Sunday 30 May 2021

My mate Ray

When I was a kid I mostly fished with maggots under a float and was delighted and excited by anything I might catch; Rudd, Roach, Perch, Gudgeon, Dace it didn’t matter.  Provided I could get past my parents I would go out in all seasons and in all kinds of weather, I thought I’d grown more sensible over the years.  But obviously not, today is grey and gloomy with light rain being whipped in on a strong south westerly and I’m heading for the beach to try and catch a fish of any kind.  Not only that I was also battling against the new tackle curse as I’d been tempted by a Bass rod and Okuma reel to go with it.  Okuma isn’t a fashionable brand but I’ve had several over the years in fact the best reel I own is an Okuma which I’ve been using for over a decade.

Outside in the air it was immediately apparent that it was moving very quickly, the air that is.  The forecasters were spot on, the wind was raging and carrying stinging drizzle.  Only idiots would go out fishing on a beach in this weather.  Giles phoned, he’d invested in one of the funky beach igloos and was still well up for giving the fishing a go, I was definitely daft enough to tag along too.  Having both looked at google earth we decided to try a different location which, in theory, should give us a bit more shelter from the gale.

By 1500 we were at the car park of a beach we’ve not yet fished, looking out at a seriously stormy sea.  We walked up and down for a bit, searching for inspiration but the only impulse was to get back in the car.  But no, fuck it we’re here so we might as well give it a go.  We set up and chucked a couple of rigs each into the boiling sea.  Giles erected the new igloo which proved itself to be an essential piece of kit on the day and something I’ll almost certainly invest in at some point.  We tried to fish but spotting bites was impossible and we were really hoping something would hang itself.  Our leads were holding but the churning water meant the long hooklength was tangling constantly so I switched to a shorter one which improved things slightly.  Our squid baits mostly remained on the hook, it seemed nothing was nibbling at them, except crabs of which Giles caught a couple.

As night descended and the tide turned so the wind started to ease and our rod tips were more stable, enough to spot a bite should we get one.  I thought I spotted a couple and struck through desperation but hooked nothing.  We gave it until 2200 before jacking it in and trudging back to the car through stinging rain.  This was our first total blank on the beach but we’d enjoyed the experience and had learnt a whole lot more; about this particular beach and how to fish in rough conditions.  But probably the biggest lesson was when it’s this rough, don’t bother.

Another week crawled by.  I’m not usually this enthused by summer fishing but for the first time in years I’m literally counting the days until I can get out again.  What’s more it seems like the warm weather has arrived, better late than never.  So Friday morning, another solo trip through quiet country lanes with ‘Dose your Dreams’ punishing the speakers.  No roadworks, no diversions, for once everything went smoothly and I arrived an hour after low tide to find the steep beach deserted.  My first target this spring had been a decent sized Thornback but I’m told these are dispersing now however mature Smoothound are moving in and one of those would be even better.  The wind was light but blowing straight in my face, keeping the temperature down but not uncomfortably so.  I fished the usual methods, small bait on a running leger dropped in close and a big bait on a pulley rig flung out, then sat back and became hypnotised by rod tips.

It didn’t take long, a few rattles and plucks on the near rod which didn’t develop but I struck anyway and found myself winding in something small, flat and brown, a Flounder?  A modest fish but the new rod and reel were christened and the curse hopefully broken.  Out with a fresh bait and back into my chair, not expecting to be sitting down for long.  Last time I’d fished here I was catching fish all day, I assumed a repeat was on the cards….

Five hours later and the tips had remained stationary all morning and when I wound in the baits were almost always intact, not even the crabs were having a nibble.  I started to think back to beach fishing in the 80’s; rough seas, cold weather and very few fish.  My most recent trips had gone along these lines, this sea fishing lark still has a lot of lessons to teach me.  Still the weather was an improvement, dry and mild with a light onshore breeze which meant the coat stayed on all morning.  The beach filled up, a few day trippers and several other anglers but I didn’t see anyone else catching either.

Then at around 1330 with the tide at its fullest the tip on the ‘big bait’ pulled slowly round and stayed there.  I struggled to my feet, picked the rod out of the tripod, wound down and bent into a substantial weight.  The old North Western hooped over as I pumped something back towards me.  The ‘thing’ didn’t run like a freshwater fish might but it pulled and plodded and by the time it was close in had made its way to my left.  Was this my first proper Smoothound?  Colour appeared in the surf, colour that was an unmistakable diamond shape and with the next wave I dragged my first proper Ray onto the beach!

On the pebbles the fish kind of arched its back, it seemed like an act of aggression to get its mouth into a position to bite me?  All I wanted to do was get the hook out, which I did easily.  After a quick check with the scales followed by a couple of photos I took a few seconds to admire this bizarre looking fish.  The brown mottled camouflage is perfect for this environment, the muscular wings and tail along with the crab crushing mouth which seems to be smiling.  Many Rays end up as someone’s dinner but not this one, it was good to see it disappear back beneath the waves.

