14/08/2020 - Back in freshwater

Managed to get to Friday afternoon before I'd had enough of work for the day - a hard negotiated hour's access to a virtually deserted office (very weird) to do some essential scanning and printing, followed by collating and filing back at home. I hate admin at the best of times, but it had been building since March and needed to be done. However, my brain was numb by three o'clock, so I downed tools, stuck the float rod, chesties and bag of bits in the car and headed to Bridge Tackle in Long Eaton for a pint of maggots. A little while later, I was standing thigh deep in the Derwent, running a stick float down mid-river. It had been overcast all day, but the sun had decided to come out just as I was pulling my waders in the car park, so the cool water felt like bliss after a very hot walk upstream. Unfortunately, in contrast to my previous visit, the river was also very low and like tapwater, with the gravel bottom clearly visible across to the other bank. Was therefore surprised when the float disappeared first trot down, resulting in a nice dace. 

Added a few roach, chub, perch and bleak before bites started to slow down, presumably as the fish started to get spooked. I had also bumped or lost a few fish on the way in, which couldn't have helped. A change from the size 16 barbless Kamasan that I was using to it's barbed equivalent seemed to solve that. The kingfisher on the far bank on the other hand didn't seem to have any trouble nailing his supper - there was plenty of fry in the margins for him to go at - and at one stage I had a noisy fly-by from two of them, mates or rivals I couldn't tell.

Gave myself ten more trots down without attracting another bite before I walked a bit further upstream to the weir to see if the fish were up in the oxygenated water. Was also keen to see how it looked in low flow conditions. However, with all the flow funnelling down the far bank and causing a big back eddy on the near bank, complete with the slowly rotating, bloated corpse of a dead frog, it wasn't really conducive for trotting. 

A bit further downstream I forced my way through head high Himalyan balsam, buzzing with pollen-dusted bees, to find that the river had split around an exposed gravel bar with the main flow going to the right. By standing on the end of the bar and running the float down the slower water to the left of the crease formed when the river converged, I had a few more chub, dace and a bonus brownie.

Again the bites dried up after a bit, so I walked back downstream only to find that the next spot I had got my eye on, a nice run along the edge of the far bank trees made possible by the lower water levels, had subsequently been occupied by a barbel angler. Had a quick chat, filing away the information gleaned, before moving a little further downstream to try the pipe bridge. However, here my maggot hookbait was getting mullered every trot down by either tiny chub or bleak, something I soon got fed up with! 

Finally, as the light began to fade I found myself on the gravels where I was able to wade well across mid-river and run my float down close to the far bank, picking up more chub and perch in the process. 

Ended on the best perch of the day before heading back to the car, picking up the cans and food wrappers left by the youths that had been jumping off the footbridge when I had arrived. Nice one lads!

04/08/2020 - Double header down the docks

Tales of bags of corkwing wrasse from Milford Haven sparked some enthusiasm in the boy, so plans were hatched for another early morning session. Unfortunately the weather forecast was for a strong south westerly, which would be blowing straight into Milford, so we decided to head for Hobbs Point on the Pembroke Dock side instead where the wind would be on our backs.  

Arrived just before high tide to find it overcast and with a manageable breeze blowing. Fishing identical tactics – mini two hook flappers baited with scraps of ragworm – we expectantly dropped our rigs straight down the side of the old car ferry ramp. I quickly had two small corkwings and a ballan wrasse, whilst James had a trio of small Pollack. However, it wasn’t long before the rock gobies moved in to the virtual exclusion of everything else. After catching 20 of the little beggars between us we decided that the weather actually seemed benign enough to make the dash over to Milford after all, so we jumped in the car and headed over the bridge sharpish.

However, on the opposite side of the Haven we were greeted by a stiff breeze and white horses! Out on the stone pier I figured that the fish would be tucked around the corner in the lee of the wall and not sat off the end being buffeted by the swell. The leeward side of the pier also had a set of metal steps providing some additional structure for us to fish around.
Again we dropped straight onto the fish with a corkwing each first cast, although it was a case of little and large! Some ballans, shannies and pollack provided a bit of variety and there was also a bit of excitement when I was winding in a small corkwing to have a sizeable bass suddenly appear from under the steps, mouth agape like a pike after a roach! A few minutes later the same thing happened to James as he also brought another corkwing to the surface. Fortunately for the two little wrasse the bass missed both times and it seemed to give up after those failed attempts at a free lunch as we didn’t see it again. It wasn’t long before we also called it a day. After adding even more corkwings to the tally, along with some ballans, shannies and pollack, the rain came sheeting in across the water, making it distinctly uncomfortable out on the pier.

