Tag Archives: VMO

Big bass fishing

Craig Gosling is known for his bass fishing exploits. Those ‘double figure fish of a life time’ that come around once in a blue moon, well, Craig has landed no less than 51 double figure bass from the shore. Let that sink in and read just how he goes about targeting these stunning fish in his warts-and-all guest blog entry. Watercraft is at the forefront of his approach and something that few anglers seem to understand nowadays… 

“So, a Veals Mail Order blog. This is my first blog for VMO, though I have plenty of diary entries over the years to refer back on. I’ve got to confess, having read some of the outstanding reports on the Facebook page and blog from some outstanding anglers over the past few months, I was reluctant to pick up the tablet, but big bass are the talking point here in the south east of England and the guys at VMO seem to think I know more than most about how to go about targeting big bass…

Craig with one of countless big bass

I love this game, I really do. I’ve met some great people over the years and some right idiots, or, the “muggles” as i call them. Muggles will ask away all the time and apply none of it, then there’s the actual anglers, the ones that have it in their blood and take notice. I’ve learnt over the years that these are the guys that when you say ‘meet me here at 2am Tuesday’, will actually turn up at 1:30am so as not to miss anything. I’ve all the time in the world for these people!The classic muggle will ask, listen ,apply ,then after 20 minutes retrieve and clip on a two hook flapper baited with ragworm, just because nothing happened. These guys probably shouldn’t read on!

What patience looks like

Over the years I’ve learned many things about bass that I’ll share with you here.

For instance, big bass come from EVERY BEACH and almost every river. If you’ve caught a school bass at a particular venue, at some point a big double would also have passed through there- I can guarantee it. A subject I wrote about years ago remains as relevant today and that is longshore drift. It’s every bass angler’s best friend and a recent trip to the Isle of Wight saw me put this knowledge to good use. Tackling a new venue I encountered neither the water clarity or the tides to see what i was putting a bait into. 

A nice force 2-3 ‘surfy’ evening with a sea like chocolate greeted us and I walked the beach around one small headland, then another and there it was. Bingo.

The waiting game

Weed and bloody great rafts of it stretching from the waters edge to some 20 yards out. “That’s me for tonight “, I said to myself.

The reality was, fishing in to it was going to be challenging to say the least. A bigger grip lead than I’d like was selected as it was key to what I had in mind. My plan was to cast a bait out beyond the weed line and retrieve steadily back until it sat right on the edge of it and hopefully hold in place. I opted for 7oz leads and the longest rod I had in order to hold it up high, well above the weed line. I’ve noticed that on both the Sussex and Dorset coastlines, banks of weed are deposited during spring tides that then rot on the beach attracting flies and so maggots. My logic has always been that smaller bass (2-3lb) will work the edge of the weed, but the larger fish I am interested in will stay slightly further out. My approach has always been to give them something a big fish can’t resist such as a nice six inch mackerel section or a whole joey mackerel, fresh as you can get. 

Another big bass falls for a joey mackerel bait

Whilst the smaller fish cruise below the surface competing for maggots and larvae, the bigger specimens will go out of their way to hunt on the bottom for that more potent bait  and on this and many other occasions, this have proved correct. That night was one of three sessions where we actively hunted the weed line and although it wasn’t comfortable fishing, it was hectic, sweaty fun with fish after fish failing to go below seven or eight pounds. 

That first night, when the tide finally ebbed, it revealed a gap in the leading surf, the first ten feet could only of been eighteen inches deep as the tide retreated, but i knew that if it could cover the back of a bass, it’s more than enough depth. I walked to the waters edge, simply plopped a mackerel head a rod length out and no sooner had I done so, it arched over in my arms. Now, I’ll admit there’s not much sport to be had at that kind of range, on that gear, but the weed made it necessary and the approach definitely worked with the target fish landed on consecutive nights. 

Patience is crucial. It’s something very few anglers really have and to be fair, once you hone your craft it becomes less essential. I’ve had doubles on the beach in as little as forty-five  minutes of rocking up whilst friends have been fishing just along the beach for five hours or more.

They say patience is a virtue- how true with big bass fishing

My record to date is eleven minutes after setting up, so as time goes on it becomes more about fishing two hours in the right place at the right time and less about waiting, watching motionless rods for hours on end. Over the years I’ve taken some flack for fishing with a rod rest and using two rods, but then, I’m used to fishing a Saturday night after a hard week at work and I want maximise the potential of a session. Besides, using two rods has taught me an awful lot over the time I have been fishing. I would always fish one with a squid bait and one with mackerel, one close and one far, with ratchets on each reel set. I soon learned what a “panicking live bait” looked like seconds before it would scream off. I realised that some nights the squid wouldn’t get a touch, whilst the mackerel got hammered and other nights the second rod was simply for live bait catching or “keeping me busy”. Two rods certainly enabled me to try different things. 

These days, I don’t use a ratchet and my hook up rates have gone way up.

by using a bolt rig style rotten bottom paternoster or holding the rod, successful hookups dramatically increased. I’ve had a fair few doubles over the years that give me what i call the “50/50”. This refers to your chances of recognising the take and equally hooking up. 

