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.
Many thanks to Pete Gregory and Toby Bassett for allowing me to use their pictures and words following a successful trip on Bluefin out of Ilfracombe.
Fishing Ilfracombe aboard John Barbearys boat ” Bluefin ” and what a fish packed day it was . Lots of Dogfish as you would expect but in the morning when your hooking and landing more Bull Huss than dogs , you know its going to be a good day . Its always good to fish with Troy and Toby and as well as loads off fish between us , great laughs and banter all day long . We moved out to deep water to get amongst the Spurdogs and conger and ended up with forty to fifty spurs and a couple of half decent conger . Unfortunately with a spring tide and a little swell we had to head back in , but thanks john and the lads for a good day!
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.
CASTING ABOUT IN NORTH DEVON – WHERE TO FISH
FOCUS ON ILFRACOMBE
Ilfracombe is a town with a Victorian heritage located on the North Devon coast that has a wealth of opportunities for the angler. Sea Anglers are well catered for and there are several Coarse Fishing lakes within the surrounding area. The town has plenty of facilities for visitors which makes it a good base to explore North Devon with plenty of scope for family fishing and for more serious angling excursions.
Anglers visiting the town can benefit by calling into the towns only tackle Shop – High Street Tackle. The shop carries a wide range of sea angling tackle for both boat and shore along with essential items for the coarse angler. Owner Danny Watson is an enthusiastic lure angler and ensures the shop has all the latest lures to tempt both angler and fish. The area has plenty of opportunities for the bass angler with lure fishing productive from mid April until December depending upon sea conditions.
The Pier is Ilfracombe’s most accessible shore venue and has provided a fishing platform since Victorian Times. The original structure was demolished at the end of the last century and landing platforms built to enable boats to land at various states of the tide. The famous Damien Hurst Statue Verity has raised the profile of Ilfracombe and its Pier in recent years and is a stop off point for hoards of tourists who debate its merits.
These landing platforms provide easy access fishing for anglers of all abilities. The venue is one of very few places in North Devon with good disabled access.
The Lower landings can be safely fished 2.5 hours either side of low water in settled weather. The right-hand side by the Stone bench can be fished over High Water but only allows casting access to the less productive harbour area.
Anglers must be aware of boat traffic at all times and ensure they take care when casting and always retrieve lines as boats approach.
There is a vast array of species caught from the pier each year with target species varying throughout the seasons. Standard beach casting tackle can be used to catch dogfish, conger, ray, bass, flatfish, Pollock, pouting, whiting and codling.
Float-fishing tactics will bring mackerel, garfish and Pollock.
The pier is a popular venue for species hunting with many mini species caught. LRF tactics are at times very productive with blennies, dragonets, wrasse and clingfish amongst catches.
Grey mullet can be tempted using light freshwater tactics with bread flake the number one bait.
There is ample parking adjacent to the pier and the Aquarium located at the rear of the Pier car park is well worth a visit.
There are plenty of rock marks close to Ilfracombe that provide access to a wide variety of sea bed ranging from sand to rock and kelp. Capstone Point is a popular mark that gives access to deep water with a strong tide run. Great care needs to be taken here as the point is exposed to treacherous swells that have swept anglers into the deep water. The rocks here are also very slippery ensuring the need for studded boots especially if attempting to net fish.
There are also various marks between the pier and Capstone including Cheyne Beach and Salty Dog that can yield a variety of species.
Six miles East of Ilfracombe is the village of Combe Martin that has a sandy beach that is seldom fished but has in the past rewarded anglers with bass, flounder and the occasional conger.
There are several rock marks between Ilfracombe and Combe Martin most of which are on Private property where a permit is required. Broadsand’s Beach and the rocks to the East of the beach can be productive but care must be taken not to get cut off by the rising tide. Fishing is possible over low water with a variety of species available.
There is a small fleet of Charter Boats operating out of Ilfracombe giving access to a wide range of species throughout the year. Recent years have seen several boats venturing to new ground with porbeagle, blue shark and thresher shark brought to the boat.
The summer months give the opportunity for anglers to catch mackerel, pollock, bass, ray, tope and many other species. The winter months see spurdog, conger and bull huss dominate catches with the occasional cod.
Lower Slade Reservoir is run by South West Lakes Trust and boasts an impressive range of specimen fish including carp to 25lb, pike to 25lb, bream to 7lb, perch to 5lb and large numbers of roach. The six-acre reservoir with depths of up to 25ft is set in a tranquil valley that was once adjacent to the Ilfracombe to Barnstaple railway.
Mill Park Campsite is home to an attractive former Mill Pool that teams with quality roach offering some of Devon’s best silver fish sport. The lake also holds carp and bream.
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 Martin SAC member Paul Lorrimore caught this bull huss of 9lb 7oz on his latest visit to the North Devon shoreline. Shore anglers are catching plenty of small conger and dogfish but those prepared to persist are eventually rewarded.
Boat anglers will be pleased to know that John Barbeary’s boat Bluefin is back in the water at Ilfracombe following a winter refit. The next two months should see some hectic sport with spurdog, conger and bull huss.
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.