It’s not that often that we get to talk about positive things within the environment and certainly not when it comes to the state of our seas and marine environments. I am sure you are all aware of the constant barrage of articles, programmes and documentaries that keep telling us that there will be no fish left in 30 years’ time because of commercial fishing operations and the growing threat of plastic pollution… the list goes on. Now I am not one to deny any of this as there is a serious problem worldwide, but I want to focus on something positive for once. 

By now, I expect most of you will be area of MPAs (Marine Protected Areas). For those who are not, they are specifically designated areas where certain action has been taken to abolish different fishing techniques to protect the zone and enable it to rejuvenate to its once former glory. There are several of these dotted around the UK, but I want to concentrate on a particular area and my experiences surrounding it.

The Beer self hire boats are a fun way to enjoy to fishing the area has to offer

The Lyme Bay Reserve stretches from the west of Beer in Devon approximately 120km East into the neighbouring county of Dorset. The entire MPA covers around 206 km squared in which a wide range of marine habitats are encompassed. The protection of this zone was first initiated in 2008 after years of relentless scallop and bottom dredging saw the environment virtually wiped out. The natural habitat for marine fauna was destroyed which in turn had a detrimental effect through the food chain. Since the protection came into place, the improvements started immediately. 

Certain sponges, fans and corals began to grow again and the whole area began to show signs of life. From the research I have done I understand that the whole area has recovered quicker than anyone could have imagined but still to this day it is managed very well, and things continue to improve.

All the information is available online at www.lymebayreserve.co.uk should you want to read into it a bit more, but I want to get down to the actual recreational boat fishing side of things.  

The plaice in Lyme bay can be plentiful and obliging

My first experience was many years ago when myself and a few friends decided to take a weekend camping at Beer, which centred around utilising the self-drive boats that are based on the beach there. Being young and enthusiastic we loaded up the car with our standard boat gear we use in the Bristol Channel and each had a tackle box which included enough kit to last us a year afloat. We spent two days drifting the banks and reefs inshore picking up several species as we went along.

The inshore rough ground around Beer Head produced countless pollack and mackerel while the introduction of a bit of ragworm to our feathers saw some lovely wrasse of varying sorts. Inside the point and stretching towards Seaton there are large sandy areas where we found plenty of plaice, gurnards and the ever-present dogfish. That first trip started a love affair which has seen me return to the area several times a year ever since.

There's no shortage of quality Ballan wrasse on offer, with some serious specimens up for grabs

I would like to think that we learnt a lot on that first trip, as the very next year on our first foray to Beer we went armed with a much smaller assortment of tackle and much lighter rods and reels. It was quite apparent that you did not need to use the gear we did in the Bristol Channel and for the most part a 2 or 3oz lead would suffice. A light spinning rod coupled with a 2000 size reel was ample. We made sure we had plenty of packs of sabikis and other feathers and this really was as difficult as it got.

I still keep it simple while fishing inshore from the self-drive boats, only changing it up when we want to drift the sand for a bit. Our best day was a couple of years ago when we managed 16 different species in a single sitting. To this day I still enjoy a few days afloat using these awesome little vessels, but my head has been turned slightly. 

Great family fun can be had with the Beer self drive boats

A chance meeting on a Minehead charter boat saw me develop a friendship with a lovely young chap from the south coast. It turned out he owned his own private boat near Lyme Regis. A bond was made, and our first trip was in the diary. 

In a local carpark to Lyme Regis, Wayne Hand and I met up with Captain James Trevett, loaded the truck up and made our way down to the Cobb. James’s boat was loaded up for the day and we set off to hopefully find some bream, bass and anything else we could come across. 

The first job was to have a drift to find some live bait that we could use to drift the wrecks that James had planned on us attacking. This was not the easiest of tasks, but we did find a few mackerel along with the usual pout, poor cod and some beautiful cuckoo and ballan wrasse. A short steam away we came across our first wreck. Nose hooked mackerel were sent to the bottom on long flowing Portland rigs but there was just one thing missing…. The fish. Our live bait stock was at a minimum and we had truly little return for our efforts, so we had a bit of a move eventually fishing a spot that produced a good number of pollack with the best one going to over 10lb, which was a new pb for me. Suddenly this day had got better. 

Some cracking pollack action was had, with this pb topping them for myself

Before long, we decided to anchor on the side of a wreck and Wayne had lowered a large mackerel frame to the bottom. Within minutes he had a strange bite and connected with something a bit different. With the 3 of us scratching our heads it was carefully played to the boat where a large sandy coloured shape emerged in the clear water. Wayne exclaimed loudly… “it’s one of them”! Wow… a nice turbot, nope hang on…. It’s a brill! At a touch over 5lb the 3 of us were amazed. I had only encountered small brill before so to see a decent one like this come from an anchored situation on a wreck was a great thing to witness. 

So that was two pb’s in the bag… what next? Well, James decided to sit us on an area of reef that he knew had produced some decent bass. Was it his turn to get amongst the better fish? It certainly was. I kept him fed with a steady stream of live pout for bait and on the first drop he got smashed by something but there was to be no cigar this time. The very next drop a similar situation evolved but this time he connected with something that seemed to disapprove of the situation it had found itself in. After a very dogged fight a beautiful dark bass was brought along side. Asked if I would oblige with the net, I dropped it in behind the fish as James lowered the bass back towards the net, it was in… or was it?

