A couple of seals poked their heads above the towering waves, braving the gale to glimpse the intrepid anglers. You could see them nodding sagely, as though saying: ‘It can get a bit blustery in Anglesey.’
Even ace Welsh sea anglers Colin Flynn and Jeff Holmes had to agree that if ever there was a day for packing in and heading for the nearest pub, this was it…
So much for our first attempt at a Star Spot with Colin and Jeff. Anglesey in June was alone. They warn you never to attempt to fish from cliffs or rocks unless you are used to the conditions and have a friend with you who can fetch help if necessary.
Colin sets up with a fast tapered beachcast- not a good idea, so we decide to try again in September. And for once we pick a good day – the sun’s beating down and there’s a faint suggestion of a breeze.
Jeff and Colin both live in that Anglesey town with the rather elongated name: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndro-bwllllantysiliogogogoch. We set off from there for the cliffs of Gogarth Bay, between South Stack and North Stack on Holy Island.
The scenery really is breathtaking here -as Colin says, with a bit better weather this part of Anglesey could be more popular than Cornwall. The trouble is that the cliffs are practically sheer. It is complete madness to climb down them – but this means that the local fish have quite possibly never been disturbed. It’s a mouth-watering prospect for Colin and Jeff.
We’ll skip the details of the climb down. Some memories are too painful and terrifying to re-live…
Seriously, both anglers have a vast amount of experience climbing this type of cliff and never go to these kinds of venues ing rod capable of handling 5-6oz (140-170g) weights. To this he attaches a 50lb (22kg) hooklength leading to a two hook Pennell rig with size 2/0 offset hooks. He incorporates a large grip lead into this rig -it all sounds pretty heavy but the idea is to fish a craggy reef about 30m (33yd) out. Colin plans to start the day by using peeler crab as bait.
Jeff also sets up with a 12i4ft (3.7m) rod capable of handling 5-6oz (140-170g) weights. He is fishing finer, with a 28lb (12.7kg) hooklength and a size 1 hook. Jeff intends to fish just beyond the reef by casting about 60m (66yd) out then bringing the bait back in until he feels it bump on the reef. Jeff has chosen to fish the white belly of a mackerel.
Both anglers set up pretty massive tripod rod rests, capable of withstanding even the powerful winds of Anglesey!
First off the mark is Colin. There’s a sharp bend in his rod and then a bit of a struggle as something tries to power away. After a while battling with the mystery fish, Colin stops playing and tries to haul it in by brute force. It’s a rather nice dogfish, happily none the worse for its struggle. ‘I’ve never killed a dog in my life,’ says Colin, and he’s caught his fair share of them.
The doggie fell to the peeler, tied on to the hook with thin elastic. Half an hour later Colin strikes again, this time with a female cuckoo wrasse. It’s a pale orange-pink colour – not as pretty as a male – but it’s still an attractive fish.
Jeff decides he needs to catch something to even the score a little. He casts to his left – over Colin’s spot! ‘Doing some poaching,’ he winks at us. Sure enough, a couple of minutes later he lands a ballan wrasse and a few minutes after this a fair sized pollack appears, tempted by the peeler crab.
Jeffs next fish is a healthy pouting. Encouraged, he decides to try for something a little different. He rigs up a black lug to lure some flatties. Nothing doing.
There’s time to snatch some lunch and chat. Jeff started fishing at ten years old, and was a boat angler for ten years. He took up competition shore angling, eventually fishing successfully for Wales and winning numerous Opens.
Colin too started fishing at the age often. He was a river angler until he was 18. On moving to Llanfair P.G. he joined the local angling club and met Jeff. They make an effective fishing team. Colin believes you need to put time into it to get the best from fishing – he’s often up collecting bait at 5:00am. But as he says: ‘The biggest enjoyment of match fishing is meeting people.’
Sea match fishing is a sport for the brave. It’s often a question of leaving it as late as possible before heading back for the weigh-in, regardless of tides, climbs and so on. On one occasion Jeff and Colin selected a spot with excellent fishing but an awesome climb. At the end, realising it would take too long to get back up the cliff, they set off to try to skirt the shore.
Little did they know that a portion of the cliff had recently collapsed. The sea had turned the mass of debris into sinking sand – and suddenly Jeff was up to his waist in a quagmire.
Fortunately he was just able to move his legs and, with assistance from Colin, eventually regained firmer ground. Soaked through and caked in mud, they still managed to reach the weigh-in in time to win the match!
Time marches on. Colin baits up two rigs and at 1:30pm Jeff lands a good dogfish. As another change Jeff tries a redgill lure attached to a weight. He’s hoping to find some pollack – but ends up well and truly snagged on a lobster pot.
Jeff doesn’t worry: ‘I’m really glad I’m losing all these weights – I couldn’t stand lugging them all back up that cliff!’
Around 2:00pm Colin gets a particularly hard bite — shame it’s only a poor cod! There’s a lull for some time. Both anglers are now fishing farther out, deliberately avoiding catching wrasse. The problem is that the water is pretty deep — around 20m (66ft) – and wrasse can suffer when hauled at speed to the surface from such depths.
As we’re beginning to see, Anglesey is a good place to fish. Sadly for match anglers in this region, sponsorship is extremely hard to come by, because of the low population in the area.
At 2:15pm Colin lands another dogfish -he’s having a good time with them today. But a short while later Jeff and Colin seem to be doing an impression of King Canute -the incoming tide eventually drives them back, higher up the rocks. At 2:40pm comes yet another doggie to Colin. Jeff has climbed along the rocks and fancies he might be on to a conger. A bit later and he’s certainly into something very, very stub- born which won’t leave its rocky lair. ‘Whatever it is, I can’t get it out,’ he shouts over the roar of the waves. The wind whistles in the tight line, and after a while he gives it some slack – but five minutes later the tussle ends disappointingly in a snapped line.
Jeff changes his line: ‘Never use line more than twice in sea fishing,’ he advises. ‘Rocks and reefs can soon weaken it.’ At 3:30pm he lands a gurnard. It’s too windy today, but he reckons we could hear them grunting here on calm days. A quarter of an hour later Colin lands a ballan wrasse and at 4:00pm Jeff hooks a really lively dogfish on peeler crab. Reef fishing is a heavy duty sport and dogfish are tough characters. This one thrashes about determinedly. On rocky reefs a lightweight hook could easily straighten under such strain.
Colin has a look under some rocks for anything that might make a good bait — peeler crabs, for instance. He doesn’t find any, but he takes care to turn the rocks back the right way so as not to destroy the miniature worlds underneath. It’s surprising how many anglers don’t do this.
To finish the day Colin spins a redgill for pollack while Jeff puts on a size 2/0 hook and has one last try for that conger, using frozen edible crab. He heads off over the rocks. The last we see of him is a wave breaking on the rocks and drenching him in spray. Curses carried to us on the wind indicate that more than one wave reaches him. Alas, the only thing that the big 2/0 hook lands is weed – but it has been an excellent day.
There’s wistful talk of chairlifts, but in reality there’s no avoiding the climb. Around three-quarters of an hour later the summit is finally in sight. Jeff swears it’s the last time he ever tries this – but Colin assures us that Jeff always says this.