Shore Fishing on the Cardigan Bay Coast of Mid-Wales
24th September update: good fishing when the weather allows!
It's been the quietest year by far since I started doing the guided trips.
I'm not sure why. Is it brexit nerves and people being wary of spending? Has it been the weather? Who knows? Never mind. As a substitute I've had a book published:
This is the tale of how one of the most popular sections of the Cardigan Bay coast actually came into being. It's a pretty dramatic business too: it involved the inundation by the sea of a vast, afforested lowland over the past 12,000 years or so, part of the sea-level rise that followed the peak of the last ice-age, which was some 10,000 years before. One hundred and twenty-five metres of sea level rise occurred after the ice-age waned away. But Cardigan Bay is shallow, so that much of that rise didn't affect it at all, until the last bit. The Submerged Forest at Borth bears testimony to just the final stages of the process.
It's available here, if anyone is interested in the history of what is now a well-loved ray, bass and turbot mark:
In September though, I was contacted by Sion, who is a full-time firefighter, recently transferred to Aberystwyth. He'd done a bit of attempted fishing and felt he wasn't really getting on with the activity, so it was my job to try and address that.
First we had a short two-hour meet-and-greet session at Aberystwyth on September 11th. Obviously it's hardly worth it for me to go from halfway between Mach and Aberdyfi to Aberystwyth, for just two hours, but if I happen to have to be there any case, well why not? So we met up on Tan-y-Bwlch Beach. The weather was fine, but every few minutes a big set of swells would come rolling in and smash their way right up the beach. To add to that, the first 20m or so of sea was chocker with weed. There was only one work-around: a single 15ft 9 inch rod locked into the rest in a vertical position with the line well-tensioned to a breakaway lead, its wires set to maximum tension. This took the line straight over the weed-infested water. A rod 2ft shorter couldn't do it!
I opted for big baits - mackerel fillet on a 5/0 Big Mouth hook - legered just behind the weed-rich zone as it was still close enough to the backwash, so this was close-range business. It didn't take long, once I'd figured out how we could fish at all, for a good bite and this plump schoolie was duly landed, followed by another, both around the 1 1/2 pound mark:
Another good bite resulted in this small but feisty bull huss:
So miraculously we had snatched a few fish from a very difficult sea, which got snottier as time went by, so we arranged the next session and left the place to its own devices!
September 17th saw us at Ynyslas - the north end of Borth beach, in calm conditions. Again the weather was superb and this time the swell was minimal. In such conditions, flatfish are the obvious target and possibly mackerel on pop-ups, so that's what we went for. Flounders and dabs were caught - the bigger autumn dabs are not around yet but can't be far away now.
Right towards the end of this four-hours long session, I had this ray. Quite a clunky beast, but more surprisingly, it had taken a sliver of razor on a size 3 fine-wire hook! Playing it in from well over a hundred metres out therefore involved extreme care, but slow and steady did the job. Believe it or not, this is my first ray from Borth in 2019! OK so I've perhaps not put the hours in myself this year, but talking to other anglers, the whole beach has been quiet this year, So far, that is.
Incidentally, if thinking of fishing this end of the beach, you might want to know that at low water on medium-large spring tides, a huge area of very shallow water is present: you can wade 60-70 metres out and still only be halfway up to your knees in places. I expect that'll duly change, but right now it is a factor affecting the fishability. The ray came in the flood, after a couple of extra feet of water had covered the shallows.
On September 18th, I drove up to Pwllheli to collect some important research-samples that had been cut and polished by the Cerrig Granite and Slate Company. Generously, the Curry Fund of the Geologists' Association had paid them to do the job for me. So there I was on a fine day with the rods in the car and my samples. Only one thing for it - the beach!
I keep at Pwllheli because it's one of a few places where red mullet are caught, a fish I need for the species-list!
Fishing two rods with lug on the bottom and popped-up mackerel strip atop, the tide ebbed away and the jetskis zoomed about. I was starting to nod off when one rod heeled right over. A good scrap and out of the sea came "Mackzilla" - all 43 cm of it! That's a monster shore mackerel!
After that I had a few more "normal"-sized mackerel then it became a dabfest - a whole posse of them arrived and hurled themselves at baits both legered and popped-up. Who says dabs don't take baits 3ft off the sea-bed? Oh yes they do!