It’s when a big girl does just enough to lift the tip a little or cause it to sit up straight in the rest- if you don’t strike these as they happen, they are 50% of the time long-gone. Ratchets, I’ve come to learn, mean missed fish.

I’m 45 years old now but I never stop learning and the big bass never stop teaching. I really do believe once you think you know it all, you’ve lost the reason for going in the first place. So, you fancy targeting one, but you hate bass because they are a pain to catch and there’s better fish to target, better fish to eat and you prefer other fish because they fight harder? I’ve heard and read all of this over the years, but the reality for most is that big bass are around for most of the year now. They are tremendous fighters and probably easier to target nowadays than cod of the same size. And I never thought I’d be saying that. They are possible to catch on dead baits, live baits, lures, float and ledger tactics from rough and glassy calm seas alike. There can’t be many fish you could say that about!

My approach

this is just my approach, and its bulletproof for me (disclaimer- other anglers have their own approach that works for them, I respect that, but this is mine).

The first thing I’m often asked is about the right beaches to fish and all areas are different, So let’s start with beaches and then conditions. 

Take for example a big sandy bay. If you look out onto a seemingly featureless bay of sand, go out at low water and plumb about with a plain bomb lead for an hour. Try and find some gulleys by casting and slowly retrieving your lead, paying attention to when the lead comes up against resistance and becomes difficult to move (you’ll feel it better on braid). This is your low tide potential hotspot.

Gulleys like this produce bass of the size below (beach double)

 

Also look out for mussels beds or rocks at low tide, all of which are bass attractors. If you can’t find any potential fish holding features then you’re very much waiting for an onshore blow and a surf. Every sandy beach I know gives up bass in a good surf, and you wont need range if you have no features. If it’s calm and featureless, I would fish it at the point where the sand meets the shingle and there’s usually a slight dip or depression. On a calm night it’s a place the bass will run through. 

Most of the push-netters you’ll see fishing for prawns here will work these beaches just a few feet out at low tide and get plenty of prawns. It’s a no brainer where the bass will be.

Alternatively, many bays have a few groynes. Hotspots are the ends of these as they attract crabs, gobies, other small fish and therefore bass.

if it’s blowing a hooley and you have steady sets of surf rolling in, study the length of the beach. Continual drift will show you where the shellfish, lugworm and the food stuffs get washed up. But don’t turn up with a mackerel head bait and wait it out, you’re far more likely to find a bass using what’s local to the beach as this is what the bass will be feeding on. If your beach has a sand and rock mix, find either sand between two rocky areas or the edge of a reef to place your bait. I fish a beach with a two-feet  high reef to my right and the tide runs right to left on the flood. It’s not going to produce much on the flood, but as the tide  turns and runs left to right, everything leaving the beach is funnelled against that area of reef and this is where I work my baits. Make no mistake, if you are too far off of that edge, it matters. I will often go out at low tide, tie off enough line to the reef and attach a rig winder or float so I can cast to it at high tide. Just being six foot away from this feature can mean the difference between success and failure on the day. If you use this tactic, be sure to pick up the line and float from the reef when the tide goes out.

All rocky beaches rich in crab, prawns and gobies are my favourite bass fishing grounds. I’m a fan of “fishing what you find” and gobies are a great bait. They should be lifted off the bottom somewhat to stop them hiding in weed. A single hook paternoster is the perfect rig for this, with a 3/0 hook through the bottom lip. A goby will withstand just about any cast, but you shouldn’t need distance. Find gulleys- bass use them as roads in and out. I’ve had big bass in water that erupted when I struck, remember, they need enough to cover their backs and that’s it.

Yet another double figure bass

Again, find mussel beds at low tide or shellfish or crabs. It’s seldom any good fishing fresh-outs (fresh lugworm) over rocks, but peeler crab can be highly effective.

Over high tide on rocky marks, bass will be be using gulleys to move around. Remember that a two foot deep gulley with rocks on either side becomes four foot deep when those rocks are lined with weed that rises two feet in the tide. There could be areas of rock that meet shingle and these again are a great place to present a bait. 

Time and time again, people simply don’t have the patience to wait two or more hours for a bite, but big bass don’t come easy and so it really is important to BE PATIENT.

if it’s calm and clear over reefs, live baits are second to none, but simply sliding them onto rocks or areas where they are hidden from view is pointless. Pick a patch of chalk, sand or shingle to fish to, put your lead out first (or free-line), then slide your live bait (pouting /goby etc) onto an area where they will stick out from a long way away, then be patient. Some nights it’s crazy from the off, other nights you’ll get nothing, but generally live baiting these areas is deadly. Again, BE PATIENT, it isn’t like ANY other fishing. If you expect a fish a chuck, you’ll be disappointed, but the one that you do get WILL make it worthwhile.

If you take for example somewhere like Seaford, where you are never on the sand as such, and it’s very deep, even at low and it’s blowing hard, then the bass will mooch around in the mele. Casting may be restricted in the wind, but this shouldn’t matter as the fish will be in the trough not too far out.

Over high, the bass will be as close as you can hold bottom, but when it’s calm and clear, again, live baiting is king. Calm and clear conditions are ALWAYS better at night and i will use my red light headlamp and bare minimum movement on the shingle. I will start by fishing for a live bait 30 ft out, and keep moving further out or in, until i find my baits. Whatever range you find your pout is exactly where you should fish it. 

