Kayak Fishing - Portland Harbour

I've fished the last two weekends with little to show for it. Last weekend the wind was a fresh north easterly, and the thought of sitting in that for several hours fishing for plaice wasn't too appealing. My other favoured venues were either potentially un-fishable due to the wind, or still a bit too early in the season to be producing.

The solution was to find a new venue, somewhere relatively close, and it needed to be sheltered. The answer?, Portland harbour!.

Portland Harbour is located beside the Isle of Portland, off Dorset, on the south coast of England, one of the largest man made harbours in the world. Looking at my GPS, the harbour is two and a half miles across at its widest point. Previously a naval harbour, The port is used by all nature of vessels from commercial ships such as bulkers, tankers, container carriers car carriers, survey and Reefers etc to British and foreign naval vessels.

It took just over an hour to travel down to the chosen launch point, close to Sandsfoot Castle. The launch was very easy, trolleying the yak down a short concrete ramp onto a sandy beach. With so much real estate to potentially fish we picked a couple of likely fish holding locations to try on our visit. There are three entrances into the harbour, located in between the long breakwaters.

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Clearly these are going to allow fish in and out of the harbour so it seemed logical to fish these locations.

The first mark was a gentle paddle of just over a mile, though what a lovely paddle it was, very scenic. The water clarity was excellent, probably 6-7m before the bottom faded away. I found it interesting to see how well the fishfinder reproduced the weed beds as I paddled over them, providing me with a better understanding of what you're actually seeing on the fishfinder.

Anyway, we reached the chosen mark and hooks were baited. I'd originally planned to go conger conger fishing in the Bristol Channel and the rods were rigged accordingly with wires traces and 6/0 hooks. I've caught plenty of conger in daylight before and the venue screamed conger so I decided to stick with the conger rigs, one baited with mackerel, the other with either bluey or squid.

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After a couple of hours I'd not had so much as a bite so I paddled off to another spot, frustratingly it also proved totally fruitless. My yakfishing partner, Jim, paddled off to fish a bit of structure further midway down one breakwater, though being stubborn I sat it out for a wee while longer.

Jim radioed in a short while later informing me he was getting bites, then another call to say he'd landed a decent wrasse. Lines were retrieved and anchor hoisted. Not wanting to waste the paddle to his location I attached a Rapala to one rod and trolled it close into the breakwater. Bar a fleeting moment of hope as the ratchet screamed (I'd snagged a shallow rock!) the trolling produced a big fat blank. As I closed in on Jim he called in again to say he'd landed a bass, after a couple of photos I dropped anchor and re-commenced fishing.

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It turned out to be one of those days when the other bloke next to you was catching away whilst you just sit there getting a suntan. It transpired that Jim had a handful of ragworm that he'd been gifted whilst chatting to a local bait digger, it being the worm that was catching the fish. Sadly I had no worm, hence no fish. That's the trouble with fishing, you just cant cater for every possible bait option.

I tried a couple more fishy looking marks without any joy.

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Finally a small wrasse in the dying moment of the session saved the dreaded blank. All said and done though, what with the shelter from the wind, the fantastic sunshine allied with the lovely scenery, the session was a cracking one. I'm sure the venue is capable of producing some good fish, though I suspect it'd fish far better from dusk going into dark, something to try in the future.

Another pleasant paddle returned us to our launch point, checking the track log later that evening I'd clocked up just over 5 miles yet I'd actually covered only a small area of the harbour. Clearly it's going to take several trips to get a feel for the various marks around the harbour.

Apparently the harbour fills up with mackerel in the summer months and the bass fishing can be quite prolific. There are also several wrecks along the harbour walls, one wreck is actually situated in one of the harbour entrances (HMS Hood).

Despite the fact I just saved the blank, I'm quite looking forward to my next visit there.

Trying for an early Bream

As per my latest fishing reports there's little to catch in my local area, and it's difficult to motivate yourself to get afloat under those conditions. It was time to travel again, and it was to be somewhere totally new to me.

My destination was Kimmeridge is a small village in the Purbeck district of Dorset. The village stands on 'Jurassic Cliffs', the name given to the area because of the quality and variety of geological landforms and fossils along the coast.

On arrival the scenery proved truly stunning, what a great venue for a days fishing!. The launch site was convenient, close to the car park and straight into the bay itself. It was somewhat breezier than forecast making the morning seem rather chilly. I paddled out after 8am, and after having a quick look around the bay paddled out towards my first mark of the day.

There was a lazy swell running towards the coast, topping out at around 6', making the paddle out quite enjoyable. The first mark was just over a mile offshore and in nearly 20m of water. Now this is where it became a little interesting. I knew the tides were springs, however I hadn't fully appreciated the tide race that was present. Down went to anchor and all became apparent!.

