Shore Fishing on the Cardigan Bay Coast of Mid-Wales
December 22nd update
Extraordinary! I don't think I can recall such a prolonged spell of mild, wet and above all windy weather since, I don't know, 2013-14! One day you're catching mackerel and pollack and getting sunburn, next thing it's getting into late December and the lack of fishable weather is becoming like time immemorial. The image below shows where I was spending days in late October catching mackerel as the whitebait cascaded from the waters into the rockpools - a few days later!
There has been the occasional relatively calm day, although the amount of smashed-up seaweed has made things difficult. Here's the scene at Borth one late November day.
Fortunately it's very good for the veg-garden as a mulch for the winter. In this case I did the RNLI a favour and cleared some of their slipway for just that purpose. A few brave souls have managed to get out on one or two occasions with whiting and dogfish being the reported catches, plus the inevitable bunches of weed on the line. I'm sure the codling are out there - it's just getting to them that's the problem!
So as the rain sweeps by at 45mph on another consecutive morning, it's time to look forward to next year and kinder sea conditions that will surely arrive at some point - let's hope it won't be as long as the 2013-14 winter which took until mid-February to blow itself out. Looking back I've enjoyed meeting people and sharing knowledge with them, and seeing fish on the beach for them! So thanks for your custom in 2015 and happy fishing for 2016 - and I'll be getting out onto the beach as soon as conditions improve....
November 6th update
Well the settled conditions have persisted but for a few days a big swell, caused by a large storm-system out in the Atlantic, made conditions along the Cardigan Bay shore problematic. Such swells screw up the shallow beach fishing completely, and the way they rake the rock-marks with huge waves makes deeper-water options unsafe. It's one problem with Cardigan Bay - unlike say Anglesey where there are four coasts facing all quarters of the compass. We do not have such luxuries!
I had a booking from Geoff and friend, wanting to try sea-angling, so by religiously checking the surfing website, Magic Seaweed, for swell forecasts, I figured that Sunday 1st November would give us a fighting chance of catching. We arranged to meet in the afternoon at Tywyn for a session down to low tide and back up. This would give us a chance to see if the codling had arrived, with whiting as Plan B. We targeted the rough ground off the Prom, that is in casting range over low, but only saw dogfish and a flounder and lost a couple of rigs - then the weed came on! Recceing down the beach I decided that a move of about fifty metres might well get us clear of the dreaded stuff so we upped sticks and started out afresh, by which time it was pitch dark. Switching to smaller hooks and mackerel baits soon had us in the middle of a whiting feeding frenzy, with insistent rattly bites every cast. I was so busy that I only had the time to take one photo:
Typical action with fish on for both of the lads. Some of the whiting are getting to a much better size now so they had supper to take home. Total catch? Lost count - about 5 dogfish and a lot of whiting - a good introduction to fishing the Cardigan Bay shore in other words. Once the weather cools off a bit more some decent catches of better fish ought to feature, plus the codling are now officially late!
The insanely tropical conditions carried on through Monday 2nd, so I decided to make the most of it and fish the afternoon ebb tide at Cardiac Hill, near Aberdaron. This affectionately-named mark is a serious place and not somewhere I would take a customer unless I had seen and carefully considered their abilities on steep rocks beforehand - one slip could mean curtains here. There are safer marks in the area but I like its hard-core nature. The tip of the Llyn Peninsula showed up all morning on satellite images as fog-bound but it was clearing. By the time I arrived at 1pm it was gone. But descending the system of steep slabs to access the mark I soon found that any rock that hadn't seen the sun was very slippery, so I proceeded with great caution. It would dry later that afternoon as the sun came round.
Arriving on my ledge, I had a breather then had a quick muck around with the feathers. First cast:
I've got a full freezer so after a few more casts (mackerel and pollack to 2lbs) I soon switched to soft plastics, favouring the Slug-Go in Arkansas Shiner livery. I soon lost one despite the Texposer hook rig-up that minimises snagging. Casting around, I eventually found some interest: tap, tap, tap, SLAM! Fish on! This put up a fair old scrap, before I was able to steer it to a suitable spot and lift it out. A nice plump pollack:
I visit this area for more than its excellent fishing: I like to wander the clifftops taking photographs, so not long afterwards I clambered out from there having cleaned the mackerel and noting that they had switched to feeding on shrimp - they were full of them.
Here's a view over to the point of St Marys Well Bay - it's a bit easier to approach, although in the wrong conditions is is strictly a place to keep away from. I liked the isolation of the lone angler fishing from it:
Like all of the marks around here it can produce mackerel, pollack, huss, conger and so on although because it is easier to access and it's the closest mark to the parking there tend to be some snags caused by lost rigs.
I finished off the day gathering a parasol mushroom or two - a satisfying end to an excellent day off in fantastic scenery.
The weather has now turned more unsettled with a fair amount of wind and rain in the forecast for the next few days. Onshore winds ought to help on the codling front but I am also expecting a fair amount of seaweed to be smashed-up so it could be juggling-time next time the winds die down - rough water good, lots of weed bad, but it does move about and so can sometimes be dodged. More soon.
October 20th update
Just a quick one as we've been busy enjoying the last of the Indian Summer here. Winds are forecast to blow up overnight with a force 6-7 in the Inshore forecast - this will likely bring major changes to the fishing. Of late the millions of whitebait close in have dominated the picture, but it looks likely that the winds will disperse the huge shoals and the mackerel that are feeding on them.
On the 16th, I took Dex for a session down at Borth. A relative novice to sea angling, he soon had his casting sorted out and then proceeded to land one mackerel after the other on a pop-up rig, thereby converting four frozen mackerel into forty fresh ones with some help from me having put out a large mackerel flapper-bait on a strong trace first. Nothing even touched the big bait - I suspect the larger predators are stuffed to the gills following this food-bonanza. We fished on into darkness before cleaning the catch and making our way off the reef in torchlight.
