I had a pass to use the Cornwall Canoes T4 van for the weekend so loaded it up with gear and headed for South Wales early on Thursday morning. A slight roadworks detour via North Cornwall saw me arrive a little later than planned. I pulled into Gower Farm campsite mid-morning to a field already half full with keen kayakers.
Next it was off to the beach a short drive away where a few others were getting ready to launch. The tide was ebbing and the waters edge was getting further away from the car park. Oxwich has a very shallow sloping beach and a big tidal range, meaning that there is a long long walk from the low tide point back to the car. Eventually i was at the waters edge and ready to go. The plan was to head out to the deeper water to try and tempt a tope. I stopped off half way out and picked up a few strings of mackerel which seemed to be plentiful. Ben, Martin, Mark, Steve and a few others were already out fishing and things weren't looking positive on arriving to them as none of them had found a tope. It was still worth a try though.
Anchor down and a mackerel flapper was soon heading towards the bottom some 70 ft below. Bites didn't take long to come, but they weren't the solid bites from a tope. instead it was the tell tale pulls from a dogfish. Bugger. A few doggies later and something heavier was on the end. It was fighting like a huss and I wasn't wrong, a sizeable fish around 10 lb was soon on the surface but once beside the kayak I could see it wasn't actually hooked and only biting onto the mackerel. One look at the sunshine and it released to return to the bottom. Ah well, at least something different took a baited feather rig, my first scad of the year.
The dogfish were getting annoying so I headed in to the wreck of the Solor, located just a couple of hundred yards off the rocks. The mini species were biting and I soon had a few wrasse species, pouting, poor cod and others. It had been a long day so it was back to the beach for the dreaded was back to the car over the rippled sand.
An early start on Friday. The sun was shining bright through clear blue skies and it was feeling like a proper summery day. After the army of dogfish attacking static baits yesterday I fancied doing a bit of drift fishing. Ben and his mate Glenn were also keen to do the same so we headed out towards the headland to start fishing. One rod down with baited hookais, and another with a single hook with ragworm. I used the Raymarine Dragonflys 'track' feature to mark my drifts. This is a useful tool as if you find the fish you can replicate the same drift to hit the fish again. If they aren't biting on a particular drift you can make sure you drift different ground on the next drift.
The fish were patchy but I started to pick up a few fish. First up was a colourful tub gurnard. And then a red gurnard ...
A few more gurnards and then a few dabs and dogfish turned up. The tide was dropping fairly fast and the bites were edging off with it. A fair tidal race was setting up around the headland and we were quickly drifting into the start of it. Ben started to paddle in, I upped my rods and began to follow. Glenn was just behind me but was close to the edge of the race where white water and waves were forming in the strong flow. He was paddling so I assumed he was making headway. I turned around to check on his progress a minute or so later ... he was no where to be seen. Thats not good and the moment of realisation sank in.
I kept an eye amongst the waves and eventually saw a paddle blade, and then Glenn on his kayak as he rode over a wave. Bugger, he is in trouble. At least he was still on his kayak but it was obvious he was struggling. I raced over to Ben and told him to keep an eye on me and I would sit on the edge of the race and try to get him to paddle towards land where the current seemed to drop off.
I headed into the waves and it was messy! I was paddling with the flow at 8 knots and without paddling I was drifting at 3 knots, great! Glenn was tiring but he managed to make it across the current into a calm area against the rocks on the headland for some much needed rest. Ben had alerted a boat that was heading around our way and they came over to see if we needed assistance. It was a family on a RIB and they reluctantly gave Glenn a tow back around into the bay, as they were in a rush! The only rush i could see was the water flowing around the headland, and the need to get Glen back into the calmer waters of the bay.
I powered off back into the messy stuff and despite the water belting past me I made a steady 1-1.5 knots against it. Ten minutes or so later and i was back out of the danger zone. I wish i had the GoPro running (wasn't a priority at the time) as i had a few hairy moments with waves coming side on at shoulder height and crashing over the kayak but the Rytmo performed admirably and got me through it. It was quite fun actually and i'd happily paddle in it again! An interesting half hour or so but luckily all ended well.
