Over the years I have done a lot of shore and boat fishing, but I had never tried our amazing sport from a Kayak before. I wanted to do something different from my typical angling, so at the start of the year I bought a ‘Feelfree Moken 10ft 3’ from my close friend and fellow angler Sam Chapon. I spent the winter months getting ready and educated with the goal of getting out and breaking some personal bests. I thought that before paddling out two kilometres trying to target the Tope (which is certainly next on my to-do-list) that I should take some baby steps and get familiar with general kayak fishing. There are just so many new things to take into consideration for the first time, like sitting down whilst fishing, paddling, anchoring, safety, tides, wind and holding in a wee for hours on end! Thankfully I have got everything sussed out now.
For me, Kayak fishing is kind of somewhere in the middle between shore and boat fishing. It has opened up a world of un-fished waters to me and I can fish for them just the way I want to. I have been learning different techniques and methods year after year, adapting to target the summer visiting fish species which are now growing and breeding in our waters, which is just fantastic to see and experience. With a bit of adaptation, I could employ these tactics into my kayak fishing.
Each year the thought of catching or trying to catch the likes of gilthead bream, stingrays and white bream just gets me all excited. Conger eels seem to be getting smaller and smoothounds are just not coming in the size or the numbers that they were a few years ago. I wonder if those 1-2lb Giltheads we were catching last year will now be 3lb+? You get my point; it was time to explore some coastline and get myself into some early gilthead action.
Keep it simple… 7-8ft Plugging Rods 10-40g casting weight, 4000 sized reel loaded with 30lb braid, 25lb fluorocarbon leader, rigs, 3-4oz Watch and pyramid leads, pliers, 2kg anchor, chain, dive reel, scales, net and bait. Nothing too technical!
Since 2011 I have been catching little gilthead bream from the shore, but it has taken me a long time to break the 1lb barrier. Early in April 2021, I heard news from a few commercial fishermen friends that they had landed a few trays of gilts, mostly weighing 1-2kg.
My first trip was an experiment. I knew the fish were in the region (or they were before they were wiped out), but I figured a couple would slip through the net. I went to the same spot on Jersey’s east coast where I had previously caught over ten giltheads in a single session from the shore. Now it was time to attempt paddling around the same region in my new Kayak.
As I previously said, I kept things basic by using a 2-hook paternoster on one rod and a simple running ledger on the other. When it comes to bait, I have been using a mix of freshly dug lugworm and razor fish. As for the hook choice, I have found the Cox & Rawle Uptide Extra in Size 2 has been favourable.
The first two attempts at catching fish failed miserably, but there was always a lesson to be learned. Each time you fail, you must try to figure out why. I decided that the next time I should try a slightly different area, perhaps I was going too far out and I needed to be in even shallower water!
Sam Chapon called me one afternoon and said “Fergs, I’ve beaten the gilthead record!” I urged him to put the phone down and have another cast, which obviously he had done before him phoning me. After 30 minutes, Sam called again, saying “Fergs, I’ve gone and broken it twice now!” I was over the moon for him and I was more eager than ever now to get out and bag one for myself. My enthusiasm was at an all time high!
A few days later it was my turn to try again. I did not ask Sam where he had caught his fish as I knew it was in the same area I had been trying, just without the luck. This time I decided on anchoring a little shallower than I had previously been doing. The sea was lumpy, and the wind was not pleasant, however fish on the brain makes me push past the comfort boundaries and primarily focus on the mission ahead. Thirty minutes went by… using the paternoster rig with lug worm as bait; I was into a good fish.
I knew it was the target species with aggressive biting and a hard thumping on the rod. After a dogged fight I had my first boat caught gilthead! I was BUZZING! With a big grin on my face, another 15 minutes passed and both rods were back out fishing. My right rod bends over again, this time on the running ledger rig and the fish was hooked! This one felt better than the previous, and it was in the net after a few frightening moments. This fish preferred lug and razor cocktail as bait. Without intending to, I believe this one had easily beaten Sam’s record. To be the first to share the news, I had to make the phone call. Sam was delighted, and he was already thinking about his next missions. I am sure it will not be long before we are fighting tope side by side, loving life!
This session just kept getting better and better, with more of the target species boated. Unfortunately, I also lost a couple of fish; one even snapped my 20lb Fluro carbon hook length. I have upgraded to using 30lb fluorocarbon hook lengths now. Usually crabs can weaken your hook lengths and you must ensure to always check the line above your hooks before casting back out… You do not want that fish of a lifetime getting away because a baby crab has damaged your line.
