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Species Hunt

Alan Stevens – 3 bearded rockling

3-bearded rockling caught in coastal bay on micro bait/squid

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Species Hunt

Alan Stevens – Pouting

Pouting caught in coastal bay on blow lug loaded clip down rig

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Species Hunt

Alan Stevens – Dogfish

Dogfish caught on a pier using whole squid and herring wrap

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Species Hunt

Alan Stevens Thornback Ray

Thornback caught on a Pier using squid baited pulley rig

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Alan Stevens

New Mark Review – Pakefield, Suffolk

With a week booked off work and a mass of pent up desire to fish beyond my residential area, the weather forecast could not have been better for a late March Monday. 22-degrees with no wind was promised but leaving home at 5:30 am with frost and fog I had dressed for the worst. 

Suffolk was my destination, to be precise, Pakefield in North Suffolk, to meet up with local legend and fellow blogger David Porter. I was keen to pick David’s brain for his vast knowledge of this coastline and having caught a decent codling only the week before he was a man in form. The trip also served an additional purpose as it gave me a chance to evaluate another location for the John Wilson Fishing Enterprise beach adventures we are running from April. 

The 90-minute drive north along the A12 took me past the amazing Suffolk coastline marks of Shingle Street, Orford Ness, Aldeburgh, Sizewell, Dunwich and Southwold. All of which will be visited soon for blogs and combined, is without doubt one of my favourite stretches of coastline anywhere – and right on my doorstep. I know people rave about Chesil, but give me Suffolk shingle coastal marks any day for great fishing and amazing scenery without the crowds.

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Pakefield is situated at the north end of this coastal stretch, just South of Lowestoft and I arrived at 7:30 to be greeted with the most beautiful views imaginable. As dawn sunshine warmed the empty beach hardly a wave troubled the shoreline. My solitude was shared only with the Sand Martins busily nesting in the soft cliffs that are ideal for them but give nightmares to the owners of properties perched precariously upon the fast receding plots of land above.

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Parking is right by the beach making access very simple. The beach itself is a mix of sand and shingle stretches littered with small fishing boats that have been hauled onto shore ready for their next foray to sea. My excitement towards the day ahead had caused me to be early for the planned 8:00am meet so I set up with simple flapper rigs baited with worm and squid keeping an eye out for David to arrive. With less tide run than Corton to the North of Lowestoft, a 4-5oz weight is ample to hold across the right to left moving flood tide.

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David arrived on time and advised me that my chosen place to set up was in fact about 200 yards from where he would have chosen. I realised that I hadn’t thought hard enough about the signs from the water movement, but we kept faith and enjoyed the view, just happy to be out for the day in the spring sunshine.

The beach itself recedes into the sea at a reasonable gradient – a nice compromise between depth of water and safety, if fishing with youngsters or heavy weather, before reaching a sand bar that runs parallel to the coastline to Kessingland, perhaps 80 yards from shore. So to fish there you either cast inside this bar (our option) or cast beyond it to the clay seabed another 30 yards or so to hope for bigger fish. Our near shore focus would probably limit the catch to small fish but we were not that bothered and settle in for the day.

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Despite the weather being so perfect, the beach remained quiet. I guess the fact that Suffolk boasts such a long stretch of beach coastline and has way fewer people than Essex, spreads everyone out and we were happy with that. The odd passing Clydesdale horse from the local riding school and the occasional friendly walker shared this idyllic setting whilst we reeled in whiting and dabs reminiscing about fishing over our lifetimes.

As high-water approached we finished off the last of the freshly baked scones that David’s wonderful wife Bridget had kindly baked that morning and it was time to pack up and head home. No record breaking fish but as a therapy for minds fogged by a long winter lockdown it was just perfect. David is great company and a seriously good fisherman who I can’t wait to get out with again.

