Last years holiday to Westward Ho! saw me fail to bag one of the Smoothhounds that frequent this part of the coast at this time of year. The bits of local info I'd received from some of the anglers I'd met on my last trip and was unable to action were now to be put to good use, but, there were a few more things to learn before I could bag my first Smoothhound.
On arrival last Saturday, my first job was to gather enough soft and peeling crabs for a few sessions during the week, it was hard going and not good for the back but I gathered enough baits for a couple of morning sessions.
The first session was on Monday morning, I arrived at the rock mark I was told about last year and no one else was around, 'great stuff' I thought but there was still a heavy swell pounding the rocks after a weather front which had moved through North Devon on the Sunday. It was low tide and was just on the turn so I had about two and a half hours before I'd have to retreat up the rock as the tide rose to cover them.
Not long after my first cast I was joined by a local angler who was just out for a walk and he enquired as to whether I was fishing for hounds which I replied 'yes' and that I'd never caught one before, the next thing he asked was if I was fishing with the drag backed off as several people had lost rods around hear after the takes from the smoothies had sent their rod javelin like into the sea, I immediately backed of the drag and switched on the ratchet. After a couple more casts I received a short run and enquired as to whether this was normal and apparently some days it can be a nightmare to hook the fish as they just pick up the bait and run with it only to drop it after a few metres, the scream of the ratchet certainly wakes you up. I had a few more runs like this during the couple of hours I had and decided to return on the next low tide that evening, however, every fishable rocky point along this stretch, and there's not many of them, was occupied by anglers such are the popularity of Smoothhounds in this area.
I was up early on Tuesday to get on my mark just as the tide exposed it. The first cast went out and almost immediately I had a couple of hard tugs on the tip, a short run, then nothing, another crab was bound to the hook and cast out and again I had another dropped run, I was told that I'd just have to wade through these until I had a proper take and I would know about it when this happened. On the next cast, it happened, the rod tip tapped a couple of times then pulled forward till the drag allowed the fish to take line, like a Carp on steroids, off it went, I grabbed the rod for fear it would disappear in the direction of Lundy and tightened the drag, the tip of the rod just continued to pull round as I leaned back into a heavy pounding weight. I tried to remember everything else I was told about playing Smoothhounds but I just kept the pressure on and pumped and wound when I could until it was close enough to use the swell to bring it in to the rocks and land, what a fish, it went all over the place even taking line at one point when I thought the drag was at it's tightest.
I sat down, legs like jelly, and watched as my first Ho! hound of around 7/8lb swam around in one of the many rock pools that double up as saltwater keepnets. A fish of 12lb had come out the week before so I was more than happy with this one.
After an hour, I had another run which didn't sound as fierce as the first but the fight was much more hectic, at one point I thought I was going to loose the fish as it ran off to my left behind a rock that kept being exposed by the swell but I kept the pressure on and heaved just as the next wave came and was able to pull the hound clear of the rock then heaved again on the next wave and it was mine.
This fish was around 6lb and when I put this fish in the pool with the first I realised that I had caught both species of Smoothhound, the common and the starry which has small white spots down it's back.
The session soon finished and both fish were released, on my way up the rocks I was met by another angler on his way down, it was Kevin, I'd met him last year and he remembered me and congratulated me on catching my first smoothhound, I thanked him for the info he gave me last year and telling me about this spot.