Alan Stevens Fishing Facts Fishing Tips Sea

Friend Or Foe – investigating seal and inshore trawler impacts on fish stocks

harbour seal

It’s funny what you remember from school. Even stranger at times is what from that you learn, what you chose to actually use in life. Probably the most important thing I learned from school was down to my RE teacher, Mr Marshall. He was weird to say the least. Resembling the John Pertwee version of Catweazle, Mr Marshall would walk on the desks whilst essays were being completed, treading painfully on fingers of those who were not giving the answers their full attention. But he was funny too, he had an imaginary wife in his top drawer that at regular intervals, to gain our attention, he would berate and threaten with his trusty wooden rule. Get the picture. No wonder OFSTED can along…


He didn’t even teach us anything abut religion, not even remotely. But what he did teach me has been the bedrock of my work as a post conflict negotiator in some of the toughest places on earth. He taught me two basic models that have stuck in my mind forever. Before you do anything important you should..

  1. CAF – Consider all factors; and 
  2. OPV – Other points of view

These two simple processes worked through frame arguments and scenarios on fact not emotion, and help you see life through the eyes of others. You might not like it or agree, but these two basic methods have, quite literally, kept me alive.

So why mention this now? Simply, of late I have heard so many comments in our various chat groups about causes for poor catches, most commonly blamed on trawlers and seals. I thought that it would be useful to investigate this a little to get to the data behind these emotive rogues in the eyes of the sea angler., so here goes.

So let’s look first at the seal issue. Don’t we just love it when one hangs around a charter boat or pier head. And how many are there these days! Millions of them. As a kid fishing on the River Crouch you may have seen a dozen or so basking on the Foulness sandbanks. Now there are what seems thousands that line the sandbanks from the river mouth all the way to the end of the Foulness Sands. But just how does this impact our hobby? I took time out to research via UK fisheries agency and what I found was rather surprising. I was astounded by how much fish a seal can eat in a sitting. 12-13lb of fish in one go. Greedy or what! Headline figures that would confirm our annoyance indeed. OK this is tempered by the fact that they don’t eat every day but still…no wonder I blanked a few weeks back. 

But hang on a minute as I looked further, digging in to the data more I found that the seal population numbers directly correlate to fish stocks – basically aligning to the seal population consuming around 5% of available fish. This makes sense when you think about it – when food is abundant they breed, when food is scarce then the young don’t get fed and seal numbers decline. Obvious really. Now to add to this, scientists can identify from seal poo (can you imagine being asked what you do for a living and telling someone you dissect seal excrement) what type of fish they are feeding on. The data shows that their main prey is, in autumn and winter whiting, pouting and goby’s. Deep joy really given anglers hate catching them anyway. As the seasons move into spring and summer however, the seals favour a diet of sandeels, dragonets and dover sole. Shame about the sole but hey, if the seals are feeding on them surely that means they are here and all I have to do is work out how to catch them better right. Given the 5% consumed rule, this leaves 95% of fish stocks not predated by seals FACT. Seal numbers have increased because overall fish numbers have risen in recent years, meaning more for us, yay! Just happens that the rise is in whiting, something we all know about right and could perhaps be grateful to the seals for reducing a tad to let other species have a go.

So if the seals are factually not significant on fish stocks, if anything a population that reflects fish stocks not one that dictates fish stocks then what is it? The trawlers then I hear you scream…it must be right…


Let’s save time here right away. There should, in my opinion,  be no place on earth for the supersize trawlers that scour the seabed for hundreds of tons of fish at a time. Industrial scale commercial fishing is wrong. The reality is that 80% of UK fish and chip shop cod comes from super sized Russian and German trawlers, not from our own waters. if you chose to buy fish from a supermarket or frozen food chain, then most probably, the fish has been caught by these methods. Not for me to make choices for you but to be clear, I never do. It’s wrong in my view and plain dumb, full stop. 

But what about our own inshore waters, where small day boats work along the Essex coast alongside us recreational anglers. I was curious to see the world through their eyes. To get an insight into the world of a trawler man I have been super lucky to have spent time recently on board one of the Blackwater Estuary inshore commercial trawlers. A third generation commercial fishing family and part of a small community of fishermen who’s methods are strictly what is deemed as ‘light trawling’. Given some people here, despite what words will follow here, might excuse vitriol towards these families, I’ll keep names and faces out of it OK.

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Now these guys know our waters back to front. They work them all year round and follow the seasons and the fish as they come and go, supplying local markets, some of the UK’s finest restaurants and more recently supplying the freshest fish imaginable directly to the public of Essex. We departed early morning for an in-shore trawl for dover sole, which are just arriving at our coast. Even on a calm day and inshore, it was clearly obvious that this was hard work and very dangerous. One false move and there is no plan B if dragged overboard or hit by the heavy equipment. My mind wandered to just what it would be like on a rough day. I kept away from the working gear as the first net was set and my shift as galley slave began by boiling the kettle. 