Back in the safety of the bay, and after a rest, it was time for a try on the wreck again. The ground around the wreck is as rough as rats so i was using a 'cheap' homemade anchor comprising of a brick wrapped in cord! It worked a treat in the calm slack water.
It was hot, really hot. Not a breath of wind either. Ben had joined me on the wreck for some mini species bashing.
Ballans, corkwings, poor cod, pouting, pollack and some other bits showed up along with a fat goldsinney wrasse.
An hour or so of mini fish bashing on the wreck and it was time to call it a day. Back to the campsite via the chippy (a good call!) to see the field filling up with kayak anglers ready for the mornings competition. The evening was spent organising my gear so that I knew everything was ready for the comp, followed by an early night.
On Saturday I woke up early and headed straight down to the beach to get everything prepared. Everything was placed exactly where i needed it on the kayak so that i wouldn't have to be faffing around and wasting valuable time once on the water. Pete from Palm came over for a quick chat about the gear I would be using on the day, in particular why I was taking three rods on the water. Three rods for three different rigs to target a range of species was the simple answer.
I had a Ugly Stik Elite Spin 20-50gr rod that would be rigged with a three hook Sabiki rig with size 4 hooks. I class this as my heavier set up and once the hooks are tipped with Mackerel and ragworm would be used for drifting across the bottom to target Gurnards and flatfish primarily. My second rod was a Major Craft Zaltz 10-30gr that would be rigged with a three hook sabiki rig with size 8 hooks. This is the set up I use for targeting the majority of mini species and hopefully would find wrasse, pouting, poor cod and others once tipped with ragworm. I also had what i calls as a light set up that comprised of a HTO Rockfish Revolution ML 7-28gr rod that would be rigged with a three hook sabiki rig with ridiculously small size 14 hooks tipped with small pieces of ragworm. This would hopefully find the odd goby or blenny.
With a range of rigs with different hook sizes and baits I would give myself a good chance of catching several different species, and with the competition format being the most number of different species wins, this would hopefully get me on the prize board! Rules stated that hooks are not to be attached to rods whilst on the beach so the rigs are prepped and stored in the centre hatch so that i just have to tie them on when on the water.
Kayak loaded, gear and equipment meticulously placed on the deck, the next job was to go and register and collect my bait from the Mainwarings tackle shop stand. Bait was ordered a week or so in advance, with the tackle shop bringing it to the beach on the morning of the competition. You can't beat fresh bait! Ragworm and mackerel (freshly caught the day before) would be on the menu today. The competition entry fee was £20 with proceeds going towards running the event and the designated charity on the day. A selection of tackle goodies came with the unique registration photo card upon signing onto the competition. The card would need to be displayed in photos of fish for them to count in the competition to prove that they were caught on the day. The card also had an 8 cm scale marked on it. A species would need to be over this minimum size to count. This card was kept safe in the pocket of my Kaikoura so it wouldnt go missing – no card, no species count!
The prize table had been split into two sections for this year - 'Amateurs' and 'Pros'. The first prize in the amateur section was on display and looking good. It was a one-off special Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120 in Grey and Lime Green. It was made even more special by the unique colour moulding in the rear tank well! A fantastic prize from Palm, the main sponsors on the day amongst others including Raymarine, Tronix Pro, Navionics and more, who all put up other fantastic prizes. Without such great sponsors, events like this wouldn't be possible.
There was also a team event running on the day. All you needed was three members to enter a team at £5 per person. The winning team would win the accumulated £5s from all the other teams. Sounded like a bit of fun so grabbed Ben and we went on the hunt for another team member. Eventually we scoped out Kyle who willingly obliged. Right, all we need is a team name ... could we think of one, nope, so Team No Name was subsequently born! A bit of chatting and it was soon time to get the kayak on the beach. The Rytmo was all ready for its first competition.
