Species hunting is one of my favourite angling pastimes – I’ve only ever taken part in day or weekend species competitions over the years and never had the time to dedicate a whole year to it – partly because I write about angling and tend to spread myself across all sorts of angling adventures. So, I was intrigued when Brent approached us with his story.

About Brent

Firstly, a bit about Brent. He hails from Llandudno in North Wales and works as a chef, and his job gives him some flexibility allowing him to get out fishing when tides and weather provide the right conditions. Like many of us, he started fishing when he was a small boy, mostly freshwater fishing to begin with, but at the age of 18 he started fishing on Llandudno Pier with his friends. He then took up fly fishing and for a while it became his passion. He fished places like Llyn Brenig, Arnfield and Llyn Trawsfynedd. It was here he got into lure fishing – which, of course, easily lent itself to sea angling. There is some fantastic lure fishing to be had in Wales – particularly for bass which became his “new” passion.  In one season he caught over 300 bass which is quite an achievement in itself and his biggest was an impressive 11lb 8oz specimen caught in 2022 at a venue near Llandundo

Six years ago, he joined the Shore Huggers UK Species Hunt and was hooked on it. In his first year he landed 34 and he carried on through the next few years building his skills and experience, culminating in 2021 when he won their competition with a total of 47 species. The following year he injured his shoulder and while recuperating he was worried he’d never cast again – once recovered his determination to continue species hunting returned and, in 2023, he joined up with three different species hunts and set himself a target to win all three and to improve on his best effort of a 2021. In the end he won all three competitions easily recording an astonishing 71 species across the year.

To put this in context most other annual species hunts I’ve been able to find tend to be won by between 50 and 60 species – so 71 is a pretty good achievement (here it’s worth pointing out that the current Angling Trust Species hunt is led by an angler with 69 species and it’s still got 3 months to run).

How did he do it?

And so, to Brett’s year…as he says “2023…what can I say its’ been exhausting exhilarating and very enjoyable. I’ve travelled to places that I would never normally go to Pretty much every day off work I was fishing somewhere, weather permitting”.

In his quest he managed to clock up thousands of miles travelling across the UK including Scotland, Cornwall (Falmouth), Devon (Plymouth), Dorset (Weymouth), South Wales and the North-East.

His year started by fishing in early January on Anglesey with the founder of Shore Huggers, Darren Jones, where he bagged a few winter species to get himself off the mark. The more species he caught in winter the more it began to get difficult waiting for the sea temperature to start rising. The first big trip of the year was to Scotland, with his mate Osian Roberts (with whom he’d spent a lot of time in his boat bass fishing). On this Caledonian adventure they both hooked and lost big skate although he did manage to add to his tally with other species. This first trip produced one of his most memorable experiences – one where he nearly lost his gear so in his own words:

My friend Osian Roberts and I headed north to try and catch a common skate. I had two big baits out on our Akios Creeds and another rod, an Airpower, with a 3/0 up-and-over rig with a small squid and mackerel bait. But I had failed to set the drag on the small-baited rod, and so off I went to cook a gourmet feast of hot dogs leaving my gear vulnerable to all sorts of disaster! Next thing, Osian shouted over to me “Brent, your rod!!”. Looking over I saw my tripod and rod on the deck and, presuming the wind had taken it, I continued to place a hotdog in a bun. Suddenly I heard more screams from Osian and a lot of swearing. I realised there was a problem and I saw my Airpower hurtling at speed, bouncing off rocks, heading for the sea. There was no chance I would have reached it but for the luck of the reel jamming in-between rocks and I managed to grab it. The fish was still on, but sadly not for long, harsh lesson learnt and I lost it”.

As a result, it wasn’t until he returned a few weeks later that he managed to add a precious skate to his species list.

After this first disaster he continued fishing in North Wales and as the weather warmed gradually increasing his species list. Then, in late spring, he paid a visit to Dorset and was able to tick off scad, thin lipped mullet, and gilthead bream. Cornwall, South Wales and then the North East coast were next up, where he added a haddock to the list.

By late summer, after all this activity, Brent had totted up an impressive 55 species – his initial target for the whole year and so he just carried on hunting. He fished the European Open in Withernsea and added further species including the mighty five bearded rockling. His final trip in late December was to Cornwall where he finally caught species number 70 and 71.