The nets, as my skipper explained over a steaming cuppa, roll over the seabed so as to not damage the grounds. The nets themselves sit on a sacrificial mesh that brushes over the seabed causing the fish to rise and swim into the net itself. The mesh of the net is large, ensuring small fish could escape to grow. 

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Whilst the net did its thing and we moved ahead at 1.5 knots the skipper explained that the community work together to monitor fish stocks, taking what is plentiful but ensuring none of them exceed what they believe the waters can sustain. It appears to me that they are a community of conservationist farmers rather than hunters, thinking about the quality of water, how their methods act like gardeners, maintaining the health of the seabeds rather than destroying them. Interestingly, it seemed the main concern is overfishing of welks, which now back in fashion are being culled at alarming rates on our estuaries by those outside of the local community who are less concerned with longer term consequences.

One critical element of light trawling beyond the large mesh/small net approach is that the trawl time is short and in this case after an hour of trawling it was time to raise the net. The skipper explained by keeping trawls short, the fish are not damaged producing the finest, premium fish for consumption and ensuring that if any fish not desirable for market are caught that they are returned unharmed before the time in net became terminal.

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Pre-trip to be honest I had imagined a bulging net would be the outcome. Sadly not so in this case, with a dozen sole and a couple of thornback rays kept for customers whilst my new job as sorter of shells, weed and the odd small fish that hadn’t escaped the net for return kept me fascinated by just what is down there in the dark waters. I was loving it. Some really strange micro-species that could be the ideal cheat for any species hunt were sent overboard unharmed and whilst the second trawl was underway I cooked breakfast. 

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And so the morning moved to afternoon. Four short trawls later we had half a box of soles and five roker for our efforts. The skipper was not impressed with the outcome but I was over the moon as we headed for home and readied the sole for sale. The skipper gutting ten for every one I managed as he explained the costs and profits in the inshore small boat industry. No wonder so few are moving into the industry when most of the profits sit down further in the supply chain. The crippling costs of maintaining the boat, fuel, nets, insurance etc all eat away at the value of the days catch and I was staggered by what little, at auction, the skipper would get for the haul for this prime condition produce. 

Thankfully, down to the internet enabling direct interaction between the inshore trawlers and consumers who know their fish, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Increasingly, consumers are buying direct from the boats as they land the catch. The produce could not be better quality and at a lower price than the supermarket too. Mersea Seafood and Blackwater Fresh catch are just two of these boat owners who now sell direct. Honestly, why anyone would by elsewhere is beyond me.

Studying the volumes of fish caught by these boats, they clearly offer no threat whatsoever to fish stocks. In fact, quite the opposite as early messengers to the authorities if stocks vary in either way. If there was one message the trawler guys wanted me to take away was that the authorities should be more agile in quotas and work with the inshore local trawler community to build a long term sustainable, healthy fish population. This can be done now we are detached from the Brussels constraints.

So to conclude, are seals the enemy – well no. More seals means more fish are here. We just need to be better at our art. And when we see a trawler next, look where they are working and what they are selling and you couldn’t get a better indication of what species to target and where. I firmly believe that our coastal wildlife and working fishing communities are what makes our part of the world so special. We just have to manage the coexistence by fact not emotion. There is room for us all. Those seals eyes are so cute after all. And if you have to buy fish for dinner, think about where it comes from and please support our local fishing community. They are our closest conservation fellows, not pirates

Alan Stevens Sea

A study In Light.

A radical approach to glow in the dark tackle that seriously improves catch rates

Back in November I was watching an old episode of Only Fools And Horses – the one where Del Boy had acquired some cheap paint and was busy decorating a range of things from the kitchen of his local Chinese restaurant to his mums grave. It was all going so well until the evening, when as you may recall, everyone found out that he had bought tins of bright yellow glow in the dark paint. Brilliant comedy. I have seen this episode so many times but in this instance I had a light bulb moment which has become my world for the past winter months. 

Let me explain; nothing makes me happier than fishing beaches in the dark. I love the closeness to nature, the solitude and time to think and drift into my own mind under the stars with minimal interference from human activity. I don’t want to talk, read or be seen. I just want to be detached from normal life. 

For me, the enemy of night fishing is light. It dulls the senses, reduces awareness to simply what is lit up and for me at least makes the whole experience rather false and manufactured. Fishing under lights is like being at a theme park. Nothing is real. I respect the guys who fish with an array of lights to illuminate their area that would power a small town but that just isn’t me. Sure I have a seriously good head torch, but I use this for transporting my copious volumes of gear to and from the beach. Once set up I work hard to minimise light as much as possible.

The downside of my approach of course is seeing what you are doing. Specifically, casting and retrieving in darkness using multipliers adds a degree of challenge which I have always found somewhat annoying. This dear readers, is what I have found a way to solve which has supercharged my catch rates on top.

