Road Trip - Wales & Cornwall (Part 1)

Last year's big road trip had been hugely successful and I'd planned a similar trip for this summer. This year I was to show Ronald Traas( aka 'The Dutchie') some of my favourite marks and to hopefully land some big fish onto our kayaks.

Sadly this year wasn't to be a repeat of last year. I do have huge reservations about booking such fishing expeditions so far in advance, as whether you like it or not, you're at the mercy of the weather. As a saltwater kayak fisherman I'm all to aware just how much a trip can be dependent upon the weather, something that's often far less of a concern to the majority of freshwater kayak fisherman.

In the week running up to the trip it wasn't looking too hopeful, but we all know how unpredictable the weather can be and that forecasts are changeable at best!. Sadly this wasn't to be the case and the wind to cause havoc with the planned fishing. Virtually all of my chosen marks were made unfishable, or quite unpleasant for the whole trip. We found ourselves having to fish marks that I had little or no experience on, something that also affects one's confidence when fishing.

We traveled to Cornwall first, purely as no other of my chosen locations were fishable at that time. With the wind averaging 20mph or more the first fishing trip saw us head up into the tidal waterways in the hunt of Gilthead Bream. During my previous trip I'd been warned that the numbers had declined sharply due to commercial netting, though I still caught several fish. What did concern me though was the effect that the stiff westerly wind could have on the fishing.

Fishing was my usual setup for Giltheads, a light running ledger, 1oz with a 3' 20lb flurocarbon trace. The hook is all important here, with a strong sharp hook being a must with the 1-1/0 Sakuma Chinu being a favourite of mine. What there are at this venue is plenty of 'school bass' and as much as they're fun they get to a fresh bait intended for something else all too quickly!

I lost count of how many of these fish were caught and returned, but they weren't the target fish and the Giltheads had yet to make a show. I knew from previous experience that I'd enjoyed my best sessions from the mid-flood tide and that time had yet to arrive.

There's rarely mistaking a Gilthead Bream bite and when my rod tip pulled over hard and line was being ripped from the reel I was in no doubt as to what I'd hooked in to!. It was actually the best run I'd had off any Bream to date and it gave a great account of itself. The surprise was when it came to the net, it was considerably smaller than I'd expected. There's no doubt about it, they fight exceptionally well. Not the PB Gilthead Bream that it initially felt like!

Though I can hardly complain, many people fish long and hard in the hope of catching a Gilthead, so I consider every one that comes aboard a special fish. Disappointingly it was to be the only fish to be caught, Whether that was down to netting, the weather or just bad luck on that particular day, who knows.

The weather continued to be against us and the chosen Pollack grounds were unfishable, I'd also wanted to fish Sennen Cove, but again the weather made that venue impossible. I decided to launch from Porthoustock in the hope of finding some mixed species. Again the fishing proved very tough with only a few small Pollack and Wrasse being caught.

The next day saw us launch from around the corner at Porthallow. The venue looked promising but again it was proving to be difficult. I resorted to drifting with baited feathers, allowing the wind to push me across the bay. After a couple of quiet drifts I found a few mixed species. Nothing exciting, though a pretty Ballan Wrasse was worthy of a photo.

As much as it was enjoyable, it was also terribly frustrating. Yes we were fishing, but not where I wanted to fish, not on grounds where I really knew exactly where and how to fish. But it was a case of fish where the weather permitted, or don't fish at all.

We left Cornwall and heading towards Pembroke, driving past marks around Lynmouth and Watchet that I'd really wanted to fish, again, the weather was wreaking havoc with the plans. I've fished off Southwest Wales before for Tope and enjoyed some great success and I was truly hoping that this trip would produce the goods once again. The weather wasn't ideal with a stiff offshore wind being present for the majority of our time there.

The first day was really tough with me only having a run from one fish which I failed to hook into. The next day was somewhat better, for me at least, with three Tope being caught with another three being lost. Ronald was sadly not so fortunate.

They were all smaller males, but good fun nevertheless on light tackle. I take two rods with me for Tope, though I only fish with one at a time. Fishing for Tope with two rods is asking for a disaster, whether it be a nightmare tangle or a double hookup, neither bodes well.

