The Swanage Classic Kayak Fishing Competition is one of the highlights of the kayak fishing events calendar. Loads of kayak anglers all spending several days camping and fishing together at a great venue with plenty of species to target. I did well last year and placed second. This year I had put aside four days to fish at Swanage so after sorting bits of gear out over several weeks it was time to drive up to Swanage for a long weekend of kayak fishing!
I arrived at Herston Leisure campsite for nine and set up the tent in no time. Ben and a few others were already down at the car park gearing up for a day on the water so it wasn't long before I was heading down to join them. It was a warm day albeit a tad breezy but I couldn't wait to get on the water. I wasn't too sure what to target but there are plenty of species here so it would be a day of fishing for all sorts. A quick trip to the tackle shop and it was time to hit the water ...
We headed across the bay to a reef mark to see if we could find some black bream. I would be fishing for these using a two hook flapper rig with small size 4 hooks baited with squid or ragworm. The bream tend to feed on or just off the bottom and the rig is designed to present the bait in this area.
A few tiny ones later and a slightly better male took the ragworm bait. They are quite stunning with the iridescent blue markings and jet black colour. Black bream are not a species that can be easily targeted close to shore from the kayak in Cornwall. I know marks that produce them but a fair amount of time and effort (and luck!) would be needed to have a productive session, so its nice to be able to catch a few reasonably easily at Swanage! They give a cracking fight on light gear. I was using the Ugly Stik Elite Spin which worked well for them.
A few small wrasse showed themselves and then we headed further out to see if there were any rays on the feed. I was quietly hoping to catch an undulate ray as they are near impossible to catch back home. A spotted ray would also be welcome as I'm yet to catch one. Both species are often caught at Swanage so I would be putting a few hours in over the next few days trying to catch them. The clean ground can also produce smoothhounds so whilst one rod cast a sandeel bait out, the other rod put down a peeler crab in the hope of a smoothie. Violent bites almost straight away and a failed hook up ... damn!
Bait back out and ten minutes later a fish tears off with the bait. The rod hoops over and a decent scrap gets underway. Soon enough I'm looking at a starry smoothound around the 5 lb mark. I've only ever caught one small one before so its a new PB for me!
A few dogfish later and it was apparent the rays didn't want to show themselves. We up-anchored and moved back onto the reefs to find some mini species. Sabikis tipped with ragworm found a few of the wrasse species, pouting, pollack. I wanted to catch a male baillons wrasse but despite Ben catching a few less than thirty yards away I couldn't find one!
Time to paddle in and get back to the campsite for some beers and fishing talk. An enjoyable first day on the water.
Up at six, a quick bowl of coffee (I forgot a cup!) and it was time to go kayak fishing again. The wind was increasing and the forecast for tomorrows competition was looking ever unpromising. Ah well, that wont stop us! We headed straight out to look for the rays. Anchors down and we got comfortable in the choppy mess. The odd wave was breaking over the sides but the Atom bib pants kept me dry. I had the Seti thermals underneath and they work well for keeping your legs warm even when bibs were getting soaked in cold water ... I love 'em!
A while passed without much action and then Ben started to catch spotted rays one after the other.
He had four and then I decided to move as I was obviously in a dead spot! First cast after re-anchoring and a fish finds the sandeel bait. I bend into something that wasn't a dogfish and smallish ray soon appeared beneath the kayak ... is it a 'spotted' ... nope it's a small 'small eyed'!
Thats better. It wasn't too much longer and the sand eel I had cast out on my Ugly Stik Elite Spin 20-50 g was being munched by something. I hooked into it and the rod lurched over ... ray! This was going to be fun on the light rod. It took a while but I eventually got the better of it and was surprised how well the rod coped with a decent weight on the end of it. It felt like a bigger fish so perhaps it was an undulate ... nope .. .it was another small eyed and a decent one!
It went around 9 lb on the scales and was soon swimming back down to the depths after some quick photos. That was me happy!
The bites dried up and despite me wanting to catch a spotted, and Ben wanting to catch a small eyed, the fish got the baits the wrong way around! A spider crab took one bait and the tide started running against the wind causing more problems than it was worth, so it was time for a move.
We headed back in close over the rough stuff and picked up a few of the usual suspects including this pretty little squid muncher ...
Back to shore to have an evening of getting tackle and rigs ready for the competition.
The sound of rain hitting the tent is not pleasant, nor motivating, at six in the morning. Registration for the Swanage Classic started at seven so it was time to get a move on and get down to the car park and prepare for what was looking to be a very wet and windy day on the water. The wind was gusting up to 30 mph and intermittent rain was forecast. Luckily Swanage is fairly sheltered but conditions would still be uncomfortable to fish in.
A quick trip to Swanage Angling Centre, a short walk from the registration point, to pick up my pre-ordered bait. Ragworm, sandeels, peelers, mackerel and squid should cover all the bases, but did I order enough? Lets buy some more just in case, even though I know it wont get used ... those tackle shops are good at catching anglers!
It was great too see so many fishing kayaks all rigged up.
Before long it was time for the safety briefing where the organiser and fellow Palm ambassador David Morris made important safety announcements and ran through the rules.
