Three tides! – By Mike Ladle

Lure fishing guru Mike Ladle joins us once again to give his account of recent successes on the Dorset coast

My pals and I have just fished a series of ‘maggot’ tides.  Here in Dorset these are spring tides when, the beaches are stacked with maggoty weed. We fished three tides on the trot.  On the first evening Bill, Nigel and I went down.  The following morning I was there on my own and the next evening I couldn’t go but Bill, Nigel and Richard fished.

On the first evening Bill spun, mostly with a Slug-Gill (not a typo- but a hybrid lure devised by Bill using the body of a Slug-Go and the tail of a redgill)  Nigel, as usual, had both spinning and fly gear and  I’d rigged a self weighted float with a couple of polyethylene maggot flies as droppers. This set up was on my little Teklon Concept rod and Mitchell Mag Pro reel.  I’ve used similar gear before to combat the problems of casting flies in stiff cross winds. I’d also taken my fly rod and a lure rod.

Nigel had the first fish – a good thicklip on the fly.

Nigel is in first

Nigel is in first

A perfect thicklipped mullet

A perfect thicklipped mullet

Later on I lost a reasonable bass of perhaps three pounds, as it was being beached on my surface float tackle. Of course it would have been put straight back so apart from the lack of a picture it didn’t really matter.  That was more or less that for the evening apart from a beautiful bass pushing five pounds which took Nigel’s wet fly which he’d tried before we packed in.  Bill was fishless so it was a bit disappointing.

Mike plays a fish, but it was a short lived battle

Mike plays a fish, but it was a short lived battle

Nigel's bass taken on a wet fly

Nigel’s bass taken on a wet fly

The following morning I was alone.  I went to the same spot armed as before with spinning tackle, fly gear and a new set of float fished maggot flies. Unlike the previous evening there was no wind at all and the fish were closer in.

The morning after the night before

The morning after the night before

On only the third cast with my floated fly I was into a fine mullet which fought hard for perhaps five minutes before I was able to slide it ashore.  I reached down to pick it up and as I did so it wriggled free of the hook and slid back into the sea.  Naturally I continued to fish with the float tackle.  It was almost half-an-hour of ‘fishlessness’ with the float gear before I decided to change.

I could see lots of bass amongst the surface feeding mullet so eventually I picked up the fly rod and tied on a small, white Delta.  Straight away I had a school bass.  I took its picture, unhooked it and put it back before casting again.

A change of tactic yields a bass

A change of tactic yields a bass

The line straightened and I was into another schoolie, slightly larger than the first.  After the fourth bass I stopped taking pictures and simply unhooked the fish where I stood and dropped them back.

A second bass, slightly bigger than the first

A second bass, slightly bigger than the first

Bigger still...

Bigger still…

In not much more than an hour I landed seventeen bass.  No monsters but they ranged up to about four pounds.  An excellent couple of hour’s sport..

That evening Richard, Nigel and Bill went down again. All three of them caught fish but the total was three bass and one mullet – a 4lb 7oz thicklip for Richard on the fly.

Bass for Bill

Bass for Bill

A beautiful mullet for Richard

A beautiful mullet for Richard

What I’d like to know is – Why the fishing was so different evening and morning – the tides and conditions were similar.  We didn’t fish in the dark at all and between us we tested quite a few different approaches.  Roughly twenty angler-hours in all and, including the ‘two landed escapees, we had three good mullet and 22 bass.

Team VMO Go To Sea

On Sunday, the VMO boys spent the day afloat aboard Minehead based charter boat, Alykat, skippered by Dave Roberts. In contrast to the weather of recent weeks, the sun shone brightly, the wind was light and the guy’s were set for a very enjoyable day.

The west Somerset port of Minehead on the Bristol Channel

The west Somerset port of Minehead on the Bristol Channel

As the boat left port, the guy’s had twenty minutes to assemble their fishing tackle before they hit the fishing grounds. Little did they know that another more experienced fisherman was ready and waiting for them, but more about that later!

Andy prepares his tackle as AlyKat leaves port

Andy prepares his tackle as AlyKat leaves port

Before very long, Dave dropped anchor at a mark that was on good form for smooth hounds, rays and even occasional tope. The guy’s eagerly baited their traces, lowered or cast their baits, sat back and waited with much anticipation.

All eyes on the rods as the anchor goes in!

