small eyed ray fishing

South Wales small eyed ray fishing

The south Wales coast has a long standing reputation for producing small eyed rays, but a lot of these fish are caught by just a few anglers. Dean Booker has certainly found his share over the years and tells us how, where and when on todays blog…

Small Eyed rays are a prime target species along the south wales coast and are present in good numbers for most of the year if you know where to look. Marks such as Sand Spit at Sully, Monk Nash Beach and Hutchins in Portcawl have a track record for producing the goods. These venues offer a realistic chance of catching a ray with the average size of the fish around 6 or 7lb, but you may well encounter other species along the way.

Dean Booker with a respectable small eyed ray

Dean Booker with a respectable small eyed ray

Numbers of blonde rays have increased dramatically over the last few years which is great to see and they are obviously a welcome catch, but because of this it makes things harder when going all out for a small eyed.

Blonde rays used to be thin on the ground and it was once possible to catch half a dozen small eyed rays in a session, but it is now the blonde that is more likely to take your bait meaning that the small eyed is a greater challenge that needs thinking about. Dogfish and conger are amongst the other species that may find you bait when wetting a line here.

There are three venues in my opinion that really stand out if it is a small eyed ray you are particularly interested in catching. Witches Point, Ogmore Deeps and Porthcawl Pier.

Although other species are encountered here, 99% of the rays caught are small eyeds.

Anglers tackling the Sand Spit

Anglers tackling the Sand Spit

Ray season

The small eyed ray season usually starts in March towards the tail end of the cod season on the first set of spring (big) tides and they will then be present right through to Christmas time. Day or nights seems to make little difference to the catch rate and it’s more a case of catching it right. Both settled and rough seas can be productive so don’t be put off if the weather is a bit nasty.

Tackle

When it comes to tackle, my current choice of rod is the Anyfish Anywhere Tournament Grand Prix. I fish with a pair of these and although many people may think they are over gunned for tackling rays on the sand, I really love the through action and the rods seems to suit my style of cast. When conditions are more favourable, I’ll occasionally switch to some lighter Century  models, just for a change. Casting distance can often pay off on many of the marks and it’s important that your rod can handle 7oz of lead to ensure the lead and bait is nailed to the bottom in what may be a racing tide. Make sure you cast up tide and let out a bow of line. Smaller leads may struggle to take hold on the sand and if your tackle is not on the bottom, you will not catch a ray… end of story. I’m a huge Daiwa fan and all of my reels are Saltist BG30 multiplier reels. They are great for casting and if maintained will last for years. I own several and they are all running at different speeds to suit different conditions on the day.

A fleet of well maintained reels

A fleet of well maintained reels

Rigs are simple and my preference is for a long pulley rig (five foot). 5/0 Varivas Big Mouth Xtra hooks baited with sandeel and squid are the only way to go. Step up the body and trace to 100lb. This extra thickness will not put fish off but it could help you to land a bonus fish if it finds your bait.

Sandeel wrapped in squid is all you need

Sandeel wrapped in squid is all you need

Over the years I have been lucky to land some good sized small eyed rays from the areas mentioned including a best of dead on 13lb as well as a number of hight 12’s. These fish have been the result of a lot of rod hours so like with any species, it’s a case of getting out what you put in.

Safety

Safety should never be an after thought no matter where you are fishing but I’d like to mention a few things regarding some of the venues mentioned in this piece-

Sand Spit

Do not try and access the sandpit before it fully uncovers if you have not fished here before. If you cross at the wrong point, you may become stuck in deep mud.

If in doubt, wait for it to expose fully. The flooding tide can backfill without you realising here so you really should visit for the first time with an experienced angler.

Witches Point & Ogmore Deeps

These venues are very exposed and if there is a swell running, never turn your back on the sea. This is one venue where a flotation jacket or life vest may be worth considering.

Dean's son.... gets in on the action

Dean’s son, Connor, gets in on the action

15174673_10207661157070605_1628190647_n

February – An alternative approach for a quiet fishing month

We all know how slow the fishing can be in February. But have you ever considered what fish may be feeding under your feet? A huge number of mini species remain at the base of rocks, harbour walls and jetties throughout the year and can provide some great fun with the right tackle. Bruce Hough gives us an insight in to how he approaches LRF (light Rock Fishing) in todays blog.

Generally, as sea anglers we spend much of our time in pursuit of that dream fish, and I’m no exception, but for myself it’s not all about the “bigguns” and during those sometimes long periods of inactivity when the big baits sit awaiting attention, I enjoy nothing more than dabbling in a bit of LRF (Light Rock Fishing).

By fining down your tackle and dropping very small baits down the edge it’s surprising the amount of smaller species that can be found below our feet.

The mini species, as they’re known, come in a massive variety of shapes, colours and forms, and with tackle to suit, can give great sport and endless fun for not just adults but also juniors, the elderly and disabled alike, especially during the warmer months.

Thumbnail sized slithers of fish, ragworm, a squid tentacle or a leg of a peeler crab matched to fine wire hooks of size 6 to as low as size 22 on a light paternoster style rig will account for the various Gobies, Blennies and Rockling.

