Despite the angling year getting underway a little differently this year, I felt I would share with you some ideas that might assist you with your fishing for the first few months of 2021 here on the Bristol Channel. Although we are currently restricted to fishing within a few miles of home, this information will hopefully remain relevant over the coming weeks and months, but more importantly offer some foundations on which to plan your sea angling campaign in to the spring and beyond.
This month I will offer my thoughts and guidance as to what can be expected between now and the end of March, along with how I would personally plan for all eventualities.
Okay, so we are almost half way through the month, but there remains the opportunity for some good fishing over the course of January. Cod will be high on the agenda for many anglers and it’s not too late for a potential double figure fish to come ashore. Aim to fish the deeper channel marks when possible and focus your efforts on neap tides. Tide run is extremely important for successful cod fishing and a steady trickle is all you’ll need. Huge tides make the deeper water marks difficult, if not impossible, to fish effectively and if your bait is not firmly in place on the bottom you won’t catch fish. You’ll also lose plenty of rigs as the tide washes the end gear in to the rocks where it will remain. Keep the rig simple, a robust pulley rig with small, strong components is all you will need. Don’t be tempted to go silly on hook size though. 5/0 standard gauge hooks such as the Varivas Big Mouth pattern have ample strength to beat anything you are likely to hook here and will offer some flex should one or both hooks get snagged in the bottom. Heavier hook patterns are difficult to break out should they become snagged and are best avoided.
Lugworm will remain the best bait for numbers of fish, but if you really do have your heart set on the bigger fish, I would fish exclusively with squid or bluey. These baits tend to pick out the better fish but do require some patience. Worm baits will certainly generate more bites, but fish baits are far more selective. Baits don’t have to be huge- the potency of bluey in particular is huge and will emit plenty of scent when it comes to rest on the bottom. Big cod fishing is a waiting game, so be sure to tell yourself this ahead of sitting behind your rods for several chilly hours.
Thornback rays aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but January offers the chance of a big female ray. My records show that it was during a four hour session in January a few years back that I landed seven double figure rays well in to specimen size, when at the time most anglers anticipated the arrival of these bigger fish in March and so fished only for codling with worm baits.
Arguably the quietest month in the sea anglers calendar, when you take the country as a whole, but here in the channel there are some worthwhile opportunities. Many anglers pack the rods away at this time but the lower reaches of the Bristol Channel can offer some good sport.
Again, the rock marks are where the action will be, with both large bull huss and conger eels a viable target. Overcast, mild conditions with a wind blowing from the south would be a text book scenario. Conventional fish baits such as mackerel and squid can work well, but by far, the most productive baits I have found are those that are naturally present on the day. Start your session with two hook flapper rigs baited with small slivers of mackerel and a short cast should reveal the smaller species that your quarry will be feeding on. Both pouting and rockling make excellent baits and will account for the majority of the larger species successfully landed on this stretch of coast. Half a dozen of these smaller fish will suffice for a regular session where the smallest fish can be used whole and the larger rockling, or perhaps a pollack, can be filleted off. Anything left over can be taken home and froze down ready for future efforts.
Porlock Bay and beyond offers the perfect ground for huss, these oversized dogfish preferring the huge kelp beds that make up most of the sea bed in this area. Long casting isn’t necessary and sixty yards will put your bait in the zone. Huss can be finicky feeders and are known for ‘blowing a bait’ on the surface, just when you think your fish is in the bag. Give bites plenty of time. You’ll often find that following a bite, you’ll be immediately snagged. It’s likely that the huss is hooked and has wrapped itself in kelp. Steady pressure is key to extraction, but a heavy mainline and a bombproof leader knot is crucial. Take your time, both when trying to get your fish off the bottom and retrieving it once successfully pulled free. You’ll be amazed what slow, continuous pressure can do. For the exact same reason, use a rotten bottom to ensure that should the lead get hung up, it can be snapped off, hopefully freeing the rig and so the fish as it does.
March can be a brilliant month as the temperature starts to climb and daylight hours noticeably increase. As the air temperature rises, in turn so will the sea temperature and this yields a change in feeding habits for many species of fish. Codling will be in abundance but whereas the bulk of the winter fish would have taken lugworm baits, their attention will now be turning towards peeler crab. Crabs can be expensive to buy so it’s important that they are used correctly. Use only crabs that are showing signs of shedding their shells. Small slits down the side, much like those that appear on conkers in the autumn, are a sure sign that the crab is almost ready to shed its current hard shell in order to grow. Once removed, the new flesh beneath will be soft, vulnerable and juicy, offering an irresistible feast for many fish. Peel the crab and remove the legs before whipping it to a 4/0 hook and in to an oval shape. After a few turns of elastic, you will be able to manipulate the bait by squeezing it along the shank of the hook, over the eye and onto the trace line. There are now many bait tools that make this job a lot easier, so consider using one of these if you’re unsure. If the weather is mild, then bass could also be on the cards so never be afraid to drop a bait at very close range.
You’ll also be surprised just how close to shore the codling could be feeding. Probably the most important task for the month of March is to begin stocking up on peeler crabs in anticipation of the coming smoothhound season. When crabs are plentiful, get what you can. Buy only those crabs that are ready to use there and then and freeze them down in bags of half a dozen or less. Better still, foil wrap them individually. Keep the shells on as these will protect from freezer burn and literally freeze them as they are. Smoothhound sessions are often short and targeted over a specific window in the tide, so it makes sense not to over load the bait bag and risk potentially spoiling this valuable bait. Plan ahead, anticipate how many times you are likely to target these fish and go from there. Based on recent years, June would be the perfect time to begin your campaign and by starting to stock the freezer now, you’ll ensure that you have first rate bait when many may not.