Casting here and there

Editors Preface

I have been fishing along North Devon’s coast for almost 30 years and for much of that time I have been involved in the Combe Martin Sea Angling Club. As Secretary of the club I have worked on the clubs newsletter which is generally well received with its blend of news views and angling tales.

At a recent club meeting I raised the idea of producing a guide booklet on fishing along the North Devon coast. My idea was to produce an informative and entertaining guide that would promote angling in North Devon. I will concentrate on the section of coast between Foreland Point and Barnstaple as this is the area I have fished most over the years.

 

Introduction.

The North Devon coast offers some of the best sea fishing in the country and yet it is only lightly fished when compared to other regions. The low density of population is probably the main reason for this though I am amazed at how few visiting anglers cast a line.

There is a wide range of species to target throughout the year over a richly varied and beautiful coastline. Rock marks, Sandy storm beaches, steep shingle beaches, Estuaries and harbours all provide good sport at the right time.

The angler can expect to see an abundance of wildlife all along the coast. Peregrine Falcons, Ravens and Sea birds glide above steep cliffs. Otters, Herons, Kingfishers and a multitude of wildlife hunt the estuary. The sea itself provides regular sighting’s of Dolphins, Porpoises, Basking Sharks and Seals.

Through the year

The top species for each month

January

Many anglers favorite time to get out onto the rocks. Big cod and conger are often caught throughout this month as they move inshore to feast on whiting and pouting. After winter gales all species move close inshore to feast upon dislodged crustaceans and marine worms, etc.

February

The first half of the month should continue much as January though by the second half of the month fishing will begin its slide towards the spring doldrums. Dogfish, rockling and the occasional big bull huss provide the bulk of sport.

March

Is the quietest month of the year. Rockling and dogfish from rock marks with occasional plaice caught over sandy ground. Spotted ray can be caught from some rock marks casting onto sand. The first mullet will move inshore but are almost impossible to tempt in the cold waters.

April

Dogfish often become very prolific all along the coast during this month. The first small eyed ray can be caught now along with the occasional bass. Grey Mullet will move into the estuaries, both thin lipped and thick lipped varieties. Ballan wrasse start to show from rock marks.

May

The first of the true summer species move in with mackerel and garfish moving within range of rock fisherman. Bass fishing will start to improve along with ray from the storm beaches. Smoothound provide exciting action at certain marks.

June

A continuation of the May action with bass falling to lures and fly fishermen in the estuary. Mullet fishing starting to become worthwhile as water temperatures rise. Porbeagle shark will be possible from boats as they chase mackerel and pollock over the rocky reefs offshore.

July

Summer sport reaches its peak. All summer species prolific with the chance of exotics like triggerfish. Wrasse fishing at its best, bass and smoothound move into feed on the spider crabs as they begin the big summer peel.

The mullet fishing for thin-lips is at its peak at this time and each year large numbers fall to baited spinners in the Taw Estuary.

Ray fishing can be good from Scillery, Putsborough and Woolacombe at this time of year. However trips need to coincide with darkness which will mean a sleepless night at this time of the year.

August

The last true month of the summer season. Bass fishing should be at its peak along with mackerel and the all the fish previously mentioned in July.

Big predators can be caught this month with porbeagle shark prowling the rocky reefs offshore. The tope will move close inshore and can be caught from selected marks in the Lynmouth area.

September

Often the best month of the year the grey mullet enthusiast with float fished or paternoster bread tempting many of these hard fighting fish. The species are abundant all along the coast in harbours, estuarys and rocky coves.

Flounder fishing will be getting started in the estuary and easy fishing can be had all along the Taw Estuary with proven marks like Ashford Strand, Pottington, Castle Quay, and Fremington Quay all worth a try.

October

As the days shorten evening sessions become more viable for conger, bass and tope. Flounder caught from the estuary can be used to good effect as tope baits.

Grey Mullet will continue to provide good sport and can be caught right through till December weather permitting. Surprisingly other summer species can be caught with garfish showing into November some seasons.

Codling will be moving into the estuary mouth at Crow Point and can provide good sport along with the occasional bass.

November

Flounder will start to pile on weight in the estuary and most years will see an abundance of 2lb plus fish come to the scales at numerous competitions held in the estuary at this time of year.

The first of the winter Cod may be caught from rock marks in the Watermouth to Ilfracombe region. Big conger and tope are also a possibility.

Whole squid or sandeel baits cast out onto sand from Watermouth or Capstone stand a good chance of finding a big blonde ray, especially after an autumn storm. There are often large numbers of whiting from Watermouth and Ilfracombe.

