It doesn’t take much to lure me towards the Pembrokeshire coastline, with it’s near unrivalled beautiful and diverse coastline presenting an absolute anglers paradise. Any excuse to visit would present a welcome one but, as a predominant bait angler I knew I would be well out of my comfort zone when Remi asked if I’d like to accompany him to an inaugural bass lure fishing tournament. Heading off to these waters without a cooler full of crab, perhaps some lug and some razor clams for the beaches would be alien to me; instead the talk turned to Patchenko’s, walking the dog, Samson’s and Sidewinder’s!
With zero expectation and the sole aim being to simply enjoy myself whilst supporting an event that aimed to raise some considerable funds for the ‘Save our sea bass’ campaign, the date was placed in the diary and a few plans formulated. The day’s were soon rolling down to ‘kick off’ and, despite the complete lack of expectation, the match angler inside of me couldn’t help but start to feel competitive. I must have lived on Google Earth for the best part of a week, screen shots flying over to Remi of likely looking spots to land a bass or two. With anywhere in Pembrokeshire available to fish, bar the obvious restricted access locations, I could have spent a month looking and still been finding more spots.
With no history to the event, this being it’s first year, it’s difficult to know what to expect from an organisational perspective. I’ve been to all manner of competitions and the level of competency in running such events varies greatly. On this occasion, Rob Lawrie and Mervyn Bousie proved to be absolutely stellar match organisers, taking to it like a natural calling in life; which is fortunate, as they’ll be facing a lynch mob if there aren’t plans afoot for a 2020 event very soon!
The only serious complaint about the competition would be that it seemed to be over so quickly! Remi and I were enjoying it so much that we could have carried on fishing all week. From a visiting anglers perspective, our first real assault on this coastline with lures, the end of the competition came just as we felt we were finding our feet. We’ll certainly be able to hit the ground running quicker next year!
The event kicked off with a registration on the first day, offering everyone an initial chance to meet up, cover off the rules with Rob and Mervyn and perhaps more importantly, dig deep into their pockets for the raffle tickets being sold (very convincingly) by Fiona Bousie and Diane Lawrie. Rumours of the sizeable raffle had been circulating and, it’s fair to say it didn’t disappoint, but more on that later! We were all being made to feel very welcome at the Rising Sun Inn in Havorford West and, with match sponsors banners adorning the fences outside it was hard to miss and really gave it the ‘base camp’ feel of a proper angling tournament.
A quick review of the rules showed that we’d be primarily fishing for the single biggest fish, with a further prize for the highest accumulated length of our best three fish. There was also a prize for the single biggest fish by a visiting angler, as well as prizes for the best by a lady angler and a junior; though no junior would be leaving empty handed. All in all, there was an excellent opportunity for anyone to get amongst the prizes, amounting to hundreds of pounds worth of top quality rods, reels, lures and other sponsored prizes – and that’s even before the pools at stake! The emphasis, it should be stressed, was on catch and release. A quick snap of a fish on a measure and with the entry card in sight was all that was required before slipping the fish back into the water to fight another day. Digital cameras of a high quality on every mobile phone these days certainly help competitions run with a conservation mindset at their fore.
It wasn’t long before we were all due to hit the road, heading for our first mark. Some had already got out that morning to see where the fish may be but, I always have a fear of catching my best fish just before they are allowed to count! The law of the sod isn’t one to be messed with! We knew, however, that in the strong midday heat our efforts may be better at night, but these first few hours would provide valuable reconnaissance if nothing else. That certainly proved to be the case, with out first beach proving a blank yet accounting for my best fish and one of Remi’s best the following night! We knew it would produce, it was just a case of timing.
That first day certainly proved to be a draining one! It was the hottest of the weekend and we wanted to cover as much ground as possible to really get a feel for it. I suspect more regulars to the area simply went and got some rest before attacking it with gusto once the sun started to drop. We tried out a few marks before settling on one for some duration that felt like it could still hold the fish we sought in these conditions. Good depth, plenty of features, tide and a good food supply made it look as tempting as anywhere and sure enough Remi was soon into almost a fish a cast – just the wrong sort! Pollack of varying sizes, but nothing substantial, attacked everything he passed by them. Strangely, not fishing too dissimilar I couldn’t get a take and, looking down the barrel at a good 10-0 drubbing by now (albeit nothing of the right colour) I started questioning what I may be doing wrong just as my first take hit! Turns out it must have been Remi doing it wrong, my ratio of bass to pollack fell the right way on my first fish. OK, it wasn’t going to win any prizes, but it was my first bass on a lure in Pembrokeshire waters and I was happy regardless of the size!