I left there at nightfall - the place tends to be alive with small dogfish after dark - but not before getting some images of a glorious sunset:
On the 20th, the weather being wonderful, I took a look at the reef south of Borth, under the headland. Because the tide was a small neap, it wasn't worth trying to get to the outer marks as they would not uncover for long. But the first main point on the reef, maybe not as good as the outer marks, can still produce. I figured from the bird activity that mackerel would be around, so started with pop-ups baited with small mackerel belly-strips. I was getting rattly bites but they were not connecting. Hmmm. Next thing, a furious pull and quite a fight brought a plump schoolie to land - almost a keeper. Not long afterwards, I saw the sea starting to boil up with mackerel so had a few chucks with feathers, and found out the cause of the rattly bites. The mackerel were tiny little joeys. I caught a few larger ones that I kept for bait/food, then just sat back and watched as the shoals worked around the margins of the bay, harrying the whitebait, dozens of mackerel leaping clear of the water in near-unison at times. As the sun set, an amazing afterglow was in evidence:
I set off home before it was completely dark as I still had a few hundred metres of slippery weed-covered rock to negotiate. Dead and dying whitebait were everywhere along the waters' edge.
On the 23rd it was time for the next session with Sion, who by now had accrued a good inventory of equipment through a good second-hand purchase he had been fortunate to find. Borth beach was again the venue, but this time away from those extensive shallows: we walked along to fish off the golf-course. It was a fine early morning and there were lots of birds diving beyond casting-range, a sign that the mackerel were still there. I was a bit worried that the predators would be in that very same area, but we rigged up legers with half-joey mackerel and sandeels and fished two hours down and three back up.
I needn't have worried: within an hour of arriving at the car-park I was fighting a decent fish:
15 minutes later, Sion landed his first ray, and boy was he pleased!
Half an hour passed and he had his second, so was in the lead, though this was just a small one:
I then had a flounder that had gut-hooked itself on sandeel, so that came home with me to eat. It went quiet over low water but an hour into the flood I had a good bite on mackerel fillet and this was the result. Equaliser!
All this time, the bombardment of mackerel by gannets never let up, as they followed shoal after shoal along the beach, always just out of casting range. What a spectacle:
Towards the last hour of the session, it was as if a switch had been pulled. All of a sudden, bigger swells began to roll in and the skies darkened to the south-west, warning of the front that I knew was heading our way. The wind, southerly, increased with gusts at times in excess of force 6, necessitating getting the rods low and pointing along the beach; nevertheless, bite detection became nigh-on impossible. The gannets and mackerel fled the scene - and so did we, at the agreed stopping-time of 1300!
I took this from the car-park before setting off for home. The weather was obviously just about to break down completely. But in fishing, you have to make the most of the windows the weather gives you, and we had done exactly that. Even on a tiny neap tide, Borth fished well. Sea-conditions, I have long maintained, are far more important than size of tide, at this venue anyway.
So to finish, yes I am still here and yes we are catching fish! Holler if you're after a trip - but not for the rest of this week as the forecast is lousy! More soon.
26th July update: best time of year just around the corner
June and July can be weird months for sea-angling hereabouts. Not that there aren't fish around: it's more of a case of when they are going to arrive and where. Big contrast with the more bountiful late summer to early winter period. The big difference in recent years has been the way the mackerel have behaved: up on the Llyn Peninsula deep-water rock-marks, a new pattern appears to have developed in which the early arrival of large numbers of these fish seems to have largely stopped. Up until the late 2000s, you could guarantee finding plenty from May onwards at the marks up there; according to reports they have only just arrived in any quantity. However now they are around, they should stay around. Further south, good numbers have been present offshore, but less close-in, as will be seen below.
September adds to the bounty as the annual inshore whiting invasion commences. Unlike the lightning-fast mackerel, whiting are slow swimmers and an easy meal for many predators. Once there's so much food around, there are a lot more predatory fish in attendance. That's why the second half of the year here is typically better than the first.
Guiding has been quiet since the last update, as is often the case in June-July, but I had an outstanding day out with Julian from Newcastle Emlyn on July 4th. Julian wanted to take a look at some marks within striking distance of HQ, so we met at Mwnt near Cardigan to begin a lengthy tour of the local coast. At Mwnt we examined both the slabby marks east of the hill (with me spelling out the dangers) and the more cramped but non-slabby ledge at the NW side of the headland. It was a gorgeous day and the sea was gin-clear, so that we were able to watch seals and numerous large jellyfish going by in the tide. More interesting was a very close encounter with an adder on the path back up from the NW mark!
Onwards and next stop was the rock marks by the Cliff Hotel in Gwbert, which gave us an enjoyable hour's scrambling to various likely spots, then the awesomely scenic Ceibwr Bay near Moylgrove, where it was more like the Mediterranean!
We scrambled down to the wide gully as the tide was out. It was alive with spider-crabs, with dozens of them moving through the swaying kelp. Wrasse and pollack could also be seen. To the west, kayakers were setting off through the big rock-pinnacles - an extremely fishy-looking area best approached afloat though no doubt rope access could be arranged by an intrepid climber/angler!
