Family holidays in close proximity to water leave anglers with a huge dilemma. You’re going to want to go fishing but getting past the other half isn’t going to be easy. Getting the okay for an eight hour beach session is not going to happen, but sneaking out for the odd early morning session here and there tends not to cause too much of a stir from our partners. After all, they get an undisturbed sleep in – it’s a win-win. 

I’m writing this article shortly after returning from Falmouth. Like much of the South West, it offers excellent fishing prospects within a short drive from anywhere you’re likely to be staying. Hopefully this summary of my week’s fishing gives you some idea of what’s on offer in the area surrounding this Cornish port.

The first species on my agenda were the gilthead bream that are found throughout many of the estuary systems in the South West. Having spent a fair amount of time in Falmouth, I have a vague idea of how to target the species but not endless knowledge of how to locate the fish at different stages of tide and in varying conditions. As you can imagine, some of the anglers down there are true bream gurus and getting information on the bream fishing is difficult, possibly rightly so. Some of these people have spent a lifetime devoted to the species so why should they give it away cheaply?

A stunning gilthead bream

When I target gilts I tend to fish at low water. I find that these fish tend to hold up in the river channels and deeper pools, then move off with the flooding tide to feed throughout the miles of tidal shallows and creeks in the Fal system. For the traveling angler with only a short window, you simply don’t have the time to gain much understanding of this massive fishery. 

On the second morning of the trip I set my alarm at 4am: as an angler I just feel more confident at first light and it’s also when the Mrs is most likely to let me go fishing. This also meant that I got to my chosen mark one hour before low water, giving me an hour of the ebb and a couple of hours of the flood.

Arriving at the mark, I baited one of my two rods with peeler crab and the other with ragworm. The rag baited rod was dropped in close, whilst I put the peeler crab out into the deepest part of the channel. My bream rigs were a simple running leger, with 20lb fluorocarbon snoods terminating in a size 1 chinu hook. Bream have very strong and bony mouths and they will mangle hooks that aren’t up to the job; check out the Sakuma or Cox and Rawle chinu patterns. When bream fishing set your drag fairly slack, this (along with a running leger rig) means the fish feels the least resistance. A sharp strike will set the hook into the hard mouth of the bream.

The Fin Nor Lethal well and truly bent over into a lovely ling. The initial part of the fight were you must bully them really gets the adrenaline pumping

With the baits only having been out a few minutes, a gentle rattle bite began to develop on the peeler crab. It certainly wasn’t a typical bream bite and after a minute or so of gentle taps and pulls, I decided to investigate. The culprit turned out to be a small eel and after whipping on a fresh crab, I tried again. Whilst putting the rod onto the tripod, the other rod gently bent over and the drag screamed into action. The fish took a short first run until I tightened up the drag and, feeling the pressure, the fish turned and ran back upriver. As it did so, I caught a glimpse of it: a nice gilthead.

For their size bream really are great sporting fish and after a few good runs, I had my quarry beat – not a monster but certainly a respectable catch. The session continued to produce small eels but no more bream. Despite the slow fishing, I was happy to find my target species and to be home for 8:30am.

The forecast for the week was windy, hampering prospects of getting out on the boat. Myself and my good friend John from the Fish Locker, were hoping to get out to one of the many wrecks present in the Falmouth bay area. Our only chance looked to be an early window on Wednesday morning and, after assessing conditions on Tuesday afternoon, we decided that we would give it a go.

A fine ling taken from a Cornish wreck

Knowing it was going to be a little lumpy and windy, drifting wrecks wasn’t going to be easy. 

After meeting John at 5am, we headed out to find some fresh bait. With ling the target species, we wanted some fresh mackerel or scad: fish with a high oil content. After a while of struggling with no reward, we headed to a patch of rough ground in search of pouting, not as good as mackerel or scad but at this stage beggars couldn’t be choosers – we needed bait. Working the rough ground with baited feathers resulted in several pouting good enough for bait. These, in conjunction with a few octopus John had brought, were enough to head out for the ling.

