The long school holidays of my youth are times when I developed my unrelenting enthusiasm for sea angling and one particular fish comes to mind from those early days of angling and that is the humble and unfashionable Pouting. I recall a lovely little deep bodied fish that fed voraciously down the sides of my home seaside pier and often in large shoals. Even now I look upon a pouting in my hand as something to admire, and to be enjoyed as it is a great looking fish straight out of the sea, especially the larger ones with backs of copper brown, vertical bands of colouring etched on the shimmering flanks and white undersides; a memory of those early days of angling. As a lad, fishing with my mates we would have competitions to see who could catch the most.
The fish would often often congregate in the corners , nooks and crannies down the side of the pier seeking protection from larger predators. The larger pouting were always caught in the vicinity of the timber piled section at the pier head. Bottom fishing with rigs that included booms presenting baits on size 6 hooks at different depths would catch them. But there were also times when they would be caught using float tactics presenting a bunch of small harbour ragworm with the tails moving attractively in the currents.
I still pick one or two larger pouting from time to time during cod fishing sessions, when fishing over rough ground and these can weigh as much as a pound and a half, although I have seen larger. In those early days there was often confusion over species identification and the diminutive poor cod was often mistaken for a small pouting.
On the pier, pouting and poor cod would turn up in bags of other desirable fish like the sand smelt, which could be caught in large numbers and are now popular as Pike dead baits. The sand smelt is a small fish, averaging about 175 to 200 mm in length, that descend into the inner harbours towards the end of the school summer holidays in very dense shoals. If you caught one it was likely that you could go on to catch a hundred. As with the pouting, my mates and I would have competitions to see who could catch the most. We used six or seven foot long solid glass spinning rods that cost a couple of pounds in those days and a small coarse fishing reel, such as the intrepid Black Prince or one of the early cheap Daiwa models. Terminal tackle comprised of a small corked bodied float terminating in a size 10-12 freshwater hook. In common with most small prey fish the smelt would congregate in great numbers wherever there was a corner or deviation in the pier wall which offered quiet sanctuary out of the main tidal current.
Every so often a larger smelt species would turn up smelling of cucumbers, which gives the fish its popular name, the cucumber smelt. This species tended to show up a bit later in the year and I have caught one or two subsequently when fishing for smaller fish such as dabs during that quiet period for shore angling following the New Year. The sand smelt, is a species of wide distribution, but is very common in harbours and estuaries on the east coast. The smelt is now of angling interest again due to the popularity of light lure fishing and club species hunts. In earlier times matches were held in the Lincolnshire saltwater creeks with anglers using coarse fishing tackle to catch the heaviest bag of smelt…reminiscent of the gudgeon fishing parties held on the River Thames in Edwardian times.
Angling for smelts provide an easy introduction to the sport for kids and the coarse angler is extremely well equipped to enjoy some fun fishing. A fast tipped match rod suitable for roach fishing, with a matching reel loaded with a three pound breaking strain line would be just perfect, with the float type and size dependant on location and prevailing sea condition. A wide variety of baits can be used including tiny pieces of shrimp or fish.
Occasionally the business of catching small fish was interrupted by a hungry grey mullet that would take a fancy to the enticing hook bait and a soft strike with a turn of the wrist would be answered with a screaming run and bow wave as an angry mullet made for the timber piles of the pier. This was a frequent occurrence when fishing in the tranquil waters of the Yacht Basin at the bottom of the pier, on the harbour side. More often than not the fish would reach the security of the wooden piles and break the anglers’ line, however, I did manage to land a four pounder one evening that caused a few anxious moments, as I had no landing net with me. I had to play it out gradually easing it towards a set of concrete steps where I managed to scoop the spent fish out of the water with my hands. I also hooked and landed a small number of smaller mullet, but I certainly lost more than I ever landed. It made for exciting fishing!
It is unfortunate that so called progress has resulted in the gentrification of Yacht Basin and it is now called a marina, which has meant that there is no longer access to the general public.
A second fish that used to upset the equilibrium and push the smaller fish aside was the odd coalfish, that reached a maximum weight of a couple of pounds. These were good fun to hook on light tackle as they would crash dive to the sea bed with some power for a small fish. These tended to congregate in the deeper water found at the pier head.
I sometimes wonder if those small fish are still there in large numbers again just waiting to be caught, but there so many more serious fish to target in the summer months now. It would be a shame for my Grandchildren to miss out on the fun, so perhaps, I need to have a bit of a rethink and factor in some time with the small fry.