Shore Fishing on the Cardigan Bay Coast of Mid-Wales
January 21st 2017 update
The question of whether December 2016 would be any good for codling has been answered with a firm no! OK so there have been odd ones but it looks like the good season in 2014 was an outlier. The whiting have been plentiful though: just before the New Year I took an experienced freshwater fisherman, John Scott, for his first beach session, at Tywyn, and he christened his new rod with a steady stream of insize fish - in fact we both had a good bag of 30cm plus individuals, so that was a satisfying end to the year. No photos - the rods were rattling the moment the baits hit the sea-bed!
Sea temperatures are still quite warm for winter: a friend was out on his boat off the Llyn Peninsula last week and among the resident pollack and codling he reported mackerel, of all things!
There seems to be a pattern emerging here with the mackerel being around later (and earlier) yet thin on the ground during the summer months - the traditional time for them. Warming waters and large numbers of baitfish seem to be holding them inshore in October and November, but in summer it may be the case that many continue migrating northwards. Mackerel have certainly become a common species in the waters around Iceland and southern Greenland in recent years. It seems that as anglers we have to be adaptive to the changes and plan our fishing accordingly.
Bass regulations for 2017 remain as in the previous years: total catch and release until July 1st, then one bass per angler per day through to the end of the year. There have certainly been a lot of small bass around the Welsh coast in recent months and the glut of whitebait will have ensured a good feed-up for these and their older cousins. The larger fish were not especially evident towards the end of 2016, but with such an abundance of easy food around this is unsurprising.
So to the coming season. I've already taken one booking for June and am looking forward to getting out there soon - a minor glitch in the form of a vehicle-change in the coming days then I'll at the whiting until they clear off. March is usually the quietest point in the calendar and then it'll be a case of targeting the summer species as they start to show up.
So it just remains to wish everyone a productive year's fishing in 2017, and I'd like to thank the 2016 customers and hope they are putting my tips and tricks to good use!
November 1st update
As colder air spreads from the north, heralding in more seasonal conditions, will we have seen the end of the incredible mackerel glut of late 2016? I've filled every available bit of space in the freezer following another bumper session at Aberystwyth with two friends on October 14th. I dug the fish-smoker out too:
I also made a batch of mackerel pate. It's straightforward to make: cook the fillets, let them cool, flake them up, mix with lots of creme fraiche and fresh lemon juice plus spices to taste. Very good on toast, with salad and so on:
The most novel one though was a complete experiment: mackerel, garlic and Swiss Chard fried rice! Some experiments work and some don't: this was excellent though and something I will definitely do again.
On the 25th, I met up with Greg and his 14 year old son and a 12 year old friend. They had done a bit of freshwater fishing but were new to shore angling, having not caught during previous sessions, so my job was to put that right. I decided to try a section of Borth Beach that has produced a few rays of late as big fish always make for happy memories. On arrival, it was evident that the mackerel had returned mob-handed:
Still, we tried with legered sandeels just in case. But the mackerel, plus dabs and flounders, savaged the baits within moments of them hitting the sea-bed. It turned out to be a very busy session and I was charging round like a bat rebaiting the rigs in rota. Pin-whiting joined in the fray as night fell. Everyone caught good numbers of fish on what was a pleasantly warm evening for the time of year.
When the baitfish hit a section of coast in such vast numbers, every predator becomes stuffed to the gills with easy pickings and as a consequence they become harder to catch. On a beautiful Halloween afternoon I went for a wander along the reef south of Borth for a couple of hours over low tide. Starting at my Greater Weever mark I fished with pop-ups baited with black lug and mackerel belly strip. The rock was slippery underfoot in the weak late autumn sun - it just doesn't dry as quickly at this time of year. First cast saw a bite in no time...
....and in they came: this was to become the theme of the session - only that the dabs often didn't get a look-in. The mackerel were hitting the black lug, too!
Not needing more than a dozen mackerel for the larder, I wandered back towards the village once I had my quota. I tried from the end of the beach with larger baits, to see if any rays were around, but there was no interest. The sunset was good, though!
