Shore Fishing on the Cardigan Bay Coast of Mid-Wales
September 4th 2017 update
Some more settled conditions have allowed a few sessions of late although mostly solo trips, with surprisingly little competition for space on the reef-marks. Wondering where everybody is - customers and other anglers alike!
On August 25th I went for a wander out on the reef at Borth. The sea was still quite gnarly and heavily coloured for about 30yds out, so I banged out a pop-up rig to see what might be at range in the clearer looking water. Not a sausage! I had taken a heavy rod with me to try for a tope, but with sizable waves hitting the front of the reef, in the very remote event of hooking anything big and toothy, the chances of dealing with it without damage (either to me, it or both) seemed poor. Hmm. What to do? Well, dirty water deserves dirty bait, I thought. And bass start munching squid baits around this time of year. So I had a rummage through the bait bucket and found some unwashed squid about 3" long that had gone pink but were not over-manky, tied one to a 5/0 circle-hook and lobbed it out 15yds. Half an hour later I replaced what little the crabs had left and cast out again. This time I struck into a good bite within minutes and up came this plump 51cm fish:
Very unusually with a circle hook it had gut-hooked itself and on its other side was bleeding badly from the gills, so it got clonked on the head. I tied on another squid and got another good bite, but this one craftily managed to remove both squid and elastic! Trouble was they were taking baits so hard and swallowing them, so that I was concerned about more gut-hooking. So with my daily bass-quota in the bag and nothing happening at range over the sand, I walked off the mark and went foraging instead.
A couple of days later I was doing some research fieldwork in Snowdonia so before heading home I popped over to Pwllheli for a few hours. There were rafts of weed close to the waterline and I could see they were thwarting people who were spinning by Gimblet Rock - always a busy spot - so I opted to fish pop-up rigs at long range, with mackerel belly on the top and squid or mackerel on the bottom, hoping to find a black bream. Next thing, a speedboat with people fishing turned up and hung around 50 yds out - they's got miles of sea at their beck and call and they chose to go there, of all places! But I figured they'd all be home for tea soon and they indeed cleared off in due course and it was time to concentrate.
I was getting the odd rattly bite, although the only times I connected with these, it was not bream but lesser weevers. But the mackerel arrived - out there anyway - I only saw one caught closer in. They included this hefty specimen which gave a good account of itself. After sunset it went quiet and the weed started to show more, so I bailed out with a bag of fish for the drive home - it had been a pleasant few hours.
Mackerel seem to have become an autumn fish in recent years, being thin on the ground in the summer months then arriving mob-handed. This year seems to be no exception and on September 1st I went to get some fresh food/bait from Nature's larder. Wandering along, I stopped to photograph a chough on the nearby cliff, when it obligingly scratched its head for me!
Usual Borth reef tactics with pop-ups, although only one mackerel resulted - and this large spider-crab.
It was a neap tide, which made for a short fishing window at this mark - a lot of the reef never uncovered fully. But I had a Plan B on the walk back...
Here, the sea was boiling with mackerel and I soon had what I wanted, so I sat back with the camera to enjoy the spectacle:
The following evening I had a booking with Les, a repeat customer who I had introduced to rock fishing on the Llyn Peninsula in 2015. This time it was Borth Beach and bass, ray and turbot tactics. He fished fresh mackerel and frozen squid, rather than ragworm, because it was the larger fish we wanted, but the first couple of hours were slow with a small turbot and mackerel to pop-ups and nothing on the big baits. Towards the end of the session though the better fish came to feed, with a nice small-eyed ray followed by a bass on consecutive casts on squid.
So that was a reasonably good introduction to Borth. I think had we stayed on, we would have caught more but Les is a doctor and had to start a shift early the next day, so we packed up at half past eleven. Since then, the weather has cut up a little rougher but the charts show several windows in the coming week or two - surf fishing looks like the order of the day.
August 20th 2017 update
This darned weather! Conditions have never really settled into the prolonged anticyclonic set-up needed to improve water clarity, heavy rain has kept rivers high and coloured and gales at times have meant fishing opportunities have been restricted to narrow windows.
With cabin fever coming on, last Sunday I went down to Borth as winds had fallen light. The beach was busy but I followed the ebbing tide out onto the reef where it was quieter. Coloured water with floating seaweed greeted me but it didn't look too bad so I blasted a popped-up bit of mackerel belly out to long range to get into clearer water. Only a few other anglers around:
Soon the rod tip was rattling and hey presto!
