Graeme Pullen looks back at a day when the sun shone over Swansea, the sea sparkled, and the fishing wasn’t half bad either. Now that all adds up to something of a rarity given the last nine months weather, but read on to find how he discovered….
“THE SMALL-EYED SURPRISE “
Driving up and down to the North Cornish Porbeagles can get tiresome when you keep getting the wrong wind direction, or the surf is up. So when I got the chance to sample some shallow sandbank fishing, I jumped at the chance. Fours hours drive to Bude, or two hours down the M4 to Swansea. I didn’t need to toss a coin. Swansea’s Tony Grey fishes aboard his own boat out of Swansea marina, and we were soon stacking tackle on the solid platform of his 24-foot Hardy the “Lyn Marie” .Travelling to the fishing mark at 25 knots would not be too much of a hardship.
Swansea Marina is ideally located for the best of the all-round fishing. You can run straight out or East towards the muddy water caused by the strong tides, and take a multitude of species bottom fishing. Or, as many of the boats are now doing, point the bow due west and head straight out into the open Atlantic, where clearer water means other predatory species in the deeper water. Conger, Ling, Pollack, and big Blue Shark. Tony had already whetted my appetite with tales of 7 blues a day from a run to the drop-off way out west, a run of 65 miles for him. But what caught my attention was the fact he mentioned the cobalt blue of the Gulfstream. Now hang on a minute, if it goes that colour you could be talking overnight Broadbill Swordfish trips. Unseen grander Sixgills on the bottom. Or Albacore, the Longfin Tuna that were always caught between the Wolf Rock and the Isles of Scilly.
Maybe this year I’ll get to dust off my 80/130lb Calstar standup blank and Shimano 80 wide Tiagra reel! The last workout it had was a 1000lb plus Sixgill Shark. Today however, our sights were sight a bit lower. On the Small Eyed Rays of the Swansea sandbanks. So Tony pointed the bow of “Lyn Marie” towards St.Christopher Knoll, just past Mumbles Head towards Worm Head. He took us on a tour of the inside of the picturesque Bay, with sheep and cattle on the cliffs, and tiny figures of people walking one of the most famous cliff paths in Europe. The scenery was superb, and in near some cliffs we came upon a lone Kayaker, paddling along, trolling his lures behind in the hope of a Bass or Mackerel. Such is the enthusiasm of the anglers in this neck of the woods, it wouldn’t surprise me to see someone standing in a tin bath and fishing .The mark we anchored on was supposed to be a sure shot for Rays and Smoothhound. So out went six sets of tackle, connected to a multiple spread of baits.Uptiders with squid and lug cocktails or sandeel. Or downtide, with peeler crab or Ragworm. But obviously the local fishy population had heard the cameras were in town (or maybe it was Pete’s Ascot hat) and departed for pastures new. The only fish I got was a Starry Smoothhound, and as it is the first of this species I have caught, it went into the “personal best” list. There is nothing like a new species to perk you up for the day.
Next mark was a good run back up East, and in the middle of the Channel. The Scarweather is a vast shoal of sandbanks that lie in a line of ridges created by the rip tides, about three miles in length. It is marked by bouys, and even though in mid-channel, it actually dries at low water by some eight feet, dropping away to around 100 feet either side. Such a constrictive natural bank right in the middle of a spring ebb tide can make it a death-trap for the unwary. But we were on neap tides, with superb weather, and so Tony worked the boat between the channel, until we dropped anchor at the lower end of the bank, in about 40 feet of water. This was the absolute sure-shot for the main predator of the sandbanks, the Small-Eyed rays. We couldn’t fail to catch. I would probably run out of film. You hooked them two at a time. Well, we certainly didn’t fail to catch. But it was the wrong species. Dogfish after Dogfish piled into even the most sophisticated bait rig, including the “Swansea Wrap”. No, it’s not a drug-induced street song by a load of gangsters. It’s a bait combo consisting of a large Launce that is then carefully wrapped in a piece of squid, held in place with elasticated thread. It looked superb as it sailed out over the ocean on an uptide rod. Unfortunately it seemed to drop straight down the throat of yet another Dogfish.
