John Barbeary has been finding plenty of tope for anglers on board his charter boat ‘Bluefin’ off Ilfracombe. The best have been up to 35lb with bull huss and a few bass showing. From July 1st anglers can keep one bass per day following a contentious six month total ban on keeping fish for the table.
It was fitting that Michael Squires caught the only weighable fish in Bideford and District Angling Clubs Michael Squires Memorial Trophy. The 10lb 12oz undulate ray was the highlight of the clubs venture to Chesil Beach where members had a good time enjoying a social event with a BBQ.
Michael Squires Senior was a popular member of several North Devon angling clubs including Bideford and Combe Martin SAC. I have fond memories of away trips to Ireland and Sark with both Michael Squires Jnr and senior.
Combe Martin SAC member David Brooke landed what I believe to be the biggest smoothound from the North Devon coast so far this season. The specimen hound weighed an impressive 15lb 1oz. Fellow club member Derek Ferret fishing with David also enjoyed success landing a specimen smoothound of 11lb 14oz.
Callum Gove fished the Upper estuary with a baited spinner intended for thin lipped grey mullet and hooked into a hard fighting bass of 7lb 7.5oz. It is not unheard of to hook large bass whilst targetting thin lipped grey mullet and from time to time double figure bass are landed by anglers trying something different.
Dan Hawkins Charter Boat Reel Deal arrived in Ilfracombe early this summer and after much effort made the headlines with the boating of a huge porbeagle estimated at 450lb. Since then the shark have proved elusive and a move to deeper water resulted in a blue shark estimated at 80lb being brought to the side of the boat.
Dan informed me that the general fishing has now improved with the arrival of mackerel in greater numbers. Fishing marks off the North Devon coast has resulted in turbot, gurnard, whiting, haddock, codling, tope, smoothound, huss and of course the ever plentiful dogfish.
Thomas Atkinson earned top spot in Appledore Shipbuilders boat match landing a bull huss scaling 13lb 2oz. Andrew Atkinson took second and third with a bull huss of 11lb 14oz and a colorful cuckoo wrasse of 151/2oz. After a week of brisk West to North West Winds boats have been able to venture out and with the algae bloom now clearing I am hearing reports of few mackerel from boats between Hartland and Minehead.
Summer should herald the arrival of mackerel along the North Devon coast a migration that once seemed as routine as the arrival of the swallows, martins and swifts. So far this year numbers have been very patchy as they were last year when many local boats suspended the traditional tourist trips in search of the species in embarrassment at a lack of fish.
This apparent decline in stocks is cause for grave concern for the mackerel are an essential part of the food chain. In addition to bass, tope, shark and other predatory sea fish the mackerel is also food for gannets and dolphins creatures the sighting of which often provide the highlight of a day on the water.
Catches of mackerel are not always entirely representative of stocks as water clarity can impact on the mackerel being able to see the lures. Populations can also vary greatly from local regions and I well remember just two years ago when huge catches were being made from many marks on the South Coast. I will never forget one evening when walking beside the water in Penzance seeing vast shoals of mackerel harassing whitebait within the harbour. The site of thousands of mackerel shimmering in the night and sound of water boiling as they feasted will live with me till I die.
I remember well looking out over a calm summer sea back in the seventies to see mackerel shoals erupting from the water.
It is easy to blame overfishing on the mackerel’s demise and the plundering of stocks by ocean going factory ships has without doubt caused mass casualties. Another factor could be global warming with reports of mackerel being abundant far further North than historically documented.
We once took the humble mackerel for granted but it is one of our most beautiful fish and a symbol of the health of our waters. Its demise could be a barometer of the health of our coastal waters. Where should we look for its salvation? Does the European Union offer the fish protection? Do we trust the UK government to put the survival of the mackerel high on its agenda?
It would be a tragedy for sea angling if the mackerel were to disappear from our waters. The ease of catching has spawned many an angler; from glimmering twisting fish upon a string of feathers to the pleasing plunge of a brightly tipped float followed by the pulsing fight of a mackerel on light tackle. We once commented if only mackerel grew larger they would be the most sort after fish in the sea. Today we may well comment; “If only we could catch a mackerel!”
And finally is there a better tasting fish fresh from the sea; fried in butter with a sprinkling of pepper?
Dan Spearman, Chay Boggis and Kyle Bishop enjoyed a hectic session at a local rock mark landing an incredible fifty-three smoothounds between low water and high water. The fish were tempted on a mixture of frozen peeler crab and hardback crab.
These hard fighting members of the shark family seem to have increased in numbers over recent years, one of few good news stories regarding fish stocks.
Mackerel numbers have been very patchy so far this year though this can change dramatically at any time. Recent weeks have seen water clarity reduced as a result of the annual may bloom. A few bass are being tempted by lure anglers from marks all along the coast.
Dan Spearman enjoyed a successful session targeting thin-lipped grey mullet at a local estuary landing a new personal best weighing 4lb 15oz. This is the biggest I have heard of so far this season fellow Combe Martin SAC member John Shapland also landed a brace weighing 3lb and 3lb 12oz.
Out on the coast Combe Martin SAC members have enjoyed varied sport with Ross Stanway landing a fine bass of 7lb1oz. The fish was tempted on a small crab bait intended for wrasse.
Rob Scoines found ballan wrasse on the feed at a local rock mark landing eight fish in a session using king ragworm baits presented on a jig head. The best of the session weighed 3lb 8oz.
Thirteen year old Jack Pike enjoyed a day afloat on his father Kevin Pikes boat a 21ft Orkney Day Angler he landed a fine spurdog of 15lb 2oz and a tope of 21lb 14oz. Cameron Atkinson also shared the days sport landing a smoothound of 14lb 6oz while Andrew Atkinson boated a fighting fit smoothound of 15lb 1oz.