Rough Sea Triggers plan B

  We had been looking forward to our trip on Reel Deal targeting Porbeagle shark for months and with the weather set fair I climbed out of bed eagerly at 5.00am. It was still dark when I set off to pick up fellow sharker Peter Robinson. I had offered to pick up Peter so that we could share the extortionate cost of parking on Ilfracombe Pier for the day.  A £15.00 charge to park for a day during the summer season is likely to deter visitors and adds a significant cost to a day’s boat fishing.

            We arrived at the harbourside and greeted Bruce who had booked the trip over twelve months ago following on from a successful excursion after the shark last Autumn when Bruce and James had brought shark boat-side between 100lb and 175lb.


    In addition, Dan Hawkins skipper of Reel Deal had just recorded the first two blue fin tuna to be caught from the Bristol Channel. They had also caught a fine porbeagle estimated at over 200lb. In addition, earlier in the season several thresher shark had been caught and it was likely that these could still be present in the rich feeding grounds at the mouth of the Bristol Channel.

            The weather forecast gave light winds of less than 10mph. I was slightly concerned as I felt a chill breeze as I stepped out of the car. There was also white water visible opposite the pier as a large swell pounded the rocks.

            We greeted Dan quayside who seemed confident that all would be well with the wind forecast to drop later in the day. We were joined by three other anglers  and we set off out of the harbour heading West towards the sharking grounds that are situated an hour or so steam beyond Hartland Point.

            It was immediately obvious that the wind was brisker than forecast and it was more than a little lumpy as we bounced across the tide race off Morte Point. A good number of gannets could be seen diving into the turbulent waters a clear indication that mackerel and bass were present.

            Dan eased off the power and gave us a bad prognosis. The wind was far stronger than forecast and images of Bude via surf cams showed a wall of white water. Sharking would be unpleasant and very likely unproductive. It was up to us but Dan thought we would be wasting our money and suggested we abort. He left us to ponder for a few moments and after a short debate we decided that the skipper generally knows best.

            And so rather deflated in spirit we bounced back on the waves to Ilfracombe. Bruce and I started to think of plan B. Lure fishing off the shore could be worth a go with plenty of bass in the estuary?

            On arrival back in Ilfracombe we clambered off the boat and within minutes Dan told us there were a couple of places on the Charter-boat Carrick Lee fishing locally. There were a few trigger fish being caught. Bruce had never caught a trigger fish so within minutes we were buying  fresh king ragworm from the harbour Kiosk and handing over cash for a day on Carrick Lee. We said our goodbyes to Peter who was going to catch the bus home to Barnstaple. Pete had endured a very slow days boat-fishing a few days previous and wasn’t keen for a repeat.

            We jumped on board ‘Carrick Lee’ to be greeted by the owner and skipper of the boat Paul Simon. There were six of us on board three who were visitors to the area and Paul Lorrimore who I know through Combe Martin SAC and his excellent Bay-side Burger Bar in Ilfracombe. Between us Bruce and I had enough tackle to combine efforts and put suitable rigs down to the sea bed. First stop was to the bay of my home village Combe Martin where we used small hooks and small baits to try and target a range of species with trigger fish high on our wish list.

            The calm waters of Combe Martin Bay were certainly more tranquil than the wild waters off Hartland Point. It wasn’t long before Paul was into the first fish of the day a ballan wrasse of perhaps 2lb. There were plenty of gentle raps on the rod tips but fish were hard to find. Paul followed up with a lovely little red mullet a species I have yet to catch. I really need to do a bit more light species fishing this Autumn.

            As the tide eased away sport was slow with just a couple of strap eels seizing baits. Skipper Paul pulled up the anchor and we set off for pastures new. After a short stop in the bay beneath Little Hangman we headed out to fish beneath the spectacular towering cliffs beneath Great Hangman. Paul put us on a bit of rough ground off Sherricombe Waterfall a mark I knew to have been productive over the years. Sherricombe Waterfall has a fascinating history. It is said that during the Second World War submariners from German U-Boats visited the craggy shore to collect freshwater during the cover of darkness. Many years ago, there was a path  down to the sea near this point where locals would access the foreshore to gather laver. There were also rumours of smuggling activities. This path has long since crumbled along with the memories of those who walked the treacherous path. Mining was carried out deep within the cliff’s and it is still possible to see the remains of shafts on the sheer cliff face.

