24/08/2021 - Pembrokeshire Part Six (A bass at last, but not for me!)

Failed dismally to catch a bass on lures last time we were in Pembrokeshire at what is usually a reliable venue, so I was keen to try and make amends. However, rather than artificials again I decided that I would try bait fishing this time, so duly made a trip to J & W Tackle in Pembroke Dock for some worm. 

Plan was to fish the last couple of hours of the flood on the estuary at Lawrenny, which meant a 0530 hrs start. Our lad James was with us this time and, whilst he normally wouldn't surface from his pit much before mid-day, to my amazement he agreed to accompany me. The beach at Lawrenny is steeply shelving at the top, but then levels out with a far gentler slope out to the main river channel. Breaking the beach up are a series of shallow gullies that certainly looked to me as if they would act as both food traps and natural funnels for any fish coming up the estuary on the flood. On my last lure-fishing trip at low tide I'd lined each of the gullies up with landmarks on the near and far shore, so I could be sure of landing a bait in one of them if we arrived nearer high water. 

The small neap tides of the last trip had also been replaced by some big spring tides that I hoped would push the fish further up the estuary. However, it also meant that the water level was already well up the beach by the time we arrived and the gullies were submerged, so I got to put my plan into action. Set up a one up, one down rig with each hook baited with a couple of the bigger worms and cast it out as far as the crease formed by the incoming tide. 

Felt the lead hit the bottom with a satisfying clonk that meant that it was lying in the gully and not in the weed and then settled down to wait. Passed the time chatting with the lad, spotting mullet and watching a couple of cormorants work the shoreline further down the beach. 

Saw several little egrets flying upstream, along with the usual oyster catchers, curlews and other waders. All in all a very pleasant morning, particularly as we were now in glorious sunshine and there wasn't another soul about. The lad also got to try out his plant ID app on his phone, finding the rather unimaginitively named "seaside sand plant" then discovering that not only was it edible but that it had an aftertaste reminiscent of capers! Two hours therefore passed very quickly with just a few rattles on the rod tip from small stuff, an occasional check on the bait and a couple of moves up the beach ahead of the advancing water level. By this time there was only a couple of metres of beach left in front of the sea wall behind us and we were now contemplating packing up. Bent down to start clearing up to suddenly hear James shout "Dad!" and then see him grab the rod, which had been in the process of flying off the tripod and out into the estuary had he not intervened!

He confirmed there was a fish on, so I let him carry on playing it into the beach. A couple of minutes later we were looking at a small, but very welcome bass. Popped him back and then carried on with renewed enthusiasm that lasted approximately another ten minutes, an earlier promise of eggy bread and bacon being too hard to resist. Two bare hooks also suggested that the local crabs had switched on, so confirmed it was time to go.

Went back to the venue the next day, not to fish but just to have a look what it looked like on the corresponding spring low tide. Rather than the exposed bed being full of the additional features we had hoped for, I was shocked to see how barren it appeared. However, on closer inspection the bed of the river channel was covered in shellfish - mussels, winkles, dog whelks and even some small native oysters that we threw further out into the channel away from any less responsible members of the public.

Made me think of the elusive gilt head bream that are meant to be present in the estuary and whether this would be a feeding area for them, but that could be a path to madness! 

Talking of which, a trip out on the SUP on the last morning of our trip explained to a certain degree where all the mullet go. Often when I've been lure fishing for bass at low water large shoals of mullet would swim past me, lazily heading upstream on the incoming tide to who knows where. Taking advantage of the last hour of the flood I therefore launched at Lawrenny and had a quiet paddle around the little creeks and bays upstream where I spotted loads of mullet over and amongst the beds of seagrass. Another area they seemed to like were the old barge channels dug to serve the limestone quarries at West Williamson. Unfortunately this piece of information doesn't make them more catchable, quite the contrary. 

Anyway, I've got a hot bass tip to follow up next time we're down!

22/08/2021 - Pembrokeshire Part Five (Salted rag and wrasse)

The weather at the end of our last stay down in Pembrokeshire turned unsettled and windy, so rather then get blown inside out on the Haven I went for some decent walks out with the wife instead. However, it did leave me with a problem because I still had quite a lot of ragworm left. 

In the past I have just kept them in the newspaper I bought them in, but too many times I have unwrapped them to find a putrid, stinking mess! This time, on advice from the tackle shop, I'd kept them in a tray of seawater in the fridge. With regular changes of water they'd stayed fresh and lively for several days. At a fiver a pop I therefore didn't fancy just feeding them to the birds. Luckily I recalled seeing a YouTube video by Greg Green, aka "East Devon Fishing"on salting left-over rag (see end of Greg's video on drop shotting for wrasse here), so I went and raided the local Spar for a couple of bags of Happy Shopper's finest. 
On day one I layered up the rag in a plastic container between generous coverings of salt, then left them overnight.