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My anchor buoy was around 2' underwater, dragged down by the current, not ideal. This in turn was causing the water to slam against the stern of the yak. However, I was anchored up so fishing commenced.

As I was primarily aiming for an early bream, I dropped a set of mini hokkais over the side, baited with alternate strips of mackerel and squid. The other rod being baited with a generous lash of mackerel on a pennel rig. Due to the strong tide I required 12oz of lead to hold bottom, not too enjoyable considering I rarely use more than 4oz. This allied with my 6lb class boat rod proved far from ideal, though I was fishing!

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Bites were a little difficult to see due to the movement on the rod tips, however a light rattle resulted in the first fish of the day, the dreaded dogfish, though at least I was off the mark. He wasn't the biggest specimen neither, though he was clearly hungry.

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I sat there for around 30-40 minutes until the tide started to ease, it must have eased a little bit as my anchor buoy was now visible, albeit still below the surface!

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Feeling the urge to relocate to some slightly shallower water in an attempt to get out of the tide, I recovered the anchor warp, only to arrive above the anchor only to find it well and truly stuck. I wasn't too impressed, even less after 30 minutes of pulling before it finally came free. With the anchor in the yak I drifted away at an impressive 3.7 mph. If I'd lost my anchor that would of effectively been the end of my trip.

I must have moved 6 times during the day, bar one time my anchor was stuck every time I tried to recover it. Fortunately the weak link gave each time after a good pull so I managed to retain my anchor.

I moved off into shallower water as planned, into about 16m. The tide flow was less and I could hold bottom with 6oz, far better. Unfortunately the fishing was not, and after an hour I'd not seen another bite.

Though I moved around from spot to spot I only managed another two dogfish. However, the sun made an appearance around midday and the breeze eased off making the day a very pleasant one at that.

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There was quite some surf running over an inshore reef, so I paddled in within about 50-100m and watched the surfers ride the waves whilst I rode the swell. I eventually moved back into the bay and retired my bait rods in favour of some lure fishing.

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Sadly this proved totally fruitless so I swapped over to a float rig, fishing ragworm and mackerel strips close to the bottom in 4-5m of water, again, no joy.

After seven hours on the water and paddled back to my launch spot. I'd planned to switch the 'track' function on my GPS prior to launching, only remembering at my 2nd mark. The photo below shows the GPS with tracks enabled, possibly not that clear as they're faint dotted line on the GPS, but uploading them to the PC once home the function really comes into its own.

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Allowing for not enabling the track function at launch, I'd paddled six miles or more throughout the session, not too bad for my big old yak in the tide.

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I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a disappointing session from a fishing perspective, though the weather and the surrounding landscape made my first visit to this venue an enjoyable one. It was a bit optimistic hoping for a bream in early April, though I'll be returning in a month when hopefully the bream will be there in force.

Review - ICOM IC-M33 VHF Radio

About 3 months ago I finally took the plunge and purchased a handheld VHF radio. There's plenty on the market covering the price range of around £30-200, so the question was what to buy ?.

As a saltwater kayak fisherman there were a few requirements:

  • Simple to use
  • Corrosion resistant
  • Waterproof (not just splash proof)
  • Floating
  • Decent battery life
After surfing the internet and reading several reviews I narrowed my choice down to a Standard Horizon unit, the 750E, and the ICOM IC-M33. Despite being more expensive the ICOM won the day, purely from reviews and various recommendations. The unit cost around £120, though prices vary greatly so it's worth doing your research.

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The unit is quite compact measuring in at 62 x 141 x 43mm, weighing in at 300g.

The transmit power is more than adequate at 5W (High), 1W (Low). I've carried out radio checks with the coastguard at a range of up to 7 miles without a problem, this was actually better than I'd expected, the general rule being 1W per mile.

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The unit is somewhat rounded in shape making it quite comfortable to hold. As well as the large display on the front panel there's also 9 large buttons that provide simple straightforward operation. There's quick access to channel 16 as well as simple control of the volume and squelch functions.There's Dual/Tri-watch functions, the latter being my favourite as it allow me to monitor channel 16, the coastguard on channel 67 as well as my call channel for that particular day. The standard scan function allows 'tagged' channels to be monitored, handy for keeping up on the local fishing chatter.

The unit can be easily switched between International and American channel frequencies should the need ever arise.

The antenna is a detachable flexible item, not easily damaged.

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There is the facility to 'tag' your favourite channels making accessing or scanning them straight forward.

The display is quite large, measuring 32 x 16 mm

The display features a clear 2-digit channel number indication. The volume and squelch levels are shown in the display. LCD and key back lighting are standard features, ideal for night time operation. The battery life is also displayed in a clear 4 step indication.

Should the speaker or microphone become clogged with water, it can be cleared using the 'AquaQuake' draining function. This is activated by pressing the Scan and H/L buttons simultaneously, resulting in a vibrating sound that clears water away from the speaker grill.

