What is the Pembrokeshire Bass Lure Tournament?

Starting in 2019, the Pembrokeshire Bass Lure Tournament is the brainchild of Mervyn Bousie and Rob Lawrie, encompassing 3 days of lure fishing for bass anywhere from the shoreline of Pembrokeshire, which we believe gives angler around 116 miles of coastline to contemplate!

Along with pitting some incredible lure anglers against each other amongst some of the best bass fishing available in the U.K., the tournament also serves as a key fundraiser for Bass Anglers Sportfishing Society’s ‘Save Our Sea Bass’ (SOSB) campaign… more on how much was raised this year later…

A Pembrokeshire bass taken on a topwater lure

In addition, the whole social side can not be underestimated. The opportunity to meet like minded anglers is great at the best of times, let alone after over 18 months of lockdowns, restricted travel and a real lack of opportunity to conduct such events. With anglers travelling from all across England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and the Channel Islands to fish this event, we finally got to find out what happens when an Englishman, Welshman and a Scotsman walk into a bar…They had a bloody great time!

Though read on for what happens when you throw an Irishman with his potent potato based spirit and a slightly worse for wear representative of Guernsey into the mix…

So with a recipe of great anglers, great bass fishing, raising money for a cause all close to us and a great social to boot, the appeal is clear to see, with the 125 places available in 2021 selling out in no time. 

Don't underestimate the value of the social side

What are the rules for the tournament? 

The rules are very straightforward; fish anywhere from the shoreline of Pembrokeshire from midday on the opening Friday to midday 48 hours later on the Sunday. Photograph on a measure, with the match card shown, any bass of 48cm or more and then bring this evidence of capture back to headquarters by 3pm on the Sunday. 

 – Only lure caught fish count.

 – No size limits for the ladies and kids categories.

 – The only areas excluded are the hot water outlets in the haven and any mark not accessible to the general public, e.g. military exclusion zones. 

 – No matter how much someone keeps requesting, a peeler crab twitched will not count as a lure…

Mike Tamlyn showing how a fish should be recorded with this qualifier.

What are the prizes?

This year, the sponsorship was excellent; however with the big priority of raising funds for SOSB, much of the sponsored prizes go into a raffle, giving everyone a chance to walk home with something whilst increasing the sums raised. As a result, there were 4 Prizes in the main category, a ladies prize and 3 kids prizes. 

Each of the prize packages consisted of rods, reels, bundles of lures and many other sponsored items, with the first prize exceeding £800 in value. You can check out the full list of sponsors via the competitions official Facebook page, but some of the rods featured in the prizes included MajorCraft, Nebula and SavageGear, with reels from Penn, lures from Sidewinder, Pirate Lures and so many others besides. 

This is just the raffle table...

The first prize would go to the angler with the single biggest bass caught during the competition, whilst second place would be given to the angler with the best combined length from their best 3 bass. No angler can win two prizes. 

Third place is the biggest bass from a visiting angler, which is any angler not based in Pembrokeshire. Finally 4th place goes to whomever has the biggest single bass that has not featured in one of the first 3 prizes. 

The Ladies and Kids category prizes are based on best single fish. 

The raffle is something to behold. On top of the tackle prizes, there are incredible canvas prints from David Miller as well as gift vouchers for bass guiding from a variety of top guides – all well worth dipping your hand in your pocket for a few tickets when knowing that every penny raised goes to help fight the SOSB campaign. 

The raffle prize everyone would want! A fine print by David Miller.

The 2021 event: 

After a lot of disappointment with the inevitable cancelling of the 2020 event, there was a lot of eager anticipation heading into this years iteration. I was to be joined on my travels by Remi Naftel of Guernsey, who fished the inaugural event with me, as well as south west based angler Nathan Gray and Hampshire based Steve Cullen – the reigning champion no less!

Arriving a day early to Pembrokeshire, we set out sights on scoping out a few potential marks to see what signs of fish activity were present to either boost or deflate our levels of confidence. I’d told myself this was only going to be a ‘sight’ exploration, with the rod staying in the van. There’s nothing quite as worrying as catching the best bass of the trip before the opening bell has rung! I’m glad to say I stuck to this, as we walked 100 yards or so from the vehicles to check out a likely spot. Within about 5 minutes, a number of good sized bass had swum right below our feet! 

So… the rods came out. Yes, I caved to the urge. 

