Smoothounds. Sharks of the shallow. Undoubtedly the hardest fighting fish inshore UK waters have to offer. And a personal favourite for me to target on the kayak. Smoothounds fight hard, run like steam trains and have the attitude to match their stylish looks. They can take you for a sleigh ride and give you a real run for your money. Even once landed they will not give up and if you are stupid enough to let them they will crush your fingers!
I got invited to meet up with two of my mates on Saturday to target these stunners of the shallows. I spent most of Saturday on the Navionics app trying to find structure, drop-offs, sandbanks or gulleys. I believe finding the correct structure, and depths is vital to being able to find the fish. Due to us fishing into the dark I didn’t want to push too far offshore and thankfully found a nice bit of changing depth. close to the rocks which provided a food source. Once id pinned my mark it was onto bait collection. Within 10 mins I’ve found a couple of peeler crab. After spending a few hours looking for hardbacks id found 5 hours worth of decently sized hardbacks. As I got home I set up the rods, packed the kayak, put the bait in the fridge and was bouncing off the walls all night I couldn’t sleep. The Hardbacks and peeler are super easy to store, all they need is a bucket with shallow seawater and some seaweed over the top of them.
The day had finally come! I was up at the crack of dawn. Last time checks of the weather and tackle and it was game on! I was up fishing at 7:00 and decided to grab the lure rod and see if I could pick up a morning bass, there was lots and lots of activity in the scorching morning sun. I was using the axia glide and had 3 bars of silver go for my lure and miss. On the way home I saw something cruising on the surface. When I stopped to take a closer look I saw it was a huge bass at around 7lb at least. unfortunately, it swam down into the deep before I could cast a lure at it. Fast Forward in the Day to 16:30 and I was walking the kayak down to the beach and getting ready for a launch at 16:45. By 17:00 I was anchored onto the ground perfectly and chucking lug baits hoping for bass until the sun went down. I managed a few big bites but nothing came from it. as the sun went lower I started to throw crab baits. The first bait thrown was a peeler crab on a running ledger rig with Cox & Rawles specimen extras. I put that on a really light rod hoping for some hounds on light tackle. To be exact it was a 10-40g lure rod with an Abu Garcia black max bait caster. on the other rod, I was using hardbacks hooked through the swimmer leg joints on the same rig. This rod is a 12-20lb Ugly Stik arguably the best boat rod available to man. we fished from 17:00-21;30 and surprisingly I didn’t get a single touch on peeler crab! all hounds came on live hardbacks. Between all 3 kayaks we had about 8 hounds landed. The sea couldn’t have been in better conditions, the swell was 0.3ft, and the wind was 6mph offshore you can’t ask for better than that! I made a video on the amazing session that you can find here:
I have always enjoyed bank holidays for the extra fishing time it allowed, but now being retired it is not such a longed for event because I am no longer constrained by the responsibilities of work. Over the years and even during my school days I can remember angling milestones passed and secured for posterity on bank holidays such as the landing of my first proper cod, weighing eight pounds caught on an Easter Monday at Ness Point in Lowestoft. I have also been fortunate to land many good catches of individual and bags of fish during such times. So the upshot is that I still approach holiday times with an heightened anticipation. This year was no different with reports of good smoothhounds appearing in Norfolk and a sprinkling in North Suffolk, so that would be my target fish. The smoothhound, is a crustacean eating member of the shark family, and grows to a reasonable size of around thirty pounds at maximum. Any fish over five pounds can be looked upon as a fine angling adversary as they are an extremely hard fighting and fast moving species caught on the appropriate tackle.
Pakefield Beach, south of Lowestoft was my favoured venue, as it is a clean sandy beach, which allows me to take a light tackle approach to the fishing. At last summer has finally arrived and the recent Whitsun bank holiday a couple of weeks ago was scorching hot, attracting large numbers of day trippers to our beachside resorts and Lowestoft and Pakefield were not the exception with the beaches crowded. I arrived to set up my fishing tackle at around 5PM just as the crowds were thinning out.
My levels of anticipation were high, as the beach had been in great form last summer with some good quality smoothhounds appearing on certain tides, but as with most venues smoothhound movement can be random with fish appearing one tide and then disappearing for a day or two.
The conditions were perfect as a light onshore breeze died away and the sea condition was flat calm. I had plenty of fresh live peeler crab which is the supreme bait for the smoothhounds and these were presented on a 2/0 circle hook pennel arrangement attached to medium length pulley rigs.
I varied my casting distance at times during the session, but concentrated mainly at the maximum distance my aging frame can now comfortably manage, as the venue is flat and tends to produce more fish at long range. The result was a bit of a disapointment as the better sized smoothhounds did not show. I managed to land a half a dozen smoothhounds pups up to a couple of pounds in weight, two large dabs and a school bass.
Soon after the disapointment of the bank holiday fishing trip, I arranged a second target session for the smoothhounds with my number one fishing companion, Tom, my son and this was to be six miles north of the Pakefield. Unfortunately this session went slightly awry with the sudden disappearance of his family pet tortoise, Indy, who went missing from Tom’s garden just before we were due to fish. After much searching with support from my wife and I, Indy was nowhere to be found, so our prearranged session had to be cancelled. A short while later I happened to note on Facebook that a friend, Alan was fishing the Pakefield stretch in the hope of catching a smoothhound or two so I decided to join him albeit late in the tide and armed with a single rod. I reasoned that this would be a real tester to find out if the smoothhounds were indeed in residence. All this did was to add to the frustration as again the fish refused to show and we both struggled, despite the perfect warm conditions.
