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Alan Stevens

A codling and some superb bass on the sliders fishing the Blackwater.

What a difference a week makes. Last weekend it was like a summer day at the beach fishing in light clothing, this weekend absolutely freezing. It is properly cold, the kind of cold that gets into your bones. Frostbite in my fingers as I write today fellow anglers. I hope you appreciate my dedication. 

The turnaround in temperature kept most intelligent people at home on Friday but this won’t do when you have a blog to write and you are on a fishing roll, which has been the case over the past few weeks. This was my excuse to pack up work early on Friday and head over to Clacton Pier. I was looking forward to fishing it again now the change in COVID restrictions had enabled it to function and, fearing the weekend stampede, had been planning to beat them to it. 

Picking up plenty of bait from Colchester bait and Tackle on the way I was confident that the wind had dropped, the snow had passed and I was in for a superb session.

Well that all ended when I got to the pier. The wind was ridiculously strong and biting any exposed piece of flesh. Setting up without my kit blowing into the water was tough enough but as the feeling in my fingers ebbed away I was happy to get two flapper rigs loaded with herring and lug down tide before quickly seeking shelter. 

Hoping I didn’t get a fish on before I had defrosted my hands – I tucked into some hot tea from my trusty Tefal flask. I have never had a flask like this one – I got it from their outlet shop at Freeport Braintree – the flasks keep drinks hot for unbelievable lengths of time. And when I say hot I mean it; like lava hot, this thing can pour a drink that will scold you after 24-hours. Second only to a McDonalds apple pie as a source of burnt lips, a drink from a Tefal flask burns your throat as if you are swallowing the sun, and right then it was a life saver. But whilst the rocking and small whiting kept me venturing back to my rods I realised it was a futile effort to keep warm with such meagre results on offer. The weather had beaten me and it was time to raise the white flag and head home.

With so much bait left over and a blog still to write, Saturday could not come quickly enough. With the gales having moved north and the tides perfect for an afternoon on the Blackwater I headed to Mersea determined to regain my esteem and crush the quitter feelings from Friday as quickly as possible. 

I arrived so early it caused confusion on the beach and was setting up before the water even covered the oyster flats. I was happy though as I wanted to see where bait diggers and foragers had disturbed the mud, which would be where I would aim to cast. As I have written before; my theory is that the disturbance of the mud attracts fish to see what easy pickings remain, so often spud around myself before the tide covers the target area. Today, others had kindly done this for me.

sliders, one weighted with a whole bluey bait and and one non-weighted with a squid and sprat wrap

Four rods were ready for action three hours before high water. Two of the rods were traditionally set up for casting afar – one with a two hook flapper baited with lug and the other a bigger singe clip down rig baited with a herring and squid rap. The other two rods were set up with sliders to ensure I covered the distance between beach and weight not knowing at what distance the fish were feeding from the shore. Equally importantly, as the river was full of herring it suggested to me that the bigger predatory fish were possibly feeding on them mid water. 

 I positioned the slider terminal weight by walking down tide for 30-yards along the beach before casting straight out to the disturbed area of mud, then walked the rod back to my tripod – hence creating an angle for the tide to make the sliders work. One of the sliders was baited with a whole bluey, and the other with a squid and sprat wrap. Both slid down the lines perfectly. The terminal stopper ring on the sliders was set around six feet from the weight enabling me to forget about crab damage to the bait and thus have a very low maintenance trap set whilst tending the two ledger rods.

slider ready for the water

I had began fishing a little earlier in the tide than normal and with the sun breaking through the afternoon clouds I didn’t expect much action but how wrong could I be. With my first long cast with the worm bait I snared rockling and then soon after a codling. Weighing about two pounds it was a skinny and somewhat poor kept example of this wonderful fish. I assumed it had been tangled in a net at some point due to scarring and poor weight to length ratio. I guess it was hungry enough to fall for my amateur skills but I wasn’t complaining. After re-baiting twice due to crabs feeding ravenously on the lug worm, I hooked a decent gurnard. That’s three in two weeks and no complaints there at all. Nothing yet on the sliders and I was growingly convinced that last weekends results would be a one off.

As the tide continued to rise the weed became more of an issue. I don’t mind the weed normally as I find that I catch significantly more bass when there is weed, but with the sliders snagging the green stuff I was thinking of changing to lures. Just as I was reaching for my tackle box however, one of the sliders came alive. A really big pull with sent the rod tumbling into the sand. The upright rod providing the gradient for the slider pivoted too easily and onlookers must have been entertained as I retrieved the rod and brushed the sand from my reel whist the fish on the other end of the line was trying to escape as best it could. Dignity slightly regained, the fish kept on the hook and I landed a superb quality 3.5lb bass. Broad shouldered and immaculate conditioned, the fish had taken the slightest lip hook on the bluey bait and was returned unharmed. December is the first month of bass catch and release rules of course. 

The worm and herring baited flappers then continued to keep me busy with a mixture of school bass and whiting, some of decent size but never overwhelming in numbers.

As the light began to fade and the tide reached its turning point, I packed away the bluey baited slider to concentrate on the three remaining rods. With whiting becoming more dominant I had one last surprise on the remaining slider with another decent bass. Just over 2lb it fought really well and again released to fight another day, sprat and squid being the bait this time. Finally with the tide in full ebb and darkness bringing the chill air of December back to my body it was time to get home.

So reflecting back on the day; yes the fish were feeding at various depths but not as I expected it. Sliders work for sure. Decent bass and a codling in one day was a result but given the weed and tides as they were I could on reflection, have focused on using weedless lures for the bigger bass. At least I had recovered from my Friday disaster on the pier.

The coming week is going to be good, and it is not long until I fish again. My first boat trip for a while is planned for Tuesday where I am heading out for the day on the Crouch on Dawn Tide Two. Really looking forward to it and of course hope to be blogging about an amazing outcome next Sunday.

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