Re-emergence

Things, it seems, are finally feeling as though they may be finding their way back to ‘normal’. Following the return of many of the kids to school, we wait expectantly fo the reopening of shops, pubs and a myriad other aspects of our lives that have been stalled by the pandemic. One thing that came around as it normally does, though, was the Easter holiday and its list of house-based tasks that needed ticking off. Every year, during the Easter holidays, I try to take care of as many ‘around-the-house’ jobs as possible so that I free up more time in the summer holidays. In fairness, I don’t find this a bind. Rather, I most often enjoy it. This tends to form part of my personal seasonal cycle; whereas farmers and country folk are locked into their own cycles of planting/harvesting, livestock rearing and so on, my own cycles tend to revolve around the school year, fishing seasons and, in this case, the preparation of the house for the colder, wetter seasons at the back end of the year as well as freshening up the house to make it tip top for those lovely garden-based days and nights of spring and summer. So, the first few days of the Easter holidays were spent… changing out our old electric hob for a shiny new version; This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 20210328_1517191.jpg Painting the back of the house, renewing exterior window sealant and changing the window gaskets where needed; This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 20210330_1137001.jpg and freshening up the study. This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 20210406_1127201.jpg I felt that the final one was actually very important to me, as I wanted to move things along having finally published Waiting for a Hunter’s Moon. I do enjoy writing, and I spend a lot of time doing it when I get the chance so, at Rachel’s suggestion (bless her) I refreshed the study to make it feel even more like a place where I’m happy to sit and while away a few hours with pen in hand, mulling things over and jotting down my thoughts as the world passes by outside the window. With all these jobs finally nailed, it was time to start squeezing in some fishing. Dai was as keen as I was to make a start on the year’s piscatorial activities and get a few fish on the beach, so we arranged a session on Pink Bay for Wednesday 31st March.
  • Venue: Pink Bay, Porthcawl. Wednesday 31st March 2021, 6.50 p.m. – 11.30 p.m.
  • Weather: winds 7 mph westerly, pressure 1011mb, temp app. 10 degrees.
  • Tide: High of 10.4m at 9.20 p.m.  – second highest tide of the cycle.
  • Moon phase: Waning gibbous
  • Method: Pulley rig at longer range, two hook flapper with booms fished at 20-70 yards.
  • Baits:  squid, bluey, sandeels, mackerel, frozen prawns, razorfish.
As always I arrived early, keen as ever to get started. Dai was right when he commented that, whatever our decided meeting time should be, I’m always usually half an hour earlier. I can’t help it – I still get that boyish sense of excitement before a session even now, when I’m 40, and I hope it never goes away. This time, though, Dai wasn’t far behind me. We hadn’t fished together in months, so we were keen to get going. In no time, we had the gear unpacked, were loaded up and on our way along the 25 minute trek to the beach. The feeling of a fresh start was hammered home almost immediately by the sight of the spring lambs in the fields next to us. Normally, this wouldn’t be a hugely significant thing, but it seemed a little alien now, largely due to the fact that we hadn’t been fishing together in so long, and had completely missed the winter season, giving the sight of the lambs something of a ‘When did that happen?!’ feel to it. Still, we couldn’t hang about contemplating things that bleat when there were things that bite waiting for us. 20210331_1810051-1 We arrived at the beach without incident and were soon set up and in the water. It was a lovely feeling, being back, and it seemed fitting to be fishing due to the fact that Hunter’s Moon had literally been published earlier that day. Was this an omen of some kind? Were the fishing gods going to smile benevolently upon us, or were they going to dump bad luck all over us from a great height once more? 20210331_1856361 There was a lovely surf rolling in and the beach looked very fishy. However, we weren’t expecting a great deal of action from the off due to the fact that it was daylight. Although the chocolate-coloured water of the Bristol Channel across the bridge often leads to some cracking daylight fishing, our water tends to stay clearer here, meaning that darkness s often most conducive to good fishing, and so it was to prove again. I was first in with a baby turbot. Always welcome, these little predators are never shy of hitting a fish bait, and I was very happy to see this one trundling through the surf. I’d love to catch a big version of one of these one day as I think they’re lovely. 20210406_1315191 Nearly an hour passed before the next fish, a dogfish, came to the range rod. Not a surprise, but very welcome after the recent stretch of time with no fishing. 20210331_2050411 Things were slow for Dai at this point. The tide had fully forced us back up onto the pebble bank at the top of the beach by now, so Dai took some kindling he’d brought along, stacked some driftwood and got a beach fire going. There’s something really beautiful and alive about a fire, and it became a pleasant accompaniment to the session, crackling away in the background, casting light and heat and keeping the darkness at bay. 20210331_2224551 Dai and I settled into its glow, chatting over this and that as the hours slid past, punctuated only by a series of dogfish, which Dai had now managed to hook into too, and occasional missed bites. This didn’t matter one bit. Piscator non solum piscatur, as the old adage goes, and so we were happy to chat, stoke up the fire and see out the night before we finally decided to pootle on back to the cars.  Lovely stuff. I did, of course, round off the night with a celebratory beverage, toasting a successful restart to fishing life! 20210401_0033451 Summary
  • 6.50 – first cast
  • 8.00 – baby turbot, taken on the top hook of the flapper rig on sprat.
  • 8.50 – Dogfish, taken at range on triple sandeel.
  • 9.05 – As above.
  • 9.15 – Missed bite on flapper rod
  • 9.50 – Missed bite on range rod
  • 10.05 – Double shot of dogfish – both taken on same hook – taken at range on sandeel and squid wrap.
  • 11.30 – session ended.
FISH TOTALS FOR 2020 Number of fish – 4 ( 4 dogfish, 1 turbot) Number of species – 2 With that first session under our belts, and the first few fish of the year chalked up, the pressure was off, allowing us a little time to relax and follow other meandering routes for a few days. Dai spent his preparing for a long run from his house in Pyle to his parents’ house in Port Talbot, a trot of around 16 kilometres, and a fair dap by anyone’s reckoning. Running is something Dai’s taken to during the series of lockdowns in an effort to stave off the boredom and the fug that can so easily take hold during dark times. To be fair, he’s lost loads of weight and is now becoming known as Dai ‘The Sandeel’ Phillips due to his slinkier frame. Good on you, mate. The only running I do is running a bath, so Rach and I decided upon a more leisurely pursuit, strolling from our home in the centre of Port Talbot, past the Afan estuary and up onto Aberavon beach, where we watched the sunset with a lovely bottle of Malbec. Absolutely sublime. 20210403_190627120210403_1927241 For both of us, the weekend’s activities left us feeling relaxed, refreshed and ready for our next session. We were keen to get started on a bit of lure fishing, but both decided that it might be a little early in the year, and water temps might be a little too low to start this venture, especially for a clueless numpty like me, so that’s been pencilled in for sometime in May. I had a look at the tides, the wind and the weather and decided that it all looked spot-on for Rest Bay.
  • Venue: Rest Bay, Porthcawl. Tuesday 6th April 2021, 7.30 p.m. – 12.315 a.m.
  • Weather: winds 14 mph north-westerly, pressure 1024mb, temp app. 4 degrees.
  • Tide: Low of 3.3m at 9.20 p.m. on a 7.4m tide  – second lowest tide of the cycle.
  • Moon phase: Waning crescent 28% visible
  • Method: Up and over rig at longer range, three hook flapper fished at 20-70 yards, swapped for two hook wessex rig
  • Baits:  squid, bluey, sandeels, ragworms.
Where the previous session and following days had certainly pointed toward spring doing its thing, the day of this session provided far more in the way of frowns and concerned glances. The wind kicked up, which wasn’t a problem in itself, but it brought with it consistent snow flurries and squalls of sleet and hail. Where had spring gone? The teperature plummeted and Dai and I both knew that we were going to need to dig the winter salopettes and thermal socks out of their slumber for this one. I even continued the wintry theme in my choice of beverage – a flask of cinnamon hazelnut coffee, just the thing for winter weather! Still, they say that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing – we had the clothing so it was time to crack on and get some fishing done. We met at the beach in plenty of time to get set up. To be fair, chilly wind aside, it was absolutely glorious when we got set up and fishing.
Screenshot_20210407-130315_WhatsApp[1]

