Preface: I’ve created this page in the hope that both anglers of all abilities visiting Cornwall and resident beginner/intermediate anglers will find the information helpful. So if you’re one of these people – this page is for you! My aim is to give you enough general guidance to see you embark upon your shore fishing in Cornwall safely and successfully.
Wherever you find yourself in Cornwall, you are no more than 20 miles from the ocean. The peninsula has over 400 miles of coastline and an immense diversity of coastal features. From dramatic cliffs towering over pounding seas, to sprawling golden surf beaches, to quiet estuaries teeming with life – the shore angler has all the variety they could ever wish to choose from.
The range of species that can be realistically targeted from Cornish shore marks is arguably without parallel in the UK. This diversity is one of the county’s greatest strengths as a location for shore fishing (although the ‘specimen’ fishing can be fantastic too). Perhaps the biggest advantage of Cornwall for the shore angler, however, is the fact that, with its craggy shores facing a multitude of different directions, there is always somewhere sheltered to fish – whatever the weather. What’s more, some of these ‘back-up’ marks are genuinely great venues in their own right and not just last resorts.
Shore Fishing in Cornwall
You can broadly divide Cornwall into three main areas from a shore fishing perspective: the north coast, the south coast and West Cornwall. The geography of the north and south coasts are self-explanatory but, in fishing terms, West Cornwall (or ‘down west’) is typically used to describe the terminal end of the peninsula west of St Ives on the north coast and Penzance on the south. These three areas have very different feels but share one common attribute – they all feature a multitude of rock marks to fish from and this is perhaps one of the defining characteristics of Cornish shore fishing. If you are serious about your sea angling and you want to catch a broad range of species, you’re going to have to do at least some of your fishing from rock marks.
If you come from somewhere where a lot of the fishing is from beaches, piers or estuaries, rock fishing can be a daunting prospect at first. A useful tip for newcomers to shore fishing in Cornwall is to find your feet on some of the sheltered estuary marks – places where you will be fishing from rocks but will not have other factors such as rough seas and strong winds to contend with. For optimum safety while out on the rocks, purchase a pair of good tall boots with decent tread and screw studs into the soles (I use supatracks). It’s also a great idea to invest in an auto-inflate lifejacket and a long climbing rope.
Let’s look at the three main areas of Cornwall in more detail. For each area, I’m going to broadly characterise the main estuaries then look at a popular beach and rock mark in detail.
The North Coast
From St Ives to Bude the coastline goes through many subtle shifts of character. Exposed as it is to the brunt of the Atlantic Ocean, the north coast can be a wild and dangerous place to fish. There are, however, a number of areas dotted along the coast that offer shelter and refuge from the often-raging surf, including three estuaries: the Hayle, the Gannel and the Camel:
- The Hayle is a small, shallow estuary and harbour. The fishing here can be great for thick lipped and golden grey mullet, as well as gilthead bream (which run to a good size) and bass. LRF fishing for mini species is also productive.
- The Gannel is another small, shallow estuary although the fishing is more centred around mullet and bass and gilthead bream are far less prominent (although not unheard of). The Gannel used to be very good for flounder, although they are scarce these days. In recent years, the Gannel has proved to be a decent bet for thick lipped mullet in the winter time.
- The Camel is a much longer and wider estuary than the Hayle and Gannel. The Camel has more depth to it too, although it is still relatively shallow compared to the likes of the Fal. All sorts of species can be caught here from plaice and flounder to bass and gilthead bream. Mullet also feature strongly and it is possible to catch all three species from the estuary and river. The Camel is perhaps best known for its reputation as a bass magnet and it is certainly true that the river holds and produces big fish consistently. It’s certainly worth looking past the bass to other species, however, as all sorts of fish from ray to cod are attracted to the estuary at certain times of year.
Where is it and what is it like? Watergate is located just to the north of Newquay and is a long, flat sandy surf beach. The waves here can be very good and it is popular with surfers during the day time. At night, however, anglers rule and it is not uncommon to see a fair number of lights dotted along the beach when it’s fishing well. Fishing here is mainly from spring through until early winter.
Tactics: Watergate’s uninterrupted length means that the tide can pull very hard here and beefy gear with leads of 7oz or more may be needed to hold bottom on a big tide with a strong surf. Small to medium tides can fish really well and are easier to deal with. As with other surf beaches in the area, you can approach the fishing in a variety of ways such as staying mobile and fishing close in with one rod or setting up with two rods and varying your distances. More recently, lure fishing in the surf has also become popular.
Species: Bass are a mainstay here and there is every chance of a fish into double figures. The beach has a reputation for small eyed ray too, as well as smoothhounds and dogfish. Gilthead bream are also frequently caught, particularly at the north end.
Baits: Lugworm and crab for bass, giltheads and smoothhounds (stick to big fish or squid baits for the bigger bass) and sandeels or mackerel for the rays and dogfish.
