I joined seven fellow members of Combe Martin Sea Angling Club aboard Ilfracombe Charter Boat Wild Frontier Two skippered by Mark Hutchings. With a brisk South West Wind forecast and a substantial swell surging onto the coast I was a little apprehensive regarding the day ahead as we climbed aboard. Any fears soon evaporated however as we steamed out of the harbour appreciating the stability of the broad decks of the catamaran that gave plenty of room for all anglers on board.
Heading up channel we all gazed at the towering cliffs East of Combe Martin that are I believe amongst the highest sea cliffs in the UK. It was apparent that the recent weather has impacted on these wild and rugged cliffs with plenty of scars indicating recent rockfalls.
Our first stop in the lee of these cliffs brought only limited action with just a few dogfish grabbing our baits. A strong wind made fishing difficult at times causing the boat to swing on its anchor as it swirled with gusts riffling the sea as they sped towards us. The sound of the mighty swell pounding the foot of the cliffs provided a dramatic soundtrack as we savoured a hot drink whilst watching nature acting out its daily drama.
The easing tide signalled time to head out deep to target the spurdog packs. We lowered our baits into deep-waters and soon started to get savage indications as hungry spurdog seized our offerings. The sun broke through, rods bent and life felt pretty good out there on the water.
Hectic sport continued until once again the increasing tide pull forced a move to more tranquil waters. Closer inshore sheltered once again by the towering cliffs we targeted ray on sandy banks. Club secretary Nick Phillips was first into action boating a pleasing small eyed ray that was followed a short while later with a tackle testing blonde ray of 14lb 2oz.
A few conger and the inevitable dogfish followed before we once again headed out to deeper water for a second time rounding off the day with more action landing spurdog to 14lb 8oz.
The next couple of months should see spurdog sport continue with every chance of some bigger specimens close to twenty pounds. Ilfracombe Charter Boats Wild Frontier 2 ( www.bristolchannelcharters.co.uk) and Bluefin will soon be joined by Reel Deal moving down after the winter season out of Watchet.
Its always far easier to get out of bed on a fishing morning than a work day morning especially on a February day with light Southerly winds forecast and a few sunny spells. Once again I was heading out of Ilfracombe aboard John Barbeary’s Bluefin this time on a trip organised by Keith Armishaw of River Reads bookshop. We had a mixed group of anglers on board most of whom I had met on previous occasions.
A large ground swell was running despite the light winds which was to bring on a touch of sea sickness for one or two anglers on board throughout the day. The steam out to the spurdog grounds around seven mile offshore was an enjoyable journey full of optimism for the day ahead and a chance to chat and catch up.
With the North Devon Coast line fading into the distance the engine note changed as we reached our destination.
This was deep water and with the tide still flooding close to 2lb of lead was required to take the baits to the sea bed.
It wasn’t long before the rod tops started to rattle as spurdog attacked our baits giving a good account as they were persuaded to the boat.
The tally grew steadily as the day passed and as the tide eased the catch rate increased with several spurdog on the deck at times keeping John and his assistant busy with the T-bar.
Whilst spurdog dominated there was the occasional bull huss with their vivid leopard spotted flanks.
By the time John suggested a move inshore out of a raging tide for the last hour we had boated in excess of fifty spurdog to 13lb, a few bull huss and a couple of small conger.
Its early February and minus five as I drive to Ilfracombe ready to sail out in the cold light of dawn in search of spurdog in the depths of the Bristol Channel. I am joining fellow members of South Molton Angling Club who enjoy several boat trips each year from various North Devon ports.
As I parked the car the famous Verity was standing tall against the sunrise. I greeted fellow club members as they arrived; some strangers to me other familiar faces. The normal friendly banter started to flow from the start and continued as we climbed aboard John Barbeary’s Bluefin.
I always appreciate this part of the day as the boat steams out and we embark upon a new adventure full of promise. Today we are heading up channel and I relish viewing the familiar landmarks that I have grown up with. A landscape full of good memories mostly involving fishing. The ebbing tide and its swirling waters are illuminated as the sun rises above Combe Martin and the towering hangman hills cast their shadows across the water.
We are to fish close inshore to start the day intending to head out to deeper waters as the tide eases. The anchor bites in and we lower our baits into the greyish water allowing the weight and bait to hit the bottom with a pleasing bump. The wind has swung towards the South but the air is still chilled from an arctic blast that brought heavy snow to the hills that still decorates their crowns.
Holding the rods, the wind chills the fingers despite wearing gloves, it’s a relief when John passes round steaming hot teas and coffees. The grandeur of the cliffs and swirling sea gulls gliding on the thermals are a pleasing backdrop as we await life to surge through our lines from the mysterious world beneath.
After half an hour or so of limited sport its time to head out. I sit and chat with Kevin who has recently moved to Devon after working in Dubai for over thirty years. We chat about fishing, fish and life in different lands. We also chat about fishing books and different authors inspiring each other to go out and buy new books to add to our collections. This is one of the many joys of boat trips. Over the years I have enjoyed many conversation’s absorbing glimpses and learning of far off lands through another’s eyes.
The time passes quickly as the shoreline becomes ever distant. We must be five miles or so out in the channel before the note of the throbbing engine changes and the anchor is sent down.
Hooks full of herring squid and mackerel are sent over the side and lowered to the sea bed far below. Once again, the leads bump bottom and we again anticipate that tug through the line. It’s not long before a savage tug signals interest in the bait. I wait until I feel that the fish has the bait within its jaws and then steadily wind the reel handle until I feel the weight of the fish. Slowly I persuade the fish to the boat and the waiting net. It’s a spurdog, the first of over thirty to succumb throughout the day. As the tide pull eases, we are able to reduce the weight and the battle between angler and fish is less hindered. The spurdog average around ten pounds and are undoubtedly present in good numbers far below hunting for prey fish.
