John Lewis does a bit of hound hunting at Morfa Beach on the Welsh coastline...
A favourite location to catch the first run of smoothhounds for me has to be at Morfa Beach in South Wales. It is one of the most productive beaches that holds them early on in the season, with good numbers falling to squid baits.
Yes, that’s right, squid! So there is no need to panic if you can’t locate peeler crabs, even though it’s always worth taking a good few just in case.
As is often the case, I was informed by a good angling friend that a morning session had produced hounds for him. Wasting no time at all, I quickly located two dozen Devon crabs from Keen’s Tackle & Guns in Bridgend. I then rang a few mates, one of whom has never experienced the fight that smoothhounds have to offer. So it was only right that we tried our best to point him in the right direction and hopefully get him off the mark by nailing one.
Daniel with his first-ever smoothhound.
I meet up with my good friends and fellow anglers Gary Old, David Allsop and Daniel Pearce in the car park at 3pm. We were all eager to head down to the beach and get in on the action. During the walk to the beach, which I should add is not for the faint-hearted, we all talked among ourselves, also giving pointers to Dan who was yet to land one from the shore.
David with a cracking hound.
We explained that pulley rigs were ideal, baited with either crab or squid, to maximise his chances of getting at least one on the shore. After nearly an hour’s walk, we arrived at our destination to be greeted by a few noisy seagulls and a flat-calm sea with no other angler in sight.
Setting up two rods, I opted for a nice juicy peeler crab loaded onto a pulley rig, which was made up of 70lb Powerflex from the Ultima range as the rig body, with the ever-reliable hooks from Cox & Rawle in the 4/0s in the Uptide Extra range. This is a hook that has done me proud over the past few years. For the hooklengths, I opted for the same breaking strain Powerflex. This was to make sure the hooklengths would hold such fighting fish. I also used the flat back Gemini weights in 6oz to hold bottom during the tidal flow.
On the other rod, I decided to fish a squid to see which bait the fish preferred. I then showed Dan how to bait up a crab loaded onto a pulley Pennel rig. I explained how we cut the crab to expose the bright orange coloured juices.
The first few casts produced no fish for anyone. Just as all hopes were fading, the first of the dogfish arrived, with each of us off the mark with one apiece.
The next cast produced a better bite. Thankfully the ratchet was set as the rod tip on my Zziplex slammed over and the line began to peel off the reel at a very quick pace. As I was tightening up the star drag on my Penn Fathom I knew that I was hooked into a nice fish. Suddenly the line fell slack. I began taking up the line quickly on my reel. I knew I had to catch up to the fish or it would spit the hooks!
What greeted me through the surf was the telltale sign of the fin of my first decent smoothhound of this season gliding through the water. I rushed it onto the shore as quickly as I could, ensuring it would be landed. The first of the hounds were making an appearance, something we had all been waiting for.
During the next three hours, we were all put in a good mood as they switched on feeding big time – smashing the baits. I then called Dan over to show him exactly what I was doing.
At this point I was taking my time while setting the clutch on the Penn Fathom 15, in case it decided to dart back out to sea, only to look up and realise that Gary and David were also in on the action – it turned into a triple hook-up! I eventually got my catch ashore and placed it on the scales as quickly as possible. I could see just how long and thick it was that it was close to being double figures. Unfortunately, this was not the case, weighing in at 9lb 12oz. Still, it was a good-size fish and it gave us more hope that we would achieve a double-figure smoothhound!
Gary then managed to get his catch a shore and to the scales, a healthy fish of 8lb. While David’s was a little bit smaller at 7lb bang on, all the signs were promising. A few photos were taken of the fish before they were released to fight another day.
As I walked over to see how Dan was managing, I noticed him quickly pick up his rod. He began winding up the big bow of slack line, and before I could say anything he was into the fight of his life – his first hound ever! The look on his face was priceless.
Eventually, he beached a nice 6lb 5oz fish. A photo was taken and then it was quickly on its way, darting through the sea and back to freedom. We all congratulated Dan on his achievement. I then left him to fish on his own because he now had a rough idea what to do if he hooked another.
The smoothhounds were now on the feed and we were hitting into them every cast. We were landing a few but also dropping a few fish along the way. This is something that happens from time to time, but at least we were getting fantastic sport from these hard-fighting fish. At times it was hard to keep up with them and we had to have prebaited rigs ready to help us to keep the pace with them during this period.
Within this manic session, the four of us were now approaching 17 smoothhounds between us. I had managed four, with Gary on seven, David five and Dan on the single fish. The race was now on to be the first to catch 10 just to add a bit of fun to the session.
Dan had a long way to go and he did hook a few more, but they got away. I did feel for Dan because we were all catching around him.
During the next cast, he said he had a big clump of weed on his rig. He then asked if I minded helping him remove it from his line. As I waded through the water I was sure I caught a glimpse of a tail as it surfaced, but it dived again in a matter of seconds. I shouted over to Dan that I was sure he had a fish on but he was unsure. As he gained more line onto the spool, the orange shockleader caught my eye. It was showing the telltale signs that a fish was on, judging by the movement in the water. What did greet me in the shallows was a nice thornback ray. It was a lump of a fish and I lifted it out of the water and approached Dan. He was over the moon due to achieving two personal bests in a single session. I was as excited as he was. The ray weighed 8lb 6oz and it was photographed and released very quickly, laying in the shallows to regain its strength before gliding back out to sea.
Meanwhile, Gary and David continued to drop more hounds and also brings more dogfish ashore. I had some catching up to do if I wanted to be the first to 10!
I was two fish behind Gary and one behind David, so full attention was now on my fishing. I quickly sent out another bait and set the ratchet before prebaiting three spare rigs in a bid to catch up. The banter was now in full flow.
The hounds came thick and fast. Daniel Pearce, John Lewis and David Allsop show off a trio of fine fish.
I guess that I was in the hotspot, though, because I beached two more hounds in quick succession while also dropping another one. I thought I was catching up, but in fact, I had overtaken David and remained one behind Gary.
I now began to feel the pressure to catch him up. This also added pressure to Gary to keep ahead of me. I kept a watchful eye on him throughout and I’m sure he did the same.
It was nearly time to pack up but not before one last cast. This time I was using two rods; it could have been a bad move when the fish are feeding because you have to concentrate on both. David had had enough and made his way towards me very happy with the hounds that he had landed. Dan had also decided enough was enough and started to pack his gear away.
Just as luck may have it, both my reels screamed off almost simultaneously, with the rod tips arching over due to the power of the fish. Calmly, I asked David to keep hold of one rod while I battled the fish on the other. Thankfully I landed this one, so it was now seven fish apiece for Gary nad me. However, I did have the other fish to get ashore.
The business end of a hound
It looked as though I had fought my way back to the top of the leaderboard, much to my delight, but I still had to get the catch a shore to take the lead. I took my time, praying for it to not spit the hooks as a few had done during this trip. The pressure was unbearable, although I did not mention this.
After what seemed like an eternity, I eventually beached the winning fish and the bragging rights! I made sure that I bragged about it, trust me.
Because Gary came so close to snatching the lead I offered him the camera to take a photo of the winning fish, to which he smiled and obliged.
We all had an exhausting session but one that will be remembered for a long time – total catch of 21 smoothhounds, unfortunately dropping 12, plus a nice thornback ray. Walking off the beach we were all happy. I was that little bit more than happy, not just because I had taken the bragging rights but more so that Dan had achieved his goal by getting personal bests during one session. Well done mate and many more to come I hope.
Daniel and John with a good brace.