Kayaks were lined up for several hundred feet along the beach, it was great to see so many different kayaks all rigged up in slightly different ways.
The sun was shining, the wind was reasonably light and everyone was geared up and itching to launch. It was really warming up, so much so that i rolled the sleeves up on my Palm Kaituna top ( this would leave me with an impressive tan line by the end of the day!). Safety talk first where organiser Ed from South Wales Kayak Anglers ran through the boundaries and rules. Safety boats would also be on the water to assist anyone in difficulty and available via VHF. Everyone was then allowed to launch, with plenty enough time to paddle out and get set up before the start of fishing at 10am.
I was still in two minds as where to start fishing – the wreck or the clean ground. I launched with the intention of starting on the clean ground but changed my mind half way out and headed for the wreck. It had just gone high tide meaning the wreck would be completely covered in water and invisible to those without fish finders or GPS with its position marked. Luckily i had its position marked on the Dragonfly and could use the DownVision to position myself right over it. It is not a difficult wreck to find anyway as there is a marker showing its location on the cliff face. The hoards of other kayak anglers sitting over it is another dead giveaway to those who aren't equipped with sonar or a chart plotter to find it.
The tide was flowing fairly fast over the wreck and with an ever increasing number of kayak anglers trying to position themselves around it, it became quite difficult to anchor and be clear of other kayaks. First attempt i ended up too close to another kayak but on the second attempt i managed to sit about 20ft off the stern of fellow Team No Name member Kyle. Others struggled to anchor firmly in a gap between other kayaks and some gave up after numerous attempts. It was a busy place to be!
Rigs set up on the rods, hooks baited, kayak tidied and ready for the 10 am start. Someone shouted that it was time so down went a sabiki rig baited with ragworm. It wasn't long before species number one was on the kayak, a poor cod.
and the next cast species number two a corkwing wrasse.
And then nothing! Despite a positive start I struggled to get a bite for the next twenty minutes or so. I figured that with the tide racing over the wreck, the fish would have been taking refuge and not so interested in feeding. The next thing I know my kayak its hitting Kyles with my anchor line floating slack on the surface. The tide must have forced the line against a sharp piece of wreckage and cut clean through it, bugger! Off to do some drift fishing then ...
I planned a drift with the wind and tide flow and found a corridor amongst other competitors to pass through. Using the Dragonflys Track feature, i could clearly see the path i was taking so i could plan subsequent drifts. I set one rod up with a single hook running ledger and baited the size 4 hook with a single ragworm. This quickly found a dab, species number three.
Nothing else on the first drift so the second drift was set up along a different line. The single hook rig attracted another bite. It felt a different fight to the dab so i was hopeful that another species was on the end. I was right. Not only was it a new species for the day, it was a species I haven't caught before, a striped red mullet! Only a small one but I was over the moon! They are stunning little fish and despite the name they are not a true member of the mullet family. They are in fact part of the goatfish family. An interesting little fish indeed.
The next drift I really found the fish! The baited sabikis were attracting lots of bites and soon an almost non-stop stream of gurnards, dabs and dogfish kept me occupied over the next hour. Species number five was a plump tub gurnard.
Shortly followed by number six, a grey gurnard.
and then the ever-present dogfish found a bait and became species number seven.
I must have had twenty gurnards and eight dabs before I decided a change of tactics was needed. It was really enjoyable drift fishing but I needed some more species to stand a chance at getting amongst the top places ... to the wreck!
It was just a little bit busy with at least ten or so kayaks crammed around the wreck. I managed to squeeze nicely onto one corner just as it was about to expose with the dropping tide. Sabikis tipped with ragworm soon found species number eight, a ballan wrasse.
and then a pretty Rock Cook Wrasse took the bait for species number nine.
Snapper was fishing next to me and pulling in numerous species I was yet to catch. He then had some rod bending action with this ballan wrasse
Bites were slowing up as the water shallowed. It was becoming difficult to find a fish. A little cast away from the wreck found species number ten, a micro pouting!