With this colder weather and with more onshore winds expected later this week, thoughts turn towards codling. Will it be a good year for them, like 2014? 2015 was poor, more so because it was stormy for weeks on end and people couldn't get out. Certainly looking forward to seeing what occurs on that front.
October 12th update
Crazy days down here on the Mid-Wales coast. East winds, the textbooks say, are not ideal for fishing, nor are neap tides. Well we have both right now - but nobody told the mackerel! Huge shoals of sprats have built up along the coast and for several days now, the mackerel have had them hemmed in tight at Aberystwyth. On October 11th I went to take a look, choosing Tan y Bwlch beach as it would be less crowded and has easier parking than the main town shoreline.
Getting out of my motor, I peered over the top of the shingle storm-beach to be greeted with this sight: thousands of sprats stranded along the tideline.
Keeping things simple, I set up one beachcaster and put a few sets of feathers and spare sinkers in my pockets, plus a cloth rag and some water and a standard builders' black bucket. Walking along the shore until clear of the Stone Jetty boulder-field, I could see the mackerel splashing about everywhere as they set about the sprats:
Hundreds of birds were wheeling and diving on the action:
All along the beach it was a similar sight. Casting in any direction and any distance produced full strings of mackerel and in no time at all I had filled the bucket to the brim.
That effort saw my bait-freezer replenished for the coming winter. I then gathered sprats along the strand-line as I'm partial to a good fry-up of these delicious little fish:
From the top of the Stone Jetty I watched as the sea erupted here and there. In this image you can see the way the mackerel have driven the sprats to the surface, so the water is black with them. It was carnage out there!
They were marauding up and down the Harbour too...
Lots of other anglers were there too, all enjoying this rare bounty. Driving home I thought I'd go along the Prom first, and the same thing was happening from the Harbour all the way to Constitution Hill - and probably beyond. Such abundance is unusual but it was definitely a case of being in the right place at the right time - unless, that is, if you are a sprat.
October 6th update
Good fishing continues apace - when sea conditions permit. Some large Atlantic low-pressure systems have been barging in of late, although currently we have settled into a more anticyclonic weather-pattern. Such storm-systems are part and parcel of life here on the western coast of Wales, of course. They may be a pain in the neck for us anglers for two different reasons: when close-by they bring wet and windy weather but even when remote, the ground-swells they generate can kill the fishing. But years of storm and weather photography experience come in handy here, so that I can spot windows in the weather and sea conditions, enabling a productive session or two.
One such window was on October 2nd. Steve had arranged to come over from Leicester since he'd done a bit of fishing but was yet to catch. I decided on Borth as the venue: it is user-friendly and can, as readers know, throw up a decent fish or two, with smaller species a fallback proposition. I set him up fishing for rays and turbot, then set up myself with one rod to see what else was around, using frozen black lugworm on smaller hooks. It was important that, should a ray or turbot come along, it would find Steve's bait and not mine!
It was slow to begin with but it was a lovely afternoon and we talked about different rigs and their uses down to low water. Not long after then, he noticed his line kept going slack. Aha! "I think you have a ray on the other end", I told him. Sure enough, after a bit of a scrap:
Not a bad one either! After a hasty bout of photography involving yours truly and Steve's partner, it went back into the surf to put on more weight.
The worm-baited rod was producing sporadic school-bass and flatties:
Steve had a small turbot and a big dogfish on his ray baits afterwards, but no more rays showed. That's not uncommon - multiple ray catches do occur but not so often. As it got dark I started to pick up a few dabs of a much better size than the little ones we see in the summer. Overall a good session: Steve's feedback was, "had a cracking day,the weather couldn't have been better and I've broken my shore fishing duck" That's a satisfying result!