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The top on the unit houses the antenna, the ON/OFF switch and an optional speaker/microphone connector, the latter having no real use on a kayak.

The battery supplied with the radio is a Li-Ion battery proving approximately 9 hours of operating time, from the following ratio of usage: Tx (Hi): Rx: standby = 5:5:90. I've easily achieved 8 hours of usage with plenty of battery life remaining.

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The battery is released from the base of the unit with the aid of a penny coin or the like. There's no real requirement to release the battery as the complete unit can be placed on the supplied charger, the only requirement being that the radio is switched off during charging.
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My unit came with an optional alkaline battery holder allowing AA alkaline cells to be used in lieu of the Li-Ion battery. There's also an optional belt clip which affixes to the rear of the unit to allow external attachment to a PFD, etc. I've not utilised this item as it makes the unit a little to bulky to fit within my PFD pocket.

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One reason I purchased the M33 was the claim that it floats, an important factor when kayak fishing!. It's something that hopefully wont happen for real, though just to check that it actually lived up to the hype, here it is floating away.

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After three months of regular use it's still looking as good as new, a fresh water rinse post each trip no doubt aiding this. It's certainly a nice to have piece of kit, I don't consider it essential, I managed for over a year with a mobile phone kept in an Aquapak. However it is no doubt far superior in both it's abilities at communication, survivability in the marine environment, as well as ease of operation in an emergency situation.

If money hadn't been a consideration I would have pondered the Standard Horizon HX850S with DSC. Though for the distances I tend to fish, within 2 miles of the shore, I'm not convinced that I can justify the DSC functionality, as excellent as it is.

To gain a VHF license, a legal requirement to use a VHF radio, you are required to attend a one day 'Short Wave' radio course. The average cost, including the licensing fee, amounts to about £120.

To summarise, a worthwhile enhancement to safety and basic communications, and a quality piece of kit at an affordable price.

Please feel free to comment.

Plenty of Dogfish !

The weather forecast was just about perfect with the temperature forecast to be around seventeen degrees and little or no wind. After a few family tasks during the morning I loaded up and headed to the launch point, arriving around low water.

The air temperature was just nudging past six degrees and the visibility was under half a mile, not quite what the weather man had promised. However the wind was almost non-existent, at least they got that bit correct.

I paddled out a few hundred metres to meet my yakfishing partner who'd been on the water since 0830, it didn't sound to promising as he'd only managed a solitary dogfish. As he headed in for lunch I paddled out into water of around 10m about 3/4 mile offshore.


I'd heard the odd report of small smoothounds making an early show, with that in mind I fished one rod baited with crab, the other baited with a lash of mackerel in the hope of a thornback. Visibility wasn't great making me wish I'd brought my stern light with me.

Within minutes I had a rattling bite which produced the first dogfish of the day, quite small but at least I was off the mark.


A few more dogfish later my yakfishing partner re-appeared and promptly dropped anchor close by.


By this time the tide had completely slackened and the fished somewhat died the death. I decided to paddle an extra half mile offshore taking me to a sharp 20m drop off. Again the baits went down and it wasn't long before the dogfish homed in on my mackerel bait. Despite the fact I'm no big fan of dogfish, it beats blanking !


Several vessels came sailing close by, one in particular, a large 'Gin Palace', was smoking heavily and left quite an oil slick drifting past the yak. A while later a larger shape appeared in front of the yak, slowly growing as time went by. It was clearly on a direct course to me which was slightly disconcerting. I was making plans to reel in sharpish and drop anchor in order to make a sharp getaway, however, with about 300m to go the vessel made a course adjustment moving away to one side, excitement over. The other option would have been to call him up on my radio, though I considered that getting out of the way would have been the better option.


I only fished for around 3 hours, catching around ten dogfish in total. Chatting to a boat angler at my launch point, the party of four had taken about thirty dogfish throughout the day. So it seems it's dogfish season at the moment.

A few shoals of fish passed below the yak during my session, possibly early mackerel ?. The shoals were so few and far between it wasn't worth dropping a set of feathers over the side. The smoothounds should be here by the end of the month, something to look forward to.
 
Please feel free to comment.

About Rob Appleby-Goudberg

About me:

I’m a 47 year guy living in the UK where I was introduced to fishing at the age of five. Within a few years I a regular on the beach fishing scene. After experiencing some very poor beach angling I transitioned to kayak fishing in 2007. As much as I fish various locations around the UK whenever possible, I concentrate my efforts in the South West where the tides and fishing can be quite extreme.
I’m more than happy to help out fellow anglers, so if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

-Rob Appleby-Goudberg
saltwaterkayakfisherman@gmail.com
Last updated: 11/08/2017