In the beginning there was ……… Barry, South Wales. Yes, that’s right. This story begins in a run down, beat-up old port town on the South Wales coast. A place with reputedly the second highest tidal range in the world after the infamous Bay of Fundy!!
Being a coastal town, there were plenty of places to try your hand at fishing, including the (at that time steadily declining) Barry Docks (if you could avoid the British Transport Police). However, with strong tides, heavily sediment laden water and more than a dash of pollution from the nearby chemical plants, the fishing was generally poor.
I was first introduced to sea fishing by my friend Stuart Stone’s father, sometime in the early 1970’s. As I recall, on my first few trips we didn’t catch very much at all (nothing new in that). However, I do recall being extremely excited at the prospect of catching large fish, there was something primeval about it. I was completely ‘hooked’ after lobbing out a sand eel into the rocks at Friar’s point during a Barry Sea Anglers competition and collecting 7th place with a 7oz pouting caught on a Woolies special salmon spinning rod ….!!
Meanwhile, our education continued apace – Stu’s father taught us how to collect lug worm and where to catch live shrimps in the rock pools to use as bait (this was facilitated by the large tidal range). We would be up at the crack of dawn & down Barry Island or the Old Harbour to gather bait on a low tide prior to fishing the rising waters of the incoming tide. We would catch small fish from time to time including flounder, plaice, school bass, pouting and if we were really fortunate, a 1lb + dogfish!
In those days, my initial tackle was cheap & cheerful – Woolies specials & non-named equipment rods together with low end Daiwa and Roddy spinning reels. A lot of terminal tackle was found beachcombing at low tide – leads, swivels, hooks , beads, paternosters; you name it, if it was used from Friar’s, Nell’s or Cold Knap points, we would find it. Line was often spliced together from longer lengths attached to snagged terminal tackle – a practice that was to cost me at least one very good fish a few years later!
Soon after starting fishing I moved across town and lost touch with Stewart Stone. I started fishing with a couple of lads from Barry Island – Burniston (‘Bunny’), Kerslake (their first names escape me now); and a bloke called David Seymore. I also became re-acquainted with a good friend from my earlier childhood, Nick Mulcock (aka Muck, now known as Chas or by his stage name, Captain Paranoid …..!!).
Highlights during these early years included a 1lb 6oz Pollock caught from the pebbles at Cold Knap and a 6lb conger eel caught fishing from the old man’s modest sailing boat. I was never interested in learning to sail (sailing was a dream of my father’s since he was a boy) but occasionally I could get him to take my fishing for an hour or two. On this occasion we anchored c.500m off the Bendericks & had one bite – the 6lb conger eel. I recall that I dispatched the fish with a small penknife – my father was a real animal lover, so didn’t like fishing at all, hence boat trips were very limited! During this period I read the angling reports in the South Wales Echo avidly – Welsh record size smoothounds were being caught at Monknash & Marcross beaches down the Vale of Glamorgan. I press ganged my father into taking me there one Saturday to fish the low tide. I got an extreme bite on ragworm that bent my 10’ beachcaster in two – my father had to help me hold the rod as I cranked the fish in on my multicoloured, multi-sourced mongrel line, of approximately 18lb breaking strain, held together with blood knots. The drag was locked down (as we rarely caught anything of any size, let along anything approaching a game fish, drags were locked down to facilitate hauling tackle out of the rocks). The fish’s tail breached & then tangled with our second rod (a boat rod that my father was attempting to beach fish with, without success). The few minutes we took to untangle the line gave the fish a new lease of life ……crack …. the fish of a (up until that time) lifetime broke me off, and I cursed to high heaven (for the first time in-front of my parents). I suspect it was a ray or, more likely, a decent smoothound. That’s fishing!!
Around this time I also fished with Ceri Williams and Jonathan Webber from Rhoose. I used to ride over on my bike to fish from Fonmon Cliffs – luckily we didn’t ever catch anything of note ….. it was a long haul up the cliff! We occasionally went to the Aberthaw power station warm water outfalls to fish for school bass. The local technique was innovative – a jiff lemon bottle filled with was or water doubled as a casting weight / float. A redgill sand eel lure was attached to a 3 foot trace and trolled over the flat beds of rock after the initial cast. It proved deadly on small bass (up to c.3/4lb). Whilst on the subject of Aberthaw, there was a brackish lagoon behind a concrete sea wall near the power station coke waste tip. It was full of huge (British record sized mullet). I don’t know how they got there, but they were landlocked & had grown to an enormous size. A lad from Barry caught one of around 9lb. I visited there in 2005, and whilst diminished in size by the waste tip, the pond was still there – but there we no mullet to be seen. I suspect they represented one population which got trapped, grew & then died out in the lagoon.
As I got more into the sport, I started to covet better tackle. I fell in love with a Hardy Beachcaster –Abu 7000 reel combo used by another fishing mate called Marcus Manuel. I worked on my father over a period of months before he finally took me to the tackle shop to buy me a Hardy Tourney Beachcaster and an Abu Ambassedeur 7000 reel, which I really felt proud to own. I had an early disaster though, when, about a month later I nearly fell off the west cliff towards the end of Friar’s Point whilst night fishing (without a lamp….!!). The rod & reel went over the edge smashing the frame & handle of the reel and destroying a number of eyes on the rod …. Absolute disaster. I was devastated. As usual, my father saved the day. New eyes were whipped on the rod (which suffered surprisingly little damage). A new frame & handle were ordered from Abu (at further expense) and the reel was re-assembled, looking almost new despite a few chips on the side plate. Although I never caught anything of note on the set-up at that time, I cared for the reel well, lovingly cleaning and oiling it after every trip & it remained in mint condition as I was to discover some 27 years later when I rescued the reel from my parents house & pressed it into light tackle work in Oman (see later blog section).