Now, I like dabs. They are delicious - I prefer them to turbot. So I fancied a session specifically targeting them. But the following day a big swell was running. Calling by on the way back from Aberystwyth I noted that some breakers were reaching a metre and a half in height and the final water-tables before dry land were surging 30-40 metres up the beach. That's way too powerful a surf to fish well. Conditions did not abate until the 5th, but by then an easterly force 5-7 wind had blown up. The trees were bending and swaying all the way down the Dyfi Valley, but I had a cunning plan. Offshore winds facilitate long casting and I figured that long casts over low water, exploring the maze of sandbanks, gullies and depressions nearer to the estuary mouth should find a few fish - so long as my rod-rest didn't keep blowing over! With that in mind, I went for the low-profile approach:
Baits were frozen black lug on simple, long-range rigs. At first, the buffeting winds made bite detection very difficult, but the fish were there nonetheless:
The larger of the two is 27cm - against a legal minimum size of 15cm and a Welsh Federation of Sea Anglers recommended 23cm. 25cm is my self-imposed limit. So one kept, one returned. Dabs are by definition small fish - a dab of a pound in weight is regarded as a splendid specimen - but I like to think they can get chance to breed before getting scoffed.
And so it sent on. Cast, bite, retrieve. The winds were tearing the spray off any remaining swell-waves and blowing it back out to sea:
As the sun set and the new moon came out, the wind dropped right off: it had turned into a beautiful evening.
I literally fished until I had run out of bait. These were on the final cast of the evening:
First whiting of the season at just over 30cm. It went back though, as I had eight plump dabs to munch my way through. Total score was 15 dabs, two flounders and the whiting. Not bad for an Easterly wind. There's an old saying, "when the wind's in the east, the fish bite the least". But not, it seems, always!
I think the easterly saying is more applicable in winter, when easterlies are cold winds that chill the sands at low tide and make their inhabitants burrow deep to escape, thereby removing the food supply normally available to the fish. In contrast, onshore sou-westerlies in winter are mild. But at the moment sea-temperatures are at the peak of their annual cycle and the weather is still mild, so that there are plenty of fish to hunt for. Hopefully it will continue along similar lines as I'm still taking bookings and this can be the best time of the year along the Cardigan Bay coast - weather and sea-conditions permitting!
September 23rd update
It's been a while since I last updated so here's two months' worth all in one post!
With the passing of the autumnal equinox and a gale expected tomorrow, the changing seasons are making themselves felt once again, but one thing's for sure: the fishing has definitely picked up, as the images further down will show. Summer fishing in this part of the world has its limitations: the beaches are busy and other venues like popular rock-marks can be crowded. Autumn removes such annoyances.
In early August a bunch of us camped up at Mynydd Mawr near Uwchmynydd and crowd-avoidance tactics involved walking down to Trwyn Maen Melyn, the western headland of St Mary's Well Bay, at first light. Even though we had the place to ourselves, getting enough mackerel for the evening's barbecue took several hours of fishing hard: they have been a bit patchy over the summer months. I also managed a 3lb pollack on the feathers which made for an excellent lunch. This was a well-timed session, since by mid-afternoon it had clouded up and by the evening it was drizzling with 50m visibility and a near-gale. We still managed to get the barbecue done through a combination of beer and determination!
Closer to home, guided trips have entirely involved novices - great to see so many people getting into the activity - so I've tended to go for user-friendly venues that produce - even if it is flatfish, small bass or doggies, it's good for a novice to catch on their first trip. The weather got in the way at times during August, with some unseasonable gales at times. I paid the "greater weever mark" another visit, but they had moved on: dabs and a few mackerel were caught, along with this beastie:
Some further afield sessions included an evening at New Quay with John and his family, on a very busy harbour wall, where wrasse were the target. Others were busy feathering for mackerel although we only saw a couple landed all evening. John was kind enough to send me some feedback:
"John fished with my son and me patiently in August 2016 and was a wealth of information regarding locations, tactics and tackle (light and heavy). Whether you’re a novice or an experienced angler seeking a guide I am sure John’s services will be worth every penny, and that you will catch many more fish with his assistance. I caught 8 bass a couple of days after fishing with him using rigs I learned from him."
That's an important point - while waiting for bites I go through all the different rigs with novice anglers and explain what each one is intended for, all the different components and how/where to fish it. I try to give customers as much information as they can absorb during a booking, so that even if fishing is slow on the day, they go away forearmed with plenty of additional knowledge.