Thanks to Dai for the photograph – how lovely does this look?!

Whilst setting up, we both had out tripods blow over, covering the rods in sand. Here we go, we might have been forgiven for thinking, but any doubts were soon kicked into touch as I nailed the first fish around 20 minutes after casting out. No blank, a fish first cast and it was the target species, a ray! In honesty, I thought we were in for a great session from here but alas, that wasn’t quite the case. Screenshot_20210407-014140_WhatsApp[1] I had to wait over an hour and a half for the next fish, another ray, but much smaller this time. Screenshot_20210407-130329_WhatsApp[1] We did have to hunker down and fish through a couple of small squalls, but we were lucky in the fact that many of them seemed to blow out to sea and across to the west country before reaching us, meaning that the weather stayed pretty clear after the first couple of hours. The wind even dropped later on, making things very comfortable indeed. The flapper rod really wasn’t earning its keep at this point. I was fishing with a three hook boom flapper and size 1 hooks, scratching around for anything in the surf, as is usual at this time of year. However, after the first couple of fish on the range rod I thought it might be better to switch to a two-hook wessex rig on the shorter rod, keep the baits closer to the bottom and scale the hooks up to size 1/0 so that I would be able to increase the bait size. This decision paid off within 20 minutes as I hooked a small turbot, the first of three on this rig through the evening. It goes to show that sometimes you need to think your way around the situation, and not be afraid to change things up if they’re not working out for you. Screenshot_20210407-130357_WhatsApp[1] 20210406_234337[1] Dai had a really frustrating night, one of those in which he couldn’t seem to buy a bite. This was made even more frustrating when a couple of guys set up the other side of him and also caught fish – a couple of dogfish and a 5lb bass between them! We all get days like that, and they can be disheartening. I won’t feel too sorry for him though as he’ll prbably start kicking my derriere when our lure fishing campaign starts up again. I finished off with one of those ubiquitous dogfish and called it a night just after 12, the job well done. 20210406_233639[1] All in all, a really good session. I actually expected to fish like a bumbling idiot after such a long layoff, but these last two sessions have really given me a cracking boost to take forward into the rest of the year. Fingers crossed that it continues! Tight lines all. Summary
  • 7.15 – first cast
  • 7.40 – 2lb small-eyed ray at range taken on sandeel and squid wrap.
  • 9.20 – baby small-eyed ray at range on sandeel and bluey combo.
  • Switched the flapper rod to a wessex rig with 1/0 hooks
  • 10.30 – small turbot on bottom hook of flapper, taken on bluey cast to shorter range.
  • 11.00 – 1lb turbot taken on top hook of wessex rig on sandeel and squid wrap.
  • 11.35 – dogfish taken at range on double sandeel.
  • 11.45 – small turbot taken on bottom hook of wessex rig on a bunch of ragworms.
  • 12.15 – session ended
FISH TOTALS FOR 2020 Number of fish – 10 ( 5 dogfish, 2 small-eyed rays, 4 turbot) Number of species – 3
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Life Begins…?

As I write this, we in Wales are on the cusp of a wee glimmer of normality. As the year threatens to set a foot firmly into spring, after months of online teaching, I’ll be standing in front of classes again on Monday, adding a more human element to everything work-related. It also looks like I’ll be able to fish the (local) beaches again after what seems like an interminable hiatus, so I can’t wait!

New beginnings, new starts, new…well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves too soon. I’m happy to take it step-by-step if it means life resembling anything like it used to.

I did turn 40 last month, though. Isn’t it true that life ‘begins’ at 40? I must say that I don’t really feel any different for reaching this milestone. Well, maybe just a little (more of that later), but not to any significant level.

The lovely gifts I received for my birthday confirmed that I am still very much the person I thought I was and, more to the point, that I’m very easy to cater for! From my beloved, a couple of lovely bottles of Barolo, as I love red wine, along with some beer (er…I just happen to like beer too!) a bar of Lindt chocolate, my favourite, a candle for my study desk (I’m an absolute sucker for candles – we have them all over the house) and a beautiful Waterman pen to kick-start my writing habit once again. Oh, let’s not forget the chocolate caterpillar cake that everyone gets, every year, just because it happens to be my daughter’s favourite!

