Shore Fishing on the Cardigan Bay Coast of Mid-Wales
August 15th update
Been a while since I reported back, during which a prolonged heatwave caused the fishing to slow up but mid-July onwards saw a marked improvement - before some rough weather liberated lots of seaweed into the water!
July 5th I travelled up to Pwllheli to fish the beach from 7pm-11pm, with Ian Herbert-Jones and his father. I know the place can blow hot and cold but on this occasion it was stone cold dead! A number of anglers were strung out along the beach but as the evening went on, all rod-tips stayed actionless. But the customers certainly learned the techniques that (normally) work at this venue, even though it was a thoughtful drive back home in the dead of night, pondering over the reason that everybody failed.
Shore fishing newcomer Ben Hughes was next in the book, for July 14th. I chose Borth as the venue and was encouraged that a bit of onshore wind was forecast, meaning for the first time in ages that there would be surf. We walked a fair distance north towards Aberdyfi, to get away from the crowds, although I expected they would thin out as the evening wore on and that they did, mostly.
Ben's response to my demonstration of how to cast was a straight-as-a-die 50m lob into the surf. I like students like this! Further, something took a fancy to his ragworm in under a minute. He missed that bite but not the next one:
And that set the scene for the evening - one school-bass after another. There was either nothing else around or the schoolies were simply outcompeting other species for the bait. I lost count of the number landed and, of course, returned.
Fishing died off at high water and we wandered back to the road, along the top of the shingle bank, as dusk gathered. As we trudged along, I kept getting a whiff of burning and soon afterwards, we found out why. Someone had used a disposable barbecue and then, having finished, had simply tipped it upside down, still full of incandescent coals, onto dry sand full of bits of driftwood, less than a metre away from the bone-dry marram-grass of Ynyslas Dunes:
I turned it over with the tip of my boot before taking the above photo. And people wonder how wildfires start? Luckily I had a 2-litre water-bottle with me so used it to bring seawater. The first 2 litres of water poured onto the sand and stones simply billowed off as steam and a few refills had to be got to dampen down the area properly. The Dunes are a National Nature Reserve!
That aside, it was good to see all those bass and the following Saturday I organised Sam and his mate Brendan into being fishing machines while Jo, Sam's mother, enjoyed the sunshine and a book! These two 12-year old lads worked their way through a quarter of ragworm in two hours, landed nine bass to around a pound and missed several bites. School-bass are a very obliging beginner's fish as they do not require long casts and they keep people alert - you have to pay attention to their fast rattly bites.
On the 26th and 27th I was with Paul Thompson, showing him around the area. We began on the evening of the 26th at Tonfanau, but cut the session short as the venue was plagued by rafts of floating weed. The stuff was an absolute pain and although we moved until we found a spot that was fishable for a while, only a single schoolie came to the beach. The sunset was about the only good bit of the trip!
Paul and I had a re-rendezvous the following evening at Aberystwyth, fishing a remarkably quiet Stone Jetty as the tide flooded in. Even here the weed was a nuisance (though nowhere near as bad as Tonfanau). Dropping over the side with small ragworm baits, we managed a few species but again it was slow. The Stone Jetty is normally fast-and-furious. Casting out onto the stony, weedy Harbour bed, we picked up 5-bearded rocklings and this green eel. For once, the eel didn't completely trash my rig! Note the accompanying "salad"....
A father-and-son team then arrived, the father fishing on the seaward side and the lad dropping a prawn pot down the other. I stayed on for half an hour, to see what the pot might contain when hauled back up. Dozens of shore crabs (unsurprisingly) but also a lot of shannies - fish that had refused the ragworm offered a while back! Shannies normally fight over rag baits here. Weird stuff.
The evening of August 4th saw me back at Borth, with Charles, who was interested in catching a ray or a turbot. He managed both - unfortunalely the turbot was just 2cm undersized! The ray was caught at nightfall and was only a couple of pounds or so, but good to see a bit of variety at last.
August 7th saw another short 2-hour family "taster" session at Tywyn. After the success with Jo and Sam and Brendan at Borth, I had decided to offer this package as part of the trip portfolio(see trips page) - the shortness is ideal for kids, who naturally have shorter attention spans than seasoned anglers. With the walk there and back and setting up/tackling down it probably amounts to about 1.5 hours of actual fishing time, during which I do all baiting and casting if required, so it is a leisurely activity at an affordable price. At range the weed was still present but there was some fishable surf closer-in and James Bailey and family had an interesting time, landing a few school-bass, with a flounder to my rod, and learning the ways of the sea.
The focus in the coming weeks will be Borth, since I will soon have daytime work helping to manage Ynyslas Dunes National Nature Reserve, for a few weeks: this job will involve working at weekends but the evenings will be free for fishing trips and it is coming towards the main turbot and ray time of year. Best evening low tides for these will be August 17-19, 30-31, September 1-4, 14-18 and 29-30. I have also done well on both on ebbing tides for which August 20-21, September 5-6 and 18-19 look good, although weather/sea conditions are critical. I'm also hoping that conditions settle a bit so that the mackerel may finally show - shore catches have been infrequent, to put it mildly, so far.