A colourful array of gobies and blennies

A colourful array of gobies and blennies

as well as many colourful Wrasse such as the Ballan, Goldsinney, Rock Cook, Corkwing or Cuckoo.

How to catch wrasse

 

With perseverance and a little luck, more exotic species such as Dragonet or even Tadpole fish can be tempted.

sea fishing for cod

Despite its name, LRF doesn’t have to be solely from the rocks, in fact any structure such as piers, marinas, harbour walls, breakwaters and even some promenades will have a resident population of fish to target.

Another effective method is to add small baits to Sabiki Rigs, fished on the bottom these will tempt all the usual critters but when “twitched” will also appeal to the voracious Sea Scorpion, Poor Cod and Pouting.

fishing with lures

 

Try them off the bottom with small fish strips and they can be deadly for Sand Smelt, small Coalfish and Pollack.

Lure fishing for bass

Tackle for this type of fishing need not be expensive at all and a simple light spinning rod rated up to 28g coupled with a 2000 sized fixed spool reel will suffice nicely and handle any surprise bigger fish should they come along.

Mono from 5 -10lb will do the job but I personally prefer braid (Power Pro is highly recommended) for the low diameter and superior bite detection, which I tie direct to the chosen rig.

I also keep my lead weight/sinker as light as I can get away with to present everything as naturally as I can.
My choice of hooks come from leading manufacturers such as Trabucco, Yuki, Sasame or Sabpolo and are widely available, but for the majority of my fishing, I find that most coarse fishing hooks are also well up to the job and will handle any larger fish.
Sinkers can also come in a variety of styles including non-toxic, drop shot and slim line and shiny which can be used for added attraction. Among the accessories I carry are very small lures, jigs and artificial baits such as Isome which can be flicked out and slowly dragged and twitched along the bottom for various flatfish and even predators such as Bass or bumped over rocks and up through the water levels for Ballan Wrasse and bigger Pollack. There really is no end to the amount of experimenting that can be done.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that these little guys aren’t worth the effort or bait, match them with fine tipped rods and very light tackle and they’ll certainly “pull your string” and get the adrenalin going in their own little way.

So next time the going gets tough, get searching for those forgotten species that live in the crooks and crannies amongst the weed and rocks where you don’t need to be a tournament caster.

teddy-boy-new

Can you uptide using braid?

A recent debate on social media regarding the use of a braided mainline for uptide fishing sparked much discussion. Seasoned boat angler, Scott Smy, guests on today’s VMO blog to offer his thoughts on the subject…

A recent post on everyone’s favourite media channel Facebook posed the question…..’Can you use braid for Uptiding’? Considering the number of differing views this post generated I thought it would be useful to run through some of the pros and cons of using braid for uptiding, using the Bristol Channel as a casing point.

I guess the simple answer to the question from my and many other anglers perspective is ‘yes’; you can use braid effectively when uptiding. Having spent almost the best part of almost 30 years fishing from boats in the Bristol Channel (both on charters and my own craft) I would like to think I know a thing or two about uptiding in these generally shallow fast-running waters. I have to say for the majority of that time I had been using mono lines in 15-20lb breaking strain along with a 40-50lb leader. However, in the past couple of years my attention has turned to using braid and to be brutally honest I find it a complete joy to use when compared to mono.

Loaded up and ready to go. With braid!

Loaded up and ready to go. With braid!

The first thing you will discover using braid is that the bite detection is second to none and you can spot the first enquiry on the rod tip long before the fish picks up the bait properly and steams off downtide, which personally has resulted in a greater percentage of positive hook-ups compared to mono. However it is essential that rods are securely fastened down to the boat rail if left unattended as the take from a large smoothhound or ray can be savage to say the least and could lead to rods and reels disappearing over the side, never to be seen again. Also, once hooked the sensitivity of the braid makes playing the fish so much more enjoyable as you can feel every head shake, although this does mean that you have to be careful not to bully the fish too much.

I also find that fishing with braid allows the grip weight to hold much more affectively when fishing in strong currents. On a recent charter trip out of Minehead fishing an offshore sandbank for rays where the tide was steaming through it was noticeable that those uptiding with braid were able to find and hold bottom whilst those using mono struggled to hold until the tide had eased off. The one problem I have found with braid is that occasionally it allows the lead to dig into the seabed a bit too well and has resulted in having to try to pull for a break (trying to break out 30lb braid is not easy and should be left to the skipper).

A beautiful blonde taken on a braid uptide outfit

A beautiful blonde taken on a braid uptide outfit

I have heard of instances where anglers using braid have been cut-off when using it over shallow water reef/coral marks due to the amount of line you need to feed out. This can be a downside to using braid and whilst tying on a leader of 20ft of 40-50lb mono can help reduce tackle losses and make it easier for the skipper when bringing fish to the waiting net, there will be times when you just have to revert back to mono. However the majority of the time this isn’t an issue for the areas I am uptiding which would be considered to be at the lower end of the Channel which are generally a bit deeper and less snaggy than the upper reaches. I guess it’s a case of horses for courses.

