Wayne Thomas presents a guide on how to get the best of the fishing along this spectacular coastline.
The north Devon coast has a wealth of rock marks to offer the sea angler, including many that are easily accessible. Anglers can target a huge range of species throughout the year in a variety of habitats and choice of spot will be determined by the species you seek and the time of year you are visiting. The weather and accessibility will also have significant influence on where you choose to fish.
Rock fishing often gives access to deep water and can allow you to cast into strong tidal flows. This can be a big advantage when compared with fishing from beaches where fish can often only be caught when they move inshore during the hours of darkness. The type of sea bed, tidal flows and species expected will determine the tackle and rigs used.
What Can I Expect To Catch?
In spring, the main targets are various species of ray, along with smooth hounds, bull huss and dogfish. As the water warms through the summer months, the number of species grows to include bass, mackerel, garfish, rays, smoothounds, grey mullet, wrasse, triggerfish and tope. Autumn sees some of the best fishing for specimens of bass, tope, congers, grey mullet, triggerfish and rays. Although the water temperature drops significantly in winter, there is still some good sport to be had with dogfish, cod, whiting, rockling, rays, bull huss and congers.
This is just a brief guide to the species you can expect at different times of the year but the seasons invariably overlap, with many species present all year round. Grey mullet are now caught from some areas throughout the entire season. Rays are also caught throughout the year, along with bass, congers, bull huss and, of course, the ever-present dogfish. There is widespread speculation regarding climate change and its impact upon fish migration, but the only certainty is that times are changing. The angler needs to adapt and keep an open mind. A good example of change has undoubtedly been the influx of species such as triggerfish. Thirty years ago the capture of one of these Mediterranean species was a common talking point, with many anglers seeking recognition from a fish identification book. Now these fish show in huge numbers each summer, providing exciting sport.
Most rock marks can be divided into categories based upon the local topography. I’ll give a few general pointers and describe a few easily accessible and well-known spots but there are many more to be discovered. An invaluable aid in researching marks is a good-quality map such as the coastal footpath maps available from local shops. Another useful tool is, of course, Google Earth that provides some stunning aerial views of the coast that in some cases clearly shows sandy areas and rocky strata.
Deep-Water Marks Capstone Point at Ilfracombe is probably north Devon’s most well known spot and has produced a large number of specimen fish. During its heyday in the 1980s it regularly produced cod into double figures, with several fish exceeding 20lb. Recent seasons have not seen these big cod but codling are still regularly caught here, along with many other species. The bottom is mixed with areas of sand that make it a worthwhile mark for rays. This area is swept by a very strong tidal flow that can make fishing almost impossible on the ebbing tide when the fierce current will often sweep terminal tackle into the snags close inshore.
During the summer months it’s often packed with tourists float fishing and feathering for mackerel. Nearby Watermouth provides similar fishing and, although privately owned, access is available for a moderate charge. This venue is home to a large holiday campsite that is an ideal base from which to explore the area. The National Trust owns large sectors of the north Devon coastline and Baggy Point and Morte Point both offer superb rock fishing opportunities. The ground at both marks is rough, with tackle losses inevitable, but Morte Point can be particularly productive for congers, bull huss and wrasse. During the summer months, good sport can be had by roving around the headlands with a selection of plugs and spinners to tempt bass, mackerel and pollack.
Shallow Rock Marks The coastline between Croyde and Hartland is generally shallower, with Saunton Rocks giving access to clean ground where rays are occasionally landed. Smoothound sport can be fast and furious during summer evenings when low water is often the most productive period and bass are always popular targets, with bait or lures working well.
During the winter months, codling and whiting will also show. Spurdogs have featured in a number of catches in recent years, with several double-figure specimens landed.
Rough-ground fishing requires the use of tough tackle that can bully powerful fi sh like congers away from their lairs in rocky, kelp-filled gullies. Pulley rigs incorporating ‘rotten bottoms’ are generally used, with main lines of 25lb incorporating shockleaders or 30lb line straight through.
Hooks need to be strong and matched to the size of the bait when fishing for congers, bull huss or wrasse. During the summer months, lighter-tackle sport can be enjoyed using fl oat gear to tempt mackerel, garfish, mullet and bass. Bass can be tempted using spinning rods and reels with various types of lures. Floating or surface plugs are particularly useful when fishing rough ground because they can be worked over very shallow ground with little fear of losing expensive patterns. Bass will fight well but don’t tend to dive into snags like pollack or wrasse. A bass will make a few fast runs and shake its head but as long as a tight line is maintained, you’ll enjoy an exciting scrap!
So, to summarise, the North Devon coast offers a wide range of rock fishing venues that have the potential to provide exciting sport for a wide variety of species. The coastline also boasts some of England’s most spectacular scenery, including the British Isles’ highest sea cliffs and some of the world’s strongest tidal flows.