A brisk west wind creates a lively sea; large ships pass by and I wonder where they are heading. We chat from time to time and go about the business of fishing each with our own thoughts or perhaps just savouring the moment. From time to time a hot drink is welcome to wash down the sandwiches and snacks.
As the tide turns the bite rate eases and the numbers of fish decline with a few conger and dogfish starting to find the baits. All too soon it takes 2lb of lead to hold bottom and John suggests we head back closer to land.
Bluefin rides the waves comfortably as we head towards ground to the West of Ilfracombe where we drop anchor off the rugged cliffs close to Lee bay. I am not so confident here but it’s not long before the fish start to come aboard. Kevin is thrilled to battle a conger of around 15lb to the boat. I hook a plump bull huss of 12lb that refuses to pose for the camera using every sinew of muscle to twist and turn frustrating my efforts to get a decent picture before returning the fish. More spurdog show, my best of the day a respectable 12lb 8oz. Eddie Rand’s locks into battle with something substantial and eventually persuades a 25lb eel to the boat.
Moments later I hook into a fish that strains the tackle the rod absorbing savage lunges as the fish is reluctantly allowed to gain a few yards of line. A few minutes pass and the fish I assume to be a conger is almost to the boat when the hook pulls free and I am left wondering? A fresh bait is sent down and soon there is a repeat performance. This time the battle goes my way and a big dark eel appears beside the boat. With a strong catfish hook, 175lb wire trace to the hook and 150lb mono to the top swivel I suggest John pull the eel through the door. We slip the hook out and drop the eel into a sack to get a weight. At 30lb it’s the fish of the day and a pleasing end to an excellent trip with good sport and great company. Roll on the next trip.
Offshore boat anglers are enjoying some hectic sport with spurdog with a party aboard John Barbeary’s Ilfracombe based Charter boat Bluefin landing over sixty in a trip last weekend. These members of the shark family bring welcome sport each winter with their numbers recovering following the ban on commercial fishing.
Combe Martrin SAC member Ross Stanway sent me this report and pictures from his day aboard “Wild Frontier” off Ilfracombe. The anglers on board from all over Devon enjoyed success with conger, bull huss, spurdog, dogfish, whiting and smoothound. The boat new to Ilfracombe has plenty of deck space ensuring marks can be reached on all but the roughest of days. The best conger scaled 25lb, spurdog to 15lb and huss into double figures. Breakfast of bacon rolls helped sustain the anglers through the day afloat.
Cameron Atkinson, Thomas Atkinson, James Mayhew and David Atkinson Cracking enjoyed a splendid days boat fishing from a Private boat the boat catching around 50 spurdog with the biggest weighing 15lb to Thomas.Camerons biggest went 14lb 12oz. They also had a few decent huss with the biggest weighing 13lb 8oz caught by David Atkinson along with a few eels to around 20lb and a small eyed weighing 5lb 7oz, they also lost a few other decent fish either spitting the bait half way up or on the surface near the boat. The fish were tempted on a range of fish baits including, mackerel, squid and pouting.
The flounder fishing season has got into full swing following a few frosty mornings with plump flounder being caught from all the popular estuary marks.
Mark Beer won Triple Hook Clubs RBL Club Shield Flounder Match with a fine flounder of 2lb 7/8oz. Runner up was Kevin Hancock with a flounder of 1lb 103/4oz and third Dennis Toleman with a flounder of 1lb 97/8oz.
(Above)Paul Hutchings and Andrew McKenna enjoyed an action packed session on the Taw estuary catching upwards of thirty flounder over 1lb 4oz the best a beauty of 1lb 14oz.
Further afield North Devon angler Dan Miles Redmore secured first place in Sunday’s heat of the prestigious National Flounder competition fished on the River Teign estuary over last weekend. Dan’s flounder scaled a fraction over 2lb and beat a field of almost 170 anglers.
Heidi Green took first and second places in Appledore Shipbuilders Rover catching flounder of 1lb 143/8oz and 1lb 133/8oz. Third was Josh Atkinson with a flounder of 1lb 117/8oz. Amelia Mellor took first and third in the junior section with flounder of 1lb 9oz and 1lb 5oz. In second was Jack Pike with a flattie of 1lb 71/2oz.
Nathan Clements won Bideford Angling Clubs monthly rover with a dogfish of 2lb 1oz. In second was Terry Dymond with a flounder of 1lb 4oz.
Combe Martin Sea Angling Club members enjoyed a day out of Minehead aboard Steve Webber’s boat Osprey. Cod were the intended target but proved difficult to find on the day. Persistence eventually paid off when Rob Scoine’s bait was seized by a fine double figure cod weighing 12lb 4oz. James Thomas boated a blonde ray of 12lb the best of several ray caught including thornback and one other blonde. Smoothound, spurdog, dogfish and numerous conger were also caught.
The autumn is racing towards its close as winter descends and now is the time to catch that special fish. Looking back over the decades November is a month that can produce that fish of a lifetime. Kevin Legge’s British record tope of 66lb and 66lb 8oz were both caught in early November. Barry Hill’s shore caught record coalfish of 18lb was also caught in November and Tim Neal caught a rockling of 3lb 1oz that also held the British record. The stories behind some of these fish are in my book I Caught a Glimpse due for release in mid February 2019.