in the early hours of Thursday morning i headed to Swanage in time to get a days fishing in. I was travelling up with Ben who had been down in Cornwall for the week to fish. We had terrible weather during the days Ben was down and found it difficult to get any proper fishing done so were looking forward to Swanage. A quick coffee stop and we arrived at Herston Campsite mid-morning. We had some fun putting a new tent up before shooting straight down to the water to set up and launch. I had two main targets at this years visit to Swanage: Undulate Ray as we don't see them in Cornwall and a male Baillons Wrasse as i'm yet to catch one and Swanage is my only realistic chance of catching one.
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.
It didn't take all that long before the mackerel was being munched. First cast and i was soon bent into the unmistakable weight of a ray!
A good scrap as always on well balanced gear and a Small Eyed Ray of around 5lb was soon flapping at the surface....
The mackerel soon had more interest but i could tell from the bites they were pesky dogfish. They were trashing the baits quickly but strangely enough the sandeel wasn't getting much interest from them. After catching a handful (no idea how many that is but enough to not want any more) both rods were soon fishing sandeels.
Ben on the other hand managed to sneak out a better fish.... a fine Undulate!
Hmmm, i hope one of those comes my way! A fish picked up a sandeel bait and with a short run i was soon hooked into another ray. Small Eyed number 2 was soon in the kayak!
Whilst i seemed to have the Small Eyeds beneath me, Ben was obviously sitting above the Undulates. He had put a bait down on a light lure rod and it didn't take long before the rod was bent to breaking point with a big ray hanging on the end! It took him a while to tempt it to the surface and when it did get to the top, it turned around and powered off all the way back to the bottom! It gave him a good workout but he finally pulled a lovely male Undulate into the kayak and came over for a photo. A quick weigh put it at around 12lb....
Awesome! Ben had caught his fish and headed off inshore to fish the reefs. I stayed put as i wanted an Undulate! No sooner had Ben pedalled out of shouting distance i had a solid bite. A decent fish was mauling at the bait. Wait, wait, wait.... that's a Ray!!! Don't you just love it when she bends over!
It felt a decent fish and gave several short runs taking line. My fingers were crossed for an Undulate and an Undulate it was indeed. I caught a glimpse of it before it headed off back to the depths dragging line from the spool.... always a tense moment having now seen the fish!
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.....
Ben had disappeared so i made do with a selfie before releasing the fish back to the depths....
Mission number 1 accomplished so i up-anchored and headed over to Ben to break the good news..... that i'd caught a bigger one than him..... It went down swimmingly as expected.... excellent!
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....
Super! A flurry of other species followed with Ballan Wrasse, Corkwing Wrasse, Goldsinney Wrasse and Pouting finding the bait on consecutive casts. If only it was Saturday! Half hour of fun and we decided to head back to shore. Steve managed to catch me on camera on the way....
Once back ashore there was talk of a distinct lack of Black Bream, one of the iconic species present in Swanage Bay. The bream head to the reefs to breed and spawn on the grounds around them at this time of year and there had been several good catches in the weeks before the comp. They seemed to have moved on though which was a shame as i was hoping to catch one for the yearly species count. Ben and myself seemed to be the only ones to have found the Rays too. Tomorrow is another day....
Not much of a plan today with both target species nailed on day one. A bit of ray fishing and a bit of exploring marks for the comp perhaps....
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.
I decided to head straight out to the Ray marks but after half an hour without a bite i was questioning my decision. There was a lot of weed getting caught on the line too. Bugger. Back into the reefs to see if a Bream would show. All was very quiet though and even the small wrasse weren't really having it. Time to scope some new ground and headed over towards Ballard Point on the far side of Swanage Bay. This time something very welcome took the bait.... a female Baillons Wrasse!
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.
That's both male and female Baillons Wrasse ticked off the list. A few more Ballan Wrasse came along and then things went quiet and i got bored. Time to explore!
Ben and myself headed over to Ballard Point and took a closer look at the magnificent white chalk cliffs.
I wanted to get closer....
A quick leg stretch and look around at the super white rocks. The whole beach was really bright to even look at! The Ivory Dune Revo 16 looked at home here. Onwards to Ballard Point where we can see towards Old Harry Rocks, a stunning geological landscape!