Indy has subsequently turned up and is safely back in his garden home after safely negotiating several busy roads before being spotted in the centre of a road where he was picked up and rescued.
The whole holiday week had left me feeling a bit down on my luck and deflated on the smoothhound front, so I suffered from a rare case of the Bank Holiday Blues. Thankfully this situation did not last too long, as an early Monday morning session was planned following the bank holiday week. Yet again the fishing gods conspired against me and I had to redirect my attention to an early morning trip to A&E, as my wife Bridget, had suffered a scold from very hot fat when preparing Sunday tea. I had to rearrange my fishing to the flood tide that evening and this time I managed to make it to the Lowestoft North Beach without any complications. The conditions were perfect again with a light breeze from the south and nice calm sea conditions. The beach here is much steeper and gives access to deep water at a reasonable distance, but the tides are very strong and the ground is rough in places.The fishing was quiet with the odd dogfish and whiting showing early in the flood tide. I used the pulley rigs again and the bait this time was frozen peeler crab and dirty squid presented as a cocktail.
The tidal flow increased and it was difficult to hold bottom and accumulations of sludge like weed made the fishing far from straight forward, so I had to reduce the length of my casts. As the high water approached it began to look like I had made the wrong call again, when suddenly the tip of one of my Century Fireblades dipped and then continued to pull downwards. Picking the rod up brought an instant response as the fish kicked and moved strongly downtide. Yes…..this was a smoothhound and not a thornback ray, which became clear as the fish moved fast through the water. As the tip of the rod lunged over I had to loosen the star drag on my Penn multiplier reel and the fish took several metres of line in a powerful run. I ended up landing the fish about forty metres downtide from where I hooked it and close to my nearest angling neighbour, Andy, who kindly took the photographs for me. The fish was carefully unhooked and returned to the sea; swimming off strongly after a short recovery period. The fishing gods had finally smiled down upon me! My smoothhound weighed an ounce under eight pounds on a very old battered set of scales which are gummed up with the accumulated sand and grit of many years, so it was almost certainly slightly heavier than the recorded weight. Subsequently, I have purchased a nice digital set and not before time. One other point I should make is that I used a carp fishing weigh sling when weighing the smoothhound to minimise stress and damage to the fish.
The equilibrium has been restored and all is okay in my fishing world again! Yes, I am smiling again! It’s been a frustrating few days of fishing, but it all came good in the end. And I am pleased to confirm that my wife, Bridget is recovering just fine from her accident with the hot fat.
Over recent weeks I have been out and about quite a bit, both freshwater fishing the lakes of Norfolk in support of the John Wilson Fishing Enterprise and of course, doing my favourite thing – combing the coastline of East Anglia in search of new marks and early season Bass.
By fishing across disciplines it has reminded me of just how hard going it is to fish our shingle east coast beaches. Let me put it this way; fishing a commercial lake is like visiting the petting area of a zoo. Smooth tarmac paths leading you to friendly Meerkats waiting to take food from your open hand. Whereas fishing on an east coast shingle beach this spring has been like walking barefoot through Kalahari Desert thorn bush infested quicksand surrounded by a pack of hungry Hyenas waiting to rip your arms off.
Boy has it been hard work on the beaches over the spring. Strong on-shore biting cold winds, rough seas and copious amounts of rain have made our beloved sport somewhat questionable to anyone with an IQ north of seven. Global warming…yes please.
But no; I have blogs to write and my good friend and fellow blogger David Porter and I are committed to fishing all the Suffolk beaches throughout the year, reporting our efforts for your enjoyment. So whilst David was fishing the far north of the county as featured in last Sunday’s blog, my focus was on the other end of Suffolk where I was researching a new mark at the southern point of Shingle Street beach, accessed from Bawdsey. Target species being Bass and Smoothounds.
I arrived at low water intending to identify clues from exposed seabed and wave motion and wasn’t disappointed. An onshore stiff breeze was forming a 3 foot swell that was breaking along the beach in front of me with telltale clues as to where seabed features would most likely help congregate my targets as the water rose. The wind negated any chance of using lures so my tactics for the hours ahead narrowed to bait fishing and I was happy with the squid, lug, rag and crab baits that I had collected the day before from Colchester Bait & Tackle.
I could see a clay shelf, undulated with gullies perfect for bass that divided the end of the shingle beach and the rock sea wall that protected Bawdsey. This area would be in play in a few hours but for now I looked beyond this position to set up 100 yds further north on the shingle, spotting a distortion of wave action suggesting a cut that again could signal a perfect bass hunting spot.
With both my continental rods matched with Mag 4 reels in action, one with a two hook clip down and the other with a pulley rig I settled with great anticipation. I was feeling that buzz you get when fishing a mark for the first time.
That’s when the rain started – sideways and hard, encouraged by a squall that at one point actually moved me along the slippery shingle. I was soaked and freezing cold. Any movement was exhausting. Casting was constrained by the wind and I was only reaching minimal yards out into the breakers, but hopefully to where the bass were feeding. Seeking an additional distance to clear a submerged ridge with one rod I loosened the mags with the inevitable birds nest. Grrrrrr.