A further downside to the use of braid uptiding is the problem of you fishing next to your mate who is still using mono. If you are all using braid on the boat then no problem. However, if some of your fellow anglers are using mono then tangles can become a problem and worst still braid has a tendency to cut through mono when it is under tension. Your mate fishing next to you certainly isn’t going to thank you when your braid slices through his mainline as a 20lb Cod hits the surface just behind the boat!

12lb Bullhuss

Tackle

Fixed spools are becoming increasingly popular on charter boats these days and they are ideal for uptiding when trying to cast from a moving deck. Having initially brought them for use on continental rods for shore fishing, I have been using the Penn Surfblaster 8000 reels for uptiding and have found it to be more than adequate. Apart from the ability to ‘pick-up’ the slack line very quickly (one of the main advantages of a fixed spool), it has a great drag system for when fish get close to the boat. Also being a reel from the Penn stable it is well-built and will certainly handle the pressure put upon it by a large ray or conger hanging in the tide.

A relatively soft action uptider is essential when using braid. I am a big fan of Daiwa boat rods and use the TDX 4-10oz which is probably one of the best uptide rods ever made.

In terms of terminal tackle I have found that using an uptide boom locked between 2 swivels is far more effective than having a sliding boom as this acts like a bolt-rig and results in more hook-ups, especially for fish such as hounds which have a tendency to tear off with the bait. Hook sizes vary according to bait but I rarely find you need anything larger than a 6/0 uptiding out of ports such as Watchet, Minehead etc. Hooks are always Varivas Big Mouth Extra’s which are proven and have never let me down.

uptide boat fishing rig

Simple uptide tackle. Note the nail in the lead to hold the hook for casting

norway-cod-fishing

Norway fishing holiday – Where to start?!

If you enjoy your fishing holidays, Norway couldn’t have escaped your attention. But where do you start when it comes to tackle? And what about that weather?

Today, John Strange of Guided Fishing Norway gives you a few things to think about…

Planning a fishing holiday to Norway takes a little thought in order to ensure you bring clothing and equipment which is suitable. You could be facing extremes in both the weather and the types of mark you could be fishing.

You’ll also be very limited by luggage allowances on flights, so it’s important not to waste space in your holdall with unnecessary items.

Clothing essentials

Norway fishing holiday

You will need a good quality set of waterproofs, preferably breathable, because with lots of thermal layers you can quickly overheat walking to a mark. Then you need decent quality thermal layers. A wicking base layer first, then some mid layers or a thermal suit, depending on season. Balaclava, gloves, mittens and hat are all very useful, as is the ability to add or remove these to regulate temperature. Decent woollen socks, combined with thermal boots finish off your typical Norway fishing outfit. But lastly and most importantly your boots MUST be studded for gripping on ice and rock.

Wrapping up for the weather leaves you to concentrate on the job in hand

Wrapping up for the weather leaves you to concentrate on the job in hand

 

Fishing equipment 

You’ll need a standard UK beach casting rod rated at 6-8 ounces. We recommend a glass tip as sometimes you’ll be fishing deeper marks, maybe hundreds of feet deep, and setting the tip is a real bonus when there’s no current. Bring something you’re personally happy casting with, not something someone else can cast 300 yards on a tournament field with. You’re fishing for potentially really big and powerful fish, so a rod which bends and absorbs some of this will be more appropriate than a rod designed for tournament casting on the field.

A glass tipped rod is great for settling the lead

A glass tipped rod such as this is great for settling the lead

Match the rod to a strong multiplier reel such as the Daiwa Saltist BG30 (the loud ratchet is essential) loaded with.43mm line but always run your reels on the slow side, as a birds nest in temperatures of -10c when the fish are biting is a real pain. Distance casting is not always necessary. Alternatively, a strong fixed spool like a Penn Spinfisher 6500LL makes a perfect Norway shore fishing reel.

Tough reels under typical Norway winter weather

Bring plenty of pulley rigs, tied with 100lb and 150lb line. Hooks from 2/0 up to 8/0 are generally good for most marks, with 100lb for 2/0 to 4/0 and 150lb for larger hooks. Many of the fish you’ll encounter in Norway have sharp teeth and it’s vital to use these heavier lines that won’t deter a fish from taking the bait but will certainly give you a chance off landing it! Even smaller baits on 2/0’s can catch big fish, so forget 60lb and 80lb snoods.

Always use rotten bottoms on all your rigs, it preserves the marks from line snags, and saves you hassle while fishing. Snagged tackle on the sea bed in hundreds of feet of water will remain there, especially when there is little or no tide. This can render a mark unfishable so it does pay to think about what you are casting out there.

6oz and 7oz grip leads are the mainstay out here and on average 20 leads will do you for a week. Bring a decent headlamp, plenty of heavy bait elastic, unhooking pliers, bait knife and scissors.

There’s no tackle shops out here, so think ahead and bring plenty of what you need and none of what you don’t. A good tip is to imagine a fishing session and think what you would actually need for a days fishing, this helps weed out items which will be sat in your bag all week unused.