All eyes on the rods as the anchor goes in

It wasn’t long before Harry’s uptide rod signalled the presence of a fish as his rod tip sprung up slack and the line dropped away. After a spirited scrap, Dave scooped a fine looking smooth hound into the waiting net and all bets were off as to who would bag the first catch of the day.

Harry holds the first fish of the day

Harry holds the first fish of the day

Next, it was Daves turn to bring a fish to the boat, once again in the form of a smooth hound of a similar size to Harry’s…

Dave wastes no time getting in on the action

Dave wastes no time getting in on the action

But suddenly, off the back of the boat, a long sleek black shape was spotted. Although in this picture you might think it was a labrador, it was actually a large seal that was keen to see what all of the commotion alongside the boat was about.

A seal does its best labrador impression!

A seal does its best labrador impression!

For the remainder of the trip, the guys enjoyed some pretty hectic sport with smooth hounds and dogfish, made all the more exciting playing the fish against the ticking clock as time and time again the seal moved in for the kill!

The race is on to boat the fish before it becomes seal food!

The race is on to boat the fish before it becomes seal food!

All too soon, the trip was over and it was back to the pub for a few well earned drinks. But not before Harry finished how he had started.

Skipper Dave lands Harry's final catch of the day

Skipper Dave lands Harry’s final catch of the day

Early Season Sessions by Marc Cowling (South Devon Bass Guide)

This week we welcome south Devon bass guide Marc Cowling to the VMO blog and it looks like Marc is already putting his clients on some great fishing this year!…

In my experience, lure fishing for bass from the shore in the months of March, April and May (spring) is frustrating but also very satisfying. The ‘conditions’ such as the weather and its associated effects on the sea (swell, clarity and amounts of floating weed) appear to have a greater influence on your chances of early season success, than in say July or August – but why is this?

It could be because bass just aren’t inshore in numbers until the sea warms up beyond 10 or even 11 degrees and even then, their willingness to ‘chase down’ any food items present is likely to be somewhat reticent. Other factors such as the fish possibly being preoccupied with the crab moult, sandeel migration and (I hate to say it) stock levels can all make a difference to local catches.

My bass fishing diary, that I have kept religiously after every session for the last 7 – 8 years (detailing components such as tide height, flood/ebb, wind direction and speed, moon phase, sunny/cloudy in addition to the elements already mentioned above) has assisted me to build up a picture of when I’m more likely to encounter bass from my home patch and guiding base here in south Devon.

So how have I managed, in relation to a ‘guiding my client’s’ perspective and ‘my own personal’ lure fishing? Below is a summary of the past 7 weeks.

Bass on lures in March

Following a very pleasant and relatively warm spell of weather in mid – late March, a former client and a Facebook friend respectively had both been pestering (nicely) me for a guided session all winter! Despite my official guiding season being between April and January, the big spring tides and reports of huge bass shoals being reported in the area tempted me into facilitating two sessions in late March.

The first session was conducted in very bright, sunny conditions when the water was crystal clear. My client (George) wanted to learn about the types of marks in which bass could be found, the watercraft involved, lure choices for certain types of venue and to confirm that he was doing the right things. We had a great laugh that day and despite not catching anything, George went away a very happy client indeed.

George fishing

The following day the conditions were very different. Overcast, drizzly but still mild and with an increasing SW wind creating a 2 -3ft swell and that lovely bass fishing scenario of white, fizzing, aerated waves breaking over the reefs and around the rocks but importantly, still with a modicum of clarity to the water. It took the full 8 hr session and a lot of searching but James ultimately achieved something many lure fisherman haven’t – a 3lb+ lure caught bass in March, on the very first cast into a known bass ‘holding’ area. The successful lure being the Tacklehouse Feedshallow in Ochiayu. As the guide, I was delighted! The client? He was positively ecstatic!

James' bass in March

Calm and clear forever!

Bar a couple of short spells when the wind increased from the East, during April/early May we witnessed a spell of very calm, very clear sea conditions when the air temperature seemingly decreased both by night and by day!

With four guided sessions booked in during this 5 week period, at this time of the year I’m usually praying for clear water among the storms and subsequent murkiness! Yet despite landing a couple of small bass myself early in the month, the consistent clarity to the water (and possibly the low temperatures) contributed to a frustrating period of guiding; interspersed with some personal achievements.

The guiding first though – and luck was not on our side! During all of the sessions a bass either ‘followed’ right to rod tip, swirled on the surface right next to us or somehow managed to escape when hooked. The bass were obviously present but being extremely finicky hwoever, the wrasse were obliging! Weedless/weightless soft plastic lures such as the OSP Dolive Stick or Shad, paddletail lures (the 12.5cm Savage Gear Sandeel) and subtle surface lures (IMA Salt Skimmer) were the main weapons of choice.

