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. 

94E881E4 84A5 408F A4C1 E120ECC70BBF 1 105 c

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.

506343AA 35BB 45AE 8C6A 5420D857FC7D 1 105 c

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.

9A53D9BD 99B7 4A29 BD83 2889B9C5A533 1 105 c

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.

E79D88F0 03C0 4022 9E3A C83A859F5CC0 1 105 c

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. 

813C6D83 B6C0 4BAD AE39 7E3CBB2AD38E 1 105 c

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

95CEE0E9 23FC 4EE9 B9D4 042863EF8409 1 105 c 1

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.

718427ED B876 4CEF 8E68 218620F96439 1 105 c
1155BD0C E380 4F02 A1E8 3369565BBD7E 1 105 c

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.

DC0ED913 3876 4846 B327 1D57832C3C50 1 105 c
3726BE4C B090 41AB BC06 EA1E5910A61E 1 105 c

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 

57A93426 DF88 42B5 AF22 AE3573AD8857 1 105 c

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.

25DB6EAB 89F2 4279 81F0 0A1A15120F83 1 105 c
Alan Stevens

Just One Thing

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

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

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

agility 2

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

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

shakespeare agility 2 exp beach rod save 20 38018 p

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

IMG 1101

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

IMG 1055

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

IMG 1118
Alan Stevens

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

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

EFEF5373 A1F9 4C19 91F6 B43AA5E6955E 1 105 c

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pulley Rig:

C960A3CE AA8D 48A9 B010 FE1486D9E69B

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

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

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

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

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

The Up and Over Rig:

4AFA531C A762 4A58 A8BD D771882E41D9 4 5005 c

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

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

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

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

The Pulley Dropper Rig:

CF15EDDA 84A1 44D4 8C4E 0ABDB2FC43E4

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

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

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

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

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

3CE8014C 7ECE 46E5 BFDD E893892F6B3A
Alan Stevens

Beach Baits On A Budget

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

This week’s blog focuses on baits, specifically how to stretch your budget without reducing the chances of catching something decent. Since I wrote last on baits, especially the micro-baits in the blog Reading the Beach Part 3 I have had a lot of requests to elaborate further on the merits of smaller baits. So here goes.

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

8BB2DCC7 7634 4805 B00F A844F22AAFAE 1 105 c

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

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

CC5C0EF0 BF8F 4AFC 8652 8763EF183E94 1 105 c

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

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

6E08BFD0 2301 4B1F A134 8A0EC59CED5F 1 105 c 1

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

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

B4012A58 227E 49BA 9F20 71E5E2BB814D 1 105 c
Alan Stevens

Fish and a perfect sunrise

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

F298A4EE 1CCA 44F7 9CDE DCCED652A8D5 1 105 c

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

355DC585 0ABD 49A1 84E8 CB6F1FAF67EF 1 105 c

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

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

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

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

C6067AE0 71DA 4B28 B632 7DE749DB1221 1 105 c

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

58DB1AAA 1390 4F26 A5AF CEF26B73906B 1 105 c 1
the darkest cououred flounder I have caught for a while and totally different to the lighter one caught 30-mins previously

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

Alan Stevens

Awesome fishing in the middle of the greatest city on earth

AEA9C527 ADD2 4DE4 97FE DE7BFB53B73D 1 105 c

Well another week passes with this awful virus causing such tragedy everywhere you look. Thankfully the vaccine is being rolled out at pace and we can hope to look forward to happier times later this year. 

With a future where travel is possible once more hopefully getting closer; my aim is to write a series of blogs about the fantastic locations across the globe where my work has taken me in the past that offer not only first class fishing, but also a cultural and historic experience beyond the normal go-to overseas venues. These venues are ones I can’t wait to get back to and hopefully will provide our essexanglers with some alternative options for any fishing holidays you might be thinking about in the future. I will cover locations  across Africa, Europe and Asia but start this week with one that actually straddles two continents –  Istanbul.

19F783BC 5214 4375 8784 5345F7D3D2F7

Istanbul, a mere 4-hours flight from the UK, is a totally unique city. Imagine Rome on steroids. Straddling two continents, the population of over 15 million people live for the three ‘f’s. Football, food and fishing. You can guarantee that sparking up a conversation with a local on any of these three subjects will make a friend for life. 

