Bristol Channel – Thornback Ray & Conger Eel

Well this trip was meant to happen yesterday when the wind was nil and the sea as flat as a pancake… however, it didn’t due to work commitments. Somehow I managed to wangle to today off today and I was on the road by 9am, heading in the direction of the Bristol Channel. The last two trips here have been truly awesome and I was hoping for some similar action.

I took a slight detour and had a full English breakfast, and it was just the ticket. The weather on the other hand wasn’t so good. A blustery wind blowing from the south east, though the headlands offered some protection, I didn’t hold too much hope once I was a few hundred metres out.

I was rigged and ready to launch just before midday. The sea looked perfect, how deceiving an offshore blow can be!

Ready to launch..

I paddled to my mark and watched the wind pick up as I left the shelter of the headlands. It was a little worse than I’d hoped for, blowing a steady 15 knots, gusting towards 20 knots. Being wind over tide during the flood period caused the yak to swing almost ninety degrees to the tide flow, not ideal. I was wishing I’d bought my drogue along, next time!.

The baits were big, pennel rigs using 6/0 Sakuma 545 hooks. A cracking hook which I highly recommend, strong whilst being extremely sharp.

Mackerel pennel rig

I only took squid and mackerel as it’d proved so successful on my pervious trips. I was assured that it was still a bit early for the cod to be about in any numbers so I held back on purchasing any lugworm.

Squid pennel rig

The first 15-20 minutes were quiet, though the conger soon started to show themselves. They remained quite small throughout the day varying between about 6-15lb, the average being around 10lb. Though I'm hardly knocking that, on my 6lb rod these are still cracking sport.

Thornback Ray

I also took along my 20lb Ugly Stik rod in the hope that’d attach myself to a cracking eel as I’d managed the previous week. Despite being a 20lb class rod it still retains quite some flexibility whilst giving very clear bite indications.

Waiting to strike…

Fish on!

  20lb boat road in action!

The reel in the above photo is a Shimano Charter Special, a small lever drag which I’m hoping will be used in anger next year against some tope, to date it’s proved to be an excellent piece of kit.

The 6lb Shimano rod was getting good workout throughout the day, coping with the smaller conger with ease, as well as the bigger rays that were proving to be plentiful.

Nothing like a good bend in your rod….

6lb boat rod in action!

The fishing never really let up for the 3 hours of the flood, slack water and into the ebb tide. The ebbs tides runs strongly here and I’m assured that the ebb tide is the better part of the tide to fish.

The tide was quite small today, though it still produced a good 2 knots+ on the ebb. On the flood I was getting away with 4oz of lead to hold bottom. On the ebb I quickly moved to 6oz, though I was eventually forced to use 8oz despite being in only 8-10m of water. This is where the 6lb rod struggles, anything more than 6oz of lead (2-4oz is ideal) and the pleasure disappears, there’s no feel to the rod and the tip is pulled over. Still, it’s a good excuse to purchase a couple of 12lb rods in the near future!.

The rays were a good size today, rarely dropping below double figures. There were a couple of crackers amongst them, I didn’t bother weighing them though they were clearly heavier than the 11lb ray I caught on the previous trip.

Thornback Ray

Thornback Ray      Thornback Ray

In a running tide on the 6lb rods these are fantastic fun. Taking line, hanging in the tide, getting them back to the yak can take quite some effort at times. Below is my best ray of the day.

Best Thornback of the day !

Now when it came to capturing some images of the conger I had a cunning plan. A while ago I purchased a Hero Go Pro video/still camera. It’s a cracking piece of kit, waterproof with a near 180 degree view. I reckon it’s ideal for the yak. However, I experienced ‘technical difficulties’ today, all due to user error!. Basically is comes down to being more familiar with the unit. With it head mounted, you’ve no indication as to whether you’ve correctly switched it on, or selected record.

Helmet Hero Wide

On a couple of occasions I failed to depress the record button sufficiently, meaning some great scenes weren’t recorded. However, I did manage a great what I thought would be a great bit of congering footage, alas, I neglected to remove the lens cap!!!!.

I did eventually manage a couple of pieces of film which I’ll endeavour to edit and post over the next couple of days, again, it’ll be a learning process.

