Don’t get me wrong, I really love guiding here on the Bristol Channel. It’s been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever partaken in, but don’t think for one second that it is a walk in the park! The effort that goes into a guided session is immense, from selecting a suitable tide and venue appropriate for the target species and the angler’s level of fitness/experience, to ensuring that all tackle and bait requirements are fulfilled. And that’s all before we hit the coast to put the theory into practice.
Having had to cancel Thursday’s session because of the unfavourably strong west wind, I was pleased to see that Sunday’s forecast fell nothing short of perfect. True to the Met Office prediction, it was under a brilliant blue sky and an already sweltering sun that I became acquainted with Gareth and John . The guy’s had got in touch having had plenty of blank sessions whilst fishing from the shore and were keen to see what, if anything, they were getting wrong. This is possibly my most common enquiry and one that is often fairly simple to remedy.
We made our way to the chosen mark just before low water with a view to fishing up to the top of the tide and an hour back. As we arrived on the cliff top, the tide line was near to its lowest point and we marvelled at the shoals of huge mullet foraging in the mud just a few feet out from the edge of the rock fringe. Splashes here and swirls there had me wishing I had brought along a freshwater rod, until I reminded myself just how difficult Bristol Channel open coast mullet can be to catch and that the fish would eventually creep further into the bay maintaining their position along the advancing tide line anyway. It was my planned intention to start the guy’s fishing in just a few feet of water, a prime time to locate a bass. End tackle was explained, crab baits were prepared and the first casts of the day were made a mere thirty yards into the muddy trickle. The sea was positively alive with life and although the majority of these cruising shapes were undoubtedly mullet, I’d like to think that there were also a few bass having a nose around.
It was probably twenty minutes into that first cast that Johns rod signalled some interest. Tap…Tap…Wallop! The rod hooped over hard and just for a second, it seems that John had hooked the culprit. Rather sickeningly though and in the blink of an eye, the tip sprang up slack as the bait was rejected. It was a disappointing start but it’s so important to remain focussed, especially so early on in the day. With a bait straight back out there, John soon experienced a far more rattly bite and within moments had landed the first fish of the day- a small conger. Despite its size, both anglers seemed suitably impressed and phones were soon out of pockets for a quick snap to look back on.
In the meantime, Gareth had made his second cast and questioned whether it was far enough. The leader knot was still visible above the waters surface and his bait lay just a few feet from the edge of the rocks in possibly inches of water. Advising him that bass can be caught remarkably close to the shoreline, the bait was left in position, just to see what might happen. A little time passed and as the tide was beginning to threaten our safety below the cliff, I suggested that we give the baits another five minutes before gathering up our tackle and moving location. No sooner had the words left my lips than Gareth’s rod pulled over and kept going. Again, the hook up was short lived as the notoriously finicky bass threw the hooks and was gone. The guy’s were frustrated yet amused all the same. The bass we had targeted were certainly present, but on this occasion our luck was not! Once reassembled on the flat grass-clad cliff top, I began analysing how both anglers fished. Gareth in particular was keen to improve his casting distance so I made a few recommendations. I’ll point out at this stage that in no way do I profess to be a casting guru, I am an angler first and foremost that has the ability to cast a sensible distance should the need arise. It was clear that Gareth’s cast utilised his upper body and right arm strength, yet the left arm did little other than hold the rod throughout the cast. My suggestion of using the left arm as much as the right to pull the rod butt in to his chest at the end of the cast showed some promising results and together with a lower diameter mainline, I’m confident that Gareth will continue to improve. John on the other hand was nicely confident in the casting department having had a little more experience than Gareth and if anything it was only his reel letting him down. The fixed spool he opted for, although fit for purpose, did not benefit from particularly good line lay and so I loaned the use of a Saltist model that Daiwa had kindly provided for just such an occasion. The reel was strapped to the rod and within moments Gareth was benefiting from the superior line lay, adding yards to his cast. Shock leader knots were also a topic of conversation and a brief tutorial followed.
Confident that both Gareth and John were now tooled up for the job in hand, crab bait’s were switched to fish bait’s and we sat back in anticipation of a thornback ray or two. Explaining the merits of casting a bait up the tide and the likelihood of a slack line bite when following this approach, Gareth soon made a positive hook up after experiencing a classic bite. The climb down the cliff to retrieve his fish was a hot and sweaty one, I won't lie. The sun was now high in the sky, the mercury had risen to over thirty degrees and I was positively dripping. But none of that mattered. As the leader came into view, I reached out and plucked Gareth's first shore caught thornback from the waters edge. It was a typical summer thornback ray, a small male full of fight, but it was evident from the whoops of excitement from Gareth peering down from above that the fish meant a lot to him. And so it should- a first of any species is something to be celebrated…Well done Gareth.
Soon afterwards, it was John’s turn to hook a fish and it was back down the cliff face I went. I think at this stage my clothes were clinging to me in a way that you don’t ever want your clothes to cling to you and ‘perspiring heavily’ would be an understatement. I kept a watchful eye on Johns ever nearing mainline, and soon had the trace in my hand to gently lift the ray up and onto the rocks. This was a better fish again and was met with a jubilant reception when presented to the angler’s.
Further fish were added to the bag (metaphorically speaking as all fish were returned to fight another day) including a codling that took a shining to John’s crab bait.
June really is a hot time to catch these, err…winter fish!
As strange as it may seem, it’s really not all that uncommon to see a smattering of straggler codling thought the summer months, especially when casting a crab bait over broken ground. All too soon it was the close of the session, both anglers had listened intently throughout its duration and certainly had plenty of answers to their many questions. I got the impression that they took all of my recommendations on board and it will go someway to a few less blanks along their sea angling learning curve. Thanks for the great company, both of you, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.
On the off chance that anyone reading this is also an aviation fan, an air display can be arranged to enjoy whilst fishing. The weather, however, will remain an unknown quantity and that is one thing that I will never guarantee!