Those that fish these Suffolk shingle beaches or maybe Chesil in the wind know just how demoralising and energy sapping shingle beaches can be on a good day yet alone in a hurricane. No wonder the beach was almost deserted. To be honest the only reason I stayed on was that I didn’t have the energy or the confidence of keeping hold of my equipment to pack up in the gale that now howled around me. I sat alone, keeping rods low, frowning out to sea taking the only comfort I could in that at least I was not on a boat being thrown around in the storm.
The wind moved the showers through quickly and in between rainstorms I re-baited hooks that were being stripped of worms within minutes by the most ravenous crabs I have seen in a long while. The size of your fist and with a degree of agility that would qualify them for the cast of Riverdance these crustaceans were seriously eroding my bait supplies and I began to regret fishing so early in the tide. Keeping one, putting it amongst my live peelers, was a bad idea when it began to rip my captive and less crusty supplies limb from limb. He was removed and calm was restored amongst the bait crabs.
I continually tried to convince myself that this was a reconnaissance mission for what was to come either today or, more likely, on my return another day and the investment I was putting in was worth it.
Three hours passed and nothing. Not a bite, only crabs and weed (the line clinging cotton wool type of weed that is so difficult to remove) occupied my thoughts as a procession of rain squalls progressively sapped my morale and any body heat that remained.
Finally my luck changed with a reasonable Pouting rattling the rod into action. At least I could avoid the walk of shame. It had taken a squid and lug combination and as I returned it to the water a flash of sunlight signalled the end of the rain.
I felt a faint hint of happiness return and soldiered on. Nothing again for an hour so I moved along to what was now a turbulent swirling confusion of breaking waves over the clay submerged seabed I had spotted earlier. At least the rain had passed.
I needed to use grip weights to hold my baits against the onshore gale returning them to shore. I knew that this would result in snags and more weed collection but the mark was finally in play. I had no chance of Smoothounds in these conditions but for bass it was just about perfect. And it indeed proved to be the case. Ragworm did the job and a huge take and a shaking head fighting my grip signalled it could be what I was seeking. Carefully guiding the fish through the waves it finally conceded to the shore and a Bass of just under 50cm laid on the golf ball sized pebbles at my feet.
Mission accomplished and with bait used up it was time to head home just as the light faded. The mark is most certainly one I will return to soon to fish two hours either side of high water, now I know the features of the beach. I want to fish the clay ravines with soft plastic gravity sticks or alibi snacks after dark and the shingle mark casting long with baits seeking those hound on a calmer day.
Once off the shingle walking became easy along the coastal path and my smile returned as I made my way back to my car. Mission accomplished for phase one of the Suffolk Safari. Hard work but worth every second to hunt wild seasonal fish in conditions that challenge you to your limits both physically and mentally. I slept well that night.
Thankfully now it seems summer has arrived and woohoo, the beaches will be packed with dog walkers, stone throwers and fire pit lighting dope smoking teenagers. But hey, it’s warm and dry.
After a year of busy blogging I am taking a break from my regular Sunday blogs for a while. I will write guest blogs when I can as we conquer the Suffolk and Essex shores. Thanks for reading my words over the year and for your overwhelmingly kind comments. Tight lines folks, see you on the beaches sometime.
The weather has been extremely frustrating with frontal systems sweeping in that seem to produce air temperatures more applicable to early Spring than mid May. Normally by this time we would expect that the summer visitors, such as the bass and smoothhound are well settled in our coastal waters. The signs are good with the fish showing in some areas, but they do not appear to be widespread on the East Coast at the time of writing.
I decided to chance my arm at one of my local marks for a crack at an early bass. It was to be an extremely speculative session lasting all of fifty minutes or so of actual fishing time. I had allowed myself forty minutes of travelling time, which was a bit optimistic with the Lowestoft Town Bridge a notorious traffic bottleneck to negotiate, but I managed it. The chosen venue was the Lowestoft South Beach, which is a shallow sandy beach bordered by a concrete promenade that stretches into the distance towards Pakefield. There is ample parking along the main road route. I would be fishing two hours from high water.
The weather during that early morning session broke the mould as it was windless and warm as the Sun’s rays broke through a thin veil of cloud. The previous day had been cold with gusty winds blowing from the North turning the sea into a churning vindictive maelstrom.
The tackle requirements were simple and I could travel a light, with a rod and all of my other tackle and equipment contained within a bag hung from my shoulder.
I chose to use my Anyfish Anywhere 12 foot lure and bait rod which will cast up to 90 grams and my small Akios 555SCM multiplier loaded with ten pounds monofilament line and a twenty pound casting leader. For a rig I used a single hook running paternoster with a two ounce Breakaway Flattie pattern lead and at the business end I tied a size 1 Mustad offset Aberdeen match hook. Bait was lively ragworm purchased three days earlier at the Gorleston Tackle Centre.
The moment had arrived for my first cast to catch a bass in 2021, and I lobbed the bait out thirty metres into the flat calm sea. The fish are often in the calmer water behind the rollers or they congregate in the vicinity of a feature, such as a gulley, depression in the sand, a patch of stones or a breakwater; all of which hold food. This being the case it is good practice to observe the beach at low water regularly, but be aware that storms can alter the topography of the fishing mark. When I fish using a light hand held rod I stand parallel to the surf line so that the line is at ninety degrees to my rodtip.