On top of that, the sunset was awesome:
New Quay is a great venue although many prefer to wait until the late autumn dabs and whiting have taken up residence, long after the holidaying crowds have departed. This is entirely understandable, as the photo below shows - Borth beach on a sunny BH Monday. My customer and I arrived early and staked out a spot as far away from the parking as possible - despite the madding crowds we still managed a small bass, a flounder and a small turbot.
At one point we were joined in our enclave by this dunlin, equally keen to avoid the crowds:
A recent development is a friend and very keen angler having acquired a boat, which means all sorts of interesting fishing can be accessed, weather permitting. The photo below shows the second of two unexpected shark-runs in a fortnight while fishing for tope. Neither resulted in a capture but gear is being upgraded and a method is being devised for releasing them alongside the boat, in case one is encountered again. I fished light, catching countless black bream and large mackerel - the bait-freezer is well-stocked for the coming winter now!
The recent more settled weather got me out looking for Welsh shore species number 49 - I tried Pwllheli in search of the elusive red mullet, setting up near Gimblet Rock on a surprisingly quiet Saturday afternoon:
No red mullet - elusive is perhaps an understatement - but lots of rattly little bites from the resident black bream, small examples on this occasion. Even so they can make for some hectic fishing when there in numbers and one thing I like about this mark is you never know what's coming along next, although as most Pwllheli afficionados will freely admit, the place can blow hot and cold, even on consecutive tides.
A more local session this week saw me having Ynyslas to myself - a stark contrast from the recent bank holiday! I fished it into darkness for small-eyed rays and turbot using mackerel and sand-eels for bait:
Bang on low tide a tell-tale bite saw this beauty of 70cm landed: I had to wade out and lift it from the shallows! Great to see them around, especially of this size: mostly they are 5lbs or less and so by Borth standards this counts as a good specimen.
The following evening I visited another beach to see what was doing there. Long-range with pop-ups saw a series of small dabs caught: I was just wading back to shore having released one when I saw one rod lurching about with something heavy pulling at the line. I knew exactly what it was straight away and reeling in confirmed my suspicions: a prime turbot of 50cm. Always a pleasing catch, the larger turbot are worth targeting but one has to put a lot of time in to catch them with any consistency. I would say that the small-eyed rays strongly outnumber them, but nevertheless I always have a rod out fishing for them if visiting any of the local shallow sandy beaches, just in case!
Again I carried on into darkness, landing and returning another just undersized turbot, before the dogfish arrived mob-handed, prompting me to depart the scene.
Now it's a case of getting the forthcoming rough weather over and done with and then back out on the beaches. Autumn is my favourite time to be out fishing for both specimen fish and the variety of species that are available as the summer and winter fish overlap. I have a few bookings awaiting allocation to more settled days but will be happy to take enquiries as long as the weather lets me get out there fishing. Let's hope we don't get a repeat of 2015, when November was pretty much a complete write-off! More soon.
July 20th update
Summer has finally started to behave itself and it's now a case of finding the fish. July 18th was a struggle at Aberystwyth's Tan y Bwlch Beach but novice angler Owain got his casting sorted out, learned about rigs and caught one of those fish that so often save anglers from blanking - the humble doggie!
July 19th saw the hottest day of the year so far, but unlike the tourists thronging Borth Beach I had recconnaisance to do and headed out onto the reef with the last of the ebbing tide to an area I call my "greater weever mark". It was phenomally hot on the walk-in but a bit of a sea-breeze picked up, just enough to ruffle the surface but very welcome indeed. I set both rods up with one-up one-down rigs with each top hook popped-up with floating beads and baited with frozen and salted mackerel belly strips (the salt toughens them up for long casting). Black lug was the bait on the bottom hooks. I whacked both rigs well out to different areas of the sandy seabed and almost immediately both rods started to rattle, the left-hand one enthusiastically....
As ever, the mark had produced a good-sized greater weever to the popped-up mackerel...
Having rebaited and recasted I turned my attention to the other rod - there was a fish on but not as heavy. It turned out to be a colourful tub gurnard, here displaying its blue-fringed pectoral fins in a shallow rockpool...
More weever activity followed...
They vary a bit in appearance, but some individuals are quite colourful....