Worm baits on the sand brought forth dabs, mostly small, though spider crabs were a nuisance...
I fished the mackerel head and guts close-in on heavy gear. One good take, but which promptly dropped the bait. The other anglers were catching a few small school bass but a quiet afternoon and evening by this mark's standards. The sunset was good, though - as was the mackerel the following morning!
I'd had an enquiry a few days before from an angler who had done most other things apart from shore-fishing. Tuesday 15th looked to be the only decent weather-window of the week so we went for an evening-into-night session at Borth, to ensure minimal disturbance from the day-trippers. First job, it turned out, was to find water without too much floating weed, so I had a prolonged wade around until I was satisfied that we had a chance. Out went the sandeel baits to see if any bass were in the good-looking surf.
Sean was in straight away with a good rattle - that turned out to be a medium sized flounder with a big appetite. His first shore-caught fish so he was chuffed about that. Soon my rod gave a couple of nods followed by the tell-tale lurch of a ray taking off with the bait. It wasn't a big one and was soon ashore:
And that set the scene for the evening. Sean was in next:
The sunset was a stunner:
And on they came:
Sean was 4-3 ahead when I had a serious bite and a tremendous scrap then followed for a few minutes, in which I had to give line on occasion, resulting in this beauty:
Satisfied with that specimen and not wanting to hog the bigger fish, I switched to lug after that to see what else might be around but nothing. Sean carried on adding to his tally - not bad for a first shore trip!
By 11.30pm it had gone distinctly chilly, despite the jackets we were both wearing. A stiff breeze was getting stronger and weed started to get problematic, so we called it a night. The final score was 9 rays and a flounder - a successful snatched session on a rare perfect evening in what has been a tough summer weatherwise. There are signs on the charts though that things may calm down for a few lengthier spells in the coming weeks. I'll most certainly be on the case and if anyone wants a taste of the excellent beach fishing this coast has on offer, then just holler!
July 26th 2017 update
It's a funny thing but this year is starting to look identical to last, with an early flurry of bookings then a dead quiet July. Obviously hoping things will pick up into August and also hoping this rather unsettled weather eases off a bit. There's been some unseasonal windy and wet weather, enough to get the seaweed up and floating in the water and proving to be a major pain for anglers. Let's hope that clears soon because there are certainly fish out there to be caught, although just like last year the mackerel are thin on the ground. Last week I had a couple of days of work to do on the Llyn Peninsula, collecting some rock samples for the National Trust's visitor centre at Aberdaron. I coincided it with a brief two-day heatwave and camped up at Mynydd Mawr in order to be on the case first thing the next day. In the evening I walked down to Trwyn Maen Melyn (illustrated below in early morning light). I feathered and feathered and in the end was thankful for a pollack of a pound and a half that made a passable supper. Even though this is the most heavily fished mark in the area I was expecting better than that!
Violent thunderstorms arrived the following night so I was glad I went up when I did.
The nest few days saw lots of heavy showers and quite a bit of thunder - hardly ideal for fishing. But on the 25th I saw a window of opportunity between one low pressure system moving away and the next one arriving. It was very busy everywhere but I figured I might find somewhere to wet a line on the reef south of Borth. Leaving the busy beach, I set off along the reef, with the crowds thinning to nothing by the time I was nearing my preferred area:
Unfortunately my first choice of marks was already taken - this is often the case at Borth in summer, where visitors and locals alike hunt the bass with prawns, caught in the rock-pools, as bait. It's an old and time-honoured tradition here.
I pressed on southwards, carefully skirting some unstable areas of the tall cliffs. Watch it if you are fishing this area as these rock-slides are active and should be given a wide berth. On the upper RHS of the photo below there's plenty waiting to come down. Fortunately on an ebbing tide you can get well out of range!
The next mark I had in mind was free, so I set up and banged out pop-ups on both rods. The sea was a bit coloured but a mate had caught a few mackerel afloat that morning and not too far offshore, so it had to be worth a hopeful punt. No mackerel, no greater weevers, no gurnards, nada. Had a few little rattles and a mate who fished the taken mark a couple of days ago had contacted a few pin whiting, so I assumed that was what they were.
Low water came and went and all I was catching was sunburn. As the flood got going I figured it was time to deploy my secret weapon - two soft crabs and one peeler I had in the bait bucket, on one rod, fished close in among the gullied rocks. Meanwhile another angler turned up on the other side of the gully with light gear and although I couldn't see what he was using for bait, he quickly started catching and returning tiny schoolies, time and again.
