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Alan Stevens

Reading the beach – how to significantly improve your catch

The day hasn’t started well. Firstly, waking to digest the sad COVID-19 emerging situation and the full extent of Tier 4 rules on my festive fishing plans it was only to be made worse by a less than well thought out email from Tripadvisor telling me it was a great time of year to be travelling! Talk about rubbing it in….

So, given it is important to comply with the rules but also to satisfy an ever demanding audience of you, the faithful essexanglers audience, I want to change tack from my recent fishing trip blogs to something more intellectual. Something we can digest over these final dark days whilst sipping a glass of sherry before the dawn of 2021 will hopefully bring more healthy and happy times for us all.  

Reading Andrew’s fantastic blogs on advanced river fishing techniques https://essexanglers.co.uk/advanced-river-fishing-techniques-pt1/  and https://essexanglers.co.uk/advanced-river-fishing-techniques-pt2/  it prompted me to capture in a series of blogs how applying a little brain power to beach fishing can seriously improve salt water results. I want to prove to my fellow fresh water bloggers that us salty folks can use our intellect too. Through research we can find new locations to fish and by using some agility can transform the catch and species on offer. 

So this week I will focus on high-level beach craft – reading the indicators that might identify new locations to fish. Next week I will focus on arrival at a location and how to read the nuances that tip the odds in your favour. And then for new year focus on tackle and bait that turns the chosen spot into an aquatic goldmine. A beach craft trilogy that I hope can help make 2021 your best beach fishing year ever fellow anglers.

Let’s begin with the theory. If we simply categorise the coastline as being influenced primarily by the geology; the flow of an estuary; by open sea and wave action (read weather); or a combination of all of them – we can start to understand the terrain..

A combination of these influencing factors creates a landscape of features that can gather fish into tightly focused zones, and this is what I am looking for when fishing. Imagine and oasis in the underwater desert.

Identifying sand bars, troughs and cuts that concentrate the fish is key to great beach fishing and determines everything else you do completely, ranging from the distance of cast to time of tide and tackle/bait selection.

So taking a step back to think about how coastal features form. Let’s focus on wave theory. As waves approach the beach the energy they hold needs to be dispersed. As the wave comes into contact with the seabed the wave energy is concentrated into a smaller area until the wave cannot hold the energy any longer causing the wave to crest and break. This physical action disturbs the seabed creating sandbars and trenches that get bigger over time, until a storm or man made force removes them and it all starts over again. 

Ideally, we are looking for short, steep waves that rise away from the shore, then die down for a stretch before rising sharply again at the beach. This indicates an outer bar where the waves first rise, then a trough where resistance from the seabed is low before a share rise in the seabed to the beach. This is ideal for summer bass fishing where the fish can be literally feeding almost at the shoreline. In contrast, where the waves more gently rise away from the beach and then continue to tumble uniformly all the way to the beach, it indicates that no trench exists. The ideal surfer beach but not so hot for close-to-shore fishing. If fishing these kind of beaches one will need to cast beyond the outer wave rise point as the fish will most likely remain beyond this area. A typical winter cod scenario and a lot more hard work. 

Furthermore, the volume of water moving towards the beach from the waves then has to retreat back to the sea. As water always seeks to find the least line of resistance it will follow any feature allowing it to do so. Without enough energy to pass back over the sandbar, the water seeks out any weakness in the bar to generate a cut back out to deep water. This, for example we have experienced when swimming and felt a rip tide pulling us out to sea after a wave has broken. 

All of this is exaggerated further by tides and water flow and this, due to our estuaries combining with North Sea weather is why the East Anglian coast has some of the most interesting fishing opportunities around. The fish congregate in numbers at the cuts as the tide begins to flood, move through the cuts when the water is deep enough and feed in the troughs and holes to high water, then retreat back through the cuts as the tide ebbs. Predatory fish know this and utilise these features to hunt, as we do on them once we know this too.

So how do we select our location? Let’s begin by understanding that what we can see at the beach is primarily a function of what is going on further around it, so understanding the bigger picture is something we can do before visiting a new location, enabling us to narrow down options and to ensure precision on arrival. For me this means keeping an up to date set of Imray charts, which help me identify potential areas where the degree of wave and tide action will give greatest advantage. The charts cost around £45 and well worth every penny. 

To illustrate this, let’s pick here Shingle Street in Suffolk.  I haven’t fished there but let’s apply the theory none the less. The big picture is that we have the water flowing down from the River Ore dumping nutrients and sediment relentlessly throughout the year. We have in contrast, prevailing SW winds causing wave disturbance in the opposite direction to really mix things up. A wind over tide sailor’s nightmare but a beach fisherman’s dream. The macro conditions suggest to me that this is going to be a spot full of food and seabed disturbances, troughs, cuts and sandbars ideal for fish (and maybe me) to exploit. 

Now we can then turn to the handy mobile app that comes with the physical maps when purchasing Imray charts. Zooming in to the app we can see here a whole series of sand bars and troughs. The web app shows clearly the variations in water depth contrast significantly, with little conformity in the seabed. It indicates where the banks and cuts will be and a hole that can trap water and keep fish in close to the shore with cuts to escape that will concentrate the fish on the lower ebb. If this isn’t enough it even states the banks have breaking water helping further. Ooohhh I am excited already! It has to be great spot to look at further right, so let’s investigate more as by now I am getting seriously interested in this as a potential location to visit.

Now, switching to the satellite feature on the maps app on my phone I can get an overhead image of what is going on there. Comparing the features here to the sea chart images I can see the road access, parking to keep the locals happy and most importantly local physical markers that might help me find the precise spot.

The ones I am using here (above) are the road leading to the beach and the green buoy I know from the sea charts as a line of sight to fish an identified cut.

I can also see there is some wave action going on in the image below. A series of rising waves before a quiet patch (in the middle of the image) and then the final breaking on the beach suggests there is a trough or deep water chanel to target. The distance I need to cast to hit it every time, in this case a zone approx 80 meters from shore and taken from the scale on the app map. No need for massive casts here, just precision. 

changes in wave action indicate cuts and troughs to target and the app scale gives me the distance to cast.

So here you have it. Using wave and tide theory, and by reading maps and technology we have a new location identified. The next step will be for me to visit the location in daylight at low water to physically survey the site. I honestly don’t know if the mark is any good at this point, but the high-level indicators are promising. I would have visited to scout the mark for next Sunday’s blog but given we cannot travel I will focus next week on explaining a location already surveyed and successfully fished. I will explain just how to read the terrain and what can be learned to either chose the specific spot to fish or to discount as a graveyard.

For now, happy hunting for those still allowed out. I will spend the next few weeks researching new spots for 2021. Have a wonderful Christmas everyone. Keep healthy and hope to see you on the beaches in better times. 

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