I had come to this competition for one reason - it gave me a shot at catching some species which i am unlikely to get from my usual marks closer to home. Number 1 on the list was an Undulate Ray, closely followed by Baillons Wrasse. I've marvelled at many photos of Undulate Rays and always dreamed of catching one from the kayak, trouble is their range doesn't quite extend down to Cornwall, well the odd one has been recorded but they are very rare. Likewise with Bailllons Wrasse, they are very rare in Cornwall but Swanage seems to be a hotspot for this rare species of wrasse. I had been in talks with some fellow kayak anglers who knew the area well and they had very kindly given me some places to try. Others species on the list were Black Bream, Spotted Ray and Smoothound, all of which i have never caught before.
After a quick chat to fellow RTM team mate Mark (Snapper) on the water i made my way to the spot and dropped anchor. Anchoring is so much easier in shallow water! Im used to anchoring in anything from 20-50m, but here i was anchored in just 9m! I cast out a running ledger baited with sandeel in the hope the rays were about. Another rod was set up with a three-hook rig to fish for Black Bream. I seemed to be on the edge of some reefy ground so baited one hook with ragworm incase any wrasse were in the area. Squid strips were loaded on the other hooks.
Bites straight away! Wrasse bites too by the feel of it..... fish on! Up comes a small wrasse....what is this!?! Well its not a female Corkwing wrasse despite looking quite similar, neither does it look like the Baillons Wrasse i have seen from photos. I don't know what it is! I took plenty of photos and measurements and quietly hoped i had caught something interesting. After some digging around online back at the campsite i struggled to find any photos of a Baillons Wrasse or a female Corkwing Wrasse that looked like the wrasse i had caught. Finally i found a detailed description on Baillions Wrasse identification and i had my answer. Baillions Wrasse show sexual dichromism - whats that i hear you say! - well its when the male of a species is has different colouration to the female. This is the case in Corkwing Wrasse (Symphodus melops) who are from the same genus Symphodus as the Baillions Wrasse (Symphodus bailloni). Turns out the female looks quite different to the male Baillons with checkerboard markings and black or grey urogenital papilla - thats the egg laying part which is blue/purple in female Corkwing Wrasse. The male has bright red/pink fins, with turquoise and pink/red facial markings and facial spots. Both have the characteristic dark spot about 2/3rds of the way down the dorsal fin and dark spot at the base of the tail, just visible in this specimen. I wonder how many female Baillons Wrasse have been assumed to be female Corkwings.....everyone will have to sharpen their eyesight next year!
I had caught a Baillons Wrasse on my first drop! Even more interesting is that the maximum size stated for the species is 20cm - this plump female measured 22.5cm - a monster for its species! The British rod caught record is 8 and 1/2 oz, i bet this one wasn't too far off! She was bulging with eggs so she was promptly released back down to the reef. What a stunning little fish and one i will remember for a while.
An enjoyable evening was spent at the campsite round the fire chatting to fellow kayak anglers, catching up with old friends and making many new. A great start to the weekend!
Saturday - Competition Day
The water erupted as everyone paddled like mad to get to their desired spot. The noise was incredible! The flotilla battled out through the stiff headwind. I headed for the far side of the bay where i had been the day before. In fact i dropped anchor within about 50m of where i had been the day before. The wind caused me to end up further from where i dropped the anchor than i hoped and ended up closer to Ian (Tanglefoot) than i anticipated, sorry mate!
Out went a running ledger with peeler crab and the three-hook rig with squid and ragworm. All was quiet. In the distance Mark Radcliffe was to no surprise pulling in a few fish, Ian looked at me and said we were in the wrong spot. He soon up-anchored and went in search of better grounds. As he did i had a good bite on crab, hooked a fish but for it to come off just beneath the kayak....damn!
Re-bait, back down and it wasn't long before the crab was picked up again. This time it was properly hooked and fighting well. My first Smoothound was soon on the kayak, a starry one too.
Ragworm and squid down. A few nibbles and bait changes later and something hit the bait on the drop. Next thing a garfish was tail walking at the surface.... species number 4 had taken a small strip of squid on the three hook rig.
The most vibrantly coloured male Cuckoo Wrasse i have ever caught!.... species number 7
The weather was fantastic and another enjoyable evening was had chatting, laughing, watching videos of mad Northerners and other shenanigans. I could have stayed up all night chatting to the various people i was chatting with round the fire and in the bar but i would have to get up early the next morning to pack up and head to the water for one final session. An enjoyable end to a fantastic day. All was good.
It really was a great weekend, coming 2nd was the silver lining (excuse the pun!) to a really enjoyable weekend. I met many people too numerous to mention here and was made to feel very welcome. Im looking forward to the next big one - the Ocean Kayak Classic held in Plymouth on the 13th of June. See many of you again then. Happy Days