The city was founded in ancient times at what has become a hugely significant strategic location because of the abundance of fish. In fact, the fish are so numerous the people used to simply scoop a basket in the water and it would fill with fish. The reason for so many fish is down to the stretch of water dividing the city in two – the Bosphorus. This deep channel divides European Istanbul from the Asian (Anatolia) side of the city and connects the cold Black Sea with the saltier and warmer Sea of Marmara. 

The Black Sea, having a high degree of fresh water flowing into it, dominates the flow of surface water into the north end of the Bosphorus. Underneath this, a deep layer of very salty dense water flows in the opposite direction up from the Sea of Marmara to the south of the city. This circular flow of water and mixing of nutrients causes an explosion of life and with it a whole range of sea fishing choices right in the heart of one of the most dynamic cities on earth.

6DABBEC3 DB2A 4070 99AE F268CA9F0DFA 1 105 c

At the heart of the old city, the best fishing can be found immediately below the Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque and Spice Bazar. So many fish occupy the waters here that the colour of the water turns to gold – hence the name Golden Horn. Within meters of the Galata bridge, separating the Taksim area from the Spice Bazar you will find every inch of possible space occupied by fishermen catching fish non-stop all day and night. So what are they catching? 

63FE0027 C119 4BD9 A77B 185AD653028D 1 105 c

t is really easy to know what fish are in season as every district has it’s own fish market (Balik Bazar). Turkish people live by their seasons in a way we have forgotten here in the UK. These incredible displays of fish have been caught no longer than a few hours before and are the freshest produce you will ever taste believe me. My tactics are simply to walk around the nearest Balik Bazar, then select my tackle and fishing method to match whatever is in season. 

There are two types of fish in the Bosphorus – migratory and sedentary fish. Bluefish, Atlantic bonito, turbot, European pilchard, sand smelt and garfish are the main migratory fish that pass through the Bosphorus. Horse mackerel, mullet, picarel, annular bream, brown meagre, European sea bass, red gurnard, and black scorpionfish can be caught all year round and are regular inhabitants. 

Atlantic bonito and large horse mackerel are caught with trotlines with 10 or 5 baited feathers, jigs or squid baited hooks with heavy weights to get deep enough and counter the fast flowing currents. To hunt for the bluefish which visit the Bosphorus between September and March, small fish baits on paternoster rigs cast close in to shore work really well. 

EB635C7E D31E 4C0A 97A1 45C35602CDD0

If you’re fishing from a boat, lures and oily fish baits work best, but shoreline fishing is the way to go for most options as the fish are caught within 20-30 meters from shore. This is due to the bait fish, anchovies and so forth being pushed up against the shoreline by the mackerel, bass and bluefish, which in turn are hunted by the bonito and in turn themselves are hunted by dolphins all in front of you within reach of any cast. 

Fishing at night is the most pleasant method in the summer months to escape the heat, and families gather along the banks of the Bosphorus with BBQ’s and bottles of raki to fish, drink and talk into the early hours under the stars. For me, autumn and spring are the best times to compromise between the weather and crowds and bring the best fishing too. Winter can be really cold with temperatures similar to the UK between November and February.

E86D136B D945 4406 BA71 E7A01BE1E0AC 1 105 c

If you want to fish beyond the coastal pathways that stretch the length of the Bosphorus boats can be hired to either head to the North end of the Bosphorus and the cold waters of the Black Sea to fish for huge turbot or south towards the warm waters Princess Islands for bigger bonito, swordfish and grouper. Both trips take no more than an hour or so from the city centre. A more simple option is to travel across from one side of the Bosphorus to the other on the public transport ferries and split the shoreline fishing day in half –  so you can brag that you have caught fish on two continents in one day

B4802805 D6E5 4192 83D0 FB4C63B6E3F7

Istanbul of course has so much more to offer than fishing. The nightlife can be as up-market as anywhere on earth yet in contrast to the swish night clubs you can find countless small bars in Taksim playing great local live music every night. Tickets to the football games at Galatasary, Besiktas and Fenerbache are reasonably accessible and safe to attend so long as you are sensible.  The cost of living in Istanbul is around 2/3 of UK prices so pretty good value for money too. But Istanbul’s real attraction (beyond fishing) is the history and culture of the city, which has more dimensions than anywhere I have been.

1F97ED40 3DCD 4067 8B47 11CE61FF09C2

Every empire throughout time has wanted a piece of Istanbul and have left their mark accordingly in the architecture, food and music.

There is so much to see and do in Istanbul and it is changing at such pace that despite visiting regularly for over 20 years I still get a buzz and find something new every time i am there. The apartment I rent overlooks the Galata Tower and Golden Horn, truly the best view on earth. If there is one city to visit and fish it just has to be Istanbul. 

