I started this meet back in 2014 and wanted to offer something a little different to the usual kayak events and comps. This was to be a relaxed meet with no rules other than a preferred venue to all fish from, and what better place for this than the Westernmost launch-point on mainland England – Sennen Cove. It is a casual affair where kayak anglers could meet up to go fishing without any pressure to perform. There is a dedicated campsite at Ponsandane Penzance that everyone could use and socialise at in the evenings, with a beer over the campfire. It was a great success from the off! Fishing in some of the most productive waters in the country offers something for everyone, from those looking for big specimens to the die-hard species hunters looking to up their tally and everyone in between.
Fishing at the westernmost tip of the land comes with its challenges. Sennen is a world-class surf beach and for great waves you need swell, and Sennen is exposed to lots of it! Feeling the full brunt of the Atlantic, you need calm weather to safely fish this venue. Some years have seen the meet only fishable for a few hours, and other years have been exceptionally calm with over 50 kayakers enjoying several days fishing on the water. Conditions can be challenging and realistically this venue is not for the complete novice and some experience fishing open coastal conditions is needed here. Big swell, strong tides and choppy waters are not uncommon. We take it as it comes and make the most of what the weather deals us. There is a designated campsite at Penzance and the social side of the event is just as rewarding as the fishing at times. Meeting up with friends old and new and enjoying a spot of relaxed fishing in the day is a real highlight.
Fishing Amongst Mountains
I had Thursday to Sunday to fish and Ben had travelled down from Lowestoft to join me. Plans were carved, tackle shops raided for lures and bait, and Thursday morning we were driving down to Sennen to be met with the most incredible surf conditions rolling onto the beach.... the swell was BIG! Luckily Sennen has a small breakwater to launch from, but even in big swell this can be hairy. The exposed Cowloe Reef just off the breakwater was getting a hammering. We were going fishing. It takes a bit of nerve to launch here in swell. Waves break and dissipate to one side of you then reform and charge up the shore the other side. It’s not recommended unless you know exactly where to paddle to avoid danger.
Through the worst of it we headed out to deeper water. The huge swell rolled in and you physically had to paddle up the swells and then back down them, land almost disappearing when you’re in the troughs.... not for the feint-hearted or weak-stomached! A few brave souls had ventured out for a fish.
Lures were order of the day. Fiiish Minnows, Savage Gear Sandeels and others were to be vertically fished over the reefs in the hope of Pollack with a chance of Cod, Bass and Wrasse too. It didn’t take long before we had a few Pollack and Codling between us. A Cuckoo Wrasse took a liking to my lure and a few Ballans were smashing them too. Ben really wanted a big Ballan Wrasse but after a couple of hours we were both starting to feel unsettled in the swell. Ben hadn’t been seasick before and got pretty close before we headed back ashore to have a rest! The feeling had set in and he was exhausted through it and had to call it a day. He should have launched again though....
Sennen Lifeboat had launched on exercise during the day and we watched as it recovered back into the boathouse. It's always a great spectacle to see the boat slid down the slip and smash into the sea as the engine roar at full bore powering the craft off into the bay.
Ballan Wrasse hold a special place in my heart. I have spent countless hours fishing for them from the shore and in recent years I have really enjoyed catching them on lures from the kayak. My PB stands at 6lb 14oz. A big Ballan will have you locked into battle and praying your tackle doesn’t give out as it dives for rocky shelter. On my very first cast after re-launching I smashed out my Fiiish Minnow 120 at full range over shallow ground in the hope of finding a bass in the turbulent water. The lure got instantly nailed and an epic fight ensued on my 10-50g rod. It was a decent fish and I knew I couldn’t give it much line. It found the bottom a couple of times and brute strength extracted it back from the kelp. A big pair of rubbery lips was soon smiling at me and a big Ballan was beside the kayak. It was a beast! A quick weigh put it at 6lb 4oz. That was me very happy and Ben extremely gutted! There wasn’t too much action after that.
Ben breaks a British Record!
The next day was windy. We found shelter in the Helford estuary and hoped to find a Gilthead or Couch’s Bream to up the species count. We launched with Martin Collison who had travelled from Essex overnight. Small hooks and ragworm were cast out into the river. Ben had a bite straight away, which resulted in a Tub Gurnard.
On his second cast he had another bite and hooked something that was fighting well. A red shape was darting around and one second it was a red gurnard, then maybe a Couch’s, or was it a Red Mullet. That was when it’s head poked out the water. My heart dropped and I shouted to Ben to not mess around and get it in the kayak straight away. He didn’t have a clue what it was but I did. It was a Streaked Gurnard!! Easily mistaken for a Red Gurnard for those not in the know, but this gurnard has a steeply sloped head, small mouth and unique colouration. I have previously seen a frozen specimen at the Marine Biological Association in Plymouth. I made no hesitation in telling him that I thought he had just caught a British Record!!
