Close to a dozen Combe Martin SAC members arrived at Ilfracombe Pier to fish in the club’s latest pop-up fun and species fishing event. They were greeted by a cool and uninviting North East breeze that surprisingly failed to dent the enthusiastic vibe of those taking part.

Ilfracombe Aquarium had expressed an interest in species acquisition and had given me a short list of desirables for their tanks. After the first half an hour things were going slowly and when Dan from the aquarium appeared with a bucket I was disappointed that we had nothing to offer other than a small ballan wrasse that they have an abundance of anyway.

As the tide dropped and the wind eased a few fish started to show with plenty of small wrasse. This was very much an LRF type event though there were no purists using lures only.

Several members embarked upon exploring the rockpools around the pier whilst Ross Stanway headed for a rocky shoreline and reports came back of a large ballan wrasse he had hooked but lost on lure fishing tactics. Daniel Welch added a rare montagus blenny to his species tally that puts him equal second  to Ross Stanway on the leader board for the year so far with 23 species. Toby Basset is top with 27 species.

Nick joined me for a chat on the top of the old pier and was rather perplexed when he realised I was actually fishing in the tiny rock pool he was standing beside. I had already extracted a tiny blenny from the pool and was hoping for one of these rare montagus but with a size 14 hook I was probably fishing far too heavy as size 20 hooks are more appropriate.

The cool breeze eased off and the sun broke through from time to time. As low water approached the water getting got increasingly murky and fish became harder to find. I caught two small pollock on ragworm which were welcomed by the aquarium.

The monthly raffle was drawn out and  number 18 young Lenny Lake was the winner, adding to his prize for the longest fish caught during April. The competition for May is once again the best picture. many thanks to High Street Tackle for their kind sponsorship.

The next pop up fish will be on Thursday evening in June as we have decided to alternate between Sunday mornings and Thursday evenings.


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Happy Season everyone hope your all having a nice day. Sorry we have been quite of late but we have had lots going on with sorting out bits and pieces with boats and where we are going moving forward.Also battling this constant crap weather we are having. We haven’t been getting out a lot at all so far we haven’t been able to get to the sharks this season 🥲🥲 but we have done a couple of channel trips on the spurs and Huss. Now with the season changing and the summer species coming in it should start to hot up just need the weather to sort its self out so we can get out. Couple of new things this season we have been working on are as follows : 6 hour bass lure trips based around the perfect state of tide to get on the marks that produced some great sport last season available online asap. Also a slight change to our summer Sharking it’s now going to be summer big game fishing, if it’s booked as a shark trip that’s what we will be doing but if we happen to get surrounded by the BFT’S like last season we can switch up and go and have some fun on them and we’re also able to use new methods this season to exciting stuff and can’t wait to try these out then once the weather puts pay to our season down west we are going to go back to our roots and fish up channel this will be on the nice Time tides for the all day trips and when we have the neaps a lot more 4 hour trips I’ll get on the times and dates for booking as soon as I can. I have decided to take a step away from the summer tourist season and do all day trips through out august again I need to put these online but keep your eyes peeled as July and September are 99% booked out apart from a couple of dates so once I put them on I am sure there going to go quick. That’s enough from me with the update and I look for to seeing you all soon and getting stuck In to some serious rod bending pain locker fishing cheers Dan

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.


            In 2012 over a decade ago Combe Martin Sea Angling Club had an idea to hold a fun fishing event at Ilfracombe Pier in conjunction with a Marine festival entitled Sea Ilfracombe.

The idea was to bring various angling interests together with the aim of promoting angling to young people and providing an opportunity for some social interaction. On this first event I invited Ben Field from the Art of Fishing, Mat Mander and Jeremy Boyd from the newly formed Devon And Severn Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority and Nick Payne Devon Development Officer for the Angling Trust.


(Above) Guests at the 2012 Fun Fish
(Above) Fun Fishers in 2012

            This event on a murky day blighted by drizzle ran from 1.00pm until 5.00pm. A dozen or so took part in the competitive aspect of the event whilst many more came along to chat and mingle with our guests.

            A good number of fish were caught some of which were donated to the Ilfracombe Aquarium who supported the event with prizes and shared knowledge regarding the fish caught.

            Over a decade since the first event, I would like to extend heartfelt thanks to all who have supported the event since its conception.