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Shop bought glow weights lack light emission but still work, even suckering this micro-flounder

I have always used glow in the dark pop up beads and luminous sabikis to improve catch rates, especially when water clarity is good, but found that shop bought luminous weights are really poor in holding the glow. I wanted to try brightly lit up weights for two reasons – firstly to add more attraction to my terminal tackle for sight driven predatory fish and secondly, to help tracking the cast and retrieve saving my night vision by not using torches. On top of this, I intended to paint two of my rod tips to eliminate the need to illuminate the rods, or, as had been the case for me for some time, attach a couple of kids party glow sticks for each session.

Extensive internet searches kept coming back to a single stand out paint – spacebars glow in the dark paint. It comes in bright green and bright aqua (blue) so I bought a pot of each. This paint isn’t cheap I warn you, but an outstanding quality product.

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Once in possession of my chemicals of magic light I set to work painting a variety of weights, some with the blue and some with green paint.

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The same with my rods – the trusted Cinnettic Continental rods which I have been totally in love with for the past year. I chose these as they give a wonderful combination of being able to launch 6 oz plus large baits whilst retaining superb sensitivity to bites yet have absolutely no wind vibration. 

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Taking advice from the keyboard warrior fans of the paint I gave my weights a coat or two of plain white paint first to cover the dark metal than preceded to carefully paint the weights and rod tips with four coats of the glow paints. Lesson one was to keep the paint colours and partially painted weights separate as they both look remarkably similar under normal light and remembering which had been coated with blue or green meant me diving in and out of the under stair cupboard to see what colour glowed in darkness.

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Job done I left the weights to dry over night and it was at this moment when, turning off the lights to retire to bed I found that tiny speckles of paint had attached themselves to the table, chairs, door handles and pretty much everything I had been in contact with that evening. Lesson two – do the painting outside. On the bright side (sorry) at least I knew that this past was seriously good at it’s job

24-hours later and I was ready to trial my new toys. The two rods were set up an hour before darkness to allow the painted rod tips to absorb the last of the sun’s rays and my painted weights were laid out similarly. My plan was to use two identical three hook flappers but with one set up using glow in the dark beads and one of my painted weights. The other terminal tackle had no light enhancement and a plain weight. Both set ups had identical baits so my aim was to test the impact of light one way or the other.

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As dusk appeared I was deflated as it seemed that my paint was useless and I began fumbling for my lanterns and head torch. However, as the final effects of daylight past and true darkness arrived my kit lit up way beyond my expectations. This paint is seriously good. Firstly the green paint exploded into light, followed by the blue which is more subtle and required much darker conditions to be as effective.

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Casting was so much easier with the glow weight, resembling a firework easily tracked by sight to the water – in fact much easier than in daylight – enabling me to control my mag 4 multiplier perfectly for maximum distance and control. On retrieve it was the same, being able to pick out the weight 20-yards from shore with ease. I was over the moon, fishing in almost complete darkness with the soft glow of my rod tips being the only thing preventing my eyesight becoming totally dominated by the billions of stars and glowing moon above my silent bubble. It seemed to be working fine.

Over time the weights in my tackle box began to diminish in light, so I put them inside my seatbox with one of my lamps switched on, charging the weights energy back up for me to switch weights periodically ensuring maximum glow was in play at all times. This wasn’t ideal as opening the seatbox to access the weights diminished my night vision. Lesson three – I should have listened to the advice of a friend who told me I would need a UV light.

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One duly arrived before my next session which is amazing at recharging the luminous weights without impacting on night vision at all. All is good

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So the most important thing is of course – does it help me to catch more fish. Well I can say, as it stands, absolutely YES. Firstly the handling/casting/precision of placing baits where you want them is greatly enhanced when you can so easily track the weight when casting. Glow weights take all the guesswork out of where you cast to at night. Secondly, I have found that in clear water conditions, glow terminal tackle increases the catch rates when fishing for sole, whiting, bass, flounder and dabs. On my first trial the glow tackle caught three times as many fish as the conventional set up. In more cloudy water the results narrowed as I guess the fish were feeding by taste rather than sight. To date I have found no adverse reaction from the fish to the presence of light.

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I have been using these weights for four months now. The rod tips retain the glow and the paint has not flaked at all. The weights however lost some paint due to abrasion with the seabed. Lesson four – coat the painted weights with clear varnish.

So am I a convert to luminescence, absolutely. In fact, I am out using this method at the moment this blog is published. I have also acquired some luminous soft plastic lures for the 2022 bass season. Fingers crossed and I hope to blog about them soon

Alan Stevens Sea

Seasonal Baits That Make A Winning Session

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OK let’s be clear from the start. Sprats don’t catch mackerel, well at least they don’t on Clacton Pier on a cold, misty January morning. But the sprat season is well under way and as I watch the birds working the oily water surface I can only imagine what carnage is going on underneath the waves as the shoals of sprats are being targeted by all sorts of predatory species.

