Winter means big Coalfish off Salcombe

Located between the major fishing ports of Dartmouth to the East and Plymouth to the West, the fishing village of Salcombe in Devon is often overlooked by anglers. Yet one look at the way the port is set out on a headland should give you an idea that it is actually closer to the best fishing grounds than anywhere else. It also has a unique inland estuary, sheltered from the wildest of Atlantic storms, and it is no surprise to learn that its living has always been made from the sea. Pirates from the Barbary Coast of North Africa had hundreds of Devon people kidnapped in the 1600’s, and transported them as slaves to the North Atlantic coast of Morocco. The earliest the name was first shown was in the dim and distant past of 1244, as archaeologists found cliff top settlements from the Stone Age overlooking the harbour you see today. It is thought that a quiet life of fishing and smuggling carried on through a hundred year period between 1650 and 1750, although little was written about it. Years later over 300 sailing ships were built there until competition from iron and steel hulled steamers put paid to the business of sail power.


GETTING THERE- The first part is the easiest. Down the M5 motorway, onto the A39 towards Plymouth, and turn off on the A3121 and A379 towards Kingsbridge and then Salcombe. Once off the main A39 be prepared for narrow lanes and passing problems, especially in summer and towing a boat. Generally a good run early mornings.




The notorious sandbar outside the harbour entrance was the scene for the town’s worst disaster, when in 1916 the lifeboat was launched to aid a stricken vessel that ran aground at Lannacombe, off Prawle Point. On the way back in a huge wave splintered the Lifeboat resulting in the loss of 15 of Salcombe’s men.Today, the tourist market, and self-catering holidays bind the local economy together, and the tiny port is a haven for all passing yachtsmen. Top charter skipper in the port is Chris Roberts who runs the “Anglo Dawn 3”.A new 38-foot Evolution built by Blue Water boats of Plymouth, and launched in August 2008.The boat is MCA checked and follows the Code of Practice for a category 2 vessel, and can travel up to sixty miles from any safe haven. She is licensed to carry 10 passengers and 2 crew. Born in Plymouth, Chris has been fishing all his life, from the age of 4 when he caught his first Dogfish, to aged 14 when he took a monumental Plaice of 6lbs 5ozs from the Salcombe estuary. This record still stands. And he had a 5-14 on lugworm just two weeks later!!He has also worked on commercial boats both in the local area and abroad, when in his twenties he travelled to commercial fish Australia for Tuna, Snappers, Mackerel, and the occasional Hammerhead and Tiger shark.



The fact that Salcombe stands out on a headland means he is the closest boat to the prime channel wrecks. He can get there quicker than either the Dartmouth or Plymouth boats, which means his anglers actually get more fishing time over the wreck, while others have yet to arrive. While Salcombe has always been known as a primary wrecking port, that headland that bottles the tidal flow is also famous for creating the Skerries sandbanks where huge catches of Plaice are made, and the occasional Turbot and Brill.But as well as this he can take you inshore during the summer and autumn months to fish the shoals of Bass that run into double figures, around Lannacombe Bay, or any of the other tide races. Then ten miles offshore you have the June to October blue shark fishing, where specimens to 100lbs have been landed, and numerous reefs where you can take Conger, Ling, Pollack, Cod and Coalfish. So all in all this beautiful port, tucked into the lush Devon countryside is something of an angler’s heaven, open to as many different species of the sea as you could wish for. And that’s without even looking at the great sport to be had up in Salcombe estuary where big Thornbacks (over 22lbs from the shore!) Plaice and Gilthead Bream are taken each season.