Still, we’d had a decent session and it had been worth the dash across the bridge despite the weather, not in the least because James had done me on the numbers, edging me out 29 to 26

A couple of days later we were back again as I still had an unopened packet of rag in the fridge. The advancing tide times also allowed to fish a couple of hours up to high water to see if this made any difference to what was about. In contrast to the previous session it was still and sunny when we got to the venue. Set up on the same side of the pier as it was my intention to cast a rod parallel to the steps after the bass we’d seen the day before, which would still allow us to fish down the side for the mini-species as before. However, opened up the new pack of ragworm to find that it was mostly dead – so much for paying premium prices! Luckily there were two left in the packet I bought at Pembroke Dock, which was just enough for one cast. The rest we chopped up to bait our other rods as we knew from that experience mini-species love stale rag as much as fresh, the issue being how long it stays on the hook!

Again we started catching lots of corkwings straight away, but for some reason mine from around the steps were just tiddlers compared to those James was catching from more open water. In the end I started poaching his spot and found that  probably by accident more than design, he’d been casting slightly further out to where the seabed started to rise up. The fish obviously seemed to like this slight change in depth as I caught a couple of quality corkies of both sexes myself before the rod top tapped a couple of times then hooped over. Had some nervous moments as a decent fish charged around testing the limit of the light gear I was using. Shouted for James who managed to bundle a beautifully coloured, male ballan wrasse into the net. Added a monster shanny with a head like a bulldog shortly afterwards that I was convinced was a rare (for Pembrokeshire) tompot blenny until I swung it to hand.

James in the meantime had quietly carried on catching and it seemed very time I glanced over his rod was bent over into another corkwing, shanny or Pollack. By the time we’d exhausted our stinky ragworm we’d had 33 fish each, with for some reason James catching the lion’s share of the corkwings and me the ballans. The bass rod in the meantime had remained motionless throughout, although when I wound it in I found that the crabs had given the bait a good going over. Consigned the remains to the depths and called it a day.

Don't know when we'll be back in Pembrokeshire again, but we had our money's worth this time after a long time away - even out of a half-rotten pack of rag that we could smell on our hands all the way home!

03/08/2020 - Mini-species at Milford Haven

The weather forecast for The Haven today was for sunny intervals and light westerly winds, so decided to have an early morning session after some mini-species down at Milford Docks. However, when I set off at 0600 hrs it was only 8 degrees Centigrade and as I crested the hill overlooking the Cleddau valley I could see thick ribbons of mist marking out the course of the river below. Thankfully by the time I arrived, about half an hour before high tide, the sun was a bit more evident and it was feeling distinctly warmer. Initially set up on the “bull nose”, having first tidied up the crap left by previous anglers using the carrier bag they’d thoughtfully left along with the lager tins, crisp packets and bait packets (I fail to understand the mentality of people who do this). Dropped a scaled down flapper rig made up with two size 10 Sabpolo wormer hooks and baited with scraps of left-over ragworm down the side of the wall. Soon started getting jabs and rattles on the rod tip and it didn’t take long to find out what was responsible.


As on previous visits small corkwing wrasse appeared to be here in abundance and I had several of these in quick succession, along with a trio of emerald green ballan wrasse and a couple of small pollack. As the tide dropped I started getting pestered by small shannies, adept at necking baits with their disproportionately large gobs, so I moved to the corner of the mackerel landing. However, apart from one solitary rock goby, there didn’t seem to be much in residence here, so wondered where to try next.


On previous trips I’d eyed up the stone pier on the other side of the entrance to the lock pit, but had never actually given it a go. With an hour or so of fishable tide left I therefore jumped back in the car and made the short trip around the marina and through the fish docks. Walking out to the end of the pier I dropped my rig into about three feet of water. Bait was taken almost immediately with a thump by a good corkwing. Again there seemed to be lots present, from tiddlers up to some hand-sized specimens and I had a couple of “double shots” as both baits were taken simultaneously. Added several more shannies and a single ballan wrasse before the clock dictated that I had to leave and fulfil my breakfast making duties back at base.


By this time I was only fishing in about 18 inches of water and could actually see my top dropper just below the surface. In total I’d amassed 28 corkwings, 20 shannies, 4 ballan wrasse, 2 pollack and a rock goby, so a good morning's sport. The new spot definitely had more potential and had earned a longer return visit. The only downer on the morning was when I popped into Angler’s Corner on the way home for a pack of ragworm. Fully expecting change from my fiver, I nearly chocked when I had to cough up an extra £2.50! Obviously a superior class of ragworm on the north side of The Haven.

02/08/2020 - Clonking corkwings

The brother-in-law was booked to go diving over at St Brides Bay today, so took that as an opportunity not only to meet up, but also to have a recce as it’s a venue I’ve been meaning to visit for a while.
After a quick trip into Pembroke Dock to get some quality ragworm from J & M's Tackle we loaded up the car with fishing tackle, wetsuits, kayaks and body boards and headed out west. Arrived to find the car park absolutely rammed with at least three diving parties and the beach already busy with families. After a quick chat with the brother-in-law I left the others to claim a spot on the beach and headed out on the coast path to find a suitable fishing spot. After only a short distance around the headland I found an easy access onto a rock platform overlooking some deep gullies that screamed wrasse. The water was gin clear and I could clearly see thick beds of seaweed several feet below the surface. Set up a float rod that was cast out to drift over the weed, whilst the other rod was rigged with a twisted boom paternoster with a size 2 Sakuma Mini Manta and a rotten bottom.
Dropped this down the side of the ledge into the gully to the right of my rock perch and was soon getting some knocks and pulls on the rod top. Whatever was responsible, they were just big enough to strip the ragworm off, so I was initially kept busy re-baiting before I finally managed to hook into a couple of small, completely contrasting ballan wrasse.