On the 18th I took Matt from Tywyn for a look at Tonfanau., showing him how to fish awkward mixed ground. With gin-clear water it was however unlikely that much would show in these shallow waters, so we gave it an hour then made our way to Tywyn. Here, mackerel were splashing around at the water's edge and then after nightfall the dogfish and whiting came out to play. A bit more life in the sea should improve catches with codling expected by the end of the month.
On the 19th I headed down to Borth again. The large whitebait shoals were obvious as a) they were where the birds were on the water and b) they were visible as faint shadows beneath the surface:
The cetaceans were patrolling around too:
As the tide ebbed I walked out onto the emerging reef to be met with boiling waters as the mackerel penned the whitebait against its margins and then charged them, swallowing as many as possible each time. In turn, the whitebait were trying to escape, many stranding themselves upon the rocks:
The seabirds joined in the melee:
Met an acquaintance wading the rockpools with a big net, gathering these pretty little fish for a good fry-up.
I gave the pop-up rig a few casts and soon had a bag of mackerel for a late supper. Just having a few more with Saag made with chard from the veg-garden - lovely! But soon I hope to be tucking into fresh codling. More soon.
October 16th update
The Indian Summer persists though it's getting a bit chilly at times with a cool NE breeze. The sea has mostly been flat, with just a slight, oily swell and apart from last weekend no surf as such. Forecast models struggled a little at the beginning of the month, with the anticyclonic conditions beating the Atlantic storms hands down. No guiding for a few days although some this coming weekend. But it's great to be out on these pleasant warm afternoons, even if the catch is dominated by mackerel. They are everywhere right now as are large shoals of baitfish. On the 4th I fished Borth late into the evening with pop-up rigs and the mackerel continued to hit the baits well after nightfall....
On both the 13th and 15th I had late afternoon/evening sessions at the reef south of Borth - it's a lovely area that requires settled conditions and a bit of effort to access. On the 13th my favourite spot was taken but I relocated to this extra-comfortable rock platform. Clean ground is available from about 20 yards out slightly to the R. I tried a mixture of baits but mackerel belly strip was the only one that was catching and mackerel were the only fish being caught. Not that I'm complaining. I set a bag limit of 30 having calculated the space in my freezer and how many I could eat/give to friends and soon reached it.
On the 15th I returned to the same spot. This time, I had heavier gear - a stout beachcaster with a Daiwa SL30SH multiplier, 30lb mainline, 70lb leader and a 150lb trace armed with a 7/0 circle-hook baited with whole mackerel fillet. The reasoning was that with this number of baitfish around, there could be larger predators including tope on the prowl. I had one short run that got the ratchet buzzing but I could feel what was obviously a small fish knocking away on the end - a school bass, large whiting or greater weever I suspected. No hook-up on this occasion but I'll persevere! Meanwhile, a lone paddle-boarder passed by, taking advantage of the gentle conditions:
Further down Borth Beach I noticed a great commotion of seabirds:
So that's where the mackerel were on this occasion! No worries: the birds moved along the shore in my general direction:
Soon, they were getting very close:
The tide was flooding well now so it was time to vacate the mark and move a little closer to Borth, but not before taking in the view across to Camel Rock:
At the second mark, as I expected, the mackerel were in abundance, so I cast the whole fillet bait out and then picked off a catch by casting pop-ups well out of its way. I gave the big bait plenty of time but there were no takers and I left after watching a stunning sunset:
This is really what it's all about. A few fish in the bag, caught in beautiful settings on a calm evening. Every bit as rewarding as facing down rough weather for codling or bass in the surf.
Looking at the weather charts, we might just see some onshore winds around the middle of next week, although high pressure is never far away. If there's any surf, I'll try the beaches as it's definitely codling-time. If there's none, I'll keep on with the hunt for bigger, toothier critters!
October 4th update
An Indian Summer has once again provided the Cardigan Bay coast with some beautiful warm sunny days, although in angling terms is hasn't been so promising with an offshore Easterly wind and no real swell, meaning no surf. But September 29th saw one of the lowest tides of 2015, so I just had to get over to Borth and see how the beach looked: with high pressure bang overhead and an offshore wind the tide would be even further out. I am pleased to report that it has completely recovered from the havoc of the 2014 storms. I was hoping that it had and now I had visual confirmation.
How to fish Borth in an east wind and flat calm? Long-range. You can still catch rays and dabs in such conditions. Wading out and casting as far as I could, I was fishing my one up, one down rig with the top bait popped-up a little a good 150 metres from the shoreline. One rod was soon nodding away with this small small-eyed ray being the cause. Only a baby but on a size 6 hook baited with a little squid-strip care was nevertheless needed!
Next up was one of what was to be a number of dabs. Still small, but sometime around now the larger ones start to arrive - a welcome sight as they are so tasty! You don't tend to get the dabs close in - as a rule, they tend to be at range and prefer relatively gentle seas.
After the sun dropped below the horizon, the dabs were joined by mackerel hitting the pop-ups.
At the point this photo was taken, you could cast pretty much anywhere and the mackerel would hit both baits in less than a minute. You could see them splashing about in the shallows as they chased the baitfish around. I switched to pop-ups on both rods for the last hour, ensuring a good bag of fresh eating fish.
Three days later I took Jim Harker - a returning customer - for a session at Tywyn. The main point of the exercise was to show Jim the features of the beach at low tide and where/how to fish it. It's a good beach for codling in the right conditions and at the right time of year. On this occasion I was not expecting them to show: they like a lot more water movement - but nevertheless it would serve as an introduction. Dogfish and whiting were both onto the baits as soon as nightfall came, making for a busy evening for the two of us - and the sunset, especially the afterglow - was amazing. One of the dogfish took a popped-up mackerel strip a good three feet off the sea-bed - another addition to the list of species taken this way. On this occasion, mackerel were less in evidence but one small shoal tore along the water's edge just before it got dark.