It was while interviewing Chris for one of Phil William’s Audio Angling sites that I was able to get you the exact lowdown on a handful of marks that could see your own “personal best” fish list take a bit of a battering. With the only quiet month being January and early February, how best do you approach the varied fishing? Starting around February “Anglo Dawn 3” heads out to the wrecks for a chance at breaking the British Pollack record, as this is the time they are at their heaviest. Drifting is the name of the game, with either large sizes of Sidewinder or Redgill Evolution being the primary lures in the tackle boxes. This past season Chris has noted the Pollack falling more regularly to a very long flowing trace. Rather than the standard length of 10/12 feet, a trace of up to twenty feet long has seemed the killing method. Once you get into April the spawning Pollack tend to be less of an attraction, and the Plaice over the Skerries sandbanks is the spot to be. Here a charter boat would not deem it unusual to get 50 Plaice in a day, and some individual fish run to over 4lbs.The smaller fish will be targeted with ragworm on the hook, tipped with squid, and the obligatory flattie fanatics “bling” of beads, flashers and spoons as attractors.



In late spring, the Cod shoals move over the wrecks, with specimens liable to be into double figures to 20lbs, they provide some anxious moments as you think you are cranking into yet another Pollack. On small tides these same wrecks can be anchored, and then a whole or mackerel flapper legered on the bottom will entice big Conger eel and Ling, the latter species currently making something of a comeback. From late June until well into October the Blue sharks are about, and these are fished from a drifting boat, with mashed fish as the attractor and whole mackerel as the hookbait. No need for heavy 50lb outfits, 20/30lb class wrecking rods will give you a great scrap, but remember you need a 12 foot wire trace of a least 200/300lb cabled stainless wire. All sharks are released, so why not crush the barb down on your 10/0 and the hook will be much easier to remove. Provided you keep the line tight during the fight you should not lose any sharks. On the bottom you can expect Whiting, Gurnard and small Ling as you drift along, but use braid as the water is deep and you want to see those bites. On top you can floatfish a tiny belly strip of mackerel to get action on the acrobatic Garfish.

                          Back inshore, if Chris can get the livebaits, either small mackerel or Launce drift lined over the sand bars and tide races around the headlands and Lannacombe will give you action on those bars of silver, the bristling Bass. Keep only a couple if you must, if you return them there will always be sport for the future. And finally, let’s not forget the Rays. Thornback and particularly some incredible Small Eyed and Blonde Ray sport is available from inshore clean ground. I have even heard of a catch of up to 30 Blonde Ray in a day from a 19 foot dinghy, so expect action.



Mark 1)- The Skerries-West end is the Bell bouy-N50degrees.16.386 x W3 degrees.34.145  The West end (start point) is N50 degrees 13.825 x W3 degrees 37.360.



This enormous sandbank is well known to all charter and dinghy anglers as it is the prime spot for catching Plaice. The smaller fish tend to show in April in large numbers, while the bigger 4lb plus flatties come in September. Its then you can use much bigger baits as you’ll get pestered by small Gurnard and Whiting if your baits are too small. Tip of the day is to use a 10 inch snood with a single bait right up near the lead, as a flat watch-pattern lead will bounce along the bottom throwing up tiny puffs of sand which will attract the Plaice over to your hookbait. The bouncing lead is an act an attractor in its own right. Then six or eight feet from the lead you have your normal hookbait, flasher or beads, just 6 inches from a Ragworm baited single hook tipped with a sliver of squid.12 to 20lb outfits, small multiplier reels and 20/30lb braid are all you require. Throw back any small Plaice you don’t need and you will have sport for the following season. Rather than fish right on top of the bank, the best of the fishing, in particular the larger sized flattie come on the slope. Once you have learned the boat drift, you want to go along the edge, rather than up and over it.


MARK 2)-The Catton’s Reef-N50 degrees09.689 x W3 degrees 53.531-


Good Cod, Pollack, Conger and Ling come to fish baits on the bottom. The Ling in particular are up to twenty pounds as the reef is very snaggy, so make sure you trip a grapnel anchor otherwise it might be a one way ticket. There are some very big Black Bream for those anglers wanting to use small strips of mackerel and squid, individual specimens going up as far as 5lbs.The Portland rig is very popular over this reef for the bigger Bass. This enables you to fish a mackerel livebait or full size Launce bait on a 14-foot trace that can not only swim up and down the line, but around as well, which gives plenty of action to make the hungry bass attack. Another tip is to also switch the sounder off when bassing, just in case it puts them off as the Portland rig will be straight under the boat. Bull Huss to double figures, and Conger to 40lbs.