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So is Pakefield a mark worth visiting – for sure yes. Family friendly fishing with stunning views cannot get better than here. It will be ideal for the John Wilson project going forwards. Even if you don’t fancy the fishing, what a beautiful place to come to walk. For me, I will be back soon, perhaps after a gale has stirred up the seabed or maybe a summer evening after dark for soles and bass.  Looking ahead, my first boat trip of the year aboard Dawn Tide 11 on the River Crouch is booked and I hope to be blogging on that over the coming week or two. For now, if you haven’t already heard it here is the link to my first podcast capturing my fishing history, some lessons learned and the new project with the John Wilson Fishing Enterprise

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Alan Stevens

Tackle Refresh – Fishing With Twisted Wire Booms

As a kid the standard, go-to terminal tackle from the Essex piers or our boat on the River Crouch would be a three hook, wire boom rig. Top hook would be a slice of mackerel, middle hook would be worm tipped with fish, and bottom hook pure worm. If one of the baits was out performing the others on the day, we would adjust the baits accordingly. We did more than OK with this simple life. With freedoms to fish and the kids holidays upon us once more; today’s blog focuses on this much maligned but highly effective tackle accessory. 

I appreciate fishing has moved on somewhat but you hardly ever see any reference now to this gem of a set up now with overwhelming social media coverage and shop space dedicated to distance casting rigs. For what it’s worth though; my best pier landed Thornback of 2020 was caught on a wire boom paternoster as was two of my finest beach landed bass. Let me explain…

So there are two very different scenarios where I still fall back to the trusted twisted wire boom

  1. Pier fishing

With Piers opening soon I will plan to use these rigs as short cast or drop down tools. Using a 15ft rod to provide the possibility of handling a long spread between booms, A three hook paternoster rig can cover a 12 ft seabed to top hook spread. Using small size 4 top hook or micro baits of squid or rag tail and a bottom size 1/0 hook with crab or worm sandwiching a middle hook of squid or fish fillet you can cover so many different catch outcomes with one single rig. As the fish sheltering at piers settle at different depths, the wide coverage of the hook depths can locate the fish very effectively. The twisted wire booms hold structure to the rig and with short fluorocarbon snoods are largely tangle free even with the whiting around. If fishing with kids who can’t handle long rods then simply shorten the distance between the wire booms to reflect the length of rod being used. So long as the distance between the hook and the next wire boom down the rig is greater than the snood length the rig remains tangle free so easy for kids and novices to master

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2. Beach fishing

Let’s be clear from the start before you howl. I don’ use twisted wire booms for distance casting conditions. Nor do I use them when the weed is in full growth unless I fancy a salad for lunch. If the water clarity resembles a gin and tonic forget it and the chance of snagging is greater too on rocky marks. Not selling this too well so far am I, but there are three reasons here to keep an open mind if distance and seabed conditions don’t rule them out.

Firstly, when conditions are causing a cross tide wave movement the wire booms with short snoods hold structure against the water movement that would birds nest a long trace or flapper rig in no time at all. Also, in these conditions if you are seeking to hold bottom; the weight of the wire rigs does this more effectively than plastic booms or heavy baits. If you are seeking to reduce movement in very cloudy water conditions to ensure a scent trail to attract the fish, then this sedentary rig is ideal. Just as in the pier set up, spreading the booms as much as you can cast with, gives more acreage of cover with a scent trail that will attract Roker any day of the week.

Secondly, I love this rig with a new technique (for me) this year having read about it on line, when fishing over mudflats. Popping a few small rag on a three hook wire paternoster flung out with a pyramid weight – I retrieve the rig back over the mudflats slowly, maybe 2-3 feet at a time before pausing for a few minutes. This in effect uses both the weight and the twisted wire booms to ‘plough’ the baits across the mud back towards me, disturbing the surface of the mud. This generates it seems, a taste trail that fish follow up to the hooks. Most of my flounder over the past month or so have been caught doing this at a new mark I have been luck enough to come across. 

Finally, and again I admit a new technique for me this winter, is to use a single twisted wire boom fixed above a torpedo weight with a short snood leading to a vibro spoon. I picked one of them out of the Tacklebox selection and so far so good. With a 2ft rig line from the wire to the vibro spoon (a few beads added for total bling factor between snood and hook) a rag worm loaded hook ploughed back as previously described seems to be irresistible for the flatties when the tide is ripping. I guess here a mixture of vibration from the spoon and taste from the worm is doing the trick. If your kids get fidgety waiting for a bite, the periodic short wind back of the plough technique helps to break things up a bit too. 

vibro spoon

https://www.tacklebox.co.uk/sea-fishing/seatech-vibro-spoon-10g.html

So to conclude, unpopular as they have become, there is still a place I believe for the good old fashioned twisted wire boom. If you are taking the kids out this week to introduce them to sea fishing then I can’t think of a better way to induct them, conditions permitting. I will be carrying them this week as an alternative rig.