I like dusk to catch them before they disappear as the bass come through.

How close is too close to cast a bait?

Well, here’s a clue. YOU CAN NOT BE TOO CLOSE IN. FACT.

It genuinely shocked some anglers when they saw me catch like this a lot last year on the Isle of Wight. Bass will feed incredibly close to the shore.

Bait

I’ll use different baits on different venues and for different reasons.

basic breakdown of bait is as follows. Fresh-outs (fresh lugworm) on a sandy storm beach at low tide, big squid baits at high tide. Reefs- I love crab at low tide during a blow, squid or mackerel chunks if it’s calm. It pays to know when crabs are peeling, prawns are about, when mackerel are in etc, so it’s important to be aware of everything happening around you in nature. I fished with Henry last year as bass smashed mackerel to bits in front of us, and the pout didn’t get so much as worried- talk about pre occupied on one food source. So when everyone is feathering up mackerel all around you, don’t sit on a blow lug bait expecting a run, use what is in abundance.

When scad are plentiful, they too make a great bass snack

A basic breakdown  

your hooks should be concealed in the bait, but not buried, and always try and tick two out of three of the following criteria

  1. Correct bait for the conditions.
  2. Right conditions for the venue.
  3. Tides- big tides will open up some nice access to features at low tide you can’t normally reach in a bay, but i prefer neaps when fishing over the rough ground.

I have been asked loads about hook over the years. Just use your head.

Bass have huge mouths and will engulf bigger hooks. 

I HATE TREBLES they are indiscriminate and often damage middle weight bass, with some doubles taking them right down. A big single hook is my preference because its always in the scissors or lip, and makes releasing them so easy, i find that smaller hooks are far more likely to attract bycatch and if you’ve spent time and effort in your chosen spot, they will spook it for ages. If you’re lucky enough to hook a big bass, take your sweet time, i saw a beast lost last year by a guy cranking like his life depended on it. 

Craig’s choice of hook- a single wide gape pattern

If its hooked, nine times out of ten it’ll stay hooked, so take your time, lift the rod tip high and let it have line when it wants it. I would recommend visiting a carp day ticket water during the winter as this will give you experience of playing fish on light-ish tackle. On such gear it gives a novice great experience of playing a fish instead of simply bullying it in, you learn to keep a tight line, apply side strain use the drag.

I hope this helps a few anglers out when we are able to get out fishing again. If you have any questions, please fire away and I’ll do my best to help.

Craig

The humble hook- explained.

Following on from our basic guide to rig making (see previous blog post) a few of you have contacted us to ask if we could explain hooks a little better. If you have anything you would like us to explain in greater detail, please also get in touch and we’ll do our best to blog about it.

There are literally hundreds of different kinds of fishing hooks, all designed to do a specific job and referred to as ‘patterns’. Hooks for sea fishing purposes usually range in size from #6 up to 12/0, with #6 being the smallest and 12/0 being the largest. The forward slash often confuses new anglers but to put this in to perspective, from smallest to largest, the scale is represented like this- 

SMALL #6, #4, #2, #1, 1/0, 2/0, 3/0, 4/0, 5/0, 6/0, 7/0, 8/0, 10/0, 12/0 LARGE

It is worth noting that those sizes do not conform to any set dimensions and so one manufacturer’s pattern may differ in size to that of another. 

So now we have sizing out of the way, let’s look at some typical hook styles and discuss just what they are used for.

Aberdeen

A classic pattern designed for use with worm baits. in the smaller sizes they are an excellent choice for flatfish, though the Aberdeen is also popular with those fishing for a multitude of different smaller species. Larger size Aberdeen hooks have a long shank (the part of the hook between the eye and the start of the bend) and so are suitable for use with sandeel baits.

Aberdeen

Wide Gape

The gape of a hook is the distance between the point and the shank. A wide gape ensures that even when bulky baits are used, the point still stands proud and should ensure a positive hook up.Not only does the wide gape pattern present big baits well, it also stands more chance of taking hold in the cavernous mouths of fish such as cod and bass. 

Wide Gape

Circle 

Originally used exclusively by commercial longliners, the circle hook is now well recognised by sea anglers. The shape of the hook means that when a fish takes it in, it will roll in the fish’s mouth, taking hold in the lip and avoiding deep hooking. This design is popular with anglers using live fish baits for larger predatory species of fish such as bass.

Circle

Chinu

Possibly the most recent hook to become part of the anglers regular armoury here in the UK. The Chinu is an aggressive fish specie native to Japan and gave this pattern its name. The hook is short in both shank and gape, more akin to a carp anglers hook, but is heavy in the gauge and incredibly sharp. Popular in smaller sizes for species such as bream and trigger fish, but the larger sizes make an excellent smooth hound hook when using crabs for bait. 

Chinu

There are a huge number of other patterns, but these are the ones most widely used in the UK for the species we encounter here. There are also variants of the above patterns, take a look at a comprehensive range of high quality Japanese made hooks here.

Modern hooks are chemically treated to create the point, making them insanely sharp, so great care should be taken when handling them. 