B250B8AA D055 478E 8617 67075B3FCBEF 1 105 c
CE9E40AA 6D8F 472A A288 A41A735DF33F

Next week I will  write about a completely different kind of location to Istanbul – Ghana. Another country I visit regularly with amazing fishing potential from huge Nile perch on the Volga River to monster barracuda off Cape Coast with history dominated by the horrific slavery trade from past years. 

For now keep healthy and if you need any more information on Istanbul feel free to get in touch. 

Alan Stevens

Reading The Beach Part Three – baits and terminal tackle

030B9C9E 11AC 4844 B9AB F517D54B5EB1 1 105 c

“The secret of happiness is variety, but the secret of variety is knowing when to use it”

Well another week has passed fellow anglers and with 2021 upon us I wish you all a happy and healthy year ahead. The weather has remained cold and the estuaries are full of sprats so I guess the thornback and bass will be focused on them for now. I also noticed when fishing a coastal bay this week that the fish were coughing up lots of small shrimp, which might signal a few more codling in the coming weeks to feed on them. Fingers crossed.

This week I will complete the trilogy of blogs relating to beach fishing techniques. The first focused on desktop research to identify new potential hot spots

The second blog focused on scouting these potential marks to identify features that would most likely  concentrate fish into highly productive target zones

Today I will focus on the business end of fishing – the methods, baits and terminal tackle that I hope will provoke some thoughts as to how we might expand our thinking and techniques for the year ahead. 

Let’s begin by thinking about the objectives for a particular session – how will we define success? By volume of fish caught; species; degree of challenge; size etc? Once this is clear in your mind then the venue can be selected to best fit the objectives. With the venue clear then the question is how best to fish it. 

The high level question is do we use fresh/frozen baits or do we use lures? Simplistically, on the East Anglian coast, baits catch more fish overall, but off mixed size and can be dominated by species that we get fed up with such as whiting. On the other hand, lure fishing is harder work and is most likely to produce less fish. However, over the year lures are just as likely to produce as many specimen fish as well as eliminate the species we don’t wish to target. Finally of course, lure fishing can bring locations into play that are not suitable for common bait techniques. But more of that later.

606CB177 2DE1 479B B0A6 0ED62F2D964A 1 105 c

So focusing on baits first; let’s start with worms, my go-to bait. For me, which type of worm to use is totally dependent on what the mark is telling me. I believe the fish are going to be eating what is on offer at the mark. So, are there blow lug casts or signs of harbour rag? This can vary over very short distances and I always fish with the worm which represents what exists naturally at the mark. There isn’t a 100% rule to where you would expect to find rag or lug but generally on our estuaries it seems that black and blow lug, along with king rag thrive in the coastal bays; blow lug dominate the lower estuary mud flats and harbour rag (maddies) dominate the upper estuary. So if in doubt I will use this rule when buying worm, but you cannot beat walking the shoreline and seeing what is there. 

518E80F8 3074 4D0F 8DF9 FABA33DD64D8 1 105 c
Plenty of blow lug and pipe worm cast to indicate which bait to use
69B37851 9C76 4598 B017 7C4C7933CF2D 1 105 c
Here there are clear signs of harbour rag (maddies) so the bait to use here is these

When it comes to fish baits, as our coast is home to oily fish such as herring and sprats for some months of the year I tend to fish with these along with frozen bluey. From the beach reconnaissance; if I have identified a fresh water stream entering the sea I target this with sand eels. I am told that bass have a higher tolerance to brackish water than sand eels who become lethargic when swimming in these streams where the salt water content is slightly lower, giving the bass and advantage. The bass follow these streams up the beach on an incoming tide so a whole sand eel cast into one of these streams is a killer summer bait tactic. 

851353F4 3EB5 4379 929E A2CA26860201 1 105 c
fresh water running into the estuary is a great spot to target with fish baits

Squid is also a go-to bait for my wraps, combining the squid with worm, fish or more often these days, I am stuffing the whole squid body with herring roe which, this autumn I am finding the best results with out of all bait options. This week I have some crabcart ordered so will try the squid bodies stuffed with that for cod next weekend and let you know how it goes.

D7162495 B3B0 44AB BBC8 7DBF4584A13B 1 105 c
my mid week activity of preparing some squid and fish wraps for the coming weekend

Often to mix things up a little, I will also use tiny artificial baits – especially the glow in the dark ones – tipped with a tiny piece of squid or worm. I love using them around harbour walls, piers and breakwaters on incoming tides. Bass and mullet find them irresistible and now the species hunt is in full swing they might tease a few oddballs out of the rock crevices. We shall see on that one too. 

