It was meant to be all about catching specimen thornback rays, but the fish had other ideas…
Andy Webb checks out Brean Down.
With tides dropping down from the springs to neaps I decided to head to the Bristol Channel with Sea Angling Adventures’ light-line expert Lee Treeby to target a few thornback rays.
Having the second-fastest tidal flow in the world, this waterway, once famed for its cod fishing, can produce some fantastic sea angling.
Our chosen venue was Brean Down, in Somerset. Located on the south side of Weston-super-Mare, it is a large headland and involves a long climb up some 200 steps, after which you can venture out along the main paths to the fort. Built in the 1860s, the fort is now owned by the National Trust and is open to the public.
Fishing on the front of the headland is very steep and there are rocks leading on to rough ground. Fish from the platforms either side of the headland and you will find clean ground. I would advise wearing good footwear when fishing the rock platforms or grass banks. Here you can target thornback rays, bass, congers and
smoothhounds in the summer. Brean Down is also a good venue for catching cod in winter.
Upon reaching the car park, we swung the rucksacks on our backs and took the long walk up to the headland. Be warned, on a hot summer’s day, this can take its toll. Within a few minutes we were at the top of the staircase and walking along the footpath to the front of the headland.
The weather and conditions were perfect, with very little breeze and, with two hours until high water, we both looked forward to getting a line out. This was Lee’s first outing to this part of the channel, and you could see the excitement in his eyes.
My set-up was a pair of Zziplex M427 SU rods matched with a pair of Penn Fathom 15 reels. Both were loaded with 20lb Asso Bullet Proof line and an 80lb shockleader. Lee had a pair of Century WR300 rods, again matched with Fathom 15 reels but loaded with 20lb Asso Ultra Cast and an 80lb shockleader.
We chose pulley-dropper rigs armed with a size 4/0 Cox & Rawle Specimen Extra and a size 4/0 Octopus Pennell hook, which we attached to the top of the bait.
We had two dozen fresh peeler crabs, purchased from Seaview Angling in Plymouth, and a pack of Bluey and a box of squid from Hookers Baits. My first rig, loaded with crab, was cast out, and then I started to bait up a Bluey and squid bait. Before I could finish, my reel started to give line. I started to reel in and could feel something on the end. It was not a ray, but a small strap conger of about 2lb.
Lee unhooked and returned the small eel, while I baited up again and cast out another fresh crab, before finishing off the Bluey and squid bait and casting it towards the horizon.
Bites were very slow as high water approached, but once the tide changed, the fishing improved.
Our rod tips started to bounce – a clear sign that small fish were attached to our hooks. We knew they would be small strap congers. They were landed and released.
I had a feeling that we were going to get plagued by these gatecrashing eels, so I suggested to Lee that we moved further along to the lower rock ledges and fish down over low water. Lee was not keen on the idea at first, but I suggested the deeper water might mean larger congers, or even a bass. That was a game-changer for him.
We headed back to the footpath, which would take us towards our second low-water venue. After a few minutes, we were at the water’s edge. Soon we were sending new baits back out to the horizon. After a few hours leading us down to low water, the fishing was still slow. Lee decided to stick a bait in close for a bass, just as my rod tip pulled down and line started to speed away from my multiplier. Straight on my feet, I engaged the reel and lifted into the fish.
I knew I had accomplished my quest for a thornback ray. Lee waited for it to surface and, moments later, a fish of around 4lb broke the surface and Lee lifted it up out of the water. It was not a biggie, but a pleasant addition to the session.
Keen to get a ray too, Lee reeled in and started to apply a fresh Bluey and squid bait to his hooks and cast the bait around 80 yards. Next, he applied the ratchet and adjusted the drag to allow the fish to be able to take line.
By now it was around low water, and Lee was the next to strike it lucky as his rod pulled down a couple of times and his reel started to give line. Fish on!
I made my way down to the water’s edge to be greeted by a conger eel of around 8lb. After a few photographs the fish was returned and we both headed back to our tripods. As we decided to fish the tide back an hour or so, Lee took great delight in flaunting his bragging
rights for catching the biggest fish of the trip – all good friendly banter among friends.
I had an hour to catch a bigger fish, so I decided to try two whole squid baits close in for a conger eel, or even a bass. Meanwhile, Lee had both his rods out at range in the hope of a thornback. As the tide started to push us back, we moved the tripods and started to pack away our gear.
Just as I was about to remove my reel on one rod, my other rod crashed over and was straight into a slack line bite. I grabbed my rod and started to retrieve the rig like a madman to keep the line tension on the fish.
I could feel the fish pulling back, but I gained line and soon the culprit was on the seaweed in front of the rocks. Lee grabbed the fish, a bass of just under 5lb. We took a couple of photographs and the cracking silver bar was returned to fight another day. Now that’s the sort of gate-crasher I’m happy to catch!
What a great end to the session. Yes, we had ventured out to target a specimen thornback, but still had a great day’s adventure. The Bristol Channel can give some fantastic angling, but it can also be a dangerous place to fish, so always do your research and, if possible, fish it with anglers who know the area. ■
A lovely bass of just under 5lb