And bring plenty of enthusiasm, because behind every picture of a twenty pound cod there are hours of hard work standing in pretty tough conditions. Enjoy your time here in Norway, fish hard and you just might get the catch of your lifetime.

Tight lines

John

Sea fishing in Norway Veals Mail Order

A world record shore caught ling for GFN’s Phil Hambrook

A splendid ray against the setting sun for Carl McCormack

Fishing for blonde rays

Carl McCormack takes the reigns on today’s blog. Carl has landed a huge number of specimen blonde rays from the south Devon coastline, so who better to give us his thoughts on fishing for them…

Along the southwest coast of the UK, the blonde ray is the largest species of ray you are likely to encounter and as such attracts much attention from both local angler’s and those willing to travel. During the autumn, the larger female blonde ray moves inshore to drop its purses and this is the prime time to target a fish of specimen weight. It goes without saying that these fish should always be handled and treated with the upmost respect.

Location and times

The majority of the productive marks in south Devon seem to be fairly shallow but can have a lot of tide. Without doubt, the blondes seem to be attracted to an area subject to extreme tidal movement. Another feature the blondes seem to love is an area of clean sand that is very close to the rough ground. I would think the reason for this is because it’s more than likely where they lay their eggs. As previously mentioned, the prime time for the larger fish is in the autumn, but blonde rays can be caught throughout the summer months too. The fish definitely move closer to the shore during the evening and in the dark, but occasionally can be found inshore if the sea is coloured up after a good stir.

A stunning blonde for Carl McCormack

A stunning blonde for Carl McCormack

Tackling up

Any sea fishing beach caster that is capable of casting a 6oz lead should be ample, although if you have a fair bit of rough ground to winch your catch in over you may want to consider something with some extra power. Blonde rays love to hug the bottom, sometimes to the extent that you’ll actually think your snagged up. If this happens, don’t pull too hard-  they’ll usually swim off again after a short time. Reel wise, we use Penn 525 mags loaded with 20lb Varivas Yellow Sport line. This high visibility mono has the added bonus of being great for spotting bites in the dark.

Penn 525 Mag3 - Carl's choice of reel

Penn 525 Mag3 – Carl’s choice of reel

Rigs

The good old pulley rig is as effective as anything, although we do also use a pulley dropper to keep the bait hard on the bottom. Whichever rig you opt for it always pays to have a long trace of at least 2ft+ to keep the ray away from the lead. We construct our rigs out of 100lb Varivas Heavy Rig Nylon, both for the body and the hook length. There is a very realistic chance of a 20lb plus fish but when they have been landed to over 30lb, there really is no reason not to ensure that your entire set up is as robust as possible. Varivas Big Mouth Xtra hooks of around a size 5/0 are fished as a pair (penell rig) but always match your hook size to your choice and size of bait (see below).

Bait

If we could only use one bait to target the blondes, it would without a doubt be sandeel. The blonde ray is not a fussy eater, most fish baits will work including squid, mackerel or bluey or even a cocktail, but sandeel’s really are so consistent. Lots of anglers like to wrap a piece of squid around their sandeel and this can be a deadly tactic, especially when the fishing is slow, but it can also draw in the dreaded dogfish before a ray gets a look in.

blonde ray fishing bait

A tasty looking sandeel and squid cocktail

The bite

The moment we all wait for! Fishing for the blondes on our coastline is all about the hours you put in and sometimes we could fish as many as ten sessions before we even get a bite from a blonde. It’s important not to be to keen to strike so be patient and let the bite develop. Always fish with the reels clutch slackened off and the ratchet on.

With a little luck, after the initial knocks the rod tip will gradually pull over as the ray moves off with the bait, or the line will fall slack as it dislodges the lead and moves towards you. It’s best to wait for either of these two things to happen before making your move- missed bites are often a result of over excitement and after waiting for many hours for this fish, it’s important to pick your moment. With your clutch set slightly to counteract the initial run, take up the slack, if there is any and lift the rod with a positive action. Fingers crossed, it will be “fish on!”

The result of patience when a ray takes the bait

The result of patience when a ray takes the bait

Unhooking and handling

Fishing from a sandy beach makes landing a ray relatively easy and safe. Use the surf to coax her on to dry land. If the fish is particularly large and the water in front of you is especially shallow, chest waders may be useful. Landing fish from the rocks requires a calm head and good footing. Safety should always take priority over your catch. Fishing alone from the rocks is never a good idea and landing a big fish alone can be tricky, even in favourable conditions.

A long handled net should be used unless it is absolutely safe to bring the fish to within arms length, in which case it can be simply lifted from the water just back from the leading edge of the wing. Use caution when unhooking a blonde ray as it’s powerful jaws can cause damage to unprotected fingers. A T-bar is a very useful tool for this. All of our rays are returned as quickly as possible after a couple of photo’s and a quick meeting with the scales.

