Plymouth Breakwater Competition

Posted on Sep 8 2009 - 4:42pm by Jim O'Donnell
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Roll up, roll up, come and fish a whole mile of protected, rarely fished, coastline!

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to fish from one mile of barely un-fished coast? You may think that such a thing does not exist, but it does and thanks to one committed angler from Plymouth, you can now fish an area that has been off limits to anglers for many years.

Plymouth Sound is a huge expanse of protected water but it wasn’t always that way. In 1690, the Admiralty decided to make Plymouth its major base in the Southwest and from then on the volume of shipping that used Plymouth increased dramatically. Unfortunately, being exposed to southerly gales, so did the amount of shipwrecks. In 1804, on one day alone, ten ships were wrecked along the coastline of Plymouth Sound, so something had to be done. Only a breakwater could turn Plymouth Sound into a harbour safe from the prevailing conditions.

Plymouth Sound
Snapshot from Navionics ©

After many years of dithering, politicians finally commissioned the building of what was to be one of the very first ‘free standing’ breakwaters of its kind, made from huge man-made boulders dropped one on top of another. So big and costly was the project for its time that it became universally known as the ‘Great National Undertaking’. In August 1812, on the Prince of Wales’ birthday, the first stone was laid – a massive 7ton foundation stone. By March 1813, the first boulders of the breakwater became visible above the water. And in 1841, the breakwater was finally completed after a staggering near 30 years of trials and tribulations. Fishing history about Plymouth’s breakwater is pretty hard to locate but I’m sure not long after, if not before its completion, the anglers of that day were quick to pick up on the fishing potential of this man-made fish haven. From then until approximately the late 1980’s, angling clubs were regularly allowed to use the breakwater to hold competitions with the kind permission of the harbourmaster.

Plymouth Breakwater

Graham Tippet is a Plymouth angler committed to helping others enjoy the sport so when his club, the Plymouth Castaways SAC, were struggling for committee members, Graham happily put up his hand and took on the job of shore captain – a job which entails organising various shore fishing days and competitions for the members of his club and other local anglers. But on taking up the position, Graham was surprised with what he found. The Castaways SAC had a box full of trophies, many of which hadn’t been fished for in years, and one of these was a trophy for ‘The Plymouth Breakwater Competition’. Instantly inspired by this old trophy, Graham quickly set about finding out how he could revive the competition and gain permission to start fishing Plymouth’s breakwater once again. After long discussions with Plymouth’s current harbourmaster, Lee Wilson, last July saw the first ‘Breakwater’ competition in many years go ahead with great success. The fishing was good, the weather was excellent, and the event went by without incident. The harbourmaster was pleased, so permission was granted for Graham to make this a regular event, and just a few weeks back, I was invited along to photograph the second ‘Breakwater’ competition of the new millennium! Here’s a brief report on how it went.

Plymouth has a free standing breakwater which is not attached to land at any point, so access can only be gained by boat, and this is only if the forecast conditions are safe enough. The evening before, all anglers telephoned in to check the conditions before meeting at the Mountbatten ferry to grab a ride out to the breakwater. The breakwater is not much more than a mile offshore and included in the entrance fee is the ferry costs of getting 100 anglers out to the mark. After a couple of late cancellations due to swine flu amongst other things, a total of 87 dads, lads, kids and mums turned out for the day’s event. Only armed with my camera, I decided not to fish the competition because I was more than happy just to stand on such a legendary piece of concrete to explore and witness history in the remaking! And it seemed many others shared my inspirations too… a good few anglers turned out to fish competitively, but many turned out for a fun days fishing and to claim a day’s fishing on this historic mark!

Once the boat had docked, all 87 anglers quickly spread out along the one mile long breakwater, many following stories and reports of the past of ‘where were the best marks’ to fish. Some chose the east end, while others chose the west, with others following reports of the excellent fishing that can be found along the lengths and around the fort which is located centrally… if you ask me, it all looks pretty fishy! The main species that Plymouth’s breakwater is famous for are leviathan Conger, monster Wrasse, massive Mullet and some pretty big Bass, so this is what most anglers were geared up to catch – conger being favoured by many. If there was one mark that has the potential to blow the British record for conger, Plymouth’s breakwater is probably it!

Getting Wet!

With the fishing underway it wasn’t long before the first fish started to come to the scales. Two weighing stations had been placed halfway along each side of the breakwater so that fish could be weighed quickly and then released. The modern breakwater comp, as you would expect of any modern competition, encourages catch and release. This is all good stuff but with nearly a mile between each set of scales, this made my job of running from one to the other good exercise. I think by the end of the day I had clocked up around 8 miles!

Again the second of these new breakwater competitions was a great success and strangely the winning fish was not a conger but a Red Mullet, of 1lb 6oz, which was caught by Dan Gerry.

Red Mullet

Neil Hargreaves took second place with a nice Conger of 32lb 8oz – but this wasn’t just any old conger – Neil had actually been ground-baiting for mullet when the thirty-odd-pound conger had turned up, swimming around in just a few feet of water under his feet. Having no heavy tackle with him, Neil grabbed his bass rod, chucked on a chunk of mackerel and lowered it to the eel, and to his surprise, it took it! Now that’s what I call light-tackle-congering (!!!)

Conger Conger

Third position went again to Dan Gerry with a conger of 28lb 10oz. Fourth position went to Kyle Waterhouse with a fine Mullet of 4lbs. Fifth position went to Neil Hargreaves again, with a dogfish of 2lb 9oz. And finally the junior prize went to Emily Pinnock with a Ballan Wrasse of 3lb 2oz.

Mullet

A good day was had by all. Even a handful of specialist lure anglers, from B.A.S.S. – who had used the competition as a front – buying tickets not to fish the comp but to secretly sneak along and fish the legendary breakwater for bass – managed to catch a few! So successful was Plymouth’s second ‘all new’ breakwater competition that Plymouth’s harbourmaster has given permission for a second event to be held this year. This will be held on the 27th of September (yes this month!). Tickets cost £10.50 and include ferry transfers to and from the breakwater.

Along with an optional pool of £2.00, 1st prize will be £200, 2nd £150, and 3rd £100 (with other cash prizes, and tackle prizes from local sponsors). Tickets are available for the cash-back competition from Plymouth tackle shops – Clive’s Tackle & Bait, The Tackle & Bait shop, Sea View Tackle and Manadon Angling supplies. For more information contact Graham Tippet on 07894 832724.