Situated between the seaside towns of Barmouth and Fairbourne in North Wales, the Mawddach estuary is home to a healthy population of fish, unlike some other areas around the coasts of Britain..
Finding your way round
To simplify things, the estuary can be divided into two main fish-holding areas — the main channel and the bridge gully. The main channel is not easy to locate at high tide because the estuary is full of swirling water. At low water, however, you can see it on the north side (towards Barmouth) where there’s a small harbour near the very top of the estuary. It then curves like a snake towards the Fairbourne side well past the bridge.
Mike thinks the harbour is the best place if you’re after mullet. Almost the whole of the south side (towards Fairbourne) is exposed ridges and hills of sand.
At low water the maximum depth of the main channel is 7.6m (25ft), and you usu- ally catch more bass and flounders along the edges than the middle. The top end (towards the sea) fishes better than the bottom end (where there’s more fresh water from the river). You can’t effectively fish the middle of the channel at high water because the flow is too strong.
If you begin on the shore at low water, ensure your exit isn’t cut off by the tide. The gully Walk along the footpath on the – &• bridge at low water, and you’ll see on the side opposite the railway tracks a small channel or gully running parallel to the bridge towards the Fairbourne side. This fills quickly once the tide turns, and Mike stresses that the fish enter it first from the main channel. Bass, for example, move up it to chase the vast schools of sandeels.
The gully attracts fish because it provides predators with food and prey with camouflage. Mussel beds and thick clusters of bladderwrack cover most of the bridge’s stanchions and dot a black plastic erosion-proof mesh under and around the bridge.
Flounder head for the mussel beds, and bass often scour the base of the stanchions of crabs. Small bass find a bounty of sinuous shrimps among the bladderwrack.
Algae, protein-packed diatoms and harbour ragworm are also present, attracting both thick- and thin-lipped mullet. (Walking under the bridge at low water, you can see the features first hand. Access is from the Fairbourne side at low tide.)
Begin fishing along the edges of the main channel or the adjacent deeper sections of the gully. Don’t start at the shallow, Ashless end of the gully (towards Fairbourne). After the tide turns and picks up speed, try fishing your way towards the shallow end. You’ll certainly catch more if you follow the bass and flounders coming from the main channel into the gully.
The bridge is one of the most convenient night-time venues – you don’t have long, arduous treks, and long casts aren’t necessary. Just drop your bait down (remember to vary the weight of your lead according to the current caused by the state of the tide).
The abundant food supply – especially in the main channel and close to Barmouth Railway Bridge – and the sheltered, clean water attract many fish right throughout the year.
Bass are common from May to October, depending on the weather. Says Mike: The biggest bass I’ve seen taken at the bridge was i5M>lb [7kg] -but the guy had to walk it down the footpath along the bridge so he could land it. Drop nets are difficult to master in the fast-moving water but worth trying if you don’t want to fish from the shore.
The best time to catch bass is on the flood of a big tide. There’s something about the flood that turns bass on, prompting them to feed. But I’ve got to be honest: 95% of the fish I catch are taken at night, the other 5% at dawn and dusk.
Thornbacks are caught at the very top end of the estuary (where the sea begins) at night. April and May are the prime months – when the fish move to shallow waters to feed. With a windless night and a flat sea, they come really close to shore. Thick-lipped mullet There’s a lot of mullet in the estuary, and some big ones too. They come to the estuary at the end of April but seem extremely shy for the first three weeks. By mid June they’re worth fishing for. When the cold weather comes (late October) they head south. September, if you get mild weather, is the best mullet-fishing month of all. ‘To catch mullet you should pre-bait – not at the same time every day but at the same state of the tide. This way you wean them on to the bait. I tend to use bread and bran with a few chopped harbour rag.
Legering can often work well, especially if the mullet are feeding on the bottom, but
I’ve had more success with the waggler. Flounders ‘You get flounders from late spring right through to January, says Mike. Fresh peeler crab is the best bait; mussels come a close second, followed by harbour rag.
Salmon and sea trout pass through the estuary up the Rivers Mawddach and Wnion roughly from January to the early summer and back down again after spawning in autumn. Fishing isn’t restricted.
Try a spoon or even an artificial sandeel. If you hear the occasional splash, these fish are usually the culprits.
Proving a point
On the early autumn day we met Mike several 3-4 lb (1.4-1.8kg) bass were milling about the deep end of the gully. Not in a feeding mood because it was low water, they saw us and swam slowly out towards the main channel.
A bit farther down , a 6 lb (2.7kg) thick-lipped mullet was patrolling a mussel-clad stanchion. It saw us, but paid no attention. Knowing what would happen, Mike carefully dropped his ragworm in when the fish was on the other side of the pole. It swam round, saw the bait and then, fed up, slowly moved towards the main gulley. See, fish aren’t as stupid as we think, he said. Tide and bait presentation are crucial.