From my sister and brother-in-law, a nice bottle of wine in a lovely, personalised box (What? More booze? Yep!) and some fragranced candles to further garnish my study desk. Great stuff.

From my brother, some of my favourite beers (I shan’t tell you the story of how he popped in one December day a couple of years back, was plied with these same beers, and left my home rather the worse for wear!) and a Goonies themed mug and chocolate bar. Being a child of the 80s, I love the films and music of that decade, and The Goonies was such a huge film for us, growing up. HEY YOU GUUUUUYS!!!

The cash gifts that came from my parents and other relatives were added to the fishing fund. The first things they funded were a bucket-cum-seat from Ridgemonkey and, perhaps more significantly, a trolley for transporting my fishing gear to the beach. Remember I said earlier how I didn’t feel any different having turned 40? Well, in honesty, there is an occasional little twinge in my lower back that definitely wasn’t there when I was 21, so maybe I do have to make some concessions!

So, what else is new? Well, writing is back on the agenda, one of the few positives of this lockdown. I’m writing reasonably regularly again now, particularly for Welsh Country magazine, who are doing some nice things online at the moment in an attempt to alleviate the effects of the lockdown. If you get a minute, nip over and check them out; there’s bound to be something on there that interests you: Welsh Country Magazine: Welsh Food, Arts & Crafts, Places to Stay

All that writing means that I’ve needed to have a tidy base to work from. With a little gentle prodding and encouragement from Rachel, I’ve put more book storage into the study,

framed and mounted my vintage fish-themed cigarette cards

and moved things around a little. I swear, I’d never get anything done if it wasn’t for her! Seriously though, she’s always been so supportive of everything I do, from the crackpot, hare-brained schemes that end in frustration to those things that genuinely pay off. I couldn’t do anything without her so Rach, if you read this, I love you very much and appreciate you tolerating this bumbling idiot!!!

Perhaps most significantly is the fact that I’ve found a new home for my second fishing book, Waiting for a Hunter’s Moon. After contacting the guys at Cambria Press, they were keen to publish the book, and I was keen for them to publish it! We’re putting the finishing touches to the cover, and it should be in print very soon. Exciting times!

As things stand, there should be more fishing reports heading this way soon. The old jungle drums have started to beat once more, Dai and I are exchanging excited Whatsapp messages and I’m going into the shed over the weekend to dust off the tackle. Happy days!

Onwards and upwards,

Si

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And another!

Many thanks to Ian and the good folks at Welsh Country magazine for the publication of another piece. https://www.welshcountry.co.uk/

Beautiful illustrations too – I really must look up Cerys, the artist, and thank her.

I have a bit of momentum on my side again now, and fully intend to use it during the forthcoming half-term holidays!

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Exciting times at last!

Times are pretty crap at the moment as we all know, but it does seem that some clouds do have a silver lining.

Although I’ve been extremely busy with work, the lack of anything else due to lockdown has left a little void of time in otherwise featureless days, allowing me to get back to some serious writing.

To begin with, I’ve started submitting some nature/lifestyle pieces to Welsh Country once again, resulting in a piece here:https://www.welshcountry.co.uk/bridging-the-gap/

Even more exciting, though, is the forthcoming publication of my second book, containing the essay that gave everything, from this blog to the book itself, a name!

Almost there!

I finally polished up the manuscript, submitted it to a publisher, and publication is a matter of weeks away! Hopefully, this will give my writing life a kick start and a bit of fresh impetus. Here’s hoping!

For anyone interested, keep an eye here for updates:https://cambriabooks.co.uk/

Tight lines all, Si.

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Stuck aboard the painted ship!

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

~ S.T. Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

It seems an absolute age since I’ve posted anything on here. It seems an age since I’ve wet a line. In fact, it seems an age since I’ve done anything apart from the 3 Ws – working, waiting and watching the news for any sign that Mark Drakeford will ease lockdown restrictions and allow life to trundle slowly back toward the meridian of normality here in Wales. Alas, it’s not to be.

The numbers remain high, the virus lurks at large, the media only just falling short of portraying it like King Cholera striding across the globe depicted in some malevolent form, and activities remain at a standstill, leaving us becalmed as though sat on Coleridge’s ‘painted ship’. I tell you something – if a bloody albatross did happen to cross my path now, I might have a cast at it from the garden, just to give me something to do! Daily messages inform me that Dai is in exactly the same boat along with, I dare say, a large chunk of the population.

But the gear waits on in the shed, cleaned, mended (where necessary) and ready for the start gun. Unlike England, here in Wales we’re not allowed to drive for recreation, so although I live reasonably close to the beach, it’s far enough to make the walk there loaded down with all the gear, dressed in the appropriate clothing, a back-breaking invite to becoming bedridden for a month! There are those who are risking it, taking their fines, doing exactly what they want and sticking two fingers up at the rest of us, but I’m not of a mind with those idiots. While they look after number one, the horizon of COVID-free life is pushed further and further away for the rest of us. May they forever suffer the indignities of crack-offs, birds-nests and blank sessions, their fishing lives as cursed as that of the ancient mariner himself.

That’s enough ranting for now.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to be patient, work on my jigsaws, continue to write and enjoy the odd bottle of wine or three with my lovely lady, biding my time until I can hit the beaches again. By that time we should start seeing the rays, a few bass and flounders and, perhaps even an early hound or two. Tonight, I’ll raise a glass to that.

Stay safe and tight lines (when you do manage to get out!)

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On Paper

I am good-looking in a slightly unusual, rugged kind of way. I am witty and cultured, well-dressed, look good in almost anything, and am in reasonably good shape considering that forty will be my next major birthday.

I’d like to believe that all of the above are accurate, but the truth is that the only thing I really look good in is the dark, and I’m a balding, slightly pudgy and rather conservative bore for most of the time.

The rest of the time I’m asleep.