I did not have to wait long for my first take as the tip of the rod violently wrapped around, similar to the take of carp in a commercial fishery. A sharp strike and I was into my first bass of the year. It swirled on top of the water and made for the sanctuary of a nearby breakwater. After a delightful couple of minutes of furious swimming and thrashing on the surface I guided the fish onto the shore. It was small and plump, but measuring in at 40cm it was a very satisfactory result. A good point to make here is that this fish taken on a standard surfcasting rod would not have provided such enjoyment, as the fish would have been overpowered and not allowed to show it’s true mettle. Twenty minutes later I landed a second bass of a similar size and this fish was trapped because of its own curiosity. I always try to overcast when fishing light and gradually retrieve the end tackle by recovering a small amount of line every so often, and this is done not so much as to give movement to the bait, but to disturb the bottom raising a column of suspended sand near my bait. The idea is that the curious fish will investigate the disturbance. This tactic dictates my choice of the Breakaway Flattie lead as it is designed to achieve this effect.
After landing the second fish it was time to pack up, but it was a case of mission accomplished so I was quite pleased how things had worked out. The fish were in residence and I had caught a couple which had been returned to the sea, so roll on the next session.
The next session turned out to be four days later and again it was to be a short session of about two hours actual fishing time at the South Beach. This time the conditions were totally different and the weather had reverted back to its changeable pattern, and the wind was fresh and blowing from the South East. The sky was grey and overcast and that was no visible sign of the Sun’s warming rays. The sea state was choppy and surf was rolling in, hopefully providing perfect conditions for a bass hunt. I was fishing the middle part of the flooding tide. The tactics were exactly the same as during the previous session, but this time I choose to use a two hook paternoster with shorter snoods because I expected fish to feed freely in the prevailing conditions. I was quickly into fish taking one of 35cm the first cast on a cast of about twenty five metres. A short while later I hooked and landed a slightly larger fish of 40cm.
I started to get a number of bites which were distinctly different to the violent wrap around takes of the bass and these comprised of the lifting and settling of the lead usually following the retrieval of a small amount of line when displacing the lead. I ignored a couple of the bites expecting a bass to grab and swim quickly off with the bait, but nothing happened. I finally struck at one of the bites as the line slackened and was instantly into a fish which was not so dramatic nor vigorous in its attempts to escape.
The answer to the puzzle was a plump flounder in superb condition and this first one was followed by two more, with all of them falling to the slowly retrieved bait technique.
I was very pleased to see a flounder or two as I rarely catch them during my sessions on the open beach targeting the larger species. I have had good bags of flounders from this beach before during the late Spring and early Summer period but not recently.
I topped the session off with a fine plump bass that measured 49cm and probably weighing somewhere in the region of three pounds. The bass hit the bait hard and went ballistic when hooked, by first swimming quickly through the water one way and then running in the opposite direction as I played it and applied pressure. The rod took on a dramatic bend as the fish tried to escape taking a bit of line against the drag. Gliding it in with a wave was an exciting moment, as it thrashed about on top of the water before finally submitting to pressure. I carefully lifted the fish by hand and held it while admiring its beautiful silver profile…what a great looking fish! After a quick photograph the fish was carefully returned to the water, and after a few seconds of recovery it flicked its substantial tail and headed back out to sea. All the fish I caught were carefully returned to the sea.
I finished the session with the smallest bass of the day, and my two hours of angling bliss had ended, as it was time to head for home as promised. This light tackle fishing for bass is addictive and most coarse anglers who fish for tench and carp will have appropriate rods and reels amongst their kit, so it’s a great opportunity to try something different. For me, it won’t be too long before the sound and smell of the sea and the dreams of the silver bass tempt me to fish again; perhaps tomorrow?
Next week my fellow blogger Alan Stevens, will entertain you with his recent sea angling adventures from the shore in South Suffolk, and it is sure to be a great read.
As some of you may know, my dad recently moved to Switzerland for work. Due to travel restrictions and lockdowns, we hadn’t fished together since last year. Fortunately, last month he returned home and finally, after all my sixth form exams, we managed to go fishing together earlier this week. We wanted to do something special since we probably won’t be fishing together again for a while.
We wanted to find a charter boat but all the boats out of Essex were fully booked. After a quick search on the net for charters less than 2 hours away, we found Bonwey Charters out of Ramsgate which was very reasonably priced at £50 each including all frozen baits of squid, herring and shrimp. We also wanted some fresh crab so the day before we were due to fish, we headed down to Southend in search of some crabs. We’re unsure whether it was the recent poor weather or something else, but we only managed to find a few crabs of the right size. Despite the lack of crabs, we did find a dead pipefish and caught a little goby in our net which was pretty cool.
We set off early at half 5 to ensure we made it to Ramsgate for 8. We arrived about half an hour early and met with the skipper Paul and the two other lads who were fishing Jay and Mick. The boat had plenty of space, it’s licensed for 10 anglers however there were only 4 of us fishing on the day. This meant that we were able to use two rods each. The harbour itself was beautiful and unlike anything near to us on the Essex coast. The sea was flat calm, the sky was blue, and the sun was beaming down on us. It really was a beautiful day. We left the harbour at about quarter to eight and made the journey to the mark we would be fishing. It took about an hour to get there and on the way, we had a chat with Paul and the other two lads as they had been on Pauls boat previously.
