Mar­vel­lous Mine­head

What’s on of­fer at hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion.

Sea Angler (UK) - - CONTENTS -

The sea­side town of Mine­head, nes­tled in ru­ral west Som­er­set, is a pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion for fam­i­lies hol­i­day­ing in sum­mer. With its idyl­lic har­bour dat­ing back to the 1300s, a fully op­er­a­tional steam rail­way and its close prox­im­ity to the Ex­moor Na­tional Park, it is lit­tle won­der peo­ple flock here ev­ery year.

But for those in the fam­ily seek­ing to wet a line dur­ing their time away, there re­ally is no finer place to fish. With a bustling char­ter fleet, not to men­tion a tackle shop run by an ac­com­plished shore fish­ing guide, there re­ally is no ex­cuse to leave the rods at home. Those wish­ing to get afloat can en­joy a mixed bag of fish in sum­mer, but here my fo­cus is on shore sport, and, in par­tic­u­lar, ray fish­ing.

I’m sure that the word is out re­gard­ing the phe­nom­e­nal thorn­back ray fish­ing in the up­per reaches of the Bris­tol Chan­nel, but those chanc­ing their luck in the clearer wa­ters found at Mine­head and be­yond may ap­pre­ci­ate a few point­ers on how to get the best from these stun­ning venues.


One such an­gler is Ian Slater, who re­cently con­tacted me with a view to tar­get­ing a small-eyed ray. If his re­quest had been for a thorn­back, then venues are ten a penny, but to fo­cus on the other species of rays found here in the chan­nel, you do need to be a lit­tle more se­lec­tive with your venue choice.

His­tor­i­cally, small-eyed, spot­ted and blonde rays ap­pear from April, which is the same time that dog­fish ar­rive. There is noth­ing more frus­trat­ing than try­ing to present a sandeel bait for a ray only for a dog­fish to grab it within sec­onds. For this rea­son, I will usu­ally leave Mine­head alone for a cou­ple of months.

Ray num­bers re­main steady through­out the sum­mer with the small-eyed and spot­ted va­ri­eties the most likely to find your bait. To­wards the back end of the year, the fish will still be in res­i­dence, but many an­glers have other fish on their minds. As a re­sult, Mine­head’s true ray po­ten­tial is not re­alised to­wards the back end of the year.


Ian’s tackle was per­fect for the job in hand – a pair of 13ft beach­cast­ers matched to high-speed reels that will hold enough 20lb main­line.

The ground con­sists of boul­ders and patches of un­du­lat­ing sand. Early on in the tide, it is es­sen­tial to winch the end tackle up off the seabed in quick time to avoid it snag­ging when it meets with the boul­ders.

Ian’s reel is the pop­u­lar Daiwa Saltist BG20, which is ideal for fish­ing over heavy ground, but to­wards the end our ses­sion he did bor­row a Daiwa Saltiga model, as good as it gets when wet­ting a line in this area.

Last year I would've been all over the pul­ley rig, but hav­ing ex­per­i­mented a lit­tle over the last few months, I now favour the drop-down pul­ley. It’s noth­ing new, but the en­tire con­cept of the free-run­ning hook trace slid­ing down the body of the rig seems en­tirely im­prob­a­ble. Water pres­sure on im­pact, not to men­tion the tide push­ing a ridicu­lous bow in to the main­line, would all point to­wards the trace re­main­ing at the top of the rig. I can’t for the life of me see how the trace is sup­pos­edly pre­sented hard on the seabed and per­haps it is not, but it cer­tainly catches fish!

A Pen­nell rig con­sist­ing of a size 4/0 Vari­vas Big Mouth Xtra as the main hook and a 3/0 Chinu to sit above the bait seems to be the per­fect com­bi­na­tion. I wouldn’t drop be­low an 80lb hook snood. The like­li­hood of a large con­ger stray­ing across the sand in search of small fish be­comes in­creas­ingly favourable as the year moves on and to stand half a chance of land­ing such a fish, a heavy snood should be used to com­bat those jaws.

Mine­head is sub­ject to a pow­er­ful lat­eral tide, es­pe­cially dur­ing the flood, so a wired lead of at least 6oz is rec­om­mended. Cast­ing on to sand with a wired lead when the tide is hurtling through can all too of­ten see the lead weight bounce out of the bot­tom. If the bait is not held firmly in place on the seabed, you have next to no chance of catch­ing a ray.

Shop-bought sinkers are fine for the most part, but it is wise to re­place wires with longer and thicker 16-gauge wire that will re­ally take hold and dig in when it hits the sandy bot­tom. Many an­glers are now adopt­ing styles of weight that con­tain a bait clip too. Not only do these cut down on the time it takes to con­struct a rig, but also en­sure there are min­i­mal com­po­nents to po­ten­tially find a snag too.


There is re­ally only one bait when it comes to catch­ing rays on the Bris­tol Chan­nel and that is a sandeel. A cou­ple of packs of large blast­frozen eels will last a ses­sion. They should be stored in a cool bag dur­ing the sum­mer to en­sure they are in tip-top con­di­tion.

Cut off the head and tail, nick the lead­ing hook of the trace at the head end and, hold­ing the eel along­side the shank of the hook, whip it in place with fine bait elas­tic.

A fur­ther strip of squid or mack­erel can be added to the sandeel.

“If the bait is not held firmly on the seabed you have next to no chance of a ray”


Some time passed be­fore this hap­pened again, but this time the line fell slack and the tip straight­ened.

With a curve in his rod, Ian set about pump­ing what seemed to be a good fish back to shore and shortly af­ter­wards I pre­sented a beau­ti­ful small-eyed ray to him. Mis­sion ac­com­plished. Hav­ing briefed Ian in some de­tail re­gard­ing the venue, the tackle re­quire­ments and our gen­eral ap­proach, it was time to put the the­ory into prac­tice.

Af­ter a 20-minute slog across the boul­ders, we ar­rived at our mark some two hours be­fore low water, the­o­ret­i­cally a per­fect time, and tack­led up on a freshly-ex­posed patch of sand.

Af­ter wet­ting the new line on his reel to en­sure it had bed­ded in suf­fi­ciently, Ian clipped on a baited trace and cast it sea­ward. Fish are caught at both short and long range, so with Ian’s bait some­where in be­tween, I was con­fi­dent that he was in the zone.

Twenty min­utes later, Ian re­trieved the tackle and I was fairly sure that a dog­fish might have been pulled through the shal­lows but sur­pris­ingly, his bait was per­fectly in­tact.

This was a good sign. A lack of dog­fish means a bait can be left for a longer pe­riod of time, giv­ing a ray a far bet­ter chance of find­ing it.

Sure enough, some 30 min­utes later and only on his sec­ond cast, Ian’s rod sig­nalled the pres­ence of a fish as the rod tip gave a very pro­nounced pull.

Mine­head is a good venue for catch­ing rays

Words and pho­tog­ra­phy by Jansen Teakle

Ian waits for a bite on his 13ft beach­cast­ers

Sev­eral packs of sandeels will be enough

The pop­u­lar Daiwa Saltist BG 20

The Daiwa Saltiga is ideal

Sandeel and squid on a Pen­nell rig

Rays are caught at both short and long range

Ex­pect to catch small-eyed rays in sum­mer

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