The realities of life and those things we wish to be the realities of life seldom coincide unless you are very lucky or blessed, leaving a slight rift between the two. In some cases, this might lead us to bend the truth slightly or exaggerate some qualities: maybe that dating website application form has you a couple of inches taller than you really are, or the job application form suggests that you are somewhat more talented with languages and musical instruments than might be true.

In other cases, though, it can lead us to become somewhat blind to the failings or inadequacies of something or someone, a kind of misplaced idea of what we think they should be rather than what they really are. This is cited as a common mistake amongst novice anglers – the desire to fish for what they hope is there rather than what is actually swimming about in front of them, hurling monstrous cod baits out to shoals of whiting until they are frustratingly and consistently whittled down to nothing without a single fish being caught. From personal experience I can say that this is also most definitely true about fishing marks.

I can think of one such mark that has this effect on me time and again. Were this mark personified, it would be the beach-bully, kicking sand in my sad, weak little face time and again, yet, like an idiot, I keep coming back for more with the notion that ‘it has to come good eventually’. It has to do no such bloody thing, nor is it likely to.

To date, the sum total of my catches from a dozen sessions on this beach amounts to: one flounder, one school bass, one codling and a dead dab washed up at my feet. I’ve lost count of the pounds I’ve spent on bait and petrol used to fish the venue and the hours of my life I’ve wasted upon it, standing like a useless plank of driftwood as nothing happens. At various times through those sessions I have managed to, in no particular order:

  • Fill my left boot with water
  • Fill my right boot with water
  • Fill both boots with water at the same time
  • Cracked off in three consecutive casts even though I never crack off anywhere else
  • Been stuck at the low tide line as my headlamp totally failed, leaving me to pack up and find my way back to the car, swearing and shouting in the dark
  • Hooked myself
  • Managed to find the only snag on a clean, sandy beach
  • Not realised that the retreating tide has left a very large pool, ten inches deep, in front of me, and proceeded to spend forty minutes fishing into that pool.

On paper it should be a great beach – there are a few features such as gullies and patches of slightly broken ground; the beach shelves slightly, meaning that there is deeper water at high tide, and there are numerous sources of food nearby, notably a lugworm bed. Sometimes though, that paper is best crumpled into a ball and aimed at the nearest bin, along with the last shreds of any dignity still slinging to me.
Pffffff. The air exploded from between my lips in a puff-cum-sigh. I was left pondering over the litany of past failures as, once again, the beach of death had lived up its nickname. Not a bite. Not even a sniff of a bite. As always happens in such circumstances, my mind started to lurch around like a drunkard between self-doubt, boredom and then, strangely yet creatively, naming my current angling session in a desperate attempt to inject some of the drama that the lack of bites was sucking from the hours as they passed: The Parable of the Badly Chosen Mark; The Sorrowful Tale of the Inappropriate Bait and so on.

My eyes followed my mind and began to wander, settling on the horizon, then a distant boat, some people strolling along the beach and then, finally, a piece of paper fluttering toward me on the breeze. Except that it wasn’t. The piece of paper was definitely fluttering toward me, but the breeze was blowing in the opposite direction. I watched on, curious, until slowly yet surely, a cabbage white butterfly flew up to me and then, without pause, carried on out to sea, either to end up in Devon or in the belly of a gull. Although the second option was probably the more likely by far, it never let up, flying on and out until it vanished from sight. I could have done with a little of its confidence to boost me out of my boredom.

The human ego is a very fragile thing. As any woman who’s ever cast a critical eye over a wonky shelf or a stretch of peeling wallpaper will testify, the male ego is more fragile still and yet, surprisingly, beneath that thick skin of corduroy or denim, Goretex and rubber, the angler is often the most delicate of all creatures.

“Rubbish” some will say. Others might not be quite so pleasant. “I’m not fragile at all. I don’t need to catch; everything I hook and land is just a bonus.” Fair enough. But watch an angler hit a run of blank sessions and the story soon changes; the smile begins to slip and even that upbeat mantra begins to waver a little.

And why should it waver so easily? Even now, nearing my forties, the little boy locked deep inside me still loves a bit of praise, that little pat on the head in the shape of the occasional rockling or eel that says Yep. Well done, you’re doing fine. When things are going well – when the fish are coming to the net regularly or being beached every session, all doubt is hidden beneath solid walls of bravado. But those solid walls are soon knocked down, leaving the angler feeling very exposed.

But then, would we have it any other way? Perhaps we are all, underneath, secretly a little thrilled by the idea that we may not catch anything at all, that we might test ourselves and be found wanting? After all, isn’t it moments like this that prompted Terry Carroll to search for that extra bit of distance and found the Zziplex rod brand, or those sessions in which it was almost impossible to keep a bait nailed to the sea bed that prodded Tony Caton in the direction that would eventually lead him to establish Gemini?

Sometimes we need to plough on despite not having the answers, because it’s the not knowing that moves things on, makes us think and take risks, trying those new ideas that we wouldn’t normally think of.

If the waters we fish are like the Chinese poet Li Yu’s, broken into a myriad of fractured ripples, maybe we too will find in them not doubt nor exposure, but freedom.

sunrise

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When Saturday Comes

Just a little poem I write that tries to capture the excitement that all anglers feel when a fishing session is imminent. The young boy in every angler never really grows up, they are always there, just below the surface, as enthusiastic and dream-filled as ever.

When Saturday Comes

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Slow Down, and Gorge on the “Glut of Privilege”

Venue: Rest Bay. Tuesday 28th July 2020, 9.10 p.m. – 1.30 a.m.

Weather: winds 10 mph westerly, pressure 1020mb, temp app. 14 degrees.

Tide: Hight ide of 8.2m, one tide before the lowest tide of the cycle.

Moon phase: Waxing gibbous – 61% visible.

Method: Up and over rig at longer range, two hook flapper fished at 20-80 yards, sole rig fished short

Baits: squid, bluey, sandeels, mackerel, frozen prawns, large shell-on prawns, ragworms.

