Are you a visual sort of angler? Do you like to see your bass crash into your surface lure before you feel the weight of the fish? It’s the way Dr Mike Ladle likes to do things – and here he explains why
I often fish for carp and pike and I enjoy both immensely because my favourite approaches are what you might call ‘visual’. So let me explain what I mean by this...
When I’m after carp I prefer to use floating baits such as bread crust or dog biscuits. The anticipation as a fish nudges its way through the reeds towards your bait has to be experienced to be believed, and the final moment when the carp mouths my crust – will it take or won’t it? – finds me holding my breath for several seconds. Exciting? I’ll say it is!
Piking is a bit different, but the thrill is just as great. My spoon wavers along in the clear water and I raise the rod to hold it in position next to a little bay in the weeds. As it hovers and flashes before my eyes I’m totally riveted, almost hypnotised by the motion. Suddenly, faster than the eye can follow, a lean, green streak of a fish lunges out from the weeds, the rod tip plunges down and the reel screams. Again the buzz is almost mind-blowing. You’ve got the message, I’m an adrenaline junky.
Afew years back I encountered a method of bass fishing that is quite the equal of this freshwater action in terms of anticipation and excitement. To begin at the beginning, a pal of mine and a member of BASS, Steve Butler, had begun to experiment with surface popping lures for bass.
Poppers were developed for catching largemouth bass in the USA and according to Steve’s results they were also pretty effective for our native sea fish. In 2001 my pal Alan Vaughan had visited Steve to learn the rudiments of popper fishing. Later that year, when he came down to Dorset to fish with me, Alan couldn’t wait to give me a few tips on the method and I was keen to have a try. To cut a long story short, as soon as I hooked my first bass on a Chug Bug I was addicted.
It may be worth describing a typical popping session to show you what I mean. The lures are quite bulky and fairly heavy, so they cast a long way. After casting they float on the surface either
horizontally like a stick or with the tail hanging down and the head up. Instead of a diving vane they have a flat or concave front end, which causes lots of surface disturbance when you jerk the rod or turn the reel. Chug Bugs, Skitterpops, Yo Zuri Mag poppers, TD Pencils, Bass Busters, and so on are all are effective and work in much the same way, although some make more disturbance than others.
Whatever lure you use it is essential to keep the hooks needle sharp and the line tight from rod tip to popper.
It’s a beautiful midsummer day, the sun is shining and there’s a light, offshore breeze. You’ve arrived at the coast armed with a spinning rod and a reel loaded with 20lb braid. Ashort (1m) trace of 20lb clear Amnesia is looped to the ring on the front of the popper. It’s half tide, and the kelp fronds have just gone below the surface. You cast out your popper, watch it splash down on to the glassy surface and flick over the bale-arm of the reel before tidying the line on the spool with a tug of your hand – no rush, the lure’s not going to sink. Point the rod at the becalmed lure, wind steadily to take up the bow in the line and then make a couple of fast turns of the reel handle and stop. The lure jerks forward, spraying water in front of it.
You watch the popper carefully as it lies on the surface then, after a few seconds, you repeat the two fast revolutions and the splashing movement. If you wanted you could jerk the rod instead of reeling. This would also cause the lure to spray but would be more likely to cause slack line and tangled braid.
When the lure has worked its way back to the rod tip you lift it out, cast again and the whole process is repeated. On your third cast, as the lure rests between two pops, you notice a tiny ripple beside it. This time you give the reel just half a turn. Yes, that was definitely a swirl and was that a glimpse of a prickly fin beside the stationary popper? Again you twitch the lure slightly and you are shocked and thrilled in equal parts as 4lb of silver torpedo rockets from the calm surface with your popper hanging from its mouth.
The fish crashes back in. No need to strike, the non-stretch braid has done its work, the rod is already bending and the fish is on.
As the clutch buzzes to give line your heart still pounds from the excitement of the take. This is real fishing.