B80D0B56 EF13 40DC A426 B80EEC485C21 1 105 c 1
50730F94 C889 4C19 BE39 C342480EEFB3 1 105 c
these glow in the dark micro-baits work wonders

You can probably see here that the hooks are tiny. For what it is worth – I don’t always subscribe to the big hook brigade when fishing our coasts. A pin whiting will take a size 3/0 hook and the biggest cod I have seen caught  in Essex – a 21lb beauty taken adjacent to Southend Pier – was landed on a size 2 hook with a single blow lug bait. These tiny artificial baits represent what the fish are feeding on in the weed we see along our coast. The other main species on the target fish diet is of course small crabs. I collect the tiny crabs from the weed (no bigger shell than a 1p piece) and tip the worm baited hook with them. No need for buying peeler crabs, just pick these little beauties up and tie them on with a bit of bait elastic and bingo – I promise you. 

030B9C9E 11AC 4844 B9AB F517D54B5EB1 1 105 c 1

When using baits my terminal tackle selection is quite straight forward. Single or two hook clip down rigs when casting long; flowing trace (with spoon or beads) for flat fish and a two hook flapper for the mud flat mid-range casts. For close-in fishing or when fishing piers I often revert to a three hook paternoster, which I find presents bait cleaner than a flapper rig and produces better results accordingly. I know paternoster rigs are unfashionable here in the UK but they work for me and are hugely popular abroad. My biggest beach caught bass and pier caught thornback of 2020 were both on paternoster set ups. My quirk for 2020 was the experiment with sliders from the beach which for sure will remain in play for the coming year. 

There is however, a whole non-bait world to explore when fishing our coastal waters and that is the use of lures. There are two main reasons to consider lure fishing on our coast;

  1. As written earlier in this blog it can eliminate undesirable species such as whiting
  2. It brings marks onto play that are impossible for ledger methods such as rocky headlands and weedy creeks.

The old saying is true in my experience in that if a mark looks too difficult to fish this is exactly where you should be fishing and this is where lures come in to play. It is a myth that our coastline is too murky for lures, maybe so on the bigger ebb tides or during rainy periods, but the waters clear quickly on flood tides and during dry spells and lures work very well indeed. 

My selection of lures ranges from floating lures, which I use when needing to keep right away from sub surface obstacles, to shads, minnows and sand eels which I cast onto sandbanks and let the tide wash them into the depths and waiting predators which then follow the lure as I retrieve it.

3E0E1C15 3116 4F4F B14D 29F3B7339A41 1 105 c
floating rattle lures (top), various weighted shads/minnows all of which are weedless to avoid snagging, and bottom right metal lures for cleaner conditions

One of my most successful marks this year has been at a rocky corner of a lower estuary which is a graveyard for tackle. However, it is ideal for bass to use the rocks to hide and pounce on passing prey. I cast a floating lure and trot it over the rocks with the flow of water. 

E49D2A8F 1580 482A A734 DB66F72043C1 1 105 c

What I have found this year is something unexpected. My daytime successes have been mainly on dull coloured lures in poor light conditions, but when the light is stronger then brighter lures produce good results. Up to this year I had in my mind the opposite would be true. Let’s see what 2021 brings with these. The best results for surface lures were at night, consistently during bright moonlight. If the moon was not bright then rattler surface lures produced reasonable results.

Finally, my last technique that has worked for me in 2020 is trotting a float with a short trace loaded with maddies at dawn or dusk. Killer tactics for the upper estuary creeks but also deadly around harbour walls such as Halfpenny Pier at Harwich, on Clacton pier at slack water as well as the breakwaters at Jaywick on the ebb tide.

So to conclude; I hope that by researching and investigating new locations and by experimenting with new techniques, our fishing days can remain as exciting as ever. We have so many miles of coast to chose from with infinite tactics and options to approach them with.  My blogs are in no way designed to suggest any mark mentioned is better than another – simply the locations are named or shown in pictures to provide examples of what to look for. The same applies with tackle and baits/lures. The beauty of discovering a new mark through research and time invested getting to know a venue and trialling new techniques makes the eventual catch so much more rewarding, far more so than heading to a mark mentioned here or on a facebook post and lobbing out the same old bait. Essex has hundreds of miles of coastline and I think I have at least three quarters of it still to explore.

