22/09/2023 - Wrasse bashing at Porthoustock

The Helford estuary is one of the few remaining private tidal fisheries in the country and is now owned by Prince William as part of his portfolio as Duke of Cornwall. Whilst recreational angling is allowed subject to local and national byelaws, the main restriction appears to be access, particularly on the south side of the river where we were staying. 

It was very much second home territory and the road signs left you in no doubt that there was either no public access or no parking was available. All of the "locals" we came across were very well spoken and although we did our best to mind our Ps and Qs, we did run into a couple of individuals who were quite rude and dismissive of our attempts at engaging in conversation. I was therefore lucky that our cottage had it's own access down to the estuary. However, I was also keen to go and explore further afield so, following a shopping trip to Helston one day, we braved the single track lanes and 25% gradients of the coast road and had a recce of a few places on the way back to the house, including Coverack, Porthoustock, Polkerris and Porthallow. 

Of these Porthoustock looked the most promising (not least because it had lots of free parking!), although it isn't the prettiest spot in Cornwall with a steeply shelving pebble beach bounded on one side by an active quarry where "gabbro", a type of volcanic rock, is extracted and loaded directly onto ships from its adjacent wharf. What interested me was the imposing, dis-used concrete loading silo on the other side of the beach. This had a convenient ledge around its base that would give access to some deep water at high tide. 

A few days later I therefore returned with the LRF gear and the remains of the ragworm we'd dug from the creek. Had a quick chat with a couple who were feathering for mackerel, but they'd only had one foul-hooked garfish between them. Made my way along the beach past the rotting dolphin carcass that was maturing nicely in the sun and around the base of the silo. The water had a milky blue appearance, but I could see clumps of "sea spaghetti" looming up vertically from the depths. Baited up my usual mini-two hook flapper with bits of ragworm and dropped it down into a gap in the weed. Just had time to feel the dropshot lead hit the bottom when the tip banged over, resulting in a double shot of Mr & Mrs Corkwing! 

Must have been snided out with them down there as subsequent drops were met with an equally instant response and I quickly added several more to the tally. Some of the males were stunning, more like a tropical fish than something that would inhabit our relatively cold waters. Out of the blue I hooked a much bigger and more powerful fish that shot straight into the weed. Gave it a couple of minutes then felt it swim free, so pressured it up onto the surface and swept the net under an equally impressive ballan.

Amongst the wrasse were a few brassy pollack that either snatched the bait on the drop or as I raised the rig off the sea bed. Carried on catching until my friends eventually turned up and while Rob went to explore the quarry Stuart joined me on the ledge. Passed him the rod and, whilst the bites had started to slow down after a hectic first half an hour, he quickly did the treble as well. At one point we had a surprise when a grey seal bull with the head the size of a cow's popped up right in front of us, snorted his disapproval and then lazily porpoised off out to sea again. The tide was dropping away quite quickly now and the stands of weed had started to lie flat on the surface making it difficult to find a clear spot. The rag was down to the last few scraps by this stage anyway, so we made our way back along the ledge to the beach.

Ended up with 20 corkwings, 8 pollack and 5 ballans in a little over an hour, so a nice little session on what was our last full day in Cornwall. Shame it's a 6 hour drive from home otherwise I'd be down a lot more!

21/09/2023 - Can I dig it?

One of the things I did glean from Google about the local area was that in the early 1990's Gillan Creek, situated immediately below our cottage, became notorious for large-scale commercial bait digging. 

At the end of the season the creek was said to "resemble a battlefield", with the trenches, basins and mounds of spoil left behind by the bait diggers persisting for months. In addition, the narrow local roads alongside the creek were obstructed by cars parked up in the passing places. This lead to widespread local resentment that commercial diggers were exploiting the resource without paying any regard to either wildlife or the local community. Consequently, commercial digging is now actively discouraged. However, collection of a few worms for personal use is tolerated subject to a Code of Conduct and sat up on the decking overlooking the creek we had seen at least one person a day heading out across the mud at low tide so, armed with a bucket, spade and weeding fork, we decided to go and have a look ourselves. 