Toms wrasse

Night bass and a monster pollack

With the conditions being sluggish by day, I took the opportunity to embark on some serious night lure fishing with a 6” white senko lure. A shallow shingle cove with a flat area of reef that I had identified during the winter saw me land the 4lb bass (below) in mid-April during a night of some savage hits. This is a fantastic way to lure fish as your senses are on overload! Brilliant fun – and something that I’m very eager to explore in relation to my future guiding activities (from beaches only though for safety reasons).

My white senko bass in April


During one very bright afternoon/early evening period, it was obvious that the bass just weren’t around therefore; I decided to concentrate my efforts on a particular area that is very rarely fished. The result was my PB shore caught Pollack measuring 65cm (6lb) caught on a Daiwa Shoreline Shiner 120F Vertice.

My 6lb Pollack

Onshore winds make the difference

With two more guided sessions booked in during the second week of May, I was delighted to observe the wind finally veering around to the West and strengthening – subsequently shaking up my marks for the better! My theory was that it would take some movement in the sea to disperse the sandeel shoals; that in turn would see the bass feeding with more vigour.

First up was Rob, an experienced and successful trout fisherman. The wind had been howling the previous evening and I was a little concerned it would be too rough however; upon arrival at the first venue it looked absolutely amazing. However, it once again took the entire session (and a few venue changes and many lure changes) to find the elusive bass – from a beach in very shallow water (1 -2ft). But the smile on his face says it all – his Wife had booked the session for his Birthday present.

Rob's Bass in darkness


Rob’s capture had come right at the end of his guided session but with the bass evidently ‘in the mood’ on this mark I decided to join him once his 8 hrs were officially completed, whereby I managed to land bass of 58cm and 61cm (approx 5lb) as darkness really set in. All three fish were taken on the brilliant Daiwa Shoreline Shiner (An exceptional sandeel imitation as you can see in the photograph below).

My 61cm Bass


Daiwa Shoreine Shiner Vertice 120F

Sunny skies and more happy clients

Finally, two friends (Ben and Dave) were my most recent clients (Mid-May) for a 4 hr session encompassing some very tasty ground. With a nice swell creating inviting conditions, and the water clarity excellent (about 18” -2ft of visibility) I was confident of finding them some bass. The small neap tide was being helped to flood by a stiffening onshore wind and it wasn’t long before Ben had this small by wonderfully conditioned fish on a Maria Chase lure (similar to the Maria Fakebait).

Later in the session and on another mark, Dave experienced a bass hitting his surface lure before wriggling off the hooks after being in contact with it for merely a few seconds – a real pity that they both didn’t manage one. But what really struck them both (coming from freshwater predator lure fishing backgrounds) was how close in bass could be caught over shallow, rocky weedy ground in relatively rough seas. But as I explained, these are the ideal conditions for a marauding  bass to take full advantage of anything being washed out of its lair.

Bens's small bass sunshine

Lovely bass ground

To conclude

Overall, it has been a satisfying start to the season – not huge numbers of bass admittedly, but some nice fish all the same. The most important thing for me is that my clients are walking away with their skill levels, learning and understanding greatly enhanced or accelerated – their words not mine. If they haven’t caught a bass, they’ve either caught something else (wrasse) or seen a bass (follows, swirls etc.) in its natural environment during the session.

Early season, they are notoriously difficult to pin down location wise, but it is tremendously enjoyable being out and about along this marvellous stretch of coastline attempting to do so.

If you would like to learn more about Marc Cowling’s guided bass fishing operation then please visit his website/blog at:

Mike Ladle On Early Season Bass Fishing

Once more, we welcome bass fishing guru Mike Ladle to the VMO blog. Mike shares his thought’s on his recent outings to the coast and how a different range of approaches can lead to varying results… 

With the onset of the new season, I’ve tried a spot of bass fishing recently with mixed results.  I have done no good with bait so when the tide and conditions seemed right, I opted to have an early morning spinning session.  The big mistake was that I neglected to take the fly gear.  As I trudged along in the dark to my chosen spot I passed three other anglers who said they’d been spinning for twenty minutes but hadn’t had a sniff.  Not very encouraging but I pressed on anyway.