I love the sprat season. Mainly because it brings an additional challenge of matching the hatch but also, as anyone with a fish finder will confirm, the challenge is recognising that the action mainly occurs mid water as the sprats bring the usual bottom feeders up to play. I see so many facebook posts at the moment talking about poor catches – for me I believe and often prove that the fish are still here, just not in their usual feeding modes. understanding this can bring outstanding results during these often meagre months, especially from shore. 

Thankfully, Liza at Mersea Seafood Company had top quality fresh sprats at bargain prices and my detour to her fish stall at Bonners Farm on the approach to Mersea Island meant I had the finest bait ready to tease the passing target species of thornbacks and dabs, with of course the mandatory whiting which you either embrace or stay home. 

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I did, on top of my fresh sprat baits, have a variety of lug worms, which being totally honest here was the originally intended subject of this blog. So, my session on the pier was turning out nicely with fresh seasonal fish baits and the whole spectrum of lug choices. Let me explain more about the worms..

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We are spoilt on our coast regarding fresh, high quality blow lug. Our estuaries are prime breeding grounds for these beautiful and succulent baits. But let’s be fair, those who dig them earn their money. It is really hard work so many of us use the great baits shops such as Colchester Bait and Tackle and Jordan’s King Rag in Ipswich. Sometimes, for very understandable reasons, supplies are limited so it is handy to have some frozen or preserved lug to fall back on. Also, at times when sneaking out for an ad-hoc mid-week session getting to the shop in time, without booking worms in advance isn’t practical. 

So here I am – evaluating the merits of a collection of worms. I have fresh blow lug; frozen blacks in wraps, frozen black in oil and sand, and preserved lug in oil. I like them all and have very different uses. Let’s take them in turn.

Firstly fresh blow lug. My absolute go-to bait on our coast. Great for single small hook baits, full of juice and loved by pretty much every fish going. Colchester Bait & Tackle has outstanding fresh blow lug. If we ever lose these kind of shops to online competition it will be criminal. Using fresh blow lug it on it’s own or tipped with a bit of squid or fish.. and bingo. Fresh blow does have several drawbacks however; most notably they don’t keep for long, they are predated by crabs easily and they can’t be sub-divided for wraps or cocktails.

Next let’s take the second type – oiled preserved lug. These are great as can be kept in the fridge in vacuum sealed packets for months and as they are loose in packing can be portioned out for short sessions. I love these worms for pre-prepared wraps as with low moisture content, they wrap and freeze so easily with squid and fish baits. A really unique thing about these is that you can use tiny portions of them on very small hooks such as sabiki’s. I love doing this, especially with glowing sabiki when targeting dabs. As single baits however I find them relatively unproductive as they lack the scent trail of other options and don’t present so well on the hook.

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Moving on to the next option, I have discovered these frozen blacks preserved in sand and oil. I really like these as, so long as not compressed in your freezer too much, keep separate in the packaging, making it easy to take a few out of your stores for a session as and when needed. They are soft, almost having the consistency of a fresh black and present on the hook really well. On being underwater for a time they maintain their shape and colour well. The trouble here is they are about as rare as cod. Jordan has them from time to time and when in stock I grab as much as he can spare.

Finally, the classic frozen black lug wrapped in newspaper and sold in packs of 10. Absolute monsters in size and, when preserved well, hold stacks of juice and present the perfect scent trail for larger predators. Great to keep in the freezer but, when you chose to use them you are committed to the whole wrap as they don’t, in my experience, catch anywhere near as well when re-frozen. The worms can be used in portions or whole and of course in a classic cocktail with crab, squid or fish. Once more, obtaining good quality frozen blacks isn’t so easy, obtaining poorly preserved blacks is really easy sadly, especially on-line.

So coming back to the session, I was conscious of the unknown depth the fish were feeding at so a variation in depth of baits was critical. With this in mind I was using 14ft continental rods rather than my usual shorter pier rods to keep a high angle on my line along with a combined set of baited sabikis sitting on top of three hook flapper rigs allowing me to cover around 8-feet of water from seabed. My thinking would be the sabiki might either catch fish or act as an attractant to the bigger baits below.

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To see how the worms compared in action I rotated them, giving them all a chance to be at different water depths. In addition, I used the sprats singularly and as wraps with the preserved lug. I also used squid and lug wraps as well as tipping worm baits with squid to really see how things would turn out

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So how did it go. Well, small sprat fillet and frozen black lug combo wraps won the day overall. Fresh lug was the winner with the smaller whiting and in terms of fish numbers, with bigger whiting most certainly going for the sprats. Whiting over a pound in weight were exclusively taking the fish or fish/lug wraps and when gutted for the table were absolutely full of sprats.

