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Alan Stevens Sea

Suffolk Beach Bass Safari

Over recent weeks I have been out and about quite a bit, both freshwater fishing the lakes of Norfolk in support of the John Wilson Fishing Enterprise and of course, doing my favourite thing – combing the coastline of East Anglia in search of new marks and early season Bass.

By fishing across disciplines it has reminded me of just how hard going it is to fish our shingle east coast beaches. Let me put it this way; fishing a commercial lake is like visiting the petting area of a zoo. Smooth tarmac paths leading you to friendly Meerkats waiting to take food from your open hand. Whereas fishing on an east coast shingle beach this spring has been like walking barefoot through Kalahari Desert thorn bush infested quicksand surrounded by a pack of hungry Hyenas waiting to rip your arms off. 

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Boy has it been hard work on the beaches over the spring. Strong on-shore biting cold winds, rough seas and copious amounts of rain have made our beloved sport somewhat questionable to anyone with an IQ north of seven. Global warming…yes please.

But no; I have blogs to write and my good friend and fellow blogger David Porter and I are committed to fishing all the Suffolk beaches throughout the year, reporting our efforts for your enjoyment. So whilst David was fishing the far north of the county as featured in last Sunday’s blog, my  focus was on the other end of Suffolk where I was researching a new mark at the southern point of Shingle Street beach, accessed from Bawdsey. Target species being Bass and Smoothounds.

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I arrived at low water intending to identify clues from exposed seabed and wave motion and wasn’t disappointed. An onshore stiff breeze was forming a 3 foot swell that was breaking along the beach in front of me with telltale clues as to where seabed features would most likely help congregate my targets as the water rose. The wind negated any chance of using lures so my tactics for the hours ahead narrowed to bait fishing and I was happy with the squid, lug, rag and crab baits that I had collected the day before from Colchester Bait & Tackle. 

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I could see a clay shelf, undulated with gullies perfect for bass that divided the end of the shingle beach and the rock sea wall that protected Bawdsey. This area would be in play in a few hours but for now I looked beyond this position to set up 100 yds further north on the shingle, spotting a distortion of wave action suggesting a cut that again could signal a perfect bass hunting spot. 

With both my continental rods matched with Mag 4 reels in action, one with a two hook clip down and the other with a pulley rig I settled with great anticipation.  I was feeling that buzz you get when fishing a mark for the first time. 

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That’s when the rain started – sideways and hard, encouraged by a squall that at one point actually moved me along the slippery shingle. I was soaked and freezing cold. Any movement was exhausting. Casting was constrained by the wind and I was only reaching minimal yards out into the breakers, but hopefully to where the bass were feeding. Seeking an additional distance to clear a submerged ridge with one rod I loosened the mags with the inevitable birds nest. Grrrrrr.

Those that fish these Suffolk shingle beaches or maybe Chesil in the wind know just how demoralising and energy sapping shingle beaches can be on a good day yet alone in a hurricane. No wonder the beach was almost deserted. To be honest the only reason I stayed on was that I didn’t have the energy or the confidence of keeping hold of my equipment to pack up in the gale that now howled around me. I sat alone, keeping rods low, frowning out to sea taking the only comfort I could in that at least I was not on a boat being thrown around in the storm.

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The wind moved the showers through quickly and in between rainstorms I re-baited hooks that were being stripped of worms within minutes by the most ravenous crabs I have seen in a long while. The size of your fist and with a degree of agility that would qualify them for the cast of Riverdance these crustaceans were seriously eroding my bait supplies and I began to regret fishing so early in the tide. Keeping one, putting it amongst my live peelers, was a bad idea when it began to rip my captive and less crusty supplies limb from limb. He was removed and calm was restored amongst the bait crabs.

I continually tried to convince myself that this was a reconnaissance mission for what was to come either today or, more likely, on my return another day and the investment I was putting in was worth it.

Three hours passed and nothing. Not a bite, only crabs and weed (the line clinging cotton wool type of weed that is so difficult to remove) occupied my thoughts as a procession of rain squalls progressively sapped my morale and any body heat that remained. 

Finally my luck changed with a reasonable Pouting rattling the rod into action. At least I could avoid the walk of shame. It had taken a squid and lug combination and as I returned it to the water a flash of sunlight signalled the end of the rain.

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I felt a faint hint of happiness return and soldiered on. Nothing again for an hour so I moved along to what was now a turbulent swirling confusion of breaking waves over the clay submerged seabed I had spotted earlier. At least the rain had passed.

I needed to use grip weights to hold my baits against the onshore gale returning them to shore. I knew that this would result in snags and more weed collection but the mark was finally in play. I had no chance of Smoothounds in these conditions but for bass it was just about perfect. And it indeed proved to be the case. Ragworm did the job and a huge take and a shaking head fighting my grip signalled it could be what I was seeking. Carefully guiding the fish through the waves it finally conceded to the shore and a Bass of just under 50cm laid on the golf ball sized pebbles at my feet.

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Mission accomplished and with bait used up it was time to head home just as the light faded. The mark is most certainly one I will return to soon to fish two hours either side of high water, now I know the features of the beach. I want to fish the clay ravines with soft plastic gravity sticks or alibi snacks after dark and the shingle mark casting long with baits seeking those hound on a calmer day. 

Once off the shingle walking became easy along the coastal path and my smile returned as I made my way back to my car. Mission accomplished for phase one of the Suffolk Safari. Hard work but worth every second to hunt wild seasonal fish in conditions that challenge you to your limits both physically and mentally. I slept well that night. 

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Thankfully now it seems summer has arrived and woohoo, the beaches will be packed with dog walkers, stone throwers and fire pit lighting dope smoking teenagers. But hey, it’s warm and dry.

After a year of busy blogging I am taking a break from my regular Sunday blogs for a while. I will write guest blogs when I can as we conquer the Suffolk and Essex shores. Thanks for reading my words over the year and for your overwhelmingly kind comments. Tight lines folks, see you on the beaches sometime.

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