The seaward part of the creek consisted of sand, grit and small stones and was covered in a wide variety of seaweed, along with masses of empty shells. Whilst we didn't really know what we were doing, raking around the edges of any standing pools of water yielded loads of clams and some stonking, fat cockles that we later cooked in lager with some garlic, chili and parsley and ate with brown bread slathered with Cornish butter. 

Further up the creek the sand and grit transitioned into mud and digging at the boundary line we soon found a few worms and after half an hour or so had a decent haul of white rag, king rag, maddies and a few lug - certainly enough to keep me going for a couple of bait sessions. As it happened high tide that evening was just before 8 PM, so about an hour before that I headed down onto the rocks where I caught the two bass a couple of days previously. Again, whilst I'd found no specific reference to gilt head bream in my web searching I knew that they were present in the nearby Fal estuary, so my first rig consisted of a running paternoster with a lugworm mounted on a Paul "Bassman" Gordon stinger rig (see his Youtube channel here). 

On the other rod I had a simple one up, one down flapper rig, which I baited with the rag. Lobbed both of them out to hopefully rest on the sand beyond the weeded fringe of the rocks and sat down to wait. There had been a couple of other anglers out in a boat when I arrived fishing lures on the drift (Gillan Creek isn't part of the Helford bass nursery area where boat fishing for bass is prohibited from May to December). Given that they had the whole of the rest of the bay to work with I therefore couldn't believe it when they gunned the engine, turned towards me and motored straight over my baits! I could only raise my arms in incredulity, eventually getting a muted apology from the chap on the outboard. They steered well clear after that and eventually headed off fishless as far as I could tell. Wound in both rods just before it got dark to find the baits had been completely stripped, so I baited up again and cast out again into the gathering gloom. 

Five minutes later I had a knock and then a pull down on the lugworm and picked up the rod to feel a fish on the end. As it came closer the gold bar that I had hoped for turned to silver as a small schoolie bass appeared on the surface. Popped him back and re-baited with the last couple of lug. Gave it another half an hour into full darkness, but wasn't troubled again, so packed up and made my way carefully over the rocks and back to the house.

18/09/23 - Back after the bass

Around this time each year I have a week away with the "lads" (now aged 56 to 66!) and, whilst we have previously travelled to places like the Canary Islands and Madeira for our autumn break, the post-COVID years have seen us venture down to Cornwall instead. This year we found ourselves on the south side of the Helford River near Flushing. 

A Google search for fishing information was a bit sparce, with lack of public access and parking cited as the main issues. This was soon confirmed as, after a fairly uneventful drive down the M5 and the A30, it took an hour to cover the 30 miles from Truro. The last few miles took me down twisty, narrow lanes that had me doubting whether the sat nav actually knew what it was doing. However, I eventually arrived at the Air BnB, which was perched on the side of a river valley with a fantastic view across Gillan Creek and over to St Anthony in Meneage. 

Checked in with the others, then went for a quick recce before it got dark. The path from the property went down to a private jetty at a point where the creek narrowed, forming a natural pinch point that looked ideal for ambushing any fish travelling up or down with the tide. Spot sorted for the morning I went back to the house and sat out on the decking with the others with a glass of red wine watching the little egrets fly upstream to their roost. Was up bright and early to find it grey and overcast with a stiff breeze blowing straight in from the mouth of the Helford. There was another chap lure fishing on the opposite bank, but he left shortly after I arrived. Spent the next couple of hours fishing the area either side of the the pinch point with soft plastics as the tide pushed through the channel, firstly on the remains of the flood and then on the start of the ebb. However, when it came time to climb back up to back up to house for breakfast, I'd not had a sniff of a fish.  

