Categories
Species Hunt

Alan Stevens – Blonde Ray

Species – Blonde Ray

Location – Lower Blackwater Estuary

Method – low water clip down rig, sprat and lug wrap

Categories
Species Hunt

Alan Stevens – Plaice

Species – plaice

Location – Lower Blackwater estuary

Method – three hook clip down rig low water, lug bait

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Alan Stevens

A Double – the fish are back

Well another week passes and the challenge of writing fishing blogs in these somewhat constrained times remains. I mean, even the Whiting deserted our shores so how hard does it have to get before we wave the white flag of surrender. But have no fear friends, I have some good news – the fish are back and I do indeed have some very pleasing words to write today. 

With water cold, rainfall run off still in force and mid-day massive tides I went for a dawn low water session. My logic was to aim for the deeper, warmer, more salty water under the incredible moon and rising sun which would surely stimulate any sight feeding fish into a frenzy of desire for my lug and sprat wrap tempters

The first thing that went wrong was that I overslept. So rather than setting up at 5:30 am ready for the last hour of ebb I actually arrived at the beach at 7:30. If that wasn’t enough it was seriously foggy. No sight of moon, or actually anything come to think of it. Just a grey soup that would make picking the moment of splash own after casting nigh on impossible. Flipping a coin as to return home or plough on I manned up and trudged across the mudflats towards the distant sound of breaking waves beyond the battleship grey world that had engulfed me.

Finally I reached the point where land hit sea and set up, and for some reason having dragged a full size tackle box, trolley, rest, two rods and bait box half way across the dried out Blackwater I set up one rod and a spike. Worried that the tide would turn quickly I left the second rod in its quiver – so why I took it it the first place is beyond me but hey.

Low water meant casting into oyster bed rough ground so absolute suicide to us any terminal tackle that would snag, so a simple torpedo lead transporting a three hook clip down rig was flung out beyond the visible sphere of control. first cast, birds nest – my control over the recently serviced Penn mag 2 reel still work in progress made the thought of being at home with a big fry up even more of an appealing but no – I was here now and I had to go home with something to justify this lunacy.

Birds nest cleared and hooks re-baited given the g-force of the reel catastrophe having ripped the tender worms and sprats from my hooks all was set. I settled, tuned in to the geese noisily greeting the day and I breathed fresh air and immersed a selfish world of just me and nature for the first time in a week. I allowed myself to be absorbed by nature and felt totally insignificant within the context of the natural world.

In the back of my mind were however, two things – one was the catch reports from the last few days showing some good rays and secondly was a huge pull on my line last weekend which I missed out on. The positivity of the session potential ahead soon defeated the early poor form with sleep, reel and mood and I was in the groove. The fog began to lift in tandem with my emotions.

Second cast and I was in the fish. A real pull and the thornback I was targeting was, I hoped, hooked. The fish was putting up a good fight and worried about the line cutting on sharp oyster shells I was relieved when it surfaced. However, is was not a thornback but a decent Blonde Ray – the first for me on this beach. I was buzzing.

Gloating over this with anyone who I had details for on social media,  after baiting up again I almost missed another decent tug but this time it felt more flounderish than anything. Easier to retrieve at speed to avoid the sharp shells I had the fish in quickly and the second gift of the day was in fact a beautiful Plaice. I know Carl and the Thames Estuary guys have been posting about them for the past week so I can happily report her that they have reached the Blackwater.

By 8:45 the tide began to flood at real pace and I was glad that I only had one rod in the water. Trying to hit the deeper water was now impossible so I was in that in-between tide time on the Blackwater where the mudflats are too shallow but you can’t cast beyond them. I should have gone home there and then, but persevering without a hope in hell I spent the next 90-minutes falling back meter by meter to the beach. Two decent fish bagged and two species for the essexanglers hunt I was happy but in reality, like most days, focusing on a short period of high-probability fishing would have saved me from the last part of the session. I will never learn.