Here’s what little I did manage to salvage…

To conclude, the day produced another cracking session. I ended up with 15 conger eels and 6 thornback rays averaging around 10lb a piece, that’s a whole lot of fish. Chatting to the locals I was told not to expect too much as the tides were small, the best fishing would be over the weekend as the tides headed towards the springs. If that’s the case there’s hopefully better to come. I know that there are some big eels down there, and what with the cod due to show in numbers over the next few weeks the area promises some cracking sport.

Deep Water Anchor Reel

I have a small dive reel that holds approximately 90m of 2mm cord which I use as my anchor reel. The photo below shows my current setup.

anchor setup

Due to the fairly strong tides that are experienced in the area that I tend to frequent, that tends to limit my maximum fishing depth to around 20-25m. That’s working on the theory that I let out three times the depth in anchor warp once the anchor has touched bottom. I.e, if I’m anchoring in 20m of water, I’ll let out an additional 60m to ensure I hold bottom in a strong tide. That’s 80m of warp for anchoring in 20m of water.

Most of my fishing takes place in 5-20m of water so my current setup has always proved more than adequate. However, in the summer I had an opportunity to fish the deep water lochs of Scotland in an attempt to catch a common skate. That trip didn’t materialise in the end, though I did prepare fully, which resulted in me producing an anchor reel suitable for deep water anchoring.

I’ve seen several setups over the past few months to cater for deep water anchoring, none of which seemed totally ideal, though they did what the owner required.

There was an article on a forum in which someone had purchased an electric fence reel for this very purpose. On the face of it, it seemed just about perfect, my only reservations being the all plastic construction of the item shown. Sure, it’s great for corrosion resistance, though I felt what with aging over time, and being under stress, it would eventually fail. However, the idea was still pretty sound, so I did a little more research and came up with a similar reel, albeit constructed a little heavier.

Electric Fence Reel

The spool is plastic and 8” in diameter and holds almost 300m of 2mm cord, suitable for all situations I intend to put myself in. There’s a locking brakes on the side, chunky enough to use with gloves and the reel locks solid. The bracket is steel, though plated to resist against corrosion. I stripped the reel and coated all the spindle and associated parts in a copper grease to give some lubrication whilst preventing corrosion in the long term.

One area of concern was the spool itself, or to be more precise, the lack of a line guide of some description. I felt that with the reel in the water, there was potential for line to spool off over the side and that would be far from ideal.

I visited the local supermarket and purchased a cheap stainless steel potato masher. After drilling out a couple of spot welds, removing the mashing head and then welding on a stainless ring from the local chandlers… I had a line guide. This was bolted onto the reel using the existing fittings.

deep anchor

deep anchor

deep anchor

I added some padding to the bracket in the form of a few layers of string, over the top of that I added some heavy duty heat shrink tubing. This had the result of producing a reasonably comfortable handgrip. Time will tell how this fares.

To the hand grip I added 4m of floating rope (removing the existing knurled knob left a perfect attachment point). This can be threaded through the ring on the anchor trolley and tied with a slip knot to the kayak lifting handle adjacent to the seat. A quick pull and the kayak is released from the anchor, leaving the whole setup in the water, though supported by the buoy to allow easy recovery to the anchor as required.

Adding up the coast of the reel, warp, rope, anchor, buoy, etc, the whole setup cost around £40, which I consider pretty good value!. Ok, it’s something that’s rarely going to be used, though it’s there ready to go should the need arise.

Bristol Channel - Best day fishing ever ?

Well after yesterdays bonanza, I met up with Jim and headed off to fish a new mark east of Watchet in the Bristol Channel. Unlike the glorious weather of yesterday, today was very overcast, though the wind was light and the fishing conditions were as good as you could hope for.


We dropped anchor a couple of hours before high water, the tide was still running, though not particularly strong. I fished two rods, both with pennel rigs on a running ledger, 6/0 hooks to 80lb mono. One baited with double squid, the other with a full side of mackerel.

Unlike yesterday where the flood failed to produce, I only had to wait five minutes today before the rod tip bent over, a decent thornback ray being the result.

Thornback Ray

It was then only a matter of minutes before the conger eel started to make an appearance. I found I’d finish re-baiting and cast, out only for the other rod to start nodding. By high water I’d had five conger to about 20lb and two rays to 8lb 2oz (those I’m happy to weigh!)