Frequently there will be no warning of a take. Your lure may simply disappear in the middle of a huge swirl or, perhaps more likely, there will be a boil and the rod will simply bend to the weight of a fish.
Splashing signals ‘prey are here’
Why are popping lures so effective? Well, most bass anglers will have seen fish attacking sprats or sandeels near the surface. Understandably the little fish try to escape by rushing away in what’s described as a ‘flash expansion’.
If they are just under the surface dozens of the tiny prey fish may spray out and plop back again, like a mini squall of rain falling on the sea. The striking bass themselves may throw up a spray of water. These splashy signals shout ‘prey are here’ and understandably this attracts other predators to the area. The ‘pops’ of your lure give off the same sort of come hither signal and bass from many metres distant may be attracted to the popper.
When the predators arrive they see a little disabled ‘fish’ floating at the surface. A chance too good to miss?
Perhaps surprisingly, bass will come up to attack poppers in quite deep water as well as in weedy, snaggy shallows. I’ve had good fish in only inches of water and one of my pals described to me how he watched several big bass swim up from a ledge a few metres down to inspect his lure. There’s still plenty to learn about this fascinating technique.
Does it matter how long you let the lure pause between pops? Is it best to cause a big splash or a small sprinkle? This may depend on things like how calm the sea conditions are. Is it worth having a really ‘fish-like’ popper? After all, the bass often take it when it’s stationary in gin-clear conditions. Would it help to add a bit of flavour to the lure? Since the fish sometimes look closely before they strike a bit of added incentive may do no harm.
One thing’s for certain, popping is a recipe for heart attacks but if you keep that braid tight and those hook points needle sharp the bass won’t be the only thing that gets hooked.
The weather was so bad it sent shivers down my spine. As horizontal rain power-washed the window I had a feeling how the day was going to unfold... another shiver went down my back.
Slate-coloured clouds raced across the sky as I gathered my gear together and dashed to my car. I really wanted to shoot a proper winter bass fishing feature here in south-east Ireland and I had hoped for a crisp and bright winter's day. I was thankful some clever designer had developed the waterproof camera bag.
I met Graham Hill down on the beach and it struck me how cheerful and positive he was. Not used to blanking on this coastline, the soft Irish weather wasn’t going to dampen his spirits.
Clutching a bucket full of prime peelers and some huge lugworms we headed for the angry surf, which boomed as it smashed onto the beach. By now a pounding south-westerly was screaming right into our faces, kicking up monstrous seas that dumped tons of sand-stained seawater on the beach. I know bass like to hunt in a lively sea, but surely this was ridiculous?
“See that sandbank out there to the right,” said Graham, “see how it calms the sea as it runs into that hole. That’s where the bass will be. It is just about perfect. Give me ten minutes fishing and I will know if it is fishable. The only thing that can mess us up is the amount of weed in the water.”
At least Graham was feeling positive. I imagined a hot coffee and bacon sandwich, but with Graham being so positive when faced with such appalling conditions, it did boost my confidence. I so wanted to see a winter bass.
Bass feed all year in Irish waters, but if you want that special big winter fish taken on bait you should head way out west to areas such as the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry, where sport moves up a gear from late October until early March.
Like everywhere, catches are reliant on conditions. Graham reckoned bass were also a 12-month option in the south-east, but he noticed a decline in sport after New Year, up until early March. It can’t be that bad though, because he told me he’d seen bass caught on plugs on New Year’s Eve.
The severe gale meant this was the time to anchor juicy baits hard to the bottom with a decent grip weight and try to ride out the conditions until the bass found our humble offerings.
Graham launched a fixed-paternoster rig out into that likely-looking hole, but I wondered if the fish would dart about seeking food in conditions that must have been like a washing machine.
This is what many bass anglers dream about - big booming rollers topped by white crests and the expectation of a bass. If we could control the weather it would be far too easy, wouldn’t it? High-tech waterproofs and chest waders were designed for times like this. The fact that we could hardly see due to the horizontal rain mattered not; it was those tell-tale taps and bangs on the rod tip that had us grinning like madman as the rainwater poured off our faces.