The sharp-eyed amongst you, or those who are particularly attentive to detail, will have noticed that in the ‘Baits’ section above I have listed three different lots of bait. Yep, you’ve guessed it – it’s because I fished this session with three rods! Now, before some of you begin to mutter phrases like ‘greedy bugger’ at your screens or wonder why I’d be so stupid as to lug three rod/reel setups to the water’s edge, I must begin by stressing that I never usually fish with more than two rods. My body is starting to realise that it’s not twenty-one anymore, so my back will not allow me to lug any more gear than is absolutely necessary as a rule. The fact that Dai and I were to fish Rest Bay meant that we would be stepping out of the car, onto the beach and walking a minimal distance to the water’s edge compared with our epic recent yomps to the likes of Pink Bay and Morfa, so my back would be able to tolerate the extra weight.

Okay, fair enough, but why three rods at this venue? you might ask. The shortest, simplest answer is ‘Because I can.’ That’s a pretty crap explanation though, so let me elaborate a little.

I was skimming through the poetry colection Field Work by my favourite poet, Seamus Heaney, recently in preparation for teaching it to my A-Level students when the new term starts in September. In the very first poem, ttled ‘Oysters’, Heaney mentions “The…brine-stung/Glut of privilege”, an image that stopped me dead in my tracks. I’d been thinking about where and how to fish for the previous couple of days and my mind kept coming back to Rest Bay, which is far and away my favourite beach. I’ve spent years fishing it and getting to know its foibles, learning that, if you’re prepared, you can catch almost anything there, and if you’re well-prepared, you can fill your boots with species and quality of fish. I thought to myself: ‘It’s an easy venue to fish and I’m fortunate enough to be on holiday, so why don’t I take adavantage of the “glut of privilege” that the height of the summer season is putting out there, fishing for a number of different species in the same session rather than putting all my eggs into one basket?’

In professional terms, I already had one foot in Autumn as I was already planning for September, but in leisure terms it was so obviously a time for living in the moment and taking full advantage of everything it offered. In all honesty, I find it very difficult to slow down sometimes. I’m such a busy person, and I always like to have a number of irons in the fire, whether it be projects at work, professional learning or writing activities, that I often barely have time to slow down and smell the coffee that I’m chugging down relentlessly. However, the recent time away from work afforded by the pandemic has allowed a little more time to breathe and reevaluate a little, and (dare I say it?) slow down.

I’ve stocked up on plenty of reading material for those quiet evenings and lulls in my days off, of which I’m looking forward to taking full advantage;

I’ve also subscribed to Beer52, as I do enjoy a nice drop or two of craft beer. Lovely stuff when chilling out of an evening;

and finally, I’ve even found time to reinvest some time and a little money in another little hobby of mine – jigsaws. Not everyon’e cup of tea, but I really enjoy the peace, quiet and concentration of working on a good jigsaw.

I think it’s extremely important to look after your own mental health having seen and heard of a number of colleagues in my profession burning out over the years, so this slow-down is part of my ongoing plan to look after myself a bit more when we, as a scoiety, start to feel our way beyond the ‘new normal’ in which we find ourselves. Only time will tell if I’m able to stick to the plan as closely as I’d like. I certainly hope so.

So, back to the fishing. One rod, the 15fter would be fished further out with big whole prawn baits to see if there were any hounds knocking about. The 14fter would be fished a bit closer in, in that range between 50 and 80 yards, with fish baits to hunt out any rays, bass and dogfish. Finally, a shorter rod, one of the mprs, would be fishing close in with a short-snooded sole rig. I’ve had some success on them along this stretch of coast in the past, and really fancied a sole to add to the species tally for this year.

We were both at the beach early in case parking was a bit of a bunfight. This is a popular beach with picnickers, dog walkers and surfers, so the odds were that it was going to be busy. As it was, we were okay and ambled onto the beach to take our time setting up while it was still light as we would have to wait for the surfers and swimmers to scarper anyway. Why is it, though, that even when there’s loads of free space available on the beach, they still decide to get into the water right in front of ayone with a fishing rod? Frustrating isn’t the word.

It was a beautiful evening,

Even this picture doesn’t do it justice.

but I was glad I’d layered up as the wind was blowing a hoolie when we arrived. I’d had a minor disaster when getting ready earlier in the day when I discovered that I’d forgotten about the soaking wet, fishy fingerstall I’d left in the kangaroo pocket on the fromt of my smock, and which had now caused a prodigious growth of mould across the front of it. Superb. To be fair, I’d have been gagging all night even if I’d given it a wipe down,so into the washing machine it went. I’d have to go with a fleece and hope it didn’t rain. As it was, I needn’t have worried, and I was more than comfortable all night. Entertainment whilst setting up was provided by a guy we eventually christened ‘Keggers’, for reasons that should explain themselves shortly. This guy spent a good 45 minutes dressed in shorts that looked like they’d been swiped from Daley Thompson’s washing line, sprinting down the beach intermittently when not doing a strange little shuffle and dragging his heel through the sand.

Dai and I had a good chuckle at this and were sorry to see him go…that was until he returned from his car in a tiny pair of budgie smugglers!

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Words are simply not required

At one point I genuinely thought one of us would wet ourselves laughing!

Anyway, we were soon off and fishing. I was off to a quicker start this week, taking the first fish after only twenty minutes on the short rod intended for soles. Dai and I were convinced it was a bass by the way it took off, but it turned out to be a small-eyed of around 3lb that utterly nailed a ragworm bait. Cracking start!

Things didn’t carry on at that pace unfortunately, and I ended up working my way through the fish at a rate of around one per hour. Neither of us minded though, as we had a beautiful sunset to the west

whilst simultaneously watching a lovely gibbous moon rising to the east,

allowing Dai to take some cracking photos. He’s got a seriously good eye for a photo as, incidentally, has his youngest boy, Zac. I’ll have to ask Dai if Zac doesn’t mind sharing some of his photographs on here one day and I’ll dedicate a post to their shots. They really are cracking and well worth a look.

Anyway, the next fish came around an hour later in the shape of a schoolie bass, again on the sole rig.

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Those short, weighted 4 inch snoods really were doing the business in the busy surf, allowing the fish to home in on the baits without them flapping around wildly in the changeable tidal movement. I was also surprised when I realised that this bass was my first this year, though it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise when you consider that many of my prime months for catching a few bass in the surf have been a no-go due to COVID. Still, it was nice to get another for the year’s species tally which has now crept into double figures.