We prepared our rods on the journey so once at the mark, all we had to do was bait up drop in. We opted to use up and over rigs & pulley pennel rigs with huge 6/0 hooks while Jay and Mick were using a running ledger. The tide runs so fast around the mark that we were all using 12oz leads to hold bottom, which even increased to 16oz later in the day. It was only my second time fishing on a boat and Paul was very helpful showing me a few bits. It didn’t take long for the fish to find our baits and within five minutes, my dad was bringing up the first fish of the day. Unsurprisingly it was a dogfish. The target of the day was smoothhounds so although the dogfish was an encouraging start, it wasn’t quite what we were after.
The action continued and within half an hour, everyone had caught a couple of dogfish. The smoothhounds were proving illusive and Paul suspected that they would show up shortly after high tide at about 2 o’clock. Jay had the first good bite of the day after an hour or so of a dogfish on every drop. The result was a nice sized thornback ray.
Whilst the rest of us continued to bring up dogfish, Jay managed another ray, both were around the 7-8lb mark. The squid and herring that I was using was just attracting dogfish, so I decided to switch over to lugworm. It didn’t take long before my rod hooped over and I was into something different. The result was a 40cm bass which got a little too excited and shot an odd white liquid all over my leg and the boat!
Not long after returning my bass, Jay was in again and this time, it was target acquired and the first smoothhound of the day. He caught it on frozen king prawn and as you can guess, I switched one rod over to prawn. Unsurprisingly, it was quickly devoured by a hungry dogfish.
Over the next hour, my dad and I caught a few more dogfish while Jay and Mick, who were at the back of the boat were tearing it up and each caught another skate and smoothhound. By now, the tide was rushing through and the fishing stared to die down a bit.
We enjoyed some lunch while it was a bit quieter and only a few dogfish, a whiting, and a pouting were boated.
As Paul predicted, the fishing started to pick up again at about half past one. By half past two, another 5 or so smoothhounds had been caught including my dad’s first of the day and a 10lber caught by Jay. I, however, still hadn’t caught one despite my best efforts. I had tried the crabs which we had gathered the previous day, herring and squid but still wasn’t catching. All of the hounds bar one were being caught with the prawn so I decided to use the prawn and stick with it.
Thankfully, my turn finally came around and at about half past 3, I was into my first hound of the day. Unfortunately, it was also the last hound caught. The wind had picked up and the sea was getting choppy which made bite detection hard and our lines were starting to constantly get crossed. In addition, the fishing was also dying off. My dad managed the last fish of the day which wash two dogfish on one Pennel rig. The swell was so strong that he had no idea he’d even caught them. We headed back to harbour and I even fell asleep for the last 20 minutes of the journey lol.
Overall it was a fantastic days fishing in great company. Paul, the skipper was fantastic and his years of experience and wealth of knowledge showed through. Although we didn’t use any, all tackle is available to borrow for anyone that doesn’t have anything and frozen bait is also included. Hot drinks were provided all day and usually (before covid) breakfast is served on board too. As previously mentioned, the price is fantastic at £50 a head (usually £35/£40 before covid) and the whole boat can be booked for just £250 midweek or £300 weekends. Another bonus was the fantastic fishing. If you want to know more about Bonwey Charters, then I’ve linked the website below.
The long school holidays of my youth are times when I developed my unrelenting enthusiasm for sea angling and one particular fish comes to mind from those early days of angling and that is the humble and unfashionable Pouting. I recall a lovely little deep bodied fish that fed voraciously down the sides of my home seaside pier and often in large shoals. Even now I look upon a pouting in my hand as something to admire, and to be enjoyed as it is a great looking fish straight out of the sea, especially the larger ones with backs of copper brown, vertical bands of colouring etched on the shimmering flanks and white undersides; a memory of those early days of angling. As a lad, fishing with my mates we would have competitions to see who could catch the most.
The fish would often often congregate in the corners , nooks and crannies down the side of the pier seeking protection from larger predators. The larger pouting were always caught in the vicinity of the timber piled section at the pier head. Bottom fishing with rigs that included booms presenting baits on size 6 hooks at different depths would catch them. But there were also times when they would be caught using float tactics presenting a bunch of small harbour ragworm with the tails moving attractively in the currents.
I still pick one or two larger pouting from time to time during cod fishing sessions, when fishing over rough ground and these can weigh as much as a pound and a half, although I have seen larger. In those early days there was often confusion over species identification and the diminutive poor cod was often mistaken for a small pouting.
On the pier, pouting and poor cod would turn up in bags of other desirable fish like the sand smelt, which could be caught in large numbers and are now popular as Pike dead baits. The sand smelt is a small fish, averaging about 175 to 200 mm in length, that descend into the inner harbours towards the end of the school summer holidays in very dense shoals. If you caught one it was likely that you could go on to catch a hundred. As with the pouting, my mates and I would have competitions to see who could catch the most. We used six or seven foot long solid glass spinning rods that cost a couple of pounds in those days and a small coarse fishing reel, such as the intrepid Black Prince or one of the early cheap Daiwa models. Terminal tackle comprised of a small corked bodied float terminating in a size 10-12 freshwater hook. In common with most small prey fish the smelt would congregate in great numbers wherever there was a corner or deviation in the pier wall which offered quiet sanctuary out of the main tidal current.
