Brixham in Torbay; home to the most valuable fishing fleet in the South West and a Mecca for LRF anglers across the country. This busy seaside town is sheltered from south-westerly winds, making it a refuge on difficult breezy days. It is also home to a huge population of seals, who can make even the hardiest angler jump when they appear out of nowhere just a rod length away. The whole bay teems with life, especially in the summer months. With all this life, there’s always a chance of something rather special too. So I was looking forward to a rare weekday off fishing with Richard Salter, aiming for a decent tally of species.
It wasn’t a typical July day – breezy, intermittent sunshine and rain showers, actually you could say it was very typical… Typical British summer weather! I had parked up next to the water and had been greeted by a pair of grey seals, slowly working their way along the shoreline. Their huge forms partially hidden by the cloudy water, the sea glowing the usual Torbay blue in the irregular bouts of sunlight.
Brixham laughs at the suggestion that large populations of seals are not compatible with large numbers of fish. At times this sheltered, man made bay can appear like an aquarium. Pollock fry hover among the fronds of weed, huge ballan wrasse patrol the sunken boulders and shoals of mackerel and herring chase their prey up and down the breakwater. This safe space for fish, despite the seals and cormorants, acts as a nursery for a myriad of species – including at least 5 species of wrasse.
It is this variety of species that calls me and Rich back to Brixham regularly. A chance at something special, or just a chilled day out by the sea. This day was going to be a mix of those two, a change of pace, but with no less special results…
Richard had arrived and we were soon onto the bladder weed covered rocks, exposed by the low tide. We gingerly made our way to the water, watching out for the occasional loose rock, rocking from a poorly placed foot. Who says LRF isn’t hair raising and risky? That was about as much drama as we found though as we got to fishing. The water cloudy from all the recent rain, but still calm and with a metre or so of visibility.
We both knew that among the boulders there was a chance of some miniature wonders. LRF specialities like rockcook wrasse and leopard spotted gobies both have small mouths and require smaller hooks. So we both set up with the Stinger Rig, essentially a Cheb rig with an added hooklength of a tiny Tanago hook. This has the benefit of taking the smaller tail biting species as well as the larger fish. I had set up with a small weedless hook, on which I threaded an Ecogear Aqua Shirasu in green. The miniature stinger hook was put through the tail of the lure, intending to catch any shy biters.
I dropped the set up into the first gap in the rocks and felt it fall through until the line went slack as it came to a stop. Tightening the line I waited for interest. Only a metre out, a shoal of micro pollock flitted about, tiny silhouettes against greeny blue water before them. I imagined how frightening it must be for those fish, competing to be the top predator whilst also being prey for everything. They nervously patrolled, darting to the safety of the boulders every time a shadow of a bird passed over.
The rod tip of my Majorcraft Aji-Do was stirring, it pulled down then flicked up, this time the pink braid clearly staying lifted. A classic lift bite I struck into a feisty fish, which began tearing about the rocks underneath me. Luckily it couldn’t find a snag to hide in and I had it beat after a few more manic dives. The culprit was, of course, a small ballan wrasse. A little female, lacking the bold blues and reds that the larger males are dressed in. She was quickly returned to the water after removing the weedless hook. A solid start.
My stinger was soon to come into use as my lure was getting the typical rattles of a goldsinny wrasse, I struck and soon had the culprit in my hand. Goldsinny do not fight hard because they don’t grow large. They are a funny looking fish, with goofy looking teeth, large red eyes, on an brown-orange body with the tell-tale black spot on the top of the tail root and at the start of the dorsal fin. The barbless hook fell out easily and the small wrasse was dropped back into the sea. Two species in the first ten minutes, Brixham was living up to its reputation.
A small, female grey seal surfaced with a snort, not fussed about the two apes staring at the water nearby. After catching a breath she descended back down into the blue, the pollock scattering in panic as she passed us beneath the surface. This caused a brief lull in the fishing while the fish collectively held their breath in fear.
Eventually the feeding commenced once again and I caught a couple more ballan and goldsinny wrasse. Richard, a die hard Brixham fan, was making the most of the renewed feeding. The tide was picking up and so was his species tally. He seemed to be catching the bay’s entire population of tompot blennies and goldsinny wrasse. His Stinger Rig getting the work done with typical efficiency.
Richard’s Aji-do was soon bending into an energetic fish, rocketing around the weed and boulders. It soon revealed itself to be a hand sized pouting, which at that scale are surprisingly powerful targets on LRF tackle. The catch prompted me to try for one using a tiny 1 gram metal jig. Unfortunately and inevitably, all I could attract were the immense numbers of micro pollock. So I switched it back up to the stinger rig.
The tide had started to push up past the boulders we were standing on, intriguingly, a small blenny was using this rising water to find new food. I immediately knew this was something different to a common or tompot blenny, it was colourful and in the shallow water I could make out it’s delicately marbled flanks…
‘It’s a ringneck blenny’ I excitedly called out to Richard.
Rich was just out of view of the fish but egged me on to catch it.
My heart was racing as I tried to convince this little fish to take, it’s something only species hunting anglers can understand – getting so excited over such a seemingly unimportant fish. I lowered my lure to the fish. I had hooked on a tiny piece of pink Marukyu Snow – which is essentially a tiny 3mm rectangle of Isome. It is an artificial bait designed for catching micro species. Frustratingly, the fish fancied my Cheb weight more, attempting to chomp into the tungsten metal to no avail. The piece of Snow fluttering past it’s head but perhaps too small for it’s attention?