Change is now on the way with less settled conditions moving in for a time, but they bring with them the possibility of some good surf-fishing, provided it is not too fierce, and those codling cannot be far away now.
September 20th update
In a nutshell, quiet unless you like mackerel, which fortunately I do! With reports of multiple anglers blanking, on September 11th I took two experienced fly-fishermen for a bait-fishing session over low tide, choosing Tonfanau as the venue. The difference at Tonfanau is that, unlike the sandy beaches of Tywyn and elsewhere, there is always a great deal of food in among the clumps of kelpy boulders that define this snaggy but interesting mark. If the bass are mostly offshore chasing the mackerel, the odd stray one might still show here. I set them up with the simple, no-nonsense rigs that are the only option in such ground and they fished sandeel baits. The resident small to medium-sized bull huss put in an appearance:
These tend to reach no more than 4-5lbs in size but they put up a bit more of a scrap than doggies! I intend trying this mark next spring though: other similar bouldery ground such as Cei Bach near New Quay does produce larger specimens at that time of year, when the big females are inshore depositing egg-cases. I have a hunch that double-figure specimens may show then.
A veritable parade of seals then showed up, strung out in a line about a hundred metres out, covering all possible alternatives and the fishing died off completely. Nevertheless, calling to see Barry and wish him a happy retirement, it appeared that we'd done better than anyone on Tywyn's main beach. Mixed ground does give the edge when the fish are thin on the ground.
This time of year can see Borth fishing well, when winds are onshore, but a committed trip to try a late afternoon low tide on the 16th saw a swell-driven surf, not too strong though so I fished large mackerel baits to see if any decent turbot were around. Five hours later it was concluded that they were not. Rattly bites throughout were small flounders attacking the baits. Turbot fishing from the shore can be rewarding but one thing I've learned over the years is that you really have to put the hours in - and when they do show, fish tide after tide, thereby making hay while the sun shines. I well recall the May evening when Alun Pugh and I had a brace between us to 5lbs 14oz: the next morning I returned for exactly the same point in the tide and bagged two more five-pounders, which were frozen down and enjoyed by the family the following Christmas. But the knack is finding them in the first place!
On the 19th I had arranged to give a local angler a bit of help at Pwllheli, so I set out first thing to rendezvous with a mate at Porth Iago for a bit of pleasure fishing first, the objective being to stock up on a few mackerel. On arrival, he reported the fishing to be a bit slow, and so it proved to be with just sporadic mackerel and the odd pollack being caught. I arrived back at Pwllheli just after high tide - not ideal but then I fancied a bit of scratching about in the hope of contacting one of the elusive red mullet that are occasionally caught here. So it was size 6 hooks, fluorocarbon traces, pop-up beads and so on with a variety of baits. The mackerel were straight onto the popped-up baits. Meanwhile, my customer arrived and got set up: just as I was showing him a few tips and tricks, one of my rods heeled hard over, the butt well off the ground. I grabbed it and after a quick scrap this was the result:
A dogfish-sized tope, making another interesting addition to my list of species taken on popped-up baits. It didn't half punch above its weight!
The fishing continued to produce, but no sign of the target species: just more mackerel and a couple of small dabs. Pwllheli is an interesting venue: although it has its off-days, it is one of those spots where "expect the unexpected" definitely applies. Given the presence of mackerel, I was surprised it was not busier as the flood-tide commenced in evening light:
Not long afterwards, with an adequate bag of fresh mackerel to take home, I made a move, thinking of the pub and a late supper. A pleasant and productive day and I hope to make a further visit or two with those red mullet in mind!
September 10th update
Finally, things are on the up, although the weather is set to turn unsettled again within a few days. Due to various things conspiring against success, August was very quiet locally. Continued poor weather saw the sea badly-coloured a lot of the time: the one trip I did have was successful in terms of getting two new anglers casting well and so on, but the fish just weren't there. A weekend's camping and partying on the Llyn Peninsula saw enough mackerel caught to fill the bait-freezer, a good thing since sadly Barry's excellent tackle shop in Tywyn is closing down and I'm going to have to be far more organised in terms of bait from now on.
The first week of September saw the winds easing down and the water clearing to give excellent visibility - at last! On the 4th, I met up with Andy at Borth for an investigation of the surf, which was certainly looking good with a stiff nor-westerly chop. We targeted rays from the off and an hour into the session it was mission accomplished:
They don't half put a bend in a rod!
A decent-sized small-eyed ray that was photographed and swiftly returned:
As the evening wore on, conditions became decidedly unpleasant with continuous moderate but very wetting rain - the sort that is a complete pain for anyone who wears glasses as I do! What a contrast, then, with the next trip on the 7th, when Bernard and his partner wanted an introduction to sea-angling. Glorious sunshine and calm seas greeted me on my arrival at Aberystwyth. I had chosen the Stone Jetty because a) the tides were perfect for it, b) it would be quiet now the visitors had left and c) they wanted a three-hour session, which is quite short but I was sure we'd find a fish or two. The Jetty is reliable like that with a range of species available to small baits fished into the rough ground. I set them up with light gear and little ragworm and squid baits and it was not long before the bites started. First up was this rock goby:
Next was a corkwing wrasse:
A freshwater eel followed, with several missed bites and another corkwing and another. They showed a distinct preference for squid strips. After the session had ended, having nothing better to do I stayed on to finish off the bait and landed more corkwings, a small pollack and a couple of the resident shannies:
It's a great venue for learning how to recognise and react to bites and, of course, identifying fish! And the views are not bad at all:
On the 9th I met up with Les at the climber's cafe at Tremadog for a rock-fishing tuition session down on the Llyn Peninsula. Rock fishing: some take to it straight away; others find it frustrating. The frustration builds up due to various errors in the approach and style, leading to one blank after another and much lost gear. All stuff we take for granted but if someone develops a set of bad styles as this guy had then they need ironing out and it takes time. The key is to see what the angler is doing wrong - it's typically a combination of several things - then work at each issue in turn. Les was soon casting a decent distance and working the feathers up in midwater:
It was one happy angler who first landed a pollack then a good number of plump mackerel from our lofty perch. I had already suggested that once he'd caught the mackerel he wanted, we could stop by at Pwllheli to see if we could dink out a black bream, although they've not been especially common this year. Not long before we departed, a local turned up - someone who had seen many more winters than either of us had. Still nimble on the awkward, jagged rocks, we had a chat as he set up and we packed away. Clambering off the mark in the evening light, I turned and saw him silhouetted against the sea:
To me, this is what it's all about.
