Calm be­fore the storm

A small win­dow in the Bristol Chan­nel weather pro­duces a suc­cess­ful cod ses­sion be­fore Storm Frank hits hard

Sea Angler (UK) - - Contents - Words and pho­tog­ra­phy by dave Lewis

Dave Lewis sam­ples some cod sport.

By Christ­mas I had all but given up hope of get­ting afloat for a mid-winter cod ses­sion in the Bristol Chan­nel. For many weeks a near con­tin­u­ous suc­ces­sion of At­lantic low pres­sure sys­tems had tracked across the ocean and headed di­rectly to­wards the Bri­tish Isles, each one de­liv­er­ing strong to gale-force winds and tor­ren­tial rain.

Ev­ery time I had tried to go fish­ing the trip had been aborted, and I had long passed the point where I would try to plan an­other at­tempt by pick­ing out a suit­able tide and or­der­ing fresh bait.

What I needed was a break in the weather; I needed a brief slot of fine and set­tled con­di­tions long enough to get out and soak a few baits. Then, in the week be­tween Christ­mas and New Year I spot­ted what looked like the open­ing I’d been wait­ing for.

Im­me­di­ately, I got on the phone to skip­per Rob Ren­nie, owner of the im­mac­u­lately main­tained Off­shore 24 called Lady Jue 4, which op­er­ates out of Pe­narth. Rob con­firmed that he, too, had seen the break com­ing, the prob­lem was it was the one day of the week when he was not able to fish. So that was that…or so I thought.

Within an hour of putting down the phone, Rob rang me. It was good news; he had resched­uled an ar­range­ment, con­tacted one of his reg­u­lar crews and had or­dered the bait. Was I still keen for a day of cod fish­ing? Of course, the an­swer was yes.


A few days later we slipped out of Cardiff Bay Bar­rage lock gates a lit­tle after seven in the morn­ing. When we cleared the Wrach Chan­nel, we turned to port and headed at high speed across a flat sea to­wards the fa­bled up­per chan­nel winter cod grounds above the English and Welsh Buoy, an­chor­ing over a mark south of the Mid­dle Grounds sand­bank.

I can clearly re­mem­ber the first day I fished this once hugely pro­duc­tive deep­wa­ter, mid-chan­nel mark; it was around 25 years ago with an­other Pe­narth skip­per, Tony Busby, aboard his Off­shore 105 called Chan­nel War­rior, and on that mem­o­rable day we caught huge num­bers of cod be­tween 8-15lb. The ac­tion had been near con­stant, and the ar­ti­cle that fol­lowed in this magazine cer­tainly helped make the name of this lit­tle-fished area of the chan­nel.

How­ever, that was back in the early 1990s, the glory days of Bristol Chan­nel cod fish­ing, and there is no dress­ing up the fact that the mag­nif­i­cent fish­ing we en­joyed each au­tumn and winter for many years has long gone.

That said, Bristol Chan­nel cod fish­ing to­day is not all doom and gloom, far from it. In re­cent years num­bers of fish have shown

signs of mak­ing a come­back, with rea­son­able num­bers of both codling and bet­ter-sized cod, in­clud­ing one or two 20-pounders, show­ing on many days.

My ob­ser­va­tion is that each year the peak of the sea­son seems to be get­ting later and later, and that through­out the sea­son we get var­i­ous high points when fish are more abun­dant, fol­lowed by leaner troughs.

The key to suc­cess to­day is to keep your ear to the ground and to keep in touch with good proac­tive skip­pers, such as Rob Ren­nie. Then, when the fish­ing does start to spike, do your ab­so­lute ut­most to get afloat as soon as pos­si­ble.


Con­di­tions were ideal, even the sun made an all too rare ap­pear­ance over the eastern hori­zon beyond Bristol. Clearly, the word had got out that a few fish were around be­cause half-a-dozen boats were al­ready an­chored and fish­ing.

How­ever, with var­i­ous weather chan­nels pre­dict­ing that Storm Frank would be hit­ting the west of the coun­try later that evening, bring­ing with it gusts of wind up to 60mph, we knew we had just the briefest respite from bad weather to en­joy.

It is a well-known fact that through­out the up­per reaches of the Bristol Chan­nel, the best fish­ing in­vari­ably co­in­cides with an ebbing tide. As the an­chor took hold, we l had just over an hour of the flood tide re­main­ing to fish un­til, fol­low­ing a brief pe­riod of slack water, the tide would turn and start to run out to to­wards the west.