This was turning into a surprising session: one greater weever is the norm at these marks but I was now up to four! Some quite a decent eating size too - one has to be very careful to avoid getting stung when preparing them but believe me they are well worth it!
A dab provided a bit of variety!
But it was as if the sea-bed was paved with weevers. The flooding tide was close to cutting me off from the main shore so it was time to move, but not before I'd taken the weever tally up to seven. Last cast even brought a double-shot of them, seen in this rather hasty photograph. Most came to popped-up mackerel as one might expect - they are a ruthless predator - but one took unbaited beads on the retrieve and two fell to black lug.
Having sorted these two out, I gathered my stuff and hopped off the mark while I still could, jumping from rock to rock until reaching terra firma. Under the cliff, there was no breeze and the heat was stifling: by the time I got back to Borth I was feeling decidedly giddy so got hold of two litres of chilled water and drank most of it, pulling over several times on the way home for more. None of the hoped-for mackerel although the boats are now starting to find more of them and there was more seabird activity than of late, always a good sign - and in any case I had several plump weevers to put in the fridge. Time to wrap a couple of them in foil to cook for lunch then it's off to find some crabs. More soon.
July 14th update
Whatever one thinks about the Referendum, it certainly upset the weather-gods! There has been a lengthy spell of fresh to strong westerly and often nor-westerly winds due to low after low queueing up in the Atlantic. Bouts of heavy rain sent the rivers into spate - great if you're a salmon or sea-trout angler, less so if you are a shore fisherman. It is therefore with considerable relief that I can say that current forecast charts indicate an improvement, with the weather settling down into something much more fishable next week. Nice set of rising spring tides, too. I'll be out there, for sure!
The day of the vote itself, I did my duty then headed off to Aberaeron to see if I could find a smooth-hound. Not common up here but odd ones are reported from rockier beaches and you've got to be in it to win it, so, digging a dozen spare leads out of the jeep, I trudged off to the waterline. This beach is a vast expanse of boulders and weed. Even rougher than Tonfanau, it's a seriously challenging mark and people who get upset after losing a rig need not apply!
Legering crab on a single hook, there were bites from the off but not my target: instead one bull huss after another found my bait. Not of any size but still more interesting than dogfish and they put a decent bend in the rod:
Like most other anglers I know, I'm itching to get out now. Before the weather broke a couple of golden grey mullet were reported from Borth, plus schoolie and a few bigger bass - and now we can keep one a day there's the chance for a good feed. Hopefully the settling weather will bring the whole range of other species within casting range too - watch this space!
June 19th update
It was a slow start to the season this year, the first two bookings leaving me despondent as no fish were showing, although in late May a lot of anglers, including some very experienced ones, were struggling - at this time of year as the sea warms up, algal blooms can form in the shallows and they can really mess with the fishing. Having said which, on my shore-fishing trips there's usually all sorts to see and the first one of the year did not disappoint in that respect:
These are both bottlenose dolphins - a large bull on the L and a smaller individual R. The photos have caused much interest in natural history circles although opinions differ as to whether this is aggressive behaviour on the part of the bull or mere play. It certainly looked aggressive from where the three of us were standing! I've seen dolphins leaping on countless occasions but here the smaller one looks as if it is being thrown.
The second trip was with a family whose son is a wheel-chair user, this limiting the venues possible in terms of safe access. I chose the wooden jetty at Aberystwyth, which is very safe in good weather and normally holds a variety of species - none of them big but the lad just wanted to catch a fish. We had fresh maddies and soft crab for bait but there was not a sniff of interest in the two hours up to high tide. Tried all sorts of rig combinations on the several rods I had brought along: zilch. For the wooden jetty, that's unheard-of and I was bitterly disappointed for the customers. I know we all blank sometimes but there are times when it really gets you down. The water was a lot less soupy-looking than it had been but this algal problem - or May-rot as it is contemptuously called in some parts of the country - can have a profound effect inshore. Damn the stuff, thrice over!
Whitsun week finally ended with cheerier results with Martin getting his first ever bass. I took him out onto the reef at Borth and showed him how to fish it with peeler crab. The fish came on the feed into the flood, though not before I'd bagged yet another good-sized greater weever - these reef marks are certainly proving consistent in that respect. I'd just showed Martin how to deal with the weever - always useful to know - when his rod heeled over and it was fish on! It planed around the rock outcrops but he had it beat and his bass duck was well and truly broken!
