Let’s face it, Northern hemisphere sea fishing isn’t exactly seen as a sexy sport. I know we love it but it is hardly likely that we attract thousands of drooling followers who tune in to live streaming of our endeavours every trip. This is so different in the Southern Hemisphere and especially South Africa where lycra clad gym honed six pack permed hair fishing superstars bring fast action adventures to the masses in a way unimaginable to our world. These folks are household names and every inch of their bright coloured skin-tight clothing is sponsored and live-streamed to the baying crowds. South African beach fishermen are modern day gladiators battling huge fish against the odds. They are warriors, icons.
Contrast this to me, arriving pre-dawn this Saturday with my nondescript all black outfit causing the local neighbourhood watch to twitch the curtains. Think more Joe Pasquale than Joe Wicks. More scarecrow than Armani. But, I arrived at one of my usual haunts more excited than usual because I had a cunning plan. Fumbling with overstocked tackle seat box, bait buckets and rod/tripod cases I stumbled my way across the sand in the pre-dawn darkness. I didn’t care what I looked like. In my mind I was as cool as the guy from the Milk Tray adverts.
The reason I was fishing a stupidly early daytime shift was down to my plan which started to formulate in the middle hours of Wednesday night. I had been weirdly dreaming about being in a helicopter filming above a busy beach in Africa and shouting down to swimmers who were oblivious of the huge sharks swimming below them. Waking up with a start I experienced one of those light-bulb moments. Let me explain. You see the previous weekend, both myself and the super bloke fishing next to me at Holland On Sea caught dogfish close in on scuffed casts. And my rapidly formulating midnight idea was that these dogfish at Holland had learned that dinner would be provided by us fisherfolk each day when we chuck back the pin whiting. When returned despite our care I theorised that for a short period these little beauties might be disoriented to the point that the dogfish had an easy meal. Hardly Great White Cage diving in terms of terror but something I kept developing further throughout the zoom call laden final two days of the working week.
The plan was to use dead bait sliders from the beach, which if I was proved correct would resemble the disoriented whiting and thus drive countless dogfish to my teasing baits. I know sliders are commonplace with fresh water fishermen, but I have to confess for me it was new from the beach and I don’t see many people using them when out and about.
For those who are unfamiliar to this technique, you cast out with a simple heavy breakaway weight with a ring-stopper above it at your chosen height, then keeping everything very tight you attach a slider rig to your mainline and the slider tackle slides down your main line to the ring stopper. The three big benefits of this are that with soft baits such as sprats or large herring baits, trying to cast them accurately and delicately enough to present well is tricky. Casting out the weight alone allows you to be precise with the location and sliding the bait down the line keeps everything looking perfect. And finally, as the bait slides it covers all the height of the water, so what ever depth and distance the fish are feeding at, your bait travels through this zone. With me so far?
The golden rules of successful sliding are (no sniggering please); have a very stiff rod, and moisten your slider to help it slide. The rod needs to be stiff to keep the line tension and allow the slider to slide and a moist slider lubricates the lines as it slides to meet the water. The mechanism on the slider prevents the bait from returning up the line once in the water, but that said, for dead baits you do need a significant gradient and must cast down-tide. If the gradient and tide isn’t enough to mover the slider along, you jig your rod repeatedly (stop it) and the action bounces the baited slider down hill.
So I greeted dawn with a four gun salute. One 14ft heavy duty rod set up with a whole bluey baited weighted slider that I lobbed out around 50 yards. One light tackle rod set up with a two hook worm baited flapper close by the slider to get the whiting busy. Two more rods were set up for long-distance casting, with one hook clip down rigs baited with whole squid and herring wraps and big lug baits every now and then to mix it up a bit until I found out what the fish were up for. One of the long-distance rods was a second hand set up of a Penn mag 2 reel attached to a Vertix Odyssey acquired from Kevan at Colchester Bait and Tackle. It is that time of year when people are trading up for Christmas and there are some super second hand bargains at the shop. Whoever left these beauties behind..thank you as they are a dream to use.