I thought I was into a fish when the rod pulled over sharply but he had over-cast my line and was reeling in my rig!
So, with the soft crab still useable, and not wanting conflict, next cast I put some distance between me and him, aiming just beyond and to the left side of a large bluff of rock, some ten metres offshore, so that the bait would be three metres or so beyond its other side, on clean ground. After twenty minutes or so there was a sharp rattle and I had a bass on - just a small schoolie, which jumped clear of the surface and threw the hook! Time to start holding the rod: next cast I was in and a schoolie of about a pound and a half was landed and put back quickly, so that was the blank beaten!
By this point, I was down to half a large soft crab and one peeler. The next two casts saw the baits marmalised by schoolies - they are adept at this task and there are a lot of them around this year. So I now had half a peeler left and bits of leg, claw etc, so the lot went on and schoolie-knocks started immediately. I ignored them, they stopped - was there any bait left?? Next thing, BANG! The rod hooped over and the line kited around to the right - you guessed it - behind the rocky bluff!
However, all was not lost. The tide was rising quickly now and the occasional swell was running up over the bluff. I would have to keep the rod high (big advantage in using a long rod) to maintain straight contact with the fish, which was headbanging like a Motorhead fan, and time things for a bigger swell, hoping the hook-hold was good. It was, in due course an especially useable wave obliged and over it came, fairly played-out by now, so it was easy to land:
The tide was now rising very fast and it was coming towards time to make tracks. I decided to keep the bass for eating so killed and cleaned it and set off to get it home and in the fridge nice and quickly. I don't eat many bass but one like this is an ideal size for a couple of meals, has already bred and is legal to keep - as long as you don't take more than one per day. 42 centimetres is the minimum size these days but a 50-plus will have almost certainly spawned at least once.
Elsewhere, black bream are being caught at Pwllheli (when weather and weed permit) and a few smooth-hounds have been caught at marks south of Aberystwyth, among the resident doggies and huss - and beaches are giving plenty of schoolies whenever there's surf. So despite the lack of decent mackerel shoals there's still plenty out there to fish for - not sure what I'll target next. A Cardigan Bay smoothie would be a nice catch for the species list but bream fishing can be fun - guess I'll have to try both at some point! Still to get a sole too, not for lack of trying although bad weather has hampered efforts of late. Evening beach sessions have been dominated by the schoolies and flounders, although I also had a tub gurnard off the sand during one trip - unusual to see in the shallows. Here it is, swimming off:
So, weather permitting, hopefully a few more interesting fish will be encountered during the weeks to come. I'll update this diary accordingly!
July 5th 2017 update
The weather remained unsettled into early July although a three-day minor heatwave is now underway. Having no bookings over the first weekend of the month I thought I'd take advantage of an early afternoon weather window to try out a rig that I've put together that involves streamlined spinning-weights in order to nail each hook-length hard to the sea-bed. It's a variant on the sole rigs that the south coast specialists use and since the odd sole has been reported in recent days I was keen to have a go, but needed to test the rig first before committing to a long night. I popped into Aberystwyth, where parking was a nightmare, but in due course got my fresh ragworm and headed down to Borth and away from the madding crowds. A neap tide so fishing over high would offer some depth of water, albeit not much, and the sea had a good chop, although the buffetting winds meant having to keep the rods low and side-on, and thereby prone to weed in the water. But I found a clearer patch down at the Village end, after a false start or two and a bit of walking, and fished there.
It didn't take long to learn I had landed at a fishy spot. The rod-tips started rattling and pulling around as the school bass arrived mob-handed:
They were insterspersed with the odd flounder:
Slightly better but way off the current 42cm minimum size:
Bigger flounder but not one for the pot! They can still be a bit rakish at this time of year - late autumn into winter is the best time for table fish.
This triple shot got my bass score from 13 to 16 in one cast - it was more like catching mackerel!
Number 17 and the best of the session:
A great session, not for quality of fish but for being busy: 17 bass and 3 flounders in total over 2.5 hours of mayhem, before intermittent drizzly showers gave way to full-on wind-driven rain, at which point it didn't take much to persuade me to quit while I was ahead! Some anglers don't rate neap tides highly but I reckon they are still worth a go if the water's got a bit of life in it: they just limit the sort of marks that can be fished, like the shallow intertidal reefs where the tidal window becomes too short to do much.