Towering Little Hangman

            Whilst the scenery was spectacular the fishing wasn’t and after a few hours trying various rocky marks at anchor. We also tried drifting the well -known reefs at Copperas Rock. It was apparent that if the fish were present they were not feeding. The boat was buffeted by a strong offshore breeze, reinforcing the knowledge that our shark fishing trip cancellation had been a wise move.

            Paul our skipper had tried very hard to find fish but is was undoubtedly a hard task. A return to Combe Martin Bay was welcome and again we hoped for trigger fish. After a couple of moves we eventually found success. Bruce’s rod arched over as he made contact with a hard fighting fish that was safely netted. A fine trigger fish of perhaps 3lb was held up and admired. A fish that always looks so unreal in British waters a visitor from warmer climes that is often linked to climate change. Their numbers fluctuate year on year and any link to climate change is tenuous.

            Five minutes later I too added a trigger fish to the days tally.

We hoped for more trigger fish over the remaining couple of hours but they proved elusive. Paul had tried hard throughout the day. We had caught nine species between us, small tope, wrasse, pouting, pollock, strap eels, poor cod, red mullet, scad and trigger fish.

            It has been a very mixed season for Ilfracombe Charter boats. Early summer had seen huge numbers of mackerel with calm weather. Occasional calm periods during July had allowed Reel Deal to venture to the shark grounds where several thresher shark were caught along with large porbeagle. During August poor weather and disappearance of the mackerel ruined the opportunity to take tourists on the short fishing trips that can boost the bank balance for charter boat owners in these increasingly difficult times of rising costs. The life of a charter boat skipper may seem like living the dream but it’s a far from easy way of making living.


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Earlier this year Defra reopened the UK Spurdog fishery to commercial fishing. Recognising that the female breeding stock needed to be protected to give the fishery longevity they restricted the slot size to 100cm.

To understand the significance of this you need to know that female Spurdog do not reach sexual maturity until they are around 15 years old and that their pregnancy lasts for up to two years. The younger female Spurdog have smaller pups which have a low survival rate but as the females get older and larger, their pup sizes increase and so does their survival rate.  A 100cm female Spurdog is around 20 years old whereas a 120cm female Spurdog is around 40 years old and her pups have a significantly increased survival rate. 

We were therefore very surprised when we heard recently that Defra are now considering a request from the commercial sector to increase the maximum landing size to 120cm.

The recreational angling community regularly access the smaller shark fishery on a catch and release basis and it represents a revenue stream which our recreational charter skippers and coastal communities rely on.

The situation was discussed at a recent Pat Smith Database trustee meeting where it was agreed unanimously that our smaller sharks (Spurdog, Smoothound, Bull Huss and Tope) need our protection as much as their larger cousins (Blue, Porbeagle, Thresher).

Our sport has a seat at the Fisheries Management table but if we don’t use this opportunity to make our views known we will be sidelined by the other players so as a first step we have decided to send a letter to the Fisheries minister signed jointly by as many charter skippers, angling clubs and angling related organisations as possible.

If you would like to be a signatory and help protect the fishery from future closure please get in contact  with the Pat Smith Database at [email protected]

Anglers, Angling clubs and Charter boat skippers are encouraged to contact their local MP to raise awareness of the issues and the urgent need to protect these small sharks for over fishing.

Letter sent to Selaine Saxby on behalf of CMSAC

Dear Selaine Saxby,

You may already be aware that Defra recently opened the UK spurdog fishery this year.  With spurdog having a low, even negligible commercial value in the UK, this was a decision I found difficult to understand but recent events are even stranger. It has now come to the attention of the recreational sea angling sector that Defra are considering a request from the commercial sector to increase the slot size to 125cm from its current level of 100cm. This will allow the targeting of larger spurdog which will predominately be female.

