West Country Fishing Guide

For the sea angler, the varied, rugged coastline and waters off Dorset, Devon and Cornwall offers some of the most magnificent sea fishing to be found anywhere in the British Isles.

The British Record (Rod-caught) list for sea fish shows just how produc-tive the waters off Dorset, Devon and Cornwall are. Currently, 58 records have their origins in the area, the breakdown showing 40 by boat anglers, nine from the shore and nine for boat or shore caught species with a weight up to lib. Some records have been broken many times, those for pollack, ling, conger and coalfish, for example, and there is little doubt all of them will change hands again and again as wreck boats in particular push further out into the wastes of the English Channel.

The ‘coast of wrecks’ would not be an inaccurate description for the lower end of the Channel. From Portland Bill to Land’s End the bottom of the sea is littered with the rusting remains of the vessels ranging from coasters, submarines, ocean liners and even a giant battleship. Most were sunk during two world wars and at the height of the German U-boat campaign of World War II it was not unusual for a group of ships to be sunk within a matter of hours in one small area. Such a situation occurred off Falmouth, when five merchantmen went down. The ships lie within a 10 mile box and provide shelter for vast numbers of fish across a wide range of species and superb fishing for the wreck angler.

Lyme Bay

Weymouth and other ports in Dorset have boats that frequently make the run to marks in Lyme Bay. The liner Empress of India, among others, is inhabited by fine conger, while off the Devon coast, Lyme Bay and Start Bay are the hunting grounds of Brixham charter skip-pers. Brixham’s skippers started fishing wrecks in the 1960s and the famous boat, Our Unity, is seldom out of the angling news. Their big-gest haul was 5,000lb of ling, conger and pollack, made by eight anglers in about six hours fishing.

Tides run swiftly in both bays, and good wrecking is restricted to neap tide periods. If you are thinking of tangling with an 80lb conger make sure that you bear the tides in mind when making a booking. Anglers who forget this are naturally disappointed when their big day turns out to be fished on less pro-ductive ground, in more sheltered waters, because of tide changes.


Several top flight boats work out of Dartmouth, with Lloyd Saunders and Saltwind II frequently making angling news. In 1980 Saunders smashed the British Record for coalfish with a monstrous fish of 33lb 7oz, at Start Point, S Devon, while six miles to the west in Lan-nacombe Bay a mark known as the Ridd gave local angler Roger Simcox the British Record turbot of 33lb 12oz.

Thirty miles down the coast is the great seaport of Plymouth, now regarded as Britain’s number one sea angling centre. Over 30 fully equipped and licensed boats are available for reef and wreck charter. Records set by anglers embarking from the port include conger 109lb 6oz, pollack 25 lb, mackerel 5lb, and bass 18lb 6oz. Wreck fishing is a speciality, but the great reefs of Eddystone, West Rutts and Hands Deeps are also popular. These lie in deep water, but can be reached in a couple of hours.

Inshore boat fishing is also pro-ductive. The whiting grounds four miles south of Rame Head are famous for big fish, and specimens of 3-5lb are no surprise. The area’s shore fishing can also be recommended, and you can take your pick of rock, storm beach and quiet san-dy estuaries. The main species are the colourful ballan wrasse (Labrus bergylta), which reach a weight of seven pounds in the deep kelp-strewn gullies, pollack and bass.


Looe is perhaps the shark fishing capital of the world. Each day throughout summer, 25 boats go beyond the Eddystone, where ‘blues’ provide plenty of excitement. They mostly weigh around 50lb and at the end of each week there are at least six fish in the 80-110lb class. Unfortunately, too many small sharks are unnecessarily killed by holiday anglers eager to show off their catch at the end of the day. To qualify for membership of the Shark Angling Club of Great Britain the minimum weight caught is 75 lb, and it would probably be advisable for sharks below this weight to be returned unharmed to the sea. Other shark species found off Looe are the mako and porbeagle. The former is a true man-eater and reaches an enormous weight. The current British record fish of 500lb was captured off the Eddystone in 1971 after a battle lasting several hours.

Squid and mackerel, and stories of gigantic conger breaking up tackle and gaffs do have some truth in them. A little farther upstream is Old Sawmills Reach where fine flounder and bass are caught on the making tide. Spoons tipped with worms are much favoured locally and account for big flatties.

Shore fishing at Fowey is es-pecially good during the autumn.

Looe craft make regular trips to the Philips Rocks, Hatt Rock and Brentons—marks that quite rightly have an honoured place in British angling history. In these places the pollack is king. It is a hefty green and gold fish whose powerdive for the bottom after it has taken a bait, is something one never forgets. Pollack of 10lb are common, and tackle-busting fish up to 20lb are never far away.


These reefs are also fished by skip-pers from Fowey, but their main quarry is bass on the inshore grounds. Most of them make for the Cannis Rock, due south of Gribben Head, where fish averaging 6lb are taken on live sandeel. Many species find their way into Fowey Harbour, and near the Bodinnick Ferry, where the water is very deep, conger fishing is particularly good at night. Eels up to 75lb have been taken on from the harbour mouth to the tidal limits there are dozens of spots where you can catch big wrasse, bass, pollack and flounder. Golant, renowned for its flounder, produced the record fish of 5lb lloz. The fish tend to lie behind sandbanks running across the river, and a moderate cast from the railway siding will put crab or worm bait in the right place. Outside the harbour to the east, between Pencarrow Head and Lan-sallos, the water is reached by a very steep path. The effort can be worthwhile, as monster wrasse shelter under rocky overhangs and provide plenty of rod-bending sport. One recent catch gave 27 fish over 4 lb, and three over 6 lb, which is specimen weight for the species.