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Pin whiting totally ignored the sprats and stuck to worm. The bigger dabs seemed to prefer blow lug tipped with squid or sprat. Smaller dabs found the saki irresistable, even at 6-7 feet above seabed. Two thornbacks were caught on whole sprat and black lug wraps, including one in excess of 7 lb taken on a hook sitting about 3 feet from the seabed.

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To conclude; for me I’ll always try to get fresh good quality blow lug if I can. If not, the frozen worms worked well, especially in combinations. And as for the sprats – amazing bait that is ridiculously cheap when in season and is an absolute game changer at this time of year. Fill your boots folks and use them at various depths to find those illusive fish.

I’ll be writing more about this over the coming weeks, especially using sprats on slides for flounder, bass and dogfish. Who knows, I might even get lucky with a cod. I’ll be posting here at essexanglers and I am delighted to say that, from March will also be writing for Hookpoint Magazine so watch out for me there too.

Take care and happy hunting

Species Hunt

Alan Stevens – Silver Eel

Sliver eel caught on a single lug worm, size 4 bottom hook of a three boom paternoster rig. Dropped straight down on pier, ebb tide.

Species Hunt

Alan Stevens – Smoothound

Smoothound caught on board Sea Leopard on squid and lugworm wrap. Flowing trace.

Alan Stevens Sea

Suffolk Beach Bass Safari

Over recent weeks I have been out and about quite a bit, both freshwater fishing the lakes of Norfolk in support of the John Wilson Fishing Enterprise and of course, doing my favourite thing – combing the coastline of East Anglia in search of new marks and early season Bass.

By fishing across disciplines it has reminded me of just how hard going it is to fish our shingle east coast beaches. Let me put it this way; fishing a commercial lake is like visiting the petting area of a zoo. Smooth tarmac paths leading you to friendly Meerkats waiting to take food from your open hand. Whereas fishing on an east coast shingle beach this spring has been like walking barefoot through Kalahari Desert thorn bush infested quicksand surrounded by a pack of hungry Hyenas waiting to rip your arms off. 

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Boy has it been hard work on the beaches over the spring. Strong on-shore biting cold winds, rough seas and copious amounts of rain have made our beloved sport somewhat questionable to anyone with an IQ north of seven. Global warming…yes please.

But no; I have blogs to write and my good friend and fellow blogger David Porter and I are committed to fishing all the Suffolk beaches throughout the year, reporting our efforts for your enjoyment. So whilst David was fishing the far north of the county as featured in last Sunday’s blog, my  focus was on the other end of Suffolk where I was researching a new mark at the southern point of Shingle Street beach, accessed from Bawdsey. Target species being Bass and Smoothounds.

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I arrived at low water intending to identify clues from exposed seabed and wave motion and wasn’t disappointed. An onshore stiff breeze was forming a 3 foot swell that was breaking along the beach in front of me with telltale clues as to where seabed features would most likely help congregate my targets as the water rose. The wind negated any chance of using lures so my tactics for the hours ahead narrowed to bait fishing and I was happy with the squid, lug, rag and crab baits that I had collected the day before from Colchester Bait & Tackle. 

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I could see a clay shelf, undulated with gullies perfect for bass that divided the end of the shingle beach and the rock sea wall that protected Bawdsey. This area would be in play in a few hours but for now I looked beyond this position to set up 100 yds further north on the shingle, spotting a distortion of wave action suggesting a cut that again could signal a perfect bass hunting spot. 

With both my continental rods matched with Mag 4 reels in action, one with a two hook clip down and the other with a pulley rig I settled with great anticipation.  I was feeling that buzz you get when fishing a mark for the first time. 

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That’s when the rain started – sideways and hard, encouraged by a squall that at one point actually moved me along the slippery shingle. I was soaked and freezing cold. Any movement was exhausting. Casting was constrained by the wind and I was only reaching minimal yards out into the breakers, but hopefully to where the bass were feeding. Seeking an additional distance to clear a submerged ridge with one rod I loosened the mags with the inevitable birds nest. Grrrrrr.

Those that fish these Suffolk shingle beaches or maybe Chesil in the wind know just how demoralising and energy sapping shingle beaches can be on a good day yet alone in a hurricane. No wonder the beach was almost deserted. To be honest the only reason I stayed on was that I didn’t have the energy or the confidence of keeping hold of my equipment to pack up in the gale that now howled around me. I sat alone, keeping rods low, frowning out to sea taking the only comfort I could in that at least I was not on a boat being thrown around in the storm.

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The wind moved the showers through quickly and in between rainstorms I re-baited hooks that were being stripped of worms within minutes by the most ravenous crabs I have seen in a long while. The size of your fist and with a degree of agility that would qualify them for the cast of Riverdance these crustaceans were seriously eroding my bait supplies and I began to regret fishing so early in the tide. Keeping one, putting it amongst my live peelers, was a bad idea when it began to rip my captive and less crusty supplies limb from limb. He was removed and calm was restored amongst the bait crabs.