Spot the bass... a lack of fish wasn't the issue...

What happened across a number of marks on the Thursday proved to be reflective of how the whole competition would inevitably pan out for us. There was absolutely no shortage of bass clearly visible across the marks we explored, including some very good sized fish making themselves known to us. Try as we might though, tempting them to a lure was nigh on impossible! 

It’s worth noting that we had small tides, offering very little flow on marks that had looked almost like rapids when fished in 2019, whilst the water clarity was like nothing I’ve ever seen in this country before; It was so gin clear you could barely tell there was water there at times. None of this seemed encouraging for giving the bass the confidence to engulf a lure! We finished our Thursday explorations certain that our best efforts should be spent in low light and the hours of darkness with such conditions presenting themselves. 

Nathan with a schoolie on a topwater

We got down to the Rising Sun Inn (tournament HQ) that evening, having also met up with Dave du Jardin of Guernsey, who was camping just down the road from our own accommodation. A few formalities, such as the kind loan of a rod from Mervyn to Remi and the handing over of sponsored prizes we had bought along ensued, before some catching up and much discussion of how the following days may fish! Despite having failed in our attempts to entice a take, just seeing bass as big as we had that day certainly turns the optimism up to 11… 

Fed, watered and all caught up, we were back at the digs plotting the next few days, which is no easy task. As visiting anglers faced with 116 miles of prospective coastline, varied between coves, creeks, the open coast, the haven, muddy estuaries, surf beaches, rocky headlands and more, it really is hard to know where to start, Pembrokeshire really does have it all and most of it can hold bass at one time or another worthy of winning this competition. There’s only so much one can garner from Google Maps, so our thoughts turned to the how and when bass would be feeding in such conditions, drawing on our collective knowledge. At the end of it all, we had plans that we felt were at least justified and a little more refined than a roll of a dice… really this is as much as we could ask for. 

A common sight over the weekend, a topwater lure skimming along.

Day 1:

After an obligatory call in to the local tackle shop in Milford Haven (Anglers Corner) to purchase a few last minute lures, we found our way back to HQ for the formal sign on. Once given our card, we’d be held there till 11:45am when we would all be able to depart and head to our chosen marks. 

Before long, the sat nav had been set, the clock ticked to our release time and Mervyn gave the signal… we were off! Now at this stage, the sensible plan in our heads was to head back to the apartment, get some sleep and prepare our body clocks for pulling all nighters instead… We really wouldn’t be getting much sleep with the excitement of a new competition kicking off though! As such, we felt some deeper water and a bit of tide offered a better bet in hot, still, gin clear conditions. Our group split in two and we went off to two prospective marks.

A lot of anglers headed for open coast on the first day, like this image from Mike Tamlym

A hell of a trek then ensued, and the ‘just in-case’ decision to wear a pair of waders was the first big regret of the weekend. The second regret was that the mark failed to produce even a sniff of the target species, just an abundance of the wrong ones and seals! Despite the long trek going unrewarded, it was still a perfect reminder of the beautiful surroundings in which this competition is set, surrounded on the walk by hundreds of varying butterflies and dragonflies, with scenes that just beg for the camera to come out of the bag. 

The walk back was a little more eventful, if not taunting. It appeared the heavy population of seals on the edge of the deeper water and mouths of the bays had forced a good head of fish into the safety of the little rocky coves, despite a relative lack of water at low tide. On close inspection, it was clear there was a fairly equal mix of mullet and bass, with some good sized ones mixed in. In such shallow, calm water and perhaps with defence on their mind from the marauding seals, they could not be tempted. To see them and not be able to catch them, it was like joining the world of mullet fishing! 

Any Davies with a lovely qualifying bass

Thus back to the drawing board and we decided on an estuary mark we had explored the day before, where we would meet up once more with the rest of our party. After a few exploratory casts at other roadside marks on route, we met up with the others to find out this mark had produced Steve Cullen’s first recordable fish, hitting 49cm. We’d seen much bigger fish here the day before and promptly did so again, but alas, nothing further of a recordable size could be tempted. 

Nathan and I decided to go and fish a reef on the edge of a bay that should be uncovering at low tide around last light and the start of darkness. 