Thankfully, they remain one of the cheapest items of tackle available, so to re-use a hook after a session is bad practice. If a hook has been used in saltwater and stored away wet, it may no longer be as strong as it once was and so its strength could be compromised. It’s really not worth saving a few pence if it leads to the loss of what would have been a great fish capture. 

A diamond file or small sharpening stone can be used to breathe a little life back in to a dulled hook point during a session, but replacing the exhausted hook with a new one is probably a better option. 

‘If in doubt, don’t cast back out’ is a good motto to fish by. 

A thumping bite followed by a slack line is not the sort of bite you want to be missing, so when a fish picks up your bait you really do need that hookpoint to penetrate when it matters. 

It is good practise to store hooks in bits boxes that segregate each size. Being organised in this way will mean that tying rigs becomes faster too. Label up each section so there is never any doubt as to what you are tying to your trace line. 

   

Chesil Beach 2020 – Early summer prospects

Ben Stockley guests on todays blog and gives us a detailed insight in to just what we can expect from Dorset’s, if not the UK’s, most popular sea angling destination this summer. Ben’s portfolio of fish landed from the shingle is second to none, so we thoroughly recommend digesting every last word….

Chesil Prospects For June 2020

With fishing currently on the back burner, let’s look forward to some early Summer sport when hopefully we will all be back out enjoying ourselves once again! For anybody new to fishing Chesil, it can be a daunting place with over 18 miles to choose from before you even consider weather conditions, tides, etc. Below I have attempted to give some basic information which might just help you to catch a few more fish.

June Species

June will see many of the Summer species starting to show with Smoothound to low double figures the most popular target. Although Chesil fish generally tend to average 3-8lb, June represents a great chance to secure one of the larger specimens.

A typical smoothhound for Ben

For the big fish angler, the other main target will be Rays and apart from a Stinger, all of the main species can be caught this month to beyond specimen size. 

From the top- Small eyed, spotted and thornback rays

For those preferring a mixed bag, Plaice will show in reasonable numbers, Red and Tub Gurnard should be present, and the odd Black Bream will start to figure in catches. Mackerel anglers should have fun during early mornings/evenings and a few Bass, Conger and Mullet can also be found. Chesil being Chesil means that even aside from these reliable regulars, pretty much anything can turn up on its day! 

A stunning plaice captured under idyllic skies

As a general rule of thumb, Abbotsbury Westwards will produce mainly Plaice, Hounds, Tub Gurnard, Mackerel, Mullet and Rays whilst marks to the East offer all of the above plus Red Gurnard, more Conger, a few Bream but less Plaice.

Tides

The great beauty of Chesil is that it can be fished on any size of tide. For visiting anglers pick a medium sized one of 1.7-2.0 metres on the Portland scale. The very largest tides often send fish off the feed for long periods due to excessive flow. Similarly, much below 1.7 metres and you will be sitting through long spells with no flow and no fish. Choose an evening or early morning session, 4 hours before high and 3 back or shorten that to 3 either side if fishing west of Abbotsbury. This will mean a continuous run of right to left flow and hopefully plenty of bites! Expect that final hour as the flow eases off a touch to be the hot period but once slack water arrives, it’s time to go!   

Weather

Long hot days in June with clear flat seas can be quite difficult for fishing. However, set the alarm clock early and fish from first light until the sun gets too intense or again in the evening and the results can be spectacular if you match it to a decent period in the tide. 

If we do get a short onshore blow to churn the sea up a bit, it can be fantastic as it doesn’t seem to produce the hordes of Dogfish and Pout that the same conditions would do in the Autumn. It also seems to really encourage the Rays, Hounds and Bass to feed like crazy!

Weather to avoid for me is a stiff onshore wind combined with gin clear water. Sometimes this can be ok for Hounds but usually most fish will still be sat out at range and the loss of 20-30 yards can have a really negative impact. These conditions on a bright sunny day are an absolute kiss of death. 

Baits & Rigs

The rig – and baits – of choice for a mixed bag

Fresh Peeler, Ragworm and fresh Mackerel would be my top baits for a mixed bag on Chesil during June with a pack of quality frozen eels also useful if targeting Rays on some marks. Some small gutted and rolled blow lug or blacks can also work well if fishing west of Abbotsbury for Plaice.

My preference at a lot of marks on Chesil in June is a multi-hook rig of some description carrying small baits such as half a crab or a small section of ragworm tipped with Mackerel on the top 2 snoods with a slightly bigger crab or fish bait on the bottom tucked in tight behind the an Impact lead.

Every angler has their own preference, but it is not uncommon to pick up a Plaice or Gurnard on the small baits and a big ray or hound on the bottom snood at the same time. The all-out big bait, big fish approach means that you can sometimes miss out on some quality smaller species that might also be present unless you employ this tactic on a 2nd rod.

A colourful combination!

In the clear summer water, smaller well-presented baits even for the bigger fish will often out catch a bigger offering due to the extra casting distance and finesse particularly in daylight. I would never go bigger than a size 2/0 for the Rays/Hounds in the summer, and a size 2 is perfect for the other general species.

 Stay safe everyone and see you on the beach soon!

Ben

 

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. 

New year, new mark, new record.

