The Swanage Classic is my favourite kayak fishing competition of the year. Not only is there some great prizes up for grabs, the venue itself offers excellent fishing for species i don't often target or can catch on my local grounds. I arrived at Swanage early on Thursday morning and met up with Ben for a day on the water. The plan was to fish the clean ground for Ray.
The wind was brisk but dropping all the time so after a slow and steady set up we launched late morning under glorious blue skies. There was still a reasonable swell rolling into the bay.
Out to the mark and anchors down. I sent out one rod with a running ledger and 4/0 hook baited with am 8in section of huge launce, and another with whole squid. The wait began....
The tide was ebbing and it soon became apparent the bottom was covered in drifting seaweed. The rigs were not down for more than 2 minutes before huge clumps of weed was wrapped around the line and choking the rig. It became a bit of a chore cleaning the rigs every 5 minutes but we persisted. An hour or more passed when i finally had a positive bite on squid. I was soon enough hooked into a Ray!
As it approached the surface i could see that the fish was darker in colour and not the sandy colour of a Small Eyed, Spotted or Blonde Ray. It was looking like an Undulate..... nope..... it was a Thornback!
sI have only caught Thornbacks to 6lb previously so at 7lb this fish was a new PB. It was soon swimming back to the bottom. No sooner had i cast back out the other rod has an enquiry. Subtle bites and knocks but i had a feeling a ray was settling on the bait. I gave it a minute and then tightened down to the fish and hooked into a lump, bending the Ugly Stik 12-20lb rod over in a lovely arch. My suspicions confirmed and a ray powered off taking line from my Avet SX5.3 reel. This one felt bigger and i had my fingers crossed for an Undulate. After some good rod bending the fish neared the surface and i could see that it was a sizeable fish. Up on the surface and the fish flipped onto it's back which makes things easier when keeping the fish at the surface. I soon pulled the lump into the kayak. Ben done the honours with the camera...
A quick weigh and it pulled the scales down to 14lb 8oz beating my previous best of 12lb! That was me well happy and what better sight than to see it swimming back off the the bottom.
Not long after Ben was hooked into a fish and soon had a nice Small Eyed Ray on board that was close to double figures.
After a short spell of activity things went a little quiet again and over the next hour or so my baits were entertained by a dogfish and a couple of smoothhounds and copious amounts of seaweed!
As things got a little more desperate we up-anchored and called it a day. The target was Rays and the target was achieved. It was back to the campsite to set up camp, have a few beers and prepare for the next day on the water.
The weather forecast showed light winds all day with sun... perfect! Kyle had travelled up from Plymouth and we planned to fish the reef for Bream and other species.
Swanage Bay is littered with shallow reefs and these are great for targetting Black Bream amongst many mini-species. Simple 2 hook rigs with small size 4 or 6 hooks baited with ragworm of thin strips of squid are all that's needed to catch many species off the reefs. Light lure rods and small reels with light braid provide great sport for the smaller fish and a real battle when you hook a bigger fish. I was using a HTO Rockfish Revolution ML 7-28g paired with a HTO Lure Game 3000 fixed spool loaded with 12lb braid.
We headed across the bay and located a nice patch of rough and mixed ground on the fish finders. Ballan Wrasse were quick to find the ragworm baits and i managed quite a few upto the 2lb mark. Kyle had managed to find a patch of Bream so i followed him and soon enough a shoal of fish sitting just off the bottom was showing on the fish finder display.
Rigs down.... tap tap tap tap. Rattle tap. The rod hooped over and a fish was powering back towards the bottom and taking line. I held on and brought the fish clear of the bottom but this fish was going bezerk! Kyle had also hooked up and we were both playing decent bream. My fish was really testing my light tackle, taking fast dives and zooming around all over the place.
A bright flash of silver showed beneath the kayak and i finally got a look at the fish.... this was a better bream and certainly the biggest i had ever hooked. A little bit of composure whilst i coaxed the fish into my landing net..... result! I had a stunning Black Bream in the kayak!
This fish was beautiful! Dark vertical black bands serrated its silvery body and all tinged with an electric blue hue. The electric blue markings on the head were particularly vibrant...
