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The Bristol Channel -- shore fishing in North Somerset and South Gloucestershire

Fishing on the sand between Battery Point and Portbury Dock Fishing at Portishead -- mud, weed and thornback! Codling from the Avonmouth area Thornback

The Bristol Channel provides some of the best shore fishing in the country, and the North Somerset/ South Gloucestershire coast provides a variety of venues for the angler to take advantage of this. The autumn and early winter fishing is particularly well regarded as large numbers of codling can be taken, as well as the occasional much larger fish with 20lb specimens being recorded most years.

One factor that makes this area so prolific is the large tidal range -- the second largest in the world -- which is a result of the funnel type shape of the surrounding topography causing the advancing surge of water to be confined to an increasingly small area. This culminates in the Severn Bore, though that is a phenomenon that occurs well upstream of the shore fishing marks. What this also does, however, is cause a large amount of sediment to be carried in the water so at all the marks fished in this section the water is permanently a turbid brown. This means that species normally only available to shore anglers at night are within range during daylight hours, too. The extensive mud and sand flats uncovered as a result of this tidal range also provide rich feeding, and fish caught often cough up masses of shrimp and crab, or even the smaller species like whiting that have been feeding on them.

Standard beach tackle is used by most fishing this area, though slightly heavier line may be useful even on some snag-free marks. The strong currents often carry large rafts of weed, as well as bury long lengths of line, and the lead, in shifting sand on certain marks. It's nice to have at least 18lb mainline to provide some insurance against these problems. Because of the coloured water distance casting is not always needed, either; in fact, it can often cause more problems especially on the marks that are snaggy. But, big casters do have their day, although most times an 80 yard chuck will suffice. Everyone has their own favourite rig, but for most channel marks you can't beat a pulley rig, in my opinion. Of course, on the cleaner ground they're not essential and other rigs will hook more fish, but on the snaggier areas like Sandpoint and Portishead, they do significantly increase your chance of landing a fish once hooked.

One of the great things about the Bristol Channel in this area is the variety of species you can catch. On some marks in Autumn your next bite could be a bass, cod, conger, thornback ray or even a 2lb dover sole! And let's not forget the small stuff like flounder, eel, whiting, dogfish, dab and pout. Having said that, certain marks are better for certain species, and you can be selective by getting the combination of bait, time of year, and location correct. One drawback is that due to the tidal range most sessions have to be only one or two hours either side of high or low water, both from the point of view of getting accesss to the water, and of coping with the current on big spring tides.

Bait is an important factor that many ignore. Get it wrong and you'll catch nothing even if the fish are in front of you. Some simple rules are that conger love ragworm, crab and fishbaits, but rarely touch lugworm. Codling will take anything on the right day, but on the wrong one will be very fussy. I remember fishing fresh lug and catching nothing whilst the bloke next to me caught codling on frozen squid and mackerel. Another day I've had codling every cast on peeler crab, whilst others on ragworm have caught nothing, or only strap conger. Another good rule is that flounder, at least in the upper reaches, prefer lug over rag. I'm sure those anglers who fish more often than me have managed to fathom out the preferences for bait in even greater detail! The upshot of that is: if you're visiting speak to a local tackle shop and get some current advice about the mark you're fishing.

To look at the marks in more detail I've written some stuff on a few that can be accessed on the left of the page. Here they are all together; click on the one you want to read:

I'll be adding to that list when I've had time to visit and get pictures. If you've not got time for detail here's a quick synopsis:

The marks furthest up the Bristol Channel around Aust and Avonmouth are generally relatively shallow and muddy. They are normally best fished at high water on neaps or very small springs. Main summer species are flounder, bass, conger, dover sole, whiting and silver eels. Mullet can be very noticeable as they swirl on the surface at times, but catching them is not particularly easy. Autumn sees large numbers of codling being taken as well as the species already mentioned. Some of these other species become less common as winter starts.

Portishead and Clevedon have a number of marks that are often refered to in the angling press. Battery Point at Portishead, and Lady Bay at Clevedon both have low cliffs that provide good high water vantage points from which to fish onto sand, or mixed ground. These marks can also be fished at low water. However, on spring tides both high and low water fishing time can be limited by the strength of current. Species are similar to the upper Bristol Channel, with the addition of thornback ray, dogfish, pout and dab. Just down-channel of Clevedon is Kingston Seymour, a high water, spring tide, sea wall venue that produces any species I've previously mentioned, though most likely to yield conger, flounder, eel, bass, thornback or codling. It's relatively comfortable fishing, though not quite as good as it once was since they dumped a load of large limestone-boulder rock-armour along the wall. Watch your step, you can easily slip and break a leg!

Down-channel again you have Brean Down and Sand Point, both excellent shore fishing venues. Theoretically any of the previous mentioned fish could show, with the addition of smoothhound that arrive every now and then in the summer (at least so I hear; I've never caught one in this part of the channel myself). These two venues are mainly fished for big stuff like thornback ray, cod, bass, and conger from either high or low water marks. It's worth noting that it's not the actual "point" as such on either of these that is fished, but, generally, the long up-channel facing coastal sections backed by cliffs. These give several miles of varied fishing conditions, from rough ground, to clean sand, to mud. There are high, low, spring and neap marks. It's really best to get local advice before visiting.

In the same area, and either side of the two marks above are several sandy beaches: Sand Bay, Weston-super-mare, and the long stretch of sand at Brean and Berrow. Sand Bay and Weston are mainly flounder and eel, with autumn codling and whiting. The best place is Brean and Berrow that during autumn and early winter produces codling, thornback ray and conger, with the occasional bass, and assorted smaller bits and pieces.

So, that's a brief introduction to the upper reaches of the Bristol Channel. Don't forget the Welsh side has some fantastic places to fish, too, as does the lower Bristol Channel in Somerset and North Devon.

Finally, it's worth noting that if you fish many of these marks on your own, there is always a very real risk of slipping and breaking a limb. As many require climbing down cliffs to access the sea at low water, it's possible you'd have no way of getting back up. Remember, the tidal range on springs is over 14m. If you fish at night, too, there's always the possibility of fog descending and you not being able to find the route back up the cliff. We tend to get swamped with health and safety nonsense these days, and so take many warnings with a pinch of salt. However, don't do it with this one. Take a mobile phone, always have a back-up plan if you're fishing an area of tricky access, and leave plenty of time to get away from low water marks before the tide level becomes critical.

The far end of Sand Point around low water on a Spring tide.