Speaking of this week, yahoo we are allowed out and I have the week off work. I am heading off to meet up with fellow blogger David Porter on Tuesday to try to tease out a cod or two. Later in the week some more beach fishing before my first boat trip of 2021 aboard Dawn Tide 2 on Saturday. Good luck wherever you are heading out to

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Alan Stevens

Neighbours News – And It’s Cod!

As we approach freedoms to fish beyond our local neighbourhoods, essex anglers will begin to bring updates from our neighbours either side of our wonderful county, introducing local top fishermen to provide insights and catch reports from their local marks beyond the county boundaries. Today I am pleased to introduce David Porter, who masters the beaches of North Suffolk.

A Tale of Two Tides by David Porter

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I have been invited to join the writing team to give a neighbouring county sea angling perspective and I hope that my approach will be both informative and entertaining.

I am based in North Suffolk and have fished very enthusiastically for over fifty five of my sixty five years. My great love is sea angling from the shore,  although I have been known to trot a float down the River Waveney in Suffolk for a bag of red finned roach on a crisp morning in the middle of winter, so that must make me an all rounder. As well as having a fishing mad son,  I also have two very young angling grandchildren and I now tend to refer to our family group as Team Porter. I hope to be able to write about the angling exploits of Team Porter occasionally. I enjoy writing about all things fishing including past angling adventures, contemporary catch reports and methods.

This lengthy Lock down period has meant that many have unfortunately been denied their angling ‘fix’ and I along with many others have taken shelter from the pandemic. I am however, blessed with a patch of coastline that is truly local, with venues within my town and located a few minutes from my home.

 That being the case I ventured out for the first time last weekend for a socially distanced session near my son, Tom, on my local sea wall. Locally known as the Wall, it is a known cod hotspot and has a history of holding fish well into the summer months because of the deep water, fast tides and patches of very rough bottom. 

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A few years ago we fished off a beach at this spot but the ravages of time and accelerated coastal erosion removed metres of sand so the beach no longer exists.

The venue needs to be studied at low water as the angler will find the broken wreckage of a previous seawall located twenty metres or so from the base of the promenade. The key to fishing this spot is to quickly get your codling onto the top of the water and skim your catch in through a gap between the lumps of concrete, which show above the water line.

If successful then the fish have to been lifted, hand-lined or netted and brought up the side of the wall.

The conditions we met with on our chosen day were very good with a fast flowing flood tide and the water showing plenty of colour from the sand and sediment disturbed by recent gales.  Unfortunately  despite our best efforts on the day those elusive Southern North Sea codling failed to show, as they have become increasingly rare over a short period of years.

 We had a good selection of baits on hand , including black lugworm, ragworm, squid and frozen peeler crabs. The bait was presented on standard pulley rigs armed with 3/0 uptiding hooks.

A blank session was on the cards after hours without a bite, until a dab gave itself up shortly before the end. Not a great success angling wise but great to be out in the fresh air with Tom taking our daily exercise. There was plenty of bait left over and the weather forecast for the next day was very  good. 

So we can now fast forward a day and a new dawn with yet another early start for me. This time the venue was the Lowestoft South/Pakefield  Beach which is a fairly shallow beach, and again very close to home. With a high tide predicted for 1100am, I was on the beach setting rods up at  07.30. The sea was flat and the sky was blue and it was certainly a nice start to the day, but for surf casting, well I felt it could be difficult fishing.There were no other anglers in sight and it was pretty quiet apart from a few early morning dog walkers and a few cold water swimmers. The beach comprises of fine grained sand with patches of shingle along the high water mark. The tide can really rip through at this spot, but there is a nice clean bottom.

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The tackle and the approach was different to the previous day as I came prepared to fish at distance and hopefully find some whiting, dabs or a thornback or two in the undisturbed water.

