Pathway to huss
How to tackle double-figure fish from the shore… using to the coastal rope trick
When one of the first items of equipment out of the back of the car at the start of a shore fishing session is a stout length of rope, you can be sure that you are setting off on an experience likely to be a tad different to the norm.
This was the case one afternoon towards the end of November when Martin Thompson hoisted his tackle rucksack on to his back and, with one hand, grabbed his rods and rod-rest, along with a substantial coil of rope with the other. Next, he took us down a narrow track that eventually led us the Pembrokeshire Coast Path.
Throughout the week Martin and Sandra Thompson run their busy tackle and bait shop, Anglers Corner, in Milford Haven, but on Sunday afternoons, and occasionally after work during the week, they go fishing. I’ve fished with Martin and Sandra on numerous occasions, mostly during the summer when we have targeted species such as pollack and wrasse. During these trips Martin has often told me about the wonderful fishing that is available throughout the darkest and coldest months of winter in the same area, and finally this winter an opportunity came along to join them on a session.
I met up with Martin and Sandra and two friends, Dan James and Martin Roberts, just outside St David’s, from where a short drive took us to a barely drivable track that provided convenient access to the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path. The path flanks the coast throughout the entire principality, and in the south-west corner of Wales provides anglers with superb, though not always easy, access to many productive marks.
Following a 20-minute trek along the cliff tops, we arrived at a spot several hundred feet above a series of comfortable rock ledges. The rope was securely tied off to a steel spike Martin had secured into the ground here many years ago, and the tail was thrown down the slope. It was a bit of a scramble, although not an especially difficult descent down to the water’s edge, from where you could see you had arrived at one of those marks that you just knew offered good fishing. Getting back to the cliff top path at the end of the session would be a different story.
During the winter the area is noted for producing lots of specimen bull huss, along with conger eels and even tope and shorecaught rarities such as ling.
In the past Martin has landed tope here to over 40lb, and his biggest was caught in January. He was extremely confident we would catch huss and congers, admitting tope are, at best, hit or miss.
The optimum time to fish from the rocks in this area is a couple of hours either side of low water, on almost any size of tide, especially during darkness. The key time for huss and most other species was, said Martin, low-water slack and during the first push of flood.
We had arrived in daylight in order to
safely access the chosen mark, and get settled into the fishing before the anticipated prime time that we had calculated would be about an hour after sunset.
Many, if not most, of the marks in this area are only accessed following a steep descent from the cliff tops, and it is not a good idea to attempt this during darkness, especially if it is your first visit to a particular spot. Never fish here alone, and consider wearing a life jacket or flotation suit. We didn’t, we should have!
The three lads baited up Pennell pulley rigs with cuts of either mackerel or squid, or herring freshly caught from nearby Milford Haven. These baits were cast a relatively short distance out into the deep water directly in front of us. Clearly, this is mostly rough ground, so lead weights attached via a rotten-bottom rig are essential. Sandra opted for a more general approach by fishing a twohook paternoster rig baited with ragworms and squid, and within no time at all she was holding a plump pouting in front of my camera. She quickly followed this with the first of several dogfish and a strap conger.
Martin Roberts hooked the first sizeable fish of the session – a solid double-figure huss that spat the hook, as this species is so prone to doing, just as Martin was preparing to grab the leader and lift it ashore. I think I was as disappointed as he was when that first big fish came off, a lost photo opportunity, but Martin reassured me we would catch more, and of course he was right.
Half-an-hour later, following a brief period of slack tide over low water, the flooding tide started to push along the coast. It was the prime bite time for huss. Barely 10 minutes later, the tip of Dan James’s rod nodded once or twice then steadily bent over as what clearly was a sizeable fish moved off with his bait. Dan grabbed the rod, reeled the line tight, and firmly set the hook by lifting the rod. Once again Martin climbed down to land the fish, which this time remained hooked, a solid, near double-figure bull huss.
Next to land a huss was Martin Thompson, a stunning double-figure bull huss. Caught from a boat, bull huss can hardly be described in any way as being a sporting species of fish, but when hooked from the shore, well, that is a different matter. Certainly, they’re a worthy target species for any angler looking to catch a double-figure fish from the rocks and, let’s be honest, there are not too many sizeable species that UK-based shore anglers can target with such a high probability of success.
During the next hour or so we landed three more huss, all big fish weighing between 8-12lb.
Variety came with the addition of more strap congers and, of course, dogfish ensured that everyone was kept on their toes.
That night the tope failed to show, but several anglers Martin knows had reported catching fish in the 30-40lb range during the days leading up to our trip.
I guess it’ll only be a matter of time before, once again, I am sliding down a length of rope off the coast of Pembrokeshire. ■
Martin Roberts (left) and Dan James survey the situation
Sandra Thompson holds aloft her plump pouting
Dan James with his near doublefigure bull huss
Sandra bagged this strap conger...
... using a twohook paternoster rig baited with ragworms and squid