Thornback Ray

Now normally I’d expect slack water to be absolutely dead, however, the fish just kept coming. For a short period of time I was fishing a wind over tide situation which resulted in the baits being below the yak, not a way I like to fish unless the water is deep.

The mackerel rod produced a couple of firm taps so I tightened up, striking into the next firm pull. The rod went heavy and the fish took line steadily, there was little I could do. Several times it came 3-4m off the bottom only to plunge down again. Eventually it came under the yak, and I saw my first glimpse, it was huge!. I’ve never seen a head so large, a real brute. It was only just lip hooked, hanging on by a thread. I didn’t know what to do, though I wanted a decent photo so I gloved up and tried to bring it out from under the yak (the 6lb outfit didn’t offer and assistance!). Just when I thought I had a chance of getting it out for a decent photo it made a plunge. I couldn’t let go quickly enough and the hook pulled free…. GUTTED!, obscenities filled the air!

The fishing never stopped, again I was fishing two rods, though despite keeping them spread and fishing the baits at different distances, I still managed a couple of bad tangles. Large conger being the culprit on both occasions. Braid was cut as the eels had wrapped themselves up good and proper Despite the loss of tackle it was the only way to release the fish quickly, unharmed. The photo below is actually one of the 'smaller' fish, a decent double all the same.

Conger Eel

As the sun set the weather started to deteriorate, though it was still fishable, and we were still catching. The wind lifted to 15knots, gusting 20knots from the south west and the swell grew considerably.. oh, and it started to rain steadily. Despite all of this, it was still great being out there.

I hooked into something decent, I was hoping it was another big eel. I could do absolutely nothing with it, it kept taking line and then just hung in the tide. The tide as this point was pulling hard on the ebb, around 3 knots. After 15 minutes of being unable to get any line back onto the reel I decided to unclip the anchor and get myself on top of the fish. This changed the game totally and I soon had to fish to the surface. It turned out to be a cracking thornback of 11lb which had clearly being ‘kiting’ in the tide to great effect.

Thornback Ray Thornback Ray

Apologies for the lousy photos, I’m still using the camera phone until I can retrieve mine from home this weekend, plus the sea state was getting rather heavy.

I’d drifted a few hundred yards during this time. It was dark, raining, and the swell was as bad as anything I’ve yet paddled in. I headed back towards Jim and made for my anchor point using the GPS. At one stage I was thrown of balance by a large wave coming up behind the yak at a 45 degree angle to the stern. A bit un-nerving, though I stayed on just fine.

I just couldn’t find the yellow anchor buoy. The heavy rain being swept by the wind made my powerful headlamp rather ineffective. After 5-10 minutes of looking I’d resigned myself to the fact the tide must have pulled the whole lot under. At the point of giving up I spotted it so I made a bee line for it. Retrieving it in the heavy swell and tide was a bit tricky, it really didn’t help when it wrapped around the rudder!!. Not wanting to hang about I left the loop around the rudder, dragged the rest on board and paddled towards the launch point.

Bar a few waves coming over the side, the front hatch going under water on a few occasions, the return was uneventful!

So what was the final tally?. About a dozen conger, a couple around 20lb and the biggie that I reckon was around 40lb. Five thornback ray ranging between 5-11lb. In total I reckon I must of had around 150lb of fish in a four hour session, no complaints!

Bristol Channel Revisited..

Well now that the work load has eased somewhat I’ve been able to dust off the kayak. The weather this week has been stunning for the time of year, though it was only today that I managed to get out onto the water.

I fished the Bristol Channel a couple of times last year, plenty of conger eel plus my yakfishing buddy caught himself a cod of nearly 16lb!. I’ve relocated during the week due to work commitments which puts me under an hour from the mark.

I took a steady drive up, passing by a local tackle shop only to find he’s closed on a Wednesday, typical!. Still, I tracked down some mackerel and squid and was soon rigging up ready for the off.

The water here is brown with sediment, visibility is probably only 3-4”. The reef here has a couple of channels running through it, and with the aid of the fishfinder I was soon anchored up in what I was hoping would prove to be a plum location.

