Alan Stevens

A tribute to the Essex Piranha


The world is a crazy place right now. Divisive politics, Covid confusion… wherever you look opinions are deeply engrained and more polarised than ever. Thankfully one thing remains a force for bringing us all together in agreement and that is of course the Essex Piranha or as they are sometimes called, Whiting. Oh come on folks! What is it about this little needle toothed visitor that provokes such strong reactions? How come this underwater jar of Marmite drives more emotion than a Glasgow derby? My blog today ladies and gentlemen begs you to think again and fall in love with this bundle of autumnal joy

Durban sardine season

Lat year in those halcyon days pre lockdown I was working in Durban at the time of their seasonal sardine festival. Like we have here with our whiting, each year their coastal waters become congested with billions of small fish. Rather than moan they have a public holiday. Whole communities head to the beach and party appreciating one of natures bounties. They stay there until the fish go away, which can to be fair, be some time. It was brilliant! Same thing in Istanbul when the anchovies arrive. The bridges at the Golden Horn get so congested the city comes to a standstill. An awesome time to be in the greatest city in the world and for a seasonal period of time a focus of peoples lives as passionately as their love for football.

OK, we have public holidays here and they all are for great reasons of course, but nothing in the diary to break up the week from August through to Christmas. Harsh I say, harsh. Four months without a four day week… way too long.

I have an idea. The Germans have Oktoberfest, so how about we have a whitingfest sometime in October/November, where we all bunk off work and fisherpeople from across the world come to Essex to celebrate our treasure. Think of the boost to our economy. I mean, Jaywick could become a global iconic fishing location if we get this right folks. 


So let’s get behind this aquatic bundle of positivity. Having spent a summer in deep water chasing supertankers with Prodigy’s Firestarter screaming in their little heads the whiting return to our waters to herald the return of autumn. OK, granted that this beast is more wild dog than lion, he will never be king of the underwater jungle in a Lord Webber musical but let’s face it; size isn’t everything. Our beloved whiting is fearless, the Billy Bremner, the Priti Patel, the Jack Russel of their world – never thinking that just because they are not big enough that they can’t snarl at life. In a world of snowflakes and correctness driven by the  and doom and gloom media merchants we need more positivity like this. Our country is at a national crossroads with what we face ahead we need to be more whiting!

I mean, no matter how big your bait or our hook, these little cannibals will try to devour the lot in one gulp. They are always hungry and will eat anything. Half way through devouring a whole squid they are thinking what’s next for dinner. Those of us here who have teenage kids will know what I mean right. 

So I find myself again this weekend sitting in the wind on our magnificent coastline marvelling at this seasonal treat. It reminded me of the moment as a kid when I converted from fresh water to sea fishing and it was the whiting’s fault. Aged eight and sitting on Southend Pier, using my lightweight freshwater tackle that had been successful for rudd and roach and slapping a piece of mackerel on a simple ledger set up I caught one straight away. The action that followed was awesome and after that there was no going back to the pond. (this was good really as the freshwater tackle corroded pretty quickly but hey).

I think fresh water fishermen appreciate fish more than us sea fishing gang. We are fixated with size and load up with big tackle to avoid the tiddlers. Whereas the fresh water folks scale down to match their target species and make it a fair contest. I respect that and will do the same with whiting every now and again, including barbless hooks. Using light tackle turns a whiting from being a nuisance to being a trout if you follow. 

And so it was yesterday – looking along the beach the diversity and age of the fishermen was showing the circle of life is still going on. Parents showing their kids how to fish, couples fishing together… quality time connecting with people who care about each other sharing healthy and positive time outdoors. You could feel the enjoyment drifting along the sand. Just what the doctor ordered in this lockdown world we live in. November is the perfect month to introduce your kids to beach fishing.

As families wandered by above the beach I reeled in a fish and heard a kid say “look dad that old bloke has caught a piranha”. Me, old?

Regrettably it was me. I was fishing alone after my big brother had his day with me gazumped by a tardy builder, so as Billy no mates, with one rod loaded with big wrap baits of all description and one light tackle rod with a two hook clip down rig using some awesome lug from Kevan and co at Colchester Bait and Tackle I got stuck in. Some limpets prized from the rocks at my mark had given my hooks a taste of the locality and it was relentless. The heavy tackle rod was flung out as far as I could manage and the light tackle rod close in as the tide rose. Both worked well with fish on every cast. The light tackle rod was way more fun. After high water I called it a day, content with my catch and aching limbs. I beg you fresh water brethren to give it a go with the whiting – with light tackle you will love it I promise. Anywhere for 10-miles north or south of Clacton, fishing 2-hours either side of high water in the dark will guarantee results.

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So here is a picture of a dogfish. I caught one as well yesterday as did the guy next to me. Lovely fish but with respect not the final picture that I wanted to post. The problem is that when I try to upload a picture of my whiting from last night here, the content filters insist they are ‘inappropriate content’. Even the internet hates this poor little thing. Well I love them so there!  I guess like our world we will have our views at both ends of the spectrum. I leave you to decide where you stand

Tight lines until next week

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