By now, Remi and I were starting to wonder what may be happening in the rest of the competition. Barring the odd word on the grapevine about slow starts, a few marks producing good number of school fish at best, there was no definitive voice on how the competition was progressing. Each person would see this differently, but I enjoyed the suspense. Knowing that practically any fish could win it until the death only ensured we continued going at it hard all weekend.
That nights fishing proved to be successful for Remi and I, but, I think I’d have happily blanked for the wider experience. Probably not the monumental leak in my waders that inhibited the range I wanted to be targeting, a cold seep of water slowing, or in this case rapidly, filling ones waders is not the optimum scenario when planning a long night on the beach! The experience I talk of was the bioluminescent plankton in the water, seemingly lighting up in response to any agitation. The most obvious sign of this was in the breakers of the light surf that was running, but one starts to wonder about the agitation of the lure and whether there was a bright glowing trail leading the fish directly to it! If fish can see like this, and all evidence of glowing attractors suggest they certainly can, then it must prove a predators paradise – every bait fish leaving an inevitable glowing trail in its wake!
Meanwhile, the water was full of sand eel. In terms of the chances of a bass finding our lures amongst this mass of natural prey, our odds may have been reduced. At least, though, there was something that would definitely be bringing our quarry in. One throw of a cast net would have filled my freezer with eel such were the quantities. They seemed to be everywhere we looked at times, perhaps disturbed out of the sand by our wading, but huge shoals would repeatedly surround us in the water.
After some time the bites had dried up, but Remi and I had accounted for a half respectable fish apiece along with smaller school fish, in a setting that was just so immersive to be fishing in and I wondered if we would better this weekend. It turns out the bioluminescent algae is not a common occurrence, so I can only hope luck strikes again when I inevitably return to this magical spot.
The early rise, following just a couple of hours sleep to head to a bit of a ‘known’ mark proved very disappointing. Lesson learnt for next year, stick off the beaten track! There’s no doubt that this mark will produce. It had everything one would look for in any bass mark and proven pedigree. I highly suspect it had been hit hard the previous day though and any fish remaining were suitably spooked. The dozen anglers here on this day (we didn’t come across any others the rest of the weekend) proved both its popularity and no doubt contributed to it’s poor production. The noise of all those lures hitting the water over and over must have some impact on the fish. Some food and a re-plan for the day was in order and following a brief few casts at a mark en-route back to the accommodation, we decided a mark just inside the haven should show a few fish during daylight.
Again, this mark was going to require some considerable wading! A pit stop at Anglers Corner in Milford Haven saw me kitted out with some new Snowbee waders. Unlike many waders on someone of my limited height, these fitted very well. My last experience with purchasing waders was less successful, going for the ‘half and half’ breathable and neoprene offering from Daiwa. I remain convinced that they were modelled on someone 9ft tall and a good 50 stone, as the excess fabric on even a man of average height and build would be enough to make several spare pairs! Such excess fabric makes them incredibly heavy so they now sit redundant in my garage. I doubt I’ll find it within myself to move them on second hand to someone unless Hagrid from Harry Potter decides to take up a spot of angling.
I was in awe at the amount of lures on show in this gem of a tackle shop. They’ve homed in on their niche market, the local lure anglers, and given them a selection that plays on the old sweetshop mentality. You can look all day and inevitably find yourself having to buy a little selection! It’s a hard time for tackle shops to survive but, it is all within their own hands. Finding what your customers want and offering them such an unrivalled selection is the way to do it, resting on ones laurels and expecting custom none the less is not.
After Martin had kitted me out with my waders, some new lures for Remi and I and some valuable local insight, we headed to a spot I had a great feeling about. The slight problem was I had eyed up the mark with the mentality of a bait angler. I’d have bet several of my limbs on the fish being there, but the knowledge on how to attack them with lures was something I’d have to lean on Remi for. Before long we were wading out across golden sand, waist deep in fast flowing water, flicking surface lures out in front of us and in the beautiful weather we were enjoying it would have been easy to confuse our setting for bone fishing in some far flung tropical waters!
