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Sunday 14 August 2016

Kayak Fishing in Devon, from Sidmouth to The South Hams

Making the most of some welcome settled summer weather, fishing writer Dom Garnett has been making the most of the coast in various Devon kayaking locations. His guest blog this month reveals a real mixed bag of catches and kayak angling lessons learned along the way...

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"Armed with a few new leads, as well as designs on some favourite old haunts, I've had a really interesting past couple of weeks with no less than three trips, each to a very different venue. This is the beauty of the West Country I guess. We not only have some of the best marks in the UK, but the most varied. There are simply so many places to go sea kayaking and kayak fishing in Devon it can be difficult to know where to start. 

The conditions do play a key part though- and as with my other fishing, I'm trying to build up a picture of which sea fishing venues are best for certain conditions. This isn't just about the effectiveness of methods, but safety. For example, during mild winds and tides I've been exploring some of my previous favourite marks that can be dicey in the wrong conditions, while earmarking more sheltered spots, estuaries and spots free of vicious tides for those blustery and unsettled days.

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I've also had to factor in the company I keep. Having opted for a Tandem Bass Kayak  (above) I've fished with a friend each time. The boat is also ideal for one big passenger if you switch to one seat in the middle; but I like this social aspect too- and on every recent trip I've have chosen a different "victim"!


Kayak Fishing in SidmouthFor an initial trip on return from honeymoon, I was keen to get my wife Paulina on board for some fishing. She is not the most avid angler and doesn't enjoy slow fishing, so a crack at some mackerel seemed perfect. And with a work and social connection to the town of Sidmouth, kayak fishing just off Jacob's Ladder beach seemed a good shout.

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Sidmouth is a sea fishing venue I've struggled with in the past. It's not that the venue is fishless, but wet, horrible winters have caused severe erosion of the cliffs. The result is a lot of mud and debris close to the shore, which can make it hard for fish to spot your lures (or at least that's my excuse!). Would the kayak change my fortunes?

As we paddled out I felt confident; unlike previous shore fishing trips we could easily get past the brown water and into the clear blue stuff. I packed a heavier kayak rod, with feathers, along with an ultralight rod and single lure . On both I used a Dexter Wedge- the best mackerel lure ever as far as I'm concerned. They cast like stink and heavier models can also be used in place of your sinker when feathering.

They're not the brightest fish, but one of the best mackerel fishing tips I can give you is to count down your lures carefully. Find the right depth and you have them. They will often be between ten and fifteen feet- so I start with a count of ten and experiment. Not that much testing was needed on this occasion. First cast and I wondered if the kit was working properly- everything felt a bit heavy. A sudden thumping told me why- I had three mackerel on within the first minute! Paulina had the next try and two more... talk about easy fishing.

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It was immediately on with the single lure and ultralight tackle after that. Not only is this more sporting, but it is less wasteful. One of my pet summer hates is the disrespect of fish stocks by anglers- does anyone need to catch 100 mackerel? They are fragile and best eaten fresh- you cannot easily catch and release- any handling and most will die. 

So after catching ten in around 45 minutes -just enough for me and a handful of pals- we stopped fishing. We could have easily had a hundred, but where would the point in that be? They were delicious, barbecued on the beach with some beers and friends. Juicy and fresh. As the tide came up to full height we also saw stacks of gulls on the water and fleeing fry- a sure sign that the mackerel were in. Fun and easy fishing- but do be responsible if you go. Light tackle and single lures are best. 

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A Trip to Torquay

Another benefit of living in Devon is that you can hit the sea post-haste, even after work. In fact, I can't think of a better way to cool off after a day at the office. I work part time as a copywriter these days- and had been talking sea fishing for a while with Darren, one of my workmates. Hence we only needed a free evening and some half decent weather to hatch a plan.

There are many places to go kayak fishing in Torquay and Torbay. There are plenty of nice rocky features too, although you do need to watch for tide rips. We launched from Saundersfoot and had a very pleasant evening exploring various chunks of rock. If anything though, we were probably too early in the tide, because a single mackerel was all we could tempt.

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Whether the area was just having an off day, or isn't what it used to be I can't say. We may have been a bit ambitious- most of our efforts were aimed at bass and pollack, which were conspicuous by their absence. Even so, putting the world to rights and paddling around some spectacular features isn't the worst way to spend an evening- and no doubt we'll explore further in future. 

Headed South

If my arms didn't ache enough at the end of a long week, I planned a longer haul mission to the South Hams with my older brother, Ben. Moving house and childcare has seriously limited his fishing, so he couldn't wait to try the boat. The kayak fishing around Kingsbridge, Salcombe and the South Hams is a mouthwatering prospect too, with tons of marks and species to go for. But we started with looking for sand banks and drop offs, fishing the worm and hoping for flatties.

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Nor did it take too long. Ben had two small plaice to simple legered worm tactics. Sadly they were too small to keep, going back unharmed to hopefully grow a bit.

With bites slowing as the tide dropped, we then changed tactics. I had my eye on some deep, rocky holes where I was sure there would be wrasse. The kayak gets you into these spots beautifully, that you would never reach from the shore. I'm quickly finding that you have to ditch the beach caster's mentality - low tide can be good, even where you would struggle from the beach. Where the rocks are really hairy, it can also be the only safe time to get amongst it and search the craggy, tide-battered parts. And if there is good depth, you will still catch.

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As a kid I would lose countless leads and rigs in these spots. Not any more! With a bullet or ball style weight and a weedless/ offset hook, you can get your offering right in the mixer with minimal risk, partially burying the hook in your lure "Texas" style. It works a teat with worm style lures (as above) , but the principle works just as well with bait and could save you a small fortnue in lost hooks and sinkers.

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The rocky spots varied. We worked some hard to scratch just a small fish or two. Others were better and we got some huge hits jigging both artificial and real ragworms on weedless rigs. It requires a more patient approach to lure fishing for bass and pike I must say- quite gentle hops are best, keeping your lure or bait right in the bottom foot. These fish demand a healthy respect too- this is no place for light tackle and 20lb main line along with 15lb minimum "rubbing" leaders of fluorocarbon should be seen as standard tools. 

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This fish was the best of the lot, my best wrasse ever I would think at four pounds plus. Strangely though, it fought less hard than another half its size. We shared several, including at least four above the two-pound mark. All were carefully handled and quickly released unharmed- as should be standard practice for these fantastically colourful (and not very edible) fish.

Perhaps the only part I don't like about kayak fishing at sea is the post-trip work involved. Putting away the gear is only half the battle. Everything tends to get salty and wet, and so my entire fishing kit (rods, reels, lures and all) gets a good wash. The easiest way to do this is simply to stick it all in the bathtub and shower it all down thoroughly. The only hitch is that your wife might wonder why you appear to enjoy taking fishing tackle into the shower with you. I'll leave that thought with you anyway- I'm sure you can think of some creative answers!

And that's about all from me for now. Should you want some more reading and current fishing, you might also enjoy my regular blog (CLICK HERE). Most recently, I've been reflecting on a honeymoon trip with some added fins, from the USA. There were some eye-opening surprises along the way too, including this California Halibut, tamed on LRF tackle! Happy fishing and all the best till next time. "

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Posted By Dominic Garnett on 14/08/2016