Robin Williams was a genius actor. Jumanji, Mrs Doubtfire, Good Morning Vietnam, Good Will Hunting, Aladin,… the list of his hits goes on. All classics. One Williams film that does resonate more than any in our house however, is a lesser hit titled RV Runaway Vacation. A basic summary of the film goes like this; Every year this guy takes his family on holiday but never focuses on them, just his work. The family put their foot down and they head off on a ‘real family holiday’, not knowing that in fact Williams is taking them to a location where he can attend a crucial sales pitch. Various adventures take place en route but it all ends happy with the sale made and a great holiday. This dear readers is the Stevens’ family world, except substitute his passion for work with my obsession with fishing!
So we find ourselves packing the car and heading off to Dorset for a short break to walk some of the famous South West Coast Path. The region heading in both directions from Weymouth is one of the most beautiful parts of the UK and just what we needed to get out of the house during lock down. Sales pitch to family made, all was looking good for the week ahead. Coincidentally Chesil Beach, the world famous autumn cod and plaice hotspot just happened to be smack in the middle of the area we were heading off to, and beach rods were packed. OK I confess; I had been planning this trip all summer in secret and carefully emphasised the scenery and history of the area at the expense of fishing in the weeks leading up to the trip. Collecting a heap of lug and rag from Colchester bait and Tackle the day before had in fairness raised an eyebrow from Mrs S, but all was good and the weather forecast for the week, given it is after all mid-October, was looking superb.
I love to plan and study an area before fishing it, but this wasn’t going to be possible here. Desktop research aside, I was fishing blind here so expectations were not that high. My objective was to map out a selection of locations for another, ‘pure’ fishing trip next year. I also wanted to fish for species not possible to catch here in Essex. Anything would be a bonus beyond the usual autumn Essex coastline catch. To keep harmony in the rented house for the week my aim was to fish from 4 am through to 8 am, being back home for breakfast and a day’s family walking, (mentally marking hotspots for next time). Happy days all round!
In this blog I will write a little about the fishing but also about the locations, just in case readers face the same challenge of getting the family away on a fishing holiday. So here goes;
Day 1. Abbotsbury 4am start.
Abbotsbury sits smack bang in the middle of Chesil Beach. You can park right behind the beach saving your energy for the walk to come. Let me be clear here that Chesil is hard work before you even get fishing. The shingle is energy sapping beyond belief, and a short walk on it left me gasping for air. Travel as light as you can. So, picture me as I stumbled out into this killer of environments and up over the shingle dunes to hear the waves pounding against the shore ahead in the darkness. Gasping for air I paused and my eyes slowly became accustomed to the darkness. Looking in both directions what became clear to see was an army of fishermen already in position meaning I had to walk for 10-minutes along the beach to find a spot. Honestly, if you are not reasonably fit you might consider avoiding this location and I can’t imagine just how busy it gets in summer.
20 minutes of deep breathing gave me enough oxygen to get to work and I regained full consciousness in the middle of setting up two rods – one with a pulley pennel rig holding a whole squid and the other a two hook clip down rig baited with rag and lug. I was covering my bets a little. Sadly, all that materialised was whiting and dogfish. I might as well have been fishing at home. A combination of a whiting and pouting on a single hook did lighten the mood somewhat and the pouting used as bait scored the biggest dogfish of the session.
Thankfully, after an amazing sunrise, I scored a first for me. A beautiful Common Dragonet took a rag and squid combo bait enabled me to claim at least a fish not caught back home. The new dawn revealed a superb day ahead but with the water crystal clear it was evident that no cod would be feeding so I headed home.
The post-breakfast day revolved around a beautiful walk east from Weymouth from Smugglers Inn to Osmington bay and back. Around 10-miles in total. Osmington Bay duly marked for next time. The bay looks to be much quieter and has more character for fishing than Chesil plus much flatter in nature. Easier on the lungs.
Day 2. Abbotsbury late start and West Bay walk
Every piece of me was aching after the day before. The fishing on shingle and the 10-mile walk killed me so no chance of the planned early start happening today. I had to fish of course, and with sun shining once more I headed back to Abbotsbury for a one-hour blast, with just my spinning rod and light tackle consisting of a set of hokia luminous fish/feathers and a triple hook spinner as weight. I was of course targeting mackerel but wanted a bigger challenge of just using conventional feathers and an outside chance too of a bigger fish taking the imitation fish or the spinner. The tactic was to cast and reel back slowly and try to feel a mackerel take the hokai fish/feather and then hold the tension without reeling in any more until all three feathers were taken by mackerel, and possibly a predator would be attracted to the chaos and the spinner. Well sadly this worked for the mackerel but nothing bigger, but within the hour I had my share of these little beauties so another fish not found at home ticked off the list.
Thankfully the afternoon walk was less strenuous than day one – we covered West Bay to Burton Bradstock and back. A wonderful walk familiar to those who watched the Broadchurch TV series which as filmed there. I highly recommend West Bay as a location to visit for lunch and has a superb tackle shop for any equipment you might be short of. One point to be aware of is that given the Dorset coastline does not contain an sand or mud flats – worm bait are astronomically expensive. 40 blow lug costs £18 and is of dubious quality. sticky black lug are 50p each. With the coastline notorious for spider crabs, honestly you can burn your retirement on bait in one session, so take as much lug and rag with you as possible.
Another thing to note is that the beach at West Bay and the pier were where the locals were fishing. Dog fish and plaice had been the order of the day from the beach. The pier only allows float fishing and the locals were targeting garfish and bass with small pieces of ragworm with the float set about four feet above the bait.
