I headed to Swanage early Friday morning and quickly set up my tent at Herston Leisure, the designated campsite for the event, before heading to the waterfront to set up the kayak. Launching late morning, the wind was brisk but dropping. I had one target on my mind.... Rays!
A big Small Eyed Ray
I launched my Hobie Outback and headed out into the bay to a mark that has produced for me previously. There was a fair swell lingering from the strong easterlies that has persisted in the week prior. I found a clean patch of ground in 40ft and dropped anchor. Running ledgers with strong 2/0 hooks were baited with Mackerel and Squid and sent to the bottom. A good hour passed before any positive sign of life showed. A good tug on the rod tip indicated a fish had found the bait. I was fishing with fairly light Quantum Blu Spin 10-50g rods so was in for a battle if a ray had found the bait. Another good pull and I struck into a fish that shot off down-tide.
The rod was nodding away as the ray shuffled around resisting my attempts of coaxing it back to the kayak. It felt a better fish. It gave me the run around and fellow Cornish kayaker Oban had just arrived in time to see the fish surface. It was a Small Eyed and a decent one at that. I swiftly pulled it alongside the kayak and lifted it into the foot well. A quick weigh put the fish at 11lb 8oz, a new kayak PB for me!
Baits back out and it wasn’t long before I had another solid bite. I gave it some line, which it soon picked up and was continuing to run with the bait. I pulled into a fair weight that gave a slow bottom hugging fight. My fingers were crossed for an Undulate and as the fish came into sight I could soon see the dark brown topside of my target. Again it was a fair size and I soon had a beautifully patterned male Undulate in the foot-well, bringing the scales down to 11lb. Result!
No sooner had the fish came on the feed they disappeared and big lumps of weed passing through on the tide soon ruined my fun. A small Smoothhound found the bait amongst the weed but it was not easy fishing. I had a few hours on the shallow reefs within the bay, with just one bream and a few small wrasse finding sabiki rigs baited with ragworm. Not a good sign as the smaller species are much sought-after in the competition.
Competition Day !
It was an early start with registration from 7am and a safety briefing at 9:15am before the competition start at 10am. Cars and vans soon fill the car park above Prince Albert Gardens, where everybody congregates for the event. Hoards of kayaks fill the area as anglers load them up with gear ready for a day on the water. This is not a quick task and I like to take my time to meticulously position all my gear exactly where needed for the competition. Time spent faffing around due to poor organisation is time wasted catching fish!
Bait was collected from Swanage Angling Centre, with a selection of Ragworm, Mackerel, Sandeel, Squid and Peeler purchased to give me plenty of options for catching different species. 9:15am sharp and organiser David Morris rounded up the crowd of anglers ready for the safety and rules briefing. The weather was looking fantastic all day with fishing allowed across the whole bay. There was a spanner thrown in the works though. The minimum size had been increased, from 80mm to 145mm and this ruled out many of the mini species that had featured prominently in previous years. I was quietly happy though. Fishing for larger species suits my style of fishing much better. Minimum size cards were issued to all as this is a catch, photo and release competition with cards to be included in the photo of each species caught. There was also a biggest bream competition with each angler allowed to register one bream to the scales during the competition.
Safety briefing done and a flotilla of kayaks made its way down to launch. It is quite a sight as over 70 kayaks rigged to the gunwales scramble onto the water. With all on the water the horn sounded at 10am signalling that fishing can begin. We had 5 hours. Everyone races off to their chosen mark and pedalling like mad I led the way out into the bay as I wanted to get to a specific spot before anyone else.
I anchored on clean ground and I was going all-out for big fish with running ledgers baited with half a fillet of mackerel on one rod and a whole squid on the other. 15 minutes later and a dogfish found the squid for species number 1. Soon after and the mackerel had attracted a better bite. I hooked into the unmistakable fight of a ray but it didn’t feel too big. I played it steadily as I really didn’t want to lose it and gentle persuasion brought a nice Spotted Ray to the kayak, a reasonable size too at over 4lb.
I baited up with a peeler crab on one rod and had my fingers crossed for a Smoothhound. A little while later the target found the bait but it fancied mackerel over the crab! I held out for a chance of a Small Eyed or Undulate but half an hour of nothing but dogfish and I needed to move. I headed for a patch of rough ground in the hope of Bream and Wrasse. It took a while to tempt a bite and eventually I caught a Corkwing Wrasse. Another move and I headed for a deeper patch of hard ground that showed a few fish marks on the sonar. It was now 1pm and with just 2 hours left before the cut off time to register your catch I needed a stroke of luck to even get amongst the placing’s. A float was sent out in the hope of a garfish whilst I slaved away fishing with a two- hook rig baited with ragworm in the hope of a Ballan Wrasse and a Bream. The float remained floating but it was success on the ragworm with a Ballan and then a number of Black Bream, which are always great sport on a light rod.
A Lucky Streak!