Nobody was out walking their dog today, so we weren’t getting those weird looks from people who think anglers standing knee deep in freezing water are nutters. Little do they realise that the angler is an eternal optimist and if our dreams and hopes could be bottled it would be priceless.
Not looking good
Ten minutes into the fishing and Graham was shaking his head.
Conditions looked good because there was a stunning swell that was effectively being calmed by the sandbank, giving the bass a gutter to hunt in and stay out of the worst of the sea. Yet Graham was struggling to pull in great rafts of weed that had broken his gripper out and washed it along the beach.
Fishing effectively was out of the question. Perhaps that bacon sarnie wasn’t just a dream.
Despite the conditions, Graham was still smiling. Could anything dampen this guy’s enthusiasm for bass fishing?
“No worries,” he said, “let’s drive a few miles up the coast and tuck in behind a little east-facing headland I know. I think I’ve taken you plugging there before, but let’s go chuck some crabs and see what happens.”
I like to hear of decent options if primary plans don’t work out and the chance to shelter from the relentless weather would be most welcome. I was wondering if our little detour would take us past the café I had seen earlier.
Twenty minutes later we were negotiating a slippery bank to the rocks below. One rod each, minimum tackle, a bucket of prime bait and a dream of bagging a bass were all we had.
The moment we negotiated the steep bank it was like a different world. Around the corner to our right the weather was a ripping storm that sent great swell surges crashing into the coastline that we could just make out in the distance. Here in our little hideaway it all looked perfect. There were even a couple of seals working the area, something I knew Graham liked to see.
Baits were aimed where Graham knew the sand began at the edge of some very rough ground. Grippers were wrenched round in the surge, but eventually they found a decent resting place and our peeler crabs started to fish properly.
Meanwhile I couldn’t resist clambering around the corner on some extremely slippery rocks to see what was to our left. Why do rock anglers always have the urge to look for the next corner, the next headland, perhaps the next mark? I paid the price for pushing my luck and finally returned to my rod with a deep cut in my left hand.
Like an idiot I had slipped and grabbed some shark-tooth rocks to stop myself falling in the sea. As I bound my bloody hand with a wet fishing rag I thought this might be a lesson learnt.
As I looked up from nursing my wound I saw Graham whack his rod back in response to a savage, slap-down type of bite. The unseen fish careered round to the right, but steady pressure from Graham soon brought a bass to his waiting hands. Does this coastline ever let him down?
I have yet to see County Wexford fail to deliver the goods and that's why I keep banging on about it having the best bass fishing in Ireland. Bear in mind the horrendous conditions that we faced; anywhere can fish well when everything is right, but how do they perform when conditions are terrible.
Despite my injury I managed to catch a fish, maybe nudging 41⁄2lb. It was a moment of joy, its fins bristled, it was well fed, powerful and eager to run from my hands when I crouched down to release it.
It was getting to the point when the ebbing tide was going to make fishing the mark impossible. With our lines starting to rest across a rocky hell in front of us, Graham got another bite and set the hooks. He kept the pressure on and got it over the rocks to bring it to hand. Graham smiled, the camera shutter clicked and the bass went back. Surely it can’t get any better?
The various flatfish found around our coastline are all very similar in shape and colour, so identifying them can sometimes prove difficult.
Here we have a brief guide to what to look out for when figuring out which species of flatfish you have just caught...
The major angling flatfish are plaice, dab, flounder, Dover sole, turbot and brill. Lemon sole have very small mouths and are rarely caught on hook and line. They are also more closely related to the dab than the Dover sole. There are a couple of other small members of the sole family and the rare megrim.
