Tag Archives: Boat Fishing

Cod galore- A Bristol Channel season to remember!

The Bristol Channel once held a reputation as one of the best cod fisheries in the UK and until recently, many were convinced that that we’d had the best of it. Perhaps we have, but then the 2019-2020 season is not one to be sniffed at as, for whatever reason, numbers of codling have once again returned to the inshore waters of the channel. The majority of fish have been in the 2-4lb bracket, but occasional cod nudging double figures in weight have kept things interesting. 

Many anglers believe that a four year cycle plays a part in the cod fishing here and with the last season of note occurring in 2015-2016, this makes perfect sense. 

As codling return to the Bristol Channel year on year, growing in size but reducing in number owing to commercial pressure in the channel approaches during the summer, it’s great to see fish of this stamp figuring in catches having successfully run the netters gauntlet.

As usual, it was those tackling the upper reaches of the channel who were first in to the season’s fish, with boats such as Channel Explorer operating out of Portishead and skippered by Chris Buxton, making some bumper catches. Uptide tactics, as ever, account for the lion’s share of the fish here.

A fine early season cod landed aboard Channel Explorer

Shore anglers also got in on the action early on, again from the upper channel marks around Clevedon and Portishead. 

Venues such as Battery Point, Walton Bay and Ladye Bay produced some excellent codling sport and together with plenty of thornbacks and conger there was no reason for the rod tips not to be knocking.

The pulley rig has long been a favourite rig here, having been brought to the channel by visiting East coast anglers in the 1980’s, it was soon recognised as the perfect set up for tackling the reefs and associated broken ground found within casting range on many of the marks here, it’s very concept ensuring a hooked fish trails behind the lead that travels up in the water and away from potential snags. 

Pulley rigs work great on cleaner venues too!

Other productive venues that generally begin to produce the goods by December include Sandpoint and Brean Down and both have been on good form . The beauty of these marks is that there are cleaner options, with both sand and mud within easy casting range. 

Local angler John Drury with a typical Sandpoint codling

This season has been no exception and typically anglers have gone away from these marks with bags of six fish or more this winter. 

The recent storms and excessive rain fall have undoubtedly slowed things down a little, not so much because of the freshwater in the estuary, but more than likely the level of chemicals and other deposits that make their way in to the many tributaries that feed the channel. 

But with March now underway, it’s highly likely that we are in for a treat with a spring run on the cards any time soon. 

Any of the marks listed above will produce the goods, but the main focus should be on bait.

Peeler crab is not cheap, but it is a highly effective bait at this time of year and will out fish the worm baits associated with pre-Christmas cod fishing more often than not. Presented on a wide gape hook, such as the Varivas Big Mouth, a 4/0 is perfect for both the size of bait and a codling’s accommodating mouth.

Look for neap tides which open up many venues that are unfishable when the tidal pull is at its strongest. Mild, overcast weather is often a winner with a southerly wind a particularly fishy one. 

East winds can cause the fishing to slow up. Avoid shallow venues, particularly first thing in the morning if the weather has been especially cold as most fish, with perhaps the exception of flounder, being reluctant to feed. The weather really is critical for successful fishing, take a look at XC Weather for a detailed forecast that will help you plan your next trip.

The deeper marks with rough ground at close range can often fish as well at 40 yards as they can at 100, so if fishing two rods, it often pays to drop a bait in close. You’d be surprised just how productive it can be when fishing practically under the rod tips. 

Minehead charter report – with Dave Roberts

Dave Roberts, skipper of Alykat operating out of Minehead on the Bristol Channel coast, gives an account of fishing out of this historic port

Yet another season flies by with many of the Alykat regulars experiencing some fantastic fishing. The cod delighted the ardent angler with many fish well into double figures gracing the decks. Whiting and the occasional haddock also went to make up the catches. Sport with these winter visitors continued into the spring when the temperatures began to rise and the white fish finished their spawning activities after which, they left us yet again as they continued their migration. With spring well in the air, our charters mainly targeted the early run of rays. Many small eyed, blonde, thornback and spotted rays put a healthy bend into our rods as the sandbanks and offshore mud patches continued to attract these fantastic species. Blonde rays to well over the twenty pound mark were taken on many charters.

As spring ran into early summer our next target species the smoothound made its entrance. Packs of these marauding predators smashed our crab and squid offerings with many of them knocking the scales over the double figure line. Though there are two different smoothies, the common and the starry, it has now been confirmed that we only actually catch the starry around our waters.

The smoothhound- a fine fighting fish

Offshore grounds were also in fine form. Tope to over 50lb were taken regularly and the further west we went, the better the tope fishing. Catches of over 100 fish were not uncommon with one aprty actually begging to come home after only 65 fish, wimps! Bull huss are ever on the increase in the Bristol Channel with good sized fish being taken on most trips. The wrecks also did us proud when the tides were in favour. Small neaps are the order of the day here as the water falls slack and clears up nicely. Pollack showed well with occasional cod an ling thrown in for good measure.

Skipper Dave gets in on the action with a pristine cod

Lundy Island is always a pleasure in the summer months. Along its shores are many reef structures where wrasse, pollack and coalfish can be taken in numbers. The sandbanks also produced great fun with dabs, plaice and the occasional turbot making up the bags.

The star of the Bristol Channel calendar has to be the bass, but restrictions on their capture limiting us to one fish per angler in 2017 certainly put a damper on things, However, we did manage a few good days with some super specimens taken, This year though, things have got a damn sight worse.