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Alan Stevens

Back In Action

One of my early childhood memories is of throwing a half constructed Airfix model out of my bedroom window. The frustration of sticking hundreds of fiddly bits of plastic together was too much for my clumsy, shaky fingers and short temper. These traits have lived with me all my life  and is the reason I never service my multiplier reels. I get stressed just tying a blood knot. I just know that deconstructing any of my reels would end in tears and left over pieces and an eventual engagement with a professional repair specialist, so it is much easier to just avoid the middle bit of pain.

So it was with great pleasure that I had a mail from Russ at Blakdog tackle that my Penn 525 Mag 2 was fully serviced and ready for collection. Russ is an awesome reel guy. As well as servicing high quality reels Russ also sells parts to those with the desire to do some reel DIY and thankfully for us, based here in Essex. I, like so many, have used this lockdown to get my multiplier back to best and Russ has been busier than a squirrel in autumn. I knew that Russ would not cut corners and when he was happy with his work he would let me know, and with this news I felt real excitement that my lovely reel would be back and raring to go. Now, Russ is a perfectionist not an alchemist, and when we speak he often talks about the basket cases people ask him to mend that are way past the point of no return, but give him a realistic project and Russ is as good as they come. And all for less than the cost of a day on a charter boat!

So thankfully my NHS responder duties took me to his neighbourhood and bingo, my beautiful reel was back with me smelling of oil and screaming to get back to work. But whilst my reel was with Russ, the reel stork had delivered to me a beautiful brother to my mag 2 – a new Penn Mag 4 525 so I was even more keen to use the two in tandem and compare performance.

But first, I had to get back to Mersea to meet with local legend and trawler man Steve, owner of the Mersea Seafood Company, to (at a distance) discuss how he is helping with the launch of the sea fishing elements of the John Wilson Fishing Enterprise – our work to help kids of disadvantaged backgrounds find a purpose through fishing. 

Listening to Steve talk about how his work as a local inshore trawler and conservationist aligns with what we desire as recreational fishermen warrants a whole discussion of its own and is one I shall return to soon. For now I just want to say thanks for all Steve does and post here that you cannot get fresher fish that from his stall at Bonners Farm on Saturday and Sunday – which has been landed that morning. The seafood chowder is to die for and constitutes my regular Saturday lunchtime snack. 

Anyway; with the JWFE planning done it would be rude not to air the reels for an hour, so I skipped down to the beach to grab a swift session at the top of the tide. Now my hopes for fish were not great; listening to Steve (who knows his stuff) he confirmed that the temperature is simply too low. The fish are there, but not in the shallower cold, more fresh water and out of range for us from the beach. If we have a week of warm weather, you watch, the fish will be back regardless of the fresh water run off still going into the river.

Clutching a perfectly restored mag 2 and a virgin mag 4, a small backpack, a couple of rods and my Shakespeare Salt tripod I felt like a complete novice. I hadn’t cast anything in anger for weeks and felt stiff and out of the normal groove where setting up is almost an unconscious thing. The mag 4 was mounted on my Vertix Odyssey LC-450 (a beast of a long-distance rod) and the mag 2 on my trusted Shakespeare Agility travel rod. The idea was to use the session to get the settings correct on the new mag 4 and test and bed in the serviced mag 2. Any fish would be a bonus

The Vertix / Mag 4 combination was completed by a simple up and over terminal rig weighted by a six ounce breakaway lead. There was quite a bit of onshore breeze so the extra weight would give me more distance and the grip from the lead wires would prevent any wind or weed from adding to the bow in the line. The Agility / mag 2 set up was finished off with a streamlined three hook clip down and five ounce breakaway rig which I wanted to place carefully in a little spot I know where the fish gather just before high water. Precision on this rod, distance on the first one was the plan.

The evening was a beauty for pictures but not good for ledger fishing in shallow water. It was time to relax, bond with my reels and wait for sundown, whilst sharing tales with the lovely Mersea locals passing with their dogs and to my delight, chatting by messenger with Mersea angling legends, Ben Yong, Daithi O’Riain and Rob Smith. Rob was further along the beach somewhere testing with great delight his new Akios Fury fx420, which I hear he can cast as far as to hit Bradwell.