Plaice identification - large pronounced red spots, knobbly head but smooth skin
Dab identification - lighter brown colour, small flecks and spots, sometimes orange or white, distinctive curve in lateral line
Flounder identification - square-cut tail fin, muddy-brown looking, rough back and head
Dover sole identification - distinctive hooked mouth, sole-shaped
Turbot identification - Large rounded body, spotted/speckled, with scaly tubercles
Brill identification - more oval than turbot with frilly front edge to its dorsal fin near the mouth
Megrim identification - long and thin, large eyes and mouth, noticeable teeth
In smoothhounds, the fair-weather sea beach angler has at long last found his soul mate - they are the perfect sea fish to target when conditions are perfect for a stroll on the beach.
Karl Nangle with a fine smoothhound taken from the beach
at Chapel St Leonards, near Skegness
“Time of day or the size of the tide doesn’t matter for smoothhounds here near Chapel St Leonards - the key factor is the weather; you need it calm and warm,” says George. “They don’t like the shallows when it’s rough.”
The best time of year for smoothhounds is June to September. George says he fishes two hours up to high tide and four hours back down to cover all his options.
“Some years they’ll come in mainly on the flood tide and other years mainly on the ebb,” the England shore internatinal explains.
Whenever they do come, you’ll know about it. Anglers who have had their bait assaulted by a smoothhound already may skip the next few paragraphs, but if you’re a two-hook flapper angler keen to tackle a new species, you need to become more single-minded.
“Just fish one bait; this is not a species where you want catch two fish at once,” warns George with a smile. “I might fish two hooks if it’s a match but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.”
Don't walk away from your rods when smoothhound fishing.
They don't mouth the bait - they just scream off with it.
He is only partly-joking when he describes the classic sign of a smoothhound bite as “your rod disappearing down the beach” and he has one word for the ensuing fight. “Horrendous”
“They don’t play with bait, they just hit it. They’ll turn and go the other way when you hook them and they can easily snap your line,” he explains.
“You must make sure the drag on your reel isn’t too tight because these fish will easily pull the rod out of your hand when they take your bait. You shouldn‘t wander too far from your rod-rest either…
“You’ll find them up to 18lb but it tends to be the eight or nine-pounders that are the real fighters because they’re more agile. They’ll swim up and down the beach, so be prepared for a walk and try and get them in as soon as you can, so you don’t tire them.”
Another suggestion he offers is to try to pick up the fish with a hand at either end, rather than just by the tail.
“I worry that just ‘tailing’ them could cause them some damage, especially if it’s a heavy fish,” he explains.
You’re likely to get plenty of practice at this on a good day, when Smith says 20 smoothhounds in a session are not uncommon.
“Peeler crabs are best here,” he says of the bait requirements. “Fresh or frozen; smoothhounds aren’t fussy. The occasional one will take a squid or king ragworms, but a crab is the main choice. If you get good weather and the crabs peeling at the same time, that’s perfect. Your bait needn’t be massive, just a decent size.”
By far the best bait for smoothhounds is crab. You won't catch them on anything else!
Not surprisingly, fishing of this variety involves a durable rod. Smith favours the Daiwa Amorphous Whisker Tournament, from which he fishes 60lb shockleader and 5-6oz leads. His 3ft traces are made with 25lb line and finished with a Pennell pulley rig, employing 2/0 hooks as sharp as you can get them, for the smoothhound mouth is not easily penetrated. A cast of at least 80yd is required to get your bait among the fish.
Whether this has always been smoothie country, unheralded simply because comparatively few anglers fished it, George is unsure.
“They could have been there for years but we get more matches in this area now because it’s easily reached and anglers are always looking for new venues, so it’s started to become known as a smoothhound mark,” he says.
The best in Lincolnshire?
“One of the best in country,” is his emphatic reply.
Leave your 8lb line at home when you're after smoothhounds.
They are capable of doing some damage when roused!
Smoothies hunt in packs, so take a tip from match anglers and have a second rod baited up and ready to go. As soon as you bring a smoothhound in, the chances are it has left some buddies behind, so cast your second rodto get your bait back among the pack while you're releasing the first fish.
