Mario and Harry Asprou, as you have probably read in some of my past features, always seem to know when and where to capitalise on the action; whether targeting bass, cod, rays or mullet, they seem to have the edge over the majority by bucking the trend and locating good specimens which most can only dream of.
Mario has recently turned 18 and has international honours captaining the Welsh Junior National shore team. Now he has got himself a driving licence, which means he is getting further afield, taking great bags of mixed species from Chesil including undulates, bream and so forth, and hitting the craggy headlands of West Wales chasing the big pack tope that hunt the many mackerel shoals. With the backing of Tronixpro he has a very bright future.
On the day we planned a sensible start time of 7am, and with a light southerly wind forecast and clear blue skies it was important we went straight into stealth mode, meaning keeping low to the ground as to not spook any cruising fish that may be in the shallows.
The docks are very varied. Some parts give way to gently shelving bottoms, while other areas are sheer sided, dropping straight to 40 feet. The amount of life in the dock system is incredible, with millions of baitfish, from smelt to juvenile bass. Then there are the mullet, constantly drifting around and taking advantage of the warm weather and raised water temperatures for early September.
The brief was straightforward enough: keep everything light and simple, which means light Avon rods or feeder-type coarse rods.
I prefer my Daiwa Porky Pig feeder rod. It’s well balanced and responsive with a progressive through action ideal for a hard-fighting mullet. I pair it with a small fixed-spool reel. My reel preference is for rear-drag models as you can adjust it without clumsy fingers pinging the line, as can happen with front-drag reels.
I have a few reels from Shimano through to Abu, some of which I have had for many years. They are spooled up with line breaking strains ranging from 6lb to 9lb, giving you enough buffer if you should get that special fish. Hook snoods should be less than the breaking strain of the main line for obvious reasons as these fish can spook easily. Certainly in Swansea Docks I would be fishing super light, with lines down to around 4lb as these fish can be very shy of line or hooks any bigger than a size 16. However, in Barry Docks Mario and Harry were comfortable with size 8 to 12 hooks with a good-sized bread offering expertly tailored to sit on the hook. It looked so good it was almost crafted in its appearance!
Fish on! Keeping the rod low tires the fish faster.
Fair play to Harry, he isn’t shy with the groundbait, having made up a good-sized bucket of bread that he’d put through a blender. The small flakes it makes are light and fluffy, but when balled in the hand and given a quick squeeze it hits the water and disperses in a large cloud. The result is that all the small bait fish think Christmas has arrived, and with several bait bombs creating a white soup slick, the bait curtain was descending slowly while doing its job of sucking in the fish, both big and small, for a free dinner.
A cloud of bread soon attracts interest.
It didn’t take long for Mario to register a bite, his tip pulling round to be met with a steady sweep of his rod, to the side at a low angle. The fish was well and truly hooked and it set off on a good long run, the line pinging through the rings at an alarming rate.
The fish made steady deep runs in open clear water, the best run covering an easy 60 metres.
Mario was in full control, commenting: “There’s no point in forcing the fish to a grinding halt. Steady pressure allows it to fight itself out, which makes the landing process a lot easier and lets the fish show what it can do.
“I use a micromesh landing net, which is perfect, ensuring the fish is buffered in a wet net at all times, minimising handling and ensuring they swim away with no harm. Obviously some scales will come off on occasions, but the fish in the docks fight hard and are all in prime condition at this time of year.”
After a good five minutes what turned out to be the biggest and best fish of the day bumped the scales down to 6lb 12oz – what a great fish for Mario, and a personal best.
After a good hour of sitting it out watching the odd bass cruise by it was evident that a move was in order. Speaking to a few of the local guys who had been on the dock since around 5am, they had landed five mullet to around 2lb 8oz, several bass to around 4lb and a good-sized flounder. They had used various tactics, from legering worm baits through to fish baits fished mid water and tight to the bottom on floats.
Harry Asprou with his 6lb mullet – what a cracker.
After Harry set about groundbaiting our next stop near the Asda section of the dock it was evident fish were here, with rattles on the fine-tipped rods. I had a run, which was brief to say the least, on breadflake, although a quick change of tactics to small strips of worm had the little wrasse, gobies and smelt buzzing my baits. Meanwhile, the Asprou lads set about picking off the mullet, with Harry nabbing a good, hard-fighting fish of 6lb and an absolute cracker. These guys sure know how to pick up the better specimens!
In fact, leading up to our day out Mario had enjoyed great success with ballan wrasse and even bagged an anglerfish that he had seen moving around in the shallows previously. He stealthily dropped one of his Tronix shrimp lures down and teased the fish to take the hook. That was another first and an instant PB, with a very difficult to target deep-water species bizarrely living life in the dock. What a fish to have on your species list!
The story about the anglerfish is quite interesting, as Mario had been out trying to bag a bass on the soft plastics but failing dismally (even the best have off days). He even tried surface lures to get a take but alas nothing. Although the bass were following they were not quite committed enough to smash the bait!
The next trick in Mario’s book was to bump an imitation prawn over the dock base. It is full of light green weed that is dense enough to give good cover and provide an ideal habitat for bass, wrasse and pollack. As Mario continued to twitch the lure through the vegetation he felt weight suddenly on his rod but it was fighting with a weird action. Not knowing if it was a fish or just debris, he was blown away when he realised it was the anglerfish. Weighing in at 2lb 2oz it was no monster, but a fish most would cherish as they as rare as the proverbial rocking-horse poop!
Mario with his surprise catch, a 2lb anglerfish.
Not content with the anglerfish he also hooked a ballan wrasse of just over 3lb on fairly light spinning gear, which comprised an HTO Lure rod and 4000-sized fixed spool coupled to 20lb fine braid. All in all a superb effort.
Rumour has it there are some big rays in the dock as well, although if some of these better fish are targeted I urge you to return everything, as the docks are not an unlimited source of fish. They are to a point land-locked, and the good days could come to an abrupt end due to overexploitation. The fish are a resource worth cherishing, as are the docks themselves. Comfortable fishing with a wealth of species to good size, and a great place to visit if conditions are so bad as to put more exposed coastal marks out of the question.
I know this sort of fishing isn’t to everyone’s taste, but with the chance of an exotic species or two I’m sure it will attract some species hunters, as well as LRF fanatics.
Mario Asprou with a fine 6lb 12oz mullet.
Barry Docks date back to the late 18th century and were built to reduce the stress on the very busy Cardiff Docks, which was used primarily for exporting coal to Europe and the rest of the British isles.
The docks were built over the former sound between the island and the mainland. The material excavated from the docks was used to form the basin surrounds and piers that protect the harbour from the Severn estuary. The dock system had to be increased in 1900, when a second basin was constructed complete with lock gates to enable better links for the mines in the South Wales valleys to the docks via rail.
The estates and docklands have been modernised now and are home to small and medium-sized business, while the new Barry waterfront is home to residential development.
The RNLI operates from the dock basin, providing safety to the many small fishing vessels and leisure boats that use the Severn estuary.
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