Well I can’t cast great distances and it is something I need to work harder on, but the Mag 4 combined with the Vertix went a mile – but not just far, I had huge control. For me the feeling of being able to place a cast where I want it to go is essential for my style of fishing, as I described in my blog about reading the beach https://essexanglers.co.uk/reading-the-beach-part-2-the-killer-clues-that-tip-the-odds-in-your-favour/. 

The new reel felt perfect with nothing I can comment on being anything but ideal. That said, the same applied for the mag 2 paired with the agility rod. I think, when serviced properly, a multiplier that has been bedded in functions better than a new reel. This certainly was the case for me here. Let me put it this way; if this was golf and my approach shot to the green, I would be within six-feet of the hole each and every time. The accuracy, distance and control of the Shakespeare rod and Penn MAG 2 reel is uncanny over the 80-100 yard distance and I was landing the worm baited hooks exactly where I wanted to be. And it paid off – as the sun went down, a lovely flounder was hooked from the spot I had targeted and it was time to go home. An hour and a half fishing and I was back in love with my gear. Mag 2 compared to Mag 4? – well its a bit like comparing the colours of your two Ferrari’s, a high class and irrelevant choice to have to make. I love both.

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Alan Stevens

Just One Thing

I don’t normally major on rod and reel reviews for one simple reason in that I believe so much is down to personal fishing style, budget and of course the unique conditions of our own local marks. I am not against product reviews to be clear and read, and learn, a lot each week including all the contrary comments, arguments and banter that bounces back to the author despite his best intent. My point is that there is no right or wrong, just personal taste, style and budget to match the conditions we chose to fish against. Whatever you are fishing with, I wish you well.

It also is of course a common conversation on the various groups we all read that we have an abundance of equipment. Fellow essex anglers have been sharing pictures of our various collections and I have to confess, guilty as charged, I have a ton of kit. The most common question in the Stevens household is ‘how much kit do you need for goodness sake…’ sound familiar?

A question I keep getting asked across the various forums and from fishing friends is ‘if you had just one piece of equipment you had to use forever, what would it be?’ There is of course no answer to this unless you confine your adventures to one single type of fishing. Having no intent to go down that route I proudly justify my plethora of rods, reels and general tat. But for the spirit of answering the question that does not seem to go away let me try to answer it. Maybe it helps if I ask the question in a different way. As when I ask it as ‘what piece of fishing equipment do you always have with you regardless of your plans’ then the answer is simple – for me it is my Shakespeare Agility EXP 11.6ft travel beach rod

I love this little beauty. It chose me on a trip to Go Outdoors when, whilst the family were shopping for clothes or something, I popped upstairs to the fishing section to pick up a replacement float. The rod was calling me towards it and when I picked it up it just felt perfect. The slim carbon blank, balance of the pivot from the rod seat, weight, flex, it just felt right. It was a wand. I could not put it down and of course had to buy it. 

This rod has five equal sections and comes in a hard case, making it the perfect companion that now goes with me everywhere. It has flown enough miles to qualify for its own BA executive club gold card. 

It is so easy to use in any conditions with huge degrees of control and accuracy, it possesses adequate power for reasonable casting and yet has superb sensitivity with minimal wind oscillation. Coping endlessly with weights between 4-8oz it sits perfectly in a sand spike just as it can be held for hours on end when using medium to heavy lures. It is advertised as a multiplier reel matched rod but I fish most of the time with it using an Okuma fixed spool reel and it performs really well with this, just as it does with my Penn Mag 525. The rod is just so versatile.

And this is where this rod comes in to its own. I love to go to the beach with a plan but also an open mind. For me there is nothing like walking the coastline at dawn or dusk, scouting for clues to define your approach and then having the tools to hand to seize the moment. This jack of all trades allows you to do exactly that. With rod in hand, a simple beach spike and a backpack containing a small selection of terminal tackle, baits and a few lures you are set. Free to roam and find the perfect fishing spot for that moment in time. 

No need for beach barrows, oversized tackle boxes and and a long wheel base truck to ferry your kits to and from the beach. Just a small pack, your favourite rod in hand. No hassles, no dramas. Just a lovely set up to be out in the fresh air with at any time of year. If this rod was a dog it would be a cockapoo named Charlie, as whoever sees me using it asks where can they get one. It puts a smile on my face each time I am out with it and it sure does catch fish. 

