Assembled on the pebbles

It was good to once again stand upon the pebbly foreshore at Beer with five fellow anglers awaiting the arrival of our skipper. It was 7.00am and we had all made an early start to reach this unique East Devon beach. This was my second boat fishing trip to Beer in search of Black Bream and I was looking forward to our day afloat.

I don’t think any of my fellow anglers had fished out of Beer before and I’m sure they all felt that sense of anticipation especially relishing the very special launching protocol on this steep beach. The boats are launched from the beach using a combination of tractors, wooden rollers (logs) winch wires and gravity!

I fished from Orca last October enjoying a fabulous day and was confident that Stuart Pike our skipper would find us a few fish and share a wealth of information gained during his many years at sea.

            Stuart greeted us all warmly and helped us to load our abundance of  gear onto the boat prior to launching. The morning sun was just rising over the white cliffs, a calm sea awaiting us. Those heat wave days already seemed a distant memory, I was sure I felt a slight chill in the morning air those golden days of autumn awaiting on life’s horizon.

            We watched the boat and skipper crash into the calm waters before climbing aboard from the mobile pontoon.

            First stop was to try and feather up a few fresh mackerel for bait. The mackerel proved hard to find with just a few succumbing from various marks despite good numbers showing on the fish finder.

            We had plenty of frozen mackerel and squid for the bream fishing so Stuart suggested we get out on the bream grounds and catch the tide. The fishing grounds are not too far out and are reached in less than half an hour.

            We all had light tackle set ups with only light leads required to send the baits down. Rigs were simple two hook paternoster rigs. I was using size 4 Sakuma Kong Hooks that are sharp, strong and reliable.

            Stuart sent down a bait dropper of chum setting up a scent trail that would hopefully entice black bream to our baits. Bites came within minutes sharp rattles on the rod tips. That brought small pouting, scad, mackerel and bream to the boat. Keith was delighted to boat a grey gurnard his first of the species and another milestone in his quest to catch as many species as possible. This gurnard his 200th from fresh and salt-waters across the world.

            Banter flowed freely between all on board as friends were re-united and new friendships forged. I had booked this trip last autumn and the final line up had changed several times over the months as potential participants drifted in and out of the plan. Fortunately, I have many angling friends keen to get afloat.

            The cast for today’s adventure came from all over the South West. Keith Armishaw runs  River Reads bookshop and River Reads Press with his wife Sandy . Dr Mark Everard is an author, scientist and broadcaster who has a deep passion for angling and the environment. Peter Robinson is a keen sea angler and fellow member of the Combe Martin Sea Angling Club. Mark Dean travelled down with Mark and is an all-round angler based in Somerset.

Bruce Elston is a keen all-round angler who renovates antique furniture from his work shop, Esox Antiques( The title gives a clue as to his favourite species of fish) in mid Devon.

Bruce Elston with his first black bream
Dr Mark Everard with a pleasing bream
Mark Dean with a specimen mackerel
Keith Armishaw is pleased with a black bream

            The social aspect of charter boat fishing is a significant part of its charm. The bringing together of anglers into a small often cramped space is a recipe that encourages close cooperation as participants engage in the all to frequent game of knit one pearl one. Fine braided lines, hooks and traces entwining into occasionally challenging puzzles that often prove more fascinating than Rubik Cubes. This challenging team game is spiced up with the addition of twisting congers and a rocking boat. Fortunately,  Stuart Pike our patient skipper is an expert in this pastime and assists frequently in addition to offering constant advice in reducing the frequency of the tangling game.

Stuart works hard at unhooking fish and untangling lines

            Tangles are of course an inevitable occurrence made worse by our reluctance to fully focus upon one fish species. The fishing grounds host a wide variety of species in addition to the bream that we were targeting with our light tackle. Undulate ray, thornback ray, blonde ray, spotted ray and small eyed ray were all likely along with conger. A second heavier rod and line gave the chance of these larger species. We would of course have been better advised to focus on one rod and fish it well rather than fish two and compromise our chances.

Keith with the only ray of a day

            In between marks Stuart spied a vast ball of whitebait breaking the calm sea. We motored over and drifted strings of shining feathers into a shimmering mass. It was mesmerizing to glimpse the tiny fish twisting and turning in the clear waters. The thousands of fry could be heard like rain beating upon the water. We knew that some predator was working below to create this mass. Whilst we suspected mackerel we failed to tempt any number. Stuart suggested that it could be the first tuna of the season and we had our cameras at the ready just in case.

            The main mark for the day was a muddy depression set close to a reef. Fishing proved to be steady throughout the day. Bruce added several black bream to his first of the species caught during the morning of the trip. Big channel mackerel gave spirited battles on light tackle. Numerous scad were kept for use as winter pike baits. Conger were frequent visitors to the boat side tempted with large fresh fish baits intended for ray. Keith boated the days only ray a small well marked thornback. The unusual catch of  coral frequently referred to as dead man’s fingers providing a glimpse at the wonders of the seabed far below.

            The days fishing passed by all too quickly as fishing days tend to do. The sounds of gulls, the sights of soaring gannets. Boats  viewed on distant horizons the dark outlines of of the Jurassic coast seemingly sketched as a break between land and sea.

A good at sea

            Orca crashed into the shingle of busy Beer Beach. The hustle and bustle of beach life a contrast to the tranquillity of the day afloat. The boat was winched slowly up the steep beach to rest above the tide line. We offloaded and trudged over the pebbles to our cars.

The general vibe was that it had been a good day with all keen to do it again next year.

            We assembled for a coffee in the Anchor Inn, a welcome shot of caffeine to keep us awake on the long drive home.