I continually tried to convince myself that this was a reconnaissance mission for what was to come either today or, more likely, on my return another day and the investment I was putting in was worth it.

Three hours passed and nothing. Not a bite, only crabs and weed (the line clinging cotton wool type of weed that is so difficult to remove) occupied my thoughts as a procession of rain squalls progressively sapped my morale and any body heat that remained. 

Finally my luck changed with a reasonable Pouting rattling the rod into action. At least I could avoid the walk of shame. It had taken a squid and lug combination and as I returned it to the water a flash of sunlight signalled the end of the rain.

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I felt a faint hint of happiness return and soldiered on. Nothing again for an hour so I moved along to what was now a turbulent swirling confusion of breaking waves over the clay submerged seabed I had spotted earlier. At least the rain had passed.

I needed to use grip weights to hold my baits against the onshore gale returning them to shore. I knew that this would result in snags and more weed collection but the mark was finally in play. I had no chance of Smoothounds in these conditions but for bass it was just about perfect. And it indeed proved to be the case. Ragworm did the job and a huge take and a shaking head fighting my grip signalled it could be what I was seeking. Carefully guiding the fish through the waves it finally conceded to the shore and a Bass of just under 50cm laid on the golf ball sized pebbles at my feet.

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Mission accomplished and with bait used up it was time to head home just as the light faded. The mark is most certainly one I will return to soon to fish two hours either side of high water, now I know the features of the beach. I want to fish the clay ravines with soft plastic gravity sticks or alibi snacks after dark and the shingle mark casting long with baits seeking those hound on a calmer day. 

Once off the shingle walking became easy along the coastal path and my smile returned as I made my way back to my car. Mission accomplished for phase one of the Suffolk Safari. Hard work but worth every second to hunt wild seasonal fish in conditions that challenge you to your limits both physically and mentally. I slept well that night. 

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Thankfully now it seems summer has arrived and woohoo, the beaches will be packed with dog walkers, stone throwers and fire pit lighting dope smoking teenagers. But hey, it’s warm and dry.

After a year of busy blogging I am taking a break from my regular Sunday blogs for a while. I will write guest blogs when I can as we conquer the Suffolk and Essex shores. Thanks for reading my words over the year and for your overwhelmingly kind comments. Tight lines folks, see you on the beaches sometime.

Species Hunt

Alan Stevens – Gurnard

Gurnard, fresh blowlug, up and over rig nightime flood tide, coastal bay.

Species Hunt

Alan Stevens – Sole

Sole, caught on frozen ragworm, size 4 hook single up and over rig. Coastal bay night flood tide.

Alan Stevens

Hardcore Drift Fishing

A few weeks back whilst collecting some worms from Kev at Colchester Bait and Tackle, we chatted about a recent trip Kev had been on to target Pollock, Ling and Conger  on the drift. Gushing with enthusiasm and with perfect timing, Matt, the organiser of the group arrived as if by magic and joined in the conversation. Very kindly, they invited me along for their next pending trip and I gleefully agreed on the spot. I had no idea how to do this kind of fishing and have zero gear to match either but hey, Kev (AKA Arkwright) reassured me that he could supply everything I needed.  One second after the point of full commitment by me to the trip, Matt then dropped in that the boat was in Looe, Cornwall and we would be travelling there and back with the full day of fishing all in a 24-hour period. Ouch!

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So, one week later and clutching a plethora of muppets and huge jigs I found myself in a car with the guys heading down overnight from Essex to the West Country with an absolutely open mind as to what to expect. Traffic was kind to us and before long it was 5:30 am and we were in Cornwall seeking fuel and food.

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Fully stocked up with our singular diet of enough Cornish Pasties to last the day we unloaded our gear and watched the most beautiful sunrise imaginable, waiting patiently for the skipper of our boat, Sowenna, to arrive.

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Once on board we set off into the flat calm sea. Not a breath of wind nor cloud in the sky threatened what was going to be a day to remember. Almost immediately we were after fresh Mackerel. I had taken along my spinning rod and feathers and alongside the rest of the guys were pulling up big plump Mackerel, which, to be honest, I would have been happy keeping for dinner. But no, we were after bigger game and moved on to the first drift. 

We began by targeting Ling and Conger. Using a high quality Penn rod and reel supplied by the boat, we rigged up. Terminal tackle consisted of a pair of muppets baited with big fillets of the fresh Mackerel.

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Thankfully the skipper Dan helped show me how to make up the rig and we set to work, with short jigs keeping in touch with the bottom not moving our baits more than a few feet above the sea floor. It became clear to all that this was virgin territory for me but was met with plenty of encouragement and patience from my highly experienced mates and expert skipper. 

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Pretty quickly we were amongst the fish with an abundance of Ling bending the rods only interrupted by the odd huge Pouting. This was awesome fishing although it did take me quite a while to get the technique mastered. Chris was fishing beside me and got stuck in to some really good fish whilst to the other side of me Matt hooked a sizeable Conger. 