Mark 3)-The WHITING BANKS. N50degrees 11.200 x W3 degrees 46.520

These are a series of big banks barely a couple of miles off Salcombe that is home to some Small Eyed Rays, Thornbacks and other species like Whiting and Gurnard. These can be drifted or anchored, depending on the tides, with baits being legered side of mackerel, or a whole Launce, maybe topped off with a squid. For this outside bank area you need to use standard 20lb downtide outfits, but even closer to shore, in just 50 feet of water are more Blonde Ray banks that can be fished using uptiders to give mind blowing battles in the fast tides. Plaice also live here. For the giant Thornback Ray (to over 20lbs!), the locals prefer to use live prawn as bait. Neap tides are best for this bank fishing as it proves too much for anchoring on a larger spring.2/3 knots is the average speed for a spring tide off the headland, which might mean leads upwards of 2lbs, not a pleasant way of fishing.


Mark 4)-Wreck- N50degrees 08.392 x W3 degrees 46.270.This is the middle wreck. There are plenty of wrecks close to shore for the dinghy anglers, only four miles off from Salcombe there is a line of three wrecks where Chris reckons you can pretty much guarantee some good double figure Cod. It also throws up some pretty impressive conger fishing on the anchor. A second, very large wreck for good mixed fishing, Ling to 28lbs, Conger and summer Cod to double figures. This one is about 7 miles off Salcombe. N50 degrees 06.448 x W3 degrees 51.285.Then again about 12 miles off is a large wreck that was this past season the best producing Pollack wreck for the commercial anglers, so no need to go off the edge of the chart. Last year was the best ever for Cod, the largest to “Anglo Dawn 3” was 22lbs, with plenty of 18’s, with 20/30 good Cod a day. A poor day would be about 15 Cod a day, plus the usual Pollack. Biggest Coalie was 12lbs, but they run up to 17lbs, so plenty of “string-pullers” are out there within striking distance of the dinghy angler. Most of Anglo’s customers don’t want to go Conger fishing as with the current economic climate they want to take white meat fish home. If you do anchor, as well as the Conger you’ll get Ling, especially if you bounce a mackerel along the edge of the wreck, with a simple zip slider running rig, very short trace of 5 feet and leader of at least 100lb mono, due to the teeth. A big bait needs an 8/0 hook as the Ling have a large mouth. A Muppet attractor will also enhance your catch rate. The best Ling catch Chris has made gave him 54 Ling over the slack water period. You can contact Chris Roberts on 07967-387657 or 01548-511500.Email him at


ACCOMODATION-“Alpha House”. (Opposite the Royal Oak), Higher Town.Marlborough.TQ7 1EF.Tel-01548-856323.Located a couple of miles out from Salcombe, it has parking, 6 Bedrooms (2 with en suite), a couple of pubs, petrol station, supermarket and post office in the village. It is the B&B that most anglers fishing Salcombe use.


LAUNCH SITE-A wide concrete slipway is available at Batson Creek by the town, with plenty of car and trailer parking close by. It gives easy access to the main area via a dredged channel, and thereby to the open sea beyond. A shallow angle slip, the charge includes parking for boat and trailer. Charges around £6 available from the harbour office.Tel-01548-843791(Advance booking advisable in summer).Access right through the tidal range. Speed limit is 8 knots. Beware the radar speed guns which the harbour will use.


TACKLE SHOP-Devon Angling Centre at Kingsbridge.Tel-01548-580888 or a small local tackle shop in the town. Kingsbridge will offer a better selection of tackle, and you may be driving through it on the way to Salcombe. If you want to dig your own bait, North and South Sands at Salcombe are good for lugworm at low water.




SAFETY-Salcombe Lifeboat station is right in the town and often open to visitors through the summer months. It takes just 12 minutes for their inshore Lifeboat to reach Bolt Tail from the Salcombe bar. The station is based in Union Street.TQ8 8BZ.Tel-0154842158.


WEATHER-Online at http:/ plus check the internet for any localised automatic weather stations.



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