Unhooking - fingers or T-Bar? Tough choice

Unhooking – fingers or T-Bar? Tough choice

Another stunning fish for Gary

Fishing for bullhuss

This week, south Devon angler Gary Mitchell explains how he approaches bull huss fishing. Gary has landed some fantastic specimens so this is really worth a read…

Love them or hate them, huss have always been a popular target for a lot of sea anglers. These feisty fish are mean looking bruiser’s that can provide great sport all year round and depending on venues, can differ in appearance from anything from jet black through to beautiful light leopard type markings. When the weather is poor and the tides aren’t quite right, there’s often a mark capable of producing fish that will suit the tide and weather conditions.

Huss can be found on many venues around the southwest of England and along much of the Welsh coastline. Typically, the best way to locate spots that produce huss is to look for mixed to rough ground that offers a good depth of water and tidal flow. However, in areas where they are more prolific, shallow cleaner marks can produce just as well, particularly after some rough weather that has coloured the sea up. Some deep water river mouths such as the entrance to the river Dart can also be very productive.

Gary Mitchell with one of many double figure bull huss to his name

Gary Mitchell with one of many large huss he has landed

Fishing times

One of the best things about huss is they can be a viable target all year round, day or night. March through to June can be a very productive time for big fish as a lot of breeding females tend to be inshore laying purses (their young ) and again autumn into winter is a good time for numbers of fish. Night fishing tends to be the most productive time to target huss but fishing through the hours of daylight can be a good way to target big specimens as most of the better fish I have caught have been in daylight when there are generally less pest fish such as dogfish and pout to intercept your bait.

Getting geared up

A fairly heavy rod is needed as quite often the areas that huss inhabit are rough ground marks and you need something with a bit of poke to get your fish and end tackle out of the bottom.

A typical example of a rod with guts- The Leeda Icon M Sport Power

A typical example of a rod with guts- The Leeda Icon M Sport Power

My choice of reel is a Daiwa SLOSH 30 reel loaded with a 30lb mainline. This may seem extreme but your line can take a real beating over this kind of terrain and you need the diameter to combat this.

Gary's choice of reel- Daiwa SL30SH

Gary’s choice of reel- Daiwa SL30SH

Rig wise, it really does pay to keep it simple in order to avoid getting hung up. I use a short pulley rig constructed with 150lb monofilament and tied to a pair of 8/0 Varivas Big Mouth Xtra hooks. These wide gape hooks are perfect for presenting a large fish bait.

A rotten bottom is essential and I favour an upside down Gemini Rig Clip to hold the lead which is connected with a short length of 25lb mono. If the ground is particularly nasty, I’ll simplify things further by using a good quality three way swivel to construct a basic paternoster rig.

Bait 

Huss are not known as fussy eaters and will hoover up almost anything put before them.I’ve found refrozen baits to work particularly well. My favourite huss bait would have to be half a mackerel as these bigger baits are more difficult for the nuisance fish to get in their mouths. Other baits that can work well include squid, cuttlefish and in some regions, rockling.

A beautifully presented mackerel bait

A beautifully presented mackerel bait

Bites and landing 

Bites from huss can vary from very aggressive takes to cautious rattles, but you should always set your ratchet just incase a large fish attempts to make off.

When waiting to strike, choose your moment and be sure to set the hooks hard. Huss have very bony mouths and are known for spitting baits out at the last minute as the result of a poor hook up. I like to strike twice in an effort to really get the hooks in there. There is nothing more frustrating than seeing a good fish float away just inches from the waiting net after it sheds the hooks. Landing huss with a net is my preferred method, but always be conscious of how close you are to the water and be aware of the sea conditions. Never be tempted to get too close and put yourself in danger- it just isn’t worth it.

Once your huss is in the net, some positive handling is necessary to avoid the rasp of the fishes rough skin that can do some nasty damage. Pick the fish up with both hands and avoid lifting it by the tail so as not to damage it. Use a T-Bar to remove the hooks as again, the teeth are extremely sharp and could make a real mess of your fingers.

Bull huss are very hardy out of the water, but all the same they should be handled with consideration for their well-being. Use a sling to weigh the fish, take a couple of pictures and pop her back as quickly as possible. There’s nothing nicer than seeing a huss swimming back down in to the kelp!

Another stunning fish for Gary

Another stunning fish for Gary

A colossal 51lb 5oz conger for Mark Bryce

The conger and how to catch him

This week, we welcome south Devon angler Mark Bryce to the VMO blog. Mark provides an interesting perspective on targeting conger eels from south west coastline…

Most big conger venues are well documented and include the Channel Island of Alderney, Brixham breakwater, Hopes Nose and Devils Point which holds the current British record- an eel of 68lb 8oz caught by Martin Larkin in 1992.

Other venues include Mutton Cove, most of the Fal river system and Dorset’s Chesil Beach. Open coast fishing for eels can be productive, though these eels tend to be smaller and a 30lb eel from the open coast is a exceptional fish from most regions.