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Alan Stevens

Pulley Rigs Verses Up And Over Rigs. The why and when to chose between them

Well another week passes with fishing news being put into perspective by more important events. Dominating my thoughts has been the sad passing of Sir Tom – what a great man – and his amazing spirit has driven me on to doing more than ever towards helping our fantastic country recover from this awful disease. My evenings have been spent shopping for the elderly who are still shielding and my weekend was spent helping launch the vaccination centre at Colchester FC. Over the course of Friday and Saturday we processed around 2,000 people in most need of the vaccine and I have to say the spirit of the NHS staff, volunteers and most importantly the recipients of the vaccine was so positive. Can’t wait to be back there next weekend. With around 12 million vaccinations now behind us and the daily briefing showing more good news, maybe the coming weeks will see gradual releases from lock down and these include our beloved sport. Until then, we just need to do as we are told.

On a positive note, more good news in from my inshore trawler friends. Improved catches of Thornback, big Pout, Cod and Sole after a quiet spell show the fish are in action again. I love keeping close to the inshore guys as they always give me early notice of what is in the water, and unlike the offshore big boat guys, sustainable fishing is front of their minds. I have the greatest respect for the inshore fishing boat community and thank them here again for their most generous support towards our efforts in support of the John Wilson Fishing Academy. The volumes of fish they land are small they will not impact our rod caught results despite what some say, and watching them at work gives me so many clues as to where the fish are – deep or shallow waters and so forth. 

So if they are catching, then how come the shore reports from us anglers are still not that great. My blog this week might just help correct this imbalance so here goes

Firstly, the rain has pushed a lot of fresh water into the rivers. If you recall in my blog focusing on Istanbul the local angers understood the importance of the fact that salt water is more dense than fresh water, so for species with a low tolerance to fresh water you have to go deep .

Now, typically I fish in shallow waters on the flood tide up to high water. But this will not work at the moment. As the flood tide moves over the mudflats it simply pushes in the very top layer of the incoming water (predominantly fresh water) resulting in very low-salt water covering the usual fishing mudflat hot-spots. The incoming tide’s denser, more salty water sinks and remains in the deeper channels and yes, this is where the fish are right now. So happy days for the boat anglers and super long-casting beach folks. And a long walk out to the low water marks for those wishing to fish the deeper trenches accessible at the bottom of the ebb tide. Right now I am fishing either side of low-water into deep water marks and then heading home – quite the opposite to my normal patterns and will continue to do so until the fresh water volumes decrease.

So what has this got to do with Pulley verses up and over rigs I hear you ask? Both rigs have merits and form a core part of my go-to terminal tackle options. But these rigs have very different characteristics and critically deliver results in the right circumstance and, equally, don’t when it is not their day. let me explain more;

The first thing to consider is water turbidity. In simple terms when the water is clear, fish feed by sight and when cloudy, they feed by smell/taste. So when the water is clear you need your baits to move around, ideally away from the seabed, and when the water is cloudy you need the bait to hug the seabed and to release a narrow scent trail being taken along by the tide. To reflect what naturally gets eaten in these circumstances this means most commonly fishing with squid and fish in clear waters above bottom, and worm, mollusc and crab anchored to the floor in cloudy waters. With me so far?

So getting these baits to present with most effect can be controlled to a high degree by the choice of either pulley or up and over rigs. Let’s compare the key features of these rigs:

The Pulley Rig:

This rig is fundamentally an off the seabed rig. As tension is taken up on the main line after casting, the pulley pivot is raised from the seabed and so is the bait. This gives great movement and is a winner with predatory fish including flounder, thornback as well as the obvious suspects such as bass and who can’t say no to a moving object. The critical disadvantage with a pulley rig right now is that in shallower waters on a flood tide this rig is placing the bait away from the seabed hugging saltier water and up into the lower salt content water, exactly where the fish don’t want to go.

