It was an eerie feeling as I left home before 6am last Tuesday. Leaving my trusted tripod and 14ft beach casters at home for a day’s fishing just felt wrong. Heading South on the quiet pre-rush hour roads I kept getting panic attacks of the kind you might get when leaving for the airport and wondering if you really did lock the door, or turn the tap off. The kind of feeling when returning from Lidl and wondering if you took the kids or not, kind of panic attack. Know what I mean? How can anyone get so attached to their fishing kit that they feel naked without it!
Well, the reason I had left all of my beach fishing kit at home was that I had booked a day aboard Dawn Tide II moored at Wallasea Island on the River crouch. A fair drive from my home in North Essex but two reasons were behind my choice of this boat: 1) Mark Peters, the skipper is considered to be as good as they come and 2) The Essex Marina at Wallasea was where my parents kept their boat when I was a kid and where I learned to sail and fish. So the day was to some extent, going to be a trip down memory lane.
Arriving at the marina even before sunrise it was easy to see how much development had occurred over the years. Parking is right beside the access ramps and the pontoons now are so much easier to walk on than the old rickety ones I remember sliding on so often. You can take your tackle box trolley from car to boat with no problem at all. Security gates, reassuring as they may be for the boat owners, prevented me from accessing the boat but a quick call to Mark remedied that and in no time I was on board Dawn Tide II. Mark had been busy warming the engines of his state of the art fast fishing catamaran. Immaculately clean and with plenty of space it was a very impressive start to the day. The other four anglers arrived on time and we headed off in search of cod and thornbacks.
As we travelled downstream past Burnham On Crouch it gave me time to get to know the other guys on board, who were all regulars but made me feel incredibly welcome from the start. It was also clear that they had a great relationship with skipper Mark, with hilarious banter but also obvious trust and respect towards him clear to see.
Sadly, that was all I could see as the thick fog was set in and Mark was using his technology to get us out of the river and to a location somewhere in the grey soup we found ourselves in for the morning.
Boat fishing is so different to beach fishing. I pride myself on my beach craft – studying the intricacies of the beach to select the perfect spot for any conditions. As a beach fisherman you are in control of everything except tide and weather. On a boat however, you pay not just for the boat but also the knowledge of the skipper who takes you to an invisible spot and it is absolute blind faith on your part. In a way it was nice to disengage my brain for the day and just enjoy the ride.
In no time we had covered significant distance to somewhere off shore and were casting out single hook sliding traces using high quality herring and squid which came courtesy of the skipper. With only five of us it was very easy to fish with two rods each. I realised how sloppy my boat techniques had become over the years and was grateful to my new friends for their patience towards my clumsiness. Mark was fishing too with a single rod, which for me is a great sign when your skipper loves his job. Throughout the fruitless morning he kept moving us to new locations, never giving up in search of the big fish.
Sadly it wasn’t our day and apart from some dogfish and whiting we had little to show for our efforts and decided to head back to the mouth of the river in search of thornbacks, which had been showing in decent numbers and size just recently.
The tide was at the final stages of the ebb when we anchored opposite Holliwell Point and finally the fog lifted to reveal a beautiful winter afternoon. Crisp December air caused the constant cups of tea and coffee Mark supplied to steam as we awaited the thornback rays to come our way of the early flood tide. Soon the boat had swung around and the tide began to move beneath the hull. The draught on Dawn Tide twin keel is around 3ft and created plenty of resistance to the wind over tide challenge some catamarans face with these conditions. We settled in for the afternoon to come as the guys on board tucked into mince pies and plenty more banter. To be honest this was the best part of the day as being on board gives you a sense of community in contrast to the solitude of the beach in winter.
Still waiting for the rays, I used every bait imaginable that I had taken from my bait fridge and freezer including some razor clams. Yes they are clams, not razor fish. When did they start to be called razor ‘fish’? I mean do we call muscles muscle fish, cockle fish…for crying out loud. They have a shell so I call them razor clams and that is final. All my combinations were in vain but at least the regular whiting kept me active whilst I received plenty of mickey taking about the naming of the clams.
Anyway, as you can probably tell by now, the rays didn’t come my way. My attention slowly moved towards the Foulness firing range regular explosions and the daily burning of ammunition or whatever they do there. Finally, Mark gave the 10-minute notice for the close of the day and yes, you guessed it, a ray turned up on cue. Not for me sadly but for one of the other guys, Chris, a lovely fellah who deserved it after putting up with my antics and wayward casting all day.
So as we steamed back along the Crouch heading for the evening lights emerging from Burnham that were replacing the setting sun, it was time for some final laughs with the super guys who I had been lucky enough to spend the day with. It had been brilliant – maybe not from a fishing results perspective but for sure these days happen to us all. Skipper Mark had never stopped trying to remedy this and kept engaged with us all day long. That’s all you can ask for I guess. Mark is the kind of guy you would want as a mate regardless of his profession and you can see why he does so well. When you think he does this every day it would have been easy to retreat on such a quiet Tuesday, but for me it shows why he is rated so highly. I am sure everyone departed for home as happy as I felt.
So roll on next time. I am already planning a series of bi-monthly trips on Dawn Tide II so hope to be blogging on those throughout 2021. For now, back to the beaches and weather permitting a few trips into Suffolk over the Christmas break