December.

Is it really that time again winter cod, conger and whiting from the open sea along with flounders in the estuary at their heaviest as they prepare to leave on their way to spawning.

Summary

Seasons vary and overlap. It is impossible to predict what each season will bring. So many factors affect the fish and fishing. My advice is to keep a diary of your results, keep your ear to the grapevine and get out fishing as often as you can. Try different marks from time to time but make sure you get to know some really well.

 

Scillery Sands

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The long and torturous footpath descends from the A 39 at Countisbury Hill to this steep shelving beach. Pebbles give way to sand at low water. This mark can be well worth the walk and has produced many fine specimen fish over the years, including tope, ray, bass and bull huss. Dogfish can be problem at times as they snaffle the baits intended for more worthy quarry.

The venue tends to fish best over high water. Care needs to taken to avoid getting cut off in the bays that back on to the steep and crumbly cliffs. Do not attempt to fish here in rough conditions. Be aware that what looks a gentle wave from the cliff top is often far more intimidating when on the beach itself.

Lynmouth

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At first glance Lynmouth fore shore is a mass of boulders that will ensnare the tackle every cast, this is a little misleading however for there is good fishing to be at several marks. Wandering along the shoreline towards Scillery is a mark called Blacklands. This mark is cut off over high water and should only be fished in calm weather. Grey Mullet abound and can be tempted on float-fished bread-flake or floating crust.

Bass can be tempted using plugs or by bottom fishing with peeler crab. Wrasse will also pick up crab baits or king rag.

During the winter codling and dogfish provide good sport weather permitting. Be warned the rocks here are treacherous when wet and are best avoided. I smashed a tooth here a few years ago and tend to avoid it during wet conditions.

Lynmouth Harbour dries out but is a productive mark over the top of the tide. The river mouth is one of the areas top grey mullet venues with fish caught every year in excess of five pounds. Paternostered bread flake is the method generally employed.

Big bass also venture into the mouth of the river and can be caught using free-lined mackerel, squid or trout. This is an extremely exciting way to catch these magnificent silver creatures. A carp rod and 15lb line with a short trace of 40lb b.s line and pennel rig of 5/0 to 6/0 hooks is all you need. Bass can also be tempted from the river channel as the tide floods using the same methods.

The Rhenish tower can produce fish to conventional beach-casting tactics 2 hours either side of high water. Bass, pollock, dogfish and the occasional codling are all caught in the relevant seasons.

The esplanade car park can be fished over high water on a spring tide. An inspection at low water will reveal clear patches amongst the rocks. Dogfish abound here after dark throughout the year. Pollock, pouting, bass and codling are also caught here on occasions. During daylight hours grey mullet and wrasse can be tempted.

Wringcliff

The rocks to right of this rocky beach can be fished three hours each side of low water. Tackle losses will be high but some good fish can be caught. Large conger live among the rock and kelp along with wrasse and rockling. Bass and grey mullet also show during the summer months.

Woody Bay

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Steep spectacular wooded cliffs back this beautiful bay. The old stone jetty on the left of the beach can be fished for an hour and a half each side of low water on spring tides. Great care must be taken here to avoid being cut off. Never fish here during rough conditions as big waves will sweep over this jetty. Several of my angling friends have had near misses here so take care.

The fishing here can be rewarding with big bass, bay and tope caught here most years along with all the regular species.

The seabed here is a mixture of rock and sand. Casting straight out or to the right will generally see tackle losses rare. However during the summer months lobster pots can be problematic.

Heddon’s Mouth

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A walk of one mile will bring you to this steep shelving beach of rocky pebbles. Most anglers choose to fish the venue two hours either side of high water after dark. Large bass can be caught here during the summer months along with the occasional huss or conger.

Few seem to fish here during the winter but conger and whiting will reward those that do. The middle to right hand side of the beach is kindest on tackle. Do not fish this venue after a storm as floating weed is often a problem.

Hangman Rocks

The rocks to the East of Wild Pear Beach can only be reached at low water and entail a long and tiring walk. Great care must be taken to avoid being cut of on the rising tide. Big wrasse are the intended species with the possibility of a bass or conger.

Wild Pear Beach

A nudist beach which is probably best avoided during daylight hours. In the past this beach has yielded some good bass including a specimen of over 11lb. Most of these bass are caught on mackerel baits. The first two hours of the tide being generally most productive. I have not fished here for several years and intend to go back and have a go. The beach constantly changes with two sandy strips being present most years but almost disappearing on others. Best to go and have a look in daylight first.

