ghosts!

15/10/2017 - Being kept busy in Ilfracombe

This weekend was our second annual lads trip down to North Devon. As we get older, these weekends are becoming far less about surfing and more about just chilling out in nice surroundings. Conditions really have to be spot on to tempt us into the water nowadays, but that's not to say we are completely idle! The fishing gear usually goes in the car now and this weekend was no exception. Recent reports had also indicated a few unusual species coming out at Ilfracombe, including two species of clingfish, leopard spotted goby, topknot and tadpole fish, so some new species were possibly on the cards. Saturday morning therefore saw me heading off at first light, with the rest of the lads aiming to join me later. Arrived bang on low tide and set up on the lower deck of the pier. Set the bass rod up with a two hook flapper baited with a ragworm and mackerel cocktail and lobbed it out 40 yards, then set up the LRF rod to have a dabble down the side. Had just caught a little ballan wrasse when a chap came and told me that I'd have to move as the Lundy island ferry was coming 'round for loading for a 10 am departure. 

Had to move to the very far end of the deck and by the time the ferry had moored up I was left with about ten feet of wall to work with. Cursing my luck I temporarily put the bass rod away and concentrated on the LRF rod instead. Wasn't a problem in the end. The swell was creating a bit of movement at the end of the pier and this area appeared to be full of fish as a result.

After losing a couple of drop shot rigs, it was obvious that there were some hefty snags to my right, limiting me even further to where I could cast. However, by feeling the rig down and letting it bounce around gently just off the bottom I was soon into loads of little pollack and some sizeable sand smelt. Was well into double figures when Rob appeared with the others. Let him squeeze in next to me and he was soon into a succession of pollack himself, while I had a colourful, male corkwing wrasse.

During this time they had finished loading up the ferry and moved around to the upper deck again to allow the foot passengers to embark. Gave Rob the nod and we quickly moved into the vacated spot, but not before catching another ballan wrasse that came compete with one of the drop shot rigs I'd lost earlier! Fishing was bit slower in the new spot, but I thought there'd be a few more species around the pilings and it gave us a chance to put the other rod out in the hope of something bigger.

Left Craig in charge of the bait rod, while I carried on dropping down the side and was rewarded with a little poor cod and another ballan wrasse. Craig in the meantime was getting knocks and pulls and decided that it was time to reel in. However, the culprit was found to be a large velvet swimmer crab that had got the braid tangled around its legs. 

Lobbed out some fresh baits into the same general area again and it wasn't long before the tip started rattling again. However, it was a fish this time in the shape of a small whiting. Not long after this, with the tide rising and the swell starting to breach the lower deck, we eventually decided to avoid wet feet and call it a day, but not before Craig repeated his crab-catching trick. This time it was a little spider crab, exquisitely camouflaged with bits of seaweed. Two locals in matching fishing gear had arrived on the upper deck by this stage as well and were busy casting over our bait rod - obviously some kind of subtle etiquette there that we missed, because when I snagged one of their lines retrieving ours I found myself apologising to them!

The next day I sneaked out of the bungalow before anybody else was up and made the short drive up the coast again to Ilfracombe to find the pier completely deserted. A text from Rob informed me that the others had decided to play golf, so I had a free rein in more ways than one. However, set up at the bottom of the steps down to the lower deck and never had to leave the spot! I'd caught the last hour of the ebb tide, which meant there was a bit of movement in the water around the pilings. 

Concentrating on the LRF rod, conditions again seemed ideal for the pollack and sand smelt, as they were both present in numbers and for a good half an hour it was a fish a chuck, the angle worm being grabbed on the drop, or as the rig hit bottom. As slack water approached the bites died off a bit. However, a few different species started to appear, including shannies, some really colourful little ballan wrasse and a grumpy-looking tompot blenny. Started getting some unhittable rattles after that.