Arriving at Pwllheli, I explained the tactics and we sent out popped-up rigs baited with small strips of mackerel and squid. It didn't take long for both rods to start rattling away and until dusk we landed one mackerel after another. No sign of the bream: the mackerel were onto the baits too quickly, but as darkness fell the pin whiting came on the feed, accompanied by scad - many of them:
Having boat-fished Cardigan Bay over the years, scad are a familiar sight, but oddly enough these were the first I've ever had from the shore, taking my Welsh shore-caught species total to 47. A nice bonus to end a very busy day and a mission accomplished in terms of helping someone approach the rocks with confidence.
This is a great time of year to be fishing and soon the evenings will be dark and the whiting and codling will be feeding inshore in earnest. I'll be on the case!
July 31st update
To say the last month has been difficult would be an understatement. Reports from all around Mid and North Wales are mostly similar - scratching out the odd fish or blanking completely. The weather has not helped: it's been unsettled a lot of the time with big flushes of rainwater from the uplands funnelling out into Cardigan Bay. In this unusual image, taken mid-month, the waters of the Ystwyth can be seen as a dark, peaty streak heading out of the Harbour at Aberystwyth past the end of the Stone Jetty on the ebbing tide:
I've had a few enquiries and a couple of booked trips this month, with some more lined up for August. One thing about these difficult conditions is that in a sense they are ideal for novices, because when the going's tough the angler has to adapt to the conditions. The art of scratching is well-known to seasoned sea-anglers. It's so-named because you stand there scratching your head wondering what to try next! But getting a grounding in scratching right at the start is to become a thinking angler from the word go. Thus it was that I met novice angler Sam on the afternoon of the 30th and we set out to fish Aberystwyth's Tan y Bwlch beach for the flood tide.
I explained to Sam that conditions were tough but we'd try a few things and hopefully see a fish or two. As it was a fine afternoon, I dispensed with the pub meet-up and we went straight to the fishing. I set up one of Sam's rods with a one-up one-down rig, the top hook "popped up" with floating beads and baited with a sliver of mackerel. Otherwise we had fresh ragworm, mussel and sandeel to try. I set up my own rod with the same, cast it out and then got Sam casting in a good straight line, explaining that accuracy comes first, distance later. We then sat down and tied up a rig with a large circle-hook at the business end, to present the head and guts of a mackerel. Big bass sometimes patrol this beach and a mackerel head and guts is a good bait for them.
As I'd feared it was very quiet at first, but eventually I felt a bit of weight on the retrieve and landed a double shot of a small whiting and a lesser weever, whose distinguishing features I was able to point out with a live specimen. Always a good thing to learn to recognise these venomous critters:
Sam's rod then started bouncing all over the place and he reeled in his first ever fish - a mackerel that had taken the popped-up bait:
This cunning tactic can produce a mackerel or two when they are scattered and the water is too cloudy for feathering to be effective - I did try the feathers but to no avail.
A while later Sam had a small whiting on the popped-up bait, then he had a really good bite on sandeel fished close-in turned out to be a hefty and, for the species, energetic dogfish, which allowed a demonstration of how to unhook these rough-skinned fish without getting grazed by them. So to sum up: desperate conditions but three fish on his first trip, plus a grounding in casting, knot-tying, cunning rig-design, baits and their presentation, how to recognise a weever - all useful things.
As to the rest of the summer - we can only hope that things will improve! Good inshore fishing is so dependent on a number of factors: water temperature, salinity (affected by rainfall), distribution of baitfish, swell and wind. All of these things have tended to conspire against us this past month. But at least the novices I am introducing to the activity are learning how to be crafty right from the start! Oh, and congratulations to Pete and Hilary who had their beginner's session earlier in the month, went out and got kitted-up and emailed me to say they'd had a nice bass on their next session!
June 26th round-up:
Well I can report that normal functionality has been restored and my back is once again working as it should, which is a good thing as I've got a group of novice anglers to teach in a few days. Nothing worse than being laid-up, but at least I got some rigs tied and put away in an organised fashion!
I had a go at fishing on the 18th, but just digging a handful of harbour ragworm was excruciating. I took a light rod and rig, wading for an hour along Borth beach to see if I could find any golden grey mullet in the surf as one had been landed in a comp there the previous weekend. It was all a bit lifeless on the fish front (a bit like I was at the time). But there are always things to see on the coast and on this occasion it was hermit crabs - small ones living in periwinkle and other small snail shells. They were charging back and forth across the sea-bed and, in the sandy pools at the Submerged Forest, gathering into masses like the one illustrated below. Mating-time?
June 20-22 saw me up on the Llyn Peninsula for a big extended wedding party and on the way back I stopped at Pwllheli for an evening's fishing. Upon arrival at 4pm there was another angler coming off the beach, where the sea was gin-clear and flat calm. "I've been here since 11 and not had a touch", was his comment. "Scratching-time it is, then", I thought. Scratching is the art of catching (or attempting to catch) fish when conditions are difficult. Small hooks, a good range of baits, long range if necessary and elaborate rigs including pop-up beads was the way to go. I soon had a rattle and reeled in this dragonet:
Pwllheli can throw up all sorts really, but surprisingly I then had several more dragonets, plus a lone dab that had taken a popped-up bait at least a metre off the bottom! Dragonets are curious little fish, rarely exceeding six inches in length. I suspect they behave a bit similarly to gurnards and weevers, snatching and swallowing small prey as it comes past in the tide. Here's a better quality photo of one I caught at Raven's Point on Anglesey during my 2009 "40 species from the Welsh shore" mission:
The photo shows the two long spines behing the gill-covers. Unlike weevers, the spines are not venomous, but they can still give a very nasty jab, so careful handling is important. Anyone needing a dragonet for the 2015 species tally could do worse than head to Pwllheli, by Gimlet rock, and fish at long range over the two hours either side of low water.
