Wild west fishing, from Bantham to Exmoor

Did you ever get the feeling you’d hit a great fishing location but got your timing off? I’ve been exploring beyond my regular haunts this month and found some fine locations, albeit not during any kind of fishing rush hour. Even so, I’ve managed to extract some lovely wild fish while enjoying that excitement that always comes with new water.

LRF fishing at Bantham, Devon

Bantham Bigbury sea fishing

Yesterday, it was a trip to Bantham, a beach I last visited perhaps ten years ago. It’s a very pretty spot, but to be quite honest I had no idea what to expect, or even whether there would be the time or scope to fish at all.

The benefit of the LRF gear is that you can put things together super fast. I grabbed two rods (one tends to come along for a guest!) and just a small bag with my camera, a couple of snap boxes and mere basics. Job done!

I’d forgotten just how pretty Bantham and Bigbury, on the other side of the river, are. Given the kind of sunny Saturday it was, when Devon’s beaches tend to be swarming, it wasn’t too horrendous either. Parking was only £3.50 all day and there was lots of space. The dunes here are especially rich in wildlife, too, with adders among other notable species! It’s amazing, in spite of the “no dogs April to September” signs besides the blatant adder warnings, that folks still just bring their pets and let them run all over the place, but there you go.

This was a casual day out with the wife and our Exeter friends Lina and Alex, so there was zero planning around tides or particular spots. In fact, the water was dropping alarmingly fast as we enjoyed a barbeque on the beach. The water to the right side, or at least the small pools left, looked like you might scratch the odd flounder, but I fancied the rocky left edge of the beach.

LRF fishing south Devon

We only had perhaps a ninety minute dabble in the end, right at the bottom of the tide, but that was enough to get some interest. Nobody whatsoever was fishing, although there were stacks of surfers out. Rough and uneven rocks made it a cautious, scrambling exercise across the rock pools- do bring decent, profiled boots if you’re going to explore this spot.

The fish were very shy in the bright sun. Split shot rigs with tiny hooks should have worked a treat, but we only got very tentative interest, even from a sea scorpion and a few blennies. I only managed to hook one, and felt rather like a giant trying to sneak up on a tribe of midgets in that bright sun.

Blennie LRF fishing Devon

The main event, however, was nearer to the tide line with some attractive gullies. They looked a decent depth, too, even at the bottom of the tide. I decided to step up the tackle a bit here, going up to 6.5lbs traces and slightly bigger offerings (a miniature Fiiish Black Minnow, or Isome or small soft plastics on 3g jig heads). The weight felt just enough to cut down nicely along the dark edges of the gullies, hanging a soft lure where it might be snaffled.

Nor did we have to wait too long. I had a couple of lovely thumps on consecutive casts on the Black Minnow, but nothing stuck and it went quiet again. A switch to a plain jig head and an Isome was nailed right away, though, by what may well have been the same fish.

It was a lovely, pulsating battle among the rocks. 6.5lb trace might sound light for wrasse, but I know my gear can take a fair bit of hammer and held on fairly tight- the drag ticking away only as the strain built. I had no net on this occasion (yes, naughty me), so I carefully got right to the water to hand land the fish, getting one boot soaked in the process; a very nice wrasse that was “rested” in a rockpool while we got ourselves sorted for a pic or two.

Ballan wrasse lure fishing spots Devon

At a guestimate, I’d sat it must have been a couple of pounds? Who cares. Another smaller ballan wrasse soon followed and I let Alex play that one, just to enjoy the feel of these spirited fish.

I perhaps fancied the chance of a bass too, but apart from another sillhouette that tailed my lure for a second, it was only wrasse that showed- and only ballan wrasse at that. Could the smaller species be getting rarer at present? It’s possible, no thanks to their quite commonplace removal along the coast now with demand from Scottish salmon farms!

Overall then, even with only a very brief window, we had an eventful rock-hopping hour and a half of sport. Not even any need for excuses and partners getting cold back on the beach! You really cannot beat this brand of lure fishing for opportunist fishing- even with virtually zero planning beyond ten minutes chucking things together in a bag. In fact, the unexpected factor of winging it on a family day out can actually add to the fun. Of course, with a baby on the way in July, this on-the-hoof style of fishing could become even more vital for me in the coming months.

Fly fishing on the edge of Exmoor

My other recent discovery has been the fishing up on the Somerset border, largely thanks to my friend and South West guide Chris Guest. This was for a “Fishing Club of the Month” feature to follow for Fly Fishing and Fly Tying Magazine. I don’t want to steal all the thunder here then (and I’ll be covering some great local advice and fly patterns to try for yourself) but suffice to say there can is some beautiful fishing up here!

Actually, it fished a little hard, probably because of an unseasonal recent drop in temperatures. We tried both the Hadeo and the Little Exe. Each produced bites, but you really had to work for them.

I think I might have switched to nymph or at least a duo, but sharing a rod with Chris, he is very much a dry-only angler most of the season so we stuck to the surface. Not through any snobbery, but just because the waters are so fast and shallow generally that you just don’t need to use a bead head to get hits.

Cheap trout fishing Devon Somerset Exmoor

The other surprise was the size of fly he uses. On rivers like the upper Culm I am very much a fan of 16s and 18s for brownies, especially in really glassy, clear water. Here is was more like 12s and 14s, the idea being to provide a steak rather than a starter! Hatches tend to be sporadic, I guess, so Chris likes to give them something that’s really worth rising for, the only exception being the calmer, glassier pools, where a tiny Griffiths Gnat came in handy.

It was beautful, challenging fishing, the type I really relish, full of unexpected twists and turns. One moment, we watched a late March Brown torn off the surface by a little trout; the next, Chris showed me a dipper’s nest right under a leafy bank. Just beautiful stuff and a bargain at just £35 a season with Dulverton AA; just pop into Lance Nicholson in Dulverton for your ticket and local advice on where to start. Or, better still, give Chris a shout for a guided session at http://www.exmoorflyfishing.com/
And of course, look our for that feature this summer!

Further reading this month…

That’s about all for now, other than to remind you to check out one or two other articles and free bits to read. For those who enjoy a spot of classic tench fishing or sport on the canals, the Angling Trust’s “Lines on the Water” blog has another recent post from yours truly on the Grand Western Canal, which offers some fabulous closed season sport for those who aren’t crazy about commercials.

Meanwhile, you can also watch a trailer and read more about the new film release “Pond Life”. A great looking independent piece of British Cinema, the movie focusses on the youngsters on the fringe of a northern English town and their fixation with a lake and its legendary monster carp. It looks like a great mixture of humour and drama, which I can see winning plaudits well beyond the angling crowd.

Take a look at https://linesonthewater.anglingtrust.net/


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