Dean Booker guests on our first blog post of 2020. His year has certainly got off to a flying start!

Back in August myself and Gareth Israel grabbed only the feather rods with a handful of leads and packs of feathers in search of possible new tope/spurdog venues for the winter. After some time spent on Google and Navionics 3 venues were chosen that we weren’t aware of anglers fishing before. Not to say they hadn’t been, but if they had then we had yet to see any mention on Facebook etc.

That day after miles of walking and checking out potential marks with dozens of casts, we found out that one of the venues was a real tackle grave yard, one was lightly mixed and one was really clean- no matter where you dragged the feathers along the bottom they weren’t getting stuck and with good depth and good tide plus reasonable access to the water if need be, we were confident we had found some good locations to fish from.

The more popular venues are rapidly filling up with lost tackle making them unfishable and we were excited to have found somewhere new to try when time allowed. 

You will never know unless you try these new things, so off we set one morning at 1am with a view to having our baits out by 3am. We both prayed that the early start would be worth it, not to mention all of the leg work we had previously applied. The mark was empty with no signs of other anglers having fished there. It was coming up to low water

The rods are out, but will the fish show?

when I managed to get both rods out before Gareth even had a reel on his rod, he was about to cast his first bait when my line suddenly dropped to the floor, shortly resulting in a spur of around 10lb. I was well happy with this fish as first cast on a whole new venue for us. Next, Gareth was in on the action but as a large huss broke the surface it decided to open its most and spit the hooks. We were both annoyed but at least we knew that the new mark also held huss. A steady stream of dogfish and bull huss followed before it went a bit quieter, but then out of nowhere Gareth’s ratchet screamed away and shortly afterwards I was netting a fat spur dog for him that weighed in at 14lb 14oz. He was made up and we were both chuffed that this new place seemed to have a lot offer. 

The next hour resulted in plenty of dogfish and as the light started to appear in the western sky, we wondered if we had seen the best of the action. I prefer darkness for Spurdogs and bullhuss, though we have caught plenty of tope in daylight. We missed a few bites and made a few short hook ups, but our baits were dropped by the fish soon after picking them up. I made my baits a little smaller and after another finicky bite made a positive connection with what felt like a reasonable fish. At first I thought it was a small tope but from the rocks below, Gareth shouted up to me- “It’s a big spur!” He scooped it up in the net and clambered back up the rocks to our platform. It definitely did look big. 

A big spur for Dean- at 15lb 11oz, a potential Welsh shore record

We placed the fish in the weigh sling and after deducting the the sling, we settled on a weight of 15lb 11oz. Not only was this fish a PB, but also a potential Welsh shore record!

We were both totally made up with our catch, but as it turned out, we weren’t done just yet…Gareth went on to land another spur of exactly 10lb in weight and as I cradled her up the rocks, I caught a glimpse of my T1000 doubled over in the tripod, line racing off of the spool. There was no mistaking the powerful runs of a tope and shortly after she came in to view, Gareth did the business with the net. 

She went 32lb 6oz and to me, this really was the icing on the cake. 

Over 32lb of prime Welsh tope- from a new venue!

As I broke my rods down, Gareth called over and he was in to yet another good fish. This turned out to be a PB but huss of 13lb 6oz, beating his previous best by over a pound in weight. We left the mark feeling pretty excited about our short but very productive session, knowing that it held some quality fishing. More importantly, we left it spotless in exactly the same way that we found it. All of our fish were taken on 4/0 Varivas catfish Hooks baited with either herring or mackerel at various casting distances. It’s great when a plan comes together!

Chasing channel huss

Plymouth angler, Scott Smy, ventured up to the Bristol Channel over the weekend to sample the boat fishing out of Minehead. Scott fished aboard Osprey, skippered by Steve Webber and has kindly put together this account of the day’s events. If you’d like to write a piece for our blog, get in touch via email to jansen@veals.co.uk

Boat fishing in the Bristol Channel during early April can sometimes be a bit fickle as it’s a month where you have the winter species such as Cod departing and the summer species such as hounds arriving. However, one species which is usually around in good numbers during this month is the bullhuss. Okay, so huss aren’t everyones cup of tea but personally I think they are great fish to target as a good double figure fish looks pretty impressive (especially in the photos) and they are usually obliging in taking a bait.

On this trip we were out with Steve Webber on his Cougar cat ‘Osprey’ out of Minehead. I can’t recommend Steve highly enough as his boat is superb, the banter on-board is always top notch and his crewman son William makes the best cup of tea in West Somerset (and there is plenty of it as well)!

With a gusty NE wind blowing Steve decided to point the bows of Osprey in the direction of Porlock Bay as he knew we would get some shelter from the wind tucked in behind Hurlestone Point. Whilst leaving the harbour was more like a roller coaster as soon as we rounded Hurlestone the sea flattened out considerably.

Our first mark produced the usual dogfish which can be a real pain in the channel during this time of year along with a few smoothhounds to myself up to 8lb. A tip for the hounds from the skipper is to make sure you don’t peel down your crab and instead try and mount it whole with legs and shell still attached. By peeling it the scent is released more quickly resulting in the doggies finding your bait before the hounds. By keeping the crab whole, it seemed to deter the dogs and allows the hounds to get a look in. I can only say that this tip definitely works as I was the only one on board presenting my crab in this way and consequently was the only one who caught the hounds. Always listen to your skipper.

