Shore Fishing on the Cardigan Bay Coast of
Essential reading - terms, conditions, safety - please read!
Numbers catered for, cost and payment:
Parties of up to four anglers. £10 per person per hour, payable before fishing. Cash or cheques accepted in return for your numbered invoice. Individuals are welcome, but in the same way that charter-boats aim to get a full crew aboard I will accept bookings from other individuals for the same trip up to the four-anglers limit. If you wish to have an exclusive individual trip that's fine but there will be a £20 surcharge. Trips outside of the 20-mile stretch of coast from Aberystwyth to Tonfanau are subject to a surcharge for extra travel time of £10/hour (not per person but added to the total trip fee).
Juniors under the age of sixteen years must be accompanied and supervised at all times by a responsible adult (such as a parent or legal guardian) who should also ensure that they do not handle any catch until it has been identified for reasons that I'll explain below. Shore angling is not generally suitable for very young children unless they are already fanatical about it - the waiting game for bites requires a lot of patience and a long attention-span. If they are dead keen then that's just fine!
Weather and cancellation/postponement:
I will advise on weather conditions the day before the trip. The weather and sea conditions are of critical importance to the fishing: in particular onshore winds of much above force five make many venues unproductive or in some cases dangerous: big ground-swells likewise. Rest assured that I will not take people out fishing if the conditions are looking to be pointless or unsafe.
Fortunately being both local and an experienced amateur meteorologist means that I can be flexible and work with the weather to pick the best conditions. Outside of the winter months it is rare to get gales for days on end, so that it's possible that a trip that's blown off may merely be postponed rather than cancelled altogether.
In the uncommon event of a trip being curtailed due to unexpectedly unsafe conditions developing (e.g. a rogue thunderstorm), only that part of the trip spent fishing will be charged for, rounded down to the last full hour. Lightning and modern carbon-fibre rods are not a safe combination at all. Strong winds are far more predictable, days ahead of when they arrive, so we're not going to be taken unawares by them.
Rock-fishing requires particularly settled conditions, outside of which I need to consider the possibilities of wind, swell and rainfall: all have a negative effect.
Equipment and bait:
I can provide equipment (I still have the rods I began with!) although experienced anglers will prefer to bring their own. On some trips, bait may be gathered; on others it can be supplied at cost. Non-beginners will often prefer to bring their own. Local tackle/bait shops are GB Fishing (01970 630974) and Aber Fishing Tackle (01970 611200, both in Aberystwyth). Sadly, Barry's in Tywyn has now closed down. We can discuss specific tackle and bait requirements at the time of booking.
Warm clothing (including a woolly hat and waterproofs) can prove essential - if you don't have them and conditions turn miserable you'll be cursing! I tend to find several layers of thinner clothing better than one or two thick ones. If it's really cold I find wearing a pair of Army trousers over jeans or whatever to be immensely beneficial. Fingerless gloves can be very handy in the autumn if it gets cold. With respect to footwear, wellies with a good grip are needed and, for beaches, bring thigh or chest waders if you have them. For rock-fishing, stout boots with plenty of ankle support are necessary.
Night-fishing requires a headtorch (and always have spare torch and batteries just in case). Modern LED headtorches are ideal and affordable - you don't need a searchlight! Suncream and sunglasses are important on bright summer days. Bring food and especially water (at least two litres) - dehydration on a hot day can be dangerous. But early and late season, especially if it's a chilly one, a hot flask of coffee or soup keeps the spirits up. Alcohol, by contrast, is strictly for after the fishing session, not before or during it.
If you have any health issues it is essential that you mention them at the time of booking so that I don't inadvertently take you anywhere that you may find difficult to manage. There are marks well within 200m of parking and there are others that are a fair old tramp.
Keeping your catch:
There are new (as of 2016) regulations with respect to bass, which are as follows:
* 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 WFSA recommended minimum size for bass is 45cm so the new legal limit is closer to that. I would also encourage the release of any larger bass over 6-7lbs as these are the core breeding stock (in any case the smaller fish make better eating). Rays, being slow to grow and to breed, need to be returned. Some other rare species are protected by law, like the shads and monkfish, although both are exceedingly unlikely captures. For all other species, minimum legal sizes are to be adhered to at all times and I'll have a tape-measure and list in my tackle-box to keep things lawful.
We all know that fish stocks are not what they were. However, anglers can do their bit to help. Two things in particular are important: firstly we do our best to avoid catching juveniles of the species we are fishing for by upping the bait size. Secondly, in the specific case of mackerel we only fish for what we need: the very act of landing and handling then returning them will lead within hours to their death. Only catch as many mackerel as you can eat/freeze down for bait, then fish for something else instead.
