Monthly Archives: January 2018

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

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

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.

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!

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.

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!