After viewing some helpful recommendations offered online by Martin Larkin, I have even started utilising rigs with three small orange beads above my hooks. I figured it was worth a shot; picking out that extra-large fish could make all the difference. It certainly does for him. Crabs will be less likely to damage the line above the hook if you do this, especially if use you a float stop above them to keep them in place.
During the fish carnage, I received a phone call from Sam Daniels. I do not recall exactly what he said, but he had seen me out there and was waiting for me on the beach. I briefed him about my fishing trip and showed him the fish that could set a new Jersey record. He was buzzing for me and was excited to get involved. I enticed him to go to the same spot where he had clocked me in, telling him that it was best to do it now before the fish left, and that he should simply go for it!
My three Gilthead Bream were officially weighed at my fishing club (Sinkers Fishing Club). My fish weighed 1lb 9oz, 1lb 12oz 6dram, and 2lb 2oz 2drams, all of which were better than the current Boat Jersey & Sinkers Club Records. Derek Kane caught the previous record weighing 1lb 3oz 13 drams, before Sam Chapons 1lb 9oz fish. I had a feeling my new record would not last long.
Within 24 hours Sam Daniels informed me that he had already gone and broken my record with a fish weighing 2lb 12oz 4drams. He had gathered mussels and rag worm from our local fish market to use as bait and he had a terrific session with many fish caught. I am very sure I have set a new record for the shortest ever standing record.
I have never been keen on keeping fish for the table as it is far more enjoyable watching them swim away. It is only a few times a year I will keep fish to eat. One benefit of cleaning/ preparing the fish is you can see exactly what they have been eating. All three fish were completely filled, mostly with mussels and small crab. If you are looking for these fish on the open coast, search for mussel beds, razor fish beds, and worm beds, as well as general mixed terrain and shallow water. Stick to marks that are less than 25 feet deep. Many specimen giltheads are caught in estuaries in the United Kingdom; however Jersey lacks an estuary so we are obliged to fish the open coast.
Sam Daniels and I decided to tag team it the following week both being on the gilthead train. The weather was against us with heavy rain and breaking waves on the beach, making launching the kayaks difficult. We took the mindset of “we’re going to be wet anyway” and went for it. We anchored the hot spot which is about 15 feet deep. Sam was immediately in and he landed a little 1lb+ gilt. He did not half make out it was going to be twice its size during the fight! Minutes later the line started peeling from my reel and I was into a nice fish. I guessed this fish to weigh around 1lb 12oz but this one went back to grow bigger so hopefully next year we can reunite once again. It was well worth the short trip as it appears that higher tides send more fish up the beach and into shallower areas.
I am still doing some shore fishing, usually when I only have an hour spare and once again I concentrate my efforts on gilthead bream. I have landed a few already, including two fish weighing over 2lbs with a new personal best weighing 2lb 6oz and my 4-year-old son was with me which was a bonus. Fresh lug worm did the trick on the incoming tide.
It is time to take a break from kayak gilthead bream fishing. For the time being, I have accomplished what I set out to do. I am always changing things up because I find it far more intriguing to target different fish species throughout the year. I prefer to think of myself as a “jack of all trades, master of none”.
Sting Rays have already been reported on our east coast this year. This species of Ray feeds on the same ground as our Gilthead Bream. I will begin focusing some time on these as soon as possible; the current Jersey boat record is 57lb 2oz. I have only ever seen one boat caught sting ray before, funnily enough it was caught by Sam Chapon on mackerel feathers out west by Corbiere Lighthouse. Commercial fishermen have caught Stingrays weighing more than 80pounds as by-catch. I know a few anglers who have caught 5-15lb fish from our shores over the last few years.
I am really looking forward to giving it a good go as I am yet to catch one. I tried once last year where I walked to a low water mark on a spring low tide, a good 15-minute walk from the top of the beach.
I spotted a patch where I am sure a sting ray sits when the tide comes up. The sand was darker in colour almost nearly black and soft in a circular shape. Many empty shells were scattered over this one small area. This is where my anchor will be getting dropped that is for sure. I will be walking down there soon to plot it on my Navionics app on my phone. If you have not got this and you are into boating, get it! It would be amazing to have a beast of a ray kiting across the water on the end of my line pulling my kayak all over the place. I am sure my thick gloves will be aboard for safety reasons as I have never handled one before especially whilst floating around on a kayak!
I look forward to bringing you this next adventure soon so watch this space…