After passing the other spinners I came to some small weed middens but I expected that there would be even more weed further along the beach (there usually is) so I continued to walk.  I’d already clipped on a Maria Chase plug as I anticipated the water being calm, clear and weedless, which it was.  It turned out that there was no more rotting weed but it was just about high water so I started to fish.  I began to cast and for half-an-hour or so I flogged away without result then I decided that I ought to walk back to have a look at the weed midden.  By now it was pretty light and I could see that there was weed in the water’s edge.  Out went the plug and it came back ‘weed free’ until it was close in.  This was repeated several times – cast, retrieve, clean the lure, and so on.  As I fished I was looking for surface feeding activity and suddenly I realised that ten metres further along it wasn’t weed that I could see in the margin but feeding fish.  I reeled in and hurried to the spot.

It was immediately obvious that the plug would be useless.  Most of the maggot feeders that I could see seemed to be mullet and I had no fly gear with me.  What to do? I rooted in the bag and found a size 2, silver Mepps.  In the past I’ve sometimes had mullet on these spinners wound in just under the surface.  I clipped on the new lure and cast just beyond a dense concentration of surface skimming fish.  I was in!  The fish went berserk and I played it for five minutes before it came unstuck.  ‘Foulhooked mullet!’ I thought.  The fish were still there so I flicked the little lure out again tug, tug, wallop!  I was in again and this fish seemed well hooked.  I played it in and it turned out to be a bass of about five pounds.  Fantastic!

A fine looking bass

Hooked nicely on the Repps lure

Hooked nicely on the Mepps lure

I’d like to say that it was a fish-a-cast after that but it wasn’t.  I lost two or three more after brief encounters and I landed two more bass, one similar to the first and another smaller one.  I did, however, see one or two very large fish with their heads out of the water.  At 07:15 as the tide began to ebb the fish disappeared and I packed in.  Why oh why didn’t I take the fly rod?  I met the other anglers on my way back but they’d blanked so at least I’d picked the right spot.


My latest attempt to catch a bass was less successful.  The spring tides had promised some good fishing.  Having missed out on a potential fly-fishing bonanza on the previous springs, this time I took both the fly rod and the spinning rod.  It was pretty calm and eminently fishable, what could go wrong?  As it turned out what remained of the weed was concentrated along a couple of metres of beach and the maggots had mostly turned to pupae.  I threw quite a few armfuls of stinking, rotting seaweed into the sea but it was futile and I blanked (nothing new there).  Ever hopeful and knowing that things can change dramatically in the course of half-a-day I went again on the evening tide with my pals Bill, Nigel and Dave.  Just to be different I decided to try float fished maggots or bread while the others stuck to either fly fishing with maggot flies and Delta’s or spinning with soft plastic eels.  It was much rougher and windier than it had been in the morning but there were a few more fish about, both bass and mullet.  However, my light float gear was a bit of a disaster – skating across the surface in the stiff breeze.  My pals all struggled a bit as well.  Nigel and I blanked, Bill had a couple of missed pulls on his Slug-Gill lure and only Dave had any real success. Firstly, using his fly gear, he landed a bass on a maggot fly – he says it took him completely by surprise, just as he was lifting off for a back cast.  Then, a bit later he had a slightly smaller fish, this time spinning a long, wriggly tailed ‘Baysand worm’.  The fish did not hang about so we packed in not long after high water.

Dave lands a bass

Dave lands a bass

And another!

And another!

It was a bit disappointing but I suppose it turned out better than I’d expected after my morning fiasco and it’s always interesting to see how conditions can change not just between series of tides, but even from one tide to the next.  With luck we’ll have a bit of a blow before the next series of springs and the seaweed flies will produce another crop of mullet/bass food.

We Fish With You?

In recent weeks we have been asked on numerous occassions, “What does ‘we fish with you‘ mean exactly?” Well, the short answer is that all of the guy’s here at VMO are out on the coast of the Bristol Channel and beyond or fishing afloat on average eighty hours a week. We are just as passionate about fishing as you;  our valued customer and for that very reason we know exactly where you’re coming from when you call or email us to ask for a specific piece of tackle or request some general guidance. 

Just recently, Harry, Jansen and Jeremy enjoyed some pleasant fishing in the Bristol Channel at Kingston Seymour on a stunning spring afternoon. As usual, Jansen had his camera to hand and you can read the full account of the session in the current issue of Sea Angler magazine (issue 544) on sale now.

Harry gets in on the action

Harry gets in on the action

Lift off for Harry!