Setting a drift slightly uptide of the wreck we baited up the wrecking rigs. Watch the video from the Fish Locker channel in the link below for the exact rigs we used. They are very simple to make and are perfect for the job. 

In order to fish on the drift above these deep wrecks laying in over 200ft of water, you need to tackle them on small tides and on days when there’s little wind – a quick drift will make fishing almost impossible. Despite conditions being far from ideal, the wind was against the tide for a small window, meaning we were able to get the baits down onto the wreck without too much hassle. The first two drops resulted in snags and lost leads.

Looking down into the water at our wrasse mark. Further out, there is clean sand but in closer, the rocks and kelp provide perfect habitat for the wrasse

When fishing in this way I use a rotten bottom, instead of attaching the lead directly to the clip I use some 30lb mono as a weak link. If the lead becomes snagged in the wreck you will only lose the lead, if the hook becomes snagged then it’s goodbye to the whole rig.  

The second drift resulted in a positive thump on the rod tip and after a few more hard jolts, I struck into what felt like a good fish. Early in the fight, it’s critical to get the fish up and out the wreck; once in open water there’s no risk of snagging but those initial seconds are crucial.

After a good fight, a stunning ling came to the surface, absolutely smashing my PB: result! John then positioned the boat for a third time over the wreck and it wasn’t long before I hooked into my second ling, a fish of a similar stamp. At this we decided to move off the structure, leaving the ling behind. I would have loved to continue fishing as they were cracking sport but the angler must apply common sense and conservation when fishing in this manner. Ling don’t survive being brought up from such depths, with the change in pressure unfortunately killing them. We had two lovely sized fish for the table but to catch more would be a waste and detrimental to the wreck, removing all the specimen fish from the structure.

This brute of a wrasse fell to a small crab bait. The old war horse was covered in lumps and bumps and sported a huge gut

With wrecks acting as a small oasis of life amidst the largely barren, deep water environments, it’s important to preserve them for both the future of the sport and the local ecology. Being fortunate enough to know a few of the skippers in the South West, I know they share this mentality and the results are clear – a short steam from the ports and your catching quality ling. Fish of late doubles are the average stamp, with fish in the region of 20-30lb being commonplace. You’d have to steam a long way out of Whitby to find fishing like this.

Following the ling fishing, we decided to head inshore to an area strewn with large pinnacles and with a strong flow of tide – perfect for pollack and bass. The water was around 60-70ft deep so I opted for a lightweight slow jigging rod, a 4000 size reel and a bright orange 80g slow jig. I had been working the lure for a while with no interest when then the rod buckled over. Whatever I had hooked stayed deep with the occasional thump, a characteristic ‘big cod’ feel. John and I got rather excited at this prospect as it certainly wasn’t a large pollack in the way it was fighting. We both began reeling off all sorts of other species it could be, getting more and more worked up.

John with a nice ballan. This fish is typical of the stamp we were catching

Could this be something really special? After a fairly long fight, due to having my drag set a little light as I was fearful my 20lb braid would snap, a large ling surfaced next to the boat. We both had a good chuckle as we had spent all morning chasing them only to find them inshore whilst fishing for pollack. It wasn’t to be that mystic anglerfish this time.

With the success of the boat trip on Wednesday, I thought it was unlikely I would fit another session in before the end of the holiday. I gave my gear a wash down and packed it away, happy in knowing I had accomplished my two targets: a specimen ling and a nice bream.

On Thursday evening I received a rather excitable phone call from John, he’d been diving and spotted some quality wrasse. I was due to leave home on Saturday, which meant if we were going to have a go at these wrasse it would have to be early Saturday morning. With the all clear from the Mrs and half a pound of fresh rag ordered, the hunt was on. Again the alarm was set for 4am, high water was 5:15am and I wanted to be on the mark at first light before high water. The chosen mark was a rocky outcrop surrounded by large submerged rock pinnacles shrouded in kelp, perfect wrasse ground.