If you fancy a day afloat with Dave, get in touch today

Spring plaice fishing afloat

Today, we thank Scott Smy for his thoughts on how to set up shop for spring plaice when fishing afloat. These beautifully pattered flatfish can offer exceptional sport on light tackle and are viewed by many as a gateway species in to the summer months of angling action to come…

Having just endured some of the coldest weather we have seen in March for many a year it is strange to think that we are actually in Spring now with snow on the ground, but in Spring we are and that means the arrival of the plaice from both boat and shore.

As water temperatures start to climb large numbers of plaice start to move into UK inshore waters to start to fatten-up having spent the last few months spawning. This means that many plaice caught this time of year are in relatively poor condition and you’ll often hear the expression of them being ‘wafer thin’. However what they lack in condition they can make-up for in sheer numbers particularly if you are targeting them from a boat.

Scott’s pal, Adrian Kruger, with a colourful boat caught brace

Many charter boats running out of ports such as Dartmouth, West Bay and Weymouth specifically target plaice at this time of year as these ports are just a short steam from the two most famous plaice fishing areas on the south coast, those being the Skerries Bank off South Devon and the Shambles off Dorset. Both of these areas produce excellent plaice fishing from the boat and on the right day have the ability to produce large numbers of plaice.

Whilst the Shambles generally produces the larger specimen plaice (particularly later in the year) the Skerries often produces greater catches in terms of numbers, with catches of 100+ fish in one day being a distinct possibility. However both venues share the same characteristics in terms of the perfect conditions needed to be successful and that is generally bright conditions with plenty of sunlight and crystal-clear water as plaice feed by sight. Any sort of east in the wind seems to put the curse on plaice fishing from the boat. One of the benefits of a boat plaice fishing trip is the fact that you don’t need to steam over the horizon like you would do when going wreck fishing so you really do get a full day’s fishing and in many ports the trip is cheaper than a day’s offshore wrecking. Something worth bearing in mind.

Tackle

Whilst most plaice fishing from the boat involves drifting over relatively clean ground using long flowing traces with beads and attractors, this isn’t necessarily always the case. Most of the more productive plaice fishing off Weymouth for instance is on an area of mussel beds located just inside the Shambles Bank itself. This means you are dragging your baited trace over a snaggier bottom made up of small pea mussels which is what the plaice are feeding hard on. Drifting over this ground means keeping your trace much shorter (no more than 4ft in length) and a trace line of a higher breaking strain than that which you would use on clean ground. I usually use 25lb Varivas Sea Bass Shock Leader fluorocarbon trace with an Abu Rauto Spoon (or similar) and black and green beads above the hook which is a 1/0 or 2/0 (depending on bait size) Varivas Saltwater Super Match which will bend out of the snags.

Author Scott with a ‘spoon fed’ plaice

 

This is important when fishing the Weymouth mussel beds as hooks that are too stiff will result in lost gear. It is also essential to check your hook point after every drift as any hook can quickly become blunted. Although you can use 2 hooks I prefer to use just 1 in order to reduce the chance of snagging up. Weights vary depending on the strength of tide but watch style leads work very well – I would take a variety of them between 4 and 8 oz’s.

Fishing the cleaner ground on the banks of the Skerries means a much more refined approach in terms of end tackle. Traces should be 10-12ft in length made up using 15lb fluorocarbon and hook sizes between size 1 and 1/0 (again I use the Varivas Saltwater Super Match or Kamasan B940. A second hook off a 3-way swivel half way along the trace doubles your chances and I always use a large attractor spoon within 4-5” of the hook. If using beads and attractors (which most people do) a good tip is to tie the hook to the end of the trace by a short length of line (with a swivel at one end). This means if you have to cut your hook off due to the plaice swallowing the hook down, which often happens when they are feeding hard, then you don’t end up with beads all over the deck! A watch lead of 4-6oz is all you need on the Skerries. Sometimes it also pays to put a small egg-shaped sinker of 0.5oz above the beads if not using a spoon to ensure your bait is hard on the bottom.

A simple yet highly effective rig for catching plaice on the drift

As far as rods and reels go, an 8-12lb class boat rod with a soft tip which is light enough to hold all day is perfect for plaice fishing. This should be coupled with a small multiplier reel such as a Penn Fathom 12 loaded with 20lb braid and a rubbing leader of 10ft of 30lb mono is perfect for both the Shambles and Skerries. The lack of stretch you get from using braid means you can easily identify bites compared to mono and I have found results in a better ratio of bites to fish landed.

The type of tackle you’ll need for plaice fishing afloat

As most boat fishing for plaice is done on the drift it is essential to let out line as soon as you get that first bite – if not you will simply be dragging your bait away from your intended prize. However using braid over the mussel beds off Weymouth takes some getting used to as every time the lead falls down over a ridge you’ll think you have a bite. Only once you’ve caught a fish can you start to tell the difference between what is bottom and what is a fish.

Bait

By far the most consistent bait for plaice from the boat is ragworm (I prefer large locally dug, not farmed) tipped-off with a long thin strip of squid. Lugworm and blacks in particular will also work but it’s not as good as rag. I also find that on the Weymouth mussel beds peeler crab can be deadly along with the rag/squid and seems to find-out the bigger fish. If using crab then it is worth increasing your hook size to a 2/0 or 3/0. A 4lb+ plaice will swallow a 3/0 hook no bother. On the Skerries bank over the past few years some anglers have been using frozen cooked prawns with great success. Some have even been using garlic flavourings on their prawns and have reported great catches! I have to say I’m a bit sceptical but if it works then go for it.

Ragworm – a killer plaice bait

Hopefully this gives those of you who haven’t fished for plaice from the boat a bit of information to put to use – all you need to do now is get on the blower and get yourself on a plaice trip!

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

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