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With a holiday booked on a caravan park in the Towyn area of North Wales, a visit to Rhyl harbour was definitely on the cards. Not because the fishing is spectacular – in fact quite the opposite really – but rather because it was a walk down memory lane. Or to be more precise, a fish down the channel.
The channel in question is the River Clwyd estuary as it empties itself in the Irish Sea on the western boundary of the Denbighshire town of Rhyl. In the accompanying video I take you to the actual place I fished as a kid during our annual vacation to the traditional seaside resort where hordes of families from Lancashire, Birmingham and the Black Country would take their holiday.
Back in the 1960’s (I’m making myself sound old here) we still had the industrial fortnight, when industry came to a close and everyone packed their car, or as in the case of many of us, boarded the train. As a working-class family on a council estate, we hadn’t reached the standard that is the norm today. And these were the days before cheap travel abroad. So whatever route or mode you took, the destination was the same.
As the train left Chester and then made its way west, I would be staring out the window, desperate for my first glimpse of the big wide ocean. Well that’s how it seemed to me at the time. Although it was the murky, dirty Irish Sea, it may as well have been the Pacific, so captivated was I by it. And even though we were limited by luggage, and any extra I took I had to carry myself, my prized possessions always came with me. My fishing tackle.
My parents had no interest in fishing, but I was crazy about it. I had an uncle, who had fished some years before, and I had one of his rods that he no longer had need of. Today I have a rod for this species, a rod for that style and so on, but in those days it was a case of one for everything. Whether I was float fishing, legering or casting out into the sea, that rod did the trick. My reel was the same. Come to think of it, so was every item of tackle I owned.
Consequently, I was oozing with enthusiasm but absolutely rock bottom as far as knowledge or idea was concerned. But I loved fishing so much that all I wanted to do was get that bait out into the water. Fishing low water I legered maggots – that’s how clueless I was. And the amazing thing was that I actually caught. Flounders and eels. But I caught. Although in all fairness that’s pretty much the staple diet of species today in Rhyl harbour I would say.
Fast-forward 40 years and here I am again heading for the place that holds so much memory for me. Rhyl has changed so much. The Schooner, the pub where my parents were while I nipped across the road to cast a line, has long since gone. But the harbour itself is pretty much as it was, dominated by the blue bridge (photo 1). This time I fished several spots, both just upstream and just down from the famous Rhyl landmark.
I even ventured across the bridge and fished from the area known as Horton’s Nose. Back then as a kid I used to marvel at the sand dunes that seemed so far away and I envisaged them full of nesting birds such as terns, gulls and plovers. Yes, my love of nature also goes back a long way as well. I certainly did plenty of reminiscing while fishing the estuary. In fact, having a rod in the water was just a bonus really. I was thriving on the memories.
I always set out to target a particular species and this time it was flounder. I should have made it eel really, as that was the only fish species that I actually caught. Photo 2 is of the first one I landed, a tiny thing from above the bridge, and photo 3 is if a better one from the harbour itself. I did manage to feed the crab population of Rhyl though, but most of them dropped off before making the shore.
Photo 4 is one of the crabs that just wouldn’t let go of the bait. Even though they weren’t hooked they simply could not allow themselves to be separated from a juicy worm supper. For all they know I could have been after them for a meal of my own. I don’t think crabs have that sort of reasoning power though do they. They’re motivated by their stomachs and that’s about it.
I show my rig in the video and that was pretty much my line of attack in the visits I made to the harbour. Sometimes I would fish the bottom snood below the lead, other times above it as I searched for success. But ultimately success was just being there. Apart from the eels that gave proper bites, every time I had the gentle tap, tap of a crab I wondered if a small flounder was mouthing the bait.
Bait was either ragworm or lugworm, fished on a size 2 Aberdeen hook. I love those for flattie fishing, and with the tag on the amnesia knot left on, once the worm is threaded on it pretty much stays. Until the crabs get on it of course. It’s like fishing the lower Severn after dark in the summer with a dead fish for zander. In that case it’s the eels, but the result is the same. The bait gets attacked in seconds and stripped in minutes.
I fished various places, stages of the tide and other such variables. But the flounders remained elusive. Not that I am complaining, as I’ve already stated, just being there was enough. It certainly does make you realise how quickly life passes though. When you’re a kid the idea of being 18 seems like a million miles away. Then when you’re that age, 21 is an eternity off. But before you know it, you’re 30. Then 40. And in my case, counting the months down to when I’m 50.
That’s why we need to live life to the full. Live it responsibly though, because if we don’t then it’s all very short-term. Just as I was fishing 40 years ago, then God willing I want to be doing the same in another four decades time. Obviously none of us know what the future holds, so many things are beyond our control. But those things that are within our remit then we need to do what we can by living responsibly.
While on holiday, with Rhyl harbour being my trip down memory lane and my struggling sessions being carried along by nostalgia, in next week’s Angling Journal it’s down to serious business as I tackle the dabs at Talacre. That’s another county, another estuary and another entry.
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