By some miracle a gale which has ravaged the South Wales coast for the best part of a week has died down to little more than a steady Force 3 from the south-west. Now after the big blow Mark Cowell and Don Cook feel there’s a good chance of fish on this wild stretch of beach between Aberthaw Power Station and Barry Island.
Mark and Don have timed their arrival so they can work the last three hours of the back tide down to dead low water. It has long proved the best time for success, particularly after darkness has set in. It was near here that Don set the Welsh bass record with a giant of a fish scaling a huge 16lb 15 Ynoz (7.5kg) -the memory of the fight it put up is still vivid in his mind.
Porthkerry Beach, also known as The Lime kilns, is very rugged, consisting mainly of stones and boulders, and is an area of great interest to geologists and fossil hunters as well as anglers.
The first assault on the Bristol Channel fish is beingmade roughly 550m (600yd) in from a ramp in the cliffs running down from a coastal path. It makes for ease of access when loaded down with tackle — and when it comes to tackle and technique both men are fanatical, taking endless trouble to ensure things are right for the job in hand.
Getting down to the finer points of the tackle: Mark is using a 13 /4 ft (4m) beach-caster. Although rated to cast up to 8oz (227g), it’s a gem of a rod when called on to lob 6oz (170g). He’s matching it up with a high speed multiplier loaded with 15lb (6.8kg) competition mono. A 60lb (27kg) Greased Weasel shock leader carries the terminal gear out safely.
Mark has rigged a 2 i4ft (75cm) long Pennell trace – the snoods carrying 3/0 Mustad hooks (pattern 79510). His second set-up is a 12ft (3.7m) match rod which is also carrying a high-speed multiplier.
Don is using a 13ft (4m) beach rod rated for 6oz (170g) of lead. His reel is a Shimano Speedmaster TSM 2CFS and it’s carrying 25lb (11.3kg) mono and a 60lb (27kg) shock leader. His terminal gear is a two-hook bottom rig with one snood above the lead and one below. Hooks are size 2/0 Mustad Vikings.
All the tackle primed, its time to address the bait situation. Peeler crab, squid, sandeel, mackerel, lug and king rag are all on the menu today — more than enough for the length of session to be fished.
Mark and Don are going to open with cocktails of peeler and squid. As the baits have to fly a long way at speed, great emphasis is put on presentation—they have to get where they are going intact. The squid strip goes on first, followed by a generous helping of fresh peeler. The two ingredients are tied firmly together with elasticated cotton. There is no way they can part company, even under the tremendous forces generated by the powerful rods.
Right on schedule the terminal rigs are delivered to a bank of shingle stones and sand known to be 150m (165yd) out. Both men have planted their feet on conveniently smooth rocks which make goood casting platforms. There’s no need to wade to gain extra distance since 210m (230yd) is quite within their capability if the need arises. That sort of distance is only achieved with plenty of practice and both men regard casting as an art form.
A couple of sets of terminal gear go west before Don opens up the scoring with a small codling. The lead and the upper part of the lost traces must have been involved in the hang-up to lose the lot. If just the lead had been caught up, the rotten bottom – a section of lighter line to the weight – would have gone first.
In the relatively short time we have been on the beach, the water has gone back an incredible distance. Water moving at high speed over the rugged terrain is a nightmare. It takes the terminal gear quite a way down channel, despite the efforts of the breakaway leads to stop it.
With only one small codling so far, Mark and Don are disappointed at the slow start. They expected a much better level of action after so many days of rough weather -which should have released a lot of food from the bottom, bringing the fish close in.
The men are constantly changing baits with no thought of the trouble involved. ‘If it’s out longer than about eight minutes it’s getting to the point of being useless,’ says Mark. ‘All the good juices from the crab are destroyed by the bouncing around on the bottom. In a match I constantly renewbait.’ Then Mark whips in a lesser spotted dogfish – and immediately he looks more relaxed. The fish is small but now the prospect of blanking is over and psychologically it means a great deal. ‘Six more like that in the match next Sunday and I could be collecting £500,’ says Mark.
Don takes a doggie next and puts it back straight away. The action is still a bit slow for them so they try what fishing at different distances will do for them. ‘I’ll bump this well out,’ says Mark, sending a cocktail over 183m (200yd). So great is the distance that you can’t hear the splash as his terminal tackle hits the water. It doesn’t change the situation, however.
With only two hours to go to dead low water, Don and Mark hold a quick conference. They decide on a move half a mile towards Barry.
The boulders get much bigger as we move towards the new fishing area. It’s a matter of carefully hopping from one rock to the next, trying to keep balance.
The ground here is known to be a fair bet for conger and smooth hound and with the tide well back action is expected.
They reset the tackle and replace the crab and squid cocktails with mackerel and squid offerings. Both consider it a waste to use peeler, which is not that easy to come by, until dead low water – when the smoothies are most likely to start feeding. ‘When that time comes, I might try a double peeler,’ says Don – ‘You know, really give them a chance of a treat.’
Mark reacts swiftly to a much fiercer bite which really rattled the rod tip. At the strike the rod bends to the fish’s antics. Mark has no problem recognizing the species – ‘That’s a conger.’ A bit of a scrap and a five pounder (2.3kg) full of muscular fight completes its 140m (150yd) journey in through the maze of water-filled gullies.
Lesser spotted doggies have got the message of free food and are hitting the baits. The general opinion is that whoever draws this area in the forthcoming Sunday match will be on to a gold mine.
The gleam of the stuff is in Don’s eyes as he whips in another fish. All the fish are unhooked and put back, kicking and twisting with the incredible body power all types of dogfish have. But there’s still no sign of the much bigger smoothies.
Don tries a different approach – a small pouting deadbait mounted on a size 4/0 hook. A dozen wraps of thread ensure it won’t fly off as it is cast. He hopes it will put him in contact with a decent conger.
It’s Mark who gets one, though. The fish takes a cocktail of squid and mackerel a scant second after the bait hits bottom. For a moment Mark’s line goes taut as the rod tip comes up against a solid force. He plays the fish with great care until it eventually squirms into a deep gulley between two large rocks, where he finally secures and returns it. It turns out to be a good 7lb (3.2kg) fish.
Dead low water has come and gone and the tide is racing up the channel. The doggies are still willing to feed but the hoped-for smooth hounds have not shown. But with 11 fish beached it hasn’t been a bad session.
It takes almost 50 minutes to pack up and trek back to the cars. During the tiring scramble over rocks, the talk is all about the possibilities for the Sunday match.
Suddenly everything becomes clear—this session hadn’t been as casual as it seemed. Matchmen through and through, Mark and Don had been getting in some very useful practice. Judging by the success of it the cash was already in the bag.