As smoothhound feed in packs, having two rods ready can reap rewards
This is no one-fish beach – the cod and whiting fishing is good during the winter months (codling were still around as late as July this year) and summer brings not only smoothhounds but also big flounders, a lot of bass, dabs, dogfish, thornback rays and the chance of a stingray. This summer also saw small tope being caught from the shore.
This is not a venue suitable for wheelchair users, who should instead go to nearby Chapel Point, at the north end of Chapel St Leonards or Vickers Point, found at the junction of Anchor Lane and Roman Bank in Ingoldmells. In both cases, you can fish from a promenade at high water for the same type of fish mentioned in this article.
From Chapel St Leonards, four miles north of Skegness, take the road heading north out of the village, towards Sandilands. Soon after leaving the village, you will see a car park, in front of which is the Chapel Six Marshes mark. The car park is free at the time of writing, but is one of several along this stretch of coast that have recently come under new ownership, so a charge for parking might have to be paid soon.
Squid is my favourite bait for bass, says dinghy angler Steve Mills, but he warns other scavengers, like cod and after-dark conger eels, also a have a taste for this cheap and easy-to-use sea fishing bait...
The early autumn period between the end of September and the beginning of November marks an important watershed for South Coast boat anglers. The summer species start to move away as sea temperatures gradually fall; it seems winter in the Med is more appealing!
Most notable among the species that depart the eastern and central inshore waters is the mackerel. I say most notably not because the mackerel will be missed for its sporting credentials but for it is a reliable and essential source of fresh bait.
Anglers in the South West can probably continue to rely on mackerel stocks well into the autumn, but off Hampshire we start to dip into the freezer from mid-September onwards.
Squid then inevitably emerges as the single most important autumn and winter bait for the remaining predatory species. To be honest I would definitely prefer to offer fresh, frozen, white calamari squid than home frozen mackerel that clearly loses much of its appeal compared to the pulling power of fresh bait if it isn’t instantly blast frozen.
What’s more those predators - bass, cod, congers and rays - appear to accept squid with gay abandon. In recent seasons Solent cod haven’t arrived in consistent numbers until the end of October, so anglers have to decide what to target and bass are always high on the list.
While the smaller shoaling bass continue to chase fry and whitebait, the larger fish of 4lb or more become a target for anchored boat sport.
These larger bass are opportunistic feeders. It is difficult to think of a bait or technique that does not catch bass at some point in the year. They move seamlessly from one naturally available food source to another.
Once the sandeels and mackerel have started to disappear for the year they simply look elsewhere. My impression is that autumn bass are more prepared to scavenge and widen their search areas. It is to our advantage that bass are happy to accept a bait that conveniently comes out of the freezer and does not have to be dug, collected or caught and which doesn’t usually cost an arm and a leg.
One thing it can be difficult to do is to exclusively or specifically target bass. They are not the only predator with an appetite.
LIKELY BASS MARKS
So what sort of ground are you looking for? Key features that seem to attract these bigger bass are rock or reef marks or even boulders that are adjacent to some cleaner ground.
Bass like some rough stuff for protection and to escape the tide, plus some mixed open ground close by for scavenging those small fish and crabs that now make up their diet.
I find these type of marks are usually in 40ft to 80ft of water. A chart, a good fish-finder and some local knowledge will help you find such likely bass-holding ground.
Hampshire anglers will recognise that marks like this can be found off Selsey, south east of Utopia, off Bembridge and can equally include vast tracts of the south coast of the Isle of Wight right through to and round the Needles.
WHEN TO FISH
Bass can consistently be taken during daylight but prospects improve after dark. However, this is where the trouble starts. The same conditions that suit the bass are just as attractive to conger eels or even cod.
In fact the problem is even bigger because these inshore autumnal congers are essentially nocturnal and they are busy fattening up in order to survive the winter.