Withycombe

This promontory located between Camels Eye and Wild Pear can only be reached on a low spring tide. Fishing is limited to around 2 hours and is not easy to reach. For those young and able it can be worth the effort. During the late seventies this mark provided great sport with grey mullet. I have also caught wrasse to almost six pounds here along with good conger. Bass also show here on occasions. Being a weedy and rocky mark that is rarely fished it will turn up big rockling.

Camels Eye

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This is primarily a low water mark due to the fact that access is difficult at high water. It is possible to get cut off and fish safely from well above sea level. On neap tides and calm weather the rocky platform on the right of the gully produces Conger over high water.

The rocky platform at the front of Camels Eye is good mark 2 hours either side of Low Water. Big wrasse used to be caught frequently but for some reason are now scarce. Grey mullet respond to groundbaiting and can provide multiple bags. Congers are always present here and can be caught throughout the year even in bright sunlight. Heavy tackle is needed to remove them from the thick kelp and rock that makes this mark unpopular with many anglers.

Several years ago I caught a Pollock of 11lb 7oz whilst spinning over high water. I have also landed Bass of over 9lb here so it has potential to turn up big fish of several species including rockling and bull huss. For some reason dogfish are seldom caught.

Combe Martin Beach and Harbour

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Seldom fished by serious anglers the beach has provided big bass and sole  in years gone by. Autumn can be productive from the beach and breakwater using light tackle and ragworm for flounder, which have been caught here in excess of 2lb.

Over high water the harbour provides good sport with grey mullet. Try float-fishing from Greenhill’s on the right of the harbour, or leger from the roadside railings opposite. Small peeler crab or worm baits cast out onto the sand may turn up a plaice or flounder.

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The high wall beside the telescope at what is called Bottom Deck provides easy fishing over high water. Landing a big fish is difficult though without a foolhardy mountaineer or drop net.

I once lost a Conger here that I estimated at around 30lb. Congers over 20lb have been landed here along with bass over 10lb. Several years ago I fished here on a wild and windy winter evening. A force eight north westerly gale made fishing difficult to say the least. My companion on that night landed a 7lb pollock. I have also heard of wrasse and flounder from this most unlikely of marks. When I was a lad we fished here because it was easy to reach. I have not fished it for years but hold fond memories of the mark.

Holiday Rock

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A rocky platform below Sandyway Caravan Park accessible 2hrs either side of low water. This mark has produced several specimen wrasse and conger.

I think that covers Combe Martin Bay and the waters of my youth.

Broadsands

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Located between Combe martin and Watermouth this mark is accessible via steep a stairway that leads down from the Old Coast Road which runs past Sandy Cove Hotel. (A good plaice for a pint and bar meal). The steep shingle beach can yield bass and pouting but is not considered particularly productive.

There are however two notable rock marks accessible from the far end of the beach. Passing through the gulley at the far end of the beach a turn to left will take you onto back rock which offers a fantastic view of Combe Martin bay. This mark is cut off for four hours on spring tides so is generally fished for the first 3½ hours of the flood tide.

Float fishing during the summer months will bring mackerel, pollock, garfish and the occasional bass. Ledgering will bring occasional bass, dogfish, huss and rockling. During the winter months anglers will contact the occasional cod along with whiting and conger.

Outer-stone is reached by clambering out along the rocks to the left of the island that lies at the far end of the beach. A gulley needs to be crossed at the far end that is only passable 1½ hours each side of low water. Great needs to taken not to be cut of here and the mark should only be fished during calm conditions and during spring tides. Most species have been caught here including tope, huss, codling and the inevitable dogfish. Spotted ray are frequently taken from this mark.

Watermouth

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This venue can get quite busy during the summer months as it is adjacent to several large campsites. There are several worthwhile rocky promontories that can be fished over the low water period with the marks 1st and 2nd Points enabling anglers to cast out onto clean ground where ray, dogfish, and whiting can be caught during the winter months. During the summer mackerel can be taken in large numbers by feathering.

Further west there are several marks that can be fished over high water. These marks tend to be snaggier but can produce large cod during the winter months along with conger pouting, rockling and most species likely to be encountered from our shorelines. During the seventies a local angler landed a coalfish of 18lb that held the British record for several years.

Ilfracombe Pier

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Strictly speaking this is no longer a pier as the old structure was demolished a few years ago to be replaced by boat landing platforms. These are only fishable over the low water period. The loss of the old pier was a major blow to local sea anglers especially the young and disabled. The structure that remains does however produce a wide variety of species. During the summer month’s access can be restricted to allow boats to berth this being the embarkation point for trips too and from Lundy Island.