So, Covid rules and weather permitting, next week I shall be blogging about the crabcart bait results and maybe the sliders might be dusted off again and loaded with sprats, we shall see. I have found a new mark too to try so can’t wait to be back out again. Happy hunting until then.

59212344 907C 4DE4 9E1A 024AF01D94F1 1 105 c
Alan Stevens

Reading the beach part 2: the killer clues that tip the odds in your favour

Insanity; to do the same thing and expect different results

6ACC11BD CD7A 4F8B 89DC 2AEA141F1DDA 1 105 c

Well fellow readers; I hope this blog finds you well and that Santa delivered all the gear you need ready for a fabulous 2021. The change in weather has been a bit dramatic this week and with it the Flounder have duly arrived on the Essex estuary shoreline in numbers, signalling the full winter season has begun I can’t wait to be out there getting my dose of essential socially distant exercise. 

This weeks blog is the second in a trilogy of items focusing on how to radically improve results when beach fishing. How by understanding the forces that determine the shaping of the coastal landscape and the impacts upon what and where fish congregate to feed, you can hone your skills to the point where the odds of a great day’s fishing tip significantly in your favour.

Last week we concentrated on the physical landscape and how to research potential optimal locations. The link to this blog is as follows

This week I will focus on the next step – surveying the shoreline on arriving at a potential mark. How one can assess the conditions to understand where and when the fish will be concentrated into a feeding zone. I will take three different scenarios; the coastal bay, the lower estuary and finally the upper estuary. All of which have very different characteristics but once understood can all deliver a fantastic and varied day’s catch at any time of year

The Coastal Bay

The coastal bay is outside of the estuary and more exposed to the weather, therefore, the main driver for seabed features here is the effect from wind and subsequent wave action. The effects of wave action are mostly beyond the low water mark, so are more commonly hidden from sight. The key thing to focus on is any changes in waves you can see. What we are looking for is changes in the wave shape and where they rise and fall.

The changing shapes of waves are far easier to see than to capture in pictures (sorry for this) so bear with me as follows:

B86CC477 F078 457C 82FC 702482D788E9 1 105 c
Bay with central cut in sandbar

Here we have a bay exposed to onshore prevailing winds. During a 15-minute observation of the wave action it became clear that the waves rose sharply in two areas around 40 meters from shore before decreasing for a distance of 10 meters and then again rose to the shoreline. This was a telltale sign of a sandbar and trough. Standing in the middle of the bay looking out to sea I observed a section in the middle of the bay where waves did not form – indicating a central cut. Walking to the side of the bay and looking across the bay parallel to the beach it confirmed the wave action and likelihood of the distance of the sand bar from shore. What could also be seen from the side of the bay was another wave area suggesting an outer sandbar beyond the breakwaters giving me another likely target to consider at low water. Let’s look at this in a diagram of what I think is going on here:

Screenshot 2020 12 27 at 11.33.45
A – low water casting target area. B – flood/high tide tide casting area. C- Ebb tide casting area

The water is forced over the sandbars by wave action and then retreats via the central cut. As the tide rises fish will mostly enter the bay through the central cut, feed in the inner trough before exiting by the central cut to feed in the outer trough as the tide ebbs. The length of cast is determined by the distance to the cut or trough being targeted. Accuracy of cast is critical to hit the cut on the ebb and typically the cuts are extremely narrow.

EFC2D119 FC5C 42A6 826C E164190E75EE 1 105 c
Bay with sandbar and with side cuts

In this bay there was a small cross tidal flow and no central cut observed – instead the waves rose indicating a sandbar but unlike the first bay, no wave gap was observed in the middle of this zone. Instead either side of the bar the waves did not rise, suggesting cuts where the water retreats either side of the bar. Fishing this bay requires different tactics to target the side cuts as the fish enter or leave the bay and then focusing on the inner and outer troughs as per the first bay. Hitting the middle of the bay with long casts on the ebb might look good, but will generate little action in contrast to focusing on the cuts close to the breakwaters.

Screenshot 2020 12 27 at 12.04.32
A – Low water casting target. B – Flood tide/high water casting targets. C- Ebb tide casting targets

The Lower Estuary

Let’s now look at the estuary just prior to joining the open sea. Wind action remains a significant factor on the shaping of the shoreline but here in contrast to the coastal bay we also have to equally consider tidal and river water effects too. So a combination of wind and tide/water flow drives our conditions. 