The day finished with a walk around the imposing marks down at Strumble Head, a beautifully wild area with challenging tidal rips at times. Wondering if there might be the off-chance of finding some mackerel, I took a rod along, armed with a set of feathers and a few sinkers in my pocket. I picked one of the more eastern marks with access to reasonably deep water and had a dozen casts or so, finding plenty of coalfish to about a pound and a half:
Plus a few similar-sized pollack:
Good fun but all too soon it was time to go. Strumble's one of those spots, like the Bardsey Sound marks, where there's almost always something to catch, but which deserves serious respect with regard to weather and sea-conditions - as do all rock-marks, of course.
The other trip was on July 13th, involving an evening ebb-tide at Borth-Ynyslas with Andrew Foxall, returning to shore angling after many years landlocked. He wanted to catch something other than dogfish! We rigged-up with rag and sandeel baits; normally at Borth the surf is alive with schoolie bass and sandeel will find a ray or two. Weird, since all we had were flounders on the rag:
Borth normally fishes much better in the summer as last years' diary entries testify. There was a bit of weed, just enough to be annoying but not enough to prevent us carrying on into the dark, through a splendid sunset:
The best flounder (a plump keeper) came just after dark, before we packed up near midnight. We had given it our all, but for some reason nothing else was in the surf - the numerous gannets diving from a quarter of a mile out made me suspect both baitfish and mackerel were out there. That may explain the lack of bass and rays: easy pickings just offshore would tempt them away from the surf. In such a situation, the only option is a boat!
More recently though, some rays have been landed which is a lot more promising.
On the 16th, with a nice calm sea and decent sized tide, I did that rare thing of late - a pleasure-fishing session! I've been in the finishing stages of a new book, now in press, which has taken up a lot of my time: I'm certainly looking forward to getting out more in the second half of the year!
I chose the Stone Jetty at Aberystwyth as the venue, with a little of the previous trip's rag left and some mackerel and squid for bait. Fancying a bit of a species hunt to start with, I fished one rod straight into the rough ground around the Jetty and another cast well out onto the sand. First up was one of the inevitable corkwing wrasse:
The distance-rod was picking up annoying fine green weed which was interfering with bite-detection but one retrieve had a bit more weight to it: a fairly big lesser weever on a popped-up mackerel strip. It had been on there some time and had done a good job of tangling the rig!
More corkwings followed on rag so I switched to squid tentacle baits and immediately started catching shannies - the most abundant rough-ground fish at the Jetty. They tend to get to baits before any other species, although you can get tompot blennies and various goby species here too, plus pouting, poor-coed and so on.
A small dab was the only other species to come off the sand. Gurnards can sometimes be caught out there, but not on this occasion:
As light was fading, I clipped on a set of feathers and had a few good casts out from the end. Over the rough ground I started to pick up a few small pollack:
Dusk came and suddenly the water in front of me boiled up with mackerel chasing baitfish. One well-targeted cast saw a hit, with three landed, but then they were gone! A few more casts saw nothing intercepted. Meanwhile, something gave a slow pull-down bite on a largish squid bait - and took me to ground. In the end I had to pull for a break. Conger? Quite possibly, although spider-crabs, lobsters and other critters also infest this ground and will happily drag a bait down into their rocky lairs.
So six species and no dogfish! Not brilliant for the Jetty, where ten species in a session can often be the result, but still a busy evening, rounded off with the Lunar eclipse as the moon rose by the side of Pendinas:
I'll be out a lot more in the coming weeks, now the book is in someone else's hands. I'm still two short of fifty Welsh shore species and need to do something about that, so will be back on the Jetty and on other likely spots as weather, weed and tides permit. More soon.
11th June update: just look at this jet-stream pattern!
To say the weather has been unsettled of late is something of an understatement. The chart below hints at why:
Normally, the narrow band of very strong high-altitude winds, at about 30,000 feet up, flows quickly west-to-east in a series of waves, but at the moment the picture looks more like the sluggish meanders of a lowland river. Troughs bring Arctic air southwards while ridges push warmer tropical/midlatitude air northwards. Due to this pattern, that has ground to a halt over us, low pressure systems are arriving from unusual directions (mainly from the south), eastern areas are getting the kind of rains that we're more accustomed to here in Wales and it's often been windy, too. Such conditions of course affect the fishing: extra fresh water moving through the estuaries drives some species out onto the open coast, while the rougher spells liberate a lot of seaweed off the reefs at low tide when the sea-bed is within range of wave-base turbulence.