No­body aboard Lady Jue 4 re­ally ex­pected too much to hap­pen un­til then. A big fish can come at any­time you have bait in the water, though, and we soon heard that a su­perb 20lb 4oz cod had just been caught aboard a pri­vate boat fish­ing just astern of us.

Our crew of six were ex­pe­ri­enced an­glers who had trav­elled to Pe­narth from Swansea for the day. This, in it­self, is a sign of the chang­ing sea­sons in the Bristol Chan­nel; it wasn’t that many years ago that the ab­so­lute pin­na­cle of the cod sea­son at Swansea Bay was through­out the Christ­mas and New Year Pe­riod.

One thing was for sure; if fish were present, we were go­ing to catch them. We had an ex­cel­lent se­lec­tion of the very best cod baits, in­clud­ing both black and blow lug, along with frozen squid and cut­tle­fish. As is usual when fish­ing the fast-flow­ing, heav­ily-coloured wa­ters of the up­per reaches of the Chan­nel, al­most ev­ery­one chose to fish up­tide, us­ing a big bait to en­sure the strong­est pos­si­ble scent trail, and if we had to wait a while for the first bites of the day, then so be it.


As things turned out, the first fish were boated al­most as soon as we started fish­ing. First off, we had a run of whit­ing, and then, as the tide eased, we caught sev­eral strap con­ger eels up to around 14-15lb.

Just why the Bristol Chan­nel has such a healthy pop­u­la­tion of congers has al­ways been some­thing of a mystery to me. For the most part, you are fish­ing clean, open,

“Clearly, the word had got out that a few fish were around be­cause half-a-dozen boats were al­ready an­chored and fish­ing”

rel­a­tively fea­ture­less ground con­sist­ing of sand, mud and peat, rather than the rough ground, reefs or wrecks associated with this species, yet for most of the year congers are one of the area’s most abun­dant species.

As high water passed and the first of the ebb started to run, quickly de­vel­op­ing into the fast-run­ning tor­rent the area is noted for, all eyes con­cen­trated on the rods. We were wait­ing for the first tell­tale dou­ble nod of a rod tip, fol­lowed by the char­ac­ter­is­tic slack line as a de­cent cod en­gulfed a bait and made off with the tide, break­ing the grip weight free from the bot­tom in the process.

First to hook a fish was Sean Wood, and, due to the healthy bend and rhyth­mic nod­ding in his up­tider, we could see it was a de­cent fish. Ever so slowly Sean worked his fish to­wards the boat, Rob wait­ing with his land­ing net for it to emerge from the choco­late-coloured water.

The key when play­ing fish in a very strong tide is to take your time. The im­mense flow of water puts con­sid­er­ably more strain on ev­ery com­po­nent of your ter­mi­nal tackle than an un­aided fish ever could. Try to rush mat­ters and it is likely you will rip out or straighten the hook, or snap the line. Sean knew what he was do­ing, though, and a lit­tle over five min­utes later Rob hoisted an im­mac­u­lately con­di­tioned eight-pounder over the gun­nels.

Next to re­quire Rob’s net­ting ser­vice was Lee Dav­i­son, who boated an­other fish of sim­i­lar size. Word on the ra­dio con­firmed that the rest of the an­glers fish­ing on boats around us were also start­ing to catch fish at a steady rate.

All too soon it was time to start the en­gine and run back to Pe­narth. By now the last of the ebbing tide was be­ing op­posed by a rapidly fresh­en­ing south-westerly wind, the fore­run­ner of Storm Frank.

Lady Jue 4 would cer­tainly be con­fined to her berth for at least two or three days. Hope­fully, after that an­other win­dow of op­por­tu­nity might give an­other crew the chance to catch some prime winter cod.

Take your time when play­ing fish in a very strong tide

Skip­per Rob Ren­nie with Sean’s first

cod of the trip

Lee Dav­i­son with an­other prime cod

of around 8lb

Our ex­cel­lent se­lec­tion of cod baits in­cluded squid (top), lug (cen­tre) and cut­tle­fish (above)

To book a trip with Rob Ren­nie aboard Lady Jue 4, tel: 07831 805100 or email: cus­tom­char­ter

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