Fishing for thornbacks

If you’re a fan of Facebook, please feel free to look each of us up and see what we’ve been up to. In the meantime, if you would like to share your good catches with us, drop us an email as we love to see what you have been up to over the weekend!

Tight lines for now and next time you’re out there wetting a line, remember that we probably are too!


Piscari Blue Water Adventure

Harry recently joined the guy’s from Piscari Sporting  on the island of Gran Canaria with a view to some rip roaring tuna action aboard their Puerto Rico based big game vessel, Cavalier.

Piscari sponsored vessel, Cavalier

Piscari sponsored vessel, Cavalier

The plan of attack was to try and get a hook up from a Blue Fin tuna, a species that can give you the fight of your life should you be lucky enough to hook one. Despite the best efforts of skipper Hafi, it became clear after a couple of days that although reasonably healthy catches of the target species had been made the week previous to Harry’s trip, these big blue water sport fish were going to play hard ball and even though fish were sighted smashing into bait balls, an encounter was never fulfilled.

Although it was more than enjoyable to cruise the deep and brilliant inshore waters that the Canary Islands have to offer, having travelled this far Harry was keen to get a hook up on something big one way or another and so did a little research into just what the islands shore fishing had to offer.

Despite best efforts, the fish failed to show

Despite best efforts, the fish failed to show

The following evening, armed with a 30/50lb Penn Rampage boat rod and a Shimano Saragosa 10000 reel, Harry found himself on the end of a long boulder clad breakwater. A selection of heavy mono traces terminating in 8/0 Varivas Big Mouth Xtra hooks had been prepared and a little bait gathered in the form of locally netted herring. The basic running ledger trace was baited and cast into the darkness. The reels clutch was checked and Harry sat back for what might have been a long wait. It wasn’t long however before a little line ticked off the spool and Harry picked up the rod to investigate. He adjusted the clutch slightly and waited. After a minute or two, whatever was responsible seemed to have moved on, but just as he was about to place the rod back on the rocks, the tip pulled round hard and line was torn from the reel. Holding the short  rod aloft, Harry was totally taken aback as a very large and powerful fish tore line from the reel, increasing in momentum as it went. A minute passed and with the reels line level now dangerously low, Harry realised that this fight was only going to end one way. An extremely large marauding fish that refused to stop, let alone be turned, finally got the better of him as the remaining line left the reel, the knot parting like a sickening pistol shot.

Slumped down on the rocks feeling pretty beat up, Harry vowed to return the following night, providing he could locate some replacement mainline. The following day afloat proved once more to be fruitless, but with the events of the previous night still fresh in his mind, Harry very much looked forward to another crack at landing the unseen giant.

That evening, joined this time by Piscari Sporting front man Oscar Knowles, Harry once again found himself on the rocky promontory, the sun dipping below the horizon before darkness fell on the quiet port. By torch light the rods were assembled, baited and cast and the two anglers looked on with high hopes. Half an hour passed by and it entered Harry’s mind that the previous encounter may have been a fluke, a one off…a blown chance. Suddenly the silence was shattered as Oscar stood up clutching his light rod which was arching over in his grasp as once again a large fish tore line away far below. But when it looked like this was to be a repeat of Harry’s encounter, for whatever reason the fish suddenly stopped and Oscar was able to get line back on the reel. With every few yards he teased back, the fish would once again move away, putting agonising strain on both Oscar and the rod. But this fight wasn’t over just yet and it soon became apparent that there was a real chance of getting this one ashore. As the reel gradually began to fill up and the leader came into view, Harry shone his torchlight on the water.

A huge flat shape began to kite up through the depths and it was clear for both to see that this was a ray. Sure enough, Harry was able to take hold of the trace and release the fish without harm (it is illegal to land rays here) as an exhausted Oscar threw his rod down and caught his breath. Estimated at over 80lb, this Butterfly ray was one heck of a shore caught fish, made all the more rewarding for it being landed on just a four piece lure rod.

Next it was Harry’s turn to make a hook up and as he played his fish shoreward, it was evident that this was a little more manageable. The fish ran left and it ran right, seemingly far more manoeuvrable than a ray. Oscar made his way down to the waters edge and was able to tail Harry’s catch- a surprise smoothound that weighed 29lb.

A huge smooth hound for Harry!

A huge smooth hound for Harry!

Further hook ups with larger fish ended in disaster as the unseen adversary would either run the mainline off over a sharp reef or pull all of the line from the reel, but despite this, Harry was pleased to have found some interesting shore sport to turn the week around. He is heading back out to the Canary Islands later this year so look out for a follow up to this story and hopefully an account of a monster capture.