The weather was amazing for the last November weekend of the year. Pure sunshine, no wind making the day warm up quickly. Ideal for being out but hardly ideal conditions for day time shallow water fishing, my hopes were not high but I was keen to master the slider and new rod/reel.
The session started slowly to be fair, the tide not being high enough for much action and not helped by a swimmer who thought it was OK to watch for fish amongst my lines from above. Telling me fish were there having not had a bite really helped! After a short exchange of advice he kindly moved along to the completely empty 10-miles of shoreline to my right and calm was restored.
Most notably, even after my usual flood tide line measures where fish begin to feed, I had not even one single whiting nibble. And it went on like this. Nothing for another hour at all. Crabs were busy feeding beyond their normal flood tide water level, which is not a good sign. If they are not scared of being eaten by anything, results usually remain grim, and my justification for being outside was shifting from catching fish to topping up my vitamin D. Stripping off layers of clothing and chatting to passing beach walkers about how this could be a summers day, life remained good.
Then the fishing began to change for the better. The slider gently signalled some action with a tapping of the rod and the bluey had done the business. To my surprise however it was not a dogfish that had taken the penel trap but a decent size thick set flounder. After loading up another bluey and refreshing the other crab stripped rods yet another large flounder found the slider beyond temptation. Many of the flat fish species have their eyes on top of their heads for a reason – they attack bait above them and so it was the case today. The flounders were feeding on the river herrings that crowd our estuaries and bingo – my slider fish bait was working first time out. Happy days albeit that the doggies were nowhere to be seen.
That was it for the slider for a while and my attention began to be dominated by the two rods I was banging out as far as I could manage and the lug worms were beginning to work. Amazingly still no whiting at all. I surmised that they have finished spawning and have left the river mud flats for deeper water. Looking at reports from along the rivers this weekend I think I might be right. We shall see. Still plenty off the coastline beaches if you are missing them of course.
What had replaced the beloved whiting amazingly were soles and gurnard. All from 100yd plus casts from shore. Not big but very welcome after the last few weeks for sure. By close I had five slip Soles and two Gurnards to thankfully give me something to write about today. This was further enhanced by a decent Thornback on a herring/squid wrap as my worm supplies became depleted.
As the tide ebbed further I repositioned the bluey baited slider to be just down-tide of a sandbar. I know Bass hang out there to feed on small fish and crabs as they tumble across the bar. This meant a bit of a walk to get the angle of cast right for the slider to work and I had to abandon the other rods. After 10-mins the rod began to twitch a little. A really small bite and I guessed a junior contribution to the catch stats. Reeling in slowly I could sense that the slider had not reached the terminal stopper ring and to be honest I thought maybe I had picked up some weed and not a fish after all. All that changed when the stopper came into play. My slider had not reached the stopper. Realising something was up, the fish I had on gave a really heavy tug and I was convinced that my dogfish plan had finally worked. Playing the fish for enjoyment my slow retrieve enabled the fish to keep below the water right to the shoreline. The long brown patterned skin came into view as the water met the sand and to my total surprise it was not a dogfish but my first codling of the season. A sleek 3.5 lb beauty was not the pot bellied tug of war type codling but a fit middle weight boxer kind of fish. The slider had done the trick. I was buzzing and I would have remained at that spot fishing forever if the tide had not exposed the oyster laden mud expanse which had provided my bounty.
As I returned to my car to reflect on the day it was surreal. No whiting or doggies, flat fish feeding mid-water, codling, sole and gurnard all in one day. This was not how I planned it.
Changing footwear I realised I had a broken toe. God knows how I did it – the fishing was so all consuming I truly have no idea what happened to it. Genuinely, I felt for a moment that it was not real. Having watched Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes again over the past few weeks I was imagining being in the programme, some Bowie song to come on the car radio and Gene Hunt to be driving. Sadly the reality is I have to go to work again tomorrow. Already my mind is turning to how to use the sliders on the piers when they reopen this week. We made it through this lockdown, yay!
For now, tight lines. Time to fire up the Quattro