Friday 28 April 2023

Busy beach...

A last minute change of plans, Giles couldn’t make it so as I was on my own I decided to fish the daytime tide which would peak at 1338.  This meant a bit of quick preparation on Friday evening but all should be well…  My sleep was broken by weird dreams, one of those regular pre-fishing frustration exercises, seriously can your blood pressure increase while you sleep?  Someone had built loads of fancy beach huts along the wild coastline and the place was rammo, people everywhere.  I woke up before I committed sleep murder.  While I filled the flasks and got bits and pieces together my mind was still foggy, as I stepped out of the back door the sky was hazy mist but the air refreshingly cool.

Onto the roads with a mind made paranoid, I couldn’t help pulling over to double check I had stashed my bait…  The traffic was light and I made good time on the cross country route, despite wankers in shiny 4WD’s who can’t drive them round bends.  The last few miles through a misty forest, Deer grazed casually by the side of the road, at around 0830 I pulled up in the car park at the Steep beach.  This is one of the most renowned marks in the area, a decent car park and a short walk to the shore where there is deep water close in and all manner of species could turn up.  So why don’t I fish it more often?  All of the above make it very, very popular.  As I tramped across pebbles there were already three anglers spaced along the beach, many more were sure to arrive.

I was fishing by 0850, as usual the heavy rod heaved out in the direction of Holland and baited with whole squid.  On the light rod I continued with the up/down rig baited with squid and fishy bits, I varied the distance throughout the day.  Things started quietly as I expected, the morning was gloomy with a barely noticeable southerly breeze and the sea was virtually flat.  After half an hour the first plucks and wobbles started then at 0945 I had my first proper bite on the light rod and winched in a small Whiting.  The slight indications continued but nothing to strike at until 1050 when I had a decent Dogfish which tried to fight and banged the light rod about before it succumbed.

Just after 1100 I had a good thump on the heavy rod but didn’t connect.  Twenty minutes later it was going again and this time I set the hook into something with a bit of weight.  The fish pulled hard in the surf before I dragged it in on a wave and was soon holding my first Bass of the year.  It might have been a keeper but it went back into the drink anyway.  By this time there were sixteen anglers on the beach, none too close but too many for my liking, not to mention all the dog walkers, day trippers and nutters who can’t resist a cold swim even though there are signs warning against it.

The sun burnt away the haze by noon but this didn’t put the fish off, for the rest of the trip I had bites fairly regularly on both rods.  I’m always more interested in the big bait and this rod produced my biggest Whiting of the year which was despatched for a future dinner as well as a good sized Doggy.  I had more bites on the lighter rod but nothing of any size; a small Flounder made me smile as did my first Rockling for over forty years, I remember them being blank savers on Felixstowe pier in the dim and distant past.  Weird looking creatures, if you scaled them up they’d resemble a Catfish but this one was the same kind of size, shape and colour as an average turd.  The action peaked with the high tide and slowed up as the sea gradually retreated.  High tide also brought a change in the wind which picked up from the east, eye wateringly cool and the big jacket was required.

I gave it till 1600 by which time I’d caught nine fish of five different species as well as missing plenty more.  A nice catch with interesting variety but honestly I know I’d have enjoyed myself more catching fewer fish on a quieter beach.  This may not make sense to many but that’s just how I’m wired.

Tuesday 18 April 2023

New gear

Today Giles picked me and we head east, a steady cruise in high spirits, chatting all the way…  Until we were almost at our destination when I realised I’d left my fucking bait at home!!!  Giles didn’t have enough bait for two so there was no option but to go back for it.  I was fuming, frustrated and annoyed.  It was like being in one of my own mad dreams…  Happily Giles enjoys driving and was far more chilled about things than I was.  So it was 1630 when we finally chucked some rods out at Radar beach, an hour later than planned.  I used the same methods i.e. the ever present Pulley rig baited with squid and the up/down rig on which all sorts of disgusting fishy things were impaled.

Once I had two baits out in the soup I had a new piece of tackle to grapple with, one of those fancy beach shelters which the proper sea anglers use.  I don’t like buying tackle unless I have to and already this spring I’ve had to purchase a new rucksack.  This thing is from Sonik has a solid base and seems pretty tough, crucially it’s comfortable when walking which was the main consideration when replacing the forty year old Karrimor that was finally giving at a couple of seams.  So far this piece of kit hasn’t been cursed and I hoped the new shelter wouldn’t be a jinx, or maybe that was the journey?  The shelter is from Imax and went up easily although I should practice in the garden sometime as I’m sure it wasn’t quite right.  The oval brolly had done the job but these things are perfect for the beach, there’s shelter from three sides so you can be comfortable in any weather and of equal importance, they are much lighter than a 60” brolly.  Today it wouldn’t be tested too much, the sky was clear and bright, the wind was light from the north east, comfortable conditions if not good fishing weather?