Tackling up at Mutton Cove

Tackling up at Mutton Cove

Rob Yorke with an open coast conger

Rob Yorke with an open coast conger

Tackle 

Big eels will test your tackle so a stiff rod that can handle a large bait and a 6 or 8oz lead should be used. Reels should be loaded with 35lb to 40lb mono and have a high speed retrieve in order to get the eel up away from the bottom once hooked, or simply to winch your gear up and away from the snags.

My preferred set up for conger eel fishing is a Century WR300 and a Daiwa SHA 40.

Daiwa Sealine-X SHA40

Daiwa Sealine-X SHA40

Distance casting is not usually a necessity and a 40 yard lob will put you in the feeding zone on most marks. On many venues, tackle losses can be high so use a rotten bottom link and fish a grip style weight to stop your gear falling in to small holes and cracks in the rocks. Heavy monofilament traces are kinder to eels than wire and should be tied to an 8/0 hook. A penell rig (two hooks together) can be used but can be more likely to snag on a rough sea bed.

Living in Plymouth, we are lucky to have arguably the best big eel venues In the UK with Devils Point and Mutton Cove being the most famous.

Fishing these venues can be a nightmare if you choose the wrong tides and both of these marks will put you in to 100ft of water. Devils Point will produce fish 2 hours before low water and the first three hours of the flood, especially on neap tides.

Mutton Cove tends fish well on the slightly bigger tides and the ebb is usually the most productive time here.

Bait choices

Fresh bait will out fish frozen bait 99% of the time.In the Tamar the best eel fishing coincides with the arrival of squid, cuttlefish and herring in the river, so this is a good indication as to the popular baits here.

If you have to use frozen bait, make sure it is good quality. Stocking up with mackerel during the summer months is time well spent if you intend on fishing for conger during the autumn and winter. Other baits I’ve landed big eels on are mullet fillets and fresh pouting.

Many anglers use far too big a bait and will often lose the fish in mid-water as a result of a poor hook up. Hooks should always be proud of your bait that should be well secured with elastic.

When to target conger

Generally, Conger can be caught all year round but here in the south west the best time is from October through to March. Most anglers think that they are only caught after dark but this is not always the case.We have such a deep river system that eels can be effectively targeted in the day light too. Open coast congering in shallower water is much better after dark

The bite and the fight

Takes from big eels tend to start off gentle unlike the small ‘straps’ which can give erratic bites, much like large whiting. The bigger fish seem to take their time and often drop the bait several times. Patience is the key, so wait fore the bit to develop before setting the hooks. Once you’ve made contact, a big eel will hold up in its lair and may need a lot of persuasion to relinquish its grip. A 40lb eel will pull line off your reel even against a tightly set clutch. When it comes to finally landing your prize, keep the clutch set incase the eel decides to make a last ditch dive from freedom. 99% of the time a gaff will have to be used to land a large eel. This takes skill and practice when an angry eel is thrashing around on the surface, but by gaffing the eel in the chin, it will live to fight another day. A conservation minded alternative is to use a large net and this is becoming an increasingly popular and effective method.

A colossal 51lb 5oz conger for Mark Bryce

A colossal 51lb 5oz conger for Mark Bryce

When eels come on the feed here in Plymouth, you tend to find all the popular marks will produce eels throughout that week. Whether it’s tidal state, moon phase, or air pressure that influences the fish to feed I’m not entirely certain, but be prepared to put some long hours in if you are keen to succeed. You might get lucky on your first session and bag that magical 40lb eel – it does happen – but that really is luck at play. Both myself and Rob have landed eels of this size and I have been fortunate to land a real beast of 51lb 5oz.

Persevere, put some hours in and with a little bit of luck, success will come your way.

A large squid for Steve Perry

How To Catch Squid In The UK

Joining the VMO blog this week, Steve Perry offers his thought’s on the ever popular method that is jigging for squid…

A few years ago myself and a group of friends started targeting squid from the open shore and on piers. It started off as just a little bit of fun with a few cheap jigs fished under floats; a method we knew had been used for a long time by other anglers in the south west.

We fished not knowing much about seasons, tides, moon phases or weather conditions and had very limited success, although the squid we did manage to land always seemed to be massive, with a healthy number around 4 – 5lb in weight taken over a period of around four years.

A large squid for Steve Perry

A large squid for author Steve Perry

As time went on, we started squidding earlier and earlier in the season in a bid to figure out the most productive times and tides to locate these amazing creatures which are lovely to eat, but more importantly the best bait you will find for targeting species such as conger, cod, bass, huss and several species of ray. I’ve even used them to target much larger species including my first ever shore caught common skate which fell to a large English squid that I had caught myself.

A massive common skate makes short work of a squid bait

A massive common skate makes short work of a squid bait

Over the years we began to establish the best conditions needed to target squid in numbers.

A full moon and the associated spring tides during October, November and December appear to be most productive time with the high tide falling two or three hours after sunset producing the largest numbers of squid. When it comes to weather conditions, calm frosty nights and clear water are favourable when it is not unusual to land anywhere between 40 and 60 squid in a few hours. It would seem that squid numbers are definitely up on the south coast with the season now starting earlier and ending later so there is greater scope than ever to start jigging for squid in the UK. It’s brilliant fun and only requires very basic tackle meaning it is perfect for introducing young anglers to the sport.