You don't get many opportunities to witness a brill of this size!

The bass thrashed, leaving the hook in the net and the fish siding up and down the trace… disaster! Now this was a big fish and had it been lost I think I may have been thrown over to join it… thankfully we did manage to get it back in the net. Huge sighs of relief my end and shouts of joy from the boys. She swung the needle round to near 10lb which if my memory serves me correctly was a pb for James too!

It is safe to assume that I was taken off net duty after that. We spent the rest of the day scratching around catching various mini species and just revelling in what a cracking trip it had been all round… We were also treated to a spectacular display on the way home from a local pod of very playful common dolphins. 

The bass that was nearly lost at the net!

Since that trip we struggled to book time in to meet again that year, so I stuck with the self-drive boats from Beer having a few cracking trips. A few noticeable trips being when we had tub gurnards to nearly 5lb coughing up live dragonets and some beautiful ballans to just under 6lb on lrf tackle. 

Finally, I got the opportunity to fish with James again from Lyme Regis last year as restrictions were lifted, but this time it would be aboard his brother Barry’s small commercial boat.

Would I be in for another red-letter day with James? Well, we decided to have a small species comp to make it a bit of fun and it certainly did make things interesting. It was great to meet Barry and rack his brains about the commercial fishing being undertaken by the local fleet. His complimentary comments of the work that had been done in the area proved to me that it was going from strength to strength. Obviously, it has not been without its problems especially when trying to keep everyone and the environment happy, but a task this huge would never be plain sailing. 

The quality of gurnards in the reserve is astounding

The plan today was to start off looking for the big bream that inhabit the wrecks at this time of year then head to various other marks in search of the many other species that inhabit this diverse area. I really wanted to up my bream pb so I sent down a light Portland rig with a strong, yet subtle Chinu style hook masked by a squid head. No sooner had I touched down than I was getting rattles. Not convinced these were bream bites I soon found out that the actual culprits where the ravenous pouting that dwell in these decomposing ship shells. To be honest they were not a bad stamp of fish with some in the 3lb region, but it was not the intended quarry. 

I knew I needed to stick with it, as it was my best chance of bagging a trophy bream and sure enough as the tide started to slacken off I had the typical sharp fast plucking on the end of my rod that I was after. Thankfully, I had decided to take a slightly uprated rod and reel today as I knew we were going to be pushing offshore a bit more. This thing went crazy! Having caught my fair share of bream over years it was doing all he right things just in a much more exaggerated fashion!

The black bream fishing was excellent, topped by this prime specimen

Gently teasing the fish up through the water column, it was soon apparent that we had a belter and it was soon secure in the net. A real brute of a fish that weighed in at a respectable 4lb. The bream really came on the feed after that and bites were instant. Most fish were under the pound mark but we probably found over 80 in total on that first wreck which kept us pretty busy. I know James was keen to have a look for a fish that has been a true advocate of the Lyme bay success story. the undulate ray. 

We moved to patch of ground where we thought they might be residing. We really did not have to wait too long… I had one on my up tide set up within minutes and it was not too long before myself and my host were both into particularly good specimens well into double figures. The sight of these beautifully marked fish appearing from the depths is something I will never tire of. I did fluke another nice ray of 14lb on my scratching rod…. I’ll put it down to good angling as it took a liking to a size 16 sabiki baited with an inch strip of squid. 

One of the real success stories of the area has to be the resurgence of undulate ray

Having had our fill of rays including a nice thornback, Barry decided to set us up on a nice long drift just to see what we could pick up. I decided to try something a bit different that I had been experimenting with in the Bristol Channel. The “hook up” is something that I previously mentioned, but which I will cover in more detail in a future article. However, in simple terms it is a powder coated lead that has a hook attached directly via a split ring. I decided to use the lead, but tie a short 2inch length of 4lb line with a size 16 hook on it and bait it with a miniscule piece of ragworm.

Above the lead I opted for a string of baited herring sabikis. The drift started off slow and after a few very small rattles I decided to check my bait. To my surprise hanging on to my size 16 hook was the most incredible mini species I have seen…. a butterfly blenny!

Those who know me, will confirm my love for the smaller fish so to say I was elated is a huge understatement. This one has been on my bucket list for a long time.

A bucket list species ticked off most unexpectedly!

We finished the long drift and after a few gurnards and other bits and bobs we decided to call it a day. We had flogged it for 12 hours so enough was enough. For some reason every time I fish with James we get to see some cool things and this day was no different as we were treated to an explosion of bluefin tuna that found something to feed on a few hundred yards away from the boat and yet another awe-inspiring display from the dolphins on our way back to port.  I will not go into the results of the species comp we had but, I did not win! We have plans already to get out later in the year once things really kick off down there and I really cant wait. Every day is different so I’m looking forward to seeing what surprises he has in store for me this time. 

I have waffled on enough for now but make sure that you give Lyme bay a visit. It holds a plethora of fish from the shore and boat largely thanks to its status as an MPA, which has to be viewed as a brilliant success so far, even if there is so much more that can still be done. Seemingly, The various ports have a fantastic array of charter boats on offer and as I mentioned the self-drive boats from Beer are always good fun…. Go and check out the diversity of the place for yourselves.  You will not be disappointed!

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