A quick check on the record lists and the existing boat caught record stands at 1lb 2oz caught in 1994 from Poole Bay, with the shore record at 1lb 6oz 8dr caught in 1971 from Loch Goil. I know of one other boat caught specimen from Mounts Bay in 2007 weighing 1lb 3oz 5dr by a member of the Mounts Bay Angling Society but I’m not sure if this was ratified as the official record. Either way, Bens’ fish went 1lb 9oz on my digital scales so had smashed all previously recorded fish! This was later weighed ashore on accurate scales at 1lb 8oz 3dr and a claim is being made for the British record, perhaps the first to be caught from a kayak.
It was going to be difficult to top that but we enjoyed some good fishing finding several stunning Red Mullet some Black Bream and a couple of Couch’s Bream to finish the session off.
Sennen was a no-go for day 1 of the meet. Strong SW winds meant we would have to shelter within the confines of the Helford estuary again. Around 15 anglers made the effort, and despite the fishing not being prolific, many caught their first Red Mullet with a few Tub Gurnards, Wrasse, Thornback and some mini-species caught too. The Ferryboat Inn provided a good spot for lunch overlooking the stunning river estuary so everyone was happy. Even better was the forecast for the next day. Sennen was on!
No wind, no swell, the smallest of neap tides and sun. A perfect forecast for Sennen and we had it all on Sunday. It was an early start to ensure parking spaces and everyone was in great spirits overlooking the calm bay. There was no hesitation in launching. Around 25 kayak anglers made there way into the bay, with groups splintering off to fish different areas. Some headed for the sands to try for a ray or flatfish, others were sticking around the Cowloe reef to fish for Pollack.
A few of us had other ideas, and that other idea was sitting on a rock some 1.25 miles off Lands End and rising 115ft into the sky.... Longships Lighthouse.
Perched on a precarious reef system, warning ships of the perils beneath the surface, the Longships lighthouse and the reefs surrounding it offer some spectacular fishing. Strong tides flow here as the deep water is forced over and around the shallower plateaus and rocky outcrops. Even on neap tides you need to time the fishing around slack water and get back inshore to safety before the strong ebb kicks in. I have seen the water turn from flat calm to tidal race standing waves in a matter of minutes here and it is not a place to get caught out on a kayak. Preparation and timing is key. Knowing when to cut the session off and return inshore is paramount no matter how good the fishing is.
Plenty of Pollack
We stopped at a few reefs on the way and after a bit of searching located some fish on sonar. We all got stuck amongst the Pollack with many fish between 4-8lb. I hit into a better one that had the reel screaming and rod bent to the butt! A few good powerful dives and I could see the golden flanks rising from the depths. It was a good Pollack that went just over 11lb.
Mark Radcliffe finished battle with another good one and found himself his first double. A few Ballans and a greedy Cuckoo Wrasse also joined the party and there were plenty of rods being bent.
Slack water was approaching and we hunted around the reefs to find fish. A few of us happened upon a shoal of bass and I picked away 9 bars of silver on the lure before they moved off.
Plenty of others got stuck amongst them too and we were all having a great time. We all done a few laps of the lighthouse picking away at the Pollack and Wrasse.
It wasn’t too much longer before the tide started to ebb and we headed back to the bay to seek shelter from the tide. Others had caught some nice Cod to 8lb and a few other bits and pieces. The sands had not fished well with just one ray found and a few Huss. Martin had caught a few of his target species including a Lesser Weever, Ling and Cuckoo.
Plenty of Pollack had been caught by all though. A few headed in early, and I stayed out with a few others and found a few more Pollack including a nice 9lbr. The sun was shining, the sea was flat and there were plenty of bent rods.... perfect!
With the afternoon passing by I headed in with Mark Radcliffe and landed on the harbour beach. Mark had taken a few fish for the table and attracted a rather large crowd of people as he extracted fish after fish from his kayak! One youngster found out why dogfish are called dogfish, much to my amusement.
By 16:30 everyone had returned to shore safe and sound. Everyone had caught, everyone was happy and most were going home with tea for the next few days. PB’s were caught, new species found, new kayaks christened and one rod was broken!
Over the course of the weekend and the day or so either side, the kayak anglers attending had caught a total of 31 species including rarities such as the Streaked Gurnard, Atlantic Saury, Couch’s Bream and Red Mullet. The Penzance Kayak Fishing Meet 2019 had been a great success.... bring on 2020!
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