Shore Fishing on the Cardigan Bay Coast of Mid-Wales
December 22 update
Some winters, the weather plays nicely. Not all though! You name it, we've had it lately. Severe gales, floods and in early December a dumping of snow. This was the view from the hill behind where I am living, out to the Estuary, with Cardigan Bay beyond, on December 11th. Inland there were serious snow-depths in places.
All very pretty, but when heavy falls of snow do what they always do - and melt after a few days, the pulse of cold melt-water coming down into the estuaries is bad news for anglers. The fish don't like the sudden fall in salinity and water temperature: either it makes them lethargic or drives them out to sea altogether. Not only that, the river had seen several floodwater pulses beforehand. Thus, I've been playing dodgems with the conditions. On November 19th, I had a party of four from Leominster for a short afternoon's fishing session at Ynyslas, where thanks to the storms we had to pick our spot carefully and then move again as the flood tide got going, due to floating weed. The anglers caught, including a nice keeper-sized flounder that went back over the Welsh Border for someone's supper, but the venue was nowhere near as busy as it had been on my dab-session a fortnight previously.
Tywyn always delivers the goods at this time of year with vast shoals of whiting, but this year we are finding it hard to catch sizeable fish, to date. A lot of them are a centimetre or two beneath the 27cm minimum size. I have heard of one codling so far. Some years the bigger whiting are around right through to February and the codling can be common some years and near-absent in others. On December 2nd, Les, a repeat customer on his third trip with me, had a hectic session with those tell-tale rattly bites starting as soon as the baits had been cast out, but try as we did, there was nothing in-size to bring home with us. But Les wanted an intro to Tywyn beach so by meeting in daylight with the tide flooding and fishing into darkness, he certainly learned how to fish the place and caught a few species. Hopefully on his next visit, better fish will be there: I had a pleasure session the other night and had flounders, dabs, whiting and a lone sea-scorpion but again, nothing insize and the whiting were even getting hooked on half-squid baits bound to 5/0 Varivas Big Mouth hooks!
The sunset was splendid, though: what it's all about really -
When I think of some of the amazing sessions I've had here over the years, I and the locals have been praying for a let-up in the conditions. Rivers are still high and a wet and windy spell over Christmas will not help matters as on this coast it's hard to find marks that are not affected by freshwater entering Cardigan Bay. Similar reports are coming from around the Bay. What we need is a good fortnight with dry high pressure in domination and the weather-charts don't want to play nicely in that respect.
So for the time being, it will be a case of working with the weather-conditions. If things improve into January, I'll be having another crack at the whiting for sure, perhaps on the shallow intertidal reefs over low tide, where deeper water can be accessed. And of course I'll be persevering at Tywyn with the big baits - got to be in it to win it!
So it just remains to thank the customers I've taken fishing in 2017 and here's to a fishy 2018. Thankfully we can still fish for bass next year, although it currently appears to be catch and release all year: this may however change in the summer. The bass regulations have not really affected customers though with all but one insize bass having been carefully released by them. And I think things may improve further, judging by the numbers of school bass we saw in 2017. Once these reach breeding size there should be a few years' good recruitment and I'm all for working towards that outcome.
November 11th update
Big news is that Shore Fishing - A Guide to Cardigan Bay is once again available. The first edition sold out earlier this year but it took a while to find a reasonable printing deal, as costs have surged of late. So better late than never! The second edition has a few different fish ID images and the bass regulations are updated, although heaven knows for how long they will stay that way!
The book can be bought direct from the publisher (best way to buy as all the money stays in the local economy) at the following mail-order link:
Last update I had been wrestling with storms and catching bass in rough water: although there have been no bookings since (as can be common in the colder months), on November 3rd the pleasant weather and calm seas saw me down at the Ynyslas end of Borth Beach to see if there were any decent dabs around. It was beautiful as ever down there:
Fishing at long range, I tried a few spots down to an hour before low tide, before settling on what had been the most productive spot. The dabs duly came on in earnest as the tide turned and were biting steadily as the big flood pushed me back and back, up the beach:
There were some good keepers among them, best fish 27 centimetres. 15 or so were caught in total, with a handful of flounder for variety, so some good feeds were ensured. I've always found dabs very tasty. They were showing a distinct preference for razor baits.
Later in the session, I caught this oddly-marked example, with distinct greenish tinges:
Unusual here but similarly-coloured examples are quite common in parts of the North Sea.
So a successful session, prior to the weather cutting up rough again. Hoping for a settled night this week so I can have a crack at the whiting and see if there are any codling around. I've not heard of that many shore-caught ones around North Wales so far - although a few mackerel are still being caught in places! More soon.
October 25th 2017 update
Just a quick update with a couple more sessions to add. On the 18th I had a 4.5 hour session with Neil Hopkins, just an introductory trip but he picked up the ropes very quickly and we had school bass, whiting and dogs - not bad for 2 days post-Ophelia! Neil could not make it until after work so I went down for a look over low water and blasted out a big squid bait in the hope that the rough weather might have tempted codling to move inshore but still no sign. However, I had a good bite and started pumping in a heavy fish that put up minimal resistance until in the shallows when it went crazy. But I won in the end. The result?
A good Bull Huss by Tywyn standards. Length 103cm which would make it somewhere between 8 and 9lbs. They are common on the rough grounds off the mouth of the Dysinni, where kayak anglers see a lot, but they are a more unusual catch for Tywyn beach, although others have been caught too, in recent weeks. Carrying it back into deeper water for release, it threw up a 25cm whole whiting.