Every so often a larger smelt species would turn up smelling of cucumbers, which gives the fish its popular name, the cucumber smelt. This species tended to show up a bit later in the year and I have caught one or two subsequently when fishing for smaller fish such as dabs during that quiet period for shore angling following the New Year. The sand smelt, is a species of wide distribution, but is very common in harbours and estuaries on the east coast. The smelt is now of angling interest again due to the popularity of light lure fishing and club species hunts. In earlier times matches were held in the Lincolnshire saltwater creeks with anglers using coarse fishing tackle to catch the heaviest bag of smelt…reminiscent of the gudgeon fishing parties held on the River Thames in Edwardian times.
Angling for smelts provide an easy introduction to the sport for kids and the coarse angler is extremely well equipped to enjoy some fun fishing. A fast tipped match rod suitable for roach fishing, with a matching reel loaded with a three pound breaking strain line would be just perfect, with the float type and size dependant on location and prevailing sea condition. A wide variety of baits can be used including tiny pieces of shrimp or fish.
Occasionally the business of catching small fish was interrupted by a hungry grey mullet that would take a fancy to the enticing hook bait and a soft strike with a turn of the wrist would be answered with a screaming run and bow wave as an angry mullet made for the timber piles of the pier. This was a frequent occurrence when fishing in the tranquil waters of the Yacht Basin at the bottom of the pier, on the harbour side. More often than not the fish would reach the security of the wooden piles and break the anglers’ line, however, I did manage to land a four pounder one evening that caused a few anxious moments, as I had no landing net with me. I had to play it out gradually easing it towards a set of concrete steps where I managed to scoop the spent fish out of the water with my hands. I also hooked and landed a small number of smaller mullet, but I certainly lost more than I ever landed. It made for exciting fishing!
It is unfortunate that so called progress has resulted in the gentrification of Yacht Basin and it is now called a marina, which has meant that there is no longer access to the general public.
A second fish that used to upset the equilibrium and push the smaller fish aside was the odd coalfish, that reached a maximum weight of a couple of pounds. These were good fun to hook on light tackle as they would crash dive to the sea bed with some power for a small fish. These tended to congregate in the deeper water found at the pier head.
I sometimes wonder if those small fish are still there in large numbers again just waiting to be caught, but there so many more serious fish to target in the summer months now. It would be a shame for my Grandchildren to miss out on the fun, so perhaps, I need to have a bit of a rethink and factor in some time with the small fry.
As Spring arrives and the inshore waters begin to warm up, my thoughts turn to the prospect of seeking out that game and handsome bar of silver, the Bass (Marone Labrax), that populate our coastline and estuaries on the East Coast during the warmer months. After a hard season of poor cod fishing it is great to have such a worthy adversary to try and catch in really pleasant warm conditions. Bass stocks on the East Coast appear to be relatively stable with large numbers of 30 to 40cm fish showing last year and hopefully enough of these will mature as breeding adults in the future.
It is important that catch and release principles are adhered to with such a slow growing species of fish. The majority of the stock is undersized and must be returned, but it should also be a consideration that bass take a long time to mature and the large fish of seven pounds plus are probably only at the start of their breeding cycle. It makes sense that large fish of a breeding age are returned safely and carefully to the sea, allowing fish time to recover sufficiently to enable them to swim strongly away. This way a healthy stable stock can be sustained.
Bass have not always been as prolific on the East Coast and it took me nearly twenty years of angling to hook and land my first decent bass, which weighed five pounds. It was taken by accident in May 1985, as I was hoping to find a few late season codling feeding. I had always wanted to land one of the silver beauties as one of the great angling books, ‘A Tide of Fish’ that I read as a youngster had captivated me with both the author’s elegant prose and his description of bass fishing in West Wales. The author Clive Gammon was a journalist angler who worked in the United Kingdom and the United States as a sports correspondent. He also wrote articles for the important angling weeklies and periodicals in the United Kingdom. So with that catch of a five pound fish a dream had been fulfilled. My love of angling has been fuelled by such wonderful inspiring books over the years and if my enthusiasm ever flagged I have retired to my well filled book shelves for inspiration.
Before I caught that fish, it seemed to me that regular catches of bass were a fairly rare and random event in my part of North Suffolk. Perhaps, it was a case of angling intuition, but I decided to target bass at the same location, the section of seawall which was overlooked by the Coastguard Station, for several weeks throughout the early summer of 1985. I ended up taking fifteen bass weighing up to just under seven pounds, although the majority of fish were smaller and around the three pound mark. The successful tactic was peeler crab presented on a running leger rig fished at low water in onshore wind conditions, which gave rise to some moderate tables of surf. I would cast cast a maximum thirty yards to the back of the second line of surf as it rolled in. I never caught more than a single fish in a session, but was successful on most occasions fished. The water was really shallow and the instant response from the largest bass as it was hooked was to trash on the surface in fury. The tip of the old fibreglass ABU464 bent over in a fighting curve and I had a few anxious moments as the fish tried to bolt towards sanctuary in the form of a wooden breakwater. I had the foresight to include a carp landing net and long handle with my equipment so I managed to land the fish without fuss once it lay on its side, played out.
Over time our summer fishing has changed and in my early years of angling, it comprised of soles, mullet and eels and not much else apart from the occasional accidental encounter with other exotic species, including the off chance of a bass. In more recent times the bass has become an important viable target and one which is greatly valued.