            This year’s Fun Fish saw us once again welcome Mat Mander from the D & S IFCA, along with Dean Asplin from the Angling Trust and Jo Eames from the RNLI. The format of the competitive aspect has been tweaked slightly over the years but the general concept of a family fun day of interaction remains.

2023 – Nick Phillips CMSAC Secretary, Mat Mander D & S IFCA, Jo Eames RNLI, Dean Asplin Angling Trust and Wayne Thomas CMSAC Chairman.

            Each year on the run up to the event I have my concerns for there are always things that can go wrong that are too many to mention here and if we undertook an in-depth risk assessment we would undoubtedly have to rule out any fun! That said involving the Coastguard and RNLI over the years has provided a valuable opportunity to share common sense safety advice to all who enjoy being at the water’s edge.

            Two of the main factors impacting upon the event are tides that dictate the times and of course the weather that is totally unpredictable. This year’s event was set to run from 2.00pm until 4.00pm a couple of hours shorter than the inaugural event back in 2012. One lesson we have learned is that young angler’s attention will start to wander if sport is slow and its also exhausting running around with a clip board keeping a tally of catches for the species competition.

            Luck was certainly with us on Sunday September 3rd 2023 for we were blessed with a light breeze, warm sunshine and a blue sky reflecting upon a calm sea. We met up with our guests in the Aquarium Café an hour before the event to greet and run over the days format.

For Dean Asplin of the Angling Trust and Jo Eames of the RNLI this was their first CMSAC Fun Fish. I explained that the format was rather loose and that whilst there is a competitive element its really just about having a fun day. Rules are minimal and we have no idea how many will turn up on the day.

            This year’s event was generously supported by Danny Watson of High Street Tackle who supplied a splendid array of tackle prizes to add to the club’s funded prizes and additional support came from the Angling Trust.

            Arriving at the pier we regretted the oversight in not having our club papering table to work from. I had assumed Nick would bring his, Nick had assumed I would bring mine and Dean Asplin from the Angling Trust said he would have brought his if he had known. There is surely a lesson to be learnt there. I vaguely remember something on a training course referring to an Ass of U and Me!

            We strolled onto the pier with an array of spare rods leaflets and boxes of prizes. A good number of anglers were already set up some of them fishing and others getting ready for the fun fish to commence. Dean Asplin joined with me in grabbing details of the competitors and I invited those who just happened to be there fishing to join in the fun. After twenty minutes or so we were ready for cast off with over twenty competitors ranging from three years old to a more senior stature.

            In truth it was a bit chaotic but it wasn’t long before a variety of fish started to be swung to hand. I dashed around with the clip board keeping a tally and grabbing a few images. Nick Phillips the Clubs long suffering secretary assisted keenly measuring fish when requested and offering advice and tutoring when possible. Jo Eames from the RNLI chatted keenly with anglers and members of the public displaying a vast knowledge of safety at sea and the history of the RNLI. Mat Mander was at hand to assist throughout and take any questions relating the sterling work undertaken by the Devon and Severn IFCA to help manage and police inshore waters for the benefit of stakeholders and the complex marine ecosystem.

            There were twelve species of fish registered during the event including, mackerel, pollock, ballan wrasse, corkwing wrasse, smelt, blenny’s, shanny’s, rock gobies, garfish, pouting, whiting and even a small tope.

            The results are as follows : –

Junior Winner of top prize –  Ben Clark – 17 points

Overall winner – Anna Stavrakopoulos – 27 points

Heaviest Fish – Paul Chamberlain – tope 11oz

Longest Fish – Paul Maxfield – garfish 56cm


(Above) Solly Welch and his grandad Dave Welch share the fun of fishing.

(Above) Dean Asplin of the Angling Trust –

It is true to say that everyone who took part in this year’s event was a winner. It was perhaps one of the best Fun Fishes we have held over the years though there have been some very special memories made and I hope just a few new anglers have been set on a journey of fun and adventure.



Combe Martin SAC Fun Fish 2023

Combe Martin SACs annual Fun Fishing Event coincides with the Sea Ifracombe Festival. This years special guests include Mat Mander from the D & S IFCA, Dean Asplin from the Angling Trust and hopefully members of the Local Coastguard and RNLI. There will be a friendly competition as in past years and the opportunity to talk with local anglers and our special guests.

The club look forward to meeting up with local anglers as participants or just for a chat on the day.

The event is free to enter. All junior anglers must be accompanied by an adult.