As the tide died away Steve moved Osprey slightly further down channel to some rough ground inshore near Ivy Stone, promising us some huss. I don’t think the variety of squid and mackerel baits had been in the water for any more than 5 minutes when Adrian Kruger fishing at the stern hooked into a nice huss just into double figures.

Adrain Kruger draws first blood

Huss bait ready to go

From this point on virtually all of us landed a number of huss each with all of them into double figures, the best going just over 12lb. On bringing them into the boat it was evident to see why the huss were in the area in such numbers as they were all females with purses hanging out of them. It was therefore essential that all of the fish were treated with the utmost care and were returned to the water as quickly as possible.

As huss have a pretty impressive array of dentistry it’s essential to use a good quality trace line. I was using Varivas Shock Rig Nylon in 100lb and Big Mouth Xtra Hooks in 5/0. Frozen mackerel and unwashed squid proved to be the most productive baits on the day.

As the tide started to pick up we ventured even closer to shore and found more huss along with the inevitable doggies, strap eels, rockling and a nice 4lb bonus codling for Adrian Kruger. By this time the wind had all but gone and the late afternoon sunshine was beaming down, a stark difference to how it had been earlier in the day. It certainly rounded-off what was a cracking day out afloat on the Bristol Channel.

VMO plaice fishing away day

On Wednesday 27th March, Harry, Simon and Jeremy headed for the western end of Chesil Beach with a view to targeting the plaice that reside there in the spring time. Harry in particular had been studying the weather for some time and after a frustrating period of strong onshore winds that ruined the water clarity, eventually the pressure rose, the winds fell light and the visibility improved. 

Loaded up with not only some prime ragworm and black lug, they also relieved VMO’s stock of a quantity of the fantastic Two Hook Loop Premium Shore Fishing Rigs. We probably do harp on a bit about these, but they really are tied that well and free up a lot of time. Tying multi-hook clip down rigs is never fun and it’s good to know we now have ready made rigs that are as good as anything we have tied ourselves!

After a considerable drive, the lads arrived and set off for their chosen mark. They were surprised to find that there was just a few anglers dotted along the beach and they were able to find a large empty section to set up shop. As predicted, the water was crystal clear, the wind was offshore and the brilliant sunshine really made it feel like spring had sprung. The big question was though, who was going to land the first fish?

Harry’s rods await the start of the action

The ever popular Daiwa 7HT Magnofuge – perfect for plaice fishing

As luck would have it, Harry had only just put his rod in the rest when a steady pull over of the rod tip signalled the presence of some interest. Rather than winding in straight away, Harry left the bite to develop and busied himself by preparing a spare trace. Ten minutes passed by and he couldn’t wait a minute longer. Pulling the bucket lead from its resting place, some steady resistance was felt and sure enough a few tugs on the tip as the weight was retrieved gave the game away. Soon enough, a well conditioned plaice was soon slid up and over the shingle and it was all the three guy’s needed to get them focussing on the rod tips!

First cast success!

Harry’s next cast produced another fish of similar size and in no time at all, Jeremy and Simon had also opened their flatfish accounts. A small bullhuss also graced Simon’s rod to add to the variety. As the tide began to pick up in pace, so the plaice continued their feeding frenzy and other than a solitary dogfish, all three anglers pulled a number of good quality fish up the beach.

Jeremy (left) and Simon in on the action

Ragworm certainly seemed to be doing the damage, as is often the case early on in the season on Chesil, and colourful continental style leads seemed to be giving a slight edge.

Ragworm (top) proved the most reliable bait on the day.

As the tide eventually eased, the plaice finally stopped feeding and it was time to make a mental note of exactly who had caught the most fish. A crisp ten pound note awaited the winner and after a little banter the results were in. Harry had landed 10 fish, Simon landed 6 and Jeremy 5.

Harry’s winning bag of fish excluding his tenth on the last cast (all but one released after spending time in a deep bucket of water that was changed every hour)

The guys had enjoyed not only a summer-like day fishing in tee shirts, but had also put together some tidy bags of fish. 

Simon with a typical brace of plaice

It’s brilliant when a plan comes together and the fish play ball, but it’s even better when the weather is on your side. We’re in no doubt at all that this is just the start of the plaice season and if the weather Gods continue to be kind to us, there will be many more fish filled days to come on the shingle this year!

VMO autumn adventure aboard Aly Kat

On Sunday 9th September, the VMO team stepped aboard Minehead based charter boat Aly Kat, skippered by Dave Roberts. After a hearty breakfast, the plan was to target the smaller species that are in abundance here at this time of year and often found extremely close to the shoreline amongst the rugged terrain. The order of the day was small hooks and small baits fished on an assortment of light rods armed with compact reels filled with zero stretch braid. 

It was just as well that this was the plan from the off, as had the team wanted to fish offshore in the hope of larger species, it would have been a little uncomfortable to say the least and there was more than just a small chance that someone would be seeing their breakfast again!