The garfish plan wasn’t working so out went another big mackerel bait on the bottom whilst I picked off more bream. All of a sudden the bottom rod leapt into action and I lifted into what felt like a powerful ray shooting off across the bottom. The rod was arched over and I sheepishly played what felt like a decent fish. The fish then swung right up in the water and shot back towards the kayak and sulked on the surface.... it was a Bass! A big silver head thrashed around and I teased it back to the kayak. I grabbed my net and with my rod tip over my head and arm at full stretch I went to scoop it up when disaster struck. The fish thrashed, my rod tip jerked and somehow got tangled in a rod stored behind me. The fish shot off pulling the net from my hands and leaving my rod balancing in mid air above me attached to the other rod! Chaos ensued as braid peeled off the reel and I somehow played the fish with the rod over my head. I managed to bring the Bass back to the kayak and didn’t need a second attempt at grabbing its bottom lip and heaving it into the foot-well. A complete comedy show to onlookers! A fellow kayaker saw my peril and grabbed my net that was now floating down-tide, but the madness had not ended. My bream rod hooped over with braid zinging off the reel. A lively fight and a decent bream was soon in the net, a possible contender for biggest bream and certainly one for the evenings BBQ. I was well happy with the Bass, which went 5lb 12oz on my scales before being released. I was now on 7 species and feeling somewhat confident.
One More Species
I decided on a quick try on a reef on the way back in in the hope of one more species. First drop down I scored with a Pouting. That couldn’t have gone better! It had just gone 2pm and going back in early with 8 species gave me a good chance at a top 10 finish. I noticed previous winner Mark Radcliffe paddling in and decided I needed to get in front of him in the queue. If he had 8 species and registered before me he would place above me. I pedalled the half-mile back to the shore at full pelt, about 5 knots in the Outback. I had managed to land a good minute before Mark and ran up to the registration tent. I was exhausted! Would 8 be enough? I weighed in my bream, which brought the dial round to 2lb 8oz.
The Results... It's a Win!
I packed my gear away and watched as the rest of the field head back in. Several were on 6 species and I seemed to be the only one with 8. One delicious ice cream later and it was time for the results. 10th place had 5 species with 6 species needed for 7th to 4th. Mac Mollary took 3rd place with 7 species winning a Daiwa reel and Stephen Fuller took 2nd place with 7 species winning a Garmin Striker Plus 7sv fish finder. That left just one.... me!
I took the top spot with 8 species and my prize was the all-new model from Hobie Kayaks... a Mirage Passport 10.5! As an added bonus my bream was the biggest caught on the day winning further prizes from Reuban Heaton and Trokar. What a result! It had been a fantastic days fishing regardless of the competition, I was over the moon. Everything had just gone to plan. The rest of the day was spent chilling in the sun with a beer to celebrate.
Competition Day 2
For it’s 10th anniversary, there was also a short competition on the Sunday at this year’s event and nobody knew the rules! The format was kept a secret to prevent prior preparation and we were told nothing other than it would be a pairs event at the presentation the day before. At the Sunday registration we were put into pairs based on the previous days results. I was paired with Jason who hadn’t caught so well in the species hunt, and likewise the rest of the competitors were paired to form a fairly even field giving every pair a chance at winning the top prize.... a Garmin Echomap Plus 75sv with Garmin Panoptix LiveScope.... each! The minimum size was raised to 200mm and each pair needed to catch 3 matching species. If I caught a dogfish over minimum then Jason would also need to catch one, and so on. We only had 3 hours so quickly notched up a plan and headed to the deeper water in the hope of bream and dogfish for starters.
I managed to get stuck straight into bream and despite Jason being just 30 yards in front of me they weren’t having his bait. I had caught around 10 before a tactical re-anchor of Jason inline with me saw him hook one first drop. He decided to put the pressure on me by catching a nice Undulate on his bottom rod! I managed to come up with a strap Conger and the chance of me getting the ray and Jason the eel was looking slim to say the least. The dogfish didn’t show at all. Time flew by and we persisted but it was not to be. We headed in just in time for the noon cut off to register the pair of bream. It was not enough with top spot being taken by Andy Lewis and Simon Goddard as the first pair to register 2 species pairs winning them both the incredible fish finder prize.
Overall the weekend had been a great success. I was super happy with having caught some fine Ray and Bream along with a decent Bass. The win in the main event was just the cherry on the cake of a brilliant few days fishing.
Swanage Classic 2019 Results Breakdown
Day 1 – Species Hunt
1st - Liam Faisey - 8 species
2nd - Steve Fuller - 7 species
3rd - Mac Mollary - 7 species
4th - Aled Daniels - 6 species
5th - Mark Radcliffe - 6 species
6th - Ryan Goudie - 6 species
7th - Ben Wallis - 6 species
8th - Mick Franks - 5 species
9th - Shaun Browning - 5 species
1st Junior - Morgan Watson
1st Lady - Kerry Moore
Heaviest Bream – 2lb 8oz - Liam Faisey
Best Fish - Wayne Morgan - Spurdog
Day 2 – Pairs Species Hunt
1st - Andy Lewis & Simon Goddard – 2 species
2nd - Nathan Evans & Andy Tracy - 2 species
3rd - Alan Robson & Ferghal Harkin - 2 species
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