Mackerel a true fish of summer

Think back to those formative fishing days as a teenager in North Devon and mackerel would feature high in those fishing memories. Caught on silvery spinners, strips of mackerel fished beneath bright crimson tipped floats or more commonly on strings of feathers launched from the rocks. I remember watching the shoals as they drove scattering silver whitebait from the water as the birds swooped to feast upon the fleeing fish.

I had begun to think that those days of plenty had been consigned to history books but sometimes nature bounces back. I had heard that mackerel were abundant in shoals not witnessed for decades with large shoals showing from Hartland to Porlock.

I headed down to Ilfracombe to enjoy a session after the mackerel and scrambled out onto the rocks amongst the foundations of the old pier. It was good to see the rocks and pier busy with anglers of all ages casting a variety of lures and feathers. News that mackerel were about had brought out the occasional angler in abundance. And whilst I’m not generally keen on fishing amongst crowds I resigned myself to this hustle and bustle of communal angling.

I had brought a spinning rod and a few metal lures to savour each fish taking a few home for tea whilst enjoying the thrill of catching. For the first twenty minutes or so I suspected that I had missed out on the recent abundance. But then I noted a few mackerel starting to show with the twisting and turning fish being swung ashore.

A sharp knock was transmitted through the line and I was in. The mackerel are miniature tuna and fight hard their bodies packed with muscle. As I watched them in the clear water I reflected upon the huge tuna I had seen caught last winter and questioned my sanity in seeking contact with a member of the mackerel family 500 times bigger than the fish at the end of my line.

As the tide flooded I was forced to leave my rocky platform with five mackerel, real jewels of the summer sea. The sun was setting as I put the rods into the car and lines of anglers were still casting from the rocks.

Whilst mackerel can sometimes encourage a less savoury aspect in those who litter or take more fish than required it also brings anglers  of all ages to the shoreline to enjoy those simple pleasures.

During July and August many Ilfracombe Charter boats take holidaymakers on short trips to catch mackerel an experience that can be the introduction to a more serious angling addiction.



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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 


The North Devon Coast has many miles of very varied and spectacular coastline much of it well worth exploring so when James suggested a trip to check out a cove near Ilfracombe I was keen. Lee Bay is a secluded Wooded Valley that descends to a fascinating stretch of coastline intersected by the South West Coast path much of the land in the custodianship of the National Trust.

James had suggested a short trip to explore the coves with a fishing rod perhaps incorporating a swim. We arrived shortly after Low water and walked out along the beach following a fascinating pathway cut into the rocky foreshore.

The path leads to a secluded beach sheltered from the prevailing South Westerly. This was where James intended to take a swim. But before cooling off we ventured beyond the cove through a maze of gulley’s that lead to a rugged rocky foreshore that screamed bass.

We had a few casts but with the tide flooding time was limited and we headed back to the cove where James plunged into the clear waters to cool down.

I stepped out onto the rocks and cast a lure whilst savouring the unfamiliar topography.

I didn’t really expect to catch and joined James on the beach suggesting we head back to Ilfracombe and try for a mackerel as the tide flooded.

Ilfracombe was a contrast to the secret coves of Lee Bay with its bustling harbour and people all around. After catching up with the cricket score we took our lure rods to the rocks near the pier and cast shiny metals into the clear water.

The aqua blues and greens of the sea with white breaking waves against rocky foreshores were exhilarating. We spied vast shoals of sandeel shimmering and shoaling close in against the shoreline. Birds were working out in the tide a sign that mackerel or bass were hunting.

A burst of life upon the water caught my attention and I cast my lure into the general direction. After a couple of casts came that pleasing thump as a mackerel hit the lure. Over the next twenty minutes we added four more mackerel to the tally. Fresh from the sea we looked forward to them lightly grilled or pan fried for tomorrow’s breakfast or dinner.

I was delighted to share the shoreline with James seeing the sea as it should be with abundant fish and prey. A lively moving eco system that can be enjoyed if only we could learn to use it in a sustainable fashion taking only our fair share.

As the tide forced us to retreat again we strolled along the harbour to pick up  delicious burgers and a Katsu box from Paul Lorrimore’s

It would have been nice to savour the food sat on a bench overlooking the harbour but Ilfracombe’s seagulls made us retreat to the safety of the car parked beneath Verity’s towering presence.

            The end of another perfect day in North Devon.