19/02/2017 - Early season species hunting

Half-term saw us Wales-bound once more and with it my first opportunity to cast a line in saltwater in 2017. I had decided that, despite my obvious handicap of living in the East Midlands and nowhere near the sea, I would join a species hunt this year. Twenty looked a reasonable target, based on what I've caught over the last couple of year plus a few new, targeted species that I've not fished for before, such as flounder, bream and a couple of the other goby and wrasse species. I was also keen to try out my birthday present - an HTO Rock Rover travel rod. I duly joined the World Sea Fishing Forum Species Hunt 2017, printed off my card and was raring to go.

Unfortunately the weather had been cold and wet prior to our arrival, so first trip down to Pembroke Dock for high tide I was met with a murky, coloured sea and another angler's rubbish (there's a tackle bin ten feet from the top of the steps, you knob!). Had set myself a target of five species for this holiday - pollack, coalfish, rock goby. black goby and common blenny - but still saw this as achievable despite the conditions.

Set about seeing what I could winkle out using isome, angleworm and raw prawn fished dropshot-style or on a scaled-down "two up, one down" rig. I was pleasantly surprised to catch a couple of pollack fairly quickly, both on pink isome. However, things were very slow after that and I struggled until a switch to prawn brought a solitary rock goby. Again, I was surprised that there weren't more of these around as come the summer you won't be able to get away from the things!

With the tide starting to run out again, that was first session over. However, it had a sting in the tail because, as I bent down to pick up my tackle box, I felt the all-too familiar stab of pain in my lower back. Don't know whether it was standing in the wind for an hour that did it, but by the time I got home my back was in spasm.

Next morning, suitable reinforced with one of the father-in-law's back braces, but still in pain and hobbling like an old man, I headed to my shanny "hot spot" on the estuary at Lawrenny.

                                                                                                                  The tide was still flooding in over the top of the old quay, so I waited for it to slacken off before dropping a bit of prawn tight down the side of the wall. Again, in the summer this would have been met with an instant response, but on this occasion I had to wait for a few minutes before the solid tip of the Rock Rover registered any interest from below. However, it was at least the species I had come for. 

Only managed to add one more after that. Had a few casts with a Savage Gear sandeel to see if there were any pollack or coalies about, but to no avail, before limping back to the car. Contemplated trying the weedy margins on the way for a common or sand goby with a splitshot rig, but it was too murky to spot anything, so decide to leave that for later in the year. 

Following day I hobbled back to Pembroke Dock. The sea looked a bit clearer and it was a bit warmer, so more pleasant for me although it had probably done nothing for the sea temperature. Managed a few more pollack from the off, followed by a couple of rock gobies. However, didn't look as if I was going to add to the species tally when I had a little tremble on the rod tip. Had a nice surprise when a tiny long-spined sea scorpion appeared on the surface. Switched to the sandeel again when the tide started running in the hope of a coalie, but drew a blank. Still, whilst I'd not quite managed to get the exact species I was after, I was off the mark and in the hunt and already looking forward to Easter when I'd be back again!

09/02/2017 - A largesse of "ladies"!

I can't seem to get enough of grayling at the moment. The pursuit of pike and zander hasn't grabbed me yet, particularly as the weather and river levels have been all over the place. Also, more often that not, the tributaries have been fishable when the main rivers haven't been and I've been in a position to profit. Take today, which I'd booked off as flexi-time last week with a view to keeping an eye on conditions. As it happened, this coincided with my favourite tributary of the River Dove fining down to perfect level.

The weather forecast wasn't quite as kind, with a Easterly wind and temperatures near freezing. However, I put the thermals on, loaded the gear and racked up the heating in the car. Arrived 30 minutes later feeling nice and toasty and quickly got the neoprenes, fleece and coat on. Was soon trudging across the still-waterlogged fields through the gloom to the upper limit of the club section. 

The river was at a nice level, but was gin clear. Didn't know at this stage whether this was going to be a factor - only one way to find out. Started in the established "banker" swim that, in fact, is three swims in one - a shallow, upstream run dropping into a deeper pool, with a further run downstream. Started off by setting the float at about 18 inches, held it back hard in the upstream run and had a fish first cast! Had a few more and bumped a couple off before the bites dried up and I moved onto the pool and then onto the downstream run. After an hour and a half, I'd fished it all the way through and had seventeen grayling of various sizes, from fingerling up to a pound, all on the usual double maggot on a size 16 Drennan wide-gape. 

Had a cup of coffee and got some feeling back in my fingers before moving on downstream, dropping in on the usual spots and trying some new ones. Picked up fish in ones and twos, including a nice male, before I got to the swim where I'd lost a big fish last trip. Gave this a good going over but just had a couple of small ones. Had to stop and clean the Speedia at this stage as it started to sound like a bag of spanners and started catching. I put this down to the maggot dust, which was sticking to my wet gloves every time I dipped into my bait pouch and was then being transferred to the reel. Note to self - no maggot dust next time! Whilst I was beginning to feel the cold, it didn't seem to put off the wildlife as there was plenty to see as I was trotting away, including a noisy bunch of long-tailed tits, wrens, a treecreeper, a robin that came and mopped up some stray maggots, and a couple of buzzards. The wild garlic had also just started to push up through the leaf litter and there was even a random clump of snowdrops.

Was just thinking how it would be nice to see the sun when it started snowing - well, more like dandruff falling from the sky, but still snow! Carried on downstream trying more spots, some giving up a fish or two, others not. Came across a pod of fish in the "dead calf swim (although the dead calf is now gone, removed by the floods), so lingered there for a bit and was eventually rewarded by what felt like a much better fish. Unfortunately, after thinking I had the better of it, it made a dive for the near bank, everything went solid and I found myself attached to a branch instead of a fish! "Oh well", or words to that effect. Made up for it partly by taking several fish out of a fast, knee-deep run that I'd not tried before, again by shallowing up and holding the float back hard. I always find it amazing how hard grayling fight given a bit flow to help them, so I'm not surprised or disappointed to lose a few to hook pulls in those situations, as was the case today.

Time was getting on for four o'clock by now and I'd had well over fifty grayling. Came to a longer, deeper section where it was possible to do some longer trotting, so decided to stay there for the last hour. Whilst I'd had the odd chub and dace from the swim in the past, it was just yet more grayling until the float dipped right at the bottom of the trot and a nice fat dace came to hand.

Had two more of his pigeon-chested mates before it was back to the grayling. Packed up just after 5 o'clock when it was too dark to see the float properly. Finished with sixty-one "ladies" and the three last-gasp dace. Certainly worth dragging myself out on a cold, grey day in Staffordshire.