So I decided to take a few weeks off work in August; the main reason being that the end of August means it’s time for the Jersey Open Shore Angling Festival which takes place during the last weekend running through until the first weekend of September.
There have been a few progressive changes to the festival this year by the committee and it was welcome news to hear that there had been more scope for catch and release during the festival, which meant species such as all rays, bass and ballan wrasse were to be measured using a rigid bull nose fish measure including in a video of the fish on the measure and an item of choice announced by the committee at the beginning of the festival, which in this case was a set of scales.
Tope, conger and huss were also to be weighed and videoed should they meet the minimum requirement of size. A witness of capture would also be favoured but not essential for those anglers fishing alone.
I was really up for taking part this year and was keen to give it my all as last year I’d only just missed out on best overall angler (angler at the end of the competition occupying the most categories on the board) which was a draw and then had to be settled on points, where I was beaten by a whisker of 3pts.
This year was a little different for me also in the respect of the team I was fishing in. Due to the current circumstances going on in the world, Ross Johnson was unable to attend the festival in which he would usually team up with a couple of my close mates of mine, so I offered to take his place in the 4 man team whilst teaming up as a pair with my good friend Rob, who had recently taken me under his wing to introduce me to mullet fishing.
The pressure was on, or at least it felt like it, filling the shoes of Ross in the team would mean I’d best manage to catch a few fish for the team points and was hoping I’d not let the other lads down!
Prepping for the festival is really important. You want all your bait collected and gear ready before the festival starts. There’s nothing worse then having to dig worm or scavenge for crabs during the week when you could be out there fishing.
So Rob and I spent the Thursday and Friday evening digging our worms ready for the festival to start on the Saturday at midday.
We started out on our first session fishing a fresh water outlet hoping for the chance of either a gilthead bream or a thick lipped mullet.
The chance of another species as a by catch was likely also as you never could be quite sure what would take you bait there. After about 2hrs fishing the outflow with nothing but the odd schoolie bass taking a liking to our worm baits we decided to cut our losses and head elsewhere.
We thought it might be worth a bash to try our luck targeting the golden grey mullet. Rob had this really smelly ground bait pre made consisting of mackerel and a bit of bread to thicken it up. It was like a smelly fish patê and the goldies loved it! With only a few flicks of this stuff we had two nice ones feeding. Unfortunately, as is the way with mullet fishing, although you can see the fish you can’t always catch them and after sight fishing for the pair of decent sized golden greys we decided to pack up and look forward to our evening session of targeting thick lipped mullet on ledgered bread flake.
After a quick freshen up at home and a bite to eat we were back out. I was really excited about this session, not only as conditions were looking promising, but it also gave me the chance to test out my new 16ft Shimano telescopic quiver tip rod that I’d ordered from Italy.
We ventured down the harbour and had our baits in the water as quick as we could. A simple two hook paternoster with really short hook lengths was the rig of choice, baited generously with large bread offerings moulded round the hook.
It wasn’t long until all the action started with Rob hooking into the first fish and whilst only seconds into the hook up the fish had pulled itself free! Usually whilst mullet fishing we’d be able to play the fish, but as with most harbour areas the abundance of snagging points a fish will run to mean you really have to bully them away.
This happened a couple of times before Rob managed to get one away from any likely snag points to me waiting with the net at the ready. The fish was a nice 4lbs+ thick lipped mullet. Not a bad size, but as far as the Jersey harbour mullet go this one just a tiddler!
I managed to winkle out a few mullet which didn’t quite cut the mustard in the way of minimum festival size but was soon gifted with a nice solid pull down on the quiver tip and after testing my new outfit out I was chuffed to see a 3lbs+ thick on the end of the line which would meet the minimum required for weigh in.
The second day of the festival was a relatively relaxed day. The sun was beating down hard and without wanting to burn ourselves out only a couple of days in we thought an easy session on the mullet float gear in the hopes of perhaps a white bream being a possibility and maybe a bigger thick lipped mullet would be worth a go over these smaller tides.
The float gear proved difficult to find the larger feeding fish within the ground bait and only a few mullet were landed between Rob and I after a session full of lift bites on the wagglers which were difficult to strike and connect to the fish.
We headed back to the town harbour that evening to try for some bigger thick lipped but unfortunately our spot was taken so we had to move to another venue.
We fished a couple of hours with no luck on our bread baits before calling it a night ready for a fresh early start in the morning.
With a good nights sleep under our belts and a morning of no wind things were looking promising for a session out wading using mepps spinners for thin lipped mullet. We’d heard from Daniel and Alex who’d spent some of the evening chasing rays, but had been plagued by conger eels over clean ground which made things difficult. They had still managed a couple of small rays between the aggravating eels, none of which met the minimum required catch and release weight.
When Rob and I arrived at our chosen thin lipped venue the conditions were perfect. With not even a ripple on the surface whilst wading out it was easy to spot the feeding thin lipped mullet in the surrounding area as their fins cut through the waters surface with some fully breaching out of the water. It wasn’t long until right under my rod tip a thinnie took my mepps and trailing worm bait.