I fished on for another hour or so without any more bites and could happily have stayed longer but I had jobs to do and had to get home so reluctantly packed up and trudged back to the car.  Just a few yards inland, out of the sea breeze it was several degrees warmer and felt like a different day entirely, spring is here at last but I still have no urge to fish in freshwater.  Now I’m counting the days again…

Friday 21 May 2021

A morning tide

Another day off with time to fill, I suppose I better go fishing!  The cold spell has broken now, the Tench and Carp should be feeding so the obvious choice would be a morning at ‘The Valley’ but my heart isn’t in it.  Heading due east, the drive on early morning country roads was eventful, I met with a closed road and typical for East Anglia, no diversion in place.  I had to rely on my sense of place and a general inkling of direction before I eventually made it to the main road.  A few miles later I made an inspired decision to follow a signpost and try what looked like a short cut, in theory it should have worked but I ran into another closed road.  It was like one of the dreams I often have the night before a fishing trip, these are never the same but follow the similar path in which everything conspires to prevent me from actually fishing.  Still relying mostly on guesswork my detour through heathland was pleasant if slow.  It took so long I had to stop for a leak, pulling over in a gateway I could see Deer feeding amongst in the bracken and scrub, only twenty yards or so away I can’t believe they weren’t aware of me but they certainly weren’t bothered.  I eventually made it to the coast half an hour later than expected, just one other car parked up.

Today I was fishing on the steep beach, eventually setting up around 0830 with the usual two rods and my normal methods.  A big bait for a big fish hurled out into the grey soup along with a smaller bait fished close in for whatever swims.  A juvenile Seal watched me with interest for a while before eventually heading southwards and disappearing.  The tide had just turned and was coming in, the day was gloomy and grey with a light breeze from the north but for once the temperature was comfortable.  The waves were bigger than I’d expected giving the rod tips a rhythmical nod.  This nodding was interrupted at least twice by definite bites in the first few minutes but I was still half asleep and missed them.  Sea fishing is much more active than sitting behind buzzers and I feel like I need to find some kind of rhythm myself.  It took me about forty five minutes before I felt I was comfortable and fishing properly and another three quarters of an hour before I managed to hook anything.  This first fish was a modest Whiting as were the next three which came in quick succession, all on the close range rod.  Then it went quiet again, perhaps a shoal had moved on?  Should I drop the big bait close in when the Whiting are about?  Maybe something large will be hunting them…

Things were relatively quiet for a while, for half an hour or so I was still getting bites which were easy to see in the conditions but few of the really positive ones I can strike with confidence.  Then when I did get a proper slam on the big bait I somehow managed to miss it! But by now the tide was climbing high up the beach and this bite signalled the start of almost constant action.  Mostly it was the close range rod that was getting the interest, firstly with a decent sized Dogfish then followed a few minutes later a baby Smoothound.  The rod had barely settled before another Smoothound pulled it round, I love these mini sharks but I’d really like to catch a bigger one.

After four hours fishing finally the big bait showed signs of another bite and I struck into something with a bit of weight to it.  Would this be a Thornback?  These fish are the best chance of a real proper lump at the moment but the one species I have so far avoided.  As it got closer so it started to feel smaller, although it did pull a bit in the surf it was outgunned by the heavy gear and soon a decent sized Dogfish was being unhooked and returned.  Next bite was on the close range rod again, the result a fat Pouting making it four species caught so far.

The close range rod is a simple running leger with a three ounce lead and a hooklength of about three feet.  On the end of this is a size 2 Kamasan but I’ve added a couple of bells and whistles in the form of a flashing blade and a buoyant bead.  I don’t know if this adds anything to the attraction but it doesn’t seem to put fish off.  Bait on this rod today was small strips of squid bound on tight with bait elastic.  My big bait today was either half a bluey or a whole squid, this mounted on a two hook Pennell rig and once again bound on with loads of elastic.  This is attached to a pulley rig which I will let google describe.  What I will say is with a few minor tweaks this would make an excellent rig for long range deadbaits.  I seem to be getting the hang of catching the smaller fish but the novelty is starting to fade and I get much more excited when the big bait gets taken.  What I’m doing seems to be working and I feel comfortable but maybe I need to do a bit more reading, to learn the best ways of catching these bigger fish, a good sized Ray or Smoothound must be an impressive sight to see.  I’m also getting more confident in hurling five ounces of lead out, despite the sloppy old glass fibre North Western.

The tide reached its peak and I added another Dogfish on the close range rod but after it had turned things slowed down considerably on this one.  I still saw the odd fishy rattle but the only proper bites came on the big bait and got me wondering, maybe a Ray?  Not today, the first brought another Doggie and I finished off with a third small Hound.  I would loved to have carried on fishing and I’m sure I’d have caught another fish or two but time had already run out and my energy was fading quickly. 