General tips: Look for any signs of holes or depressions (either exposed at low tide or visible as slack areas in the surf) and fish them. Watch out for surges on the incoming tide when there is a bigger surf running. There is parking very close by. I would highly recommend parking in the council car park slightly further away from the beach (you have to pay from April 1st to October 31st) rather than the Parking Eye controlled one immediately adjacent to it.
Where is it and what is it like? Newquay Headland (or Towan Head) is located just to the west of Newquay town itself. You reach it by heading to the north end of Fistral, the well-known surfing venue, and turning off to the right just before the Headland Hotel. This used to be one of Cornwall’s premier shore fishing venues and it can still be very productive. The great advantage of this spot is that there are a range of marks to be found, all of which lend themselves to anglers of different skill levels and mobility. Broadly speaking, the outermost marks are more suited to the experienced anglers and the more sheltered ones further back inside are suitable for beginners, younger anglers and anglers with less mobility.
Tactics: Standard beach gear suits the majority of the fishing, although you can have a lot of fun using lighter tackle for spinning and fishing for wrasse. Long casting can be beneficial on some marks but on the majority there is no need to cast too far. Most of the marks are best fished over the high water period.
Species: The headland is a very good venue for mackerel fishing and does get busy in the warmer months. On the bottom, there is a chance of all sorts of species including bass, codling, conger, smoothhounds, occasional ray, plaice, gurnards, whiting, pouting, small black bream and (lots of) dogfish. Spinning and float fishing can be very productive for mackerel, garfish and the odd pollack. There are some good wrasse to be had here and mullet can congregate by the old sewer pipe area at times and be very catchable.
Baits: Ragworm, lugworm and crab will catch most of the smaller species with sandeel, squid and mackerel sorting out the fish eaters (and being useful for tipping off your worms baits with).
General tips: This is a popular area and you will have to arrive in good time if you expect to get the spot you want on a favourable tide. The headland is known for fishing well after a good stir up in the autumn and winter – be very careful out on the rocks in these conditions and stay high up if the sea is still fairly rough. Seals can be a problem here in mackerel season as they will snatch the fish from your line. They are so good at this that the place becomes virtually unfishable at times. Don’t be afraid to explore at short range as many a decent plaice has been landed using this tactic. There is parking literally right above the water, although between April 1st and October 31st you will have to pay.
The South Coast
From Penzance to Rame Head and the Cornish side of the Tamar, the south coast offers a more diverse range of environments than the north. As well as the Tamar, the south coast offers the estuaries of the Helford, Fal and Fowey rivers – all of which have their own distinct feel:
- The Helford is a fairly wide, shallow estuary. On the right day it can seem alive with all sorts of fish species, attracted to the rich banquet of small tasty organisms that the estuary is home to. The fishing for bass, various bream species and thornback ray can be very good and don’t be surprised by exotic species – couch’s bream and red mullet are quite common catches here in the late summer. In winter, the estuary can have decent runs of codling.
- The Fal is a deep, wide estuary that contains many good shore marks. Species on offer include bass, gilthead and couch’s bream, mullet, thornback ray, spotted ray, conger and bull huss. One of the Fal’s great strengths is that there is a lot of fishable foreshore on offer, with much of it being relatively straightforward to access.
- The Fowey is a narrow estuary that possesses some surprisingly deep water. It’s probably quicker to go through the species you can’t catch here rather than what you can as the place can produce all sorts of weird and wonderful things and likes to throw up the odd specimen too. The Fowey is, however, one of the less accessible estuaries in Cornwall and some of the marks in the lower reaches are pretty challenging to reach.
Where is it and what is it like? Loe bar (or simply ‘the bar’) is a fairly steep shingle beach located near the town of Helston. Some people compare it to Chesil beach in Dorset but, in reality, it’s a very different fishing experience. The bar is not terribly long and it has little in the way of features except for rocks at either end. The beach has long been known as one of Cornwall’s top venues for autumn and winter fishing and this still holds true. The major drawback of the place, however, is that it tends to fish its best when the sea is calming after a spell of rough weather – a fact that makes it potentially very dangerous. For that reason, I would suggest that it is a venue that should only be tackled by more experienced anglers, at least in optimum conditions. The beach can still fish alright in calmer seas, especially for species like whiting and dogfish.
Tactics: Standard beach gear is usually fine, although if the swell is on the bigger side then you’ll need to use leads of 6-7oz to hold bottom. In rougher weather, you’ll need a longer cast to clear the shore dump – 80-100 yards is usually enough. If the sea is disturbed but not too bouncy, dropping in a bit closer can be a winning tactic. Often the bulk of the fish (especially bass) are not too far out.
Species: In autumn and winter: bass, codling, whiting, pouting, poor cod, pollack, coalfish, haddock, dabs, bull huss, dogfish, conger, small eyed ray and rockling. In warmer months, the fishing can be decent for mackerel, garfish and bass using lures.
Baits: Sandeel, mackerel, squid and lugworm will account for most of the species on offer. Sometimes the codling can be more switched on to peeler crab. Don’t be afraid to experiment with baits though, sometimes a combination of two can be what the fish really want.