The fish weighed 3lb 8oz and was a new PB for me. My elation was unfortunately short lived as the fish would not swim back. It tried hard to swim back to the bottom but was suffering the effects of pressure change and kept floating at the surface. I stayed with the fish for over 10 minutes trying to help it swim back to the bottom but it just wasn't happening. I'd have loved for it to be returned but every now and then it just doesn't happen. The fish would not go to waste and would later be cooked and eaten at the campsite.
Kyle also had a good fish around 2lb 8oz, again with stunning colouration.
I had a couple more smaller ones and Kyle managed one closer to 3lb.
The fish then went off the feed and we could no longer locate them on the fish finders. A change of plan and we headed out to the clean ground to hopefully find a ray or two again.
All was very quiet and the seaweed was pretty thick on the bottom again, choking up the rigs after a few minutes. After an hour or so Kyle hooked into a nice double figure Undulate, and followed it up with another smaller one a short while after. My baits were being untouched but i persisted. Persistence paid off with a good bite and i was bending into a bottom hugging Ray. A good scrap and a Small Eyed Ray was pulled into the kayak.
Things went quiet again and it was now mid afternoon. We had a little play on the mini species on the way in and i found a few wrasse along with a Rock Goby, but the action wasn't frantic.
It was back to shore and back to the campsite for an evening of rig tying and preparation for the next days competition.
Saturday - Competition Day
It was an early start to get down to the car park and set up ready for the comp. The conditions were superb for once! The last couple of years have been complete trash with high winds and reduced boundaries in which to fish. Today the whole bay would be accessible.
The cars were piling into the car park and kayak anglers were milling about all over the place setting up and heading to the tackle shop to get bait and supplies. There is always a great vibe on the lead up to the competition. Soon enough kayaks were being lined up on the grass of Prince Albert Gardens overlooking the bay. One noticeable thing, there has been a big influx of kayak anglers now using Hobie Kayaks, with many Revolution 13's and 16's, a Revolution 11, several Outbacks and a Pro Angler all kitted up ready to hit the water. A superb sight!
Competition organiser David kicked off proceedings with the safety briefing...
Everyone then pilled into the water and waited for the 10am start. Once the 10am call arrived everyone raced off to their marks. I headed across the bay to hopefully find a bream. As everyone started fishing blue skies dissapeared as a massive bank of fog rolled inshore making visibility terrible! You could hardly see the next kayakers 100 yards away! The fishing wasn't great. After an hour i was deeply regretting the decision to find a bream with just a Ballan Wrasse and Corkwing Wrasse to show for my efforts.
Scrap that then. Out to the clean ground and things got very disorientating with only one or two kayaks visible in my vicinity. Rods out. Wait. Wait. Take seaweed off. Wait. Take Seaweed off. Repeat. This just isn't happening. Not a knock, nibble or sniff on sandeel, mackerel, squid or peeler crab. This was incredibly frustrating and now 2.5 hours into the 5 hour competition i was feeling like just going in and giving up. I went back to rough ground in the hope of some mini species and cast a rod out for Garfish. That was a waste of time too. More Ballans and Corkwings found my ragworm baits. A move to another mark and finally species number 3 a Goldsinney Wrasse after over 3 hours!?!
An hour or so left and i had pretty much resigned myself to failure and any chance of being in the top placings was gone. I was now anchored next to Martin and he was catching Rock Cook Wrasse. Could i catch one... absolutely not! More Ballans and more Corkwings then two lucky casts with a Tompot Blenny and a Pouting!
I carried on catching more Corkwings for 20 minutes and then called it a day. It had been a poor days fishing. I registered my catch, packed my gear away and headed for an ice cream. Others had 6, 7, 8 species so i was going to be down the list. Martin had done well with 10 species and was on for the win. Prize giving time and 5 species earned Stephen Fuller 11th place, and he had landed after me so i was on the prize board! I just snuck into the top 10 in 10th place out of 81 anglers with my 5 species. I was happy with that considering i had a rubbish day on the water.
Mark Radcliffe took 3rd place with 7 species, Kyle Waterhouse took 2nd place with 8 species and Martin Collison took the win with 10 species, winning himself a Hobie Mirage Compass!
I had planned to stay and fish Sunday but i wasn't feeling it after poor fishing today. Neither was Kyle, Ben and a few others so it was back to the campsite, tent packed away and goodbyes said as i headed off for home.
Swanage 2018 was over and whilst the competition proved difficult, i had a few lovely fish on the days before which made the trip for me more than worthwhile. I'll be back next year!
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