With the weather looking to deteriorate, the fishable area would be reduced. This would mean the fishing would be practically limited to the rough ground, so the clean ground species would be difficult to catch. Never mind, there are still plenty of species to expect over the reefs and rough ground. Safety brief over and everyone made their way onto the water. Once everyone was afloat the countdown began ... five, four, three, two, one and GO!
Everyone paddled out hard to the marks and set anchor. With the fishable area restricted it was quite cramped on the reefs, accurate anchoring was needed! Five minutes in and species number one rocked up, a corkwing wrasse. On the species competitions, each competitor is issued a photo card to include in every photo of fish they catch during the day – this verifies that the fish was caught on the comp day and it is over the minimum size shown on the card. I keep my camera and card stowed safely in my Kaikoura PFD pocket so they are easily accessible when I need to take a photo of a fish.
A plethora of corkwing wrasse followed so I made a move to another spot in the hope of some new species. A few more corkwings and ballans later and species number four showed itself ... a goldsinney wrasse.
It all seemed to be going well at less than a couple of hours into the comp. Thirty minutes passed with nothing more than corkwings and ballans. Time for another move. Still the same culprits after another thirty minutes or so. Hmmm, what to do. Go in or hold out for more species. Well I'm out here now and five won't be enough to place high up so carry on I did. An hour later and I'm thinking I should have just gone in. I was getting plagued by corkwings and not a sniff of another species amongst them no matter where I cast. Time to head in and see how I do with five.
It soon became apparent there were a few people with fives already in and some with eight species. I registered my fish (and witnessed some very questionable, position altering, fish identification!) before waiting in the ever pleasant rain for the results. After a mix up with the results, I had managed to come seventh place with my five species, winning me some Trokar hooks and goodies, and a set of Reuban Heaton digital scales. That was me happy!
Well done to Martin, Mark and Wayne for taking the first, second and third places respectively. Ben managed to grab fourth place too!
Everything was soaking wet so packing up was fun. Anyway, back to the campsite for an evening in the bar chatting about all things kayaks and fishing ... happy days :)
Another early start. The tent had to be packed and I still wanted to get out on the water for one last session. Another bowl of coffee and everything was slung into the car before heading down to the water. What a difference a day makes ...
Hardly a breath of wind, flat calm sea and warm air. A stark contrast to the day before ... typical! It would mean I could head out further for the rays and that was the plan. I met Ben on the water and headed out to the mark which produced the rays a few days back. Anchors down, baits out and relax ... thats better. It took a little while and one dogfish before something bigger found the bait. I could feel a ray shuffling around on the bait and it wasn't long before it moved off with it. The rod hooped over and the fish was on. Hmmm ... this is coming up too easy, maybe its a dogfish wrapped in weed? As it came to the surface it was apparent a ray was on the end and a decent sized one, but where was the fight? SPLASH, THRASH and it finally wakes up ... off it runs all the way to the bottom ... time to start again! Round two was much livelier and gave the Ugly Stik 6-12lb a good pasting. This is more like it ... I've said it before and I will say it again... I love ray fishing!
I soon got the better of the fish and brought it onto my lap, another decent small eyed that took the scales down to 10lb, a new PB! A good coating of slime Atom bibs again ....
A few quick photos and she was returned to getting on with making sure there are more small eyed rays in years to come. Mesmerising eyes too ...
Baits out again and it wasn't too long before the rod was nodding. Fish on and it went nuts! It was another weighty fish. Ben was Facetiming a friend (live video chat for those not in the know) so the camera turned to me and I had an audience. It took some time to get the better of it and it stuck to the bottom for a while. It gave the rod a good work out anyway.
A few cracking runs later and it graced the kayak, a beautiful male undulate ray that weighed 11 lb, another PB! I really do find the markings on an Undulate fascinating, they are my favourite ray for sure.
They are not a viable target down in Cornwall so I was well chuffed to have caught one whilst at Swanage.
I caught the capture on video too (select HD) ...
An hour passed without a bite and a move further out put us in a strange tidal position that wouldn't present the bites how or where we wanted them. Time to try the reefs for one last blast and try for a baillons wrasse.
The corkwings soon showed themselves. I dropped down to tiny size 12 Sabikis to try and tempt even the smallest baillons but too no avail. I did hook a bream that set off so fast it snapped the light line (6 lb) on the Sabikis ... bugger. The very next drop another bream took one of the hooks but this time the drag was set super light, even then I felt it might break the line so I engaged the backwind and played it gently. What a fight! My fear of getting snapped up and the fish's powerful runs gave fantastic sport on the Major Craft Zaltz 10-30gr rod I was using. I few minutes of cautious play and I slipped the net under a stunning bream, a little over 2 lb. The electric blue colouration on these fish always amazes me, the cameras never does it justice. A few photos and it was swimming back down to the reef from whence it came.
Ben headed back in and I decided to stay and persist in hope of a baillons. I tried a few likely looking marks on the way back in but it just wasn't happening. Ah well I had a fantastic session anyway. Back to shore where Ben and Amos were waiting, Amos armed with his new phone snapping photos ...
We packed up, said our goodbyes and that was it. Swanage 2016 done. Plenty of fish and plenty of fun. It was great to catch up with friends and meet some new. My Palm gear held up well and kept me warm and dry even in the miserable conditions on competition day. I'm looking forward to doing it all again at the Plymouth and Oxwich Competitions. See you there!