I use a lighter 6-8lb Shimano Beastmaster with an ABU 6500 when fishing with weights up to 5oz. If the tides dictate the use of a heavier weight I switch over to my 10-15lb Shimano Beastmaster with a Shimano Charter 1000LD. The rig is a simple running ledger, with the trace being 4' long, made up of 3' of 80lb monofilament with around a foot of 80lb wire with an 8/0 bronze hook crimped to the end.

Note the bag lying in the water night to the kayak. It's a military laundry bag that's actually perfect for keeping mackerel and other bait fresh in whilst fish, alive for several hours at time in fact. It does produce quite a big of drag at times, something to be mindful of when anchoring in a strong tide. It could well be enough to cause you to pull/drag anchor. Though it's useful for this type of fishing.

Yes I caught fish, but it was hard work. As mentioned I also lost fish so it had been a great improvement over the previous day. Below is a Mackerel bait that had been dropped by a Tope, note the teeth marks, there's no mistaking what had been holding the bait!

To be continued in Part 2...

SunFlap - Product review

Some time ago I was contacted by an American chap asking me if I'd like to test and review the 'SunFlap'. Firstly it was a case of what is it?, quite simply it is a removable protective flap to fit to your existing baseball type of fishing hat.

Now I must admit that I'm not a huge fan of the look that this type of hat gives you, however, fishing clothing doesn't exactly feature strongly on catwalks!. I've never bought the type of hat that permanently include these flaps as it's not something that would see a lot of use here in the UK. That said, there are quite a few days each year that I've truly wish that I possessed one!.

They retail at $15 for the single colour model which is ok. Packaging is simple, with the SunFlap pulling away easy from the cardboard support, ready to use.

Sunflap utilises 50+ UPF fabric, blocking out 98% of the UV rays. It features a flexible plastic edging strip that is shaped to tuck into the folded inner edge that exists around the edge of virtually all baseball type fishing hats.

It's simply just a case of tucking this plastic piece into the folded edge of the cap, with the contoured section being positioned over the adjustable strap of the hat. It takes just a few moments to achieve.

That is the SunFlap fitted, super simple.

As I've already mentioned it's only an accessory that I'd use from time to time. What I really like is that not only is it fitted and removed in seconds, but also that it folds straight up and stores down the edge of a tackle box, etc.

I've used them a few times now and I'm genuinely impressed.

Ok, my colour co-ordination wasn't the best, the fashion enthusiasts will shake their heads. I have often forgot to apply sun cream, or being without something to protect my neck and ears. Though perhaps the biggest surprise for me was its cooling effect. I was out the other week in Cornwall and the skin temperature was high. My neck became uncomfortably hot so I popped on the SunFlap. There was a genuine 'wow' moment as my next cooled off, a lot!. Apparently you can wet the flap for a increased effect, though I don't see the need, certainly not for UK weather.

It seems pretty resistant to dirt, the micro fibre material looking as good as the day that I first shoved it into my tackle box. So would I buy a replacement when the time come?, for $15... definitely. It's a great to have accessory. Yes, you can achieve similar sun protection with a buff, but as they're up against the skin I doubt that it would have the cooling effect.

Hobie Island mast camera mount & wind indicator

I've seen a few photos and some video footage taken from the masthead of Hobie Island kayaks and I love the view that it provides. However, I could find no information on the web regarding the actual design of a mount so I decided to go ahead and create my own. Here it is below.

First thing to state is that if you fit the Genuine Hobie Spinnaker kit to your Adventure Island this mount won't fit!, sorry.

My biggest concern was attaching a mount o the mast itself, it needed to be none damaging and preferably without any modifications to the mast itself. These masts are not cheap!, damaging one or weakening one, quite simply wasn't an option. At the top of the AI mast is a plastic insert that is used to locate the sail securing strap (photo below)

I noticed that with the strap fitted through this plastic insert that there was still approximately 3mm of clearance between the strap and the plastic lugs. I decided to try to utilise this gap to locate and secure a camera mount to the mast. I located a piece of aluminium of the correct thickness and cut off a long strip of the correct width, filing it down to a 'sliding fit'.

My first attempt (Mk1) saw me fold the aluminium strip over on itself, allowing it to slide through the plastic mast mount before securing it with a nut and bolt as shown below.

