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The Bexhill Festival of the Sea is a week-long calendar of events organised by Bexhill Sea Fishing Club and the local Council. There are shore matches, charter boat matches, week long species hunts, and other events including the kayak fishing match. There is also a weekend festival with a variety of stands and demonstrations to promote sea fishing as well as other charities and causes including the RNLI, the Angling Trust and Heroes on the Water. Tackle manufacturers are also on display as I found out when I bumped into George manning the Tronixpro tent in the afternoon. However I was here for the Kayak Fishing Competition.

This event is now in its third year and it looked like the weather may actually be about to play ball for the first time. The sea was flat and by 10am after the safety briefing everyone was itching to launch and get fishing. As usual it was a species hunt with catch, photograph and release and whereas three species had been enough to win the last couple of years everyone thought six or seven would be the target today.

This area is Mark Hobbseas playground so he was the one to watch and on launching the first thing I noticed is that he paddled out a lot further than me. I’m not too proud to follow a local expert so immediately upped anchor and dropped it again another half mile out.

The plan was to fish two rods, one with a flapper rig made from Tronixpro Terminal gear with size one and two Aberdeen hooks. The other had a set off cut down Tronixpro Sabbiki’s which could either be cast around or baited and left on the bottom. Immediately either rod hit the bottom it started to bounce. The whiting were here and here in plague proportions. I soon began to think I wouldn’t have enough bait if this carried on for too long and also that no other species would have a chance to find the bait before the whiting hit it.

However a few casts later the sabikkis were taken on the drop, Mackerel, species number two. Then a tub gurnard managed to beat the whiting to the bait, quickly followed by a plaice. Four species and less than an hour into the comp. For the next half hour it was just a whiting fest with the occasional string of mackerel but then I saw another of my targets coming through the water, a string with two mackerel and two scad. Species number 5 and it was only one and a half hours in.

This is when a decision had to be made. In the species competitions too many people anchor in one spot and stay there for the whole day. Different species are found on different grounds so it makes sense to move and search out the different fish.

Last year I had caught pout and bass on top of the reef so I relocated and changed one of the rigs to a long flowing race in hope of the bass. Within twenty minutes a small pout was on board- species number 6.

Given the flat sea I wasn’t confident on the bass so decided to head tight into the shore looking for flounders, sole or eels. The flat area just a few hundred meters out, at the bottom of a steep shingle beach is often overlooked by kayak anglers who head straight into the distance. However it is a natural food holding area so is always worth a try. The advantage of a kayak over beach fishing is that this can be just out of casting range, but also you can fish it a lot lighter as you are directly over the top of it. Again bites were pretty constant. First up was a tiny ray, probably a thornback, species 7

This was my target for the day but there was still a couple of hours left in the match and I couldn’t see anyone looking like they were heading in so I carried on fishing. I was missing small bites so scaled down the rig and hooked up a flatfish. Initially I thought flounder but then realised it was a small plaice – no use to me as I already had one of those. This was followed by another baby ray and then a more solid bite. Coming through the water I thought it was an eel but quickly realised it was a small smooth hound.

Eight species, still an hour to go but I thought I would call it a day and register first.

As the others started to come in it was apparent everyone had caught fish though out the day. Eight species was enough for me to win, my first competition win this year after a couple of close seconds. Martin Collinson came second with six species and Mark Hobbsea was third with five.

Species hunting is a staple of kayak fishing and the standard format for competitions on the South Coast. It is a style of fishing I love to practise and get as much joy catching these baby ray on balanced tackle as I did a couple of weeks ago bringing in the near double figure ray in the Flamborough Competition.

As always, a massive thank you to Bexhill Sea Angling Club and Bexhill Council for organising all the events of the week. It is great to see a local authority going to such effort to promote Sea Fishing and I am already looking forward to next year’s event.