June 3rd update
Been a while since the last update - have been busy with my geological research but had a bunch of trips booked at the back-end of Whitsun week, so thought it was high time for a round-up.
Another teaching session on April 14th, with Micael Apichella of Aberystwyth, saw a rather lazy sea which was producing what could just about be referred to as a surf. The very bright conditions were not at all promising, but beginner sessions are all about learning your watercraft and the time soon went as we discussed rigs and how to fish different conditions. As expected, Borth regulars were landed in the form of small flatfish like this turbot and, further out as usual, dabs....
More unusually, I put a bait out to maximum range and caught this long-spined sea-scorpion! I do not recall ever catching one of these from Borth sands before - one normally regards them as fish that frequent stony, weedy grounds. Perhaps there are isolated patches of rougher ground out there, 150m beyond the low water mark on a 4.5m tide.
With the research field-geological mapping rapidly becoming compromised by the surging vegetation, I spent a lot of time in late April-early May trudging about to try and get everything completed. This is always a quiet time of year for bookings, so I made the most of the downtime to get such things done - and also to prepare for the coming season. At times during this period, there were good surf conditions and others reported some decent small-eyed ray catches.
Well into May and settled weather arrived. This looked promising as sea-temperatures badly needed a boost, after the shockingly cold spring. After a few warm days I wondered if any summer species had arrived off Borth reef so had a wander out there, picked a suitable finger of rock and set up with my pop-up rigs:
The sea was very coloured close-in but clearer ar range - you can see the colour change in the image above. But all I had for my trouble was dabs:
...and dogs. No sign of any greater weevers or gurnards. Nice afternoon out, though, after this long winter!
Next I tried the beach again. Little in the way of surf, just dabs at long range but the weather-gods provided an awesome bit of light as the sun was setting.
An old friend, Brolly from South Wales, was up in the district Whitsun week and had booked me for a look around. First trip on May 31st was an extensive recce around the Llyn Peninsula. An early morning start saw us on a rock-platform near Pwllheli in idyllic conditions:
Brolly wanted to 100% focus upon lure-fishing, while I tried bait. This first mark can fish well but on this occasion the sea-bed was carpeted in filamentous brown weed - horrid gloopy stuff that was all over my rigs every time I retrieved them. It gets like this sometimes in May if the weather has been warm. Garfish attacked Brolly's lures but he didn't hook-up on this occasion. Shortly afterwards, we headed out west for deeper water and rocky ground, at Porth Iago. Here, the pollack were obliging:
I had a try to see if the mackerel had arrived - they are incredibly late this year. No joy, but one almighty take had me pumping the rod at times - it felt quite interesting until the fish broke surface and turned out to be four fat little pollack in the 25-40cm range!
Trying various baits, all that could be tempted were dogfish. I often follow the reports of local club-matches up there and whenever they fish this mark, dogs make up at least 75% of most catches. But pollack and dogs are better than nothing!
June arrived with a heavy and noisy morning thunderstorm. Lightning repeatedly flickered over the Dyfi Estuary and the surrounding hills. I worried about what effect this might have on the fishing, since Jim Pike and his lad had booked an evening session. With the beaches devoid of surf I decided the Estuary was the only alternative and we met up there to be greeted by dense sea-fog that had us putting our coats on - it was quite chilly for the time of year. We fished down to low with lures and tried legered soft crab on the flood. And guess who outfished the two of us?
Only a school-bass but still a nice handful for a youngster on such light gear. Nothing was interested in the crab - unusually - and I was really starting to think the lightning, a few hours previously, might have spooked a lot of the fish.
Next morning I met Brolly at first light for a low tide lures session in the same area. The pea-soup sea-fog of the previous evening had cleared but it was cool and a bit drizzly. But that wasn't going to stop a couple of die-hards like us. We wandered out along the estuary's northern side before stopping a few tens of yards apart to see what was around:
I was in a bit later with a schoolie on a slimline wedge:
Then another on a small Dexter wedge. Such lures work well here as they cast a long way and there is a vast expanse of water to explore, even at low tide.
Brolly came over. He had already caught a flounder on a lure flicked along the sea-bed and was soon into another bass:
The flood-tide, by contrast, was quiet. I had a nice garfish jump clean out of the water when my lure landed right next to it and we had a few follows but no hook-ups. Visibility at present is as clear as it ever gets, perhaps giving the fish that extra time to study their quarry and conclude it is not in fact a baitfish! Some bigger bass have been showing to the boats, but judging from the reports I have read, the fishing is not yet consistent.
That evening, I met Ben Jones and family for another go on the opposite bank. The contrast in conditions could not have been greater:
Thunderheads inland did nothing to dampen our enthusiasm on this occasion!