I can’t imagine how many would have swarmed in had we dropped down a bag of chum on the anchor rope. After maybe forty Welsh doggies, Tony pulled anchor, and at the top of the tide moved right up on the lip of the bank where the depth was 25 feet. Initially it was quiet, and we all hoped to find the elusive ray. Any ray. As long as it was large and flat I would be happy. Tony explained that the Scarweather Bank would normally produce up to twenty Small Eyed ray in a day. Fish running from 7lbs up to 12lbs, boosted with the occasional Blonde ray to 22lbs, and big Thornbacks running 5 to 15lbs.We fished here for another hour until the LSD population mobbed us, and we luckily received a call from John Edwards, of the 16-footer “Sea Hawk 2”. He was on a bank on the inside of us, and had already had enough Small-Eyed Ray that he was off after some black bream.
With 200 horses beneath the hood of “Lyn Marie” it was barely twenty minutes before we were swinging tight on the anchor, over the Mixon Bank, right outside the Mumbles Head lighthouse. The Mixon dries out on a low water spring, to such an extent that the local mayor once went out there to join in a game of cricket on the sand with the locals. In springs it should be treated with respect, especially on an ebb tide, when the natural flow of the Bristol Channel is boosted by the waters of Swansea Bay emptying past the Mumbles Head. Marked by a buoy, the bank drops away to 100 feet on the outside, and around 50 feet on the inside. As we were fishing the top of a neap down, there was about 25 feet under the hull, and enough flow to make it fishable. Out went four or five uptiders carrying mostly straight sandeel baits, and a single 12lb class downtider that I fished. It was now well into the afternoon and it looked like we were going to get skunked on the Small-Eyed rays.
As we fished half-heartedly in the warm sunshine I felt a “flop” of a bite. It is characteristic of a ray when it flops on a bait, munches it and moves of slowly, as opposed to the repetitive tug-tug of a doggie. I fed some line and then struck. Over went the rod and a good fish planed in the tide.” That’s a Ray” was the shout, and after a good scrap Tony lifted it aboard, a Small-Eyed of around 7lbs. There a quiet twenty minutes, then the rays came on in earnest. David was into one on his uptider, a ray slightly larger than mine. Another angler was next, after falling asleep in the cabin, he woke to find a ray on his uptider. I hooked one on my own uptide sandeel, and then Tony was into one. This was more like it, and our total suddenly started to creep towards double figures. For some reason the dogfish were thankfully absent, and someone had either a ray bite or a hookup every ten minutes. I could now see why Tony said it was not unusual to get twenty Small Eyed in a session. I took a third fish, and then looked to see both Tony and Pete on a double header, fighting a fish apiece. Just how many rays were down here? You had to ask yourself why the main Ray mark of Scarweather was devoid of the species, while the inside Mixon Bank, barely half a mile from shore, was crawling with them. Not that I was complaining, as I clambered around the boat getting all the pictures.
As the end of the day approached, and with around 14 Small Eyed under our belt you could feel the pressure come off Tony. “You must come down here when the Bass run starts” he told me. “You can get loads of them on triple rigs of shads fished on the bottom, specimens into double figures. The banks are alive with them, but you need to know the exact sections they are feeding on. Here, look at these pictures”. He showed me some pictures of bass, with John Edwards having at least two that certainly looked into double figures. Obviously I knew there were Bass in the area, and an evening drive to look at the coastline had found us meeting with a shore angler coming off the sand at Port Eynon beach carrying a 4-pounder. That was bad enough, but now I had seen the big bass pictures thoughts were whirring with exactly what was being caught from the Swansea boats. Loads of bass up to double figures? Small-eyed Rays with catches of twenty a session? And worst of all, the thought of a 65-mile run out into the blue waters of the Gulfstream. Now that really did “float my boat”. With easy access via the M4 motorway, and a full service marina, this place really is a Mecca for small boaters. Why not get down there, and discover some of the “Mysteries of the Mumbles” yourself.
COPYRIGHT. Graeme Pullen. All rights reserved