One of the most prolific venues close to my home is the Lowestoft South Beach where the fish are often found at very short range. It’s a shallow clean beach comprising of sand with patches of shingle where light tackle can be used, although the tidal flow is strong at times. I will often fish classic surf bass style by dispensing with a rest and hold the rod, feeling for bites. A light weight rod is preferred and a carp rod with a two pound test curve will suffice, partnered with a small multiplier or suitable fixed spool. Terminal tackle is simple again, with a running leger using a two ounce bomb lead and a size 1 fine wire hook. I prefer conditions where there is a bit of surf.
The bass can be very prolific here at times if the conditions are right although the majority of fish are school bass, but the larger fish are certainly present at times. There are occasions when conditions dictate that heavier conventional beach fishing tackle has to be used, but to maximise my fun and excitement I always try to fish as light as possible.
My grandchildren do not miss out on the fun and have enjoyed their own bass catches on the South Beach with mainly small fish so far, but I hope to see new personal best fish landed in the coming months from the venue.
Just to the North of Lowestoft sits the holiday village of Corton and it is from the beach here that I believe the best chance of catching a large local bass exists. It came to my attention several years ago that a local fisherman living in the village regularly netted big bass into double figures during the May to June period. This small window of opportunity has yet to be fully exploited by me, but I managed to catch a couple of large fish both in early May, with one at eight pounds twelve ounces and a second one at just a couple of ounces over ten pounds. The former measured 74cm and the later 80cm and both were returned carefully to the sea. The fish were caught about three years apart, but the potential is clearly there. The water is deeper here, the tides run fast and the bottom is rough in places. Offshore is a popular mark for the charter boats who take out parties to fish and good bass often appear in those catches.
There are other locations where bass can be fished for and I will hopefully cover these another time. I will finish with a brief look at float fishing for bass, which is a technique I have neglected for years. This summer past I used a sliding cigar float to some effect amongst the sea defences at Ness Point, the most easterly point in the British Isles. It is a bit of a disappointment to view, as it is heavily industrialised and has not got the natural beauty of other national landmarks.
The local Council has attempted to improve the area, but left it far to late in the day to turn it into a spot that could be remotely described as attractive. But there are fish to be caught and bass have taken up residence amongst the man made granite rock breakwaters, which are never completely uncovered by the tide. The granite boulders provide a rich larder of food for the bass to harvest.
So it’s time to dust off that light tackle and check out those locations close to you in readiness for the return of that truly game fish, the majestic bass.
Most anglers at some point in their angling lives will join a fishing club and depending on their individual circumstances and interests, some will happily remain within a club structure for many years, or others will decide to move on and fish solely freelance. For young anglers and beginners it was and still is always a good option to join a club to tap into the accumulated knowledge of the membership. Clubs are good for social contact and perfect for the more gregarious angler who thrives on banter with his mates.
I must admit to have preferred not to match or club fish because of an idea that formed early on that matches are often fished either at the wrong time or at the wrong venue. Catching my chosen target fish has always been my raison d’etre for fishing rather than accumulating a catch of species that were not my focus at a particular time. Although it has to be said that we all have to compromise at times.
I joined the now defunct Lowestoft South Pier Angling Club in 1970, as a very keen fifteen year old. All clubs have their share of both interesting and colourful characters within the membership and my club was no exception. The Chairman was a local angling legend, Sam Hook, who held the British rod caught cod record for fifteen years with a fish captured off the Lowestoft Claremont Pier in 1945. The demographic of the club was interesting at the point of my joining as the average age of the membership must have been close to seventy years. I joined along with three or four other teenagers and our arrival must have been a bit of a shock for the membership, but we were welcomed as overnight the club had a thriving junior section. I can remember one of the female members, Olive Scriggins, remonstrating with us as we starting messing around when fishing was quiet. She fished with her husband Harold and son Ronnie, and she had a voice that lives on in the memory as she admonished us. The club held regular Sunday morning matches throughout the year, with an additional Wednesday evening match in the winter season. Some of the members were difficult to beat match fishing their favoured venues such as the South Pier or the Lake Lothing (the Port inner harbour) with harbour ragworm for flounders, soles and eels.
I was an active member of the club for three months and won my second match on a very cold evening in January when beach fishing had plunged temporarily into the seasonal doldrums.The venue chosen was an odd one at the time because it was the shallow stretch of beach located between the two piers and in those days it was not considered a viable option by most local anglers. The South Pier marks the north boundary of the beach and parallel to the beach is the main promenade.
On this particular evening, with a moderate but miserable cold wind blowing from the North West, it proved to be almost hospitable, with a substantial seawall providing shelter as a wind break and the promenade lighting illuminating the beach. There was a bit of sleet in the air and even in the lee of the wind behind the seawall it was still bitterly cold. I chose to fish a spot close to where a statue of Triton, the Greek Sea God, still stands prominently on the promenade.
I fished with and shared my heavy tripod rod rest and Tilley lamp with Mervyn, who I had known since my first day at primary school. I had set up my eleven foot honey coloured hollow glass fibre beach casting rod with its comfortable full cork handle and screw lock reel seat. Although the rod went from my ownership many years ago I still have the reel, a classic Penn Surfmaster 150, equipped with a plastic spool loaded that evening with eighteen pound Gantel monofilament line with a thirty pound shock leader. The rig was simple comprising of a single 4/0 Mustard Aberdeen hook tied to a blood loop paternoster and a five ounce fixed wire lead. I could manage a consistent sixty to seventy yard cast, using a simple ground cast.