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Meanwhile, having had his fill of Ling, Ash decided to break out his ice rod and target Wrass in baited Sabiki rigs just for fun.

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Be warned; next years EssexAnglers species hunt will be just using ice rods if I get my own way – how are the carp guys going to cope with that I hear you ask!

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With a good haul of Ling and the single Conger, we changed tactics after lunch to focus on Pollack. Using soft plastic lures, primarily pink Sidewinder Sandeels on long traces, we moved to another reef and drifted again but this time with a technique of dropping the weight and trace to the bottom and then slowly winding up approximately twenty turns of the reel before dropping back down again if there as no enquiry from the Pollack. But when we did get bites this is where it became so counter intuitive. The Pollack began by giving a gentle nibble, which instinct drove me to strike or change my slow winding action. However; what was required was to continue winding slowly and wait for the huge bit to come. 

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Once the Pollack worked out it was hooked, boy did it fight back. These fish are great and we are landing sizeable fish on every drift. Although to be honest, I think my one here was the smallest. 

The squalls that by now were sweeping in on big grey cumulus clouds didn’t deter us and Dan kept us fishing right up to 5pm. We were exhausted and ready to head back but before steaming in to land, Dan even filleted the fish expertly for us. A great final touch from a superb skipper and lovely bloke.

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Sleeping most of the way home, we finally got back to Essex just before midnight, completing the 24-hour hard core marathon. A fantastic day with three great new friends. Matt, Ash and Chris taught me so much and I can’t wait to be back out with them again soon – albeit maybe doing the trip over three or four days as I am getting too old for 24-hour sessions.

This week I am catching up again on my 2021 goal of fishing all of the hotspots on the Suffolk coast – one of my favourite coastlines in the world. Weather permitting I will be heading up to the southern end of the Shingle Street  beach for some early season Bass and possibly a Smoothound. Can’t wait.

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Alan Stevens

Introducing the John Wilson Fishing Enterprise

It is a great honour to have been invited to be one of the coaches for the John Wilson Fishing Enterprise (JWFE) which we launched with our first events in April. Our activities covered both fresh water and at the beach. The ultimate aim of which is to help transform lives for the better.

In recognising the truly remarkable contribution John made to Fishing by way of his Television programmes, books, and general awareness of the green and blue spaces around us, Lisa, John’s daughter, wanted to create a legacy with an underpinning purpose for good.

However, it goes deeper than that. Like Lisa, having had a childhood that exposed me to the delights of nature and all that it offers is something I feel compelled to give back, but to the children and adults that may not of had this opportunity and/or never will. 

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Lisa is the driving force for this enterprise. Having worked with many children within social care: residential homes, fostering and adoption; as well as adults that have suffered with mental health, Lisa knows first hand the benefits that the outdoors can bring. Combine this with the art of Fishing and all the skills this can teach, and you have an excellent recipe to deliver the promotion of Mental health to all children and adults that need it most. When approached to be part of this, how could I say no!

As a self funded entity, we are mixing safe secure days at the lake for the kids and adults from social care as well as fresh water and beach fishing coaching sessions for commercial clients who want to improve their fishing skills and at the same time help support ongoing costs.

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The Social Care element

The aim of the John Wilson Fishing Enterprise (JWFE) is to promote mental health as a key objective, particularly for children and adults who fall under the social care umbrella. Its emphasis is to provide fishing opportunities and the chance to connect with the outdoors and provide therapy through the art of fishing.

There are so many ways that fishing can have a huge impact: – interaction with coaches and other angling participants can help build on communication skills, self-esteem, confidence and ownership as well as the chance to learn through practical experience – not to mention the ultimate trophy of landing a fish. Essentially; it’s about bringing about small steps of positive change into their world. JWFE will give opportunities and a different approach that wouldn’t have previously been available to the children who need it most.

Reepham Lakes. Our first event

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And so it began; our first event weeks ago at a sunny and warm Reepham lakes N.E. of Norwich. Having obsessively planned and rehearsed all our activities for weeks in advance, the first day was upon us. We couldn’t have wished for better conditions as we set up simple whip rods to floats with plenty of maggots and corn to tease the fish our way. Everything was ready when the kids arrived with their support team. I can’t deny I was nervous and looking at the other coaches I think I was not alone. 

I had no need to worry. The kids were fixated on the fishing from the start, almost hypnotised by the prospect of catching fish through their own efforts. From baiting hooks to simple flick casting with the whips, the kids got stuck in and were rewarded immediately with a barrage of roach, rudd, gudgeon, bream and a variety of carp that kept them busy from start to finish. They were brilliant throughout to the pride of their support staff and sadly before any time at all it was over. To be honest; I wish we could have fished on all day as we were all having so much fun. The drive home from Norfolk was a blur as I beamed with pride and satisfaction from what we had achieved.