The final tally

In all the 71 species came from all over the UK although 41 of them were caught within an hour or so of his home, the other 30 were caught on my travels from North to South. He travelled thousands of miles. While some of the species were relatively easy to bag he did a lot pf preparation for most sometimes travelling three hours to catch one species and on one occasion he arrived at a South Wales venue after a long drive – cast out, caught his fish and promptly got back in the car and drove home to go to work.

The most challenging fish to catch were the ling and the eelpout (also known as the vivaporous blenny) – both involved a lot of travelling and some atrocious weather conditions. The eelpout took three attempts …partly because he only had an hour or so left of the session and just managed to get one before time ran out and he had to travel home and return to work.

He caught one species, the tompot blenny, by accident while scratching around. Some of the unusual catches were a sea trout from a Welsh estuary, a stickleback in Conway marina (yes it does count) and a Yarrel’s Blenny (no, I’ve never heard of it either).

Tackle and trauma

Kit preparation was crucial and although Brent had accumulated a lot of kit over the years – as we all do – he had to pick his tackle carefully whether for beach, rock or “lerfing”. His favourite big fish rods are – Akios Creed, paired with Daiwa BG8000 for targeting very large fish and then the Creed’s with Shimano Ultegra 14000 for smaller fish.

He used Akios Airpower or the Sunset Legend Competition as general shore fishing rods.

As for lure fishing; for general lure fishing for bass etc. he used Savage Gear SGS8 12-46g with a Shimano Vanford 3000 reel, for fishing off rocks using metals a Teklon Elexia Spin 10-50g was the choice. For light lure fishing it was a Major Craft Triple Cross TCXT862M 1-15g. With the Elexia Spin Rod, I use an Akios Spyro RS4000 with the Major Craft light rod, I pair it with a Daiwa EM MS2004.

And finally, for the ultra-light fishing and scratching he used either a Greys GR100 2-10g twin tip with a Grauvell Jinza XIBA 2000 reel, or my HTO Urban Finesse Rods 2-12g paired with Savage Gear SGS2 2500 reels which for the price are amazing value for money. He was also using a Penn Rampage Twin Tip LRF rod with any of the above reels. The trips didn’t go without trauma though as he broke many rods – one he ran over with his car – and of course a lot of end tackle.

 All in all, and by any standards catching 71 species in a year is a remarkable achievement – the question is can anyone top this?  For 2024 the challenge is on!

The roll call of species: 

Brent has caught a remarkable variety of species over the last year – all from the shore. Predictably the biggest number are mini species – although these can require a bit of luck and a lot of time and effort.  We’ve divided them, loosely, into groups just to illustrate the variety.

Of the mini species landed there were eight species of goby and six different blennies including the Yarrell’s. He landed most of the main shore species including 6 flatfish and also landed some really unusual ones including three spined stickleback and a surprise sea trout. Brent landed 5 species of ray and six shark species. Species new to him include skate, topknot, Yarrell’s blenny, painted goby and a ling. His favourite catch was the Viviparous Blenny/Eelpout which took three attempts …

Bream (2)

Black bream, gilthead bream

Cod family (8)

Codling, coalfish, haddock, ling, pollack, poor cod, pout, whiting

Eels (2)

Conger eel, common eel

Flatfish (6)

Dab, dover sole, flounder, plaice, turbot, topknot

Gurnards (2)

Tub gurnard, grey gurnard

Mini species (23)

Butterfish, black goby, common goby, dragonet, eelpout/viviparous blenny, five bearded rockling, giant goby, long spined sea scorpion, leopard spotted goby, lesser weaver, Montagues blenny, painted goby, ringneck blenny, rock goby, sand goby, sand smelt, shanny/common blenny, short-spined sea scorpion, shore rockling, three-beard rockling, tompot blenny, two-spot goby, Yarrell’s blenny

Other (11)

Bass, herring garfish, launce, mackerel, red mullet, scad, sea trout, sprat, thin-lipped mullet, three-spined stickleback.

Sharks (6)

Bull huss, common smoothound, lesser spotted dogfish, spurdog, starry smoothound, tope

Skates and rays (5)

Blonde ray, common skate, spotted ray, small-eyed ray, thornback ray

Wrasse (6)

Baillons wrasse, ballan wrasse, corkwing wrasse, cuckoo wrasse, goldsinny wrasse, rockcook wrasse