Local marks that appear to be devoid of these eels during the day come alive with them after dark. A dozen up to 40lb can be possible from some marks and some can even be caught on dull overcast days. The only thing that recommends conger eels to me is a 40-pounder caught in the dark on 20lb-class gear can be fun.
TACKLE AND TACTICS
Bass tactics are straightforward. Choose rods and reels according to depth with a spring tide and 60ft of water needing 1lb of lead and maybe a 30lb-class rod. Go lighter if you can, but remember those eels. Braid mainline is standard; I use 30lb braid and a 40lb leader.
End tackle comprises a running leger with a 5ft trace to the Pennell rigged squid bait presented on a pair of size 6/0 hooks. Meaty hooks are unnecessary; I use chemically-sharpened hooks like Mustad Viking (wide gape) or Mustad Ultimate Bass.
Trace strength may depend on the roughness of the sea bed. There is no point in having the trace stronger than the leader. Each time you get stuck you will lose everything. Equally the trace takes some stick under these conditions so you cannot fish too light. Either increase the leader strength or try adding a stronger ‘biting’ length close to the hooks.
I like to present the hooks on a large loop. The top hook of the Pennell is simply threaded onto the loop so that it can slide between the fixed bottom hook and the loop knot. This prevents the top hook from sliding right up the trace and provides a double thickness to resist fish with teeth.
To bait up, thread the bottom hook through the squid a couple of times finally pushing the hook point through its head. Wind the shank of the top hook around the double thickness of the trace loop three or four times to hold the hook in place and impale the hook in the top of the bait.
I prefer to have hook points coming out from different sides of the bait to improve hooking potential. Bait size is according to squid size and I use two squid if they are less than 10cm in mantle length; these fish are hungry.
Both uptide and downtide techniques work well, particularly when the water is coloured. Bass will hit squid baits very hard and missed bites are inevitable if you leave the rod to look after itself. I prefer to hold a rod and make sure that the next bass stays on the hook.
Pollack fishing is so simple and exciting that you will wonder why you haven't tried it before. All you need is a powerful 10ft-spinning rod, quality fixed-spool reel, softie lure and deep water. Henry Gilbey gets fired up as the pollack attack right at his feet
KNEE JOINTS PROTEST as you naturally brake against the steep downward slope, but way below twinkles bright blue water, swirling invitingly with white-tinged edges as it laps against the rocky platforms.
Carrying nothing more than a spinning rod, fixed-spool reel and with a small rucksack strapped to your back, you can swiftly but carefully negotiate the cliff path down to the water.
Tying on your favourite lure, you cast it out over the tumbling ocean in front of you. Allow the lure to sink a few seconds, snap the reel's bale-arm back and begin the retrieve. That's when the magic begins.
Every natural sense is actively charged in anticipation of a hit, but steal yourself to keep casting and retrieving, searching out different areas and, of course, don't ignore the water right beneath your feet.
Third cast and you can see what looks like a good pollack dart out at your lure seconds before you lift it to cast again, but in a millisecond it is gone in a flash of aggression.
Cast out again and retrieve through the same bit of water and this time you can actually see the pollack dart out and pounce upon your lure. Can I see a big smile break out across your face?
Is there anything like light-tackle, pure rock-edge spinning to heighten the senses? Roaming the rocks with minimum gear is one of the most exciting ways of fishing ever invented and, as luck would have it, we have truck loads round the British and Irish coastline.
Nothing beats fishing outside the comfort zone. While a vast army of anglers test their skills with long powerful rods, big lead weights and expensive strings of bait, there is a lighter, more nomadic way of fishing.
Granted, not everyone has easy access to the mobile rock-edge fishing I am talking about, but there is growing interest in travelling the coast looking for new places to fish. Holidays obviously open new doors and new challenges, and with no fresh bait supply worries you can fish where and when you like.