After the back trouble it was good to be casting properly again. On the 23rd I had an appointment to keep in Aberystwyth and stopped on for the evening as it was such pleasant weather. It was flat calm and the tide was ebbing, neither ideal, so I headed down to Tan Y Bwlch beach where I could find some peace and quiet and a bit of depth to the water. I fished pop-ups again, baited with slivers of mackerel belly, at range. A few bites and a few fish like this double-shot of a mackerel and a flounder, which illustrates the benefit of pop-ups: you are float-fishing and legering all with the same rig.
I had a few casts with the feathers but could not find any shoaling mackerel though the pop-up accounted for more, but with long gaps between bites. Some rather blustery weather has since intervened but it calms down into next week with a nice set of tides to play with and, restored to some semblance of fitness, I'll be out and about checking the form and deciding the best place to take the next beginner's course.
June 12th round-up:
Sat here with a sore back, having slipped and clouted my coccyx a good 'un. Being laid-up for a few days is no bad thing though: hopefully the fishing will have improved by the time I'm back on the case! It's been difficult for all of us lately. Very bright and sunny by day but some seriously chilly nights and winds often being easterly are not helping things at all. On top of that a very tight low pressure system spun up on June 2nd, with Storm 10 winds for the Irish Sea and a major dumping of rain - enough to give a Flood Warning on the Dyfi. In turn, the flood flushed a lot of nutrients out into the Bay, which at this time of year means one thing - an algal bloom in the shallows.
June 7th saw Andy Jenkins join me for a four-hour session on the Estuary, fishing both ebb and flood with a break in between. The South Channel now dries completely at low water even on a 4.5 metre tide:
It may look tempting to push on over onto that sandbank, but I would not advise it at all. The sand is waterlogged and incredibly soft in places - there's a good chance of getting stuck and requiring the attention of the RNLI! This channel used to have a good depth of water at all states of the tide - I am thinking that the violent storms of early 2014 part-filled it much as they changed the course of the Dysinni outfall.
Once the flood started piling through this tract of ground was quickly a fast-flowing channel again and it was time to start concentrating hard, but the only attention was in the form of tiny knocks from small schoolie bass. Big difference from my last session there (same sized tide, same rigs, same baits, similar weather, same time of day) on May 4th. Disappointing for Andy and I was gutted - my job is to find fish for people and on this occasion it didn't work out. But reports from all around - and from some very experienced anglers - show everyone is struggling to catch right now. Take Tuesday the 9th of June. Llyn Peninsula tope specialist Kevin, the Pwllheli-based angler known as Shep on the WSF Forum and I met up in the morning for a session at a rock-mark near Pwllheli. Target: black bream. Somewhere away from the rafts of floating weed that had been plaguing the open beach there since the storm.
We had an armoury of baits as bream can be distinctly faddy: mackerel, squid, lug, rag, mussel, peeler crab and so on. We tried everything but could not find them. Shep had a flounder and on a popped-up mackerel strip I finally managed a nice garfish:
But that was that. Kev and I continued on down to another rock-mark - Penrhyn-mawr, the popular mackerel mark near Aberdaron. We had two. In between feathering, we bait-fished but for just a few dogfish, a dab and this chunky and beautifully-marked ~40cm ballan wrasse for me:
So a 13 hour trip (including 4 hours of driving) and only bits and pieces to show for all the effort. On the 10th I took Birmingham-based angler Jim Harker for another shot on the South Channel, this time, it only being a 4-metre tide, from high water down. Borth beach itself was rammed with weekend visitors playing in the surfless, flat sea under a blazing sun. Jim wanted to improve his casting so we went somewhere a bit quieter and the elements of the aerialised groundcast were taught. A bit of practice and his distance was improving markedly, although I reminded him that often, anglers think distance is everything, which is not necessarily always the case. This accomplished, it was time for an hour or two's fishing. Bearing in mind the dire conditions, I went for a scratching rig apiece - a 5/0 Tronix circle baited with fresh peeler crab legered on the bottom of the rig and a popped-up smaller hook on the top hooklength, baited with thin strips of mackerel and garfish belly, the rigs able to trot along in the tide to cover as much ground as possible. Just the one hit - a double shot of a good flounder on the crab and a slightly undersized turbot on the popped up bait which it must have risen more than a metre off the sea-bed to take:
That in itself was an interesting result in terms of flatfish behaviour. But no sign of the bass.
The algal bloom seemed to be on the way out - a lot of stuff looking like curdled milk, but brownish in colour, suspended in the shallows. Longer casting took the rigs into much clearer water. Hopefully this will clear away leading to better things soon. But such periods remind one that angling involves working closely with nature and never giving up on the processes of observation and deduction. That's why it's known as fishing and not catching!
May 27th: Beginner's Practical session 2: Borth
Fran and I met at Borth in the late afternoon to fish the ebb down to low water, as work commitments had prevented her joining the previous meet, with Angharad and Kait wandering down to join us later. A beautiful afternoon (apart from the slightly annoying side-wind) and kindly sea conditions with a good chop made for a pleasant introduction to fishing. We both fished one up-one down rigs baited with mackerel and black lugworm to cover the range of commoner Borth species like school bass, rays, flounders and turbot. A tell-tale rattle of Fran's rod-tip produced a turbot of about 22cm - her first fish - following which a more savage take that was missed suggested the presence of bass. Not long after the others arrived, someone noticed a cloud of gulls going frantic, then as they drew closer we could see why. A pod of dolphins was moving in and baitballing fish. At one point they cannot have been more than 300 metres away, thrashing the sea into clouds of spray:
It was an awesome sight, without any doubt the highlight of the session for everyone. Not surprisingly, the fishing went quiet for an hour or so afterwards, but as light levels fell into evening I had a good bite on mackerel and beached another turbot - from the bite I almost expected it to be bigger than the 25cm it turned out to be, but they can be aggressive little beasts at times!