The Black Minnow in Brazil

Mike Ladle has recently returned from Brazil where he discovered a number of striking fish willing to take the ever versatile Fiiish Black Minnow. Read on for his full story…

“My third son Richard and Ana and their two daughters (our grandchildren) Jasmine and Beatrice, live near the city of Maceio in North eastern Brazil.  We’ve just returned from a five week visit to see them and while I was there Richard and I did a reasonable amount of fishing (It’s never enough is it?).  The easiest time for us to fish was generally at dawn before the kids were awake, so as soon as I arrived the two of us were venturing down to the beach in the early morning gloom. 

I have to say that angling from the shore in this part of Brazil isn’t easy.  Neither of us are keen on fishing for small stuff and the larger fish seem to be fairly thin on the ground, so we expected to have quite a few blank or slow sessions.  Generally we managed about an hour of spinning before we had to pack in and return to see to the girls and for Richard to go to work.  Our first few trips were to Mermaid Beach where, last winter, we landed a few really big snook.  The fishing at M.B. involved crossing a small river which flows across the sand, so we could stand on the rocky reef.  The rocks are covered in patches of tiny black mussels which provide the benefit of guaranteed grip for any type of footwear.  On the outside of the reef the sea is always rough and usually full of loose weed so lure fishing is far from easy.  In fact it is only by using weedless soft plastics that it is possible to fish effectively.

Decent lures are hard to come by over there so, knowing that Richard had  enjoyed some success using Fiiish Black Minnows I took one or two over for him.    My own choice was a big, white, unweighted Slug-Go like the one that caught me a 28lb snook on last year’s visit.  My son (jammy devil)  had the first fish – a beautiful ‘lookdown’ but apart from each of us dropping a big snook we caught nothing else.

Richard working a lure

A week or so later, when the tides were right again and the weather permitted, we managed to make one or two more early morning trips to Mermaid Beach.  On one pretty rough, beautiful morning, just as the sun was peeping up, Richard was as usual fishing his biggest, resin headed, Black Minnow a few metres to my left.  We’d been spinning for about twenty minutes when I heard the cry of “I’m in!” and looked up to see that he’d hooked a decent fish.  I reeled in and grabbed the camera as he battled against the fast moving predator – clearly a jack.

He’s in!

The fish hurtled out to sea in typical fashion with occasional bouts of head shaking. I hopped from rock to rock snapping away.  The fight lasted ages and we were both relieved when we saw the flashing oval flank of a crevalle jack.

Still fighting and the sun is coming up

With a spot of fiddling about Rich was able to lead it through a narrow cleft in the reef and into shallower water where he could pick it up.  A beautiful, double figure fish in mint condition.  Could it get any better?  I didn’t think so.

A stunning crevalle jack

Poor Black Minnow!

Near the end of our stay we visited a little town called Porto do Galinhas where our hotel  fronted the usual long, sandy, surf-beaten, Brazilian strand.  I started by walking the length of the beach looking for features which might suggest the presence of fish.  Twenty minutes along there was a small rocky reef which angled in towards the beach forming a V shape with the water’s edge and looking ideal for predatory fish to corner their prey.

The following morning Richard and I were there at dawn with the spinning gear.  There was lots of loose weed in the margin so we both tried weedless soft plastic lures and slightly to our surprise we managed a bite or two, although none of them stuck.  Before packing in we switched to plugs and it turned out that by picking our spots and casting a little further out it was possible to fish weedless on most occasions.  As the tide approached low water we saw shoals of sardines breaking the surface.  Very encouraging!

Later that day (Rich was working) I walked along to try the likely hot-spot at high water but I didn’t have a bite.  It seemed that lure fishing the low water at first light was to be our best bet.  The following day we armed ourselves with plugs.  Mine was a large green and silver Fakebait and Richards was a little slow sinking L-minnow with the mid-body treble removed. We hurried along to the reef just as the first light was appearing on the horizon.  Straight away we saw some sardines breaking the surface so we were rarin’ to go.  I missed a bite on my first cast then, after about ten minutes, right out of the blue, my rod buckled over and a strong fish made a fast run out to sea.