Once again, we were quickly hitting into a few schoolies but struggling with the better fish. Using topwater lures, which were proving to be our favoured approach, I had a number of follows from a large fish fishing a rapidly emptying gulley of water between large patches of weed. Despite my best efforts, the best I could get as a return was a large swirl behind my lure before the fish stuck its fins out of the shallow water as it swam off taunting me. Meanwhile, Nathan lost a good fish on the edge of the reef into deeper water, as it ran him straight back in under the weed line that was just outside his wading reach… so close, yet so far!

The day ended with a conclusion that we were best off getting a few hours rest before hitting a bay we knew to hold good bass in the hours of darkness in the middle of the night…

Steve waits for the lure to land

Day 2: 

The alarm clocks rung out at an unearthly hour and we made the trip to the planned location to fish the flood. After several uneventful hours, where a complete lack of surf or tidal movement on the small tides just seemed to discourage fish to feed, most of us were flagging and decided to go and get a bit more rest before committing to our next plans. Steve Cullen opted to stick it out a while longer and was rewarded with another qualifying fish of 48cm and, even better, his third qualifier at a brilliant 64cm! 

We of course didn’t hear of these fish till we’d woken from a slumber some hours later, but it certainly recharged our batteries and reminded us that there were more than schoolies we’d been restricted to out there for us to catch. 

The bay Nathan and I had fished the prior evening was so plentiful in signs of bass and food sources, that we figured it would be worth a return with the rest of the party to explore it further. Unfortunately, on arrival, an evil wind had kicked up and the water had gone from gin to chocolate just like that. Out of this incredibly shallow bay, the water soon cleared, so we chanced our luck on a few other marks in the location instead. Beyond yet more schoolies, our luck was not to be in. 

Michale Smiga catches the beach lit up by a fire

The wind meanwhile had really been picking up to a point where it was making hard work of using the lures. Beyond sticking a big metal or a Samson into it, options were limited. We soon got our collective heads together and decided enough was enough and that a shift of locations would be needed to find a bit of workable shelter from these changing conditions. 

This ultimately led us to what was to be the marks we would see out the rest of the day on and the final morning of the competition. 

Finding a nice channel that created a good pull on the ebb even in these neap tides seemingly worked to trap a good amount of food, as plenty of birds were working the surface and it took us very little time before we were hooking into very good numbers of bass… yet still… not the ones of the size we were after! With the bird activity stopping at last light, we once more opted for some rest to hit the same mark early the following morning, setting alarms for 2am to give it a last good go. 

Pembrokeshire is just as beautiful in darkness

Day 3:

As stated above, we were back on the same mark as at the end of day 2. The theory was, with such a quantity of fish, surely it would be just a matter of working through them to find the bigger fish. Until the first cracks of dawn approached, it was dire… not a sniff, despite the sounds of possible bass splashing on the surface now and again. However, once dawn hit, we were in again! 

This time, Nathan finally struck gold, or silver anyway. A bass of 50cm gave him his long overdue qualifier that he had worked so hard for, trawling through many smaller fish.

The best I managed was a mid 40 on the adjacent mark we moved to, on a bit of a first cast curse, following which we proceeded to just be mugged off by the largest run of big sea trout I’ve ever witnessed. From a good viewing platform, we could see them exiting this channel on the ebbing tide… not that they could be tempted by any lures. 

Time had run out for us by now, and we opted to get back to the apartment and freshen up ready for the afternoons presentation and evening’s socialising. We knew from the chat group run throughout the competition that the fishing had been hard, so we harboured some hope that Steve, being seemingly one of very few to catch 3 recordable fish, with a decent 64cm one in there too, would be in with a shout. 

A nice bass for Michal smiga

The presentation: 

Perhaps the best part of the whole weekend is the get together back at the Rising Sun Inn, just outside Haverfordwest. Just as we remembered from 2019, the curry laid on was absolutely incredible, though drew a few red cheeks from those less accustomed to a bit of spice! Whilst we were feeding ourselves up and many were working their way through the first few pints of the afternoon, Mervyn was working hard reconciling the results whilst Fiona drummed up more raffle ticket sales to boost the sums raised for SOSB. 

It wasn’t long before the prize table was being laid out, and what an impressive sight it was too! Each of the prize winners, as mentioned early in this piece, would be walking away with some brilliant bundles of prizes thanks to some incredible sponsorship. 

