I left Plymouth for Herston campsite at Swanage in the early hours of Friday morning. The plan was to get there, set up the tent and head straight to the water. An hour at the campsite and i was ready to go. I pulled up at the slipway at about 10:30am and was greeted by my first view of Swanage Bay, with the stunning white cliff backdrop- there aren't any white cliffs in Cornwall!
I was eager to launch, i wanted a day on the water before the competition so i had some idea of what to expect. The kayak was set up in no time and was soon making my way out into Swanage Bay.
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.
A dogfish came to the sandeel and others around me started catching the odd bream. Soon enough my 6-12lb Ugly Stik was bent over with a hard fighting bream. A spirited fight soon saw my first Black Bream arrive at the kayak - a female fish of around 2lb.
A few more female bream later and a male arrived at the surface. The males are much more colourful than the females, with an electric blue sheen to the fins and head, and electric blue facial markings. The body is also much darker than the silvery females. Steve (Lureman) had come over to say hello and dropped anchor a few hundred yards downtide of me and was soon having some great sport on the bream too.
A few more fish later and another male arrived at the surface - this Black Bream was nearly black! This one had taken a whole squid head on the running ledger.
The bream fishing was great fun, they fight well for their size! I had 7 or 8 before they went off the feed, or the shoal had moved off. I wanted to move to try fishing on some other ground so started to haul the anchor but it was snagged. The tide wouldn't seem to let me paddle hard enough uptide to break the weak link so after 5 minutes of trying to tease it out of the reef i admitted defeat and lost the anchor. This was not good news. I had only brought 2 anchors, so had 1 remaining for the competition. I tied up to a buoy on the way back in and found a Ballan Wrasse before calling it a day.
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
Registration began at 7am and everyone was to be registered by 9am. I made my way down after a strong cup of coffee and had the kayak on the grass above the launch spot for 8am. A quick trip down to Swanage Angling Centre, a few hundred yards away, for some Peeler Crab and i was ready. What a spectacle.... kayak anglers from all over the country and beyond arriving, setting up their kayaks and lining them up on the grass. Despite the water looking flat in the photo, a stiff breeze was blowing across the bay.
Whilst waiting for the safety talk i got the chance to say hello to more kayak anglers who i have yet to meet who had not been at the campsite. It was great to finally meet Ian (Dizzyfish) and Rob (V8Rob) and catch up with a few others. Everyone gathered for the safety talk at 9:30am, where the fishing boundaries were explained and safety boats pointed out. 109 had entered the competition! We got the all clear to take the kayaks across the road and line up on the water ready for the start. It was a great sight to see the queue of kayak anglers all waiting to launch and join the mass of kayaks already on the water. After 15 minutes or so everyone was ready and organiser David (Starvinmarvin) began the countdown....5.....4....3....2....1......
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.
That lifted the spirits from the quiet start. This time a sandeel went back down with the hook. 10 minutes later the rod tip was nodding hard. The rod lurched over and something weighty was running along the seabed.... this is a ray!! The metaphorical fingers were firmly crossed it was an Undulate. It gave me some stick but manage to persuade it to leave the bottom. From the depths appeared what i had come to Swanage for.....an Undulate Ray!! I made no mistake in getting into the kayak first attempt. A beautifully marked fish of 7-8lb.
That was me well happy! Bait down again and after a little while a dogfish had found it.... species number 3.
I was now feeling more confident so after 15 minutes of no bites i decided i would see if i could up anchor.... it was snagged. Luckiliy i was able to paddle a fair way uptide and snap the weak link with few sharp tugs. I headed closer to shore in search of some ground that may hold some wrasse. It was quite busy closer in but i managed to find space.
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 wrasse then began to take the bait, first up a Ballan Wrasse
then a male Corkwing.....
A few more Ballans and Corkwings made an appearance before this stunner showed up....
The most vibrantly coloured male Cuckoo Wrasse i have ever caught!.... species number 7
Mark Radcliffe had been catching well beside me, managing to sneak out a Rock Cook Wrasse and a Scorpionfish. A mackerel took my bait on the drop to make species number 8 but mackerel do not count in this competition, so i was still on 7 species for the comp. By now it was around 12:30 and the wrasse seemed to slow up. I had to make the decision whether to head back in and register my 7 species early and hope it was enough for a place in the prizes, or move and try to find more species. I assumed others and caught equally as well and headed back out in search of a bream which had been around the day before. An hour or so later and i was deeply regretting my decision! A dogfish made for the only bite so at 2:15pm i battled against the crosswind back to the launch spot. Richic got a great photo of me as i got out the kayak and realised my legs were dead!
On landing Mark asked how i had fared. To my surprise he reckoned i had a shot at a place with seven species. He had done well and finished up on 10 species plus a mackerel. I hot footed it up to the registration tent to sign off the water and register the species i had caught with the marshals. I packed the kayak away and enjoyed the hot sunshine watching others arrive back ashore and chatting to various people whilst we all waited for the results.
An hour or so later and David gathered everyone around for the prize giving. We all quietly knew who had won it!
9th place had 5 species so i had made the prize table! 8th to 5th all had 6 species, 4th - 7 species but it wasn't me, 3rd - 7 species, also not me...... i had come in before 4th and 3rd place to take 2nd!! My prize: The new Raymarine Dragonfly 5-Pro Sonar/GPS with Navionics+ nautical/sonar charts! I was well chuffed!
That was the icing on top of an already fantastic weekend. Mark Radcliffe took a well deserved 1st place with his 10 species and won the Hobie Outback shown above. Full Results below.....
Well done to all the other prize winners and a massive well done to David and his helpers for organising such a fantastic event. It ran very smoothly and was great fun. After plenty of prize winner photos and chatting everyone started to make their way back to the campsite.
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.
Up at 6:30am, tent packed away, i headed down to the water. A quick chat with craig, richi and others and it was time to see if a Spotted Ray would play ball. The water was glassy calm as i paddled out and anchored up.....lovely.
Bites weren't forthcoming but i wasn't too bothered. An hour passed with a few dogfish but the weed began to pick up so up anchored and headed in close to see if i could tempt a male Baillons Wrasse. By now the wind had picked up and the water became quite choppy. I tied off to a few different buoys but the bites just weren't coming. I called it a day and headed back. Mark and Shaun soon followed. A quick line up of my Abaco and their Black Tempos for a photo and it was time to pack away.
The car was loaded and i headed into to town to find some lunch. On the way back through the town i saw Steve and his wife. We had a quick chat and said our goodbyes. Looking forward to a session in cornwall at some point mate, it was great meeting you both. A quick chat with Mark, Shaun and David before it was time to head for home.
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
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