There were a couple of small boats moored sixty or seventy metres from where we stood so as the fish took more and more line I became concerned about the presence of anchor ropes.  I shouted for Richard and on the third shout he heard me and came hurrying along.  At this point I’d managed, at last, to slow the fish down and by walking along the shore I succeeded in applying a bit of side-strain and turned it away from the obstructions.  Now it was fairly easy and within another five minutes I had it on the beach – a fine blue runner – the first one either of us had ever seen and although they are smaller than some other jack species it had all the fighting qualities of the family. We unhooked it and returned it to the water.

7 My blue runner caught on a Fakebait plug

A blue runner for Mike

Of course we were chuffed with our catch but there was still time for a few more casts so we continued spinning.  Not long afterwards I missed another decent bite and fifteen minutes later just as I was thinking about packing up, I saw Richard walking towards me with his rod in one hand and a long silver shape in the other.  It turned out to be a huge ladyfish.

8 Richard's ladyfish

A lady fish for Richard completes proceedings

Now we’ve both caught ladyfish before and they are super, running, leaping fighters, so I said “Did it give you much of a tussle?”  However, it turned out that the fish had struck right at the water’s edge and immediately surrendered by leaping ashore.  Like me Rich had also missed a couple of bites. That was almost our last chance to fish – so not a bad way to finish.”

A Brief Guide To Catching Conger

Team VMO and a few pals have been spending the winter months targeting conger eels and we thought we would pass on a little information that could help you if you decide to do the same.


Conger eels are very powerful and use their muscular body to make life difficult for the sea angler. Preferring to feed at night in many regions, they will come out of their lairs and prowl upon small fish that are confident to feed under the cover of darkness. For this reason, the most popular bait choice is small whole dead fish or a fillet from a larger fish. Mackerel, pout, poor cod, rockling and pollack are all effective eel baits.


Tackle needs to be robust so rods with plenty of power and reels with a lot of torque are the order of  the day. Without this combination, you may not be able to apply sufficient pressure to keep the eel up in the water and away from the sea bed where it could back up into a snag and remain there. The Ron Thompson Accelerator is an excellent rod with bags of power. A reel such as a Daiwa Saltist 30BG loaded with 25lb Varivas Yellow Sport will give you a fighting chance of winning the battle.


End tackle should be strong and simple. A running leger for close range work or a pulley rig if you want to cast further is all you will need. The conger has a set of powerful teeth that will make light work of monofilament traces so wire is recommended. Mason 49 strand wire will resist kinking and is extremely durable. Hooks such as the 8/0 Varivas Big Mouth Xtra are tough enough to take a lot of strain and will keep their razor sharp point throughout the session.

Eels should be handled with care, and returned to the water after weighing. They are not the tastiest fish in the sea, but they certainly provide one heck of a fight!


Trophy tope rewards years of effort- by Jansen Teakle

Attempting to catch fish that are hard to locate is a frustrating game. Not knowing if they are even where you choose to cast your bait is just the start of it, but in the case of the tope, if you are lucky enough to get a hook up there is no telling what might happen. Inexplicable dropped baits, bite off’s and reels emptied at an alarming rate are just a few of the tricks the tope has up his sleeve to leave you in a quivering wreck after your short lived encounter.

Harry has not been fishing for as long as some, but since 2011 he has persevered with attempting to land a tope from the craggy north Devon shoreline. On a quick estimation, Harry has traveled around 10,000 miles in that time, drank over a hundred litres of coffee and made many, many cast’s.  But this is par for the course if aiming high and it’s fair to say, you can’t aim much higher than a tope from the open coast.

The beautiful north Devon coastline

The beautiful north Devon coastline

Saturday night was just a night like any other and having spent the day at VMO, Harry and pal Joe Williamson found themselves on a rock some 75 miles away under a dismal winter sky heavy with drizzle. With high tide in the early hours of Sunday morning, this was to be a long session much like those that had gone before and the rods were duly cast. Both anglers sat back and waited. Only this time, there wasn’t a long wait. Just 15 minutes later, Harry’s line fell slack and he jumped to his feet. Picking up the slack and leaning back into the fish, the rod pulled over hard and it thumped away in his grasp giving the initial impression that it was a conger. But soon the fish came towards the shore, forcing Harry to wind like the devil to keep in touch. By now, thoughts had turned to tope and as the leader appeared and the lead weight hovered above the water, a broad grey back broke the surface and his suspicions were confirmed. Joe had made his way down to water level, large net in hand ready to assist and after the fish had changed direction several times, charging about in the rocks, Joe was able to finally ease it into the net. Both anglers were ecstatic, but there was no time to savour the moment.