Firstly, because our prevailing winds are south-westerly, the wind generated forces are greater on the more exposed northern shoreline. Though more challenging to fish, northern shores generally produce greater results. 

However, because of tidal and river flow eroding forces, the bays, cuts, troughs and holes that we need to identify are often much more subtle than the coastal bays. Size isn’t everything as they say, and these smaller features are just as significant in concentrating fish into target zones. 

What we are looking for to begin with are sand bars that run at 90-degrees to the shoreline, commonly of no more than a few feet in height. These bars act like fences in a field to keep the fish in a zone. Often fish are territorial (such as bass) and a small number of large dominant fish fiercely guard these zones.  

5141974E CD9E 4F6D 8FF7 BE59C49F2E71 1 105 c
Sandbar at right angles to beach line

The bay within the sandbars consists of subtle troughs, holes and cuts just like the coastal bay examples, but in the case of estuary bays less defined. Often exposed at low water, This gives the angler a distinct advantage as the features can be observed and accurately mapped

4A3BDE87 0DF3 42E2 A650 0C175B0675BA 1 105 c
typical hole where predatory fish sit on ebb tides
02F14F02 3EC7 45F4 BC8A 439EDBE0C695 1 105 c
a cut leading away from the beach to a hole. One to target.

As the water flows with the tides it comes in contact with the sandbars, at high water flowing over the top but for much of the tide flowing around them, causing a circular flow in the bay. Fish follow this circular pattern, entering the bay via the flood tide cut, feeding on prey being washed over the bar by the incoming tide. They then feed on the mudflats and troughs before departing via the ebb tide cut again seeking prey that is being washed over the sandbar by the now ebbing tide. Finally, the predatory fish pause in holes waiting to ambush the last fish retreating from the mudflats before they too retreat to the outer trough at low water. By knowing precisely where these features are and by moving your position with the tide, following an anti-clockwise walk around the bay you can follow the fish feeding positions through the entire tidal cycle.

Screenshot 2020 12 27 at 12.38.41
A – Low water casting targets. B – Flood tide target zones. C- high water target zones. D- ebb tide target zones

Again, accuracy of cast is critical to hit the right zone. Often the high-water inner trough can be a matter of a few yards from the shoreline and the biggest fish can be feeding at your feet, especially after dark when targeting summer bass.

Lower estuary fishing is like a game of golf. Sure you might need your driver but you win the game with your approach shots and puts. The name of the game here is to use a rod and reel that gives you control, even in the dark where your instinct of direction and distance to position your bait is a game changer.

6C633EE0 0709 48A5 B08D F08517D0AF1E 1 105 c
This cut is no more than 10 yards from the high water line.

Clearly, fishing a whole tidal cycle on the move requires the angler to travel light. Typically when doing so I can walk in excess of three miles. It is also extremely dangerous to do this at night without knowing the beach well. Sometimes it is just fine to sit at the high water line and fish a few hours.

The Upper Estuary

For me, upper estuary fishing is by far the most skilful form of beach fishing and in many respects, resembles a lot of freshwater tactics, which I will explain more of next week.

Here, commonly more sheltered from extreme winds, the dominant force is water flow. The period of tide relevant for fish to feed is short. The advantage here is due to the short feeding period, the fish tend to feed ravenously resulting in intense fishing sessions.

Again, precision of seabed knowledge and casting is critical. Northern upper estuary beaches are commonly strewn with hazards which are like a graveyard for terminal tackle, but provide the perfect habitat for predatory fish.

6FA98129 30D5 4CA2 B985 94AF96DFF608 1 105 c
A killer seabed for terminal tackle

An example here is a small inlet on the north shoreline where we can see at low water an extent of shell and mud flats that runs extends to around 40 yards. Because the fish are moving up-river on the incoming tide, I focus on the downstream bank on the flood tide as typically this is is the side of an inlet the fish enter from. This is paradise for rays who gorge on worms and small crabs here.

1B14DFD3 11ED 48E0 95FD 2B0CEAA09689 1 105 c
This however is ideal fishing ground and next to the minefield in the previous picture
Screenshot 2020 12 27 at 13.04.07
A – early flood target casting zone from east bank. B- mid flood tide zone. C – 3/4 tide zone. D – high water zone. E – Ebb tide trough casting zone from west bank

Beyond the mudflats you can see the mooring buoys, things to avoid casting over, so the fishing zone is defined in my mental map. Moving further into the inlet past two wrecks, we can see shallow areas that are ideal for summer/autumn bass and mullet fishing and again, by mapping the terrain we can hit the ideal spots, no more than 10 yards from the shoreline without the risk of losing tackle. Stealth on the bank is essential as the fish might be surprisingly huge but still are easily spooked.

