Supplied by Mr. N Athay of Atlantic Tackle
The south-west of England has many fishing harbours and it is here that many anglers are to be found. All the harbours will contain fish at certain times. Some will be small fish; ideal for children or the beginner, whilst there may be better quality fish for the more serious angler.
Whatever sort of fisher-person you may be, the harbourside is always worth a try. Nearly all the harbours and their adjoining stone piers, offer free fishing, and most have easy access. Oars may even be driven onto some harbours, making them the ideal location for the disabled angler.
The method of fishing will vary from place to place, but for anyone starting out, it can be about the most inexpensive way to take up the sport. A basic kit: rod, reel, tackle and bait, can be purchased for less than i~20, and some local tackle shops even hire it out. Float fishing with light tackle is very popular. Cigar shaped polystyrene floats are easily seen above the waves and come in all sizes, so a small float can be used on a very light rod, whilst floats holding as much as three ounces of weight can be used for distance casting with heavier gear. Distance casting, however, is not always necessary to catch harbour fish. In fact the harbour wall itself is a big attractor to fish and many species like wrasse and pollack live amongst the weed and rocks at the bottom of the wall. A look at the harbour at low water is a good way to spot where the fish may lie at high tide. Look for weed covered rocks and deep gullies. And look for sand bars; it is often particularly good fishing on the edge of sand banks, where the sand meets the rocks.
Having selected your spot to fish, allow the float to drift over the area. In bright daylight, make sure your bait is near the bottom as few fish will venture into mid-water where they can be clearly seen. It is important to have a light hook trace on the bottom of your tackle to enable you to fish deep. That way, the only tackle lost to snags will be a hook; all the rest should come up in tact. If in doubt as to how to set up rigs, your local tackle dealer will advise.
The choice of baits will depend upon the fish that are around. Float fishing with a live worm over the harbour wall will attract small fish. Casting a sand-eel to the middle of the harbour may tempt mackerel and garfish.
The commonest fish seen in West Country harbours is the mullet. As the tide ebbs on a warm summer day, shoals of small mullet can be seen breaking the surface in only a few inches of water. Where small mullet lie, there are usually larger ones nearby. Spotting them is more difficult; catching them even more so. The smaller fish can give children hours of excitement as they chase them from one side of the harbour to the other. Contrarily, dedicated mullet anglers will concentrate on bringing the fish to them. A" rubby dubby" mixture of bread or bran with chopped mackerel and a sprinkling of pilchard oil is thrown into the area to be fished and the challenge is on to tempt one of the most frustrating and difficult of all fishes to catch. Favourite hook baits are bread, maggots, small rag worms and mackerel flesh. Whatever bait is used, most anglers would agree that light tackle is a must. A small float, 41b. line and a No. 8 hook is about right in most cases, and a landing net should be at the ready.
As the light fades and the daytime anglers return home, it is now time for the bigger fish to move in. Different methods will have to be adopted, using heavier line and tackle, along with larger rods and reels. Ledger fishing now comes into play and there are many different ways of setting up rigs to include two or three hooks to a trace. Such made up rigs may be purchased from any good fishing shop, and, of course, the equipment to do them yourself. Bigger baits are used to lure bigger fish, sometimes even whole mackerel, if the angler is feeling really optimistic!
The night time angler will be looking for (depending upon the time of year) bass, cod, conger and the larger pollack and coalfish. Many other fish will turn up as well; flatfish will frequent muddy harbours; silver eels are common in the Bristol Channel area and many harbours will hold certain fish that are not so common at other venues.
Harbour fishing can be one of the most enjoyable ways to spend leisure time, and it can be as rewarding for the specialist angler as it is for the novice in search of his or her first fish, but harbours and piers can be treacherous in bad weather. Many people, including anglers, have been swept to their death as waves crash over walls hurling them into the sea. Just remember that harbours are a peaceful haven for fish. Shoals of mackerel and huge conger eels are not there to be battered about by force ten storms, so if you are foolish enough to fish in such conditions, you are unlikely to catch anything, anyway. Wait for the storm to abate and enjoy your harbour fishing in safety.