In the hope that it was one of the "oddities" that had been coming out recently, I tied on a scaled down 2 hook flapper with size 16 hooks baited with scraps of ragworm. However, the culprit was revealed as an inevitable rock goby. Carried on for a bit longer, but the bites had slowed right down and the pier was now getting busy with the Sunday crowd, so called it a day.

Was nice to have been kept busy, but a shame that I'd not been able to add to the species list on what was probably my last trip to the coast this year. We'll have to see.......

01/10/2017 - Another trip to the seaside!

I find it bizarre that, although I live in the East Midlands and about as far from the coast as you can get, I've done more sea fishing this year so far than anything else. Truth is that, whilst work and family commitments have conspired to keep me away from the rivers while I've been at home, it's been very easy to fit in a couple of hours here and there while we've been away, particularly when prevailing tides allow me to get out to a venue, fish and then get back before breakfast. A quick weekend trip down to Pembrokeshire to celebrate my wife's 50th birthday with her family was a good example. High tide was conveniently early in the morning, so plans were made and venues were chosen in order to maximise the available fishing time.

Unfortunately, I woke up at first light on Saturday to find a grey, Pembrokeshire "wet wind" blowing across the fields - the kind of fine drizzle that seems to be able to penetrate the most expensive waterproof clothing and leaves you wet, cold and miserable. 

Needless to say my plans went out of the window and I went back to bed! The weather did brighten up later allowing us to have a trip out to Amroth for a quick walk along the beach and a mocha and cake at The Pirates. I even managed to winkle a new species out of a rock pool while we were there (unfortunately not allowed under competition rules) - a tiny little rockling.

Next morning there were no such issues with the weather, but I had to make a decision of where to go. In the end I opted for Goodwick due to its mini-species potential, so first light saw me heading north up over the Preseli Hills and then down a mist-filled Gwaun Valley. Arrived at deserted car park and headed out to the end of the 750 metre long breakwater. 

Settled in on the rock apron on the left hand side of the building housing the navigation light. Set up a two hook flapper rig on my 10-60 g spinning rod and baited up the size 6 Aberdeens with some mackerel and squid dug out the bottom of the mother-in-law's freezer. The mackerel in particular was a bit far gone and required some copious wrapping with the bait elastic to keep it on the hooks! Lobbed the rig out about 40 yards into a gap between the numerous crab pots dotted around the bay in the hope that there might be a few pin whiting about while I set up the LRF rod. Bait quality didn't appear to be an issue as literally five minutes later the rod tip started rattling, signalling some interest. Left it a bit before winding in a small whiting - mission accomplished and (legitimate) species number 15 for the year. Popped him back, re-baited and sent the rig out again into the same general area. Had a second whiting about five minutes later. However, it wasn't long before the crabs moved in and started stripping the hooks, leaving me to concentrate on the LRF rod instead.

Jigging a dropshot rig back parallel with the breakwater resulted in lots of little pollack, accompanied by the occasional codling. At high tide I made my way back along the breakwater towards the car park, trying a few spots along the way, but this only resulted in more pollack. No doubt at all that the venue is a good spot if you want to add a few members of the cod family to your list (I had pouting and poor cod last visit as well), but I was again left wondering about the lack of other species, notably wrasse.

With no more planned trips down to Wales before Christmas, that'll be one to try and crack next year. However, with a weekend down in North Devon with the lads coming up, the species hunting is not over yet!

24/09/17 - An LRF mixed bag

A two week holiday in Tuscany with friends just 20 kilometres from the coast seemed an ideal opportunity to add a few more exotic species to the list, so when one of them said they would be driving down in their van and would they like us to take anything the deal was sealed. 

Cecina was our nearest town and a quick look on Google Maps confirmed a few interesting features such as a number of breakwaters, a river mouth and a large marina. The latter seemed the most attractive option. However, a quick recce one morning found all of it to be out of bounds for fishing apart from on the outside of the breakwater protecting the marina entrance.

