June 2013

baby tope

After waiting excitedly for the start of the river season since they shut nearly 3 months previously, I was dying to get back out and amongst the zander, however even with the “Glorious 16th” falling on a Sunday, I still had to work!

Though it could have been a bit of a blessing in disguise, as, speaking to a few anglers on the next day, the Severn had gone through one of its switching- off stages – with hardly anything being caught at all! The barbel chaps were struggling further up the river, and down on the tidal an 8oz eel won in a 20 man match! Not the stuff that gets you too excited.

Additionally I was still boatless! The upgrades I have been getting done were taking longer then I thought, and there was a problem with getting one of the boat seats I wanted.

As the Severn was fishing so badly I thought I’d pop over to the Wye and have a bit of sport – barbel fishing for a change, but I think I’d left it too late, and most of the good beats were booked for most of the following week! Oh well, best laid plans and all that. In the end, I had a couple of hours into dark on the tidal Severn, fishing a couple of spots where I’ve had some good zander before, albeit later in the year. Needless to say I blanked, but sometimes it’s just nice to be out.

With the rivers not fishing well, the weather being crap, and being busy at work, I didn’t really have much chance or inclination to rush back out. With zander sometimes you can get a big one in the first couple of weeks, then it tends to be schoolie bashing until after Christmas, I’ve caught enough of those to not get excited about the prospect of wading through them for a big one.

I know some anglers like catching numbers of fish, but I’d rather target bigger fish, so with the zander fishing on the back foot, I was at a bit of a loss about what to do, then I got the offer to head out on the Bristol Channel for a day trip, hopefully after tope and smoothounds.


A lot of the harbours in the Bristol Channel dry out over low water, so knowing your tide times are critical, thus we were up early for a 6am start out of Barry Harbour.

We were fishing out of a sailing boat, not the ideal fishing platform, with little space for fishing or casting, but when needs must, you cope! The benefit of course is that it’s all kitted out for sleeping with nice comfy beds, a cooker and even a toilet! “A proper caravan with sails” as I like to call it!

We headed to a mark where previously I had caught several large blond rays, and had been bitten off a few times by what could only be tope. In fact I’d caught a load of really small fish, all on sandeels, cute little baby ones, all with a nasty set of teeth.

Talking to one of the other skippers, the bay we were heading for is believed to be a “Tope spawning ground,” as you often catch juvenile tope there. Maybe it should be called a “Tope birthing area”, as tope are a live-bearing fish – in that juvenile tope are born ready to go, so to speak, and are like small versions of their mothers. There is no egg case (known as mermaid’s purses) stage like in some other sharks and rays.


So armed with a big cool box of frozen Baitbox goodies, mackerel, squid and sandeels I was quite optimistic of catching one. The previous time I had caught most of the fish on mackerel and squid wrap, which is a classic ray bait, but which for some reason the tope must like as well – because this is what I was using when I kept getting bitten off! This time it would be different though, I’d made up a wallet full of wire traces for them, that I didn’t have last time. But alas, not even a sniff from a tope this time, we were four weeks earlier than last year and it’s been cool, so it could be that the tope hadn’t made it to this spot yet.

I did manage a few small congers and a couple of nice thornbacks though. What was interesting is that I usually put two baits out up-tiding, and fish one down tide, but nearly all the bites were on the up- tide rods, with Baitbox sandeels doing the trick on this tide.


I love up-tiding, though it’s a bit hard casting around the rigging on a sail boat, it does seem to be the best way of fishing on the Bristol Channel when the tides are strong. With up-tiding you can usually get away with 8oz – 10oz of grip – wire lead, unlike standard down-tiding you need to use 1 – 11/2lbs of lead when the tide is really pushing, even though the water isn’t that deep. The act of casting away from the boat also makes sense to me, especially when you have 3 boat lengths of anchor chain out, that will clunk and chink away with the swell on the boat.

The physical act of casting is also something I like, it just seems a bit lazy dropping a bait off the back of the boat. Yes, I know I do vertical jigging, but that is very, very different from fishing at anchor.

Pulley-rigs are my favourite for up-tiding in the Bristol Channel, they are dead easy to make, and work really well in keeping your lead up and away from the rocks once you have a fish on. It’s a standard rig that I use from the boat, or the shore, because really, you don’t need anything else when targeting big fish with big bait. Another advantage of them is that because you clip them up, (I use the Breakaway Imps) they cast like a bomb.

Congers are a great sporting fish, though in the Bristol Channel they don’t really go very big, with a 20lb fish a good one, the average in this area around 10 – 15lbs, but even fish this size will put up a good scrap in the tide, far harder then any freshwater fish, with the possible exception of catfish, and they are a species that can be readily targeted from most coasts so I find it a bit strange that more people don’t target them, I would say that if you are heading off to the seaside during the holiday period give it a go. Just remember to use strong tackle, and at least an 80 or 100lb mono trace, because they can wear though lesser breaking strains during a prolonged fight.

conger 2

Sea fishing isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I do enjoy the challenge of catching different species of fish, so I will be back and hopefully put a tope in the boat.