Rob soon hooked into one as well and after what felt like 5 minutes fishing we both had a fish each for the weigh in. Rob swapped his mepps over for some light ledgering with worm whilst I persisted in trying for a better sized thin lipped.
The ledgered worm baits weren’t getting touched but I’d hooked into another thin lipped just as things were starting to go quiet.
It was a better fish too and bigger than my first. We gave it another 10 minutes but the fish had gone quiet with nothing taking a fancy to the mepps or the ledgered worm baits so we headed off.
It was quieter day on the fish. After our thin lipped session we had both split up for the evening and whilst I went to target bass with no luck on the baits Rob had red mullet on his mind. He had hooked into a decent red mullet on the worm baits which spat the hook last minute. He said it was a good size one too and over 1lbs, but a plague of smaller fish persisted in destroying his worm baits so he called it a night.
Whilst keeping in touch with the other lads it seemed Daniel Ferguson had managed to winkle out a few nice wrasse on his crab baits with one of his reef pigs making it onto the board. As wrasse was a catch and release species for the festival all Daniel needed to do was get a video of his wrasse on a rigid bullnosed fish measure from lips to tail tip with a minimum required size of 50cm. Daniel’s wrasse went 51cm so after a few pictures the fish was released.
Rob had planned to fish the next day on one of Jersey’s forts. Accessible at low tide allowing anglers to get safely cut off from the shore until the next receding tide. As the fort is surrounded by rocky gullies on one side and a wide open clean ground casting area on the other it is the ideal spot to throw up a mixture of species on the worm and fish baits.
Before driving out to the fort, whilst still under the cover of darkness, I decided last minute I wasn’t feeling up for being stuck out there and fancied trying for a couple of hours from the nearby beach instead.
Rob gave me a sessions worth of the worm we’d gathered before he headed across with the company of his dog and team mascot Cooper! I fished the flooding tide on a nearby beach which was no hassle whatsoever and quite liked the idea of fishing from the back of the van until first light.
A simple running ledger rig baited with red cat was all that was needed to tempt a couple of bass on the morning flood, nothing of size though with the biggest going 56cm on the measure and 4cm short of the required minimum of 60cm.
Whilst measuring the second bass of the morning I noticed my other rod on the tripod bend right over followed by loads of slack line. I quickly reeled in and managed to beach a better bass! I knew it was going to be close if it was to make it to minimum size for the board. I quickly got it on the measure and it went bang on 60cm! After a quick video on the measure including the scales in the video it was released.
First light had come and gone without much action on the worm baits, so I decided to chuck out a couple of cocktail baits of left over worm and mackerel in the hope there might be some bream on the feed whilst I got my gear packed up.
The last cast of the morning gave me a rattling tip for about 5 minutes before really bending over in the rod rest. I struck the fish thinking a small black bream was going to come up but I was happily surprised at the sight of a nice tub gurnard.
I filled up a bucket with water and chucked the tub gurnard in and raced round to the weigh in which was about to start.
I knew with only a 10 minute drive I could get the tub gurnard to the scales and release alive afterwards. I was just hoping it would make the weight of 1lbs.
I was gutted when I saw the scales bounce just under a 1lbs, but at 15oz it was a close one.
I released the tub gurnard on the harbour slipway admiring its stunning colours and how cool they look swimming off in the shallows when my phone pinged with a text from Rob. “You’re lucky you didn’t come to the fort, there’s already pier jumpers here!”. He was having a nightmare on the fort. After baiting up an area and getting a good amount of golden greys feeding, a boat had turned up and tied up on the fort exactly where rob had been baiting up! He couldn’t wait to get off the fort and carry on with the festival.
I wanted to get a black bream to weigh in and with so much squid from the jigging season still left in the freezer it only seemed right that I would go and use some of it up. I headed down to one of the north coasts piers which is known to throw up a few decent sized black bream now and then.
The pier on arrival was quiet with not another angler in sight, which was perfect as usually the crowds that gather at the piers this time of year with their mackerel feathers can be quite a nuisance if you’re intending on bottom fishing.
I’d setup my rigs with squid strips resulting in an instant rattle on the rod tip. The next 30 minutes or so was small black bream after small black bream.
I’d be exaggerating if I said they were over 1lbs in size, I needed a bream of 1lbs 8oz to make it onto the board.
The tide was rising and crowds of mackerel fisherman had arrived. I didn’t even attempt to keep my lines out as I could just imagine what would be next. I packed up my gear and headed round to the nearby beach for one last go before last light.
It was almost approaching last light and my hopes of catching a decent bream were slowly dwindling away but then out of nowhere my rod tip just arched over without any of the typical bream bite warning signs. What the hell is this I was thinking as I was reeling it in on my 16ft telescopic quiver. It was giving some good lunges and short bursts of energy whilst bringing it in.
It felt like a good bream. It came up onto the shingle and I knew just looking at it it was a decent black bream and would defiantly make the board. I stayed for a few more casts hoping for a second fish but it all went quiet so I packed up and headed home.