The type of sport I am talking about doesn't have to be all about big fish either. I am trying to put across to you the chance to get among some high-adrenaline, heartpumping, light-tackle fishing where the rod bends over alarmingly as a wild fish tries to break it!
Treat pollack as a prize
THE pollack is a humble fish, overshadowed by more illustrious species like bass and cod, but to my mind it deserves more credit as a sporting adversary.
While cold weather cod fishing is part of our shore fishing heritage, with bass adding that fillip when they strike out of the blue like a bully mugging an old lady for her purse, the pollack is always there for you and the fireworks are guaranteed.
Time they are a-changing, of course, and anglers who have got the T-shirt for the biggest and most of everything are looking for new avenues to explore.
That's why more anglers are going down the light-tackle road and finding that while the fish they hook often aren't monsters, boy do they fight on more delicate gear.
Granted, it is not subtle fishing. The only thing to remember is to open the bale-arm of the reel before you cast and wind in at varying speeds. That's all you need to remember. The rest is free fun.
Sometimes I think we can forget that going fishing is all about having fun. While fishing seems to become more and more technical, it really needs to become simpler. The lighter I travel and the further I can fish from the well-trodden paths the better.
Rock-edge, light-tackle fishing is more about a state of mind than concerning yourself with endless rigs and competitions. If the idea of walking miles and miles in search of good marks fills you with dread, then this fishing is not for you.
If you like to fish with lots of people in a competitive environment and want no change from that, no problem, but if you are beginning to take in interest in what I am talking about here, then have a go.
It is incredible to watch anglers finding out for the first time that rods can actually bend when fish are on, that some species can actually demand line from the reel and that there is a whole new world outside the traditional beach fishing scene that is waiting to be explored and enjoyed.
Where and tackle
THINK hard about where you will be fishing and that will be a clue to the type of tackle you should be using.
Forget about the need to fish seriously deep water and don't be afraid to cast and fish right beneath your feet at times. You will be surprised how close to the rocks a pollack will smack into your lure.
Everyone has heard about the legendary pollack fishing to be had around the Irish coastline, but you don't have to cross the water to enjoy the sort of sport I am talking about here.
A lot of west-facing coastlines hold pollack, including Devon, Cornwall, Wales and Scotland, plus numerous other rocky areas where there is some run of tide and life to the water.
The pollack lives and hunts around rocky ground where there is good weed cover, and they can be perfectly happy to run up gullies and inlets to hunt their prey. While summer is generally the most prolific time to hunt these fish, in fact the really big pollack tend to be caught in late spring and early autumn.
Every area fishes slightly differently, but you can't go far wrong if you chose to fish a flooding medium-sized tide when the sea is relatively calm and there's safe to access to the marks. Whatever the state of the tide, pollack often go on a feeding frenzy during the last hour of daylight, when the sun is not shining directly on the water.
I have yet to see it, but some anglers tell me of late season pollack being willing to hit surface lures. The sight of a good fish charging from nowhere and hitting your lure has got to be an angling high.
There's no need to carry more than one rod and reel; this is all about travelling light and staying mobile.
Leave those rod bags, tripods and shelters at home, and enjoy the fishing. I tend to favour powerful 9ft to 10ft spinning rods rated to cast up to about 100g. While I'm not going to cast a lure that weighs around 4oz, I am after a rod with backbone that can deal with a crash-diving fish.
Long carp rods don't find favour with me and I'm currently playing around with the Greys G-Series Spin 9ft 60-100g and their GRXi Spin 9ft 30-100g, which seem to do the job perfectly.
Fixed-spools work perfectly and I look to a 5000-size reel to give me line capacity and overall strength. I am only interested in very good line-lay, ultra-smoothness and a powerful, non-sticking drag.
Shimano make top end reels and models like their Baitrunners and Technium FA are just about perfect and will provide many years of trouble-free service.
I'm not entirely decided on whether I prefer braid or mono mainline; I like the directness and feel of braid, but still a big part of me really wants the stretch and abrasion resistance of mono.