We were pushed up onto the rocks at the top of the beach as the tide pressed on toward high. It’s mad to think that, a few years back, a lot of this was covered in sand, but one big winter storm changed all that and the beach has never been the same since. It used to be a cracking beach to fish over high but I rarely fish it in this way now due to the changes. Despite this exploratory high water session I still tend to favour fishing here over low and continue to do so.

I retired the ‘long range’ rod at this point as I hadn’t had so much as a tickle on the big prawn baits, preferring to persevere with the shorter range rigs in the surf. This paid off around another hour later with the biggest fish of the night – another small-eyed of 3.5 – 4lb, this time on the flapper rig fished at mid range for the rays.

At least this tactic had actually hit the target. And finally, another hour later, I landed the smallest, cutest ray I’ve ever seen! It was so small I could actually see my hand through the edges of its wings!

That was all she wrote.

Unfortunately, Dai couldn’t seem to buy a bite in this session. Looking at the notes, the ultra-short snoods of that sole rig really made the difference tonight, and perhaps could have been the reason behind his blank (which, by his own admission, he had tempted during our last session by boldly announcing “We haven’t had a proper blank in ages!”) Never tempt the fishing gods, mate!

Anyway, I didn’t rib him too much as we were both knackered and more than ready for our beds. I packed the car, began the pootle home and thought that whilst it wasn’t a case of feasting on the summer glut as I’d originally hoped, it was, at least, not a famine. There’s always next time to get amongst ’em again!

Tight lines,

Si

Summary

9.10 – first cast

9.30 – 3lb small-eyed ray taken on ragworms on bottom hook of sole rig.

10.40 – 1lb school bass taken on top hook of sole rig on ragworms.

11.45 – 4lb small-eyed ray taken on bottom hook of mid-range flapper on sandeel/razor clam combo.

12.45 – baby small-eyed ray taken on bottom hook of sole rig on ragworms.

1.30 – end of session

FISH TOTALS FOR 2020

Number of fish – 49 (1 bass, 3 conger eels, 1 dab, 7 dogfish, 1 flounder, 2 huss, 7 small-eyed rays, 3 smoothhounds, 1 tope, 27 whiting)
Number of species – 10

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Living Figuratively

In our post-COVID world the media hacks and journos desperately scramble for the most apt metaphors and similes to frame the global experience and the ways in which we have to reshape our lives. They come easily at the moment: metaphors seem to be everywhere we look, as things appear to be working the other way around – the recent pandemic appears to be framing the global experiences that emerge from it – the local river in spate carrying the muddy waters of confusion; the river vegetation flattened by that spate perhaps representing some hackneyed view of humanity, bending but not broken, and so on…

but from all the chaos, confusion, fear and media hyperbole have sprung two very contradictory yet appropriate words in one simple phrase: ‘new normal‘.

Weirdly, I am perfectly calm and level amongst all of this. That isn’t to say that I’m some zen-draped centre of peace or a guru of calmness; in fact, it’s only due to my simple outlook on life that I feel this way, because I’ve been in this state before. We all have, and we all will be, in every season of every year to come.

Come the end of every March, just as COVID was locking down the country, and indeed the world, Spring arrived suddenly once again from amongst the cool mornings and drizzly days, swithering like a chameleon between its noun form and its verb form. With that change came all the connotations it carried – springing the trap of winter, having been sprung from whatever dark, wintry cell had constrained it for so long until it arrived again finally at our doors, across our fields and hills, in our gardens and running through our rivers and streams on its journey to the depths of our seas.

Strangely though, all that newness always seems somehow balanced by a lingering sense of déjà vu and familiarity, a strange feeling akin to seeing the face of a work colleague every day yet not being able to recall with any certainty the colour of their eyes.

After the privations of winter, everyone talks about spring and summer as being ‘new’, the world ‘renewed’ again, but although all things bright and beautiful might be poking their way to the surface once more in shiny green freshness, when it happens year after year I can’t help but feel I’ve seen it all before.

With the arrival of spring I usually take my first proper walk of the year around Mynydd Dinas, and on reaching the far side of the hill am immediately transported into a living simile. The dirt track that rings the hill has a smooth, beaten look to it where others have beaten me to it and followed it into the tunnel of overhanging trees, already thickening with bright new green foliage; and that track itself could have been any number of tracks locked deep within the memories of mind and muscle, memories that slid, shiny and bum-beaten down into brambly hidey-holes that in turn resembled setts or rabbit runs, the hiding places of younger days.

As is often the case, where nature comes up with a design, mankind will often follow. Over on Mynydd Emroch, a set of four wind turbines now stand, windflower-white, against the sky. Their heads spin in the breeze, turning to follow the direction of the wind, and it would almost be possible to believe the presence within them of “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower,” as Dylan Thomas put it, if only we could, for a moment, forget that all those internal workings, the bearings and cogs and wiring, that create this illusion of life.

It’s easy to see the world so figuratively and, often, thus is probably far more desirable than to look at it in a literal sense, especially when we are confronted by tragedy and turmoil as we have been recently. There are issues and concerns aplenty in the literal world, and I spend enough time there on a day-to-day basis anyway. Even now, nearing my forties, when I step out of the front door on a spring morning or an autumn evening, there are so often echoes of all those great childhood books I read and loved: ‘Watership Down’, ‘The Wind in the Willows’, ‘Swallows and Amazons’, ‘Brendon Chase’, ‘Tom Sawyer’, all the books I’ve now done my best to introduce to my own daughter in the hope that she too will often find herself carried along by life’s great narrative.

So what is the point of all this ruminating? I hear you ask. Well, I suppose the point is that new normal is not new at all. There is no such thing as ‘normal’, in fact, only variations on what we know and see and feel and remember. Things change all the time, are always in flux, and those same things will turn out alright in the end. They always do, and when they do, they will carry with them all those echoes of the past and all the promise of the future.

This was at the forefront of my mind as the school term, with its unfamiliar format in very familiar surroundings, petered out on Friday 17th July 2020. The lifting of lockdown restrictions meant that Dai and I were finally able to travel to a beach other than Morfa, and so it was that Pink Bay was chosen.