I used my pair of Century Fireblade rods coupled  with Akios Shuttles; yes I admit it, I am a bit of a  sucker for new rods and reels, but it’s not a really bad vice because they get plenty of use. I used pulley rigs again armed with needle sharp Mustard Aberdeen offset match hooks. 

The first part of the tide passed without any sign of interest shown by any of the target species of fish and it looked yet again that a blank was on the cards.

As the tide eased an hour from the top of the tide I caught a whiting on ragworm, which triggered a sigh of relief from me……no blank for me today! Recasting well up-tide with a hook crammed full of fresh lively ragworm I then settled down to study the rod tips. Both rods were bent over into the tide run when suddenly one straightened in the rest. The line tightened and then slackened again.

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 I quickly got to my feet and tightened into what felt like a reasonable fish. This was clearly no whiting and the chief suspect in my mind, as the fish pulled strongly down tide was a decent bass. It kicked hard at the back of the surf and really gave a good spirited fight. 

I guided the fish to shore on a wave and was so surprised to see the marbled green flanks, telltale fins and tail of a good sized codling showing in the water. The hook pulled out as the fish was beached, so I leant down grabbing the codling before an incoming wave carried it out to sea again.

Well……that was all of a bit of a surprise, and needless to say I was pretty pleased about things. I had targeted one of these several times earlier in the winter before the second Lockdown, but had been unsuccessful apart from a small one caught at the end of September. The codling was a smashing looking fish and in an A1 condition.

I had a couple of more casts, but it was pretty clear to me that I would not improve upon my catch, so it was time to pack up.

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At home it weighed five pounds exactly on my scales. I must admit given the conditions it was a surprise, but it happens so often in our wonderful sport; the unexpected!  After fifty five years of angling have I learnt anything; yes nothing is predictable!

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Alan Stevens

Fishing Frenzy To Drive Shortages of Tackle And Bait

Anyone who tried to acquire a beach tripod last summer will know too well that they were, at times, rarer than a double figure cod. With our restrictions being lifted again over the coming weeks, we explore the pending outlook for kit and bait as we all prepare to get back out there to indulge in the passion we love.

Here at Essex Anglers we are blessed with our very kind sponsors The Tacklebox, and now welcome Colchester Bait and Tackle as new local sponsors alongside The Tacklebox specifically for those local anglers who are seeking a traditional, drop in experience when seeking advice, bait and equipment right in the middle of our county. I spoke with Kevan, the owner today about the life of a tackle shop owner and his excitement and fears about the past, current and future outlook for the industry.

Kev’s background was as a serious coarse match angler with over 40-years experience, whilst earning a living in IT. A decade ago the shop came up for sale and Kev made the leap to live his dream as the owner of the shop. 

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So Kevan; tell me about the shop evolution over the past decade?

There has been an explosion in carp fishing – people have gone crazy for equipment and variants of all types of tackle and baits – we could fill the shop with carp baits alone. The old days of a waggler, peacock quill and maggots are gone. Now, coarse fishing and especially carp fishing is all about complexity, carrying a lot of equipment and seeking venues that make carp catching almost inevitable rather than a rarity. We have had to adapt the shop to cater for this

And what has this meant for fishing more broadly?

There has been a decline in match fishing, less people seeking to catch fish on natural waterways. Almost all younger anglers coming into the fresh water sport are focusing on the commercial carp lakes, seeking bigger fish and bigger volumes. We are seeing the old style coarse fishermen gravitating towards sea fishing now where the sport is more aligned to natures twists and turns

So what about reels and rods, has much changed there?

Reel technology is mostly cosmetic with smaller changes in the mechanics. Rods however have changed massively in terms of improved quality and reduced price. A rod which would cost over £200 a few years ago now costs £30 for similar quality. Yes the top end rods are still very expensive and amazing in quality, using top notch carbon wraps, but you don’t have to spend a fortune to get what would a few years ago to have been seen as very good equipment indeed. 

Turning to sea fishing, how has this changed?

Certainly not so much revolution in terms of baits, as the natural worm, crab and fish still dominate the demand. Squid has become a mainstream option for essex anglers whereas a few years back it was a side bait.

