Moving through the half-deserted streets of Porthcawl, we pin our sights on a promising anchorage about half a mile offshore. Gone are the sounds of empty milk bottles rattling in the early-morning ears of the sleepy residents: on this windy December day we’ve asked their milkman -Granville Braham — to deliver some Cymru codling. Well known throughout Wales for his boat-angling skills, Granville agreed to reveal some of his cod-catching secrets.
After parking his local club’s tractor, he hurries to the boat, as fast as his chest-waders allow. Once he’s in, we’re off. We’ve already had a delay, so it’s reassuring that we’re only going inside Newton Bay, not on a strenuous, time-consuming journey far out to sea.
Deep, dirty water hides the rough, broken ground. The bottom also has thick clusters of weeds, the long fronds entwined like the worn, quay-side nets of fishermen. Cod rove along the bottom, searching for the-crabs which infest the rocky crevices. This is a superb mark for the shore and boat angler alike.
According to Granville, fishing the falling tide is effective in the bay; for boat anglers, fishing the rise is best near the lighthouse.
Once safely anchored, Granville sets up his equipment. He’s using three short rods (under 7fiV2m). It’s much easier to cast, rebait and bring fish aboard with a short rod in a small boat. For all his cod fishing he uses a simple Pennell rig (with 3/0 Mustad Spearpoint hooks). A 170g (6oz) break- overdigging. ‘You’ll catch consistently on black lug; that’s all you need. You might get the occasional fish on squid or ragworm, but black lug is best.’ And because he digs his own lug, he’s not afraid to use plenty of it on each rig. The extra effort to obtain quality bait has paid off in the past.
Many anglers who buy their bait skimp when it comes to using it, threading up only one worm for each rig, for example. In order to attract the fish, be prepared to use a lot of bait every chuck. There is simply no way away, attached running-leger style with a sliding boom, holds the bait on the bottom.
Blasting the bait to Devon isn’t necessary, so Granville doesn’t use a shock leader – only 18lb (8kg) line. He casts 25-30m (27-33yd) to the side of the boat, and the tide swings the bait round until the lead digs in.
Granville digs his own ‘proper black lug’ as he calls them: long, thick, rope-like bait, rather rare these days because of all the around this important fact.
It’s a good thing that sprats don’t come to this part of the Bristol Channel. If they did, the cod would certainly gorge themselves with sprat after sprat. You can’t really compete with a glut of sprats, even with plenty of good black lug.
Once the lug are settled nicely on the bottom, Granville takes his position near the wheel of the boat and looks out past the rod tips to the streets he knows so well. He’s a frequent visitor to the bay and area near Tusker Rock, often braving the sea and winter wind by himself.
The first take of the day is short-lived. ‘If you see a bite,’ Granville maintains, ‘wind in until you feel the weight of the fish; then strike.’ He rebaits, but instead of throwing the sea-worn bait over the side of the boat, he adds more black lug, forming a thick, gnarled rope of worm. Even in boat fishing, when distance casting isn’t crucial, many boat anglers replace the ‘washed’ bait with fresh. Granville believes that the more bait the better: ‘washed’ bait still has the power to attract fish.
As he’s wiping his hands, the slight belly in the line of the other rod begins to disappear. He winds in furiously, and the first fish of the day is on – a plump two-pounder (0.9kg).
Three more codling, each in the 2-3lb (0.9-1.4kg) range, succumb to the lug. Content with gobfuls of worm juice, they don’t seem to mind being winched from the sea bed up to a waiting net. Their reputation for being ‘sluggish’ is confirmed – again and again.
How do they cope with strong tides?
The wind and waves have kicked up. Positioning the boat is going to be difficult when the tide turns and picks up speed, for the tide then runs in the direction opposite to the wind. We’ll have to get our fish before it makes anchoring dangerous. Granville is convinced that the bigger ones will turn up at about 3:00pm.
The action has really slowed down. We’re twiddling our reel levers. Not even a pouting is on the prowl: things are that quiet. The very end of the slack period and the very beginning of the rise have adverse effects on the fishing – especially if the tide is a small one. Maybe it doesn’t carry the lugs’ scent trail as fast and as far as a big tide would. The tide today is the second biggest of the month. (Usually the biggest ones fish the best.) Low tide is at about 2:00pm. So there’s a bit longer to go.
With the turning of the tide the bites begin to come more regularly. Granville connects with a three-pounder (1.4kg). It took the rope of black lug deeply and without hesitation. Once aboard, we receive a lesson about the food chain. The three-pounder coughs up a very small 7.5cm (3in) codling. Unfortunately, the three-incher can’t cough up anything: it has a shrimp stuffed in its mouth. (The shrimp, however, manages to cough up a bit of plant material.)
Granville’s traces begin to resemble telephone cables with all the black lug strewn along them. A smooth, effortless cast launches one cable about 25m (27yd) to the side of the boat. Before the bait has a chance to sink, another of the rod tips twitches. Granville again goes through his well- rehearsed striking routine, commenting that this fish feels a bit bigger. Staying deep, it holds its ground. He calls for the net (a duty he usually performs on his own, but today he’s got plenty of help).
The cod reluctantly comes to the surface, but then points its oversized head down and tries to power back to its dark, familiar underwater carpet. Granville tightens the clutch, so the cod has to move parallel to the surface before it’s persuaded into the net.
This all-purpose, medium-sized cod, the ‘Hoover’ of the sea, weighs 8lb (3.6kg). Its ‘bag’ is sensibly marked: drab brown overlaid with golden-yellow lines merging into brilliant white. Bulbous lights are well-positioned in the front, and an immense circular suction area (without the rotating brushes, though) helps it overcome the deepest of piles to remove the smallest of scraps from hard-to-reach cracks. Head height easily adjusts with the sensitive barbel. Granville is pleased.
The attraction of cod fishing for him lies not only in getting away from it all, but also in the unexpected sizes of the fish. You just don’t know what’s going to pick up the bait. It could be a 2lb (0.9kg) codling or a 22lb (10kg) specimen.
Because the wind is blowing in the opposite direction to the flow of the tide, the boat won’t stay still. Granville takes two more codling in the fading winter light and decides to call it a day.
With eight plump fish in just over seven hours, it’s no wonder he’s on the Welsh Team – fishing in and winning competitions all over Britain and Europe with his ‘ropes of black lug1.