When it comes to squid jigs, there are so many on the market that our biggest dilemma was deciding exactly what to go for, and why. A little online investigation revealed that squid fishing is huge in Japan and one company in particular, Yamashita, appeared to dominate the world of squid jigs. At just under sixteen pound a piece, these jigs are considerably more expensive than the poorly finished versions we had experimented with until now, but none the less, we ordered some up with a view to putting them through their paces.

Squid Fishing Jigs

Once we had established the most productive fishing times, we were keen to focus our attentions on the jigs themselves and our online research pointed towards the fact that the Yamashita jigs were insulated, or as the manufacturer referred to this fabric coating, “Warm Jacket”. This increases the body temperature of the jig by a degree or so which makes them all the more appealing to the feeding squid.

My fishing buddy, Sam, was the first to have a cast with one of the new jigs and it didn’t take long to realise just how effective they are. By the end of this first session, I began to regret leaving my new jig at home as Sam went on to out fish me on a ratio of at least five to one! Over the next couple of seasons, we enjoyed some very productive sessions with bags of squid in excess of 40lb landed on the Yamashita Warm Jacket squid jigs. This range of squid jigs are undoubtedly the best squid fishing jigs we have used to date.

The Yamashita squid jig takes another squid

The Yamashita squid jig takes another squid

We began to note the following patterns over subsequent sessions-

Selecting a jig to suit conditions on the day can pay off and it’s notable how some colours  seem to work better than others, depending on water clarity. In calm, clear water, natural colours, blues and browns seem to be a real killer. If there is any colour in the water, pink and orange jigs can work wonders and if it is particularly dirty, a small glow stick attached a few inches above the jig can make all the difference.

A selection of Yamashita Warm Jacket squid jigs

A selection of Yamashita Warm Jacket squid jigs

The Method

Freelining the jig without any additional weight is undoubtedly the most simple and effective method we have used. Being able to spot your squid and casting to it is very productive so lights around piers and harbours should be used to your advantage. Not only will you see the squid easier but they will also be attracted to the lights.

If the squid are not visible, cast your lure out and work it back sink and draw fashion. By covering some ground, you’ll soon work out if the squid are present. Nine times out ten, the jig will be taken as it falls down through the water so be careful not to pull it way from the squid in the excitement. It’s easily done! A regular lure or spinning rod and reel loaded with light braid is all you need, and a fluorocarbon leader of around 15lb should be connected to the lure itself.

Location

Weymouth harbour, Brighton and the Torbay area are all recognised as venues capable of producing some good squid fishing. But there is no reason why you shouldn’t give it a try anywhere along the south coast of the UK. The Channel Islands also offer some excellent prospects.

Conservation

Squid fishing is a great way to get some bait for the freezer or provide a tasty meal, but as with any form of fishing, always take only what you need and will use. Look after your catch in a cool box with some ice packs to keep it in tip-top condition.

As a foot note, squid fishing can be a messy business, so a large towel to remove ink and slime from your hands is something you wont want to be without.

A good catch of squid that will be put to good use after freezing down

A nice catch of squid that will be put to good use after freezing down. Only take what you need!

Whipping over, ready to pull back through

Replacing A Damaged Rod Ring. A lost Art?

No matter your level of experience in shore angling, we’ve all been there when the tripod goes over on the rocks, you pick it up to discover perhaps one or two eyes have smashed and will now need replacing. Now some might think that’s a good rod ruined?
Or perhaps you could take it to a rod builder or local tackle shop who may have someone who does their repairs for them?
The alternative is to try replacing those guides yourself- after all, looking after our kit is just another skill in our toolbox as a sea angler and one that over the last few years has become a lost art. Here is a basic how to guide on carrying out an effective repair.
A damaged ring that needs to be replaced

A damaged ring that needs to be replaced

1) Removing the guide will require a steady hand and patience, but also a lighter and a sharp Stanley blade. Gently heat the resin over the guide foot for a couple of seconds (don’t get the flame too close) and the resin will soften enough that you can gently slice through with a blade to the thread below. I favour several very slow gentle passes as you don’t want to go through to the blank and starting over the guide foot allows you a safety net, to a degree.
2) Once it’s cut open you should be able to prise the guide away and unwind the rest of the thread. A quick scrape over with a blade on any resin and a gentle rub with a piece of wet and dry paper will leave you with a nice smooth surface for the new guide to sit on. There are loads of different guides (also known as rod rings) on the market such as Fuji BNHG, BMNAG and KWAG patterns.
Almost ready for the new ring- just a gentle rub with wet and dry paper required