Venue: Pink Bay. Friday 17th July 2020, 8.40 p.m. – 12.40 p.m.

Weather: winds 13 mph south-westerly, pressure 1021mb, temp app. 15 degrees.

Tide: Low of 2.7m at 3.33 a.m. on a 8.2m high tide – two days after lowest tide of the cycle.

Moon phase: Waning crescent – 11% visible.

Method: Up and over rig at longer range, two hook flapper fished at 20-80 yards.

Baits: squid, bluey, sandeels, mackerel, frozen prawns, large shell-on prawns.

To begin with, Dai was exhausted due to the 5 o’clock starts that had been foisted on him by the Welsh Government’s woolly decision to open schools for the last few weeks of term whilst leaving the logistics largely up to schools themselves. Weeks of marking out, lugging around, socially distancing classrooms and sanitising everything with or without a pulse in his immediate vicinty had Dai reaching for the spinning tackle rather than the beach gear, as a yomp to the beach loaded wih all his beach accoutrements would have half-killed him. He did, though, bring his bass rod, as I have an extra Ian Golds rod holder screwed onto the leg of my tripod,

ian_golds_tripod_leg_accessory

Handy little things they are.

so if it all went belly-up with the lures at least he’d be able to fish a bait.

In fairness, in his position I’d have wanted to fish the lures too, not just because he was knackered but because he’d had a spot of luck, winning some brand new Drift shads in a competiton held by the Saltwater Angler Youtube fishing channel.

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Very nice indeed. Can see us picking up a few with these!

If you haven’t seen him before, check him out here:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC5yhWLI0197vZ8flF6jvNTQ

Well worth a watch in those slack periods between sessions. Dai obviously wanted to try out his windfall and brought some of them along to the session, kindly giving me a pack for my tackle box. To be fair, they look like cracking bits of kit and will be a very handy addition to the lure bag the next time we’re out together on the artificials!

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You don’t even want to know how long it took us to get him into those bloody waders!

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If I were a fish, I’d eat it. But then, I’d probably be one of those cod with a huge belly, so that’s no surprise.

Anyway, down to the nitty gritty. I pootled to the water’s edge, got set up and cut some bait ready to fish while Dai wandered off with the lure rod to flick a shad around in the surf. Despite the small tide, conditions looked really fishy and I thought we were well on for it, but the hoped-for fishfest didn’t really start in earnest until an hour and a half after I’d started, with a bootlace conger eel, taken at range on a big bluey and prawn cocktail.

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Slimy bugger. Better than a blank though!

After this first fish I had an inkling of which way things would go, as we’d had a similar session around the same time last year (also written up in the archives of this blog) and so it was to prove with a bigger strap conger of around the 2lb mark just over ten minutes later.

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A hideous creature – holding an eel.

The fish gave a good account of itself, so I was slightly surprised to see how small it actually was when it hit the beach. I wasn’t complaining though – fish are fish after all. No fancy metaphors there, just a blank session avoided.

I managed a little variety twenty minutes after this with a dogfish. Dai helped me unhook the pesky bugger as he had the forceps clipped to his smock, and it’s a good job he did. As he was returning it to the water for me he checked the nasal flaps and this diminutive “doggie” turned out to be a baby huss – another species for the year’s tally! Happy days! Considering he was so knackered, he turned out to be the most alert out of the pair of us!

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Another species for the year. Get in there!

Another strap soon followed as Dai tackle up the bass rod to get in on the increasing action. The fish had all come at range so far, so he wasn’t hopeful of being able to reach them wth just the little bass rod. However, with just a little thumb nail sized chunk of mackerel flicked out no more than twenty five yards or so, Dai’s rod hooped over as something abslutely nailed the bait and took line from the reel. We both thought bass, as you would, but neither of us was disappointed to see a lovely small-eyed ray slip up the sand, the best fish of the night at 6lb 2oz. It just shows that you’ve got to be in it to win it! Well done mate!

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Lovely. No, not him – he’s a bloody yeti! Cracking fish, mate!

Another little huss for me rounded the session off and we called it a night for the long walk back to the cars, our chatter making the journey seem much shorter than it actually was despite our tiredness, and stopping only when Dai spoted a little common lizard on the sand path and helped him on his way into the verge.

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So there it was – nothing new. In fact, a very similar story to last year, with me taking a few eels and Dai taking the one big fish of the night, making this session something of a simile for its predecessor.

As I said at the start of this post, things come back around; they always do.

Tight lines,

Si

Summary

8.40 – first cast

10.18 – bootlace conger eel on range rod, taken on bluey and prawn cocktail.

10.30 – 2lb strap conger taken as above, on bluey and prawn combo.

10.50 – baby huss taken at range on mackerel bait.

10.55 – 1.5lb strap conger eel taken on bottom hook of flapper rig on prawn bait.

11.25 – Dai took a 6lb 2oz small-eyed ray very close in on a small chunk of mackerel.

11.35 – baby huss taken on the range rod on prawn bait.

12.40 – session ended.

FISH TOTALS FOR 2020
Number of fish – 49 (3 conger eels, 1 dab, 7 dogfish, 1 flounder, 2 huss, 4 small-eyed rays, 3 smoothhounds, 1 tope, 27 whiting)
Number of species – 9

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Life Lessons from Mr. Antisocial

Venue: Aberavon beach. Thursday 24th June 2020, 1.15 a.m. – 5.40 a.m.

Weather: winds 7 mph north-easterly, pressure 1017mb, temp app. 18 degrees.

Tide: Low of 1.9m at 3.33 a.m. on a 8.9m high tide – four days beforethe lowest tide of the cycle.

Moon phase: Waxing crescent – 12.5% visible.

Method: Up and over rig at longer range, two hook flapper fished at 20-80 yards.

Baits:  squid, bluey, sandeels, mackerel, frozen prawns, large shell-on prawns.