We discussed lure fishing and he came back at the weekend and hooked into two more! Good to see someone developing skills that will always hold them in good stead. The fish was returned, though I fully expect Martin to be tucking into a bass supper come July, when the new regulations will allow one keeper-sized fish a day.
On the way back from the reef there was much lifeboat activity and they were joined by the rescue helicopter. It looked like a major incident was being handled but it turned out to be a joint RNLI-Coastguard exercise:
A camping weekend on the Llyn in early June's mini heatwave saw people getting just enough mackerel for a Saturday night barbecue, where I joined them just as things were getting going. At Porth Iago that afternoon I had caught a few, plus pollack and a feisty coalfish of about a pound and a half. Coalies fight ten times harder than pollack and I thought I must have a full house of large mackerel until the coalie became visible coming up through the water. The following day I returned and tried a few other spots with bait - it was too warm to do anything more strenuous! Found a few interesting new spots that I'll try again, although the catch mostly consisted of dogfish. I did manage a few nice ballan wrasse such as the one below:
The weather then got in the way of things and with the visitors going home it was a quiet period angling- and guiding-wise, with a lot of heavy thundery showers about too. Thunderstorms and angling are not a good mix so I got on with writing up a few bits of geology I had been meaning to attend to. However, a brief respite in the weather on the 18th had me thinking once again about species missing from my list and first thing that morning, armed with fresh peeler crab, I headed north to the Llyn Peninsula and Porth Dinllaen's rocky headland, to the west of Morfa Nefyn. The very end of the headland breaks up into a series of rocky islands and at high tide the water surges through the gaps between them, where people often spin for pollack, bass and mackerel.
I had other ideas and shifted round to the west-facing side where there are areas of much deeper water within casting range, although access is an energetic business involving awkward scrambling and some fishing positions need a good head for heights. Seals abound in this area but they don't put me off: if there are seals then there is seal-food in the vicinity being my train of thought.
I got set up with an old and battered beachcaster that I use for such spots, plus a Penn Surfblaster loaded with 30lbs line straight through, to try some of the steep, tackle-grabbing underwater rock further out. Rigging a simple, single hook leger with a rotten bottom attachment for the sinker, I baited up with succulent crab, cast out, let out line as the 2-oz sinker made its way down to the rocky seabed then carefully tensioned-up until the line was just tight to the rod-tip. It was a beautiful day to be there, the rock warm to the touch, firm and dry, just a light chop on the sea - just how rock fishing should be. Unfortunately, I had picked a bad day in other respects, since there was evidently a Billy Graham convention for dogfish organised for exactly the same spot. On they came - on and on. Wave upon wave. I have no idea how many were landed - it became a bit of a blur - the only memorable thing being my first instance of landing one on 10lb fluorocarbon to a size 18 hook baited with about 8mm of squid strip! You've gotta hand it to them, really, in terms of ability to detect food.
In desperation I changed rigs to one with wire booms to present the bait with more visual appeal, since wrasse hunt by sight too. This reduced the dogfish catch-rate by about half (phew!) but each one landed with said set-up involved five minutes untangling and restoring the rigs to their former glory. Around the corner, two lads were fishing the very end with lures but I saw no fish landed by them. I clipped on feathers for half a dozen casts three or four times through the day, but there was no interest at all. Water clarity wasn't bad though and terns were working the water for sandeels - always lovely to see.
Other fish, landed exclusively on the boom rigs, were few: the species were tompot blennies, ballan wrasse - nothing of any size - but finally hey presto! a cuckoo wrasse - one spectacular male and the species, my 48th from the Welsh shore, that I'd been after all day. So that one's put to bed. I doubt if I'll target them again though - whiting fight harder! Cuckoo wrasse look as though they ought to be on a tropical coral reef - there is no digital enhancement to the colour whatsoever in the photo below. They are in fact common around our seas and always have been since we've been keeping records. The reason shore anglers seldom catch them (though I've caught plenty on boats out of Aberystwyth) is that they tend to hang out in deeper water which few of our venues can access. The shallower water ecological niche is mostly taken by the ballan and corkwing wrasse that are abundant around our coasts wherever there is rocky ground. None of the wrasse family have any commercial value although ones that get caught in lobster pots will tend to be used for bait. Their chief enemies are seals and predator fish that inhabit the same ground, like conger eels.
