It was time for the annual pilgrimage to the lovely seaside town of Swanage in Dorset, to fish the Swanage Classic 2017. A superb kayak fishing competition attracting many competitors from across the country, all hoping to catch lots of species and win the grand prize of a Hobie Revolution 16. I had other targets though... I wanted to catch Undulate Ray and Baillons Wrasse!
The Revo's were loaded and we were soon heading out to the Ray marks i had plotted from last year. The sun was shining although there was a fair breeze and bit of chop. Mackerel and Sandeel baits were soon sat on the bottom on running ledger rigs.
A good scrap as always on well balanced gear and a Small Eyed Ray of around 5lb was soon flapping at the surface....
Ben on the other hand managed to sneak out a better fish.... a fine Undulate!
Plenty of persuasion and i soon had a firm grip of the fish and pulled it into the Revo.... Yes!! A beautiful female Undulate and a quick weigh put it at around 13lb.....
Now that i was in at the reefs it was time to try for the mini-species in practice for the comp and in hope of catching a Baillons Wrasse. Sabiki rig on and baited with ragworm. First drop down, bites straight away and i was graced with the sight of a small wrasse with red fins.... it was a male Baillons on the first drop!
These fish are really beautiful. I caught a big female a couple of years before at Swanage but they are fairly drab in colouration in comparison to the males. The males have stunning red or pink fins, beautiful blue and red markings and spotting to the face and pale dark spotting to the tail and anal fin. The dorsal fin has banding of blue, orange and pink colours with a dark spot located towards the bad of the dorsal. A dark black or blue band is found at the base of the pectoral fin and the body is characterised by dark and light brown checkerboard patterning. There are number of other identifying features but not as easy to see as those mentioned above. Only small but a pleasure to catch....
Time to launch in glorious sunshine and calm water although the forecast had that set to change with increasing winds throughout the day. Comp day wasn't looking great either.
The female Baillons Wrasse is much harder to identify than the male and too the untrained eye looks very similar to a female Corkwing Wrasse. Baillons Wrasse as a species show sexual dichromatism - where males and females of the same species show different colours and markings on the body. The female Baillons Wrasse has a similar checkerboard body patterning shown in the male and also the dark spot towards the back of the dorsal fin. The female lacks the bright red/pink fins of the male with a much more drab brown appearance. The facial marking and colouration is quite unique on the female showing pale blue/green lines and certainly differs to that of the male Baillions Wrasse and a female Corkwing Wrasse. Also look at the tail fin, this is covered in small pale spots - these are not present in a Corkwing Wrasse.
Ben and myself headed over to Ballard Point and took a closer look at the magnificent white chalk cliffs.
Saturday - Competition Day
Safety briefing time with event organiser David Morris....
I didn't really know where i was heading though so found some rougher looking ground on the fish finder and dropped anchor. The water was very clear and it was shallow. I wasn't holding out too much hope.
Sabiki rig down baited with small pieces of ragworm and it didn't take long before the first fish showed... Species number 1 was a Ballan Wrasse
The others i spoke to though had done much better though so the top prizes were out of reach as expected but as more kayaks landed with low results my 5 species looked to stand chance of being in the top 10!
Results time and prizes went down to around 15th place with just 3 species taking a prize. In fact my 5 species were enough to see me grab 6th place out of around 80 entrants, which i was more than surprised about as i thought i'd done terribly! I won myself a Fladen Maxximus Solid Carbon 10-20lb rod, which has a lovely action with quality stainless guides. Oh, and i won a load of Snappers kayak rigs too! Thanks to Fladen for sponsoring the prize.
And that was it. I had planned to stay on Sunday and fish but with poor fishing on Friday and Saturday i lost motivation to stay so headed back to the campsite, packed up camp and headed back to Cornwall. I'm just glad i had good fishing on the Thursday at that more than made the trip worthwhile for me. Placing in the comp was a bonus.
Top marks for David putting on another successful Swanage Classic. I'm already looking forward to next year!