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Alan Stevens

Fish can’t eat your rod….although whiting would probably like to.

The most prized fish I have ever claimed in UK coastal waters was a 11 & 1/2lb bass I caught at the mouth of the River Crouch. I was 13 years old and fishing with my father from his boat, having motored down the last of the ebb from the Essex Marina Wallasea Island. We were at anchor just beyond the estuary mouth south shore and having rowed to land cheekily to dig some fresh worm from the foulness sands (I know…) we awaited the incoming tide, helped by strengthening northerly winds to wash across the sand flats. 

Our favourite bass mark as kids at the end of the crouch.

Like most angling families we had accumulated an array of rods and reels over various Christmas and birthdays and all were utilised this morning to capture the awaiting monster bass that would without question come our way. 

And so they did, an awesome flood tide of action that will live with me forever. Most importantly; I learned that day that fishing had very little to do with your rod or reel and so much to do with terminal tackle and bait. The 11 &1/2lb monster bass, yes you guessed it, was caught on a Woolworths own label reel and a cane rod that refused to flex in any way (I kid you not) inherited from god knows where. 

So fast forward to 2020 and to my point of today’s blog. I guess I look at Facebook as much as anyone and I reckon that 90% of beach fishing chat is about the best rod, a reel that costs a billion pounds, …. who has got one of these most obscure casting sets for sale bla bla bla…. Combine this with predictable autumnal complaints that follow about undersize whiting on this expensive tackle having…. yes you got it again… What I see most weekends is the best equipped anglers flinging a small three hook, single worm baited flapper 70 yds out into the surf only to curse with a treble pin ‘ting outcome.

Hardly any chat is about what is on the end of the hook. So here goes..

I put it to you fellow angling brothers and sisters that fishing is simple, what counts at the end of the day is the following;

  1. Are you fishing where and when the fish you are targeting are feeding?
  2. Does your terminal tackle and bait reflect what your target fish are willing to feed on?
  3. Does your terminal tackle and bait deter species or size of fish that will reduce catches of those you wish to avoid?

Do we need expensive gear to deliver this? Most of the time I doubt it. Controversial but true I think.

So; moving on, I found myself early this week increasingly worried about the impacts of the pending weekend weather and tides. Heavy rain, gale force winds and huge flood tides predicted for Saturday and Sunday would need some workarounds. So being the caring kind of family guy I am I suggested to Mrs S that I would only fish a short evening session on Friday and do some essential chores indoors in Saturday and Sunday. Naturally it was an easy sell and come Thursday with the weather still threatening to close in I hurried down to see Kevan at Colchester Bait and Tackle to empty his bait freezer

Herring, sprats, squid, cuttle, sandeel, bluey and razor clam.

The previous Monday, I had spent a couple of hours at Mersea at high tide and the size and quantity of fish was excellent – so I planned a return this Thursday to fish either side of high water. But my mission for this trip comrades was scientific; to test every imaginable bait combo to learn how to catch the bigger fish and avoid the pin whiting. It really worked as I will write later.

So having made up a small batch of a variety of baits and wraps, and with 1/4 lb of ragworm snakes for good measure I headed off well in advance of high tide.

I like to get to the beach earlier than I plan to fish so I can tune into the conditions and set up slowly without thinking I may be missing out somehow. In the case of Mersea I also like getting there early before the tide covers the only road on and off of the island. When you fish high-tides at Mersea you really are committed to being there for the session.

Having set up one rod with a big hook penel rig for my wraps I set about the second rod with a hybrid two hook clip down rig. The top hook was small and would be baited with worm for flatties and bass with the lower hook a size 3.0 to take larger fish baits of herring, bluey or whole sprats. This way, I was planning to limit any collateral small whiting to the top hook of one rod and test over the session which combo baits worked or not.

Herring/sandeel wraps. Deadly bait.

Rods ready, I settled in waiting for the incoming tide to reach the end of the groynes signalling that the depth of the water is adequate for the fish to be in and feeding and reduce the crab bait stealing challenge.

Having a cuppa in the darkness as the water edged towards me, my eyes and ears became accustomed to the stillness and I realised that I was not alone on the beach. At regular, equal intervals foxes were sitting on the beach either side of me gazing out to sea. These beautiful creatures were, I guess, waiting for their nightly flotsam and jetsam feast. It dawned on me that it was Friday the 13th and their company was strangely welcoming and surreal. Chatting with the foxes but with bait box lid firmly shut we respected each others worlds. I felt at one with nature gazing across the river towards Bradwell. Life was as good as it can get.

Tea consumed it was time to fish and what a session it proved to be. From the off my science was working – big baits only catching bigger fish. 10 whiting around a pound in weight on the penel and wrap bait rig along with two undersize bass and one small thornback. The two hook flapper set up indeed confirmed that pin whiting were there in numbers, especially on the worm and sadly outcompeted any flounder that might have been sniffing around. The lower, bigger baited hook on the flapper still counted for the odd pin whiting on squid but when I changed bait to bluey, cuttle or whole sprat the bigger whiting took this well at the expense of their smaller broods.

Big whiting double hit

The tide retreated enough after three hours and I packed up having hit my 50 fish scientific sample size and headed home for bed, leaving my new foxy friends to do their thing until dawn. Reducing the small whiting challenge was really rewarding for me. Checking my pedometer readings, avoiding the small fish activity had dramatically impacted too the effort of an autumn beach session, reducing the steps from over 3 miles to 1.5 miles – meaning that, as empirically evidenced here, to keep my weight down I need to be fishing for twice as often going forwards. Bingo!

whiting fest with smaller hook flappers. Over 3 miles of steps tending two rods.
enlarged baits and hooks reducing smaller whiting hits. Session extended into Saturday 1am so a combined 1.5 miles walked in three hours fishing just tending two rods.

Saturday morning came around too quickly and after a hasty breakfast I was reminded of my promise to do chores indoors. A man of my word I set about them passionately. The first of which was to sort out my favourite terminal tackle set ups in the kitchen, which I had thrown randomly into my tackle box at the end of the Mersea shift. My trusted terminal rigs are like Triggers broom…more new hooks and line replacements than you can count – I doubt if any is original apart from the odd swivel but they work for me and bring me luck. 

The kitchen table was swept of bits of line and rusty hooks and I moved on to the second chore – taking the learning of the most effective wrap combinations from Mersea into mass production. Making up enough for the rest of 2020 our freezer is full of bait ready for the next adventure, carefully labelled of course. 

Mrs S was reminded several times during the morning chores that I have lost over a stone in weight since I have upped my fishing days and night time fishing means less beer consumption. All is good in the house. 

Roll on next weekend where I have my eye back on Frinton/Holland and those sandy stretches where I have a funny feeling my razor clam / herring and black lug wraps are going to be a real hit. By then we will be well past half way in lockdown. Time flies when you are having fun.

One reply on “Fish can’t eat your rod….although whiting would probably like to.”

Excellent article, on average how much time either side of high water can you fish the sloping part of the beach at West Mersea. I know it will change between springs and neaps so only after an average. We wish to fish next weekend when the High tide is back at a decent evening time. Thanks for another good informative article.

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