Wayne Thomas joins top charter skipper Andrew Alsop for a day of mixed-ground fishing in the Bristol Channel.
Wayne Thomas wrapped up warm with a pleasing 8lb cod!
White Waters sailed out of Penarth in the cold light of dawn, the sun rising slowly to the east above the upper reaches of the Bristol Channel. The islands of Flat Holm and Steep Holm stood dark to the west and the outline of Hinkley Point stood on the southeast horizon, the morning sunlight rising behind it.
I relish the journey out of port, especially if, as on this day, it is the first foray. We had climbed aboard at just after 7am in the shelter of Penarth Marina and from there passed through the impressive lock gates of the Cardiff Barrage.
We bounced across a lively sea created by a bitterly cold northwesterly wind, heading for a deep-water mark where we hoped to tempt conger and spurdog. I had been offered the chance of the trip by Ammo Baits’ manager Ian Tyldesley, and the opportunity to meet with top charter skipper Andrew Alsop was too good to miss.
In the warmth of the cabin, we chatted enthusiastically about fish and fishing. Although I have to admit that by the time we reached the mid-channel mark I was starting to feel just a little under the weather and was concerned that the rough conditions could trigger a bout of seasickness. I always take seasickness tablets before sailing and nine times out 10 this works. Although I have always found it best to keep out in the fresh air most of the time.
The boat surged up and down as the anchor was lowered and we all baited up and sent down good helpings of quality Ammo mackerel, squid and herring. The cold wind soon cured any queasiness and full focus was given to detecting bites.
Dogfish and small conger started to come aboard before Richard Dean hooked into something more substantial and a conger topping 25lb was soon being held aloft for the camera. We had hoped to tempt the spurdog that haunts the deeper waters towards mid-channel. On good days catches of these fish can reach up to 100 fish or more per party of anglers.
After being tossed around for over an hour with no sign of spurdog, Andrew decided it was time for a move inshore with a little shelter from the icy wind.
Comfort is very important for a long day at sea and warm clothing is a must, with several layers of top-quality garments essential. Modern materials ensure that it is possible to keep warm and dry in the most extreme conditions. Warm boots and a quality hat ensure that the extremities are kept warm. I seldom find the need for gloves although on occasions have found fingerless mittens beneficial.
In the murky waters of the Bristol Channel, the scent is undoubtedly the key to success. Andrew continually encouraged all on board to change their baits regularly, ensuring that they had fresh baits in the water. With nine anglers on board, the combined scent trail was considerable as it travelled downtide to draw fish within the vicinity of the boat.
Good-sized baits require good-sized hooks and for large cod baits 6/0 to 8/0 Sakuma hooks are not too large and ensure that there is plenty of point showing. I was using a whole unwashed squid with half a dozen black lug lashed to the bait using strong bait elastic. This was fished on a hooklength of 100lb mono – no need for finesse in this dark soupy water and far better to ensure you land what you hook. Very often you will only get one chance of a good fish each trip.
After half an hour I was fortunate to hook a pleasingly plump cod of 8lb. This mark and the next gave a steady trickle of dogfish, small congers, spotted rays, thornback rays, whiting and the glimpse of a large spurdog that severed a heavy trace.
Spurdogs have exceptionally sharp dentistry and if they are likely a wire trace is essential; this seldom deters fish from engulfing the bait despite statements to the contrary from some anglers.
By late afternoon Andrew decided it was time for our final move. We motored close inshore to a mark that has produced some fine cod.
Throughout our day Andrew exuded a quiet aura of confidence that ensured constant expectation. A steady stream of hot tea and coffee was welcome in the near-zero temperatures.
With the rods secured to the side rail of the boat I took the opportunity to chat with Andrew within the warmth of the cabin. It was inevitable that we talked of sharks and exploits aboard White Water during the warmer months, when the boat is relocated to Milford Haven, giving access to the rich waters of the Gulf Stream off west Wales. The coming season will see Andrew add a second boat to White Water Charters, enabling more anglers to share in the shark fishing adventure. Recent seasons have seen very impressive hauls of sharks, both blue and porbeagle. The potential for other shark species is undoubtedly there and I am sure future seasons will set more historical landmarks. Andrew’s enthusiasm and optimism for the future is a breath of fresh air and drives him to work exceptionally hard for his paying guests.
Ammo Baits' boss Ian Tyldesley with a double-figure cod picked up late in the day!
It’s not an easy life being a charter skipper; long days often exceeding 16 hours. Many days are of course lost to inclement weather and while ensuring a well-earned rest it also impacts upon income because running a charter boat is undoubtedly an expensive business with many overheads.
Darkness descended as the sun set below the hills of Devon and Somerset to the southwest. The shafts of sunlight piercing through clouds as snow showers drifted ominously along the far off coast, creating a dramatic panorama the likes of which I always relish as I hope for piscatorial success.
A cry of: “Fish on,” broke the spell as Ian’s rod took on a pleasing curve as something battled beneath the boat. Andrew wielded the capacious net and the fish that proved to be our target was secured; a double-figure cod. This brought a broad smile and a pleasing end to a long day afloat.
Shore anglers’ headlights flashed on the beaches and the lights from nearby towns set the night sky aglow. Andrew suggested that it was time to head back to Penarth.
We arrived back at close to 8pm. It had been a long day that will live in my memory; not so much for the fishing for that was hard going, but for the opportunity to talk at length with one of the country’s top charter boat skippers.
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Penarth is a Victorian seaside town that makes an ideal location for a short break with plenty of accommodation available. Cardiff is a short distance away with a wealth of shops and attractions to entertain the whole family.