Dave Roberts is the livewire skipper of the AlyKat, a sparkling 35 foot "Bullet" hulled charter boat out of Minehead which works the fish rich waters of the Bristol Channel. I didn’t need a second invitation, the crabs were quickly organised, tank up my venerable Peugeot, sort through my tackle bag and get an early night.
0630 the next morning I was hard pressed to find parking space outside Clive’s Tackle and Bait, but the crabs were soon paid for and I hit the road.
It is a little over a hundred miles from my home in Plymouth up the A38/M5 and across country through Exmoor to Minehead. At that time in the morning it took me a little under two hours, after meeting the inevitable early morning milk tanker and a local bus driving nose to tail making an impassable convoy through the leafy lanes which are so much a part of Westcountry driving. The only consolation was that the Exmoor countryside is always a lovely sight, particularly at that time in the morning.
Arriving at Minehead I parked up behind the quaintly named "Old Ship Aground" pub overlooking the little harbour which is home to the half dozen smartly painted charter boats working this interesting stretch of water.
Dave gave a satisfied grin as he looked at the peelers, plonked a mug of tea in my hand and got us under way. "Not going far" he said "We will have a look inshore at Porlock Bay and if they are not there they will be in the slightly deeper water about a mile off". This sort of self confidence is typical of Dave as a skipper.
Within twenty minutes the AlyKat was rounding the stunningly picturesque Hurlestone Point into Porlock Bay, the steep green cliffs a total contrast to the grey granite and slate crags which are so familiar to me on the south west coast. The scenery is certainly different, but then so is the fishing.
Smoothounds put in an appearance in April but the serious fishing for them really starts on the first spring tides in May, but the big tides toward the end of the month is when numbers of fish and the bigger fish can be expected with a degree of consistency, then reliable fishing continues through the Summer months.
Today the anglers were all experienced Smoothound anglers and most of them would be fishing "uptide" for the Smoothounds, which was interesting for me, because although I have fished uptide for bass and the occasional ray, it is not a method which I have used very much, so it would be interesting and educational for me to watch a handpicked crew of anglers who fished this method regularly.
The rods were regular Uptiders made by Penn, Shimano and Diawa. The Diawa’s being by far the favourites. These were regular uptide rods made to cast five and six ounce wired sinkers, not the lightweight uptide bass rods for three or four ounce sinkers that I generally use. The heavier rods being preferred, because with other anglers on board, some degree of control has to be exercised over a lively fish unless you want to spend valuable fishing time untangling a bunch of hooks, lines and sinkers!
Reels were as expected, standard Abu 7000’s, Diawa "sloshes" and I was surprised to see a couple of Shimano 5’s and a 10 in use. Although long discontinued, these light lever drag reels are at a premium, not only for uptide work, but also for light tackle down tide anglers. So long as the spares are available these super reels will be used and coveted by their owners.
Line was standard 15lb monofilament so that the drag of the line was predictable in the conditions. Braid is brilliant for this style of fishing if you are fishing just one or two rods, any more than that and tangled lines can become monotonous and somewhat expensive. So on a trip such as this where there were seven anglers fishing uptide, it is best if the same type of line is used.
The end rig used was a simple choice of two patterns.
Number one was a simple running leger with a trace length of about a meter of thirty to forty pound breaking strain monofilament, made up using a red zip slider. The baited hook was hung over one of the wires protruding from the sinker and wellied thirty or forty yards uptide.
The second rig, and my favourite for this sort of fishing, was a "pulley rig". Again, made up with a red zip slider and forty pounds breaking strain monofilament, with the bait clipped down just above the sinker. The Gemini Genie rig clip is brilliant used with the Pulley rig because, not only does it allow the bait to be clipped down for casting, but also enables the sinker to be easily changed as conditions alter. I believe the Pulley rig gives a higher proportion of front of the mouth hook-ups when up-tiding because the fish is hooked against the pull of the sinker rather than waiting for the angler to notice the nodding rod tip and then trying to set the hook with a lot of slack line out - but I will say it again, the pulley rig is just a personal preference.
John Stocker from Taunton, a retired Policeman from Taunton is one of Dave Roberts' most regular anglers. He fishes aboard the AlyKat most weeks through the season and it was evident early on in the day that he knew what he was doing and he pursued the fish with a relentless energy. I would not have liked to have been a criminal with him around!!
Baiting with a cocktail of peeler or frozen hermit crab tipped off with a strip of squid he was soon bringing a succession of Smoothound to the expertly wielded net. The fish were quickly unhooked, a smiley photograph and back over the side where the fish instantly went away into the depths; these Smoothounds are one tough fish!
As the tide picked up John Stocker and a couple other anglers reverted to "downtide" rods, although continuing to use the same end rig and a heavier wired sinker. Just an underhand flick of the rod to toss the end tackle between five and ten yards from the side of the boat was all that was needed to carry on bringing the seemingly endless stream of ‘hounds to the boat.
It seemed to me that the number of baits around the boat send a scent stream wafting downtide, pulling the packs of fish up to the boat. Although the action was slow to start with, as soon as the ‘hounds arrived on the scene the action soon became virtually continuous with a bent rod or two in evidence almost the day long.
This had been an interesting and exciting experience for me, although the magical 15lb fish did not materialise, there was constant action throughout the day with fish approaching double figures. Everyone caught fish and went home with a satisfied grin on their face, there were endless cups of tea or coffee. Dave is famous for his "banger" cook-up during the day when huge locally made sausages are wrapped in a slice of bread and the fish are made to wait for a few minutes whilst the crew do them justice(bring your own ketchup).
This is a low pressure, totally enjoyable style of fishing. There are no three hour steams to distant waters - this is close-in fun fishing aboard a clean and tidy boat with a good skipper. Give Dave a call on 01 643 703 892, his inshore trips are very reasonable at £180 for the day.
Ally Cat Fact Panel.
35foot custom built Bullet. 350 hp Sabre Diesel.
18 months old. 22 knots. Cetrek Plotter. JRC Sounder and Radar. MLR GPS.
Skipper: Dave Roberts.
Cop: 60 miles.
Phone: 01 643 703 892
Boat: 0836 630 355
Costs: 8 hours £180.
Lundy 12 hour £320
Accommodation. Local pubs, Guesthouses and Hotels. Talk to Dave.
There are two types of Smoothound that can be caught in UK waters.
The plain Smoothound(mustellus mustellus) and the Starry Smoothound sometimes called the Stellate Smoothound(mustellus asterias).
The back of the Starry Smoothound has numerous small white "stars" along its back. The common Smoothound looks virtually identical but lacks the white spots on its back.
Best baits for both species is crab baits, including small hardbacks, peeler crab and especially Hermit crab. Tackle, rigs, hook sizes are the same for both species of Smoothound. Great fun to catch, not a fish I am fond of eating so catch and release is the way to go.
Have fun! - Any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org