Rods have hardly changed at all at the high-end of the market, however the cheaper and especially the mid-range rods and reels have improved massively and deliver great value for money

The problem with sea fishermen is that they all want to catch cod. We are not sure in truth why the cod have gone away and so few are catch these days. What we are seeing is the summer months being much more productive now with decent bass  and we hope more of the sharks turning the summer months into a recreational bonanza. We are seeing virtually zero sea fishermen turning to course angling and a very solid growth in younger anglers being introduced to sea fishing by their parents, and sea fishing being as popular now as it has been for decades.

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So taking that further, last summer saw shortages of tackle and bait stocks, will it be different in 2021?

Both the on-line tackle shops and the traditional physical shops have done extremely well on the back of the boom in fishing due to Covid. At our shop we see our customers looking for advice and guidance wether they are new to the sport or seeking to upgrade their equipment. Our ability to supply high quality fresh baits draws people to the shop regularly so we build up an intimate relationship and can of course provide current knowledge of where and how fish are being caught.

We have been busy investing in significant volumes of stock over the winter to try to prevent shortages of equipment like we saw last year; but with container costs increasing 500% we are seeing far less equipment being imported to the extent that we see maybe 40% of stocks in place in the supply chain compared to a normal year. Compound this up with increased demand, 2021 will again sadly be a year where stocks will inevitably run low.

For the carp guys, boileys will be in short supply as will pellets, and for both sea and fresh water we expect to see big shortages of terminal tackle, rods, reels and tripods. Thankfully the shop was very nicely stocked but for those thinking about and significant purchases this year; get in quick.

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So there you have it – as the country wakes up when lockdown restrictions ease the frenzy of demand for fishing equipment and baits is going to squeeze supply as it did last year, or more likely to an even greater degree. I bought another boat rod just in case…

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Alan Stevens

Fishing Friendships and Ben’s Huge Dab

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We might not quite be there yet but I can hear the large lady warming up her vocal cords so to speak. It is going to be weird to be able to fish again with real people. The two dimensional world of Zoom, MS Teams and Facebook is going to blossom into the three dimensional cacophony of social interaction. But with whom are we going to head out with once permissions allow. This week I will focus on some local angling legends that, post lockdown I can’t wait to get out fishing with. 

Fishing is such a great leveller. Whatever jobs people conduct Monday to Friday and regardless of age or from which diverse background people come from, when fishing on the beach it is just that. Pure, equal pleasure with a common goal to achieve a great outcome against the odds. 

With the greatest journalistic ambition since Watergate; I asked three of my fishing mates, Ben, Rob and Dave to reflect on their fishing lens on the world so here goes. Stacey Dooley watch and learn

Q: You guys are mad on this sport; what got you in to fishing?

Rob – I used to go out on my bike, ride for miles and miles as  kid. one day me and my mate discovered a fishing lake. So borrowed an old rod, cycled about 10 miles to this lake and sat there all day fishing with a loaf of bread. didn’t catch anything that day, but I enjoyed being next to the water. and I still do to this day.

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Dave – I think it’s kind of always been there. As a little kid I used to spend summers down in a little fishing village in Kerry on the extreme edge of Ireland. Then we moved to New York and I used to go pond and lake fishing with the Scouts. As a teen back in Ireland I messed about with sea fishing in Kerry, and was always lake and river fishing for trout where I lived in Galway 

Ben – My dad got me “hooked” as a kid. Took me course fishing all over Leeds, where I’m originally from. Only started sea fishing about 20 years ago when I moved to Colchester with the army.

Q: In this designer gear age, how has it changed for you over the years?

Rob – A huge amount in these last few years. I used to fish with cheap as chips gear. now I’m a bit of a tackle tart. I do like trying out all the latest stuff. if I could afford it id have a shed full of zipplex and shimano!

Dave – When I fished as a kid everything was simple and borrowed or hand-me downs. When I started fishing again a few years ago I started with cheap as chips gear, and no ideas. I didn’t do it often enough to warrant better equipment for a while, but now I do appreciate having better kit. But I’m never going to spend hundreds on a rod or reel. I do spend somewhat cautiously, and try to plan big spends into family gifts at Christmas and my birthday. This all goes out the window when I go to the tackle shop with Rob the Geardo

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Ben  –  I’m not an expensive gear kinda guy. Believe you can catch anything with low end rated gear as much as expensive gear.

Q: What’s your best day fishing ever?