The final disadvantage of a pulley, which is true in any conditions, is that the pulley mechanism halves the bite movement on the mainline. Basic physics in play here is that as a fish bites on the bait, half the energy is projected up the line to the rod and half is projected down to the weight  – ask any physics GSCE level teenager for confirmation here. Therefore the rod has to be a very sensitive when targeting smaller fish.

In regard to bait preservation, when using a pulley rig, the flow of water elevates the bait away from crabs improving bait deterioration but because of the movement, it more rapidly and widely disperses and loses any smell. So the baits of retrieval might still look great, but bear in mind they still need changing as any taste attractiveness will have been lost quite quickly. 

I mention these key points as there have been many posts this week talking about untouched baits, so I suspect they are being cast into the layer of fresh water above bottom where the fish are not wishing to enter due to lower relative salinity.

Finally, for a pulley rig to work there has to be a firm hold on the bottom and weight should not roll,  so most anglers will revert to breakaway grippers. In weedy conditions this adds to the challenge of bringing ashore tons of the green stuff so personally I am gravitating more than ever to using an ounce heavier pyramid or square sided casting weights which collect a tiny fraction of weed in comparison. 

The Up and Over Rig:

This is designed to be a seabed hugging rig. Because of the direct connection of the snood to the main rig line all of the bite energy feeds straight up to the rod tip. This is why a bite on an up and over makes you jump out of your seat and makes you look a bit silly when you finally land a 4-oz pin whiting! These rigs work best when specifically trying to keep the bait attached to the seabed so a heavy, big combo bait is ideal for this set up. 

This is the rig I go to when there is a lot of fresh water in the estuaries as I want my bait to sit in the deepest, most salty layer of water possible. Especially so when smaller tides do not possess the energy to mix the water layers up. This is the rig I am using right now. Because the bait is bottom hugging crab predation is most rapid, so I check the baits every 10-minutes or so. 

When using up and over rigs, I like to have a small element of weight movement on an ebb tide, to just pull the bait across the tide from the cast into the bottom of the cuts I am targeting and the snood flows perfectly almost as an up-tide presentation,  so I use cylindrical weights  (as mentioned in this past blog) to allow the weight and bait to find its own perfect position. This is not so on the flood  tide when fishing cuts, as the rolling weight will take the bait away from the cut as the tide moves in across the mudflats, so I go for heavier pyramid or breakaway weights here and tide shorter distance casting for better accuracy.

Finally, the length of snood depends on how much bait movement I wanted the clarity of water. Simply, the clearer the water is I lengthen the snood slightly more just to bring any visual hunting into play  – especially useful if Plaice are in season. In very cloudy water I go for a short snood, maybe 2-3 feet with the smelliest baits I can muster.

The Pulley Dropper Rig:

This rig for me is fundamentally flawed when beach fishing, but I mention it here as it gets a lot of promotion on some of the facebook groups. 

The mechanics in the design, in my mind, just don’t merit using it. The reason I say this is that most of the time when beach fishing we are either up-tide or cross-tide casting. Consequently there is going to be a degree on bow in our main line. Fundamentally, your weight is uptide of your rig. If you imagine the curve of this bow at the final terminal tackle end, what it means is that the dropper snood does not actually drop at all, but sits up in the bow just as it does with a pulley rig. Obviously, on retrieval the dropper appears to have slid down to the stopper but I am sure that if you asked a diver to look at your rig when in use it would be a different story completely. (This is why when using sliders from the beach I cast down-tide with short casts, or they don’t slide…simple.)

So to conclude; the fish are for sure in the estuaries both in quantity and size, just ask the guys who earn a living from them. If we are not catching fish then it can only be because we are doing something wrong and need to change our plan. 

I suggest here that we can improve our results by changing tactics and this starts with a deep understanding of water flows, fish feeding behaviours and the mechanics of our terminal tackle. A bit of brain power spent on preparing for the session, I promise you, will pay massive dividends.

That said, fishing doesn’t really matter that much at the moment. RIP Sir Tom. Legend.