I commenced fishing on the last couple of hours of the flood tide, though bar a couple of whiting it was all rather quiet. However, once the tide switched to the ebb the fish came onto the feed. The first bite was a stonker, almost pulling the rod tip into the water, sadly, I missed it. I didn’t have to wait long before the first conger started coming to the yak. The first one was a tiddler of 2-3lb, though each one seemed to be progressively bigger.


I dropped a couple of good fish within the first few seconds of hooking up, this may have been down to using barbless hooks, or perhaps the fish were just mouthing the bait. I ended up loosing four fish in total.

Whilst retrieving one decent eel it decided to take a sharp left turn half way in, taking my other line with it. If that wasn’t bad enough five seconds later the other rod hooked up with another conger. It came off after a minute though the damage was done, the resulting monster tangle was cut off and I ended up having to re-rig both rods.


The eels were small, a few around double figures, the biggest maybe 13lb?. Though that wasn’t the point, I was fishing with 6lb rods and these fish were giving a cracking account of themselves, providing some thoroughly enjoyable sport.

I ended up running out of bait which ultimately put and end to the fishing. My last bait was the head and backbone of a mackerel, the backbone folded over on itself to get a bit more bulk, before whipping it onto the hook. It might have been rather desperate, but it resulted in a hook up with a couple of minutes!


So with the sun going down and the bait supply exhausted, I raised anchor and paddled back in. What little breeze had been present earlier in the afternoon was now down to a whisper, a perfect end to a thoroughly enjoyable session. Hopefully, to be repeated tomorrow.

I’d also managed to forget my camera, so the photos in this blog entry are from my new Nokia 5800, not brilliant by any means, but respectable and better than nothing at all.


Getting back into it - Fishing the Solent

It seems like forever since I’ve been out fishing on the yak. In fact due to work commitments I’ve not wet a line since returning from Scotland. Two months of not being afloat, it’s unheard of!

The pressure was finally off early this week and a short notice trip was put together to fish a locally in the estuary in the hope of some autumn bass. This time last year the estuary was producing some good, if not sporadic, fishing. The mark is a short paddle which allows for some close in fishing to heavy structure. There are several marks in the local estuary that scream bass, though anchoring is tricky to say the least. Fishing in between large structures with tide flowing in and around, tends to produce large eddy areas. The current rotates causing the yak to swing slowly in the tide like a pendulum. Get it wrong and you’ll swing into the main tidal stream breaking anchor.

Fishing Structure

The session lead into dusk where the ‘witching’ hour failed to materialise. Quite often, once the sun drops down there’s a manic hour when the bass come onto the feed, sadly it didn’t happen, though it was a stunning evening all the same. There are definitely worse way to spend your evenings...


As darkness came we called an end to the session, bar one small pout it was a fishless evening, no real complaints though.

The following day the decision was made to paddle out in the hope of catching the last few mackerel of the season. I didn’t believe that they’d still be about, though my yakking mate had been told different so we headed out, hopes high. Amazingly there were indeed some mackerel about, we managed a bag full between us which will see us good for a few sessions during the winter months.

Another yak fishing buddy told me he’d been catching thornback locally, so after a short break for dinner we headed off to Hillhead for a spot of night fishing.


The weatherman lied once more, the forecast was for a very light NW wind, though it sat as a light SW blow all evening and into the night. No great shakes, though it meant a light chop instead of glassy calm.

My targets were bass and thornback ray, hence I was rigged with a large mackerel strip rigged on a pennel rig. The other rod was rigged with sandeel on a single hook running ledger. I didn’t have to wait too long for the first bite of the night, good firm pull.. a thornack?

Thornback Ray

Nothing huge, perhaps 5-6lb, though against the current it gave a decent account of itself of light gear. Close up, they’re quite a pretty fish don't you think?

Thornback Ray

Sadly that was the last of the action for me, Andy picked up a small thornback, his first off the yak though so it’s still all good stuff. We fished on for a couple more hours though the action was painfully slow.

Sunset @ Hillhead

Though again, it was a cracking evening, another stunning sunset, geese circling over the adjacent nature reserve.. life was good.

Sunset @ Hillhead

I’m back to regular fishing, though I’m working further afield for the foreseeable future. I foresee my fishing trips being concentrated in and around the Bristol Channel, perhaps on the southern coastal beach of Chesil and its surrounding area.

It’ll be good to fish some new areas.