Despite being a close fit in the mount, the bracket moved more than I liked so I added a heavy ty-wrap to lock it into position.

This worked extremely well and I thought I had a good working solution. However, the more I played with it I noticed that if it was subjected to a decent knock it would vibrate for 1-3 seconds which I deemed unacceptable.

The basically made the Mk1 scrap metal, so I moved onto designing a strengthened Mk2 version.

The horizontal section that supported the camera really needed to be solid with zero flex. The only way that I could effectively achieve this was to add an upright section along this horizontal length, thus preventing any noticeable flexing. I also took this opportunity to modify the upright section, extending it to permit the fitment of a wind indicator. I purchased a Little Hawk Mk1 for this purpose. This is a very simple indicator that attaches to a vertical surface using two small self tapping screws.

Below are a couple of photos of the welded and painted bracket. Being aluminium it's very lightweight yet  its design makes it very rigid.

It slides into the top plastic mount on the AI masthead and it secured into position with a heavy duty ty-wrap as per the Mk1. It really is as simple as that and it's a very solid fit!, simple but effective as they say.

Note that a GoPro mount is fitted, I've used a nut and bolt as I envisage that the main bracket will remain fitted at all times, though you could use a 'wing nut' for quick removal of this mount if preferred.

The Hawk wind indicator mount can be seen fitted in the above photo. This is a permanent fit.

As mentioned, the bracket assembly is secured to the mast with a ty-wrap. Removal and fitment takes seconds!

The Hawk wind indicator pushes in when needed and the GoPro is also attached on as as-required basis. The whole mount, wind indicator and GoPro can be assembled and fitted in a minute, literally.

Below is the Hawk wind indicator fitted into its bracket.

Below is the GoPro secured to its mount.

Below is the fitted 'Mk2' mount complete with camera and wind indicator.

I'm going to be testing it very shortly and I'll post up some of the results - fingers crossed!

Swanage Bay - A day of Rays

As last week had progressed I'd finalised plans with Ian Harris to meet up and spend a day fishing around Swanage Bay. The forecast was good, exceptionally good for this time of year in fact, with temperatures forecast up into the mid-twenties!. I've only fished Swanage Bay once before, it's a very picturesque location that's well known for producing many species of fish. It's one of the UK's better known Black Bream hotspots as well as having a reputation to producing sizeable Undulate Rays.

I've never caught the latter species so I'd planned to target rays with the hope of connecting with an Undulate Ray. My other main target was the Black Bream, a 4lb+ fish would have gone down a treat!

I'd originally planned to arrive there at around 0730, it taking the best part of two hours for me to travel there by car. However, Ian called me the night before suggesting that we get there for around 0530... yup, that was going to mean a crazy early start!. But hey, those early morning sessions can be some of the best, so I begrudgingly set my alarm for 0300 having packed the car with only the kayak left to load. I think I woke around 0230, watching my clock work it's way towards 0300, I knew I was going to suffer later in the weekend for this.

By 0330 I was driving, awake, awake enough to drive safely. Fortunately it was mainly a highway cruise with the roads being very empty, relaxing. That said I was getting down a dip along the New Forest section of the highway. As I rose up from the dip the headlamps illuminated the rising section of the road and there was a deer stood on the central lines, literally 15-20m ahead of me!. I had no real time to react, though fortunately it remained motionless as I shot past at 70mph!. It could have easily bought my fishing trip to a rather premature end!... I was 110% awake by that point.

I arrived at Swanage just after 0500 and started to rig up, with Ian arriving just after me. We rigged up at a leisurely pace, hitting the water a little later. This truly is a cracking venue, beautiful to look at, steep hills around the corners of the bay, dropping down to the old resort of Swanage in the middle. It just screams fish and reminds me of the old stories within the fishing books written by Hugh Stoker.

It was a rather slow start to the session. I'd initially begin to drift the rougher ground for the Bream, fishing a two hook paternoster rig with small squid strips attached to size 4 forged hooks. I missed several aggressive bites which I assumed had to be small Bream. I eventually hooked up with one of the culprits which confirmed my suspicions.