Another angler had by then wandered over for a chat: he'd had a session earlier on the flood and had caught a few turbot of a similar size. The rays seem to be elsewhere at present, but if the forecast warmer weather for the end of the first week of June onwards materialises we should see more sand-eels moving into the shallows within a fortnight. Elsewhere, the rough ground bassing is still producing the goods with my friend John from Aberystwyth getting his first double-figure specimen from a local rock-mark. Crab was, not surprisingly, the bait that did the job in this superb catch. Other local reports of note include a nice garfish caught on a surface lure in pitch darkness by my mate Stu. I'm not sure who was the more surprised - him or the fish! Mackerel are now showing to the charter-boats and hopefully once the next few days are out of the way (a bit rough at times), the forecast high pressure will give some good opportunities over the coming spring tides. Bookings are coming in but they are mostly for July dates, so I will endeavour to explore more ground that I've not fished so often in the meantime.
May 22nd: Local round-up
Been a busy few days designing and getting publicity printed and distributed around the area - caravan parks, tourist information centres, hotels, tackle shops - and still more to do but it's a start. Not so much fishing of late - the weather has been unseasonably cool and wet/windy at times - though bass are featuring in catches - as are dogfish. At some point each spring there's a thankfully shortlived glut of doggies. Up at Tonfanau last week they were swarming my hard-won soft crab baits. Had one good slackline bite that didn't make contact but was likely a bass. They're crafty like that.
Good news for Tonfanau afficionados is that the channel of the Dysinni is being cleared at last. So much shingle was thrown up at the river mouth in the winter 2013-14 storms that the river breached a new way out across the beach, some distance north of its old position closr to the wall of large slate slabs. But on its own it could not cut deeply enough to drain the estuary, so that a lot of water got ponded in. That should now hopefully change, improving access under the railway bridge, but there's a lot of shingle to shift, although they've moved a fair pile of the stuff already.
Looking at the weather forecasting models, there's good agreement for a more settled theme through the first half of the Whitsun week although there's no heat as such on the cards. Small tides but good sea conditions, which are just as important in my experience.
May 7th: Beginner's Practical session - Borth
What a difference a few days can make! The settled conditions on the 4th gave way to wet and windy weather through the 5th and 6th, with the Dyfi going into spate and colouring the inshore surf a peaty-brown. On the 7th we put the election to one side (having already voted) and three of us headed out and met up at Borth. This was to be the first time Kait and Jacinta had handled a beachcaster in earnest. Surf conditions looked great - apart from that tell-tale peaty colour. Never mind - onwards and upwards!
Clipping on their pre-prepared rigs, we went through the different baits and what they are used for, then on to bait presentation, which they managed to pick up very quickly indeed. Next was casting. The basics of a standard overhead thump cast were learned and the routine one goes through each time: hold the line, bail-arm opened, correct stance and let fly. Distance is of course something that comes with practice, but Borth is very beginner-friendly in this respect as there are fish to be caught close-in. Most of the time, that is.
After two biteless hours and with the start of the flood-tide, I took their rods plus the one I was using as a demonstrator and whacked all three rigs well out. To no avail: the rods started the familiar rhythmic nodding that announces the presence of floating weed. All was not totally lost though: they learned how to pump in a heavy load without damaging rod or reel (easily done) and how to deal with the stuff once the rigs were in, as the image below shows. Weed is a periodic nuisance along any coastline so acquainting them with it was instructive. We then dropped the casts shorter, me having waded out to check where the weed was concentrated, but the baits were coming back untouched, unusual for Borth with its pecking hordes of small flounders. Having thought it through the most likely reason for the no-show of fish was the sudden pulse of freshwater: although the spate was not enough to cause flooding, the sudden salinity change may have pushed the fish further out for a while. But the post-session feedback was good and as I've yet to take Fran and Angharad for their session, I suggested that we all meet up again, for a "revenge-visit"! I felt disappointed for the lasses as I wanted their introduction to sea fishing to be a complete one, including fish - although of course blanks happen to the best of us every year when the conditions "go off" for a bit. Yesterday (May 10th) an experienced friend fished the same Estuary mark where I'd done well on the 4th, with crab baits, but no bass showed. This weather needs to settle down a bit!
May 4th: Estuary bassing
Continuing the theme of getting on top of the game and checking out venues for exactly that purpose, holiday Monday saw me visiting an old mark. In the 1980s it was my nearest spot and I've fished it a few times a year ever since: the Dyfi Estuary. I had arranged to meet two friends down there but it all got a bit complicated. There was an incident on the main road involving an overturned car a couple of miles south of Machynlleth that I arrived at before the Fire Brigade and despite the sirens plainly heard in the distance they found themselves held up because of people trying to turn round (98 point turns from the look of it in my wing mirror). Once they were in attendance and it was OK to make the about turn I escaped via the back-lanes and we finally met up at Ynyslas for the walk out to the water's edge, arriving bang on low tide. Legered soft crabs on those Tronix 5/0 circles were to be the main serving. It was warm, almost muggy, and very still although the roar of the distant swell-driven surf could be heard thundering over Aberdyfi Bar.
This mark has changed a lot over the years. Flat sand used to extend further out with a steep drop-off into the channel, but today the gradient is much gentler, there are a lot of snags in places and the channel dries at low water, making it a lot harder to fish. It was dead to start with but with the flood picking up bites began: tiddler activity at first but as the tide started to rip along a better stamp of fish started to show and a hectic period commenced with half a dozen bass from 45-55 cm being landed before the tide literally chased me from there. I kept a brace of bigger fish, returning the rest, all neatly hooked in the scissors of the jaw by the circle-hooks. This was as good as it gets here. I've had similar sessions on occasion in years past but the larger fish do not show that often, or if they do they sometimes move through quickly so just the one good fish is possible. Also, the floating weed was relatively scarce on this occasion - it is often present in murderous quantities. Right place, right time, right conditions and right bait!
