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Mystical Unicorns in the Crouch? Surely not.

I’d like to start with saying thank you to Bailey for allowing me to share this blog with you all.

On Tuesday I fished a familiar and local venue that suited my needs – The River Crouch. I live about 10 minutes from South Fambridge which as I am sure some of you know, on the right day will produce some great catches. The trip was requested by a good friend of mine Russell, whom I have known for over 35 years and fished with for over 30. I chose the Crouch simply because of 2 things – its close to me (a little selfish I know) and there have been Rays coming out recently from both boats and the shore. Whilst I have caught Rays from a boat, I have never caught one from the shore and feel very jealous when I see posts from people having 4 or 5 in a session.

We arrived quite early at 2.30pm ready to fish the flow of the tide up to high tide at around 8.30pm. I had decided to walk to the Saltings from South Fambridge as I knew it wasn’t very snaggy and could be fished fairly easily at low water. The Crouch can be quite snaggy all along the bank with rocks, weed and old structures that look like jetty’s from a very long time ago, so to fish somewhere that produces and results in hardly any losses of gear is a win win for me. It takes about 15 minutes to walk from the car at South Fambridge to the Saltings if anyone has ever considered going.

We arrived at the Saltings to find it looking like a WW1 battlefield in the middle of winter. The very high tide from a few nights back must have swept over the Saltings because the ground was an absolute muddy mess. Luckily, an old pallet was there (must have been swept up on a tide) so at least we had somewhere to keep our gear mud free. To very briefly explain what the Saltings are for anyone that has never been there, its simply a stretch of land (salt marsh) about 200m long that is the sea-side of the sea wall and extends out into the river by about 20m or so, which is why it can be fished at low water.

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It was nice to arrive with a few hours of light as it allowed us time to decide exactly where to fish, know where the little gullies are so that we didn’t break a leg and to obviously, set up the gear without the need for a head torch. Russ had his rod in the water first and had pulled out the first fish, a whiting (obviously) before I had even attached my trace. By the time I had my bait in the water he had pulled in 3 (this is quite normal for me). Russ decided to use one rod with a simple 2-hook flapper with lug/squid and I was fishing with 2 rods, one with a Pennel rig baited with squid/herring wraps and another smaller rod with a 2-hook flapper on lug only.

My first rod was put out to around 70m so I started setting up my 2nd rod which was to be fished in close, under 40m. I am a bit old-school and like to use multiplier reels when I’m sea fishing, so I chose my small ABU 6000 for the close-in fishing as this is a trusted reel that never lets me down, until today! 2 casts, 2 birds nests with the 2nd nest being supported by my rig snapping off and flying into the horizon. Great, lets start again I thought. Off came that reel as it was obviously playing up today (definitely not user error) and on went an old a ‘trusted’ ABU 9000 that is at least 50 years old and working unbelievable well. Finally, the 2-hook flapper rig went out and I was fishing with 2 rods using 2 different methods. I knew the 2-hook flapper was going to be hammered by whiting all night but I was hoping that my Pennel rig would provide me with that elusive Ray I want to catch from the shore.

Well, as predicted the whiting came thick and fast. It literally came to a point when every single cast produced doubles for us both. Then finally, a bit of a knock on the Pennel rig. It wasn’t a knock to get excited about but as I started to reel in I could feel there was some drag to it and was certain it wasn’t a whiting. By now it was fully dark, so the head torch was on and I was looking into the murky waters for that flash of silver from the torch light hitting the fish. There it was and at first, I thought it was just a larger than average whiting. I reeled it up and took a hold of it to get him unhooked and back in the water. Immediately I knew it wasn’t just another whiting. I called over to Russ and said come and have look at this, I think it’s a small codling. True to form it was. Now trust me, it was no monster and was certainly not even enough to have given someone a fishfinger sandwich, but that didn’t matter to me. These are rare in the Crouch and to catch a different species to a whiting was something but to catch a codling this far up river, was another.

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Well after catching a codling our hopes were high for the rest of the evening. Unfortunately we should have realised that was the highlight and packed up but we didn’t and we persevered. But that was it as far as different species were concerned. Everything else was whiting. Russ definitely had the best bite of the night with his rod tip shaking its head off. Only to see what was probably the smallest whiting of the night on the end. By the time we decided we had had enough around 30 mins before high tide, I cast out one last quid/herring wrap on the Pennel while I packed away the other rod. The tide was running faster now and bite detection was a little harder. I saw a small knock so I brought it as I was ready to pack away that rod as well now. What did I have? Whiting again, but not just one. 2 whiting on the same bait along with 2 crabs. Those things really are the most ravenous fish I have ever caught.

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I know whiting gets a bad rap but whatever we think of them, they do avoid a blank and from personal experience, being hammered by pesky whiting is better than feeding the crabs all night. Whilst I may not have had a great years fishing in 2020, there are a lot of people out there that have had the best year ever. We’ve seen monster Stingrays and very sizable Smooth Hounds and Bass, all caught from Essex beaches in 2020. Normally I’ be getting excited about 2021’s fishing but as some people are aware from Joes blogs, I am moving to Switzerland in a few days for a new job (I’ll actually already be there by the time you read this) so my fishing opportunities next year are going to be limited to just a few on return trips home, so Ive got to make those trips count.

In all, it was a good evening session and we left contented we had caught about 50 fish between us and a very rare, mystical unicorn from the River Crouch.

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