05A9E519 8CD0 4141 B6FE FC0AF65D08F1 1 105 c
perfect terrain for mullet and bass on the evening high tide

As the tide recedes the fish exit the inlet via the central trough. As the wrecks are on the east side of the trough I fish the ebb here from the upstream westerly bank ensuring my casts hit the trough but do not go too far and bring the wrecks and boys into play. Using different terminal tackle and baits and being constantly on the move, this type of fishing again requires you to carry only what you need, but for me, provides more satisfaction than any other form of fishing you can find.


Hopefully you can see from this blog that there is so much on offer from shoreline fishing than commonly considered. There really is no need to be frustrated by the autumn plague of whiting as there are numerous options to avoid them. 

How you define a good days fishing of course can be argued from many perspectives. A good day of banter sitting with mates on the beach; lots of fish by volume; a few specimens by size or species; or simply solitude on a small estuary inlet away from modern life – all work for me on different days. Take your pick and very best of luck. But next time you feel the whiting are driving you insane whilst you rebate a three hook flapper, think again. 

Next week I will focus on the final piece of the jigsaw; terminal tackle and bait. How an agile approach and thinking creatively to directly reflect what the fish are seeking to feed upon in any given conditions can make anyone a masterful angler. For now, Happy New Year and see you all in 2021

Alan Stevens

Reading the beach – how to significantly improve your catch

354D0E53 321C 4A16 B7FD CE72B5D513D1

The day hasn’t started well. Firstly, waking to digest the sad COVID-19 emerging situation and the full extent of Tier 4 rules on my festive fishing plans it was only to be made worse by a less than well thought out email from Tripadvisor telling me it was a great time of year to be travelling! Talk about rubbing it in….

So, given it is important to comply with the rules but also to satisfy an ever demanding audience of you, the faithful essexanglers audience, I want to change tack from my recent fishing trip blogs to something more intellectual. Something we can digest over these final dark days whilst sipping a glass of sherry before the dawn of 2021 will hopefully bring more healthy and happy times for us all.  

Reading Andrew’s fantastic blogs on advanced river fishing techniques  and  it prompted me to capture in a series of blogs how applying a little brain power to beach fishing can seriously improve salt water results. I want to prove to my fellow fresh water bloggers that us salty folks can use our intellect too. Through research we can find new locations to fish and by using some agility can transform the catch and species on offer. 

So this week I will focus on high-level beach craft – reading the indicators that might identify new locations to fish. Next week I will focus on arrival at a location and how to read the nuances that tip the odds in your favour. And then for new year focus on tackle and bait that turns the chosen spot into an aquatic goldmine. A beach craft trilogy that I hope can help make 2021 your best beach fishing year ever fellow anglers.

Let’s begin with the theory. If we simply categorise the coastline as being influenced primarily by the geology; the flow of an estuary; by open sea and wave action (read weather); or a combination of all of them – we can start to understand the terrain..

A combination of these influencing factors creates a landscape of features that can gather fish into tightly focused zones, and this is what I am looking for when fishing. Imagine and oasis in the underwater desert.

Identifying sand bars, troughs and cuts that concentrate the fish is key to great beach fishing and determines everything else you do completely, ranging from the distance of cast to time of tide and tackle/bait selection.

E97AB2C3 122B 4E37 ADEF 034D6E278530 4 5005 c

So taking a step back to think about how coastal features form. Let’s focus on wave theory. As waves approach the beach the energy they hold needs to be dispersed. As the wave comes into contact with the seabed the wave energy is concentrated into a smaller area until the wave cannot hold the energy any longer causing the wave to crest and break. This physical action disturbs the seabed creating sandbars and trenches that get bigger over time, until a storm or man made force removes them and it all starts over again. 

341EF3EE 87A2 4FE9 9ECF 33702780E6CB 4 5005 c

Ideally, we are looking for short, steep waves that rise away from the shore, then die down for a stretch before rising sharply again at the beach. This indicates an outer bar where the waves first rise, then a trough where resistance from the seabed is low before a share rise in the seabed to the beach. This is ideal for summer bass fishing where the fish can be literally feeding almost at the shoreline. In contrast, where the waves more gently rise away from the beach and then continue to tumble uniformly all the way to the beach, it indicates that no trench exists. The ideal surfer beach but not so hot for close-to-shore fishing. If fishing these kind of beaches one will need to cast beyond the outer wave rise point as the fish will most likely remain beyond this area. A typical winter cod scenario and a lot more hard work. 