The steam down against the heavy swell that had been kicked up not only by the spring tides but also the ever stiffening south westerly wind, gave everyone the chance to prepare their end tackle and talk tactics. With skipper Dave full of talk of good catches in the days leading up to the trip, the guys were particularly excited, especially at the prospect of connecting with the feisty shoals of bream that are often in residence during September. 

Simon and Jeremy talk tactics

In no time at all, Aly Kat had reached its destination, well beyond Porlock Bay and somewhere close to the border of Devon and Somerset. The high sea cliffs of Exmoor offered some sanctuary from the wind and with the anchor set in the ebbing tide, it was time to go to work. 

Carefully presented baits were lowered in to the depths and Harry, Andrew, Simon and Jeremy waited with keen anticipation. 

It wasn’t very long at all before a sharp rattle on Harry’s rod tip indicated the first bite of the day. The bite soon developed into a full on rod-wrencher and Harry was soon enjoying a tussle from a feisty black bream that took a shining to his ragworm and squid-strip offering. 

First blood to Harry

It was a promising start and one that was to set the tone for the rest of the day. 

Harry’s bream was typical of the fish that seem to be in residence at the moment at around a pound or so in weight, but it gave a pleasing account of itself on light tackle. 

As time went by, all four anglers started to haul bream to the surface with the fish steadily increasing in size. Andrew and Jeremy even enjoyed a double hook up. It was clear that this was going to be a stand out trip as the guys enjoyed some relentless action with more and more bream coming aboard. The majority of the fish showed a clear preference for traces armed with  floating beads.

 

Double delight!

Simon’s popped up ragworm bait gets hoovered up!

Minutes soon turned in to hours (time flies when you’re having fun) and skipper Dave decided that a change of spot was in order. The anchor was pulled and soon Aly Kat was repositioned a few hundred yards down coast, nose facing into the now flooding tide. 

This time, the frantic bream action experienced earlier had been replaced by a little more variety in the form of gurnards, scad, bullhuss, mackerel and conger with a colourful array of species hitting the deck of Aly Kat within the first half hour of arriving at the new location.

 

 

Simon with a stunning blue tipped Tub Guranrd

 

A baby tope for Jeremy

A surprise octopus for Andrew

A Bristol Channel mackerel for Jeremy – a rare beast!

It was amidst the constant action provided by the smaller species that Simon suddenly latched in to what was clearly a better fish as his rod hooped over without warning and tested his nerve. Dave appeared alongside Simon with the net, his suspicions pointing towards a bass and as the anglers looked on, they weren’t to be disappointed. Simons reward was a stunning bass, clearly a PB and only lightly hooked on the tiny Chinu hook he was using. 

A PB bass for Simon

A comparatively quiet spell followed, before Andrew added to the variety with a small blonde ray that took a shining to a  small strip of mackerel intended for gurnards.

 

It had certainly been a productive day so far, but the one species that had remained elusive throughout was the sub tropical trigger fish. All aboard were keen to latch into one of these special fish that have only been occasional visitors to the channel in recent times, but try as they might they failed to locate a single fish throughout the remainder of the trip. 

As Aly Kat headed for port and left the sanctuary of the headland that had provided shelter from the buffeting westerly wind, it became clear just how large a sea had developed. Crossing Porlock Bay, Hurlestone point loomed and and a particularly lumpy section of water made for a rough ride. 

Andrew decided this was a good time to take a tumble and fell on his back like a turtle, much to the amusement of his colleagues. Thankfully he lived to tell the tale, with just a slight bruise to his back and a dent in his ego!

It had been a brilliant days fishing and was rounded off in style with a pint back at the pub and a recollection of the fish that were landed. The team had landed over 30 bream, the largest bag of the species Dave could ever recall and with the majority of these returned to fight another day, it bodes well for the future. 

VMO would like to thanks Dave Roberts for a great day’s sport. 

Early summer bass

Despite the winter being a harsh one and the fishing here on the Bristol Channel being set back by a few weeks because of it, it would seem that the exceptionally long spell of hot and sunny weather has more than compensated. 

Kevin Legge loves his bass fishing but wouldn’t usually start targeting them on his local north Devon beaches until August. But with more than suitable conditions, he felt it worth a try and so, along with his pal Richard Budge, bait was sourced from the freezer in the form of Ammo blast frozen Joey mackerel and the pair headed out for an attempt on the late tide.

There was a little swell to contend with but conditions were otherwise perfect. Three hours passed with only the mosquito’s biting before Richard finally noticed a delicate bite. Waiting patiently for it to develop, the rod tip finally pulled over and a little line was pulled from the ratchet. Picking up the rod and winding down revealed some healthy resistance and soon Richard was guiding a pristine 6lb bass through the surf and across the sand.

An hour passed before it was Kevin’s turn get in on the action. A slow pull down on the rod lead him to believe that a ray may be the culprit, though after a good initial indication, it stopped and all went quiet. Feeling a little despondent, he waited ten minutes before retrieving his bait and was surprised to find some considerable weight at the end of his line. Again, his thoughts turned to a ray but both anglers were more than just a little bit shocked to see a large bass come cruising in to sight. Kevin’s bass weighed 9lb 2oz and as with Richard’s fish, was returned to the water after a very brief photo. 