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Alan Stevens

Beach Baits On A Budget

Well the sea is certainly a tad lively this weekend with big tides and a brisk easterly wind. The seabed will be stirred up for sure and it could be an interesting period for those lucky to live by the sea and mad enough to brave the conditions. My week has been dominated by our ongoing work with the John Wilson Fishing Enterprise where we plan to bring sea fishing to people who could do with a bit of a lift in life. More to follow on this over the coming weeks but for now, thanks to all of you who have offered to help us get this off the ground. 

This week’s blog focuses on baits, specifically how to stretch your budget without reducing the chances of catching something decent. Since I wrote last on baits, especially the micro-baits in the blog Reading the Beach Part 3 https://essexanglers.co.uk/reading-the-beach-part-three-baits-and-terminal-tackle/ I have had a lot of requests to elaborate further on the merits of smaller baits. So here goes.

I recognise that baits can be expensive, and with these tough times for many due to COVID and with a surge of junior anglers who might not have copious amounts of cash to spend on bait; hopefully this blog will help eek out what money is available but also remind us of what nature has to offer for free as well as being the prime food on the menu for the fish in any specific location.

Now don’t get me wrong; I am as guilty as anyone for owning an increasing obsession with big baits, wraps, cart bait and so forth. In fact, this morning I was busy trying to fill squid bodies and mesh sausages with crab cart ready for my next session. To say it got messy is a big understatement. But along side that I was preparing some micro baits which I will elaborate on later. 

So firstly let me touch on worms. More often than not I have some left over at the end of a session. Nobody likes wasting worms and Joe at essexanglers wrote a fantastic blog a while ago about how to freeze leftover ragworm.  https://essexanglers.co.uk/leftover-ragworm-how-to-freeze-it/ . I do this now and it really works. This does not work with blow lug, my main worm bait. But you can keep them alive for much longer if you look after them. Firstly, I get them out of the newspaper from the tackle shop as soon as possible. Any damaged worms need to be separated as a matter of course and used up as a priority. I then put the prime quality worms into plastic containers and leave them, uncovered, in a few millimetres of clean sea water in my bait fridge. It is important not to put too many in one container as they have to be able to breath, so I make sure they don’t lay on top of each other and form no more than a single layer of worms. I keep a bottle of fresh sea water in the same fridge and change the worm water each day, removing any dead worms accordingly. Keeping lug this way works for at least a week meaning that I always have a fresh supply to hand and never waste a worm. 

Secondly let me focus on foraging. I love doing this and always arrive at a mark an hour ahead of when I want to fish so I can pick up what is on hand and helps me tune in to the scenario facing me at any given location. Not only is it free bait, but also represents what is on offer to the fish and by default is most likely to be what any fish will be on the lookout for. Muscles, oysters, limpets and so forth are great chopped up and stuffed inside a squid body or used as part of a wrap. The same goes with crabs where I use the tiny ones whole on a hook, or break up larger crabs and again, use the soft flesh as stuffing for squid wraps.

The next way I spend less on baits is by using micro-rigs. The logic behind this is that more often than not when handling a fish, you will see them regurgitate what they have been feeding on. And what they cough up is generally very small fry, shrimps and crabs. This is especially true for bass and some of my bigger bass in 2020 were caught on tiny hooks and baits. So when I use big squid body stuffed tempters, sometimes if conditions are right, I  keep the heads and tentacles aside and carefully thread these onto the micro-bait hooks on a second rod. It really works well, especially if you can get some movement on the baits from the tide. This time of year squid tentacle and micro-baits combos are a superb way to get decent flounder when the action is sparse. If I don’t have any squid to and then shore crab leg meat or sliced limpets from the foraging works just as well. 

Another way I save money this month is by fishing with fresh sprats. The estuaries are full of them and the fishing boats are virtually giving them away. Liza at Bonners Farm Mersea sells amazing fresh caught Blackwater estuary sprats at £2 per kilo. 50p worth is more than enough for a whole fishing session. When fresh they hold the hook well with just a touch of elastic. Fishing them on a pulley rig to elevate them above the bottom eliminates crab attacks as well as gives them wonderful movement in the water to attract the predators. They work well on sliders too where I wrap a few of them together to provide more weight and water resistance to allow the slider to work. And, as I wrote last week, if you have any sprats let over they make a wonderful snack so you can’t lose with them.

