Swanage is the picture of a sleepy English seaside town. It has a Victorian pier, stands that sell “Kiss me quick!” hats and a Punch and Judy puppet show on the beach. The peace is only broken by a steam train whistle and children’s laughter. But one day each year all this changes, with the arrival of the Swanage Classic Kayak Fishing Tournament.

Swanage Offers a Unique Test of Skill

On an early spring Saturday, it is immediately evident something is out of place. Long before the sun comes up, kayak fishermen—many have slept in their cars—emerge onto the beach. By dawn, over one hundred kayaks litter the small shoreline. Anglers from all over the United Kingdom and Europe mill through the scattered fishing sleds waiting for the start of the Swanage Classic Kayak Fishing Tournament.

Swanage tournament angler holds up a black bream
Black bream, like this beauty caught by Marcus Ward, are a real prize. | Feature photo: Ian “Dizzyfish” Harris

The excitement builds until a horn sounds and the competitors stampede into the cold English Channel. Tourists stand dumbstruck as a melee of men who should know better rush down a small beach no bigger than an average front yard, and into the dark water.

Crowning the Master of Many Fish

Each angler has his favorite spot in the sheltered Swanage Bay. Some of the competitors have pre-fished for weeks to store GPS coordinates of the hottest spots. The reef is home to many species of fish, which is good for the tournament participants. These anglers are competing to catch, photograph and release the most species of fish—not the biggest fish.

This creates a unique definition of fishing success. The winner will have to change and adapt tactics, rigs and baits in order to catch many different types of fish. The winner is a master of many fish, he has to understand where each fish lives, what it eats and how it behaves.

Savvy anglers target the tiniest fish. They go after diminutive scorpion fish and tompot blenny with tiny No. 16 hooks and four-pound test. One of the strangest species, the undulated ray, has swirls and sprinkles on its back. Black bream are another prized catch, they can grow to four pounds and fight like a heavyweight boxer.

Mark Radcliffe is the winner of the 2015 Swanage kayak fishing tournament with 10 species caught
Mark Radcliffe caught 10 species fo fish to win the 2015 Swanage Classic. | Photo: Ian “Dizzyfish” Harris

In the 2015 Swanage Classic, 19 different species of fish were registered by over 100 anglers. Mark Radcliffe won the event with 10 different species and took home a new Hobie Outback provided by retailer Hobie Cat Centre. The tournament raised money for the local lifeboat rescue service.

Swanage Classic Puts Value in Variety

After the tournament, David Morris, organizer of the event, joined the rest of the crew back at the local campsite. When I asked him about his thoughts on the day’s events he replied, “I don’t think Swanage has seen anything like it before. I can’t wait to do it all again next year!”

This article was first published in the Winter 2015 issue of Kayak Angler Magazine. Subscribe to Kayak Angler Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.

Black bream, like this beauty caught by Marcus Ward, are a real prize. | Feature photo: Ian “Dizzyfish” Harris



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