With the advent of increasingly sophisticated electronic aids, so pioneering skippers began to push further and further offshore from Plymouth and so long-distance wreck fishing was born. In its heyday, big numbers of boats would all be racing out of the Sound and on out into the Channel for a day’s fishing, skippers confident, and crews buzzing with anticipation. As the angling press bore testament, so the catches from the late 70s and 80s were quite often vast and boats would return with decks awash with fish. Huge conger, pollack, ling, cod and coalfish were regularly pulled up the steps to the old Angling Centre and weighed in front of big crowds of onlookers. But as other ports began to switch on to the fishing nearer them and more and more people invested in bigger and faster boats all along the south coast, so Plymouth really became just another port. A number of skippers gradually packed up and turned to commercial fishing, but those who remained have reaped the benefits. The fish never went away!
Huge numbers of anglers still flock to come and fish in Plymouth, for although the place may not capture the headlines so much as it did, the fishing is still fantastic and if the weather allows you to get offshore, then chances are that you are going to have a great day’s fishing. One skipper who really stayed the course and continues to reap great rewards from both wreck and reef is Graham Hannaford; in fact he believes in the port so much that he has been running two boats for a while and is now in the process of having a huge, very fast, brand new charter boat built. His well known Offshore 105, the Tiburon, is still going and is being run by the more than capable hands of James O’Donnell. James trained under Graham for over three years and to those who know their boat fishing, there is no better tutorage than this and subsequently, James is now a fully qualified charter skipper and brings that all essential youth element to a local fleet that is once again growing in size and stature.
The available fishing
Most anglers know of Plymouth primarily as a long distance wrecking port, where the impression is that fishing is only done mid-channel, thus involving endless steaming to find the fish, but really this is untrue. Of course if weather, tides and time of year dictate that a long steam is required, then so the miles must be covered, but in fact there is some seriously good fishing much closer to home. There are countless wrecks around the twenty and thirty miles offshore radius and if you fish these then you don’t spend so much time steaming and as a result, get more time fishing.
There are still plenty of big conger and ling, as well as the pollack and cod, but more and more, skippers are returning virtually every conger caught and this ensures future sport. Gone are days of coming back to port with a deck loaded with dead fish, for nobody wants this and it is hardly beneficial for angling. People came to realise that wrecks could be quite literally wiped out of eels and whilst this did produce some record fish for a couple of years, actual numbers of landed eels was down, so thankfully, skippers began returning almost everything and now there is some great eel sport once more out there. Wreck fishing and conger eels go side by side and many anglers want nothing more than to have their rod bent at all angles by a big, writhing conger; once more there are plenty to catch, and all the more satisfying it is to see your eels successfully unhooked and swimming back to the bottom.
What is not so well known is the quality of the reef fishing over the famous underwater hazards such as the Eddystone, East and West Rutts and the Brendons. Every local stands by the fact that the reef fishing has not been so good for at least twenty years, and it seems to be getting better year by year. Light tackle pollack fishing over these and other reef systems is surely one of the most exciting forms of fishing there is and during spring and early summer the boats are very heavily booked by people who just can not get enough of this fishing. Fishing with live launce and 12lb class gear in some relatively shallow water really does let the pollack fight to the best of their ability and a good day will see a lot of double figure fish landed.
During the warmer months there is some of the best blue shark fishing found anywhere off our coastline and Plymouth produces a good number of blues over the magical 100lb mark. Winter is a time of year when a trip out is a real bonus if one is lucky enough to get a window in the weather, but if you do get out onto the wrecks, then they are often stacked up with prime conditioned winter pollack that fight like demons and present you with the chance of a real heavyweight, 20lb plus specimen. It is no surprise that Plymouth used to hold the British record for this species and many anglers fully expect the record to come back to the port one day soon. The British winter is a fickle thing, but there are always some calm days somewhere; if they coincide with relatively big tides then you might be in for the day of your life.
The Tiburon – same boat, new skipper
I have fished with James O’Donnell a fair bit and we are roughly the same age, so its great to see some young blood coming into the charter industry; he is seriously competent and is an absolutely fanatical angler himself. In fact, when the weather is too bad to take anglers offshore, you will often find him out fishing somewhere, for something. In my humble opinion, James is coming into the job with exactly the right attitude and as for producing the goods, well that is not a problem, as all his angling parties will testify to. This guy knows how to find the fish, plain and simple.
James keeps the Tiburon in immaculate condition and everything on board is always tidy and to hand, including that all essential kettle. He knows that the only way to make a successful living in this difficult business is to keep catching fish and to keep anglers happy. A simple process you might think, but how many of you have ever fished with a miserable skipper and hated the experience? I know I have and I will never fish with those people again, so we as paying customers are asking for no more than a skipper who tries his hardest on the day and gives us value for money.
Now James knows where the fish are, and if you get a good forecast then he will take the boat as many miles as is required, but boat anglers know that the weather is not always that favourable and we have all suffered cancelled trips. It's extremely frustrating, but what can you do? Well there is actually some great fishing around Plymouth Sound and up the River Tamar and whilst you are not going to catch stacks of big pollack, it may be just the tonic you need. James recognises that a cancelled reef or wreck trip does not have to mean a cancelled day; lots of anglers travel down from many miles away and would just like the chance to wet a line and have the chance of some good fishing, so if something a little different wets your appetite, then ask him. You may get the chance at wrasse, thornback ray, cod, conger, pollack and some good bass, all near to port and all for far less money than an offshore trip; I personally would rather go fishing for something, instead of sitting at home and hoping that the next trip will see better weather. Plymouth does produce numbers of big fish, but so many people just do not realise that there is also some great sport much closer to home and for years have most likely steamed straight over it.
Contacting James O’Donnell :
If you want to get out fishing from Plymouth, then do give James a ring and see what he can do for you; I for one can not wait until the reefs start fishing again. Plymouth is an awesome place to go fishing from!!
Home telephone : 01752 518811
Mobile telephone : 07855 040015