So to conclude; sure, big baits attract big fish, especially when the water is cloudy you need strong scents to attract the fish. But there are many ways to either stretch your bait further or pick up what is free or in season that can enable a days fishing for a small price. To me this is an ideal way to introduce and educate kids about our fantastic pastime. And if that isn’t enough, the satisfaction of catching a significant prize on a foraged mollusc or tiny piece of squid on super light tackle certainly works for me.

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Alan Stevens

Fish and a perfect sunrise

Well what an amazing sunrise this morning. I cannot remember such a picturesque dawn greeting at Mersea than I was blessed with experiencing this morning. The golden sun reflecting off the sand and multi coloured beach huts was picture postcard stuff and a timely reminder of how lucky we are to be living in such a beautiful location. The water was surprisingly crystal clear despite the recent heavy rainfall and I was cursing not bringing my new spinning rod with me (thanks Kevan @ Colchester Bait and Tackle) as the conditions for top water lure fishing were as close to perfection as you can get on the Blackwater.

That is of course until I mention the temperature. It was freezing! Seriously cold to the extent that the dew covered sand had turned to ankle breaking rough concrete ice and despite having numerous layers of clothing the easterly wind was causing my skin to burn. Amazingly, the swimmers were doing their thing despite the water being a ridiculous three degrees…. I mean just how cold does it have to get before these hardy ladies have a day off? Full respect to them.

Cormorants and their feathered cousins were getting stuck in to the billions of sprats that are still swarming in the river and of course so are the predatory fish, so on the premise of ‘if you can’t beat them join them’ I was clutching a kilo of fresh sprats acquired from Liza’s fish stall at Bonners Farm shop the day before. My rationale was that either the sprats would catch me something bigger, or themselves would provide me with lunch.. either way I was on a winner.

The reason I was at Mersea beach at all in these near ice age conditions was because I was planning to meet Lisa Wilson from the John Wilson Fishing Enterprise (JWFE)  for a socially distant  photo shoot. For those who don’t know of the Enterprise, it is run in the memory of the legendary angler John Wilson By his amazing daughter Lisa – and the primary purpose of the Enterprise is to support kids and young adults from across East Anglia who have not had the best of starts to life get experience in a positive outdoor activity. https://jwfe.co.uk/john-wilson  At essex anglers we are striving towards closer collaboration with the JWFE and hope to bring more news on this soon. Like her dad, Lisa is an awesome fisher and boasts a skate of over 100 pounds in weight!

Lisa Wilson with her late father the legendary John Wison. The skate is not too shabby!

Sadly with snow on the way Lisa decided to head home, leaving me on the beach to take some fishing pictures alone. Quickly setting up my rods with sprat and lug wraps positioned as high above the weight on pulley rigs, I flung out the tempting morsels a short distance to ensure as best I could that the bait would present well above the bottom. I only use pyramid weights now at Mersea as I find that breakaway weights collect weed. It has helped no-end on the retreive and a four ounce pyramid holds perfectly except on the strongest ebb spring tides, where I move up to six ounce pyramids.

It wasn’t long before I had my first flounder and then as the tide began to ebb, in quick succession a couple of mid-sized bass came my way before being returned. The wind began to pick up and the clouds rolled in so I hastily focused on how to pack up when my fingers were numb to the point of being full of frostbite. With one rod back in its quiver a second, jet black flounder took the hook of my remaining rod to complete a worthwhile session of four reasonable fish and 95% of my sprat lunch still in tact. The one thing I did remember to take was my species hunt card to two more species bagged fellow essexanglers!

the darkest cououred flounder I have caught for a while and totally different to the lighter one caught 30-mins previously

I reckon it will take me all afternoon to thaw out. 

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Species Hunt

Alan Stevens – Flounder

Species – Flounder

Location – Lower Blackwater Estuary

Method – pulley rig with sprat and blow lug wrap

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Species Hunt

Alan Stevens – Bass

Species – Bass

Venue – Lower Blackwater Estuary

Method – Pulley rig sprat and blow ug wrap