If this session is anything to go by, things are certainly shaping up well for the late summer and autumn bass fishing here on the channel and we know that Kevin will certainly be putting the hours in this year in a bid to better his record fish. 

South Coast Stingrays

South coast big-fish enthusiast Steve Harder gives us an insight in to how he tackles the stingray in todays blog post…

As the day’s lengthen and the clocks go forward heralding the arrival of spring, most anglers thoughts begin to turn towards the impending arrival of some of the summer species, such as Black Bream and Smoothounds, that are migrating towards our shores.

However, one species in particular that I have developed an affinity for over the years is the Stingray. These fish are essentially summer visitors to UK shores and can be caught from a number of locations, particularly around the South and South East coasts, from mid to late April through to August or September and I generally begin to target them from early May, at a variety of South Coast marks such as Sowley and Park Shore in Hampshire and from Pagham through to Bognor Regis in West Sussex.

When I first started targeting Stingrays back in the mid to late 1980s, the shore caught record stood at around 51lb 2oz caught from Sowley. This was subsequently beaten in 1991 by fish of 54lb 9oz from North Wales, then increased to 59lb 12oz in 2003 from Whitstable and 67lb 12oz in 2008 from Pagham, although the current record stands at a whopping 78lb 8oz caught in 2015 by Guy Spriggs from Chesil Beach.

My first ever Stingray weighed in at a much more modest 5lb 12oz (from Sowley) and a few years later I’d increased that to 17lb 6oz, which, despite catching many dozens of other Stingers in the meantime, remained my pb until 2013 when I finally managed to push through the 20lb barrier. However, it was always my dream to catch one of the bigger lumps in excess of 40lb that everybody else seemed to be able to catch but me.

So the quest continued and in 2016 I absolutely smashed that target when I finally managed to land one of 67lb 8oz from the Western Solent, a pb I thought I’d never get to beat but, amazingly, followed that up last year with an even bigger one at 71lb 6oz from the Bognor Regis area and to date, I have now been fortunate to land six over 55lb from the South coast’s shores.

An impressive ray at 67lb 8oz 

Bigger still at 71lb 6oz!

 To target these Rays I use standard beach gear with my rod of choice being a Century Eliminator T900, paired with a Penn 525 loaded up with 18lb Varivas yellow sport line. As always, rods and reels are down to personal choice but despite the potential size of these fish, it’s unnecessary to fish ultra heavy gear and any standard beach rod capable of casting 6oz should be up to the task.

Rig wise, my choice is an up and over running leger tied using 100lb Varivas Heavy Rig Nylon with a 5ft hooklength of 50lb Amnesia, and a single 3/0 or 4/0 Varivas Big Mouth Xtra hook. Despite their size, Stingrays have a relatively small mouth compared to any of the other UK Ray species, so larger hooks are unnecessary. I also never use a pennel rig when targeting Stingers, as they are quite confident feeders and often swallow the hooks right down before you actually notice the bite.

Bait-wise, I usually use 6 or 7 large ragworm all pushed down into a 6 or 7 inch sausage but they can also be caught on Squid, Mackerel and Cuttlefish.

A tray of freshly dug king ragworm and all baited up ready to go!

When the bite comes, it can be anything from a sudden slack line to a full on run pulling the rod tip right over and dragging line off the spool, so it’s essential to make sure your ratchets and drags are set, much the same as you would if fishing for Smoothounds or Tope.

Once hooked they can set off on some pretty spectacular runs, very similar in fact to a decent Smoothound and very often with the more modest sized Stingers, you could be convinced it was a mid double Hound instead. Steady pressure and letting the fish run when it wants will eventually see the fish at the waters edge, which is where the real fun can often begin!

The best thing to do when landing the fish is to take your time and let it beach itself on a wave, then either gently haul it clear of the water on the trace, if it looks small enough to do so without snapping the line, or gently pull it clear by its breathing holes just behind it’s eyes, all the time keeping low and forward of the fish to avoid that tail. They’re not called Stingrays for nothing and they will slash around with that tail trying to stab you, often stabbing themselves in the process.

The business end of a 55lb Stingray… you certainly don’t want that stuck in you!

There’s never any real justification for using a gaff on these fish and I’ve not needed to use one on any that I’ve caught. Once out of the water, if you want to weigh it, a weigh sling is a must in order to support the fish properly, as is a tripod to steady the scales. Never hang them up by their mouth or lift them by their breathing holes as you can cause them serious damage by doing so.

A weigh sling is essential for weighing fish of this size… this 58lb’er is resting on my lightweight Rapala sling but any decent carp or catfish type weigh sling will do.

Some people wrap a wet towel or cloth around the sting to offer some kind of protection but as long as you don’t stand within the swing radius of the tail or lean directly over it, then it can’t sting you. Just be wary and use common sense at all times when handling them but be sure to seek medical attention if one does happen to catch you out. Whilst the sting itself isn’t poisonous, it is covered in a mucus layer containing bacteria that can cause a very nasty infection if you get stabbed and leave it untreated.

Beautiful blue sky and a settled sea – perfect!

Hopefully we’ll have plenty of blue skies and settled weather so we get a good run of them this year…. who knows, I might even get to increase my pb a bit more if I get lucky!