Day 3. Ferrybridge in a gale
5am came around way too quickly and I woke to a gale blowing outside. The unusual north-easterly was bad enough in town, but thankfully blowing off-shore to the Chesil south west facing beach. That said I was still not convinced, so I headed off to the closest Chesil location just in case it was too bad to fish and ended up at Ferrybridge – the shingle joining Chesil and the mainland to Portland. The national sailing academy and Portland Harbour was behind me as I parked and gathered my tackle as best I could with the wind screaming around me. Why did I even get out of bed was my only thought but too late now as I had posted the door keys back through the letter box and would not want to wake the Mrs up at this hour and admit failure.
Now; If Abbotsbury was hard work, Ferrybridge is on another planet. The shingle dunes are at least 60 feet high and killers to walk up. The gale blowing behind me carried me over the crest and thankfully I had managed to hold on to my kit. Descending the sea facing side of the shingle dunes the shelter from the wind enabled me to gather my thoughts and bearings. Gasping for air I sat there for 10-minutes until my senses returned. There was no way back until the wind died down or the light came to at least allow me to see if there was an easier way back to the car.
Setting up the same rigs as Abbotsbury the one positive of the crazy wind behind me was the distance I could cast. Hopefully the extra distance would get me out to the cod at last. Sadly it was not to be and the only creatures taking a liking to me were the crabs. Whole squid were being devoured in less than 10-minutes and all I had for my efforts was one nice sized pouting. Tail between my legs I packed up with the dawn sun blazing down on crystal clear waters yet again. There was no way a cod would feed in these conditions and worm fishing for the plaice was pointless with so many crabs about.
If anything the wind has strengthened even more and I literally had to crawl up and over the top of the shingle bank, dragging my kit behind me. Two birdwatchers adjusted their binoculars to watch me struggle, which I guess was far more entertaining than what they had come to observe. Never again will I fish Ferrybridge.
Predictably, after breakfast the gale blew through and by the time our walk began it was the most beautiful of days. The day’s stroll took us around the Nothe Gardens & Rodwell trail, a beautiful 5-mile walk to the south of Weymouth taking in the cost line facing east towards Portland Harbour. I have to say this walk was absolutely stunning and culminated in discovering Sandsfoot Castle and what must be the most idillic bass float/spinning/kayaking spot I have come across. Most definitely a mark for next time. For those who like veg with their fish; the rocks are covered with samphire which the navy used to cultivate and feed to our sailors to prevent scurvy.
Day 4. Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door walk
A day off from fishing sadly, but what I can say without doubt is the most beautiful walk I have done for many years. The coast path from Lulworth Cove to Durdle Door and back is again simply stunning. Breathtaking both in what you see and the energy needed to scale the cliff top walk. The walk is hard work but well worth it. Naturally at both ends of the walk my mind was completely on working out how to fish these glorious locations. Daytime is out because of the crowds and the rocky nature prevents ledger fishing – so next time will for sure include a dawn and dusk spinning or float fishing session for predatory fish lurking around those rocks. The weed covering the rocks was full of small crabs so the bait has to be these little luvvies when using the float
Day 5. West Bexington and Portland
The final day began with yet another wall to wall sunshine dawn greeting. The wind had totally dropped and I had overslept again, so the cod would have to wait until next year. Mrs S, seeing the sunshine kindly agreed to join me for a Plaice fishing brunch at West Bexington to use up the final worms. West Bexington is another location where you can park right beside the shingle beach and is the flat fish hot spot for Chesil. Surely today was going to be the day. I even baited a third rod in desperation fanning out my traps under the warm sun. It really was a perfect autumn day at this wonderful location and time drifted on without any fish, or even a bite. I didn’t mind to be honest, just soaking up the moment.
Clearly it was not going to be my day – to the left of me a super guy; James Bull from London; landed a wonderful Brill whilst targeting cod using lug tipped with squid. To my right a guy snagged some ones abandoned line and hauling it in found attached a significant sized dogfish. Time to pack up for the day and go for a drive.
We headed off to Portland, a huge rock protruding into the English Channel and a sailors worst nightmare. Over falls and rip-tides make this area seriously dangerous and the sea bed is littered with wrecks. The next trip will include a day wreck fishing for sure, but for now I wanted to take a look at the rock fishing spots.
There is no way of sugar coating just how grim Portland is as a place. The grey rock that forms the landscape also is used as the primary building material, giving the area a miserable cold feeling. The locals even look grey. Add to this the cloud rolled in and the wind picked up. Maybe the sun never shines on Portland? The fishing here is a million miles away from the shingle of Chesil. Sheer rock faces plunging down into fast moving waters requires totally different tactics. Pollack, Wrass, Conger and Bass are the fish of the day here, and for sure next time a dawn session will be pencilled in. But for this trip, time to get back to Weymouth for one last meal – cod and chips of course.
So as I return back to my beloved Essex I find myself reflecting on the week. Dorset is truly the most beautiful county in the country and for sure will be on our list of retirement locations. Fishing of course being a primary consideration in this.
Would I fish Chesil again? Probably no. It is hard work and speaking to the locals it is hyped up somewhat to get more visitors from across the country. What I would do without hesitation is fish where the locals fish – West Bay, Freshwater Bay, Osmington Bay, Portland and all the myriad of spectacular marks that the locals keep to themselves. Dorset is a fishing heaven that I cannot wait to get back to. The sales pitch of which has already began at home. Despite a wonderful week away I am already getting excited about fishing Clacton Pier tomorrow. Hopefully I will have some fish to write about next weekend.
RIP Robin Williams. Sadly taken from the world far too soon.