Seconds passed like minutes, as the fish attacked my weight again and again, I thought it would never see the tiny piece of artificial bait. I stopped moving the lure as I ran out of water, the fish sitting right on top of the rock in only an inch or two deep of water covering it. I saw the fish change tack as it saw the free morsel suspended in the water above it’s head. In a flash it engulfed the ‘free’ offering. I would not dare miss this opportunity, with a lift the blenny was mine!
It was indeed a ringneck blenny! Parablennius pilicornis to use it’s latin name. In 2019 I caught what was probably the first ever positively identified ringneck from the shore. This individual, thanks to Richard having caught two in Brixham recently, was probably only the 4th ringneck ever caught from dry land. This species has been caught by kayakers in the Plymouth Sound, but every time we catch one of these we are treading new ground. It’s a lot of excitement for such a tiny fish. With the changing sea temperatures, I am sure we will see more in the coming years.
For more information on this species read my blog post about them here – https://benbassettfishing.home.blog/2021/07/10/have-you-caught-a-ringneck-blenny/
I admired this tropically marked species, the rings on it’s chin giving away the species immediately. Even if I didn’t catch another fish that day I wouldn’t have been sad, that’s how meaningful the blenny was. Luckily, there was more great Lerfing to be had that day, so the fish was returned and I carried on.
Small pout have such strongly defined stripes in the water, like gold and cream bumblebees, hovering amongst the boulders. These fish are also active predators and scrappy fighters too. Knowing Rich had already caught one, I wanted one of my own. In the steadily flooding gap beneath me, a small pout stalked. I had changed to a 0.9g size 10 Decoy Rocket Jighead, knowing I could slow the fall down to trigger the strike. The plan worked perfectly as the small predator engulfed the Gulp Isome offered to it with zero hesitation. My fifth species of the day and we were only approaching lunchtime.
I stopped to grab some food and talk to Rich. The day had that calm, relaxed feel that only fishing can really bring. The sun was now out, illuminating the bay in gorgeous July light. The occasional tourist stopped by and asked the usual, ‘caught anything?’. Brixham’s grey seals swam by, also seemingly very relaxed too. It was about as pleasant as you could ask for, the perfect tonic after a busy few weeks at work.
Refuelled, I got back to fishing and instantly I was back into something, punching above it’s weight amongst the boulders. I pulled it up to reveal it was a poor cod, a close relation of the pouting. These fish look incredibly similar but adult poor cod are smaller in size and very golden, with no stripes and lose their tiny scales very easily. They fight hard but are quite delicate so it’s best to be careful how you hold them. I returned the bar of bronze-gold to the water, my sixth species of the day.
Rich was still pulling in the tompot blennies and I was yet to find one, so I persevered amongst the boulders, knowing this was perfect habitat for these aggressive blennies. After a short pause in the action, the rod tip thumped, this could only be a wrasse or a tompot. I let the bite build, feeling the vibrations feed through the carbon of the rod. I struck and the fish ran deeper into the hole but I wasn’t going to let it snag me! I lifted harder and the fish gave in, revealing itself to be the fish I was after! The tompot blenny, bigger than it’s cousin, the ringneck, I had caught earlier.
We moved along the rocks, with Rich catching a black goby straightaway. He followed that up with a very special catch in LRF circles – a leopard spot goby! These small pink gobies, covered in dark spots (of course), are not a common catch in shallow water so every one is treasured when they turn up. His Stinger Rig was working again – you can find my guide to that here – https://benbassettfishing.home.blog/2021/07/14/lrf-the-stinger-rig/
I also was casting the Stinger Rig as far as 2 grams could go. I watched the tiny rig fly through the air, landing 20 yards away, my pink braid gently arched in the light breeze, delicately falling onto the water’s surface and sinking below. It clearly found fish as nibbles were constant and I hooked the culprit, a tiny poor cod, Richard looking over with envious eyes as he had not had one yet. My second cast produced a more solid thump…
I knew I was fishing over clean ground, but as soon I struck it was clear I had a wrasse on! Line ripped from the reel and I figured I would never see this fish, as my 2lb rated leader would surely snap before I could land it? This fish was certainly trying it’s best, diving into cover, with the rod and line just about managing to keep it away from the worst of it. Richard was soon over to net the fish, ever the optimist! It made one more dive into the weeds below my feet. Rod bent in half, I bullied it out and the net ran underneath it. A fine ballan wrasse of around a pound, not bad for a 3 gram rated rod with 2lb breaking strain leader!
Ballan wrasse come in every colour imaginable, yet this one was strangely muted. Almost a uniform creamy brown, with amber eyes, it wasn’t the most eccentrically coloured wrasse I had ever caught. Still, I appreciated this dull beauty and returned it to the harbour. Following that fish up with two more chunky ballans and a black goby, taking me to 8 species.
Richard was beating me with 9 species caught and I wasn’t going to go out easily, even as the day was winding down. My search for a mackerel proved fruitless but amongst the weeds below the slipway, a colourful wrasse showed itself. Taking a tiny piece of Marukyu Isome, rigged on a Dropshot, I had my ninth species – a corkwing wrasse. Going level with Rich, we both couldn’t find another species to take us to double figures, although we had 11 species altogether as we finished for the day. A perfectly chilled out, species hunting session in beautiful South Devon.
Thank you for reading! The species we caught were:
Ballan wrasse, corkwing wrasse, goldsinny wrasse, pouting, pollock, poor cod, tompot blenny, black goby, common blenny, ringneck blenny and leopard spot goby.