The coast was shrouded in early morning mist as dawn broke, sunlight breaking through low cloud to glisten upon the calm waters of Lyme Bay off Beer in South Devon. We were fishing aboard Orca Charters skippered by Stuart Pike. A trip that had been rearranged on several occasions over the past two years due to weather conditions and COVID isolation concerns. I was joined by two previous work colleagues fishing pal Mike Spiller and my son James.

It was mid-October yet there still seemed to be the lingering essence of summer. Mackerel had only recently arrived in any number and it was indeed pleasing to catch a few strings of the fish I had always associated with summer. The weather forecast told of a change over the coming days as low pressure systems were due to sweep in from the South West. This would undoubtedly stir up sediment and reduce the water clarity signalling the transition into the true autumn season.

It is always exciting and refreshing to visit and fish a new venue. It is also extremely rewarding to meet up with a new skipper and glean valuable knowledge that can be deployed both at the venue being fished and further afield.

This was not a serious outing in many ways more of an excuse for friends to meet up and enjoy a day afloat fishing for a variety of species. Derek Walters and Simon Trapnel are not seasoned boat anglers but were very keen to learn and enjoy. Mike Spiller is a long time sea angler and has like myself been dangling a line for many decades. My son James enjoys a day’s fishing and has travelled extensively with myself and my friends in search of fish. He is not a dedicated angler but relishes the experience along with the environment and wildlife that it allows him to observe and enjoy.

This was to be very much a team effort without any competitive edge. Well only a little! Black bream were the main target using light tackle with the chance of ray and conger on a heavier outfit.

Orca is a traditional fishing boat and is ideally suited to fish five or six anglers with comfort. The skipper operates fishing trips in the Lyme bay reserve an area that has benefitted from a mission to forge valuable links between fishermen, conservationists, regulators and scientists in order to maintain a sustainable marine environment. 

Stuart had greeted us warmly the moment we had climbed aboard and chatted enthusiastically throughout our day afloat. Imparting a wealth of knowledge learned throughout many years at sea.

I had made up numerous two hook rigs for the intended bream that Stuart frowned upon offering up one of his own bling free rigs. I passed this rig to Derek who proved its effectiveness by out-fishing the rest of us throughout the day.

Derek, Simon, James and myself all targeted the bream whilst Mike decided to focus upon larger fish using  larger baits for most of the trip. I also set up a heavier outfit with joey mackerel or large fillets. The intention was to take it in turns to land fish on this outfit giving everyone the chance of a larger specimen.

As the sun burnt off the morning cloud and mist we soaked up the ambience of the seascape. Gulls cried out, fishing boats floated at anchor, gannets dived into the clear water and porpoises rolled close by.

We lowered our bream baits to the sea bed. Stuart advised us to ignore the initial rattles on the rod tip and wait until the tip was dragged down into the water. We used size 4 Sakuma Chino hooks with slivers of mackerel. Stuart explained that frozen mackerel would out-fish fresh with the bream whilst fresh mackerel would be more likely to attract jumbo sized channel mackerel. This was to prove uncannily true throughout the day.

Shortly after lowering down the big rod its tip nodded vigorously. I took first turn and picked up the rod waiting until the tip plunged hard over before setting the hook by winding steadily until the rod was compressed. This was certainly no dogfish!

Steady pressure soon turned the battle my way and line was steadily retrieved as I pumped the fish away from the seabed. A pleasing blonde ray of 13lb 8oz was soon held aloft for a quick photo before being released. I took delight in watching the fish swim serenely back into the clear waters from whence it had come.

As the tide picked up the bream began to feed in earnest with a succession of these delightful fish coming to the boat. Their silvery iridescent sides illuminated in the sunshine. Bream after bream came to the boat each giving a spirited account on the light tackle employed.

In addition to the bream came a few good sized mackerel and a couple of vividly coloured red gurnard.

The bigger rod once again nodded and James took his turn to subdue another fine blonde ray of 11lb plus. Derek followed up with a small thornback ray. The bigger rod brought a succession of conger up to double figures and the occasional dogfish.

As the day drifted along beneath the warm autumn sun fishing slowed as the tidal flow eased . Stuart discussed options mulling over whether to make a move or stay and hope an elusive undulate ray would show as the boat swung with the changing tide.

We decided on a move higher up onto the reef. As soon as our baits touched down the rod tips signalled that the bream were present with a succession of good fish coming aboard some close to 2lb most around 1lb 8oz. A change to strips of squid brought a period of frantic sport with even my rigs bringing frequent double shots of bream to the boat.

All too soon Stuart indicated that our day afloat was coming to an end. The bream bites were by then easing as pouting started to rip into the baits.

Throughout the day Stuart had worked hard unhooking fish and untangling the occasional entwining of lines. His knowledge of the fish and their environment was outstanding and his pleasure in giving his customers a good day plain to see. Stuart is a qualified Angling Trust coach and delights in introducing new anglers to the joys of boat fishing. He is also a keen angler himself enjoying shore fishing in addition to boat fishing.

As we prepared to leave the fishing grounds a huge dolphin rolled close by a sight that thrilled all on board. We sailed back to Beer’s pebbly shoreline where the boat was driven pleasingly into the shore with a jolt before being hoisted up the pebbles over weathered planks of timber. A well-practiced routine plied by many generations of Beer fisherman.

On shore day-trippers savoured the last days of sunshine and warmth. Ice-creams and coffee, children launching pebbles into the clear waters with pleasing plops. Those simple pleasures that have been enjoyed by many generations.

It had been a perfect day enjoyed with friends, memories made and vows made to set out on another adventure next year all being well.