The new tackle wasn’t cursed, I’d seen a couple of plucks on the light rod but when I eventually wound it in I was still surprised to find a small Whiting attached.  After that most casts brought a bite on the light rod and two hours in I’d managed three more Whiting of various sizes, mostly taken on the upper hook baited with strips of squid.  By this stage Giles was still fishless but this changed with a slow bite on whole squid, his rod took on the full curve, was it a snag?  No it was moving!  With the heavy gear we have to use the fight is more a case of pumping in a dead weight but as the fish neared the beach it was definitely moving down tide.  Giles kept the pressure on and the leader emerged, followed seconds later by a large diamond shaped thing.  I grabbed the leader and with the next wave dragged a nice big Ray onto the beach.  Not just any Ray but Giles’ first and he was delighted, it had to be a scales and camera moment.  Thornbacks are awesome creatures, definitely the thing we prize most at this time of year and they don’t even look like real fish.

Soon after Giles’ second sea fish of the spring was a nice sized Dogfish but after that it all went quiet, for two hours nothing much moved but as high tide approached and darkness fell, (a nice coincidence?) things started to happen again.  Giles dropped a bait in close and was rewarded with a double hit of Whiting including a bloody big one, by far the biggest either of us have seen so far.  I tried a short cast but it didn’t work for me.  Right on high tide the light rod bent over and I found myself into something with a bit of weight, I hoped for a small Ray but it was a Dogfish which although cool creatures are a bit of an anti-climax in comparison. 

After half an hour of nothing a proper pull on the heavy rod had me scrambling out of the chair.  I stood by the tripod, the tip rattled again but then so did the other one, the light rod was banging too!  I winched in the heavy rod first to find a decent sized Whiting had engulfed a squid but whatever had attacked my other bait had got away with it.  While this was going on, Giles managed another couple of Whiting but then things slowed to a stop. Half an hour passed, the sea was retreating quickly so we decided to call it a night.  The new shelter had stood up to its first test and packed away easily, first impressions are positive.  I tidied the light rod first which is usually the case because it’s always more exciting when the big bait goes.  That job was almost completed when I glanced up to see the tip on the heavy rod had straightened, I wound in but felt no weight but something wriggled up the beach, a small but beautifully marked Dogfish, my last fish of the night.

The hike back to the motor was more awkward than it should have been taking away any spring that might have been in my legs.  Still it had been another interesting evening, over a dozen fish between us and it was great to see another big Ray.  So far this spring I've just caught Whiting and Dogfish but I don't think I'm doing a lot wrong...

Sunday 9 April 2023

One good, one not so...

My first attempt at sea fishing this spring took place on a gloomy, drizzly Saturday.  I fished with my old pal Mr T and the day was as much about catching up as catching fish.  The wind was from the north and as the trip was to be a social one I figured Radar beach would give us the most shelter.  After an awkward walk through gorse we dumped our kit and immediately set about erecting shelter, for once this took place before any thought was put into getting a bait in the water.  The drizzle was miserable but we were well wrapped up and from our camp could barely feel the wind.

Rigging up was slow because I hadn’t done this for months but just before 1700 I launched a whole squid on a pulley rig.  On the second rod I tried something different; what I believe is called a ‘one up – one down rig’.  Above the lead I fixed a plastic boom with a size 1 Aberdeen on a twelve inch hooklength, this was baited with strips of squid.  Below the lead was a hooklength of about two feet with a 2/0 hook to which I bound a chunk of bluey.  The idea being the smaller hook and bait will pick up pretty much anything while the bigger bait might get me something special like a Ray.  Mr T stuck to one rod to which he attached his version of a ‘two up-one down’ rig with a selection of baits.  So finally fishing we sat down and cracked open a beer, toasting a dear departed friend on what would have been his birthday.

For a couple of hours we sat staring out at a grey expanse, chatting and chuckling, eating piles of chilli.  The day had been miserable but by evening the cloud was breaking up and the drizzle mostly stayed away, we were warm, fed and comfortable but there was no sign of fish and in theses saltwater settings, catching always seems unlikely until you actually get a bite, which I did around 1900.  It was the light rod with the ‘new’ rig and a proper bite too which of course I managed to miss.  Minutes later I was still rebaiting when Mr T’s rod hooped over, he done a much better job and was into a decent fish.  I concentrated on whipping on fresh bait until Mr T’s shout got me moving.  I jogged down the beach just in time to see a bloody great Ray appear in the surf!  I hauled it up the beach away from the waves and we stood staring at this awesome creature! Then we loudly cheered our success.  Mr T had caught it but I was just as happy as he was.  After a couple of photos we recorded a PB for Mr T and returned it to the sea.  The trip was an overwhelming success and it wasn’t even dark!