Though they clearly weren't there in any numbers as I really struggled to locate any further fish, missing the odd hit over the next hour or so. My enthusiasm began to wain somewhat with only a small Pollack to show for several drifts, so I changed tact and anchored up so I could fish with ledgered baits. I decided upon an area immediately down tide of a reef, fishing straight onto clean sand. The thinking behind this was that any 'food' being washed of the reef would arrive here first.

I fished two rods, one baited with whole sandeel, the other with half a fillet of mackerel. Both were rigged Pennel style to size 3/0 Sakuma 545 hooks. I do love these hooks, not only are they strong, they are extremely sharp. Trust me, I have fingers like pin cushions that will testify to this!.

I didn't have to wait long before my sandeel stirred up some interest. A Spotted Ray took a fancy to my bait and was another species for the day. They are very pretty to look at, always nice to catch.

The next half hour was ominously quiet, though one rod tip began to nod in a typical Ray fashion. I picked up and immediately felt the weight of a decent fish. It certainly fought far better than any ray that I've caught in the past. As it surfaced I could see that it was an Undulate Ray!, though it had second thoughts and ripped line from the reel, straight back down to the bottom!. My 6-8lb Shimano Beastmaster rod was bent right over at times, this is fishing at its best.

With it safely aboard it was time to briefly admire this beautiful ray, though my wife later commented that it was butt ugly. I guess that beauty is perhaps only the eye of the angler. I guessed the weight of the fish to be 13-14lb.

Halfway through bringing that ray to the surface the other rod pulled hard over, another ray, double hook up!. I slackened the drag on that reel, retrieving it one the first fish had been safely released. It was another fine Undulate Ray. Moments earlier I'd never caught this species, then I'd clocked up two in as many minutes.

After a short flurry of dogfish that refused to leave my mackerel bait alone, I found myself hooked up into yet another ray, another Undulate to be exact!. As it came up to the kayak I made a leisurely grab for the fish. Just as I touched it the hook pulled out and the fish slipped out of my grasp. That's fishing and it made me chuckle. I'd touched it so I'll claim it.

I gave Ian a shout over the VHF to let him know that I was having some good success. He pulled anchor and headed over to my location just in time to see me catch my fourth Undulate Ray of the session. Thank you Ian for the photo!

I guessed the weight at around 12lb, though Ian had his scales handy so I gave it a quick weigh, it coming in at 11lb 12oz.

It then went rather quiet, I blame Ian, though it may have been due to a slackening ebb tide!. After a while I found myself getting bored so I pulled anchor and headed northwards, anchoring on the uptide side of a reef. I fished my two hook bream rig with a light weight, allowing it to drift onto the reef.

Below is a screenshot from my Lowrance HDS7 with StructureScan selected with the reef clearly visible. It clears towards the top as I'd passed over it prior to dropping anchor.

Despite a couple of small rattles it was slow, though I did eventually hook up into a better sized Bream. Once safely netted and aboard I took a couple of photos before watching it swim away strongly. I know these make good eating, but I'd rather they breed and live to fight another day.

Below, a slightly premature release as it was clearly keen to get away!

That was the only Bream I caught from that mark so once again I pulled anchor and decided to drift over a wreck off to the Northwest. There was a little structure with some small fish returns. They were indeed small with me only managing to catch a couple of pouting. Still, another species for the day.

Clearly the structure was holding no sizeable fish, at least nothing that wanted my bait, so I headed further North to Ballard Point where several boats were already fishing. I drifted around for perhaps an hour without so much as a tap.

The sea became increasingly choppy so I decided to had back into the bay. That turned out to be a wise decision as it was somewhat unpleasant for a couple of hundred metres as I came back into the bay itself.

I resumed bait fishing, tying myself off to a large pot buoy. It was desperately slow, though I did manage a couple more Spotted Rays and some Dogfish.

By this time I'd been afloat for around 10 hours and with the sport getting slower by the hour I decided to quit whilst I was ahead. After a lazy pedal back across the bay, just enjoying the scenery I was back on the beach. The beach however is soft and stoney and the trolley dug in halfway up. Fortunately a couple of holidaymakers gave me a hand to pull it up the beach, otherwise I would have ended up partially de-rigging it. I did make a mental note to take my beach trolley with the large floatation wheels next time I choose to fish this venue.

It had been a great day, both fishing, company and weather wise, I'm sure I'll be fishing Swanage again quite soon!