The next morning the salt as very wet having drawn out the vast majority of the moisture from the worms, so I knocked/brushed it off them and then layered them up again in fresh salt. This process was repeated a couple of times until the worms were flat and leathery, at which point they were put in a plastic bag and popped in the fridge. The wet salt didn't go to waste as this was dried on a tray in the oven to be used again (NB: it takes on the smell of the worms, so don't use it on your chips!).

Back in Wales for another few days I was keen to find out whether the effort had been worth it, so headed out to a venue where I knew I would get plenty of bites - the stone pier on the Hakin side of Milford Docks. Got there an hour before high tide at 0700 hrs to find two anglers already set up, both fishing baits rods out into the Haven. Got chatting to the first to find that he was from just down the road in Nottingham! He'd just had a doggy and the other chap was after bass, so I wasn't going to bother them fishing for tiddlers down the side of the pier. The clear sky overnight meant that it had been only six degrees when I left the house earlier and I had dropped down into thick mist in the river valley, but that soon burned off and it was looking to be a very nice, sunny day. Set up a mini two hook flapper with size ten Sabpolo Wormers and baited each with a small section of the salted rag. 

Found that the thicker pieces from the head end of the worm were easier to hook and it only took a couple of minutes in the water for them to start re-hydrating. However, I was more interested in what the fish thought and whether I'd be resorting to using "Gulp" instead! Dropped the rig down and got a rattle as soon as it hit bottom. Couple of seconds later the tip pulled over properly and the first of many corkwings came to hand. They seemed to love it as it was every throw a coconut! The only trouble was keeping bait on the hook long enough as they were adept at stripping it off and had me constantly re-baiting. In between the "corkies" I had a few pollack and shannies. 

Had to move from the "hot spot" to the end of the pier when a fishing boat came in to makesome repairs, but it meant that I had an informative chat with the other chap fishing there. He'd retired to Milford Haven from London via Selsey and was a mine of information about the local marks. He was fishing a massive lump of peeler spider crab on a simple running leger cast just a few feet off the end of the pier. A little while later I saw the tip of his rod jag round out of the corner of my eye. Next minute it was bent double as he fought a fish that made every use of the flow of the ebbing spring tide. However, a few minutes later he landed a cracking bass of about 5 lb that was swiftly dispatched and consigned to a carrier bag for his tea! 

I filed all of this away whilst continuing to catch - mostly corkwings, sometimes two at a time - until I ran out of bait. Ended up with 35 corkies, 9 pollack, 5 shannies and a solitary rock goby, so on that basis I considered the salted rag to be a success! 
Did go back a couple of days later with some live rag as a "control". However, apart from catching a couple of ballan wrasse that were strangely absent during the previous session, there wasn't much difference in terms of species and numbers. I will therefore definitely be salting down any leftovers in future, if only to have as a standby bait. My bass-catching friend was also there again, so we continued our chat during which I gleaned more local information and he caught another bass of about 2 lb, again on a locally collected peeler crab. Having never run into another angler at this venue before I was certainly grateful for these encounters and the advice so readily provided. 

Particularly given that, despite my best endeavours, I am technically still yet to break my bass blank this year (but more of that later!). 

04/08/2021 - Pembrokeshire Part Four (More of the same at Hobbs and wrasse-tastic St Brides)

Looking at the weather forecast it was going to be Wednesday or bust if I wanted to head up to the North coast for a wrasse session, which meant sourcing some bait pronto. Therefore drove over to the tackle shop in Pembroke Dock again on Tuesday morning. Seemed rude not to pop down to Hobbs Point on the way, so factored in a couple of hours either side of low tide. 

Unfortunately with it still being a neap tide the water level wasn't low enough to expose the end of the car ramp. This would have given me access to an area of muddier ground and the chance of a couple of different species. Therefore fished "Gulp" sandworm and angleworm on a dropshot rig down the side of the ramp as before. Had a small ballan wrasse almost straight away, but then the rock gobies moved in! Could see some small pollack darting out of the kelp to scatter the shoals of even smaller sandeels.

It was inevitable that I started to pick up few of these as well, either on the drop or on the retrieve. Ended up with 32 gobies, 9 pollack and that single ballan before heading to the tackle shop for another quarter of rag (along with some very helpful tips on how to keep them alive for longer).

The following morning we loaded up the car, wrasse gear included, for a day up at St Bride's Haven. Had found a low water rock mark near there this time last year by doing some Googling and after getting the family settled on the beach I headed out along the coast path. Overshot the access down to the mark as nobody appeared to have been down there recently and I had to push through chest-high bracken and brambles just to reach the top of the cliff. Once down on the rocks I started off by fishing the deep, narrow gully to the right of my position. Water was absolutely gin clear and I could easily see the bottom for some distance. Had made up a twisted boom rig with a single size 4 carp hook and a rotten bottom to the lead. 