It was nearing the time to decide whether or not to paddle in. Would ten species be enough? Mark Radcliffe was also on the wreck so I assumed he was holding out for a few more species. Snapper had also done well next to me but wasn't sure exactly how many he was on. Lets give it a bit longer. I'm glad I did because species number eleven turned up, a tompot blenny.
Another twenty minutes passed with hardly a bite. That was it I'm going in. I quietly up-anchored and paddled for shore, dumped the kayak on the beach and legged it to the registration. It was ridiculously hot and i was about ready to collapse by the time I arrived at the registration tent. My eleven species had just been confirmed when Mark Radcliffe arrived, he reckoned he had eleven species too. He did, and because i had registered first I would take a higher position but would it be enough for the win. I was doubtful with plenty of people still yet to come back in.
Back down to the kayak and Oxwich Watersports were running a quad bike and trailer shuttle back up the beach to save carrying the kayaks up the beach from the low tide mark. It would have been brilliant, but I didn't know you had to buy tickets at the morning registration ... bugger! Twenty minutes of arm aching kayak pulling later and I was back at the van. I wont forget to buy a ticket for a lift next year! I packed away just in time for the results.
First up, the junior section. This year had a fantastic junior turnout of twelve, some of which caught more than many of the adults! Harrison Shaw-Whiting finished top of the juniors with a very respectable eight species. Every junior who entered won a rod and reel, and were presented with a certificate from Palm.
Next up, the Amateur section prizes. Fifth place went to Michael Burnett with nine species, taking home a £100 voucher for Mainwarings Tackle Shop. Adrian Davies took fourth place with ten species winning him a £100 tackle bundle from Tronix Pro. Ben Wallis snuck into third place with ten species winning him a £100 Escape Watersports voucher.
Second place went to Stu Evans with twelve species, winning him a Raymarine Dragonfly 4 Pro and Navionics+ card!
Top place on the day, and title of the European Saltwater Champion 2016 went to Aled Daniels with thirteen species! Aled went home with the very nice custom Tarpon 120.
That left the Pro section. Keith Ward (Ocean Kayak) came in fifth place with seven species winning a £75 Country Stores voucher. Kyle Waterhouse (Sasami Tackle) took fourth place with ten species winning a £120 Fladen tackle bundle. Mark Crame (RTM, Palm, Fladen) took the third place spot with ten species winning a £150 Escape Watersports voucher.
After a quick mix up with who was in second and first place, Mark Radcliffe (Jackson, Raymarine, Tronix Pro) walked up to take the second place prize with his eleven species, winning a £300 Palm voucher.
As i had registered my eleven species just before Mark, that put me in the top spot in the pro section winning me a £600 Palm voucher and a very nice trophy!
One hundred and eighteen people had entered so I was well happy to finish third overall and first in the pro section! The voucher will be redeemed mainly on clothing for my better half, so that she can get out of the wetsuit and into more comfortable paddle wear on the water.
The team prize went to Team No Name bagging us a bit of cash each! Various other prizes were handed out, including best specimen which was won by Mark Crame for a big Common Goby winning him a Raymarine Dragonfly 7 Pro and Navionics card.
That was the results out the way. Everyone soon dispersed and headed back to the campsite for the evenings hog roast and raffle in the marquee. Plenty of chatting and beer accompanied an enjoyable evening. No luck on the raffle for me though!
On Sunday the sound of rain hitting a tent early in the morning must be up there with one of the most un-motivating sounds ever. The weather was rubbish. It wasn't just the rain, the wind had gotten up too. I packed the tent away in a slight lull of drizzly stuff and headed down to the beach. It didn't take long before I decided i wasn't going to be launching. Ah well, time to head home.
It had been a great weekend. Plenty of fish, plenty of fun, great company and third place overall (first in the Pro section) in the European Kayak Fishing Championships. A big well done to South Wales Kayak Anglers and all the sponsors for a top notch event and weekend. I can't wait for next year!