Legered soft crab this time had the schoolies feeding, so for the second time in 24 hours a young lad had his first bass - and his first sea-caught fish. Ten minutes later he hooked and landed a second one! The sharply aggressive bites also meant a few missed takes, but he was well happy with his catch and I fully expect the Joneses to become active sea-anglers from now on, judging by the enthusiasm shown.
So a nice start to the main season. I hear rumours of a few mackerel starting to show to the boats, too, so the long, drawn-out cold spring has finally, it seems, come to an end. The sea-temperature at Aberystwyth is currently a healthy 12.2C - that's more like it. Forecast models suggest settled conditions to continue with just a few interruptions from thunderstorms on certain days, so I think I might explore a few rough ground areas as time and weather permit. The surf will be back at some point, which I'm looking forward to, as I have an experimental rig I want to test. More about that later. In the meantime, I'll be out in earnest, whether booked or not, the week after next. Bigger tides and the long-awaited reappearance of onshore winds should combine to change the beach-fishing markedly for the better! I will let you all know how it goes.
April 10th update
I've just looked at the Aberystwyth sea surface temperature and at 8.3C it's still low, but last Thursday it was only 7.8C! That's a value more typical for early March. With the prospect of warmer weather in the coming weeks, Cardigan Bay should finally catch up. This spring has been remarkably cold with a trough of Polar origin air almost stuck over the UK for week upon week. We have been the best part of four weeks behind normal.
All of which I explained to young couple Luke and Amber on April 5th on a gloriously sunny Tywyn Prom when I gave them a beginners' fishing lesson. Locals had hardly caught anything of late and I knew we would be scratching about for any fish. We spent an hour going through all the various bits of tackle and different rigs, another hour getting their casting into shape and then met for a late afternoon fish down to low water.
Large mackerel baits soon revealed that no turbot were around, despite the tidy surf. The sea was cold to the touch. Out to the west, darkening skies heralded an incoming front, although the forecast winds of up to force 7 would not arrive until later that evening. Indeed, conditions were the closest to idyllic since the beginning of the new year:
So scratching it was to be, not that I was surprised. I chose the ever-reliable razorfish, of which I always keep a stock in the freezer: small sections of siphon mounted on size 2 hooks on 1 up-1 down rigs with a bit of bling added. And thankfully, that worked! Here's Luke with his first sea-fish, a respectable flounder of 37cm:
Shortly afterwards, a school-bass found the razor:
I was dead chuffed to see these two fish following so many reports of blanks! Normally they would be fairly typical for a late March session but not this year.
The front continued to approach and with it the wind slowly got up to a steady breeze, but there were some spectacular skies to go with that:
All part of the fun - as a weather-photographer I can indulge two passions at once when fishing!
Packing-up time arrived - it now felt cold in the wind and we walked back to the car-park briskly. Later, some friends fished on into darkness and landed a school bass and a whiting - a species that should have moved out weeks ago. But the coming warmth should see several species turning up in these shallow waters that, despite being easy to chill, do warm up fast when the air temperatures hit the mid-teens and the sun does its thing. It'll then be the time to pore over the charts for wind and swell, looking for promising tides where the sea-conditions favour rays and turbot. They cannot be far away now. More soon....
March 24th Update
The photo below says it all! This has been a prolonged late winter with a number of very cold spells, two involving significant snowfall. I had a wander around Ynyslas at the end of February - with the camera of course:
Not often you see snow on the storm-beach:
Sun trying to break through:
Out on the sand itself there were some interesting new gullies revealed at low tide:
We sea-anglers don't really like easterlies as they do tend to kill off the fishing, but the one on March 3rd was something else altogether, doing fairly major damage all along the coasts of North and West Wales. At Ynyslas, an 89 knot (102.5 mph) gust was recorded that morning, which is seriously violent. In Tywyn, just up the coast, people were trapped indoors because of the flying slates and at least one building was unroofed. The same weather wreaked havoc in the Marina at Holyhead, where many boats were damaged or destryoed. These were katabatic winds flowing down the seaward slopes of the hills and the valleys, but I cannot recall anything that strong before, especially at low altitudes.
Like many other local anglers I'm itching to get out as the new season is fast approaching. How it begins will depend on temperatures: these need to increase and stay up so that bait-fish and other prey become active rather than lurking in the depths of the sand. Few reports are coming in and they have involved small whiting and the odd dogfish - late February-March has always been the quietest time of year on the shallow beaches of Cardigan Bay. Some better reports are coming in from the much deeper waters off the Anglesey rock-marks - depth shields the ecosystem from the worst of the cold.
First to arrive will be the rays and turbot, accompanied by flounders and bass - and dogfish, but we can avoid them by fishing close-in when there's an onshore wind and a nice surf running. I'm looking for a week or so with temperatures +10C and not falling too much overnight, then spring will have officially arrived! So in the meantime it's a case of sorting out rigs, checking through the gear and watching the calendar! Come on, weather-gods!