By early evening, I was knackered from all the dogfish-winching, so I called it a day. There was a live band playing down at the Ty-Coch Inn, so the weary 1.6 km march back along the headland and down to the car-park was nicely distracted by some great-sounding Celtic folk-rock type stuff to send me on my way. If the fishing has had another slow start this year, it's certainly improving bit by bit. The next few sessions will be more local as weather and winds permit - I still have two species to go to hit the 50, but which ones will I target and how will I get on? All will be revealed in forthcoming posts....
May 27th 2016 update
It's finally warmed up appreciably! April was an often chilly month with sharp overnight frosts occurring frequently right up to the end. So how's it been fishing? Small-eyed rays and bass have been showing well from the sandy beaches, whereas off the rocks dogfish have predominated, though not as badly as in South Wales where anglers seem to have been plagued by them at times!
Although I've been busy doing a bit of written work, enquiries and bookings are now starting to come in and I've been out and about seeing what's on the move. Had a session on the rocks at Mwnt a couple of weekends ago, where I had ballan wrasse, pollack, dogs and poor-cod:
They were present in huge numbers, preventing any other small species from getting a look-in! As the name suggests, the poor-cod is a member of the cod family, but only grows to a modest size (the Welsh record from the shore is just shy of eleven ounces). But they are still interesting fish in that when grabbed by predators, they can shed their scales very easily, thereby effecting an escape and leaving the predator with a mouthful of scales!
Up on the deep-water rock-marks of the western Llyn Peninsula, things are now awakening. I landed my first few mackerel of the year last Monday, accompanied by small pollack that also go for feathers. I dropped in at Pwllheli on the way back to see if an early bream might show, fishing popped-up mackerel and squid strips plus sandeels hoping for a spotted ray, but it was a dogfest. Pin whiting and dabs were demolishing the popped-up baits and I sacked it before sunset, on the basis that there would be even more dogs after dusk!
But the summer fish are making their way into the shallower inshore waters at last. Yesterday I had a wander across the vast expanse of intertidal reef south of Borth. Normally thronged with bass anglers at this time of year, I found I had the place to myself! Perhaps this is due to the new bass regulations that state:
* Minimum size remains at 42cm
* Catch and release only, Jan 1 through June 30
* One bass per angler per 24 hours, July 1 through December 31
The good news is that the prawns are in the rock-pools and that's what the bass like to hunt, even if you have to put them back for a few more weeks. In between prawning I amused myself with a bit of LRF (light rock fishing) - it's an increasingly popular branch of angling using light gear and small lures or baits for a wide range of species, in yesterday's case dominated by that aggressive little fish, the shanny.
As the tide ebbed so that I could set up on the reef's edge, I fished at range with pop-ups baited with finest Llyn mackerel. An aggressive rod-bouncing bite made me think for a moment that I'd bagged a garfish, but after a short scrap this was landed:
A greater weever of around 38cm and a warm-season fish, so it was a welcome sight!
The greater weever is the lesser weever's bigger cousin. Counter-intuitively, it is very good eating, though you need to know what you are doing as they are just as venomous as the lesser. Venom is delivered the same way, through the five large spines on the frontal dorsal and one on each gill-cover, above the pectoral fins. Once that part of the fish is removed and thrown back for the crabs to scoff, you are left with a tasty meal. Key is to kill the fish, apply foot pressure to the head once it is definitely dead and cut the offending end off with a long bladed sharp knife. It should go without saying that you do NOT do this with bare feet! Pick up the head with pliers and drop into the sea. All of this can be done without handling the fish. The following close-ups show the dorsal spines and the gill-cover with the spine indicated by the arrow:
Greater weevers are not frequently caught from the Welsh shore, so if anybody wants one for the species-list, this area is certainly worth a try. The rocks offer access to a greater depth of water compared to the beach, so species that are not found in the surf can be encountered here - things like gurnards, for example.