I wasn’t sure the setting from the previous night could be beaten but, Pembrokeshire just keeps on delivering! There wasn’t a mark we fished that didn’t have it’s own degree of beauty, mystique and intrigue about it. Litter, such a common problem these days, was far less noticeable on these shorelines than many others I have fished both in the UK and globally. You can see why Rob and Mervyn wanted to promote the place. I’m yet to be convinced it offers the best bass fishing of many places I’ve travelled to, yet I cant think of a place I’d rather be fishing for them.
This new mark was producing the goods, in ample supply, but with little over 40cm. Remi did manage a couple of larger fish, the biggest going 54cm. As it ultimately turned out, this was the story of the tournament for many. Certainly no shortage of fish, but those larger ones were few and far between with a lot of rod hours put in for only a handful of specimens.
The final day saw much of the same, as we chased that one fish that could still seal a victory, but instead were inundated with smaller fish, often chasing down the surface lures in packs. The time had absolutely flown by and we were soon heading back to the Rising Sun Inn to see how we had fared and join in with the post tournament celebrations. How we had fared personally wasn’t great, but not an embarrassment either, I’ll take that! Some people had found the bigger fish though, and Rob and Mervyn diligently checked the evidence of the catches as submissions started piling in.
After a while of socialising, rumours circulating of catches, some people still keeping relatively coy on how they had got on and some excellent food laid on by the venue, the prize table started to be laid out. What an exceptional prize table it was too! We’d heard bits and pieces of sponsors over the past few months as the tournament took shape, but it was hard to gauge just how well Rob and Mervyn had pulled it out of the bag until everything started to be laid out in front of us. All of the winners had tackle bundles of rods, reels, lures, braid plus numerous other sponsored items, including some from local Pembrokeshire brands. This competition wasn’t just a celebration of angling, but a celebration of Pembrokeshire as an angling venue; something the local community had clearly bought into. Numerous people had approached us on our travels over the weekend asking if we were fishing the competition, as news had clearly spread of the event. Tourism is massive to such areas, and it looks certain they’ll reap the rewards of Rob and Mervyn’s efforts for years to come.
With sponsors including Sidewinder, Nomura, JDM Fishing Tackle, Pirate Lures, Angler Supplies, Sunslicker, Anglers Corner, David Miller Art, Lure Hub, Anglers Only, Celtic Timber, Criccieth Tackle Box, High Street Tackle Ilfracombe, lurefishingforbass.co.uk, Silver Halo charters, RamseyIsland.co.uk, Weird Triangle and more besides, we really are indebted to Rob and Mervyn for the hours of work that must have been put in to get all of these onboard. The first year is always the hardest, with no results or experience to point to when securing these sponsors. So, a massive hats off to them, and a thank you from everyone who fished for laying on such a sensational event for us all.
The prizes were soon to be announced and Steve Cullen took the top prize for the single biggest fish, secured in the dying hours of the competition! He tells us a bit about it here:
Whilst the weather far from ideal fishing conditions I don’t think anyone predicted just how tough the weekend’s fishing was going to be.
As with most of the others we managed to find a few but really struggled to find anything of size. We decided on one final venue to try on the Sunday morning before the weigh in and after a couple hours finally connected with a beautiful Bass of 66cm which as luck would have it turned out to be the best of the weekend and put me in 1st place. Huge thanks to everyone involved especially all the sponsors who were just crazy generous. Roll on PBLT 2020!
There’s something of a karma moment at hand here. In an event that raised over £1,200 for ‘Save our Sea Bass’, it was won by an angler who many may remember for filming the evidence that led to a prosecution of illegal commercial bass fishing in Poole harbour. It feels somewhat fitting that someone who did so much to actually protect our bass stocks goes on to win this competition. A massive congratulations Steve; you may have been very humble about the win but it was thoroughly well deserved none the less.
We really must mention the raffle before bringing this piece to a close till next year. The longest, most valuable, stacked up raffle table I have ever witnessed at a fishing competition, with proceeds going to Save Our Sea Bass. It was an opportunity to everyone to both secure a few prizes and support a worthy campaign. Rob and Mervyn are going to have to hire some shipping containers if they build on this raffle for next year! Some of the top prizes included prints by the excellent David Miller; charter boat trips, stays at local woodland spas and no end of lures.
A final thanks, which can’t be stated enough to Rob Lawrie and Mervyn Bousie for such sterling work. You laid on an event that we’ll all remember for years to come.. or at least until next years edition which I for one am already waiting to put in my diary! We hope many more come along and participate next year too, we’re certain you won’t regret the experience.