Shore Fishing on the Cardigan Bay Coast of Mid-Wales
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!