A fishing trip off Beaumaris, in Anglesey, can turn a nice weekend into a must-do-it-again experience that will connect with even the offest of offspring
Exciting the Nintendo generation can take some doing. Likewise bridging the gap between middle-aged dads and teen or near-teen lads. Anything less than constant action risks the dreaded “This is boring.” Step up mackerel fishing.
A group of us now have an annual appointment at Beaumaris pier on Anglesey, focused around a sea-fishing trip, but with each visit adding a little more to the peripheral agenda: food, history, camping, exploring the island, and fishing other spots for variety. But always the high point is a trip on the Starida to reel in some mackerel and maybe a few other species too.
Anglesey is a great destination in itself: even in the busy summer season a little rock scrambling can get you away from the rest of humanity – the island, after all, has 125 miles of coastline. And the back roads lead to some fascinating treasures like the only working windmill in Wales, at Llynon, and the last thatched crofthouse cottage on the island, at Swtan.
Kids don’t do patient waiting, so the crab fishing at Beaumaris Pier is a pre-fishing-trip godsend. The little kiosk there sells the line complete with netted bait-ball to attract the little green crabs and common crabs, and the buckets to keep them in. It’s a good precursor to the mackerel fishing – they will catch, and a certain competitive streak soon surfaces - “This is the biggest yet,” countered by, “I’ve got loads more than you.”
The Menai Straits are very sheltered, the waters generally pretty calm, but a full stomach is the best way to stave off sea-sickness in the overly-sensitive. That’s my excuse anyway. Castle Street, the main shopping area in Beaumaris has plenty of eating places. If you want to be absolutely certain of getting some fish that day there is Cafe Neptune, which offers a range from basic and excellent fish and chips, to fancier ways of serving marine bounty. Our favourite, on the same street, is the brasserie at Ye Olde Bull’s Head: it’s atmospheric, a proper old inn, but the brasserie is light and airy and serves a tapas selection for a steal of a price – don’t miss the chorizo cooked in spicy tomato sauce.
Any parental guilt feelings about an otherwise hedonistic trip can be easily assuaged by a visit to Beaumaris Castle, only a couple of hundred yards from the pier anyway, and less than that from Ye Olde Bull’s Head. The late 13th-century castle is a World Heritage Site now, and an hour spent wandering within its well-preserved walls is worth a term’s history lessons.
But it is the fishing that draws us back. And while there is no cast iron guarantee of catching fish, if your trip coincides with mackerel season you have probably got more chance of winning the lottery than not catching something. We pre-book on the Starida, a well-equipped boat with a very knowledgeable captain and helpful crewmember, who take any fishless interludes personally. They provide rods and bait if you are not a fisherman, though for the voracious mackerel, feathers are enough. And if you have party members who don’t fancy fishing, the scenery as you chug to Puffin Island, or round the Anglesey coast, is compensation enough, the puffins, guillemots and other bird-life adding a further dimension.
When the fish-finder indicates we are in amongst them rods are readied and the fishing begins. “I’m in!” becomes a constant refrain, as rods bend with the weight of one, two, three and sometimes four mackerel captured by the feathered hooks. Kids turn into mini-Hemingways reeling in maybe four or five pounds’ weight of fish destined for the keeper buckets and the cool-box waiting in the car. Later that evening those filleted fish will be baked briefly in foil with a dab of butter and some herbs, and if there is anything that tastes better to a child than fish they caught the same day I haven’t come across it – even if that child normally hates fish.
If mackerel fishing palls, you are taken to another mark to try for bass, pollack, and coalfish, and suicidal dogfish are not just easy to catch, they become hard to avoid.
So come May or June, when the mackerel are back, we will be too, waiting at Beaumaris Pier with every confidence we are going to have another great day’s fishing. And not a Game Boy in sight for the entire trip.