Switching to the gully on the other side of the ledge I was again pestered by bait robbers before my frustration got the better of me and I swapped the rig for one with a size 6 Aberdeen. Almost straight away I hooked into a nice female corkwing wrasse and thought I’d cracked it, but was made to regret changing my rig immediately afterwards. Briefly putting the rod down to take up some slack line on the float I saw the rod tip lunge violently seawards out of the corner of my eye. Grabbed the rod to feel a real lump thumping away on the end of the line before everything went slack. Wound in to find that the fine wire Aberdeen had snapped, almost certainly costing me a very good wrasse. Feeling like a right idiot, I immediately switched back to the twisted boom rig and hopefully dropped it down into the same spot again.

However, whilst I didn’t get a second chance at that lost monster, I did add several more quality, “hand-sized” corkwings including some stunningly colourful males, fittingly looking more like tropical fish in the sunny, blue water setting. Didn’t have interest on the float cast out into open water, where I had hoped that it would have been intercepted by a pollack or two. The possible reason became clear when my lad paddled ‘round on the kayak to see how I was doing. He’d been sat in the bay for only a couple of minutes when a grey seal popped up behind him. They had a game of cat and mouse for a few minutes as each time my lad tried to get close the seal would dive down and pop up behind him again. The seal must have got fed up in the end as it eventually disappeared, but it could also explain the damage to the tail fin of a couple of the larger corkwings I caught as well.

As the tide came in I got pushed off the rocks, so I made my way back to the beach where the family was looking decidedly uncomfortable, compressed onto a narrow strip of shingle surrounded by screaming kids and keen to get off home, so we called it a day. Certainly a stunning venue with big wrasse potential, but one to visit again when it’s less busy!

29/07/2020 - Bass before breakfast

The end of July saw us travelling down to Pembrokeshire for a much-needed break and a first chance to see the in-laws since February.

However, in order to comply with the Welsh COVID-19 measures, this required us to stay in a self-contained cabin in their garden, cooking and eating separately and only meeting up at arm’s length on the lawn – very strange, but at least it saved me from the mother-in-law’s cooking! This was also straight after a 24 hour dash down to Cornwall to retrieve our son’s belongings from his student digs the very last day before his contract ran out.

Unfortunately this meant that I'd missed the best couple of early morning, low tides, but I still had a couple of opportunities to have a crack at those estuary bass. The first morning saw me down at the mark an hour after dawn. A stiff breeze from the West was causing quite a chop and the combination of the resulting wave action and recent rain meant there was also a bit of colour in the water – unfortunately not ideal conditions to catch off the top, which was my preferred method.

However, it did give me an opportunity to try one of my modified X-130’s, on this occasion the chartreuse version with Cox & Rawle plugging singles instead of trebles. As usual I went with a sandeel fly “teaser” on a dropper three feet ahead of the lure. First cast confirmed there was about 18” of visibility and that the lure action was seemingly unaffected by the change of hooks (not that an X-130 has a lot of action anyway). Started plugging away in earnest as the tide started to turn, hopefully bringing the bass with it. However, whilst the visibility noticeably improved as the tide pushed back in and the mullet started passing me in numbers, the bass appeared to be absent. Took a break to chat to a couple of local chaps who had been lure fishing off the point. They were heading home fishless this morning, but said they had a few off the point on shads the day before.

After covering the section in front of me with no success I therefore swapped the X-130 for a weedless Snowbee Stinger Skad and headed up to the point, where was a “motorway” of mullet flying past by now. Started casting across the current and letting the lure swing round. Had done this a couple of times when I had a thump on the rod tip and struck into a plump schoolie that gave a good account of itself in the flow. Thought that might have been the start of something, but nothing else was added to the tally before it was time to head back for breakfast. The next morning in contrast was still and bright and the water clarity was also excellent.

Conditions looked perfect for some top water action, so on went an IMA Skimmer, again with the sandeel treaser. Worked the areas around the pontoon and boat moorings over slack water, but surprisingly didn’t see any sign of bass on the surface – the only reaction was if I landed the lure too close to a basking mullet. As the tide picked up so did the breeze, so I swapped over to the X-130, this one with the middle treble removed and the tail treble replaced with a single.

Made my way slowly up to the point again, covering the water. Had one hit from a small schoolie on the X-130 that was nailed by the treble rather than the single, so jury is still out on them! Once at the point I once more swapped the X-130 for the Skad and snipped off the treaser. Swinging the lure with the current I had two more schoolies before it was time for breakfast again.

I was certainly puzzled by the lack of any bass on the surface lure, a method that had worked so well previously and under seemingly ideal conditions, but the relative success of the Skad could see me using soft lures more in future.