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. 

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.

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

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.

On to the beach at Corton – adult coaching

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.

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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. 

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.

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.

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. 

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…. 

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.

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.

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  

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.

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. 

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.

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.

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

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. 

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.

Alan Stevens

Mastering The Pier

OK; hands up who have ever watched one of those marine nature programmes on telly and seen a reef full of fish. Keep your hands up if you either dream of, or love wreck fishing. Now imagine the feedback the boat skipper would give you if, when wreck fishing, you cast 100 yards away from the wreck. 

Now; hands up who when fishing a pier, casts away from it as far as you can? Granted, sometimes casting away from a pier helps you reach a channel or other feature and I have been doing this today, but in reality, more often than not, the pier is an oasis full of fish not dissimilar to a wreck or reef. Casting away from it means you can leave the oasis and place your bait in the desert. 

Furthermore; using the pier as a ‘wall’ can capitalise on the many depths the fish are swimming at and will bring unusual species, and methods, into play. And it makes a change from fishing the bottom 2-feet that a long cast gives you from the gradient your bait lays in the water.

The holes, pillars, nooks and crannies the pier possesses are a haven for fish sheltering in the weed that covers the sub surface structure and right now, those lovely little crabs are getting softer. Guess where the bass are going to be feeding.

Granted, piers are notoriously snaggy. Rotten bottom rigs and cheap terminal tackle lessen the pain of lost kit but mastering the art of casting just slightly away from the structure can avoid the worst of the snags whilst still tempting the fish to leave their hiding places to snack on your bait.

I use a 15-ft beach casting continental rod but flick a cast only two or three rod lengths away from the pier. Carp rods would be ideal too of course. The purpose of the long rod is not to cast distance, but to enable the retrieve to be kept away from the pier structure. Using 2-oz heavier weights than you would normally need for the tide prevents drift of the bait into stage and ensures a more straight up and down placing and retrieving of the baits.

The other advantage from using a very long rod is that it enables you to use very long terminal tackle set ups, covering maybe 10 feet of depth. my go to rig is a ‘stretched’ 3-5 wire boom paternoster rig, size 1 or 2 hooks connected by lightweight (10lb) short fluorocarbon snoods. The lightweight fluorocarbon provides movement for the baits and also is first to break should a hook snag, preventing a total loss of terminal tackle. The hooks are most commonly baited with micro bait mackerel or squid top hook, squid, herring or bluey middle hooks and at the seabed crab or worm. Basically, just covering my options with what I think reflects what the fish would be feeding on over that 10-feet depth range. Periodically I jig the rod, especially at slack water just to keep the movement going.

So with this core rod locked and loaded, option for as second rod are many. Depending on conditions I sometimes drop a sliding float loaded with small rag/maddies just out of sight. The clearer the water the deeper I set the bait. Often you get bass, mullet or garfish hunting just below the visible water line. This is a really great tactic at night, when the predatory fish use any light from the pier to hunt at shallow depths. If when fishing bottom at dusk and it goes quiet, try fishing micro baits 12 ft down with a float. Trust me. Float fishing can be a bit tricky when the pier is busy and when the tide is running, but when not, great fun so long as you hang on to your rod.

For my style of pier fishing a drop net is essential. Fishing lightweight snoods risks a break off when lifting fish from the water to pier. In addition to its core purpose, at slack water a weighted and sunk drop net loaded with bait can bring up some real surprises but for me the real delight is the shrimps and prawns which can be a meal themselves or super bait for the float or top hook paternoster. 

If the tide is running, a tactic I developed during 2020 is to use sliders. Baiting it with a whole small bluey, sprat or pouting for example, I simply cast down tide 10-yards and let gravity and tide do its thing. This works really well for dogfish who love to hang around piers for the small fish that we catch and throw back. The slider covers the whole elevation of the water depth as it descends, so in effect you are covering every possibility of fish feeding height.

Another Al, mastering the Thornback caught at Clacton today.

So to conclude; I don’t know why piers have a bad reputation as they can be great. Removing the need to cast long distances means kids can fish as equals too making it the ideal starting point for the youngest family members. Today on Clacton Pier families were having a great time. You don’t get sand in your car like a day on the beach and you can chose your time to go home unlike a boat trip. The pier attracts a wider variety of fish in contrast to a beach and typically has a cafe near to hand to save you from a pot noodle dinner. In terms of equipment, it is also probably the cheapest place to fish. The pier for me is an all round easy but interesting location to have in your arsenal. I love them.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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

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

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. 

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.

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.

 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.

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!

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. 

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.

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.

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…

Alan Stevens

Fishing Friendships and Ben’s Huge Dab

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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

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.

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 

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.