Even so, it looked pretty fishy with large boulders giving way to sand further out. A couple of locals were float fishing off the end with bolognese-style rods and there were some shoals of small fish and the odd mullet knocking around, so we made plans to return with the LRF gear. Unfortunately, when we did so we found it hard going to the extreme. Dropshotting angleworm off the end and between the rocks attracted tiny saddled bream and a few gobies or blennies that just pecked at the bait. 

Casting further out onto the sand resulted in a couple of rattles and the baits bitten in half before I hooked a tiny striped red mullet, which was at least a new species for me. A switch to small metals again only resulted in one, half-hearted snatch on the drop. Don't know whether it was the temperature, time of day or the fact that the area had been hammered. However, we gave it another go a couple of days later and blanked completely! All in all, very disappointing.

By complete contrast, when we got back to the UK we made arrangements to go and pick up the stuff our friends in Exmouth had kindly dragged halfway across Europe. Again, not to waste an opportunity, arrangements were made for the lads & dads to head down to the "docks" (a bit of a grand description!) for some species hunting. Saturday evening saw us head down to the area around the new launching ramp for a couple of hours before dark.

It was windy and pretty choppy and the floating weed was a pain. However, fishing around the boulders the boys soon started catching lots of small pollack and ballan wrasse and the odd shanny on bits of ragworm on scaled down paternoster rigs. This kept me busy unhooking and re-baiting hooks, so it was a while before I managed to wet a line myself. Dropping down the side of the ramp I had a tompot blenny and was then busted off twice by something big before landing my first corkwing wrasse of the year.

Fished on for a bit longer, catching more pollack and wrasse, but the failing light and weather conditions were making things tricky. Packed up and headed home, but not before witnessing four drunken blokes drop their speedboat off the trailer and send it skidding backwards down the launching ramp. Don't know what they were doing launching at that time of night and in such poor conditions anyway, but it was lucky nobody was stood behind it at the time. Left them assessing the damage to their outboard and working out how to get it back on the trailer!

Next morning we were back nice and early to catch high tide. However, there was a strong current rushing past the launching ramp that was causing some fierce back eddies, so we headed for our other spot near the "compass" where we knew there'd be some quieter water.

On arrival we found that there was a big shoal of sandeels in front of us and in the bay to our left. These were attracting attention from the terns, who were dive-bombing them from above, and then occasionally they would scatter on the surface as they were targeted by something from below. It wasn't a surprise that, with all this food about, the pollack were present in numbers and they were quick to attack our baits, followed by wrasse and a schoolie bass that was followed up to the surface by his mates.

As slack water approached and the eddies disappeared the shannies started to appear from their cracks and crevices, along with a very angry little long-spined sea scorpion. Fishing closer to the structure at the entrance to the marina I had three larger ballan wrasse in a row that really tested the LRF gear as they battled to get back into their boltholes between the pilings.

The biggest surprise was yet to come. As things slowed down I tried a cast onto the sand beyond the rocks and had a rattle on the rod tip straight away. As I wound in the resulting fish I what it was straight away - my first common dragonet. Not a flamboyant male unfortunately, but another addition to the species list.

Carried on for a bit longer, but then was distracted by some large, grey shapes in the water below us, which turned out to be a couple of mullet in the 5-6lb range. Watched them as they turned on their sides to graze on the algae growing on the wooden pilings before they disappeared again. Took that as a good moment to bring a cracking session to an end. Hurrah for Exmouth! 