Pollack fishing can also be rewar-ding along this wild stretch of coast.

Most are taken by spinning with artificial or natural sandeels. Sliding float fishing with crab, king rag, or ragworm is also successful. Conger roam the gloomy canyons after dark and more than one 40lb fish has come writhing out of the depths after taking a juicy strip of squid or mackerel offered on an 80 hook to a wire trace. Take a word of warning however; congering from desolate rocks at night is no game for the lone angler. Always have a friend along, and be fully equipped with lights, 20ft of stout rope and a first-aid kit in case of emergencies.


The small port of Mevagissey is another sea angling centre. Each day charter boats bring shark, ling, conger, coalfish and pollack ashore, while wreck fishing is a speciality for skipper Bernard Hunkin who has found the British record ling and angler fish. Inshore wrecks off the Dodman Point have also produced record fish—a red bream weighing an incredible 9’2lb and an electric ray only fractionally short of 100lb. The shoreline within 30 miles of Mevagissey is perfect for shore fishing. There are dozens of spots providing all the popular species, while Falmouth, with its huge harbour and miles of tidal rivers cutting deep inland, is a paradise for shore and dinghy anglers. Most species are present throughout the year, but autumn is the best period. Soft back and peeler crab offered on bottom or float gear will be quickly snapped up by flounder, plaice, dabs, wrasse, pollack or bass. Spinning from rocks with artificial or natural baits—from Zone Point, Trefusis Point, or Pendennis Point, produces mackerel, garfish, bass and pollack.

Manacles Reef

A few miles away is the notorious Manacles Reef, a superb spot for bass, pollack and conger fishing. The reef lies directly across the southern approach to Falmouth, and its outer edge is marked by a large red buoy, chained to the sea-bed 200ft below. Many ships have gone to the bottom in the past, and modern wrecks like the Finis terre are now the haunt of many species and are fished with excellent results. Over the reef itself is good bass country. Fish of 7-10lb are common, with a percentage weighing 13lb. These are caught by drift-line methods or by trolling with artificial eels. Pollack fall to the same methods, but during daylight the fish lie deep so it is essential to work the bait close to the bottom. At dawn and dusk when pollack rise high in the water, to catch them your best bet is to troll just a few feet below the surface.

Strong tides

Manacle gullies hold big turbot and many fish over 25lb have been caught on ledgered mackerel and squid strip. Tides run fairly strongly in the area, so springs should be avoided if possible. It also pays to remember that any wind stronger than Force Three brings in a heavy ground swell making fishing almost impossible. Self-drive boats are available at a few places nearby. John Badger (Tel Mawnan Smith 250 675) has 18-footers, while Cliff Howes (Tel Penryn 74204 summer, 74069 winter) hires three 17ft motor boats and four.sailing boats.

Abundant shore fishing

The coastline from the Manacles to Land’s End is very rugged and picturesque, providing places for abundant shore fishing. Coverack, Lizard Point, Kynance Cove, Mara-zion and Lamorna Cove are just a few places close to the water. You can take your choice of fish, although most bags are made of wrasse, bass and mackerel. How-ever, the tip of England is dangerous and for experts only. For this reason local anglers who fish from precipitous rock ledges are known as ‘mountain men’. Cornwall’s north coast is very dif- ferent from the southern. The open Atlantic ocean pounds the shore, and more than one fisherman has lost his life when an unexpected 20ft wave plucked him from a high, and seemingly safe perch.

Among the most famous marks for rock fishing are at Towan Head at Newquay and Trevose Head near Padstow. Both produce outstanding catches, but the latter, with its hard-fighting tope, is more popular. Fish up to 50lb come within casting range and fight hard after taking mackerel or squid strip suspended from balloon floats.

Boat fishing for the normal species is largely unexploited on the north coast, although a fair number of charter boats operate from New-quay, mostly on a half-day basis. Padstow is now the centre of the porbeagle and shark boom. Massive fish up to 465lb have been taken within a few hundred yards of the shore off Crackington Haven and much larger fish, up to 650 lb, have been lost.

Appledore in North Devon is another porbeagle shark port, but tidal conditions make fishing difficult on occasions. On certain low water springs it is necessary to leave harbour at 5.30 am.

In the Bude area, several secluded bays offer good beach fishing, although this can be spoilt by heavy rollers and surf. Thousands of elvers make their way up the River Strat in the spring and are followed by large bass. Spinning from the harbour wall can be productive.

Further north, the coastline becomes more exposed to winds from the Atlantic and there are few charter boat facilities. If a boat can be arranged, conger, skate and pollack are to be found, with bass around Appledore and Bideford.

Ilfracombe, Cheyne Beach, Capstone Point and Lee Bay offer good bass, pollack, wrasse, pouting, conger and dogfish.