Storm Brian arrived on Saturday 21st, bringing a huge swell and churning seas. I had a booking on the Sunday afternoon with Tom and family, so things were a bit touch-and-go, but it was decided to go for it - even if only for the three hours around low tide. We had to keep the rods low and side-on to the wind to assist with bite-detection:
Fishing good-sized razor baits into a wild surf, the bass soon obliged, with several schoolies and one better fish for Tom:
There's a certain satisfaction in braving the elements and still catching. I didn't fish on this occasion as I was busy removing strings of seed-mussels, broken from the reefs by the storm, from lines. The three hours certainly went by very quickly, as they tend to when bites keep a-coming and there's lots to do to help make a session go smoothly. Hopefully now, the seas will be settling a bit - the Tywyn Beach Cam suggests so - and at some point in the next couple of days I'll go and try for another huss! Conditions turn a bit rougher again into the weekend so it's a case of making the most of the opportunities this very mixed autumn is offering. More soon.
October 17th 2017 update
Down here on the Cardigan Bay coast we've been playing serious dodgems with the weather. Unlike 2016 and 2015, this autumn has been very unsettled with a number of significant storm events and large rainfalls leading to masses of freshwater pouring out of the estuaries. Frustrating, because when we have got out the fishing has been reasonably good. September was dead as a doorpost guiding-wise, but there were several sessions in early October, detailed below. In the meantime, I sat out gales and rain and put together a Facebook page, a long overdue task:
The photo below shows the boulder-reef at Tywyn uncovered on the low spring tide of October 8th. Hammered bare by the 2014 storms, it's now nicely colonised with mussels and tube-worms - a good sign. That evening I met up with John from the Wirral for the first of three mostly short sessions, snatched in between some awful conditions. On the first evening we had flounder (including a good eater), dab, whiting, school bass and I missed a couple of dogfish bites by striking too soon - it was deliberate, I'm telling you!
This, however, was the theme thereafter, with worse conditions in between! We fished the South Beach the following day over low for a mixture of fish as the wind increased and increased and the surf got wider and wider.
Flounders and dogs plus schoolies were about - as were the rays. This 74cm long specimen fell to sandeel and put up a feisty battle!
I lost another big fish in the surf later - it might have been a bass but the bite and fight were more ray-like. It made two fast shoreward runs and on the second one successfully threw the hook. Small-eyed rays differ from thornbacks in this respect - they are powerful fish, evolved to master the strong surf in which they hunt, and they can put on a surprising turn of speed.
The image below does not really convey just how miserable the conditions had become. Lashing rain set in and with the flood getting going in earnest, on came the weed. We persevered on into dusk but with no more action and the surf widening constantly, we were glad to call it quits!
On the 12th, this being John's last day in the district and the only fishable one remaining, we tried the ebb on North Beach. As the image shows, the sea was pretty gnarly....
....but it wasn't too rough for the school-bass to start attacking our baits and we both managed a few. Razor proved to be the preferred offering. So a mixed set of results but John got to understand the marks and how weather and tides affect them and in between our meet-ups he went walking, armed with an OS map, to explore the rest of the district, when the rain let-up.
All weather-eyes were upon the approaching ex-hurricane Ophelia by mid-month. By the 15th it was changing course towards Ireland and was a Category 3, the most northern/eastern example of such a strong storm ever recorded in the Atlantic. It would soon transition into an extratropical storm, meaning windspeed would decrease a bit but the overall windfield would rapidly expand, to wreak havoc the following day across both Ireland and the western UK.
I met Sara and her son, Celyn, at Borth railway station on the morning of the 15th, identifying myself by waving a fishing rod around. We fished off the beach in between two of the sea defences. Given the maelstrom churning away in the South-west Approaches, conditions here were not too bad - again it was a case of grabbing a weather-window and giving it our best. Borth Head provides a good bit of shelter from southerly winds and the beach by the village was far enough away from the flood-waters discharging from the Estuary for it to be relatively unaffected - freshwater outbursts can kill the fishing at the Ynyslas end.
Just after low tide, a bunch of rays came prowling along and Celyn learned that a small-eyed ray, when annoyed, can be quite a handful. I coached and encouraged and after a bit of a tug of war in it came. Here Sara is getting the trophy-shot! His first beach-caught fish so that's a nice start. Flounders also featured and they and the schoolies tore at the larger ray baits we had out, but we were set on catching any bigger fish. All too soon it was time for their train back to Aberystwyth but they went home happy!
Twenty-four hours later, the image below was screengrabbed by me from the Tywyn Beach Cam, which is accessible here:
Ophelia! Well-forecast, the storm whipped Cardigan Bay up into a furious mass of foam and huge waves, the wind getting up to a force 11 at times. Aberdaron had a peak gust of 90mph during the afternoon.
Winds eased right off on the 17th - the day after Ophelia - so I went to take a look. A huge swell was still running with very fast waves running in and up the beach...
There was just a bit of weed coming in - the debris will be out there somewhere - although there were a few Portugese Man o'War, stranded high and dry:
There has been an influx of these interesting but dangerous critters in the past few weeks. They drift by wind and current - in a similar way to the far commoner by-the-wind sailor, to which they are related.
I think back to October 2016 and the warm days, calm seas and bumper mackerel catches. What a difference a year can make! But the ray fishing is very good when it's feasible and there are plenty of smaller fish around, too, with the main whiting influx yet to appear in earnest. Perhaps this next set of spring tides will bring it about. More soon!
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 next 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.
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!