General tips: Stay well back from the water when casting here as sudden surges can come much further up the beach than you might anticipate. Set your gear up well away from the water too, and position your rod tips high to keep the line out of the shore dump. You don’t need anything fancy as far as rigs are concerned – basic pulley rigs (or pulley droppers) and flappers are fine. It’s a good idea to use a headlamp with a very bright full beam to help with landing bigger fish. Take your time manoeuvring larger specimens through the shore dump and have the drag set so that if they are taken with the backwash your reel will give line. There is parking available at the Culdrose and Porthleven ends. Park in the car parks and walk to the beach – do not be tempted to try and drive down the tracks as you may well have a gate closed and locked on you.
Where is it and what is it like? A long stretch of foreshore located between Flushing and Mylor near the mouth of the Fal estuary, Trefusis is a fantastic venue for beginner, intermediate and experienced anglers alike. Offering easy clean ground fishing and shelter from winds out of the west, the place has its own character too and is very capable of throwing up a specimen fish at any time.
Tactics: Standard beach gear is fine and you can even go a bit lighter if you want as the run of tide is not terribly strong. Like most regulars, I usually tackle it by casting as far as I can but I’ve seen many good fish caught at short range too and I will often vary my distances if I’m not getting any interest. Use pulley, pulley dropper or up and over rigs (or a running leger if fishing at close range).
Species: Thornback ray, spotted ray, bull huss and dogfish make up the bulk of the fishing here. The spotted ray, in particular, can be very exoticly-marked and are beautiful fish. Other species include mackerel, garfish, conger, wrasse and codling/whiting in winter. The ray fishing is best during May/June.
Baits: Sandeels are the premier bait at this venue – preferably live but fresh dead ones can fish really well too. Many anglers use blast frozen eels, however, and these still catch plenty of fish. Mackerel (especially fresh) is a great alternative and live prawn can be deadly for the thornies.
General tips: Watch out for pots and their associated ropes as these are often set very close to shore and there is every chance of losing a fish on one. Sometimes, rather than sticking to known spots you are better off just finding somewhere where there are no pots and ropes within casting range to get hung up on. Trefusis is an intriguing mark – long biteless spells are the norm here but there can be hectic flurries of activity when the fish turn on. It’s an excellent place to take inexperienced or young anglers as the venue is comparatively safe. Be wary of the rocks in wet conditions, however, as they get very slippery. Parking is free and is found at the end of the road that runs through Flushing village, just before you get to the pilot gig club. You will have to walk through a field that usually has cows in it so if you are nervous of these animals (some are), this might not be the place for you.
Craggy and wild, much of west Cornwall is suitable only for experienced rock anglers. That said, there are one or two venues that offer a degree of shelter and easier access. I don’t regularly fish any beaches in this area, although both Porthcurno and Sennen beaches are reputed to be good for bass fishing. So I’ll focus on one rock mark that I know well that offers decent fishing and relatively easy access.
Where is it and what is it like? Located just a short distance east of Porthcurno and the well-known Minack Theatre, Penberth is a tiny fishing cove that falls away steeply into deep water. Although you can fish on the east side of the cove, access is tricky and the west side is far friendlier and suitable for most types of angler. It’s a fantastic summer venue where you can bask under the sun while catching all kinds of colourful, sporting fish. Don’t be surprised if you have a close encounter with bluefin tuna too as they are often seen in this area.
Tactics: The ground here is all rough (although there is a patch of sand back inside the cove itself that is fishable) and light tackle wrasse fishing as well as spinning and float fishing for pollack, mackerel and garfish are the most common approaches. Fishing on the bottom with heavy gear at night can produce conger, rockling and huss, although these often aren’t as prolific as you might expect.
Species: Penberth can throw up a wide array of species including: wrasse (ballan, cuckoo, corkwing, goldsinny, rock cook and Baillon’s), pollack, triggerfish, mackerel, chub mackerel, garfish, conger, rockling, pouting and bull huss.
Baits: Ragworm will catch you all the varieties of wrasse, sandeels will catch pollack and mackerel and various sizes of mackerel baits should sort out the rest.
General tips: Penberth is quite sheltered but is horrible to fish in an easterly wind. The area as a whole can be quite moody, offering fantastic fun one day and being tough going the next, but you can usually winkle something out, even on an off day. There are many other marks in the area but none are remotely as easy to access as the west side of Penberth and most are really only suitable for experienced rock anglers. You can park for free by the side of the road that runs adjacent to the small stream as you drive down to the cove.
It’s really important that you have an accurate idea of what the conditions are going to be like before going fishing. Here’s some useful links that should help:
I use this weather forecast as it’s usually pretty reliable for wind direction and strength: https://www.bbc.co.uk/weather
This site is generally quite accurate for sea conditions: https://magicseaweed.com/
If I want a second opinion on the weather and waves, I use this site: https://www.windfinder.com
Enjoy your shore fishing in Cornwall, it’s a beautiful and interesting place to fish. It’s not always easy but on those days when everything come together, you’ll create memories that will last a lifetime. If you’re new to this site, have a browse through my stories and hopefully you’ll see what I mean.