Almost ready for the new ring- just a gentle rub with wet and dry paper required

 3) It’s now time to begin whipping the new guide to the rod. There are many colours of fishing rod whipping thread to choose from, whether you opt to keep with the same colour scheme or select a wackier colour. Start by taping the guide in place and check it’s in line with the others. Start your guide wrap 4-5mm or so away from the guide foot.  Make a few turns over itself while maintaining pressure and then trim the tag end. Wrap the thread up to the guide and continue till roughly 4-5mm of the guide foot remains uncovered. You will need a 6inch length of thread doubled over to insert as a pull through, and continue to whip over this for another 3-4mm. Cut the thread and pass through the loop of the tag and pull it through to complete your wrap and repeat this process on the second leg of the guide.
Whipping over, ready to pull back through

Whipping over, ready to pull back through

It’s a time consuming process but very satisfying to see the end result.
Finish the threads by using the back of a spoon to gently even up any gaps.
Take your time and this will be the end result

Take your time and this will be the end result

 4) You are now ready to seal in your hard work. A rod building 2 part epoxy resin is what you need, NOT EPOXY GLUE! Mix up equal parts and apply it over the threads to make sure they are covered and also allowing some overlap. Be sure to get some under the inside of the guide foot too. You can do a thick coat or 2-3 thinner coats with the latter definitely offering a superior finish if you’re not in a rush.
Almost there. See the threads? Another coat required.

Almost there. See the threads showing through? Another coat required.

5) Cleanliness is the key to a good finish and be sure to keep your work away from dust, pets and excitable children. The rod will need turning frequently for a few hours, perhaps every 2-5 minutes at first, increasing to 10-20 minutes until it goes off. This will prevent any unsightly runs. An electronic turning devise will make life a lot easier and will negate the need to constantly monitor your work.
The finished article and the reward for your efforts

The finished article and the reward for your efforts

Once set, allow 24 hours before putting the rod back to use again.  Take pride in your handy work and that next fish will feel that little bit more special now you have crafted your own repair.
The latest hook to join the Varivas range. The Catfish.

Varivas Catfish Hook

With an increase in the number of dedicated specimen anglers around the UK, we decided in 2016 to launch the Varivas Seriola pattern in a bid to provide a hook that will land absolutely anything that swims around our shores. The pattern proved extremely popular but a number of anglers contacted us wanting something in between the Varivas Seriola and the classic Big Mouth Xtra pattern that has become the go-to hook for anyone targeting the big stuff.

During the latter part of 2017 and after discussing our requirements with Japan, a certain hook pattern was suggested and shortly afterwards several samples came through.

First impressions were that these were something special and although we recognised the style of hook, we had yet to see such a fine quality example. Again, this is something we have come to expect from Japan and we shouldn’t have been surprised by this.

The latest hook to join the Varivas range. The Catfish.

The latest hook to join the Varivas range. The Catfish.

Over the coming weeks, we put the hooks through the mill by using them over some pretty hostile terrain for a variety off different species. We also passed the samples around to our team of field testers and the results speak for themselves. First to come back to us was Kevin Legge who had been on the look out for a super sharp hook with an offset point with a view to targeting spur dogs on the Devon coast.

Using the hook on its own (no penell) he landed a number of the target species and just a few days later added a conger of 23lb to his tally. Bull huss, that are notoriously tricky to hook and hold, also fell to the new hook.

Kevin Legge, double figure spurdog

Kevin Legge, double figure spurdog

A specimen conger for Kevin Legge

A specimen conger for Kevin Legge

Over the Christmas period, our own Jansen Teakle used the hooks when fishing for thornback rays in the upper reaches of the Bristol Channel and landed a good haul of rays by baiting up with squid and bluey. All of the rays were landed on the new hook which was fished as a penell in conjunction with a Varivas Big Mouth Xtra.

Lip hooked thornback ray

Lip hooked thornback ray

Jansen then used the hooks further down the channel later that week and baiting a 6/0 with a fillet of mackerel really gave the new pattern a good work out by landing a 30lb+ tope in a big sea.

Jansen Teakle, 37lb tope on the Varivas Catfish hook

Jansen Teakle, 37lb tope on the Varivas Catfish hook

Mark Bryce also got in on the spur dog action with this beautifully conditioned example of over 12lb in weight during a daylight session.

Mark Bryce, 12lb+ spurdog

Mark Bryce, 12lb+ spurdog

After a lengthy trial period and plenty of feedback from our guy’s in the field, we realised that we just had to stock this new range and decided simply to name them, ‘Varivas Catfish Hook’. The pattern is recognised as a catfish hook throughout most of Europe, but the quality of the Varivas example really has to be seen to be believed. Boat anglers are already realising the benefits of the hook and those visiting Norway have enjoyed plenty of success with halibut, ling and lumb.

The Varivas Catfish Hook is available in sizes 2/0 – 8/0 and you’ll see them pictured on the website alongside a tape measure to give an idea of scale. The hooks are in Japanese sizes and are considerably larger than you might expect so please be sure to click on this image to give you an idea of size. The 2/0 has been the hook of choice for spurdogs and bullhuss, the 4/0 for cod and bass and the 6/0 – 8/0 for conger and tope.

Size guide

Size guide

We honestly don’t think that you will find a sharper, stronger hook for your UK big fish angling. If you don’t believe us, grab a pack and see for yourselves!