The next morning I was back again, only this time it was in bright sunshine.The wind had also changed direction and was now blowing down the creek and out to sea. Again I started with soft plastics, bumping them along the bottom in the flow. After an hour of this stood out in the wind and still fishless I decided to try and find somewhere a bit more sheltered, so walked a short way along the coast path towards Flushing. Found a gap in a hedge that took me down onto the rocks on the left hand side of the bay. Water was gin clear, so went with a Savage Gear V2 weedless sandeel in a natural green and silver colour. I had covered the water in front of me for about half an hour when I eventually felt a thump on the rod tip as a fish whacked the lure after only a coupe of turns of the reel handle. After a  short scrap I steered my first bass of the holiday into a rock pool and a few minutes later I had a second. 

Had cast out and was letting the lure sink to the bottom on a tight line when it taken on the drop by another, slightly smaller bass. Carried on in the hope that there were more about, but that was to be my lot when the breakfast gong sounded again. When I walked past later in the day at low water I saw that I had been casting out onto sand and then bringing the lure back over a band of weed where the sand met the rocks, so suspect that the bass had been patrolling along this. 

Confident that I'd "cracked it" I returned the following two mornings but blanked both times, albeit in horrendous wet and windy conditions when any sensible person would have probably stayed in bed. Oh well, if it was too easy it would be boring!

07/09/2023 - Troternostering in the heat

Summer temporarily abandoned us over the Bank Holiday with some decidely mixed weather in Wales, but it was back with a bang this week with daily temperature records tumbling once again and the BBQ getting a late run out as a result. 

I had therefore been in two minds whether to brave the heat and go fishing, but I had the best part of a pint of maggots in the fridge to use up, so headed over to the Soar for a few hours. Although it was late afternoon the car dashboard readout was showing that it was still over 30 degrees when I pulled up on the bridge in Kegworth. I therefore quickly decided that it was going to be far too hot for the chest waders and that I'd just put on my wading boots and "wet wade" in my shorts. Was a great idea in principle. 

However,  I hadn't reckoned how overgrown the path over the island had become and when I got to my swim my knees and shins were smarting with numerous nettle stings!  

It was therefore nice to eventually drop into the relative cool of the river and get some respite. The level was probably the lowest I'd seen all summer and I could clearly see the bottom with the polaroids. Thought things might prove a bit difficult. However, first trot down along the edge of faster water the float disappeared resulting in a small roach.

I'd brought the perch paternoster rod with me this time, so he went into the bucket for bit later. Added a few more roach, a chub and bleak before deciding to put the paternoster out at the tail of the swim. Swung it out onto the edge of the crease and had only just got the line in the clip when the tip banged down as the bait was quickly taken. Turned out to be a little jack that must have thought that he was a salmon judging by his subsequent airborne acrobatics. As I drew him over the net I saw that there was a larger pike shadowing him. 

Whilst his smaller companion shot off like a scalded cat when I popped him back, he just sat on the surface eyeing me up and holding station with lazy movements of his fins. Expect if I had put on another bait and dropped it on his nose he would have taken it as well but I was after different prey, so waited until he'd drifted away before putting out the rod again. Carried on trotting, getting a bite a cast and adding several gudgeon and perch to the species count. Was interrupted by the bite alarm a few minutes later, picked up the rod and briefly felt the weight of a fish before it spat the bait.This came a bit beaten up and missing a few scales but alive, so was put straight back out again. The perch on the float rod were now up to hand-sized, so suspected that one of these had been responsible. However, the next time the float disappeared I hit a much better fish that made a couple of breaks for the far bank and then dogged around a couple of rod lengths out. 

Eventually caught sight of it in the clear water and saw it was a decent stripey. Looked nice and fat when I got it in the net,  but it didn't have the length, although at 1lb 9oz it was nice fish nonetheless. Whilst I had no further action on the paternoster the last half an hour with the float rod was dominated by dace that appeared out of nowhere after being absent for most of the session and when I reluctantly packed up to get home for dinner with the wife the river was alive with topping fish. Unfortunately I had the return trip through the nettles to contend with and despite striding manfully back to the car as quickly as possible I was still feeling their effects the following morning. Lesson learned - it will be waders next time, hot or not!