The great wall of Plymouth

Standing alone in Plymouth Sound some 2/4 miles south of the shore is an impressive structure of over a mile long — the breakwater. Not only does it protect the anchorage of many ships and boats from the ravages of the English Channel, it also provides sea anglers with superb shore opportunities.

The making of a harbour

Starting in 1812, it took almost 30 years to dump the 4,000,000 tons of granite that make up the base of the breakwater. At the end of that time there was a one mile long structure across the mouth of The Sound, 14m (45ft) wide at the top, with almost 15m (50ft) high sloping sides.

It sits in almost 15m (50ft) of water at high tide, bringing many of the advantages of boat fishing to the shore angler. On the outside (the south-facing side) the tide rip is fierce, which attracts many species, including garfish and pollack. The inside (the north-facing side) is much more sheltered, making it a hotspot for mullet. As many as 19 separate species have been taken during a match on the breakwater.

The rich fishing is partly due to the deep water, but it is also partly down to its isolation from the mainland. This means it receives much less angling pressure than it otherwise would.

The easiest way to fish it is to enter one of the regular club matches of the summer — there’s nothing to stop you pleasure fishing once out there. Hitching a lift for a freelance session is a little more difficult, but you can sometimes persuade one of the inshore (reef boat) charter skippers to drop you off and pick you up again for a small sum.

Spot the species

In the winter the breakwater is virtually unnshable. Most of the fishing takes place, therefore, from April to late October with summer species the main target. Grey mullet usually arrive by mid-April and feed along both sides of the wall, though the land-facing (north) side generally produces best. Most of the fish are taken from the middle, opposite the fort.

You can catch mullet throughout the tide, but the first two hours and the last hour of the flood tide are best. To catch both these periods, most mulleteers fish the tide all the way up, and the first couple of hours down.

Groundbaiting is vital to attract and hold the mullet. A mix of mashed bread and mackerel with a dash of pilchard oil is the most effective. Some anglers ladle it into the water, while others prefer the constant flow that a mesh sack provides.

There are always a few fish in the 6 lb (2.7kg) class, but your best chance of connecting with a big ‘un comes later in the summer, from July onwards, with October often producing the best fish. The best pollack fishing is at the ends of the breakwater where the tidal flow speeds up between the wall and the shore. Fish up to 4 lb (1.8kg) are quite common, though numbers have declined in recent years. The first two hours of the flood are best. Every summer, ballan wrasse up to 7 lb (3.2kg) colonize the block area in front of the south-facing flank. It’s easiest to fish while the blocks are underwater but look for snag-free patches for your bait while the blocks are exposed at low water. A cast of 70m (77yd) puts your gear over the less snaggy mud and stone strewn bottom, and produces some big ballans. Thornback rays into double-figures visit the breakwater. They prefer a cleanish sea bed, and the muddy ground off the inside of the eastern end – up to about the first stone shelter – is just 35m (38yd) away. They feed right through the tide and since ray fishing is generally a slow sport, keep a bait out all the time, waiting for a ray to happen by. Plaice to 3 lb (1.4kg) are quite common, coming exclusively from the more sheltered land-facing side. Your best chance is from August to October. As with the rays, it’s best to fish the whole tide. Bull huss and lesser spotted dogfish are common all round the structure, at all states of the tide. Any good, smelly bait attracts these scavenging machines. Conger eels love the snaggy jungle of rock and weed at the base of the wall on both sides. The best fishing comes after dark, but you can catch pretty well during the day. Fish up to 50 lb (22.7kg) cruise the kelp in daylight, and there may be much bigger specimens in the many nooks and crannies.

The inside-facing edge is usually best for big eels, simply because the ground is less treacherous, giving you a better chance of landing one. Concentrate your efforts on the second half of both flood and ebb tides, though other times do also produce.

With this variety of species and the odd interloper such as bass, black bream or sunfish (!), the breakwater is always interesting fishing. And however you get there, the lightly fished waters provide rich pickings. So be grateful for its relative isolation, and get out there when you can.