06/08/17 - More LRF fun and games in Wales

Don't know where the time goes these days, 'cus it doesn't seem like 5 minutes ago we last came back from Wales and we were off down there again for another few days before our main summer holiday in Italy. As I had failed to wet a line in freshwater in the interim, I was especially looking forward to having another dabble in the salt and adding to my species tally. However, that proved a bit difficult, not in the least because of the weather as it either tipped down with rain of blew a gale (or both!) most of the time we were down there. Undaunted, me and the lad set off for Pembroke Dock on the first morning to see if we could catch a mullet. At low tide in June the exposed mud next to the old car ferry ramp was absolutely covered in mullet grazing marks, so off we went armed with float rods and a couple of loaves, one of which had been previously liquidised, to see what was about. Unfortunately, apart from seeing one mullet appear briefly on the surface, we sat for two hours on the rising tide without a sign! At this point the LRF gear came out of the car and we made our way over to the other side of the ramp and then onto the pontoon.

Here the fish were more obliging and it was a bite a chuck on bits of isome worm and raw prawn on either a dropshot rig or scaled down "two up" rig. However, it looked like it was going to be a goby monopoly, as we pulled out rock gobies in all sizes and colours. Eventually I spotted a few fish darting out the kelp on the side of the wall and a bait dangled closer to the waving fronds resulted in a few small pollack. As the tide started running I picked up a single sand smelt before we called it a day.

Next day I had to go to over to the chandler's at Neyland Marina for some fibreglass for the boat, so it was an opportunity to check out a spot on the other side of the Haven for a change. Unfortunately, we were a bit early in the flood as there was only a couple of feet of water at the bottom of the dock wall when we got there. Dropping our baits between the patches of weed a surprise bass to the lad first cast got our hopes up. However, after that we struggled to catch a couple of rock gobies between us.

Next morning the lad was off to help his Uncle with the family falconry business, so I made the trip back to Pembroke Dock by myself. Whilst it was dry, there was a strong wind pushing a swell straight up the Haven. Fishing down at water level off the ramp I had to watch out for the odd, rogue wave running along the wall and wetting my feet! Didn't stop the fish feeding but again, every time the bait hit the deck it was grabbed by a greedy rock goby. The bottom seemed to be covered with them, to the exclusion of everything else and after about 30 of the flippin' things I waved the white flag!

A couple of decent days followed that meant we could get out as a family onto the coast path and do some sight-seeing. When the final opportunity came for a quick session I was in a bit of a dilemma. Didn't fancy catching gobies all morning, so opted to go somewhere completely different for a change. First light therefore saw me heading to the North coast to fish the inner breakwater at the ferry port at Goodwick. Got there just before high tide and walked along to the end. 

The weedy fringes and the rock armour on both sides of the breakwater screamed out wrasse, so I opted for a slightly beefier dropshot rig with a size 8 weedless hook baited with a whole isome worm. Soon found out that it was extremely snaggy and quite shallow, even right off the end of the breakwater. Switched presentation after a bit to a weedless jig head, but after about an hour I'd not had a touch.

Spotted a shoal of sandeels and then a few small fish over some clear patches in the weed, so went back to the dropshot rig and scaled right down to a size 16 hook, which I baited with half an angleworm. carefully lowering the rig into the clear spots I soon had some rattles, eventually connecting with one of many small pollack. As the tide turned, the water level dropped exposing the weed.

I therefore moved back along the breakwater slightly. Don't know what made me choose the next spot, other than it was next to some crab pots, but I had three members of the cod family and three new species in consecutive casts! First up was a tiny pouting, followed by a codling, then finally a poor cod. Was back to the pollack after that before I got the call to say that the rest of the family were up and ready to go out. Overall, I was relieved to have pulled it out of the bag with the last session, but was a bit perplexed with the lack of wrasse over the week. Oh well, two weeks in Tuscany coming next and the LRF gear will be packed!

04/06/2017 - LRF round up

The last few weeks have seen a number of opportunities to head out to the coast for some species hunting - well that was the idea! First opportunity was the lads' surf trip down to North Devon. An early morning low tide saw me heading off to Ilfracombe to fish off the pier under the gaze of Verity once again. Water was really clear, with no sign of the dreaded "May bloom". However, by the time the rest of the lads turned up I'd only had a couple of small ballan wrasse, albeit a new species to add to the species hunt for the year.