Rob – out on a friends boat at Mersea. it was the 1st time I had taken my little boy, who was three at the time. I have never seen any child so excited as he was that day. So to see him happy made it the best days fishing ever.

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Dave –  I could mull this over for a year and still not come up with a particular session in my life. So many times spent just enjoying the day fishing 

Ben – Spalding, Lincolnshire with my dad on the Coronation Channel. Catching tench, that’s the last happy memories I have with my dad before he sadly passed away.

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Q: What is your favourite tackle/rod/reel, and why?

Rob – My akios fx420 14ft rod is AMAZING! I’ve used rods more than twice the price and blows them away. I’m a big hook man, 4/0 i lose less bites on a big hook, and even the tiniest of scorpion fish and rockling have taken my big old hooks. love a wessex rig too

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Dave –  I do love my Penn Affinity 7000 – it’s such a wonderful and forgiving reel, as I’m not the best at taking regular care of my gear! And I’ve paired it with a Shimano Alivio I picked up last year – love the setup and they just seem to suit me 

Q: We have all done it; what’s the worst purchase of fishing gear ever?

Rob – got a sonik sks reel. I’ll probably end up chucking it in the sea if i ever have to use it again.

Dave – The wire traces I bought as a kid or even recently. I have never used them

Ben – Treated myself to some insulated fishing wellies. First time I wore them at the water’s edge I found they leaked! Cold wet feet, not happy. Supplier sent another brand out no extra charge after giving some poor man a right ear bashing.

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Q: What are you looking forward to most as lockdown eases?

Rob – catching more fish than Dave Ryan, I do already but be nice to out-fish him somewhere other than Mersea!

Dave – Beach time with friends, whether fishing or fire evenings, or best of all, both. And fishing on our friend’s boat for sure 

Ben – Getting my boat out with my other fishing pals, Duncan and Richard.

Q: How does the family view you being out all day fishing?

Rob – she loves me going fishing. gets me out of her hair. she’s even been to the tackle shop to pick bits up for me.

Dave –  Normally she is happy to get rid of me anyway to be fair. Throw in tide times, bait taking up too much space in the freezer, and Rob needs a break from the kids – she’s pushing me out the door! 

Ben – Never needed an excuse, my missus is spot on with me going fishing, even when we are on a family holiday I take a rod. a few years ago I worked in Iraq for 11 years and Afghanistan in the military before that. I witnessed some horrific things as the team medic and then jumped from the frying pan into the fire by becoming a prison officer for 5 years. I suffer with PTSD and part of my therapy is fishing, so my better half is very supportive in that. If anyone suffers with mental health, fishing is excellent for just being by yourself and listening to the waves. No stress. And if you do have a bad day

Q: And at the end of the day…home on time for dinner or use your bait up?

Rob – I weigh 20 stone, always have to get home for my dinner!

Dave – I regularly overfish my stated return time. Usually by at least an hour or so 

Ben – Use my bait up, and try anything to avoid a blank

Q: Who is the best fisherman out of us?

Rob – Mullet from Mersea, Stingray from Batemans, huge lobster from Walton pier. its gotta be me! i don’t get huge quantities but I do quality

Dave –  Can’t vouch for Ben’s fishing – I’ve never seen him catch a thing. Rob can be right jammy when it comes to catching, other times he’s bored after 2 hours because all he’s caught is a glove. I simultaneously try and work harder about my fishing, whilst being completely lazy about it – hence my mixed results . But I’m working on it. Simply for effort it has to be me

Ben – Me of course. Have you seen the size of my Dab

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So there you have it. Three lovely blokes who share the same passion for sea fishing. Can’t wait to be out fishing with them. 

In the short term; this week it is my turn to be interviews for the essex anglers podcast, to be published later this week where I will be grilled about my lame attempts to master the dark arts and how, with the help of the community, we are bringing sea fishing to kids in need of some green and blue spaces via the John Wilson Fishing Enterprise. For now I want to thank Kevan at Colchester Bait and Tackle and Liza, Steve and Beth Stoker from The Mersea Seafood Company for giving us a head start with this project

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Categories
Species Hunt

Alan Stevens – Blonde Ray

Species – Blonde Ray

Location – Lower Blackwater Estuary

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