Safety briefing #1: general hazards
Clients will be briefed about location-specific hazards before starting out on any one trip. In fact, much of this part of the Cardigan Bay coast is very safe. But for any angler visiting the area between Aberystwyth and Tywyn or further afield, whether guided or not, there are a few things to watch out for:
Slippery areas on the shallow intertidal reefs - these are typically further up the shore and consist of bare, wave-polished rock and bright green slimy algae. Keeping as far as possible to the rough, barnacle-coated rock nearer the sea and avoiding seaweed patches ensures a much better grip underfoot.
Getting cut off by the tide is a hazard on the intertidal reefs that experience helps avoid, although the local RNLI rescue a few people (mostly non-anglers) a year, especially around Aberystwyth, often because they have tried to climb the cliffs to get away and have become cragfast. The way to avoid such predicaments is as follows: the ebbing tide is followed down as the reef uncovers and there is then a window of two or three hours (depending on size of tide) down to low water and back up. This must be strictly adhered to and when it is time to leave you leave - one wants a leisurely stroll back to the road, not a rout with the flooding tide chasing one away (or worse).
Cliff-bases should always be avoided in case of rockfalls - there is absolutely no need to walk right under them.
Jetties are in some cases kitted out with safety railings but in other cases they are not, such as Aberystwyth's Stone Jetty, in which case keep away from the edges where a slip could have nasty consequences. If a large swell is running, keep off such structures. Swells can and do break right over them.
Mixed ground beaches can have areas of slippery boulders which are to be avoided by picking the route with care. Likewise, if wading into the surf on such ground, pick your way out and back carefully, feeling the seabed ahead of you for holes and obstacles. Even an isolated boulder can have a deep scoured-out area around it. It's a matter of being careful.
Estuaries can feature tracts of soft sand, which can be detected and avoided by using a rod-rest as a staff, probing the sand ahead. Keep off sandbanks that are accessible at low tide - they are soft and you'll get cut off quickly by the incoming flood. In any case, I've never seen the need to fish off them when there is great fishing on terra firma.
Deepwater rock-marks have their own hazards. Firstly, the rock is often far from flat, with jagged edges and deep holes. Great care is required in approaching your fishing spot. Travel as light as possible with one hand free to assist movement, and take your time so as to avoid tripping over and injuring yourself. Secondly, the rock can feel nice and rough underfoot when dry, but even a brief shower can make it treacherously slippery. Unless it is forecast to be dry all day, keep off the rocks. Thirdly, avoid such marks when a swell is running. Swells can sometimes produce very big waves that can break over the rocks, sweeping anglers into the water. Likewise windy conditions are dangerous. When fishing, choose a comfortable stance, as flat as possible. Consider how you are going to land any large fish that you catch, which may require scrambling down to the water.
A general comment based on the thirty years I've been fishing hereabouts is if the ground underfoot is at all tricky then it is far better to carry one's kit in a rucksack. Heavy seat-boxes tend to put one out-of balance. However, they are fine on normal sandy beaches where minimal walking is required.
When casting, always look around you before you let fly. You a) don't want anyone close to you as you cast, such as a curious member of the public who has wandered over, and b) you also need to check the water in front of you to make certain that nobody has strayed within your casting range while surfing etc. Generally anglers and other water-users make efforts to keep themselves separate, but you always need to carefully double-check, not just assume.
Safety briefing #2: Weever fish
Almost all the fish that make Cardigan Bay their home are harmless if handled with care, but there are two related fish that are more dangerous - the lesser and greater weevers. These fish, found all around the UK, are both venomous: they have sharp spines that inject poison into their victims.
The lesser weever is more frequently encountered by people as it likes to bury itself in the sand in estuaries and along beaches, where it can pounce on any unsuspecting small fish and swallow it whole. It is a small silvery fish, typically around 5-10 centimetres in length that on first sight can be mistaken for a small whiting. Never grab hold of a fish you have caught until you know what it is - and if you know it is a weever then do not handle it! I have two pairs of long artery-forceps with which to deal with them.
The photo below shows a typical example of a lesser weever, caught at Aberdyfi jetty, where they abound over the sand. Note the distinctive, dark sail-like front dorsal fin with sharp spines: these spines and a long clear one on each gill-cover are the dangerous parts. Lesser weevers can generally be avoided by anglers simply by adjusting bait size, making the bait too big to engulf.
The greater weever is a much rarer catch. Typically 25-45 centimetres long, they tend to be found offshore (dozens are caught by boat-anglers every summer) but they may be caught from the shore: this example (below) is from the sandbanks fringing the intertidal reef south of Borth. It took half a fillet of mackerel - they can engulf large baits with ease. They have the same arrangements with regard to the venomous spines - several on the dorsal fin and one on each gill-cover.
A sting from either species is very painful and often requires a hospital visit. Bathers get stung every year, generally by stepping on lesser weevers, so the local emergency services are experienced in handling such cases. The greater weever in fact makes good eating, but whether released or retained, handling requires the utmost care. Another dangerous species, the stingray, is an exceptionally rare catch - I've neither caught nor seen one in thirty years, though one was landed at Borth many years ago - and promptly stung its captor. Hospitalisation is guaranteed if a stingray gets you.