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.
Richard Budge won this years Putsborough Open competition organized by Combe Martin Sea Angling Club with a specimen smoothound scaling 10lb 5oz. Runner up in the event was David Brooke who landed a fine small-eyed ray weighing 10lb 1oz. Richard Budge secured the pool with his smoothound weighing 10lb 5oz and a small-eyed ray of 8lb 4oz that also secured third prize. Thirty eight anglers fished in the competition that was generously sponsored by Sakuma Tackle, Ammo Baits, Braunton Bait Box,chillcheaters and Veal’s Mail Order and Combe Martin SAC providing £150 prize money. Competitors enjoyed ideal conditions and landed a good number of small-eyed ray and dogfish with a few smoothound.
FULL PUTSBOROUGH RESULTS
1st – Richard Budge – smoothound 10lb 5oz
2nd – David Brooke -small eyed ray – 10lb 1oz
3rd – Richard Budge – small eyed ray – 8lb 4oz
4th – David Brooke – small eyed ray – 8lb 2oz
5th Robert Hancock – small eyed ray – 6lb 153/4oz
6th – Dan Dan Miles Redmore -small eyed ray -6lb 71/2oz
7th – David Brooke – small eyed ray 6lb 7oz
8th – Graham Snow – dogfish – 1lb 141/2oz
9th – Andrew Atkinson – small eyed ray – 6lb 5oz
10th – Graham Snow – dogfish 1lb 13oz
11th – Chris Slade – small eyed ray- 6lb 1oz Stephen Jenkins – small eyed ray – 6lb 1oz
Pool – Richard Budge smoothound 10lb 5oz & small eyed ray 8lb 4oz
Junior prize – Jack Phillips – dogfish 1lb 8oz
Shore anglers are enjoying some fine sport with smoothound packs prowling their regular haunts all along the coast. CMSAC member Dan Spearman landed a personal best specimen of 13lb 6oz. Fellow member Matt Jeffery also landed a smoothound of 10lb 6oz.
Lee Watts won North Devon Leagues Champion of Champion match with a smoothound scaling 12lb 4oz. Steve Luxton was runner up with a hound of 11lb 4oz.
Thin Lipped grey mullet are now providing sport in the Taw and Torridge estuaries with baited spinners the tried and tested tactic. Recent seasons have seen specimens to over five pounds landed.
Mackerel are being caught off Ilfracombe but numbers are patchy at the moment with Pollock also being tempted on feathers. Garfish are also being tempted by anglers float fishing off the pier.
I fished a short LRF session with fellow Combe Martin SAC member Rob Sciones and whilst I failed to tempt any fish Rob tempted a fine bass of 6lb 3oz using a single king ragworm presented on a weighted jig head.
Dan Spearman landed a corkwing wrasse of 9oz. These brightly coloured wrasse are often caught by LRF anglers and do not grow to a large size the British Record standing at 360 grams. (Approx.12oz). The more commonly caught ballan wrasse seem to have declined in North Devon waters with large specimens seldom reported in recent years. Five pound plus fish were relatively common thirty years ago. The number of wrasse caught could be in part to a lack of anglers targeting the species as commercial fisheries do not generally target the species.
Dan Hawkins Charter Boat ‘Reel Deal” has moved to Ilfracombe for the summer season and has taken customers in search of porbeagle shark from marks West of Hartland Point. The early season big porbeagle proved challenging with several huge fish hooked but not brought to the side of the boat. Perseverance eventually brought its reward however when a huge porbeagle estimated at 450lb was successfully brought to the boat. The huge shark was carefully unhooked and returned to the sea where it swam strongly away. The fish was attracted to the boat using rubby-dubby supplied by Ammo baits. The shark took over 150yards of 50olb b.s line on its first run and was tamed by two anglers. Alex Steal hooking the fish and playing it until he passed the rod to his mate David Brooks who brought the battle to a successful conclusion. The fish was hooked less than a mile from the rocky shoreline and was tempted used a Pollock hook bait.