Encouraging to see so many bass - I just hope all anglers keep to the minimum size and remember that it's just one keeper a day per person from now to the New Year. The fish I caught and which went back like energetic little torpedoes are the 5-pounders of the coming years, but they won't be if people take them. Apart from any moral considerations, to do so is illegal and fisheries officers are enforcing the rules
So the rig works - it performed seamlessly and the fish were not put off by the added weights. All fish were neatly lip-hooked on the sharp size 6 Kamasan B940s, so were unhooked and released in moments. It only remains now to commit to a few night tides and see if I can get one of those elusive sole!
June 25th 2017 update
Well it was good to get out guiding again after the chaos of an unlooked-for house move towards the end of May involving many days of packing and then getting everything put away tidily, which seemed to take forever! In the meantime, summer well and truly arrived with some of the highest temperatures recorded in Mid-Wales for many years, although it has been short-lived, with a reversion back to Atlantic-driven weather systems in recent days, with a near-gale at times accompanied by a lot of rain. Despite such inconveniences, I've had a few trips with beginners of late and although fish have not been prolific, we've caught on two trips out of the three. Here's young Sam at Borth, reeling in his first ever fish, while his mate Ben's parents look on!
Had to intervene at this point! Grab a newly landed bass around the middle and you soon learn what its spiny dorsal fin is for! Quickly unhooked and returned after this photo. Crab was the bait that worked - unusually for Borth Beach, where it is not highly rated, at least away from the rocks.
The same trip produced flounders to ragworm but there was no sign of the rays or turbot.
Next trip was with four beginners for a night-tide at a local beach. The mid-June heatwave was now well and truly underway with Mediterranean temperatures by day and I wanted us to have the beach to ourselves and for that to be more likely, the nocturnal approach would be best. The sunset was beautiful:
Ragworm proved to be the killer bait on the night with sandeel coming second. Despite being beginners, they caught on quickly and were soon baiting their rigs and casting with ease, although there were a few tangles to keep me busy! Although the lads missed a few good bites, they contacted with some others:
Bass and later on a bonus ray on the sandeel. A small turbot was also landed. All fish were of course returned: it's several days to go until one bass per day per angler can be retained for eating - after July 1st.
As the night wore on the swell got up a lot and whilst busy sorting out another tangle a particularly large wave knocked over my seat-box, filling it with water and sand! So a late homecoming had to be followed by a sort-out, rinsing my hooks in fresh water then putting them to dry on loo-roll. Hooks dunked in salt water will rust quickly if neglected. No harm done though and I slept like a log afterwards.
After the heatwave finally gave way to fresher conditions on June 22nd, I met up with an American bass angler who now lives in Mid Wales and we fished a mixed ground mark. I had gathered fresh crab the previous low tide (and got drenched in a power-shower from a developing thunderstorm for my sins) and was confident that we could dink out a fish or two from a mark that has given me plenty of good bass over the years. We fished hard for four hours - and blanked! The trouble is, the bass decide where they're going to hang out on any given day. Boat anglers seem to be intercepting more of them, although the mackerel are yet to arrive inshore. That we didn't even get one of the medium-sized huss that frequent these grounds, or see any of the usually ever-present dogfish, suggested that the heatwave had affected the mark, perhaps facilitating an algal bloom: the water was rather cloudy, although it didn't smell bad.
A similar theme has continued in recent days with local anglers landing mostly small school bass. With unsettled but not too windy conditions persisting, the deep water rock-marks on the Llyn Peninsula will be unpleasantly slippery but there should be fishable surf on the beaches and I hear that some decent black bream are being caught from the Pwllheli area, so I might raid the piggy-bank and fit in a session up there one day soon.
May 10th 2017 update
About time, I thought, to go and catch some Llyn air (and hopefully fish), so on Monday morning I set out, calling for some extra bait at the Tackle Box in Criccieth. We got chatting and I learned that a few spotted ray were being caught locally, so with plenty of time at hand I went down to the beach to drown some sandeels:
Blazing sunshine and a buffeting NE wind, curling round the rock and threatening to blow the rods over at times, dampened my hopes but I gave it two biteless (even crabless) hours and continued on westward. Got to Penrhyn Mawr and wandered down to an empty mark. There were tell-tale signs of mackerel, with lots of scales covering one area of rock plus discarded feather packets (now removed), but try as I might (and I tried hard since this was supposed to be supper-catching), all I managed were a few small pollack to about 14oz. Neither feathers nor red sabikis could tempt anything else.
