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Alan Stevens

Mersea Musings

Sitting here at home this evening looking at the autumn rain lashing against the windows, early Summer seems a light year ago. Back then I was, like most of us, in the adjustment phase of lock down. Conducting 8-hours of zoom calls a day was a million miles away from my normal routine. Unable to pass the fridge without gorging on a packet of chocolate digestives, I had put on half a stone in a matter of weeks. Something had to change for sure before I turned into Jabba from Star Wars. I needed to be outdoors.

One early May weekend finally came around and like most of this spring and summer the weather was glorious. The coast was calling. Now, of course we are spoilt in Essex, having a fabulous 562 mile coastline – the second longest in the country. The thing is that we also have a county population of 1.5million people, every one of which was either on the A127 heading for Southend or on the A120 pointing towards our normal family ‘go to’ at Frinton. The roads were gridlocked, nothing was moving, so we changed plan and made haste to West Mersea. 

Mission accomplished and a much quieter, socially distant Mersea beach position secured, we settled down for the day as a family to eat and watch the world go by. For those who know Mersea, the main pastime is of course watching swimmers get cut to shreds by the oyster shells below the high water mark, and true to form by mid-afternoon and a receding tide left most searching for missing toes and those still able to walk had significant lower body lacerations. A mass evacuation of the beach and the queue of cars heading off to Broomfield Hospital was in full swing. Those that mocked our rather unfashionable beach shoes laughed no more. 

Smugly, I looked out across the mud flats and sand banks and for the first time in my life truly studied the emerging tidal Mersea landscape. Right in front of me was the perfect shallow water bass hot spot. Undulating sand banks sat between oyster shell covered mud and weed – teaming with worms casts, molluscs and just about every bait you would ever want to place on a hook. If I was a bass, this is where I would dine for sure. My life was saved and my mission for the summer was clear. Mersea was to be my fishing home and those bass didn’t stand a chance

5:30 am the next morning and armed with a garden fork, I was frantically digging worms on the deserted mud flats and an hour later had around 50 good quality lug – enough for a session. Digging worms is hard work and whatever you pay for lug it is worth it, but I wanted to use the task as exercise to address the COVID weight gain, topping up what extra worms I need from Colchester Bait and Tackle who always stock fantastic quality bait. Preserving my last digging energy for spudding the area where I had chosen to fish, my method was to disturb the surface of the target casting area hoping to attract more fish. Whether this is true or not I don’t know, but for me it is what I do. Settling back to eat breakfast I surveyed the tranquil view in front of me whilst nature brought the tide across the land. 

Two rods set up with three hook flapper rigs were flung out two hours before high water. Single lugs on size one hooks were cast 30 yards out onto the target area. I had chosen both sides of one of the sand bars to spud, thinking that the fish would sit in the lee of the sand bar waiting for any food to be washed over the top of ridge by the tide. Simply I would change position to fish the reverse side of the sandbar when the tide started to ebb. Hardly any tide ran on the flood so a two ounce bomb was plenty to hold bottom. Nothing happened for the first half-hour apart from me feeding the crabs. Having to re-bait every 10-mins began to deplete my hard earned worm stock fast and I was losing faith. But then, it went crazy with school bass taking the hook so regularly it was hard to keep the two rods in the water. Nothing of great size but 90-mins of huge fun.

Slack water saw a cessation of activities so I swapped the target mark to the new lee side of the sandbar and repeated the plan. Just as the tide began to ebb in force my rod went flying. Stupidly I had become complacent with the small school bass and had not set the reel drag for anything significant. Luckily I managed tor retrieve the rod as it was being dragged across the shingle. I must have looked an idiot, doing a good impression of Corporal Jones from Dad’s Army…’Don’t panic!’ I was into something bigger and after a hard fight I had landed a 4 1/2 pounder. Any bass fisherman will testify that they fight like crazy. 

Happy with that the session finished an hour later with a few more small schoolies munching on my last worms. The top of the ebb tide really did rip so a minimum of six-ounce breakaway weight was needed and made even more challenging with weed flowing, but if the fish are there then it was a price worth paying.

So pleased with the first excursion this routine has become my passion throughout the summer. Every weekend trying a different mark between the Waldergrave Holiday park and the main West Mersea area. Only twice have I not caught a fish of decent size and even then a few school bass have come to say hello. I have tried other baits but the local lug works as well as most alternatives. I do however have one secret bait combo that is a killer for Bass when nothing else is working, but will write about that in a couple of weeks time. Only from late September have I had decent fish on ragworm now that the whiting are competing with the bass for food. Writing this blog in early October the bass are noticeably thinner in belly, so I presume they will be gone soon until the spring. Let’s see what the winter brings. 

I know a lot of the local fishermen I see there have favourite marks, which I won’t share here, but what I will suggest is that it is well worth investing time to visit the location at low water to study where the undulations are, where the weed and snags sit. There are countless good marks to chose. So long as there are plenty of worm casts and there is some kind of undulation to concentrate the fish into the target area you will catch fish. If you get it wrong and do lose tackle on a snag, just wait an hour for the tide to do it’s thing and you can walk out to get it back. No excuses for leaving tackle behind.

My final thoughts relate to the the two big variables when fishing at Mersea in my opinion – the quality of light and the weed issue. Firstly; the water being shallow and often quite clear means that eagle eyed Bass can spot tackle in bright conditions. I have found that they feed much more aggressively when cloud cover is in place during daylight hours, with a change in cloud cover literally switching the activity on and off in an instant. I guess that the prey the bass might be feeding on can spot them in sunshine, so the bass simply wait it out until the odds are in their favour. At night however I find that moonlight helps to keep the bass feeding happily. No moon for me has meant less fish. 

Lastly; the weed issue – so many anglers seem to moan continually about weed there. For me it is the opposite. Any nature programme you watch will always show fish congregating around weed. Bass love weed as they eat the tiny creatures that hide in it and use it for camouflage when hunting for larger prey. The challenge for us anglers is how to overcome the weed issue and make it part of our game plan. In a couple of weeks I will write  blog on how I have found ways to combat the weed so watch out for that one. 

2 replies on “Mersea Musings”

well written sir,i have fished and dug bait at mersea for the last 50 years,i have to add,the summer fishing is pretty good if the tides are in the evenings,we sometimes fish there in the winter and considering the flounder have vanished from most of our local rivers.colne,blackwater,stour and orwell there does seem to be a reasonable population that feed on the flats very close in at night in the winter months and there are always the whiting pouncing on baits,best bait for the ”flounder” if anyones interested is maddies,harbour rag, in bunches fished in three’s about ten yards out.You may have not had one as of yet, but if you fish the bay, ”Waldgraves” left of you and the ”black pipe” right,in the early part of may if its warm , there is a chance of a sting ray,the females run up the black water to pup and come on to the flats to feed just like they do elsewhere in the world.

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