April 30th - rough ground bassing
With a few soft crabs in the fridge and a bit of dodgy weather in the forecast for the coming weekend, it was a no-brainer. Small tide? Bright sunshine? Count me in!
Tonfanau - the vast expanse of boulders and sand-patches that extends from the mouth of Afon Dysinni to the popular campsite of Cae Ddu and beyond - is difficult to fish although productive because the place teems with life and therefore food. There are various small, specific hotspots for bass along there that I've discovered over years of trial and error. It was only while struggling to locate them that I realised how much it has changed after the 2014 storms. All my bass-waypoints had gone - these were certain boulders of different types of rock that protrude from the low cliff of glacial moraine that I used to use as points whereby to turn seaward. I used to use these because the sands there shift from tide to tide, storm to storm, so that they are completely unreliable as mark-indicators. In places the cliff-edge fenceposts were hanging in the air in testament to the erosive power of the storms. So the first two hours were spent wasting time on one of my general marks such as the one fished on April 7th - and losing leads. I then had a move and at last I recognised a certain boulder just above the low water mark. Aha! And just in time for the flood. And almost no floating weed - the frequent bane of anglers fishing this place.
Fishing crab on 5/0 Tronix circle-hooks to 25lb Amnesia on a rotten-bottom leger rig, I soon started to get tell-tale rattles as small school-bass tore into my large baits. These small fish cannot take big baits but they fight over and shred them instead, requiring regular rebaiting. A better bite and I was in: a feisty 44cm fish that gave a good fight. The next take slack-lined me and I was only in contact with the fish briefly before it threw the hook. A little later, the other rod heeled over hard. I grabbed it and felt the weight of a heavy fish which veered and kited left and right through the surf all the way in. This was a good specimen of 70cm which according to the Bass Anglers' Sportfishing Society (BASS) length-weight scale should have weighed 8.5lbs although I reckoned it to be a bit less than that. Either way it was a pleasing catch. By now the tide was pushing me hard into the boulder-field and that being unpleasant and slippery to fish from, I decided to put the gear away and have a slow walk back along the shore, trying to recognise anew some of my other marks and noting where the worst weed accumulations were fetching up. The conclusion was that major changes had not only affected the upper beach but also, in places, the lower part. The Dysinni now flows diagonally across the foreshore as a straight-line extension of its canalised course inland (it used to curve sharply left towards Tywyn). There's only one way to check out these changes and that's to fish them and see how they have changed. Who knows, they may be better than they were. But at least one good bass-mark, seemingly, has survived pretty much unscathed, which is good news. It's just a lot harder to locate than it was, but at least I've got a new boulder-waypoint in the cliff now!
April 29th - first novices' course!
I had thought long and hard about how to start off complete angling novices and now was the time to put that thought to the test. Angharad and Fran had won a guiding session in a charity auction last year and Kait and Jacinta had signed up to make the maximum number of four students, at discounted rates in return for detailed feedback. This was to be the theory session - two hours, five pots of tea and lots of rig-making components were the raw ingredients. I started off right from the utter basics - different sea rods, reels, lines, leaders and so on before explaining what the various components of sea-fishing rigs are and what they do (complete with a glossary hand-out to take home). That done, I set out to demonstrate tying a couple of commonly used rigs hereabouts: the single-hook leger and the one up-one down. The lasses then set about tying their own and an excellent job they made of them once they had practised knot-tying and holding hooks safely while affixing them to the Amnesia trace mono. The two hours had soon flown by but they all felt confident by the end of the session.
Nor-westerly 5-7 winds precluded a beach session that afternoon so we'll be putting those rigs to the test one day next week once I have a better handle on the forecast. Cold for the time of year still with a coating of fresh snow on Cadair Idris yesterday morning. But the crabs are slowly starting to peel - better late than never - so off to search for a bass today. The tide's a small one but the winds have eased back to a 4-5 so there will be a nice onshore chop, before winds veer easterly on Friday ushering in a wet weekend. Come on, summer!
April 21st - after the Easterly
The stiff east wind that blew for several days and brought warm sunshine to anywhere sheltered from it had evidently killed-off the shore fishing as it often does, but forecast charts suggested a shift to southerlies on the 21st. Three of us, stricken with cabin-fever, decided to head down to Borth. I arrived first and a strange surf welcomed me. Strange in that it would go from flat calm to a series of juvenile tsunamis and back. Clearly swell-driven, but I picked a section of the beach where it was a bit less intense which looked fishable, although I have to say I don't like swell-driven surfs nearly as much as short, wind-driven chops. But I was there now so I might as well give it a go. By the time I was casting my rigs out the others had arrived and we fished a variety of baits at different ranges to see what we might scratch out. It became clear that there were plenty of flounders present, but they were small, sub 30cm fish and many were tiny, not that it put them off pecking away at the baits: large mackerel half-fillets were coming back with just the skin left. Paul had the only ray of the session, a male of about 4lbs, whereas Rich and I had to be content with a brace of flounders apiece. We were quite content to knock it on the head two hours into the flood. The sunset was good, though! Since then a chilly northwesterly wind has developed with overnight frost, but reports suggest that the fishing is continuing to improve albeit slowly. On that basis, May has everything to look forward to.
April 15th-16th 2015 - checking out fish movements and marks, Borth
There's only one way to establish when the summer fish are going to arrive in numbers - go fishing and see if they are there! Rough weather last weekend gave way to high pressure this week and with it a transition from westerly to easterly winds. Now, easterlies are not ideal for fishing our local beaches, but there was a window of opportunity on the 15th as the westerly waned and veered round to the north. Arrival at Borth beach two hours before low tide revealed sea conditions that were ideal: a wind-chopped, narrow band of surf in which any resident fish would be feeding.