In the next few days I've got a mixed ground session, a species-hunt and a reef-exploring day lined up for customers, so it'll be interesting to see the results. My own pleasure-fishing is still focussed on getting the Welsh shore species-count up to fifty - just three to go, and now the water has warmed up at long last there are glimmers of optimism on that front!
March 23rd 2016 update
This is the time of year during which most Cardigan Bay anglers hibernate. The bigger winter fish are moving offshore and the summer species are slowly arriving: by mid-April that trickle of fish becomes a bit more noticeable in most years unless it's especially cold.
I'll be starting the guiding in the middle of next month as the chance of catching improves. Although the new bass regulations (see January update) will apply, there should still be some good fishing, not only for bass but for rays, turbot and other species as the summer months draw closer. It's also an ideal time for beginners as the weather starts to warm up - far better to learn whilst not shivering to death!
I've been out a couple of times in the past couple of weeks. On the 15th I had a recce south of Aberystwyth's popular Tan-y-Bwlch Beach. Here, a shallow reef stretches for several miles southwards. It's an interesting area that has yielded good bass to me in the past. The main snag is that it only uncovers properly on the bigger tides and the fishing window is very small. By contrast the reef south of Borth offers a good three hours fishing on most tides.
The reef does feature some impressive rock formations though!
Afterwards I fished the incoming tide from the main beach. As night fell, small whiting arrived in their hordes, tearing up baits within minutes of them hitting the water. Not even the dogfish were getting a look-in. But towards the end of the session, I had a slightly different kind of bite, resulting in this small-eyed ray, the first of 2016 and a welcome sight after all the whiting. Not a big one, but a pleasing catch nevertheless.
On the 21st, I celebrated the Spring Equinox with a chilly session on Aberystwyth's Stone Jetty - a great venue alive with all sorts of species later in the year. On this occasion it was very quiet despite the water being reasonably clear. It's just the time of year. I had a shanny, a dogfish and this pot-bellied five bearded rockling - a disappointing result but better than blanking, a frequent outcome in March.
So like everyone else, I'm very much looking forward to the arrival of the warmer weather and all that entails in terms of fish species and sessions on the beautiful Cardigan Bay coast - the rays at Borth and Pwllheli, the bass, the mackerel and pollack on the rocks out west and, in between guiding, continuing with the challenge of 50 species from the Welsh shore. I'm currently on 47 and have drawn up a shortlist of targets which I'll be attempting to catch - I'll update as to how that goes on here.
January 25th 2016 update
The rough weather continues, although there has been the odd breather in the form of brief ridges of high pressure coming by. Out there, when it has been possible to get out, catches have been dominated by whiting, with a few dabs, dogs and rockling thrown in. Talking to fellow anglers up and down the Cardigan Bay coast, codling have hardly shown this season, though that may be a function of the limited amount of fishing time that has been available. One evening at Tywyn I tried hard to tempt one, but the whiting were like piranhas out there: a whole whiting bait lasted a matter of minutes and they were taking whole squid baits on 5/0 hooks. Just as well I like eating them! Very mild, too: it was 15C last night well after sundown. The forecast suggests it'll be tricky to find fishable slots for the forseeable future.
Looking ahead, and some readers will have heard of this, there are some fairly stringent bass-protection measures for 2016 that can be summarised thus:
* Minimum size remains at 42cm
* Catch and release only, Jan 1 through June 30
* One bass per angler per 24 hours, July 1 through December 31.
In other words I can still teach people the techniques of bass-fishing but until the end of June they'll have to go back. The law's the law. However, one way to look at this is that if you want the odd bass for the pot, you can learn in the spring and early summer and then you've got all the rest of the summer to put the techniques into use. Personally I think there are a lot of other species that are just as tasty - and fresh mackerel are unbeatable in my books.
This season's guiding will be starting in earnest in mid-April, although if the weather settles down before that then I'll be out and about looking for various obscure species for the list: 3 to go and I'm on 50 from the Welsh shore, so I might get a bit obsessive about that!