Mervyn then did a brilliant job as compere of the presentation, as the eagerly anticipated results were about to be revealed… which we can confirm were:

1st place, with a bass of 69cm - Tom Cooper

2nd place, with an accumulative length of 182cm across 3 fish - David McPhillips

3rd place, with a 65cm bass - Keir Sims

4th place, with a 64cm bass - Steve Cullen

Junior winner – Jack Croll, with a 39cm bass. Unfortunately he had to leave early so we do not have a photo. 

In addition, unfortunately none of the competing ladies managed to record a bass and as such, split the prizes between the 3 of them. Congratulations to all of them for fishing incredibly hard in trying conditions though, they were far from the only ones to find it tough going!

No junior left without a prize

Funds raised: 

We soon moved on to the raffle, but not before the announcement of the sums raised for SOSB, which totalled a fantastic £2050! Everyone deserves a fantastic pat on the back for making this happen, but most importantly Mervyn and Fiona Bousie. It’s an incredible effort bringing so many like minded people together to achieve such good whilst having plenty of fun in the process. 

To the raffle… the first prize was an independent draw of all entry cards for the competition, for a Shimano Stradic 2500… what a prize for a free draw! The winner was most pleased!

The real raffle then got underway, with the first two winners, Dan John and Craig Evans most thrilled to be walking away with two of David Miller’s exceptional prints. 

Further winners then went on to take away excellent lure bundles, guiding gift vouchers, reels and more lure fishing accessories, leaving many people loaded up with prizes come the end of it. 

A fantastic sum raised for SOSB

The socialising:

I promised to let you know at the beginning what happens when an Englishman, a Welshman and a Scotsman are joined in a bar by an Irishman and someone from Guernsey. In short, madness. Incredibly fun, jovial and good spirited madness, but madness none the less! 

What smelt potent to the designated driver (me), proved potent to the recipients, as Derek Curran had started circulating what we had been informed were shots of an Irish potato based spirit (so I assume we can consider it a form of Vodka?). 

One of the recipients of the drink, Remi Naftel, took to it like Popeye takes to Spinach. A similar effect ensued, whereby after 2 or 3 shots, Remi had convinced himself he could take all comers in an impromptu arm wrestling clinic. This encouragement seemed to stem from having first beaten Steve Cullen… who self confessed to having a maximum daily workout of turning a few screwdrivers. Who exactly Remi thought he had defeated to give himself such confidence, we may never know… we’re not sure what exactly Remi recalls of the night himself. 

It was, however, now battle stations. Remi took his seat and welcomed all-comers. A particularly large and muscular Irishman accepted the offer, beat Remi with both arms and that was that…

The prize table

No it wasn’t… Somehow Remi was still sat there taking on all-comers, which he admirably continued to do so for the best part of an hour. He even managed to win a couple! The laughs and jokes around it all were brilliant, and long overdue with the past 18 months. It was all a barrel of laughs until those whom I was driving back recalled my previous exploits down the country lanes when they didn’t have multiple pints and shots inside them, where they’d compared my driving of a small transit van akin to a Colin McRae rally…

I guessed I’d have to tone it down for the good of the insides of my van this time. 

That then, really was that, as a great night and event drew to a close and all that was left was sleeping off the excess before a checkout and drive home the following day. 

The drinks were soon flowing

Always learning:

There’s nothing like a 4 hour drive back home at the start of a mini heatwave to find out your air conditioning has packed in. There’s also nothing like a 4 hour drive back from a competition to reflect and start planning on how to improve for the next year. We’d learnt so much, and fishing alongside a group of other anglers, in particular Steve Cullen, who once fishing is incredibly fixated on his quarry, is always a fantastic learning opportunity. 

Nearly all of our success in any level of daylight, came on topwater lures. My favoured ones being ‘candy’ colours, which really seemed to be nailing the fish (even if not of size). 

There’s an incredible range of topwater lures out there these days, but I found that in early and last light, focusing on disturbance – one with a rattle and that provides plenty of water disruption worked for me, whilst switching to focus on distance to hit where the birds were working in the daylight.

Meanwhile, in darkness, incredibly slowly moved soft plastics such as Sidewinder bass sticks and Albie Snacks did the job. Whilst I’d be fairly confident that next year, 99% of my fishing will be done with just 4 or 5 lures… what’s the odds my lure box is even more rammed when I turn up in 12 months time? 

We certainly cannot wait for the official announcement of next years event and will once again be there to support it. 

The take! Why we love topwaters...
A favoured topwater when distance is needed