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On to the beach at Corton – adult coaching

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Five days later and it was the second event. A completely different day where this time I would be conducting 1:1 non-social care adult paid-for coaching day. I was in my element – the beach. I was glad to be back handling big tackle and wild fish to tempt our way.

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Like the location, the weather was a total contrast to Reepham. Strong onshore north easterly winds greeted me and were whipping up waves of around 6-feet on a flooding tide. I was going to have to keep an eye on things for sure as the water rose. Setting up two rods in advance of my customer Gareth arriving, I prepared one two size 1 hook flapper rig and the other with a  bigger 2/0 hook clip down rig to demonstrate different approaches to target a variety of species. I had squid, mackerel, fresh peeler, lug and rag worms in hand to use on the rigs so all was good. Whilst waiting for Gareth to arrive I put out a rod of my own to see how the wind, tide and wave action impacted on the tackle. After one cast struggling to hold I upped the weight by a couple of ounces which sorted things out nicely. The water crashing on the pebbles screamed as it retreated dragging the small stones into ridges and I soaked up the clues as to where the gullies and troughs were being formed by the storm.

Gareth and I had spoken by phone prior to the coaching session where he explained that, although a keen and reasonably successful fresh water angler, he had struggled when at the beach. The plan, given what he said, was to focus on the basics and with the wind freshening as he arrived even further it was clear that the skill of casting into strong winds was going to be the primary focus of the day. Gareth is a great guy, we got on really well. He explained that he is a highly experienced chef and was keen to catch fish to take home for food. I was feeling the pressure again and felt the wind increase on my face as if it was daring me to quit. But no, we soldiered on. 

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After explaining the basic tackle set ups and the target areas (given the wave action we could see) we focused on off the ground casting techniques, to minimise wind disruption to the casting action. I was smiling as the anglers either side of us were struggling to control their tackle and direction of cast as Gareth began to master these basic techniques in extremely difficult weather conditions. He was doing great, relaxing and keeping his actions simple and aligned, not stressing too hard on the rod in his casting action, which is the natural tendency for anglers when facing a gale doing everything it can to return your lead to shore.

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The flapper rigs were baited with lug on the bottom hook and mackerel on the top hook and it was no time before Gareth was in to the whiting on both hooks. I was relieved that dinner was sorted for him after he had kept half a dozen decent sized fish and we began to focus on a change of bait for alternative species. The clip down rig was baited with crab and on first cast snared a reasonable dogfish.

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Changing from mackerel to squid/worm cocktail attracted a decent pouting so three species claimed in the first two hours. The fishermen either side of us remained on blanks whilst still frantically trying to blast uncontrolled baits into the water.

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The waves became steeper and the wind was by now howling but I had one more trick to teach. Changing to ragworm on the clip down single hook rig and shortening the cast to focus on dropping the bait into a gulley caused by retreating waves, no more than a short flick from shore, Gareth snared a beautiful school bass that duly fought as it it was twice its weight in the raging surf. With this the surrounding anglers packed up grumpily and went home without any fish to celebrate in contrast to our mastering of the conditions. I have to confess being pretty happy with this.

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The session closed and Gareth headed home to prepare his supper. Whiting fillets with patatas bravas and aioli. Very nice indeed.

Gareth and I will return to the beach soon for more technique enhancements and hopefully less wind to contend with. For now, I want to thank Gareth for his time and company.

Back at Reepham with ITV News

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Two days after the gales at Corton we were back at Reepham Lakes with the kids in social care. The wind had gone, the sun was out and the excitement was high knowing that our work had attracted the attention of ITV Anglia News, who were on their way to film for the day. Just as before, the whips were set up ready for the kids and we soon got them in to action. They were doing great and so focused on the fishing that they hardly noticed the film crews around them.

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Seeing the kids totally engrossed in the art of fishing is one of he most fulfilling things I have done in a long time. When the TV interviews were conducted the kids were brilliant and did themselves proud with what they said.

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I don’t think I can describe the day any better than just to ask you to watch the link to the news article that was shown on TV a few days later. The link is at the bottom of this blog.

Moving ahead

With plenty more days already booked with the kids in social care to come Lisa and our team of coaches are delighted with how it has began. Lisa’s vision is now in action and I, like the other coaches are privileged to be part of this. 

JWFE Coaches

We can do so much for the kids in social care and I want to get them on the beaches too once their core skills are mastered on the lakes. For now, we can only do what we can within our means and would love more commercial bookings to help fund the project. The lake fishing is brilliant for kids birthday parties for example and naturally the beach fishing coaching on techniques and the craft of reading the beach is something that I would love to more of throughout the east anglian summer weekends. If you are interested in making a booking please reach out to Lisa at

This week I am heading down to Cornwall for some serious wreck/reef fishing with the Colchester guys. A real marathon of Essex to Looe and back in a day targeting ling, conger and pollock. Can’t wait to write about that one for next Sunday if I survive.

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