Didn't bother setting another rod up as the bites were so few and far between and just shared the rod with Rob while the others went off exploring. The only notable excitement occurred when I dropped the rig into a small gap next to a wooden pile. The rod top hooped over almost immediately and I felt a decent fish thumping away. However, as soon as I shouted "get the net" it came off!

The following weekend we were off down to Pembrokeshire for the opening of the brother and sister-in-laws' new venture, the Secret Owl Garden, a falconry centre dedicated to over 25 species of owls set in the grounds of Picton Castle. Obviously the LRF gear went in the car as well and at the first opportunity my lad, James, and I headed to our favourite spot at Pembroke Dock. We arrived at low water during one of the big Spring tides, so were able to fish right off the end of the old car ferry ramp. Again, despite conditions looking spot on, we struggled for bites. Apart from a few, ubiquitous rock gobies, the only highlight was a big, fat tompot blenny - my first from the venue and another new species for the year. Having put up with a load of local kids "tombstoning" off the top of the dock wall, we were eventually forced to abandon proceedings when a big patch of diesel drifted around the corner. 

A couple of days later we headed over to Milford Haven for a change. My intention was to fish the lock pit as there had been reports of Goldsinney wrasse being caught there. However, when we arrived the lock gates were open and a chap from the Port Authority told us we wouldn't be able to fish there because of boats going in and out. Instead we went and fished the area between the "mackerel landing" stage and the sea wall. Yet again, it was very slow and it looked like a few shannies and rock gobies would be our lot. That all changed when I spotted a large, fifteen spined stickleback cruising around just under the surface. Shouting to James to keep an eye on it, I quickly set up a split-shot rig with a size 20 hook baited with a tiny scrap of raw prawn. James had lost sight of it in the interim, but scanning along the bottom of the dock wall I spotted it again and went off in pursuit. It took the bit of prawn dangled in front of it on the first attempt. However, in my excitement I pulled it straight out of its mouth again. Luckily it gave me a second chance and this time I made no mistake.

Unfortunately, we could only add a solitary sand smelt to the species count after that, so we called it a day. From Pembrokeshire we headed to Exmouth to stay with friends. Upon arrival plans were made for a lads & dads fishing trip and the following morning saw us all heading down to the docks, with a quick diversion to get a few ragworms from the local tackle shop. It was a blazing hot day and the water at the first spot we tried was gin clear. However, the boys were soon into a steady procession of fish, including tompots, shannies and small wrasse .

As the tide started going out and water level dropped the bites dried up, so we moved around to the slipway area, fishing down the side of the ramp itself and amongst the boulders at the bottom of the sea wall. Again, there were plenty of tompots, shannies and small wrasse about to keep us busy, together with a bonus long-spined sea scorpion.

The next day we were back again but, in contrast, the weather was cold and wet. As the tide had already started to go out by the time we got there, we headed straight for the slipway. 

Met a chap there who had intended to lure fish for bass, but had been thwarted by the amount of floating weed out in the main channel, so had reverted to scratching for bits close in like us. Again, shannies, ballan wrasse and tompots were the mainstay of the catch, with a single scorpion again falling to my rod. Moving around to fish amongst the boulders we saw a large shoal of sandeels and a couple of decent mullet. Tried the splitshot rig and a size 20 hook again for the eels and some scraps of rag for the mullet, but they weren't having any of it. We were all pretty wet by now due to the constant drizzle, so I started to pack away, handing my rod over to James in the process. Literally a minute later the rod top hooped over and, after a brief fight, James landed the best wrasse of the session.

Had hoped to catch a couple more species, but after the poor fishing in Wales it was good to catch a few fish of any description. My friend's lad enjoyed it so much that they spent £150 on their own LRF gear after we left! Back to reality for me now, certainly until August when we've got a week in Wales and then two weeks in Tuscany....and yes, the LRF gear is going!