As the rising tide was pushed even further up the beach by the biting wind causing us to huddle under the seawall the prospects did not seem too bright to young inexperienced eyes. Despite multiple layers of clothing the evening was chilling and after a couple of biteless hours, we began move around mainly to keep warm and secondly to exchange banter with each other. It was Mervyn that first saw the bite on my rod develop as the tip, which had been painted white gave a couple of knocks and remained in a static bent position over the rod rest. A fish had picked up the bait and bolted, hooking itself at the same time. I grabbed the rod and experienced that exhilarating response from feeling a fish kick to regain its freedom. Standing in the wash from the surf taking in a boot full of water or two I gradually eased the fish towards me. It wasn’t a big cod but it was a modest codling of just over four pounds. I landed it using a wave to good effect, and it lay flapping on the wet sand with its mottled yellowish green flanks and white underside illuminated by the promenade lights. I think that it was the only fish caught in the match and the thought of my success made the walk home ladened with fishing tackle a breeze.
I still treasure the memory of that evening despite catching many good cod from the shore during my fifty six years of shore angling for the species. Even now in my retirement every time I walk past that particular spot on the promenade the memory of that evening match still brings a smile to my face.
It goes to show that this sport is not always about catching the biggest fish, but there so many other elements which combine to give great pleasure. It is, however, also a cause of sadness as two of my young friends are no longer with us.
Firstly, Happy New Year all! I know it’s a bit delayed but we didn’t get a blog out last week as I was a bit unwell so didn’t get a chance to get one sorted for you all.
So, with the Nation being in a full lockdown any hope I had of travelling to Essex to try and grab a few species for the species hunt is dead in the water unfortunately. With this in mind and me being a bit under the weather as of late I haven’t managed to get out on the bank as I would have liked.
Today’s blog is about a couple of previous trips we had with an awesome boat skipper called Jon aboard his boat the NorthStar from Canvey Island. Obviously, this is way before lockdown and any national restrictions that have been put into place, we are hoping that as soon as this virus decides to go on its merry way, we can get back out with Jon to try grab some species for the species hunt.
Firstly, let me just put it across how funny Jon is, honestly one of the funniest most down to earth people I have ever met, his banter is top level and if your quite easily offended over quite crude jokes etc, his boat probably isn’t for you. Next to his awesome sense of humour is his knowledge, as most skippers have to be his knowledge is amazing. His first target of the day is to make sure you all have a good day, catching fish is obviously up there but sometimes out of his control so making sure you have a good day is controllable by him so he does this in bucket loads!
The boat itself is very comfortable and very well kept, we have had the privilege of fishing with him twice and both times I have felt very comfortable aboard his boat.
Next, onto the fishing! Our main species for the trips were dogfish as these tend to come abundantly in the stretch of the Thames Estuary that we fished.
A dogfish for Jack & my dad
We did make a vlog from the first trip with Jon which I will link at the bottom of the blog if you are interested in checking that out.
We caught a lot of dog fish with a few cracking Rays and Smooth hound thrown in for good measure.
A Ray for my dad and a Smooth hound for myself on our 2nd trip.
Jon is based at the Lobster Smack, Haven Rd, Canvey Island, he also has a page for his boat which I will post at the bottom of the blog and again which we highly recommend having a look and jumping on board with this absolute legend!
Having no knowledge or understanding of boat fish or sea fishing in general his does cater for the absolute novice of us all, he will take the time to talk you through it and explain why it is done that way which again for myself and the group was a huge positive as I love learning new techniques and understanding what I’m doing in more detail.
So, with that all done unfortunately that’s the end of the blog, I hope you enjoyed this short blog and admire the pictures etc in the blog, don’t forget if you want to check it out a bit more check the vlog out linked below of our first trip upon the NorthStar. I am hoping to get out on the bank this weekend, local to myself and within my district as per Government guidelines, so hopefully some fresh content for you all next week.
In my last blog I mentioned that we were using frozen ragworm, left over from a previous trip. Due to popular demand and the fact I’ve been busy with school work and haven’t managed to get out fishing, in this weeks blog my dad and I will run you through our simple steps to freezing Ragworm. You may ask, why bother? The truth is that frozen ragworm works just as well as fresh and saves money when you have worm left over. We even noticed that it stayed on the hook better than fresh worms. Also, it saves the stress of not being able to get hold of ragworm at certain times of the year. As well as the blog, we also created a short instructional video too which I will link at the bottom of the blog.
Step 1: Create a saturated salt solution in tepid water. This is around a 1:4 ratio of salt to water, we used 500ml of water and 125 grams of salt.
Step 2: Place the ragworms into the solution.
Step 3: Leave in the fridge for around 24 hours.
Step 4: Strain the worms
Step 5: Pat the worms dry
Step 6: Wrap the worms in newspaper, ensuring they stay separate from each other.
Step 7: Place in the freezer until you need them. We’ve used them after being frozen for 3 weeks and they were just as good as the ones that had been frozen less than a week. We’re not sure how long they will last in the freezer, but they will definitely last for a few weeks until you are back out fishing again.
Final step: Catch fish!
Hope you enjoyed the short tutorial. If you’re looking for a little more explanation then check out the youtube video below.