 

Well, whilst beavering away at the laptop on Wednesday 24th June, I received the call to arms – we’re going back to school! Going by Welsh government guidelines we should have been going back on Monday 29th, but due to some work needed on site, staff will return on 30th June in readiness for the return of some of the kids on 6th July, though my daughter won’t be among them. She’s actually working really well, and is in an established routine with this online work pattern, so it would be more disruptive for her to go back for a couple of days in an environment that doesn’t even begin to resemble the one she left in March.

Anyway, enough of that for now. The looming return date meant that I really had to get my skates on sharpish if I was to squeeze a last session in before getting back to school, so this tide looked bang-on. It had to be an early tide because I knew that if I fished any later in the day the beach would be packed with crazies basking in the sunshine that we’ve been baking under recently. By fishing the early tide I could hopefully get in, catch a few decent fish and get back out again before the madness commenced. Dai couldn’t make it due to his being back on 5 o’clock starts as a school caretaker, so this was going to be a solo mission.

After two hours sleep I was up with the alarm, packed up and away to the beach, keen to get going and make the most of my time. On arriving at the beach it became clear that getting up at this ungodly hour had been the right choice – just one look at the bin on the promenade in front of where I parked confirmed what kind of day it had been the day before, and suggested even worse to come with even hotter weather on the cards. This was going to need to be a smash ‘n’ grab session – get in, get some fish and get out of there!

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I’m so glad I got away before this got going again!

As an aside, although I was encouraged to see the rubbish next to the bin rather than strewn along the beach, I did wonder at the sheer amount of crap we humans can generate. I used to take bin bags with me on veery session, pick up any rubbish around my immediate fishing area and leave them by the nearest bins before going home, but I had to stop as it was taking an inordinate amount of time and a few trips back and forth just to get it all off the beach! Gosd help us if this is how we choose to continue as a species.

It was a beautiful night/morning, and I spent much of it in short sleeves after getting the first casts away and settling in for the session. 

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And away we go!

I was hoping that the hounds were going to make an appearance so, with this in mind, I dedictaed one of my two rods to fishing lovely big, shell-on prawn baits mounted on hefty hooks to hols them properly in the tide. They looked good enough to eat and I was sure that any half-decent ound that passed by wouldn’t be able to resist snaffling them up.

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Look at that! Absolutely cracking!

The session didn’t get off to the blistering start I’d hoped for, and despite those impressive prawn baits wafting around at range, the first fish fell to the flapper rod about half an hour into the session – a small-eyed ray of around 2lb that took a little chunk of bluey wrapped with squid.

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A pristine little 2lber slinks up the sand.

 

Things went quiet for half an hour until a clonking bite walloped the flapper rod over as I was rebaiting the longer range rod. Something had smashed the straight sandeel bait, and it turned out to be another small-eyed, this one slightly bigger at around the 3lb mark.

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They’re getting bigger!

Now, I’d like to take a moment away from the rays to share with you a little wisdom I’ve managed to glean from the storehouse of life’s experiences, and that is this: there are actually three certainties in life – death, taxes and dogfish. Yep, wherever there is water and a chunk of fish dangling in it, there will be a dogfish lurking somewhere nearby. I proved this universal truth by snaring one on the flapper about a quarter of an hour later.

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As sure as eggs is eggs…

Things then went quiet for an hour or so as the tide trundled down toward low. No problem, I thought. Let’s just take a chance to prep some baits and have a quick coffee. Here, good gentlefolk, is the second lesson of today’s session: of all the fish, shellfish, worms and lures that have ever been lobbed seaward in the hope of snaring a fish or two, none of them, and I mean none, not a single one, is as effective at drawing in fish as a freshly poured cup of coffee. Having trundled everything down to the water’s edge and cutting and prepping baits, I had just sat my fuzzy derriere down with a steaming mug of Colombia’s finest when the range rod donked over. Could it be? Finally?! Nope. Just another one of life’s little certainties whacking my carefully prepared prawn down its greedy gullet.

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Gutsy git – that’s not meant for you!!!

It then went quiet again, with only another dogfish to the flapper and a missed bite on the range rod to punctuate the stillness, so I spent some time just looking around and taking everything in. ‘Twas a byootiful morning, as I said, and as dawn started to break,

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Oooh, so priddy

I noticed that there were a few more anglers further down the beach, near to where some ASBO fodder had been squatting around a campfire in the dunes. I was very happy to be Mr. Antisocial, staying well away down the beach from all of it.

Despite the quiet, I decided to stick it out until closer to six o’ clock just in case I wouldn’t be able to get out again for a while, and was rewarded for my perseverence with a hound at last! Well, a baby hound. Still counts though. It was actually part of a hound/ray double shot which Dai (enviously replying to my early Whatsapp from work) pointed out was becoming something of a trademark for me!

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The ‘Smith double-shot’. I should copyright this and make it into a logo!

All I have to do now is up the sizes of the double shots so that the fish are over ten pounds! Yeah, right…

Sadly, that was to be it for the fishing, but I couldn’t be too disappointed. Three species, seven fish and a beautiful sunrise…

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There are no words. Just look at it.

As I packed up I watched the wind turbines whirring up in the hills and the town starting to come to life feeling very thankful once again for everything – the fact that I do this and get to see such things, the fact that I have a beautiful wife, wonderful daughter and lovely home to go to, and a job that I relly do enjoy waiting for me in the wings. Life is good, people, so be content and take the simple pleasure where you can.

Here endeth today’s lesson.

Tight lines,

Si

Summary

4.30 – first cast

1.45 – 2lb small-eyed ray on top hook of wessex rig on bluey and squid.

2.15 – 3lb small-eyed caught on sandeel on top hook of wessex rig.

2.28 – Dogfish on top hook of wessex rig on sandeel and mackerel strip cocktail.

3.30 – dogfish on whole prawn at range on up and over rig.

4.00 – dogfish on top hook of flapper on mackerel/squid cocktail.

4.56 – double shot of baby hound on top hook and 1lb small-eyed ray on bottom hook of flapper. Both taken on sandeel tipped with dangling squid strip.

5.40 – session ended.

FISH TOTALS FOR 2020
Number of fish – 44 (1 dab, 7 dogfish, 1 flounder, 4 small-eyed rays, 3 smoothhounds, 1 tope, 27 whiting)
Number of species – 7

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