I’d headed out that early evening to use up some of the scraps of mackerel I still had left over from the bream session. The town harbour was full of scad so I thought I’d chuck out a line and see if I could get lucky under the pier lights with one or them. There was also the chance of a common eel too which would get me on the “other species” section on the festival board.
Fishing a 2 hook paternoster baited with the left over mackerel which by this point was seemingly quite mushy I opted for a short lob just a couple of yards out.
The small pout were persistent in destroying my baits until a stranger bite occurred. My rod tip was just slowly bouncing almost as though a crab had made its way up the rig body and was plucking away at my hook baits.
The bites went on for a couple of minutes coming and going and then once again the rod tip went straight over. I thought initially it was a scad that had taken the baits but when I got it to the surface it was clear the those finicky bites were from a golden grey mullet!
I didn’t realise they would be feeding so it took me by surprise. It was a decent size from what I could see looking down at the water from the top of the pier.
I was well chuffed although at the time it seemed a fluke catch at night time, but anything is possible in the town harbour. You never know what you’re going to get. Again baits went down and it was about 15 minutes before the same bite occurred with the same end product of rod tip pulled over and a golden grey on the end.
That was two fish in 30 minutes, what a result!
It got to the last day and in between weighing in the black bream of 1lbs 12oz and the two golden greys which both weighed in exactly the same at 1lbs 14oz, I’d spent my spare time in the evenings trying to better my 60cm bass I’d had earlier in the week but to no avail.
Rob had also given my previous marks a try to pick up a bream and perhaps have some time to spare in the evening to try for one of those evening golden greys or a pleasant by-catch of a big common eel.
He was chuffed with his efforts as he’d managed to get a bream for the board and also a golden grey. Perhaps not so flukey after all. I’d always thought golden grey mullet were purely daylight feeders.
At weigh-in Rob’s bream went 1lbs 10oz and his golden grey beat my goldies and knocked them down the board. I didn’t mind that at all, having three golden greys between us was looking good for the pairs team prizes!
The last evening was spent trying to get a larger thick lipped mullet as to try and get a fish back on the board in that category was my aim. I’d of needed one over 4lbs 5oz to even make the board but a big harbour mullet would certainly do that.
The wind had picked up during the last gasp mullet session which made it difficult to spot the bites, not to mention the horrid light rain which was head on for about 2 hrs during the best time for the bites to occur which was frustrating.
As quick as the festival started it was the final weigh in and as the saying goes it’s not over until the fat lady sings. That was certainly the case as two more golden greys were weighed in in turn they knocked my goldie off the board which would then only count as contributing points for the team.
My black bream and bass stayed steady at second place. Another angler had been knocked off the board which meant Rob had the most categories at the end of the weigh in!
Following on from the final weigh in, there was a prize giving and BBQ arranged hosted at one of the islands bowls clubs. Due to the COVID-19 restrictions in Jersey a maximum amount of 40 people were allowed to attend the event which meant the committee, sponsors and anglers collecting prizes were top of the list to attend, leaving a few spaces for anyone else who wished to attend. It was a great evening sharing funny stories with other anglers from the weeks antics whilst having a well deserved beer or two.
We did well on the prize front taking individual prizes and team prizes of 1st pairs team and 2nd four man team, where we all felt that we’d done Ross Johnson, our absent team mate, proud. For me, this year having 6 fish weighed in was a new festival best and one I look forward to trying to beat in the 2021 festival!
To summarise, the festival was another successful event organised by the JOSAF committee with over 70 anglers taking part in the week long event. The catch and release side of things was a huge success in my eyes with 1/3 of all fish caught that qualified for the festival were released such as bass, wrasse and rays. Ray species under previous festival rules had not been a catch and release category, so this was great to see so many qualifiers go back alive after capture.
Were there to have been any qualifying conger, tope or Huss caught during the event they would have also been released after capture.
The committee did well to police the catch and release entries submitted on the Facebook page during the festival week with a few fish being disqualified due to errors with the type of measuring aids used and fish presentation on the measures.
I would say from a personal point of view that for the next festival the catch and release side of things could do with a few more tweaks not only to aid the committee in judging measured fish but also to prevent any anglers getting disheartened by submitting a specimen that could be deemed as disqualified on further inspection.
For example whilst videoing the fish on the measure the angler should have no physical contact with the fish at the time thus eradicating any possible claims of foul play, fish measures should be inspected at sign up to ensure they are within the rules and regulation standards for example not a tape measure or roll up fish measure as mentioned in the rules.
I think in future it may be better to allocate the different ray species with appropriate catch and release measurement as opposed to a set minimum length for all rays.
As we all know a 55cm small eyed ray will differ in weight to a 55cm stingray. Stingray, before catch and release came in was set at a minimum of 10lbs.
All these points will be put forward to the committee along with other entrants ideas to help try and improve an already great festival.
I’m really looking forward to taking part in JOSAF 2021, roll on the next comp and write up…