7CAF853C CAF6 4603 ABEC 66A1C32FA7C7 4 5005 c

Furthermore, the volume of water moving towards the beach from the waves then has to retreat back to the sea. As water always seeks to find the least line of resistance it will follow any feature allowing it to do so. Without enough energy to pass back over the sandbar, the water seeks out any weakness in the bar to generate a cut back out to deep water. This, for example we have experienced when swimming and felt a rip tide pulling us out to sea after a wave has broken. 

All of this is exaggerated further by tides and water flow and this, due to our estuaries combining with North Sea weather is why the East Anglian coast has some of the most interesting fishing opportunities around. The fish congregate in numbers at the cuts as the tide begins to flood, move through the cuts when the water is deep enough and feed in the troughs and holes to high water, then retreat back through the cuts as the tide ebbs. Predatory fish know this and utilise these features to hunt, as we do on them once we know this too.

32C11EBB 7923 4448 8CCA E4B2DB04B4E9 4 5005 c

So how do we select our location? Let’s begin by understanding that what we can see at the beach is primarily a function of what is going on further around it, so understanding the bigger picture is something we can do before visiting a new location, enabling us to narrow down options and to ensure precision on arrival. For me this means keeping an up to date set of Imray charts, which help me identify potential areas where the degree of wave and tide action will give greatest advantage. The charts cost around £45 and well worth every penny. 

8726EBF1 2AC6 4347 8014 5B9A5517CB03 1 105 c

To illustrate this, let’s pick here Shingle Street in Suffolk.  I haven’t fished there but let’s apply the theory none the less. The big picture is that we have the water flowing down from the River Ore dumping nutrients and sediment relentlessly throughout the year. We have in contrast, prevailing SW winds causing wave disturbance in the opposite direction to really mix things up. A wind over tide sailor’s nightmare but a beach fisherman’s dream. The macro conditions suggest to me that this is going to be a spot full of food and seabed disturbances, troughs, cuts and sandbars ideal for fish (and maybe me) to exploit. 

1E21805E F8C1 47F5 AC91 27BF4BF09AD6 1 105 c

Now we can then turn to the handy mobile app that comes with the physical maps when purchasing Imray charts. Zooming in to the app we can see here a whole series of sand bars and troughs. The web app shows clearly the variations in water depth contrast significantly, with little conformity in the seabed. It indicates where the banks and cuts will be and a hole that can trap water and keep fish in close to the shore with cuts to escape that will concentrate the fish on the lower ebb. If this isn’t enough it even states the banks have breaking water helping further. Ooohhh I am excited already! It has to be great spot to look at further right, so let’s investigate more as by now I am getting seriously interested in this as a potential location to visit.

69330BBE 06A9 4FB3 89FD 6D53A04B3D9A 1 105 c

Now, switching to the satellite feature on the maps app on my phone I can get an overhead image of what is going on there. Comparing the features here to the sea chart images I can see the road access, parking to keep the locals happy and most importantly local physical markers that might help me find the precise spot.

828154BF 6F7D 4C05 B59C 3C34A9887943 1 105 c

The ones I am using here (above) are the road leading to the beach and the green buoy I know from the sea charts as a line of sight to fish an identified cut.

I can also see there is some wave action going on in the image below. A series of rising waves before a quiet patch (in the middle of the image) and then the final breaking on the beach suggests there is a trough or deep water chanel to target. The distance I need to cast to hit it every time, in this case a zone approx 80 meters from shore and taken from the scale on the app map. No need for massive casts here, just precision. 

9CA5B767 781C 4CAB B54E 0CFA449508A2 1 105 c
changes in wave action indicate cuts and troughs to target and the app scale gives me the distance to cast.

So here you have it. Using wave and tide theory, and by reading maps and technology we have a new location identified. The next step will be for me to visit the location in daylight at low water to physically survey the site. I honestly don’t know if the mark is any good at this point, but the high-level indicators are promising. I would have visited to scout the mark for next Sunday’s blog but given we cannot travel I will focus next week on explaining a location already surveyed and successfully fished. I will explain just how to read the terrain and what can be learned to either chose the specific spot to fish or to discount as a graveyard.

For now, happy hunting for those still allowed out. I will spend the next few weeks researching new spots for 2021. Have a wonderful Christmas everyone. Keep healthy and hope to see you on the beaches in better times.