Along the rocks from where both anglers were dealing with the fish, Joe’s reel was spewing line off at staggering speed, the ratchet whining out in the night air. Leaving Harry to deal with his fish, Joe sprinted for his rod and soon made contact with another spirited fish. This time it was Harry’s turn to man the net and unbelievably enough a second tope was soon on the rocks. In absolute disbelief, the two anglers looked down at their catch, no doubt mesmerized by the events that unfolded in such a short space of time.


Harry Brake, tope 30lb 4oz

Harry’s tope weighed 30lb 4oz and Joe’s went a little bigger at 32lb 6oz. Wire traces and Varivas Big Mouth Xtra hooks holding squid and mackerel baits did the damage and although both anglers were keen for a ‘double’ photo, it was agreed that it was better to keep the fish out for as little time as possible in order for them to survive.


Joe williamson, tope 32lb 6oz

There are some things that stick with you in angling for many years to come and undoubtedly for Harry and Joe, this will be one of them.




October bass and mullet

Mike Ladle’s contribution to today’s blog shows how a change of tactic can make all the difference when the chips are down. Enjoy!

How much longer it will be worth going bass and mullet fishing this season is yet to be seen.  Even though, of course, you CAN continue right through the winter and in years gone by I have done just that. However, in the colder months everything tends to slow down and I prefer to go to the river or to my local ponds where results are more predictable.  Anyway, the number of tides when the fish will come close in to feed on maggots is now reducing so I take every chance that I get.

The other day I met my pals Bill and Nigel in the cliff top car park, to fish the first spring tide of the series which was big enough to reach the maggoty weed.  By the time we arrived at our chosen spot, about an hour before high water, the fish were already showing on the surface.  I stopped at the first mound of weed and my pals walked on another hundred metres or so to the next spot.  Nigel had brought his fly rod in hopes of mullet while Bill and I both chose to spin.  I started off with a big Slandra and Bill was using a weedless Evo Stix lure modelled on his home-made Slug-gills.  Neither of our lures seemed to interest the fish, even though we could see that there were bass among the surface skimming mullet.  Every so often small shoals of fry would spray out of the water, presumably disturbed by the bass or mullet beneath them.

None of us were catching anything so I stopped fishing and rooted about in my lure box.  At the back end of the season, mullet will sometimes feed, almost as aggressively as bass, on small fry, so I put on a size 2, silver Mepps to try and imitate the little baitfish.  It worked.  With the braided line I could cast beyond the shoals of surface feeding fish and by keeping the rod up and winding steadily the tiny spinner flickered along just under the surface.  After just a few casts there was a fierce pull and I was in.  Of course I expected a bass and it was a couple of minutes before I saw that it I was playing a good mullet.  For five minutes the fish ran and kited about repeatedly before I could beach it on a breaking wave.  All three points of the treble hook were inside the mouth of the mullet so I carefully eased them out before taking its picture. The fish was 62 centimetres long which on my length/weight graph is about six-and-a-quarter pounds although it probably weighed a bit more as they are in mint condition at this time of the year.

Well over 6lb of fighting fit mullet

Well over 6lb of fighting fit mullet

Encouraged, I returned the mullet and started fishing again.  The next bite proved to be a titchy little bass which I quickly returned.  For a few minutes I had no more bites so I walked along to see how my pals were doing.  At this point neither of them had caught anything but as I watched Nigel’s fly rod arched over and he hooked a cracking mullet.

Nigel play's a spirited fish on the fly rod

Nigel play’s a spirited fish on the fly rod

After he’d beached his fish I decided to pack in and leave them to it. There were still some fish moving as I walked back so I HAD to have another cast with my Mepps.  It wasn’t long before I had a bite and landed a bass of about two-and-a-half pounds but that was my last fish of the session.

Note the tiny Mepps lure

Note the tiny Mepps lure

Bill emailed later to say that although he’d blanked Nigel had caught two smallish bass.

The following day I couldn’t go but, understandably,  Bill and Nigel went again.  The conditions were excellent with lots of surface feeding fish.  Unlike the previous night the bass were keen to feed and Bill’s plastic eel caught him nine fish including a few three pound plus ones.  Nigel, again fishing a dry fly or a tiny Delta on his fly rod also had nine bass, including one of four-and-a-half pounds and once more he landed a chunky mullet.  All in all it was a wonderful couple of hours’ fishing.  Pity I couldn’t join them because the following day it blew strongly from the south and the weed piles were all washed away.