Luckily I had some bread rolls and butter with me, so got to the campsite, pitched the tent, had said uninspiring supper and wandered up Mynydd Gwyddel with a bottle of Red and glass and sat watching and listening to the riptides as the light faded.
It's something I do every time I stay up there. Often you have quite a bit of company!
After a good night's kip I surfaced early the next morning and after a brew I set out for another try. I like this campsite since you can base yourself there and just wander at will with no need to drive, find places to park and all that hassle.
I chose the "easy mark" at St Mary's Well Bay, the one that is crowded through the summer months, and had it to myself. The mark usually offers a number of fishing options. The only problem was the swell that had gotten up overnight. There's always a chop here on the flood but this time it was a bit more than that...
I normally fish from the outcrops to the left! Dry for ten minutes at a time, then suddenly engulfed by huge waves - this swell was not only big but, more seriously, very unpredictable.
Finding a comfy spot high enough to be out of harm's way I fished and fished, again alternating feathers and sabikis, until finally:
Nice size, too. By then the hunger-pangs were making themselves felt so I trotted back up to the campsite and got breakfast on. I sweated garlic, spring onions and paprika in butter then did a production-line on the fillets... it was the best breakfast ever!
After stuffing myself to the gills to make up for the meagre offerings the previous evening, it was time to think about the next session. It was clearly too dangerous to fish for anything else from these rocks and mackerel would only go off in the warm weather so there was no point in catching more of them, so I cleared out from the campsite and went straight to the next item on the agenda - Gimblet Rock at Pwllheli.
It was like the Mediterranean there! But I can think of worst places to spend a sunny afternoon so I fished it three down and three up. one rod with legered sandeel sections in hope of the elusive spotted ray, the other with various rigs and hook sizes/baits, to see what else might be about.
A steady stream of the resident small dabs on the scratching rod, guaranteed every time I tried frozen black lugworm. Nothing else, not to popped up, paternostered or legered baits on hooks from size 2 down to size 14. It's still a bit early in the season, I told myself.
On the sandeel rod I had a solitary dogfish and this:
That's a first for me there but have heard of others being caught. A good size and a good munch - had it for breakfast this morning.
To conclude, slow fishing but a great trip all the same. Had the swell been smaller and more predictable I could have tried for the bigger pollack, but no fish can justify an angler taking silly risks. But the fishing isn't everything - it's just good to get offline for 36 hours, away from the news and the rest of the artificial world and back out into the real one. I like the Llyn Peninsula for the variety of fishing that it offers and will be back up there soon, anticipating the arrival of more summer species.
May 6th 2017 update
Boy am I looking forward to getting out there again soon! We have had some nasty overnight frosts followed by a strong easterly that has blown several days on the trot. Prior to that, a few fish were being caught from the local beaches - bass, small-eyed rays, flounders and turbot and we do not seem to be suffering from the dogfish plague being reported from the South Wales venues. But everything needs to warm up a little more. There are some big tope around, although you need a boat to get to them. A friend recently boated one well over 60lbs, a few miles off Aberdyfi - a superb fish.
Only one road-trip of late, a few weeks ago when I had a species-session on Holyhead Breakwater, fishing the murderously rough ground on the outside. Target was a specimen three-bearded rockling, a fish that has curiously eluded me for years, but the smaller shore rocklings were there in vast numbers, pouncing on any bait offered. I'll be back, though, next time I fancy a dose of masochism! I've had some good fish along there over the years and it's a great venue later in the year for variety.
On April 20th, I met my friend Kate and her lad Sam, who is very keen to learn about sea fishing. I chose Ynyslas as it is so user-friendly - safe and snag-free. He took to it well for a young 'un, learning how to secure baits like sand-eel with bait-elastic and his casting was really starting to come on - not in terms of distance as that will come later with practice. Main thing was he had them all going straight on-target. Good fast learner. Shame the fish would not co-operate. I had one half-hearted bite on sand-eel fished at range, that never developed into anything. Not even a dogfish at long range which is a bit abnormal. Little surf did not help. The baitfish are in, since the terns were diving on them. A small pod of dolphins came to say howdy around sunset to round off a pleasant few hours. Thanks to Kate for the image below - "is that a bite??"
The forecast for the coming week is much better and given the slight swell and warm, drying sunshine I will try some of the deeper marks up in NW Wales. Got a few locals wanting tuition sessions but I'm trying to wait until there is something to catch. Bring on the summer!
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!