A colourful wrasse taken by John on his pop-up boom rig

I chose to tackle the wrasse with typical UK shore tactics, a tripod with two shore rods. John chose to use a float, aiming to present his bait just above the kelp. This style of fishing for me is almost identical to my local cod fishing in the North East: heavy ground, sturdy tackle. When fishing braid, I like a rod with a subtle tip as it helps prevent hook pulls and protects the bait during the cast. However, in this instance we were fishing less than 40 yards out, so splattering the baits with forceful casting wasn’t going to be an issue. Rig wise, I chose a simple paternoster rig with a size 1 Chinu popped up with a white bead. We both opted for ragworm as our initial baits, though I was banking on my defrosting peeler crab producing the better quality fish. 

Within minutes the rod tips were alive with sharp taps and rattles, the sort of bites you would need cat-like reactions to strike at. We put these down to smaller corkwing wrasse nipping at the baits. Eventually my left hand rod bounced over properly and I was into the first ballan of the session, not a monster but a start. Following this we each had a steady flow of ballan wrasse in the 1-2lb bracket, with John managing to find a stunning corkwing wrasse on the float. My peelers had defrosted nicely so I decided to give one a go. As the tide retreated it had revealed a large hole between two large boulders about 20 yards out and an underarm lob positioned the crab perfectly. It wasn’t long before the tip bounced round and dropped slack.

Our biggest wrasse of the session. It certainly put a bend in the rod!

Picking the rod up and tightening back up, the rod once again arched over. A cracking wrasse dug deep into the kelp before coming to the surface and fortunately John was on hand to go down and retrieve the fish from the waters edge. This old war horse looked like it had lived a hard life but it was a cracking specimen and certainly worth the early alarm. The remainder of the session continued much the same, with each of us catching a steady stream of nice size ballan wrasse. 

Due to the area we were fishing being rather small, bites dried up after a couple of hours. Ballan wrasse are known for being territorial and like to hang around a certain favoured patch.

For optimal sport, I would suggest a ‘traveling light’ approach, moving on as the fishing slows. I have found this method particularly effective up in North West Scotland. Here I found that the tide didn’t make a great deal to catch rates – if the wrasse were there, they would feed. However, once you’d caught the majority of the fish in that area, the fishing would slow. Moving 50-100 yards to the next likely-looking spot would once again result in quality fishing.

John’s basic paternoster rig with pop-up beads. When fishing rough ground, it is always advisable to fish a rotten boom. Since we weren’t casting far, however, in this case there was no need for a rotten bottom clip

The fishing on offer around Falmouth (and elsewhere in the region) is outstanding. For the traveling angler there are truly endless possibilities, plenty of which can be enjoyed in a short evening or early morning session – ideal for when you’re on holiday and want to sneak a few hours in. It’s also nice to appreciate Cornwall in a different light. In midsummer we all know that it’s rather busy down there but getting up early and sampling your surroundings whilst the rest of the world sleeps is something special in itself. The following are a few contacts I think would be useful for the traveling angler in the area. 

  • Tony Portas of Lizard Tackle & Bait, contact: 07472 453332. A cracking little shop on the Lizard with a huge array of tackle. It truly is an Aladdin’s Cave with a huge selection of lures and, of course, everything else you expect to find in a tackle shop.
  • Marc Smithy of Falmouth Sea Fishing Baits, contact: 07964 425614. Good selection of fresh and frozen sea baits along with essential terminal tackle.


Thanks for taking the time to read this article and I hope it’s of use to some anglers out there. With COVID-19 restrictions beginning to lift it’s great that we can all get back out there responsibly. 

Tight lines, 

Tom

A rather damp start to our wrasse session. When the fish are biting, however, you soon forget about the drizzle
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