Mackerel fishing on the South Devon coast

My first day back from holiday and I am already missing Prawle Point, the southernmost tip of Devon, where my in-laws had rented a house, the last in a line of old coastguard cottages, looking out to sea.

Prawle Point Coastguard Cottages

The old coastguard cottages on Prawle Point.

The Bermuda Triangle of south-west England, this part of Britain seems to be almost entirely without mobile reception and, with a shaky internet connection in the house, it was a week blissfully unfettered by blogging, tweeting, Facebook, emails, phone calls, texts and other pesky digital demands.

Painting on Prawle Point

Painting on Prawle Point (I got savaged by stinging nettles)

This, of course, left plenty of time for ‘old-fashioned’ pursuits such as reading, painting, board games and long coastal walks, along which we stopped to spot the tattered remains of wrecked ships, smugglers caves and the inky slither of seals popping up betweeen the waves. Proof of what can happen when the distraction of one’s iPhone is removed, I even did a little bird-watching, spotting a rare Cirl Bunting, pointed out to me a by a local twitcher, who lent me his binoculars.

Male Cirl Bunting

The things you spot when you're not glued to your iPhone....

Fresh air makes for hungry tums and we re-fuelled regularly on scampi and chips, freshly-picked crab sandwiches, cones of creamy Salcombe ice-cream and pints of local cider and ale, while taking turns to cook dinner in the evenings.

Salcombe ice-cream

I had the coffee flavour.

On Thursday, we went mackerel fishing, promising to bring back “tons of fish” for my mother-in-law, who – traumatised by her childhood experience of mackerel fishing off the coast of Mull – chose to stay behind. Setting off on the boat from Salcombe, we discussed the mackerel sushi, barbecued mackerel and mackerel pate that we would prepare and eat that evening. But the mackerel had other ideas.


Salcombe - it's bedlam in the summer apparently.

The only other time that I’ve been mackerel fishing (off the coast of Northumberland last summer), we caught literally hundreds, four at a time. My brother couldn’t dispatch them quickly enough and they flapped about the boat, desperately gasping for air (the source of my mother-in-law’s trauma I suspect). At the end of our session, there were far too many for us to eat ourselves, so we gave them to the boatman, who, delighted, said he would sell them onshore.

Mackerel and whiting fishing, Salcombe

Not as bountiful as we'd hoped.

This time, expecting the same flurry of activity, I let out my line, allowing the weight to drop to the sandbank some 100ft below. As before, there were four hooks with red feathers attached to each to attract the mackerel, but not much action to speak of. We moved spots several times, catching four sand eel (disgusting to eat apparently, so we threw them back), five whiting (a member of the cod family but more sustainable than cod) and four mackerel (yippee!), which we tossed into a red basket to take home.

Grilled mackerel

A fillet each.

On our return to Salcombe, we stopped in at the fishmonger to top up our stash, but the boats hadn’t brought any in, which made us feel better about our fishing skills -  perhaps it’s still too early in the season for mackerel. Well, it didn’t matter in the end as The Heid and my father-in-law (his first ever foray into the kitchen) conjured up a delicious grilled mackerel starter with the fish we had, using a raisin, celery and green olive salsa as accompaniment, taken from Ottolenghi’s The Cookbook. The less said about my brother-in-law’s and my ‘whiting fishcake-come-rosti,’ meanwhile, the better….

Grilled mackerel starter, Ottolenghi

Grilled mackerel with a celery, raisin and green olive salsa.


Wrecker’s Bar, Salcombe – First thing you see as you come into Salcombe on the ferry crossing. Lovely outdoor terrace looking out over the estuary. Excellent scampi and chips and crab sandwiches.

The Cricket Inn, Beesands – Metres from the beach. A cosy lunch-time stop off if you’re doing the coastal walk from Start Point to Slapton Sands.; T: 01548 580215

Torcross Boathouse Bar, Restaurant and Takeaway, Slapton SandsThe Start Bay Inn next door doesn’t allow dogs (fools), so we went here instead, which was lovely. Great fish and chips, scampi, shots of hot chocolate and cakes. T: 01548580747

The Piglet Cafe, East Prawle – We had a good fry-up here on the day we left. Be sure to pop into The Pig’s Nose Inn next door for great beers, local ales and ciders and regular gig nights, though watch out for the bowl of pigs’ snouts on the counter, an unusual bar snack… for dogs.; T: 01548 511209

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