Baited this up with a ragworm and carefully lowered it down the side of the vertical rock face into the kelp, feeling for the bottom with the lead. Could feel small fish, probably pollack, pecking at the bait almost straight away. However, after a few minutes I'd failed to get a positive indication, so I switched to the more open water on the other side of the mark. The venue is also very popular with snorkellers, divers and spear fishermen and I had a few swim past me completely oblivious to the fact I was there, so when a couple decided to surface in front of me it was with obvious shock to see me stood on a rock about ten feet away! I did wonder whether all this disturbance was going to affect the fishing, but as the tide started pushing back in over the rocks  began to get some proper knocks and rattles on the rod tip. Striking into the first positive pull-down I had a short, spirited fight from a pretty, kelp-hued ballan wrasse. 

After that it all happened in a flurry as I had another ballan, followed by three, stunning male corkwings. 

Unfortunately, I was now on borrowed time and had to  get back to the beach or risk the wrath of wife and daughter, so hastily packed everything away and scrambled back up the cliff.

Had some snap and much needed drink (it had been hot on the rocks!) with the family, but then on the pretence of going out on the SUP I paddled back around the headland to where I'd been fishing in order to get the perspective from water level. The clarity was amazing and the transition from shallow to deep water was marked by a change in colour from clear to turquoise to almost blue-black. Made a note of several promising looking drop-offs, as well as spotting one wrasse that would have dwarfed the ones I had caught!

But as they say, that'll have to wait 'til next time. With days running out now the weather is going to dictate what I do next as unfortunately it looks like it's going to be wet and windy for the remainder of our stay. 

02/08/2021 - Pembrokeshire Part Three (Bass blanks!)

Lost the first of the days that I'd planned to go bass fishing to Storm Evert. Had gone to bed the night before with the rain hammering on the canvas roof of the camper and woke up in the the morning at stupid o'clock with the rain still lashing down and the wind blowing a hoolie, so stuck my head back under the duvet. 

On Saturday morning the conditions were a lot better, although it was still grey, overcast and breezy. Drove down to my estuary mark near Lawrenny just after first light not knowing what to expect and it wasn't until I was down at the low water mark that I was able to judge the impact of all that rain. Wading into the shallows my boots disappeared from view in the murky water before I was up to my knees, so visibility wasn't exactly brilliant. Coupled with the wind and the chop the conditions weren't brilliant for lure fishing full stop, but I thought it would at least be an opportunity to try out the new Savage Gear weedless sandeels, so started off with the 22 g version in white pearl silver. Had a few wind-up casts to wet the braid then started punching it out into the wind that was blowing straight in my face. Certainly cast like a bullet and on a straight retrieve it had a nice, tight wriggling action......much like a sandeel not surprisingly! 

Worked my way methodically down the beach towards the point, casting every couple of steps. As I did so the tide started pushing back in and the water clarity started to get a bit better, so I swapped to a sandeel in a more natural green and silver. However, it was to no avail as I ended the session fish-less. I was still impressed with the sandeels, my only gripe being that after just a couple of hours bouncing them off the rocks and mussel beds the paint on the jig head was already very chipped.

Was back again on Sunday morning to find that conditions were far better for fishing hard lures and possibly even for nicking a bass off the top. It was still overcast, but with just a gentle breeze that was now coming from over my shoulder and that was barely causing a ripple. Water clarity was also much better, so started off with my favourite combo - an IMA Skimmer with a sandeel fly teaser tied onto a short dropper a couple of feet up the fluorocarbon leader, together giving the impression of a predator chasing a small fish.

Proceeded to "walk the dog" up to the sailing club pontoon and back, casting short initially in case anything was mooching about in the shallows. However, by the time the flood had started I hadn't raised anything on the surface lure, so swapped it for a Megabass X-130 and carried on working my way down to the point. Travelling in the opposite direction now was a procession of mullet, lazily finning along with the current with their backs exposed, some real lunkers amongst them (I've yet to discover where they are actually going!). I was therefore hopeful that a bass might be amongst them. Had a couple of definite "fishy" rattles and at one stage saw a micro-schoolie shoot off the bottom and make a grab for the teaser, but I still reached the point fish-less. I therefore snipped off the fly and replaced the X-130 with a soft lure, alternating between a Snowbee stinger shad and the Savage Gear sandeel. 

Stood on the point casting them across the current and letting them swing round, bumping bottom before retrieving them against the tide. However, despite ringing the changes and covering loads of water I again ended up with a blank. Walked back to the car a bit dejected as I've never failed to catch at this venue before and wondering whether the large input of freshwater into the upper reaches of the estuary due to Storm Evert a couple of days ago had been a factor. All of this left me in two minds whether to return on Monday, but with it being the smallest tide of the week and with this possibly being another influence, the duvet won again! However, still ended up down on the estuary a bit later for a walk culminating in a very nice crab sandwich and a less-than-local pint (depressing given the number of craft breweries there are in Pembrokeshire). I feel a wrasse session coming on now so better sort out some bait!