Alan Stevens

Back On The Boats – Two Recent Essex Charter Trips

Just as the autumn transition from summer to winter brings a combination of species to our coastline, so does the emergence of spring. April brings good prospects for species hunters where the last of the winter fish remain to compete with the arrival of our beloved bass, sole and small sharks.

It was with this renewed excitement for some variety of fish following a long winter plus the new freedoms from COVID restriction easing that encouraged me to look forward to two boat charter trips in April. The first being a return to the River Crouch aboard Dawn Tide Two from Wallasey Island and the second, a week later aboard a new boat from Brightlingsea named Sea Leopard.

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It was good to be back on board Dawn Tide again. Mark Peters is an excellent skipper with a strong following from South Essex and London. To be onboard in his first week back after lockdown meant the atmosphere from both skipper and anglers was full of excitement and anticipation. In contrast to my last pea-soup foggy trip on Dawn Tide the visibility was crystal clear with a fresh cold wind. Picking up two more fishermen, Matt and Molly, from Burnham On Crouch on route down river it became abundantly clear that conditions were going to be tough with a punishing north-easterly wind. Mark, keen as ever to get amongst the big fish wanted to get out offshore but it was evident this wasn’t going to happen today. 

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Anchoring at the end of the estuary it was to be a day targeting Thornback Rays. Simple flowing traces loaded with strips of herring and squid kept everyone in play and the fish were soon coming on board. All except me of course who could only keep the dogfish away from the other anglers baits. What is it with me and Dogfish this spring… they just love my baits. I swap rods with someone next to me who is catching Thornies and the Dogs follow me. Just one of those times at the moment but hey…. 

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Mark was attentive as ever, helping out whoever needed some guidance and kept us moving to the best spots for fish within the weather limitations. Molly, fishing next to me landed the biggest Thornback of the day just. Everyone caught some good fish and went home happy. Glad to see that Mark has so many bookings going forwards and I can’t wait to be back out again early June.

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The following day I fished the beach at Holland On Sea. Flat calm and not a breath of wind. My head got burnt by the sun. Mark’s posts on FB from offshore, capturing a flat sea and landing Smoothounds just showed how crazy this time of year can be for the sea angler and those who make their living from it.

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The next weekend in April came around in no time bringing the comparatively short trip around to Brightlingsea to join the Mersea Island Boys onboard Sea Leopard. This I was really looking forward to. The Mersea folk are a bunch of top blokes from the Island who I have got to know over the past year, fishing the beaches and who were kind enough to be part of a blog back in March  

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Ben catching a starfish – one for the species hunt

This was our first boat trip together and armed with every bait imaginable including squid cart bombs and 50 of the finest live peelers from Colchester Bait and Tackle expectations were huge. Sea Leopard is a new boat for 2021. Skippered by the highly experienced John Marks, Sea Leopard is a fast, stable monohull and we were soon aboard. The banter was excellent from the start – one of the advantages of booking the whole boat and within no time John was in the middle of our boyish humour.

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Sadly, the winds from last weekend had returned with a vengeance. I can’t remember an April with so many days of strong north easterly winds and this was without doubt a real humdinger. The 11 am high tide meant that for much of the day it would be wind-over-tide with little shelter. So yes; another day inshore after the rays. At least the Colne Bar and Priory Spit took most of the heavy seas allowing us to be a touch off land. 

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Now as for the anglers; well Ben has a reputation for his infatuation with Whiting and was soon beaming with landing so many of these little beauties. His target was a dogfish and he wasn’t to be disappointed.

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Dave (our resident bait digger) was spreading the love amongst the doggies, rays and round fish whilst Rob, sitting in between Dave and I was getting stuck in to a very good size Thornback.

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And yes, you guessed it, I was catching small rays and a mix of doggies and whiting.

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smallest ray of the day goes to me of course!

Again, just not my day, but to be honest,  for me the day was about friendship after a long strange winter. Any fish for me were a bonus. It was so good to see everyone on board and great to see a new skipper building a business. I really do recommend Sea Leopard for those living in N Essex and the surrounds. 

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So; two great days on board, sadly constrained by the wind and seas but hey, good to be back on the water and very happy that even in these challenging times our charter skippers have weathered the storm and are there for us again for the months ahead. Looking ahead in to May the prospects are good and the bass will return as hungry as ever. For those who have booked boat trips; don’t worry as I don’t have any, so the weather will be fine. I have and will continue to be focusing on the launch of the John Wilson Fishing Enterprise, having been filming our first three sessions over the past week. Look out for Anglia Evening News on Tuesday 4th May and my blog next weekend explains all of what we are doing for kids who need a bit of help.

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