From then onwards we had bites regularly although it was never all go, the bites came steadily.  The fish came on all three rods and were happy to take any bait, mostly Whiting with a couple of Dogfish each but Mr T also had a second, much smaller Ray.  With high tide just before 2200 we fished into darkness which on this occasion didn’t bring any change in the action.  In many ways the evening was perfect, regular bites but not the non stop, can’t sit down action we sometimes experience, in between we were able to chill out and chat.  When the tide turned the bites stopped which often seems to be the case at this location and by this time we were both thoroughly knackered, why is beach fishing so tiring?  Back at the car it was good to unload and then relax into a comfortable seat, home through dark country lanes, Marley on the stereo hit the spot.  It was great to be beach fishing once more, now I can’t wait to get back.

For the next couple of months I will be doing more of the same and judging by the last two springs I should see plenty of Whiting, Dogfish and if I’m really, really lucky a Cod.  What I really want to catch are the bigger creatures, Rays to begin with and Smoothounds later on, hence the multi hook rig.  As a coarse angler presenting two baits on the same rig feels almost wrong but I want to hedge my bets more with different types of bait.  The alternative is to fish a third rod but I like the simplicity of fishing just two.  To call beach fishing ‘simple’ would be an insult to proper sea anglers who are every bit as skilled and inventive as any other branch of our sport.  But I don’t want to be a proper sea angler, what I do is simple and that makes it all the more enjoyable.

Bank holiday weekend, the coast would be busy with bored, irritating people so my best chance of peace was to go early on a gloomy Saturday morning.  High tide would be 1339 so I’d be fishing the tide up which would do nicely for the place I had in mind.  I was on the road by 0730, the country lanes were quiet but what traffic there was definitely wasn’t in a hurry and the journey became frustrated.  Eventually I pulled the car over and had a long walk on solid ground before arriving at the beach that boils.

The morning was gloomy with a light northerly wind which I barely felt.  I’m a creature of habit so out went a whole squid on a pulley/Pennell and this was swiftly followed by the one up/one down rig baited with squid and bluey.  I wasn’t expecting much to begin with so was surprised to have rattles on both rods from the off.  By 0915 the first proper waves were breaking but the bites seemed to be slowing up.  Twenty minutes later a proper bite slack lined the heavy rod and saw me winching in the first fish of the day, an average sized Dogfish saw land for a minute.  Catching something is always a massive confidence boost when you’re sat staring at miles and miles of sea but that was the last time the rod moved in anger for a long while.

During the next few hours the most interesting things were two massive Crabs at almost the same time, one on each rod.  These were removed very carefully using forceps at arms length.  One of the brutes scuttled back down the beach and into the drink quickly and without fuss but the other was the world’s most inept crab.  I mean it wasn’t very good at being a crab, it seemed to prefer being on land and actually seemed scared of the sea, twice it allowed a wave to flip it onto its back where it wiggled its legs in a hapless show of frustration until I flipped it back the right way up.  Eventually the useless creature made it safely back to sea but even then it was doing backstroke.

Just into the afternoon the tips started to show promising signs, tentative plucks and little rattles.  At 1315 the heavy rod finally hooped over but of course I managed to miss the bite.  For the next hour I had sporadic nibbles which would get me out of the chair but by the time I reached the rod all would be still again.  By now the wind had swung to the east blowing right into my chops and I had to don the heavy jacket, which until this point had been hanging on the back of the chair. 

By 1500 the sea was retreating again but the cheerful ramblers were advancing.  I know they mean well but my patience is stretched after having the same conversation thousands of times.  With a break in the foot traffic I gave it a little while longer but that wind was a cold one and I’d had enough.  I tidied up the kit then packed away the light rod but glancing up I saw the over tip was bouncing, another unmissable bite and this time I didn’t.  My second Dogfish was a little bigger than the first but didn’t inspire me to have another cast.

Just a few yards inland it was a much warmer day and the tramp back to the car raised a sweat.  I’d expected more if I’m honest so a couple of doggies was a bit disappointing but it’s a bit more learned and filed away.  Next week will be an evening tide and there’s no doubt the dark hours bring better fishing and the atmosphere is magic.