After putting a lot of time into pursuing cod and tope through the winter, January rolled around and it was time to target one of my favourite species: spurdogs. I love fishing for spurs as technically it is so similar to fishing for tope. They aren’t an easy fish to target on the Pembrokeshire coastline but this gives me and other anglers a really enjoyable challenge. There’s been some excellent fish caught in this winter’s run, topped off by Dean Booker’s recent capture of a new (unofficial) Welsh record at 15lbs 11oz. Although the spurs haven’t been caught to the massive sizes seen in other regions of the UK yet, it’s surely only a matter of time before someone lands a beast in the high teens.
With spurs in mind, it wasn’t long before I was on the phone to my good mate Kelly Smith arranging a session, hoping for a repeat of the awesome trip we had the year before. After a good natter, we agreed to fish the same mark as before as the tide and wind conditions would be exactly the same as when we’d had our big hit. Another good mate of mine, Ed, would be joining us. I was glad of this as when you’re fishing in hazardous weather and sea conditions, more pairs of eyes help everybody to stay safe, especially when landing fish.
I was first to arrive at the car park, taking a minute or two to watch the trees doubling over as they were battered by the high winds – the conditions were absolutely spot on for bringing the spurs tight to shore within range of our baits. Within ten minutes the boys turned up and we were soon beginning the 20 minute walk out to our spot. Arriving at the mark, we could see that the swell was right approaching the borderline of what is safely fishable but we all decided to try our luck and cautiously give it a go.
After setting up and getting our first baits out there, it didn’t take long for the bites to start – the line on one of Ed’s rods dropping to the ground. Ed was quickly on the rod but, unfortunately, missed the fish. This was an encouraging sign though: the spurs were there. Like many other anglers, I’ve found that the majority of spurs give a couple of knocks then the line will suddenly drop very slack. If you watch underwater videos of spurs feeding, you’ll see that they like to take a bait in their mouths and rock themselves from side to side to rip into it before moving off. This is what you see on your rod tip when you get a bite from one.
Thirty minutes after Ed’s missed fish, Kelly had a big slack-liner. This time, however, Kelly connected solidly and a spur was on. The fish gave Kelly a good battle and the eight foot swells made landing it very hard work for us but we finally got it in, a good fish that tipped the scales at 9lbs – what a start! After we returned Kelly’s spur, I glanced around at my rods and saw that one of my lines had dropped to the floor. As I hit it, I knew this was a better fish and it stayed deep all the way in. Kelly was straight down and expertly managed to pick my fish out of the boiling sea. After a couple of photos, my fish bounced the scales down to 13lbs 8oz – a weight I was well happy with.
The bites didn’t stop but we were struggling to hook the fish so we all decided to scale down our bait and hook sizes. This tactic worked and we started hooking the fish but they were smaller spurs of around 5lbs or so. After a while, we started talking about how mad it would be if we had a tope run so early in the year, then my rod absolutely screamed off: tope on! It felt like a good fish but we knew it would be impossible to land it in such heavy swell conditions. Five minutes into the battle, however, the hook pulled. I was gutted but then, I was also glad that nobody would feel tempted to have a go at landing it as no fish is remotely worth a mate’s life.
After the encounter with the tope, we fished on for an hour but the spurs were moving off. We managed a couple more, with Kelly’s best going 9lbs 4oz, before packing up and heading for home. Two days later, the conditions were still prime so Ryan Wingfield and I decided to head back out for another go. With these Pembrokeshire spurs, there’s only a short window to target them in – as soon as they come in, they’re gone again. It seems like they only come in for a couple of weeks before moving off again for another year: you have to make the most of them when they’re around.
After stomping out, Ryan and I quickly set up, keeping a watchful eye on the swell crashing into the rocks and wondering how we were going to land fish. Within ten minutes, Ryan was straight into a spur after the classic slack-line bite – happy days, the spurs were still on the mark! With the swells running right to left, it was virtually impossible to land the fish and, guttingly, the hook ended up getting pulled from the force. After that lost fish, there were no more spur bites and the dreaded dogs came on the feed. We got our heads down and fished through the dogs for an hour or so before it suddenly went really quiet – a sure sign that the spurs had hustled them out.
It wasn’t long before my rod bent over and I was into my first spur of the night, only a smaller example of about 6lbs but I was still happy to nail the target species. With that fish, things really kicked off and the action was nonstop with plenty of spurs around the 5-6lbs mark and Ryan landing the best of the night at 9lbs. Interestingly, we were fishing slightly different terminal gear: I went with 250lb mono trace while Ryan opted for wire. Both seemed to work equally well, attached to three foot long pulley rigs made with 100lb rig body and finished off with 4/0 catfish hooks.
To finish, I’d like to offer some final words on safety. With rough conditions being the optimum times to target spurs in many regions, it’s essential to take all necessary precautions to make sure you’re fishing as safely as possible. Wear appropriate footwear, use ropes if you need to and don’t fish on your own. If possible, work out a plan for landing your fish before you start fishing. When you do land a spurdog, as always, take care to avoid the spurs on their dorsal fins: they are sharp and can do some damage to unwary hands! Handle the fish carefully and return them as gently as you can, they are a delicate species and don’t withstand rough handling.