I set up with one rod packing fish-baits - sandeel and mackerel, and the other with worm and shellfish baits to seek out variety. Both rigs were cast into the surf tables. Not long afterwards the rod with the fish baits registered a good bite: a turbot perhaps? No - it was a good plump flounder that had clearly spawned early in the winter as it was in prime condition, unlike the spawned-out specimen the previous week. It had swallowed the hook (and the double sandeel bait) so I killed it quickly. That night's supper, it was delicious. Sea-going flounders are excellent eating, unlike their mud-dwelling estuary creek brethren. Rebaiting quickly, I flicked the rig back out into the feeding-zone. The next bite was unmistakeable with the rod-tip simply pulling down hard and staying there: I knew that the first ray of the year had found my bait.
Not a massive one - they can go to double figures - it was nevertheless an encouraging sign that summer is on the way. Small-eyed rays feed on fish, especially sandeels, so if they are in the surf it indicates that at least some baitfish are present too. They are an agile species, often making sudden runs in the surf tables, compared to thornback rays which tend to come in like a dead weight. The thornbacks used to be far more common, and were the mainstay of the Aberystwyth charter fleet in the 1970s and 1980s, before they were tangle-netted into near-oblivion in the 1990s: shore catches of thornies are still infrequent and I always return both species because although edible and tasty they are slow-breeding and slow-growing, in strong contrast to the flatfish that share the same feeding-zone.
Slack water arrived and with the new flood-tide a bit of floating weed announced its presence by giving irritating line-pulls. The swell got up a bit too, so that conditions went from perfect to marginal. It took an hour for the next bite to arrive: this was a bass of about a pound and a half that had taken a lug-rag cocktail and was returned swiftly. No other bites were registered, with the weed pulling the rod-tips around, but on the final reeling-in I discovered a saucer-sized turbot had taken the double sandeel. These fish have large mouths and will happily take baits almost as long as themselves. So hardly a fast and furious session, but not bad for mid-April with four species of which three were a sign of the warmer half of the year - an encouraging sign of things to come.
By the following day, a stiff easterly breeze was pushing down the Dyfi valley and the sea-state at Borth was as uninspiring as it gets, but it was an opportunity to do a bit of exploration on the shallow reef to the south of the village. I've fished this extensive area of rock for many years, mostly close-in work for bass, but I am keen to explore its potential in other respects. There are interesting features within casting range, identified as mysterious shadows on satellite imagery, that I am in the process of investigating. What are they? Patches of rough ground, deeper scours and gutters, even ancient shipwrecks? Some of the latter are recorded in the vicinity. My first target proved to be inaccessible on a tide of this size, with a chop still breaking over it on the last two hours of the ebb, but the second one turned out to offer a reasonably comfortable fishing platform and a snag-free window in the often awkward rocks that sprawl below Borth Head.
I set up with one rod carrying a single large legered bait and the other with a two-hook, one up one down rig with small hooks, fluorocarbon traces and lots of beads and sequins to see if I could scratch out a flatfish or two. Baits were a mixture of hermit crabs, worms, mussel and squid: the latter tempted a large dogfish but otherwise, apart from a few rattles that I ascribed to pin whiting, that was my lot. Crabs were on overtime, stripping the baits in minutes, as often occurs in easterlies. But it was a worthwhile session in that I had found a new mark which I'll fish for the rest of the year when time permits - it is the only way (bar scuba-diving) to properly assess such spots. It has potential for good autumn dabs and other species as the ground is mostly clean and has fish-holding depressions and gutters. It's a pity that the tidal window here is so short - it's the sort of place that a pier would be handy! An hour after low water I was rock-hopping my way back to Borth, a little sunburnt but satisfied with the day. Soon, the prawns will be in the rockpools, the crabs will be peeling and the bass will be hunting both: the next visit will likely be of a more traditional nature.
April 7th 2015 - Tonfanau: it's a start!
Spring on the Cardigan Bay coast means the start of the new season. We know that at some point in April the bass, rays, turbot and huss will start to feature in catches - but when? The only way to figure that out is to watch the weather - if March is warm it'll happen earlier but if it's average or chilly as it was this year then it'll happen later in April. A series of pleasantly warm days over Easter was encouraging though cold nights with local ground frost suggested the grounds that uncover at low tide would be chilled and unproductive.
With that in mind, plus the greater-than-usual need to get on top of my game regarding seasonal fish movements before the start of the guiding, it had to be a low tide session, fishing foodiferous ground that never uncovers, so I chose Tonfanau. I like this place: it is remote, requiring a long tramp and it can be difficult to fish but I've had some nice specimens from the place over the years. The mixture of sand patches and weedy boulders means that it holds plenty of food and because of that it can fish even in calm conditions. The photo below shows the sort of ground: the simplest of rigs and a rotten bottom-rigged sinker help keep one sane:
I fished large baits on both rods, in various combinations of squid, sandeel and ragworm with the possibility of an early huss in mind, but only met with one - a baby - plus a succession of dogfish. Once the tide started racing in I fished bunches of worm on the same 5/0 hooks: a bit of variety was added to the still-incoming dogfish in the form of this fairly long but spawned-out flounder:
They don't half have an appetite after spawning - 5/0 no problem! Spawned-out flounders are not worth taking as the flesh is thin and watery, but lightly hooked, it swam off strongly. Dogs, small huss and spawned flounder are a typical early April catch hereabouts in Cardigan Bay so I'm encouraged that the season will be a fairly normal one with nothing overly delayed. With the tide pushing me back hard onto an unfriendly boulder-field it was time to make a move and tramp back along the beach-head shingle, scanning the tideline for crab cast-offs - there were none, but it can only be a matter of time now. The session usefully confirmed to me that it was wise to start offering the guiding right at the end of this month, but I'll be back!