The tide was forming a fair rip around the headland so we thought better of anchoring up and headed back into the bay. The wind was picking up too which made fishing less appealing. More and more kayak anglers were now launching as more people arrived for the competition. A damp Kyle appeared on his Revo 16.... he had taken an early bath for some reason or another....
He was using his new Garmin Panoptix fish finder which he gave me a quick look at.... 3D seabed scanning and mapping....awesome!!! Anyway, we anchored over some weedy ground and started catching plenty of small wrasse on the sabiki rigs. One Ballan Wrasse had a particularly colourful tail....
A garfish picked up a sandeel bottom bait so it was nice to know they were about....
Amongst the usual wrasse species a colourful female Cuckoo Wrasse found the bait....
An hour or so of that and we had enough so headed in alongside Martin on his Revo 16. It was pretty windy by now but not a problem for the Revo's which cut through the wind like it isn't there. 4 knots+ against 15-20mph headwinds and chop.... yes please!
Back ashore and it was apparent that the competition may not require many species to be caught to get amongst the prizes. Judging by the wind it looked like the competition area may be cut down too. Hopefully the forecast would be wrong.
Back to the campsite for several hours of rig making and tinkering with gear to make sure everything was ship shape for tomorrows competition.
Saturday - Competition Day
Up at the crack of dawn and down to the car park to get set up and register. It's always good to get there early to give plenty of time to get yourself well prepped without rushing and missing things. Kayak loaded and rigged, down to the Swanage tackle shop a few hundred yards to get my pre-ordered bait and it was then a case of trolleying the Revo down to the ever growing line up of kayaks on the green.
With plenty of time to spare before the safety briefing i was a good chance to chat with other competitors and catch up with friends. A quick last minute tinkering with the Revo and everything was positioned exactly where i needed it during the comp.
Whilst it was a glorious morning we were sitting in lee of the wind which was set to get quite strong during the comp. The safety boat arrived in the bay and it was soon apparent that the boundaries would be pulled right in the same as last year to avoid potential problems for the less experienced entrants. I'd be fishing new ground as all my marks were outside of the boundary.
Safety briefing time with event organiser David Morris....
Rules laid out, boundaries confirmed it was time to hit the water. The kayaks were queued to launch and we all sat just off the beach to tie our rigs on before the start. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and we're off! I was sat at the front of the pack with Kyle on his Revo 16. We powered off into the bay and led the way. I was cruising at 6.5 knots! That soon got tiring though so backed off to 5 knots. I do love blasting around in the Revo.
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
Species number 2 showed soon after.... a Corkwing Wrasse
I had just cast a float out with a sandeel bait to target a Garfish. It hadn't been out more than a minute and one had grabbed the bait and was leaping on the surface! Result.... species number 3....
3 species within the first 20 minutes.... i was feeling confident but it took a while to find species 4. Small Ballan and Corkwing Wrasse were being caught every drop down and i must have gone through 30 or so before a very welcome Goldsinney Wrasse got to the bait....
The wind was really picking up and a few nasty squalls with heavy rain passed over the bay, not great. I was squirrelled away within the hood of the Palm Bora cag and was kept out of the worst of it! I seemed to be fishing well though but variety was lacking. I held out for another 10 minutes before a move was in order. I'm glad i did because species number 5 turned up.... a Pouting.
Time for a move but i wish i hadn't. I must have anchored over a Ballan and Corkwing party. After about 20 of them i was beginning to wonder if there was anything else down there. Move again. Same again. If it was a 'who can catch the most wrasse' competition i may have been in with a shout. I had now spent the best part of two hours catching 50 or more of the same two species.... not good! It was enough for me to call it a day so i headed in with over an hour of the comp left to spare. Maybe others had struggled too and my 5 species may see me just get in the prizes.
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.
Ben had done excellently and secured 2nd place with 8 species winning him a the new Garmin Virb video camera. He was quietly seething though... he missed out on the top prize by one species! 1st place and claiming the awesome Hobie Revolution 16 was Mark Radcliffe who had found 9 species on the day. A super prize for some top fishing and i'm sure he'll being putting it to good use, especially when he visits Cornwall in the summer! Well done Mark.
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!
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