The venue produces a wide variety of species throughout the year. Springtime sees dogfish, pollock and the occasional plaice. Summer will see mackerel and garfish providing good sport. Grey mullet often feed close in beside the harbour wall. Specimen bass are caught most years and are often tempted with a large mackerel bait close in after dark.

The autumn and winter sees fishing here at its best with whiting, pouting, dogfish and codling providing good sport. Each winter specimen ray both blonde and small eyed varieties. Large conger are also caught with divers reporting sightings of huge eels living within the base of the ancient structure and each year anglers tell tales of large fish that got away.

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A section of wall stands at what was the North End of the old pier. This can be fished over high water on big tides and has produced some big conger and cod. A very long handled gaff is an essential piece of equipment here if a good fish is to be landed.

Slivers of mackerel are used to tempt the mackerel, garfish and pollock. Float or paternostered bread flake will tempt the mullet if used in combination with mashed bread ground bait.

Mackerel, squid or pouting are best for tempting conger or large bass. Small worm baits tempt will tempt the occasional flatfish along with pouting, bass and whiting.

Peeler crab or large lug baits are used for tempting large cod during the winter months. Recent seasons have however proved unproductive.

Frozen sandeel is a good bait for dogfish, whiting, ray and codling.

Heavy beach tackle is required for winter cod and conger. Size 6/0 hooks on a pulley rig and a 100lb mono hook length. Size 2/0 to 4/0 are used for general fishing for dogfish, whiting and ray.

A lighter beach outfit can be used during the spring and summer to target flatfish. Size 1 or 2 fine wire hooks being ideal.

Light freshwater tackle can be used to give good sport with mackerel, garfish and mullet.

Capstone Point

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This is probably North Devon’s most popular rock mark and has a deserved reputation for producing exceptional specimen fish particularly during the winter months. Many cod in excess of twenty pounds have been landed from this mark along with bass over fifteen pounds, pollock over ten pounds, blonde ray to almost twenty pound along with specimens of many other species.

A word of warning is required to anyone fishing Capstone. The rocks here are frequently host to a large and dangerous ground swell. The rocks are also extremely slippery in places for this reason extreme care is needed when fishing this area.

During rough weather many anglers fish from the high wall to the east of the point. This can be productive but landing large fish is difficult and many have been lost at the base of the wall as anglers gaze down upon the fish of dreams in desperation. Later they tell tales of the one that got away whilst visiting local watering holes.

The point is best fish over high water. The ebb tide runs extremely hard here making fishing difficult. However the west of the point has yielded many big cod to anglers prepared to anchor bait in this strong ebb tide.

During the summer month’s mackerel, garfish and pollock provide good sport along with the occasional bass.

Morte Point

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This rocky promontory is reached via the village of Morthoe. A moderate walk gives access to an array of rock marks that can yield specimen conger, bass, huss, wrasse, rockling and dogfish. Tackle losses can be high on most marks here so use rotten bottoms and strong mainline. A word of caution, some rock strata in this area is exceptionally slippery when wet so either avoid the area in wet weather or take extreme care.

The far end of the point is a popular venue for spinning for bass and mackerel a Toby lure being the most popular lure. Last two hours of the flood tide are generally most productive especially if they coincide with dusk or dawn.

To the east of Morte Point is Rockham Bay which can yield bass after dark.

Woolacombe And Putsborough

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These gently shelving surf beaches are popular summer venue that can yield fish throughout the year. The peak months to fish these marks are from April through until September. Small eyed ray are the principle species with specimens topping ten pounds most years. Bass are also landed especially if there is a bit of surf. Large conger can be landed from this venue especially from the Putsborough end during the autumn when they roam away from the nearby rocks of Baggy Point.

Being a popular beach with surfers and tourists fishing is only practical after dark when the fish venture closer into the shoreline. Most anglers fish the venues 2 hours each side of low water with the flood tide producing most sport.

The venue is sheltered from prevailing south westerly winds and is a good alternative if more exposed local beaches are unfishable due to wind or weed.

Fish can be caught all along this beach with areas of undulating sand often considered worth searching out.

The beaches turn up the following species small eyed ray, dogfish, bass, conger, small turbot, whiting and occasional blonde ray.

Best baits are sand eel, live or frozen for the ray whilst squid or mackerel makes a useful alternative also attracting bass, conger and dogfish.