To understand the significance of this you need to know that female spurdog do not reach sexual maturity until they are around 15 years old and that their pregnancy lasts for two years. The younger female spurdog have smaller pups which have a low survival rate but as the females get older and larger, their pup sizes increase and so does their survival rate.

In short this species have a very challenging reproductive cycle that requires the female stock to be given protection. Targeting the female breeding stock will, as we have witnessed previously, lead to the demise, and perhaps even closure of the fishery once again.

The RSA sector, who contribute £1.5 billion to the UK economy, access the spurdog fishery on a catch and release basis which provides a much needed revenue stream for recreational sea angling charter skippers and their local coastal communities. Continued access to this fishery requires it to be managed in a sustainable manner which is not consistent with a slot size increase.

We believe that Defra do understand the needs of the fishery as Mark Spencer MP was quoted as saying, 

The UK and EU will also prohibit landings of spurdog over 100cm in length to discourage the targeting of larger females and provide protection for the breeding stock(source Communications and Management for Sustainability – April 2023)

Having made these comments its difficult to understand why Defra are even considering an increase in slot size for spurdog.

For the reasons above I am requesting your support to ensure that the slot size remains at 100cm. If Defra are of the opinion that it is correct to allow an increase in slot size then I am asking to see the scientific evidence which confirms that increasing the slot size will not damage the breeding stock within the fishery. In the absence of this evidence then in my opinion the precautionary principle, as stated in the Fisheries Act (2020) should apply.

Spurdog have become an important recreational species for sea anglers in North Devon with large numbers caught each winter from Charter boats fishing out of Ilfracombe. The fishery brings welcome visitors to the area during the winter months with some anglers staying in local accommodation and visiting local eating places etc.

I look forward to your urgent response

Your Sincerely, 

Wayne Thomas
Wayne Thomas
The Shippen
        Loxhore Cott
Near Barnstaple
North Devon
        EX31 4st
Tel – 01271 850586 

South Molton Angling Club – Boat Trip Clovelly

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A quick report from Ed Rands on South Molton Angling Clubs 4hr Clovelly evening sea trip on the 19th of June.
We met doug the skipper aboard “independent charters” at 5pm motored out for 10 minutes and set anchor.
We put squid baits and mackerel baits down and started catching fish and it never really stopped until we came in at 9:30.
We caught the inevitable dogfish, a few smoothound, probably 30 bull huss into double figures and we had a few mackerel to bring home to eat as well as a few scad which were not eaten! The weather was pretty good and flattened the sea out well by the time we had finished.
Thanks to Jim, Danny, Bob, Nigel and Craig for attending and doug looked after us admirably with tea and coffee, although we did Craig’s coffee again later!


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Daniel Welch has been some superb boat sport off Ilfracombe ctaching some stunning wrasse using lure fishing tactics. Dans best wrasse a stunning ballan of 5lb. The sport was shared with his good friend Ross Stanway and son Solly Welch.

“Another fantastic day out on the boat, with perfect weather. The plan for the day was lure fishing with light spinning setups the main target a big ballen and a cuckoo wrasse. The day didn’t disappoint we caught good numbers of decent sized hard fighting pollack on the wrecks on the way down, once at the island we had great sport on the wrasse all catching good sized fish the biggest a boat and lure pb for me of exactly 5lb I also managed my main target and another first for me, catching not one but two cuckoo wrasse on a lure in quick succession. We thought we would pick up some fresh bait to drift for the tope on the way back and found good numbers of large launce and some mackerel. Prime fresh bait but an hour drift only produced one tope we fished some small baits at the same time and picked up weavers, a few gurnard and lots of little whiting. We finished the day off with some more wreck pollack on the way home. Lures used were a mix of slow jigs with single
hooks, creature soft plastics, savagegear Sandeels and black minnow.”

Tope and mackerel bring summer sport

After several weeks of strong North Easterly winds, I was lucky to get out on board John Barbeary’s Bluefin with fellow members of South Molton & District Angling Club. The water was crystal clear when I arrived in the harbour shortly before 8:00am. Large numbers of jellyfish were pulsing in the harbour. This was the second calmer day and with reports of mackerel close to the shore prospects were good. My friend Bruce Elston had fished on Predator 2 the previous day and was delighted to have boated his first tope.