On bigger tides, work-arounds are possible if open beaches are awash with "salad", which can accumulate on lines in soul-destroying quantities. The other weekend it was a bit choppy but not enough to deter me from taking a look at the shallow rocky reefs south of Borth. With some fresh peeler and soft crab in my bait-bucket, I headed out across the rocks to a favorite mark. On marks nearer Borth, people were mostly spinning and even feathering in hope, but I could see the weed being dragged-in. Undeterred, I got to the mark and set up. Long range would not be possible, but these marks fish well close-in at times, so I baited up and flicked the crab baits no more than 10-15 metres out, so the angle of the line from rod-tip to water surface was reasonably steep, thereby minimising annoyance as the weed came along in the tide.
It was bites from the off, but with 5/0 circle hooks intended for bigger bass, and a piranha-like shoal of school-bass right in front of me, the ratio of bites to landed fish would be poor. I persevered though, in case they thinned out giving any bigger fish a chance. Smaller hooks and baits just resulted in six-inch dabs - the sea bed must have been paved with them. All too soon, the rising flood-tide shepherded me off the mark and homeward bound.
A shame not to have contacted any better fish, but it's very encouraging to see such a good population of smaller fish. After all, these are the three to five-pounders of the coming years. And it goes to show that it is still possible to catch when weed is a problem. Right now the tides are at the bottom of the neap part of the cycle, so the reefs don't uncover for long enough to give the angler more than and hour or two at best, but tides will be getting bigger later this week and it looks as if these winds may well ease off. Despite the weather making people curse right now, it's still better than this time last year when we had that prolonged intense heatwave - fish don't mind the current weather but endless heat and calm conditions are less favoured by them.
Looking ahead, it is starting to seem that conditions may finally start to settle down into next week, expanding the range of available options for anglers. Both leading forecast models are hinting at this change, so let's hope they are right.In the meantime, here's a recent sunset pic from Ynyslas, taken in early May and reminding one that there's more to it than just catching fish!
26th May update: a few fish around
With the weather warming up, prawns are abundant in the rock-pools and along the beaches we are seeing bass, rays, flounders and turbot, with not too many dogfish! Tywyn is fishing especially well, although floating weed is currently something that has to be dodged! Being prepared to move about a bit normally allows fishing time to be had. Winds will be onshore this week but there are then signs of high pressure arriving in early June and more settled conditions with it. I'm hoping to get up to the Llyn rock-marks for some mackerel then, in order to top up the new bait-freezer - the old one died a few weeks ago, but I was able to borrow some space in another one and a friend donated me one that was in his way, so everything worked out OK in the end! Prices for 2019 trips remain the same, so if you fancy a session, whether a beginner or more experiened, do holler!
March 30th update: a new season awaits....
A happy new year to you all!
I've not been hibernating this winter but very busy on my geological research, since the winter months are far easier for fieldwork in areas where there's loads of bracken in the warmer part of the year. It's not been a cod season this winter, with just a few fish reported among the normal whiting, dabs, flounders and dogs. Big news is that at some marks south of Aberystwyth, spurdogs were landed. These interesting fish used to be a fairly frequent sight before excessive commercial fishing wiped them out in the 1990s, so it looks as if stocks may finally be recovering. I recall catching one off the big breakwater at Fishguard back when you were allowed to drive onto it – that was a long while back now! I'll certainly be out hunting one later this year.
Good news regarding bass in that anglers can keep one specimen a day in 2019, from April 1 through to October 31, as long as it's in-size (more than 42cm). I tend to eat fish in the 3-4lb range as they have bred at least once by the time they are that big and they are well tasty. Bigger, older females are our prime spawning stock and should be put back to continue doing their job – bigger bass are not such good eating in any case.
So to the future and I will be offering all the usual trips from early April onwards. It's not been an especially cold winter, so the winter species are still with us and I expect, barring a disaster, that the summer species should be roughly on time too. Today's sea temperature at Aberystwyth is 8.9C which is at the high end for March - last year it was a lot colder than that, so I am optimistic. Targets next month will therefore be bass, rays and turbot that could well put in an appearance whenever winds are onshore but not too strong, giving some nice surf. I've already had some enquiries and I suspect more folk will takeup fishing just to escape from the ongoing grind that is politics in the UK, 2019 style!
The image below is interesting as it shows the Dyfi mouth on a very low spring tide, with the long sand-bars heading out to sea either side. These are rarely accessible and not for enough time to put in a proper session, but to the south there are other sandbars and gullies within casting range - they shift about with storms of course, but patterns in the surf give away their positions. All good spots to check out once the sand-eels are in the shallows and their predators come a-looking.... more soon!