Baggy Point

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A rocky headland that is popular with climbers. There are several marks accessible to anglers all of which tend involve a strenuous walk. Baggy is best avoided if there is a big ground swell running as landing fish in such conditions becomes perilous. The northern side marks include Flat Rock which is situated half way along the headland. It was from here that the British Record tope was landed. This rock mark gives access to deep water where a wide range of species can be tempted. During August and September trigger fish can often be caught. Large numbers of mackerel can also be landed here along with the occasional specimen bass.

On the southern side of Baggy is an old sewer outlet that has a rocky platform that produces bass, cod and conger over high water. The venue is sheltered from a north westerly wind and often fished best during rough conditions. I have taken grey mullet from this venue in the past but it is unlikely to be as productive now that the sewer has been cleaned up.

Croyde Beach

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Bass are the main attraction to anglers visiting this sandy beach that is a Mecca for surfers. In addition to bass anglers can expect ray, dogfish, small turbot and the occasional conger. The beach is prone to strong currents and weed, which can on occasions render it unfishable. The best fishing is generally considered to be over low and high water.

Saunton Rocks

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Reached via a lay-by that overlooks Saunton Sands this rock mark allows casting onto clear ground where wide range of species can be tempted. Autumn and winter will give good results with cod, dogfish, whiting and conger especially following rough weather when the water becomes coloured. During the spring and summer smoothound and the occasional bass are landed.

The far end of the point is popular during summer evenings when high water coincides. Mackerel and bass provide good sport on spinners and plugs.

Saunton Sands

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A vast stretch of golden sand stretches from Saunton Rocks and the famous Saunton Sands Hotel to the mouth of the Taw and Torridge Estuaries made famous Henry Williamson in his book Tarka the Otter. The beach has been used for filming several films and rock videos including Pink Floyds “The Wall” and Robbie Williams, “Angels” video.

The venue is also visited by bass which are targeted by anglers fishing after dark on summer nights. The beach fishes best when moderate surf surges onto the shoreline. The best time to fish is probably when a neap tide coincides with midnight. Fish two hours up and one back. See section” Big Bass with Kevin” which describes Kev’s way of fishing this venue.

Crow Point

This estuary mouth mark is reached via the Braunton Burrows Toll road, but please check what time the gate is to be locked.. A walk of around ¾ of a mile will take you onto this venue. Rocky promontories here are useful areas for collecting peeler crabs during the summer months. During autumn and winter good sport can be enjoyed with codling, bass, flounder, dabs and whiting. Fish the sandy area past the rocks previously mentioned. Low water is generally considered prime time allowing casting into what is commonly referred to as cod pit. High water can produce but is not generally so good for codling. Strong tidal flows make fishing mid tide impractical.

During the summer months anglers can enjoy fine sport with school bass as they move into the shallow rocky gullies. Many anglers now use fly-fishing tactics here to good effect with hauls of twenty or more bass up to a couple of pounds common. Please use barbless hooks and return all undersize fish.

Taw Estuary

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From September until late January the estuary is popular with flounder enthusiasts. Each year it produces numerous specimen flounder well in excess of two pounds. The constantly changing riverbed results in hotspots throughout the estuary varying from year to year. It is always worthwhile searching out the deeper channels and pits that hold flounder over the low water period.

The estuary can be fished at any state of tide though it is generally best to ensure the session includes part of the flood or ebb tide. The flooding tide reaches the middle estuary at approximately 2½hrs before high water and will have ebbed back after 3 -3½hrs. Fish tend to feed well on the first of the flood and last of the ebb. Fish can be caught over the low water period if a more mobile approach is adopted to locate concentrations of fish.

The best of the fishing is to be enjoyed as the river fines down following a spate. This encourages the fish to feed and also tends to push the bait robbing crabs further down the estuary.

Large numbers of juvenile school bass are caught from the area and can be a nuisance at times as they frequently rattle the rod tip whilst stripping bait from the hooks. The occasional bass in excess of five pounds is caught.

The venue is only lightly fished during the summer months when large shoals of grey mullet patrol the estuary.

Best Baits

Harbour rag is the number one bait and can be dug from various locations throughout the Taw estuary and can often be purchased from local tackle shops.

Thick Lipped grey mullet can be tempted using bread flake and thin lipped mullet using spinners baited with harbour rag.

Tackle

Good sport is enjoyed using a light bass or carp rod. A two or three hook flowing rig incorporating size 2 to 1/0 hooks is all that is needed. Many anglers use beads and sequins to draw inquisitive flounder to the hook baits. The weight size is dictated by the tidal flow a selection of 2 to 4 ounces will generally suffice.

Light freshwater tackle is required for the mullet.