We steamed out of the harbour the spectacular North Devon Coast draped in a misty morning haze. The forecast was for warm sunshine with hardly any wind and the chance of thunderstorms later in the day.

First stop was close inshore off the Tors point where we found large numbers of mackerel. It was very encouraging to drop down the feathers and haul up strings full of writhing mackerel. It has been several years since we have seen good numbers of mackerel showing like this and it is to be hoped that this bodes well for the summer ahead.

After twenty minutes we had more than enough mackerel for the day ahead. We set off to our next mark where Feathers and lures brought a few pollock and more mackerel including a jumbo mackerel of 1lb 4oz.

It was now time to drop anchor and try for tope, the main target species for the day.

I used a 10/0 Sakuma Manta, with a wire trace and lip hooked a whole mackerel its flanks lacerated to release scent into the water.

            After a few dogfish, huss and small conger I felt a strong pull and set the hook into what was undoubtedly a good fish. After a strong battle with a well bent rod, I was pleased to bring a tope of around 25lb to the waiting net.

The fish was released after a quick picture and a fresh bait sent down. Minutes later I enjoyed a repeat performance from a second tope that scaled 32lb.

            As I rebaited I noticed Kevin Harris doing battle with what was undoubtedly another tope. This proved to be an even better specimen that gave Kev several anxious moments before being safely netted. The fish was carefully weighed in the boats weigh sling and registered an impressive 42lb.

            As the tide eased several bull huss were brought on board along with the inevitable dogfish. After a lull in sport John decided it was time for a move further out. On the way to our next anchoring mark, we had a few drifts over reefs and added to the tally of pollock.

            The next mark had been producing a few tope before the winds had curtailed fishing. We were optimistic as we lowered fresh mackerel baits to the seabed. Bull huss to around 9lb provided a few bites and the inevitable dogfish found our baits all too quickly.

Jim Ricketts with a good huss
Chairman Ed Rands with a brace of dogfish!

            We fished over the high water period and made one more move in search of the tope that appeared to be absent from the deep water marks. John speculated that they were likely to be close inshore chasing the mackerel. After several weeks of strong winds, it could take time to find where the fish are located.

Rob Kingdon with rockling caught close inshore

            As the tide began to pick up it was again time to move and with the tide ebbing we headed close inshore. The cliffs towered from the water and I noted that there had been some significant landslips. Several club members took the opportunity to fillet out a few mackerel and pollock. The gulls soon homed in on the opportunity of food and gathered eagerly behind the boat. They were joined by a young gannet that dived frequently into the clear water feasting upon discarded remains.

            It was time to head back to Ilfracombe and savour the splendour of the wild and rugged coast of North Devon.

            We climbed from Bluefin and thanked John for a great day. The fish had proved hard to find but Johns extensive experience had given us the opportunity to boat several hard fighting tope. We also had several mackerel for the freezer and a few pollock fillets for tea.

High Street Tackle has a vast range of lures on display.

Rare North Devon Ling

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Daniel Welch and his son Solly made an early morning start with the weather and tides were perfect to give the local wrecks a try. The target was a decent conger. They caught no  conger but did manage a couple rare North Devon Ling to 8lb, along with plenty of pouting. Gave the lures a go on the way back over local reefs which produced a few wrasse and plenty of small pollack .


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Combe Martin SAC Spring Rover competition was won by Martin Hunton who caught a fine specimen blonde ray scaling 17lb 5oz. The fish was the best of several ray caught by members fishing out of Minehead aboard Steve Webbers boat Osprey.

Runner up in the clubs competition was Ollie Passmore with a fine bull huss scaling 9lb 10oz.

The members who fished on the boat caught several ray, including thornbacks and blondes. A few smoothound and plenty of dogfish were also boated.


Bideford Angling Club – 48 Hour Rover

( Below) 1st Stephen Found  Small-eyed Ray 9lb 3oz 102.083%

(Below) 2nd Andrew Clements Smalleyed Ray 8lb 9 1/4oz 95.312%