Saturday 15 May 2021

More lead hurling

Last week I tried to catch Tench and Carp from a boat again.  When I set up the lake was calm, the sun was shining and I was sat in a warm sheltered spot.  There were Carp about too, cruising just below the surface and something bubbled profusely near one of my baits, a take seemed inevitable.  But the wind picked up from the east and the sky greyed, my spot was no longer a warm oasis and the fish stopped showing.  As I sat, wind blasted and becoming uncomfortable I felt that the possibility of a big Tench was close to zero and I realised the thought of catching a double figure Carp just wasn’t motivation enough.  I was just sitting there for the sake of it so packed up and went home early. The trouble is, even while making ‘plans’ for this trip I found myself considering a morning on the beach, wondering how that would go?  There is nothing about a double figure carp that excites me, it’s everyone else’s bread and butter but to me they are the most boring fish that swims. 

In contrast I’d been looking forward to hurling a lead into the North Sea ever since I wound in last time.  It’s like being a kid again with so much to learn, like travelling into a huge, mysterious unknown region.  Between trips it occupies my mind more than any summer fishing has for several years.  When I’m on the beach every bite is a thrill, every fish beached is an event and I absolutely love it, I can’t wait to get out again.

Friday came around with the forecaster promising dry, bright weather, off shore wind and high tide around 2145.  We met up in the early afternoon and by 1500 Giles, Rich and I were setting up, this time on a stretch of beach that was new to us.  With the tide low sandbars were exposed to the south of us, the water in front we presumed to be a little deeper.  Our rod tips had a bit of bounce with the wind but spotting bites should be easy, if we had any bites that is.  I fished the same methods as I had previously, a whole squid or half a bluey was hurled out on one rod, not particularly far as I am still learning what my tackle can cope with.  The other, lighter rod had a running leger baited with rag and/or squid and was just gently cast twenty yards or so.  All three of us used the close range, running leger rig but Rich and Giles done their own thing on their other rod. 

From the off we all had slight pulls and plucks, the tip would start to pull down but just as my arse left the seat it would slip back.  Something was attacking our baits, whether this was fish or crustacean we couldn’t be sure but ragworm wasn’t lasting on the hook and even pieces of squid were being nibbled.  Despite the sunshine the wind was sharp and with nowhere to shelter it kept the temperature down and we were fully layered up with hats and winter coats.  I am beginning to envy the other anglers with their funny igloos but warmer evenings are coming soon.  Eventually Rich had a proper bite on his lighter rod which hooped over as he pulled into it.  Something long(ish) and shark shaped appeared in the surf, a baby Smoothound is a lovely thing to behold, happy days. 

Fish can often come in flurries but this was not the case today, we continued to be frustrated by pulls and plucks on the light rods but nothing clear and definite though we often struck anyway through annoyance.  We did wind in a couple of crabs which was a clue to the bait stripper’s identity.  As the afternoon wore on a couple more anglers joined us on the beach, setting up a sensible distance away.  These anglers appeared to start catching straight away, fish that from a distance looked small and Whiting shaped.  If I was coarse fishing I would have found this highly annoying but here we should expect to be out fished.  Maybe with small fish and tricky bites I should switch to some kind of paternoster rig with short hooklengths?  Eventually this kind of set up worked for Giles who managed to hook a Whiting though he confessed he hadn’t seen the bite.

As dusk approached we hadn’t added to our score and Rich had to be elsewhere so reluctantly departed.  Darkness saw the wind drop away which increased our comfort levels no end which was just as well as the fish were still elusive, had it been cold we might have jacked it in.  But as high tide approached things started to happen; first Giles landed another whiting which was followed soon after by a Pouting.  And at long last I had a proper rod rattling bite but somehow managed to miss it.  I was beginning to think a blank was on the cards but it didn’t matter as at least I’d seen the others catch fish.

I lose track of time but it must have been around ten o clock with the tide on the turn I noticed a bit of activity on the tip of the heavier rod.  That just had to be a bite but as I stood poised… nothing else happened.  I wandered over to let Giles know of my frustration, chatted for a minute or two then wandered back with a view to putting a fresh bait on.  As I wound on I could feel more than the expected resistance so was not surprised to see something fishy in the surf, it was another Smoothound, small but a perfect shark in miniature.

Not long after this there was a distinct rattle on the light rod so with recent lessons in mind I lifted it from the tripod to see if I could feel anything.  There was a definite pull so I struck and found myself attached to another fish which did make its weight felt on the light tackle.  This was a Dogfish, another shark species bigger than the Smoothound but somehow less impressive?  They are interesting creatures though, tough with rough brown skin mottled with darker spots and blotches and a reasonably shark shaped head.  It was certainly a welcome catch which I enjoyed, I wonder how big they go?  A few minutes passed before Giles was in again and he too bounced a dogfish up the shingle.  This was bigger than mine and certainly the biggest fish of the evening.  The tide was certainly on its way down now and bites decreased though I’m sure I had some interest on the big bait again but it didn’t develop and nothing hook itself.  We packed up around 2300, once again we could have gladly stayed but we were dog tired and have been known to be sensible on occasions.  The walk back wasn’t as sapping as the one at the other beach but two tired anglers slumped into car seats.

We’re already planning our next trip on a favourable tide in a couple of weeks’ time.  Before then I have the option of another mornings fishing.  I should be sensible and plan around the conditions at the time but I can’t get enthused by Carp fishing, I know what I want to do.