I tend to use 15lb red Sufix Tritanium mono or 30lb Sufix Matrix Pro braid with a 30lb clear mono leader direct to the lure.
What lure on the line?
WHATEVER I say is open to debate. Old fashioned spinners, bars and spoons are always going to work, but small Stormtype shads and all manner of jellyworms, used with a 2oz ball lead, size 3/0 hook and short 30lb trace, will work Every lure angler has a personal favourite, but do accept that you will lose lures when fishing over rough ground. Make the lure work hard and cover as much ground at as many different depths as possible and if you get hit hard, hang on for dear life... and smile.
Scuba diver Tony Baskeyfield visits Desroches Island, part of the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean, and while anglers catch dorado above he captures the action underwater in a series of images that will blow the warm water angler’s mind...
There was an air of suppressed excitement as Justin the guide asked me if I’d like to dive something different today. He couldn’t get the words out quickly enough while trying to be calm about what he was saying.
“Henk, the sports fisherman here has found an FAD some 10 miles off and I thought we’d dive it? We’ve never seen an FAD before and we’re not sure what we’ll find. Are you interested?”
I was visiting Desroches Island in the Seychelles Archipelago for an adventure and also to write about the scuba diving potential there for Dive magazine.
“So, yes...yesss...” – the enthusiasm was infectious.
I’d heard about FADs, which are fish attracting devices designed to do what it says on the can – attract fish. Actually they trigger a natural food chain with all sizes of fish, from the tiniest to the largest, and especially tuna, all feeding on each other, and I’d seen some unique underwater video footage from them.
So this was an opportunity not to be missed. The water here would be blue, clear and very deep. Anything could turn up – even sperm whales and orca had been sighted off Desroches. Ihad my sights set on dorado or maybe a bill fish. Whatever we were served up was out there waiting for us.
Three of us sped out across the glassy flat water west off Desroches to the Amerantes drop off. The colour of the sea turned inky blue as the depth increased to over 1000 metres.
On the way we sighted dolphins and pilot whales glinting in the water. Once at the FAD we could see a school of dorado circling the boat. It was a race to put on our diving gear and get into the water. Iwasn’t sure what we’d see and was curious at first as we swam under and around the FAD. It was made from a wooden pallet that floated on the surface with a piece of net suspended underneath that trailed down to 10 metres. There was a solar panel with a radio transmitter tethered to it on the surface.
Hundreds of fusiliers and striped pilot fish congregated close to the FAD. Circling was a school of dorado. They had silver sides with blue dorsal fins and yellow tails, and blended into the sea.
When head fishing guide Henk Ferreira started to fish, all the dorado moved away from the FAD and circled the dive boat ignoring me but never getting closer than three metres when passing. The water was very clear, and underwater visibility 50-60 metres. From my position 10 metres under the boat I could see it all, the FAD and fish coming in and out of my range of vision.
I could see the splash on the surface where the lure hit the water, and as it moved across the surface back towards the boat a group of dorado chased it and one was immediately caught.
Then I watched it fighting on the surface with others swimming close by. They seemed to go crazy for the lure, swimming at around 5-20 knots and then accelerating to the lure in the water.
Then it was free, it slipped the hook and as soon as the lure was out of the first one’s mouth, Iwas amazed to see another snap it up. It all started again with this dorado swimming on the surface, hook in its mouth and a group of maybe 10 other fish trying to get the lure from its mouth. The hooked fish flashed gold, so it was easy to see which one was on the line and the one that had escaped was gradually returning to its original silver colour.
As Henk played the dorado closer to the boat the fish began to dive under the hull. At this point Iwas able to get within half a metre of the fish that was swimming, twisting and jumping to get free. Its mouth was open with the lure, hook and line clearly visible. With an expert playing it, to me this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. To get so close to a fish that Ihad never seen before left me shaking with excitement.
Aspot of dorado revival
Justin Sauber, who was diving with me, climbed back on the boat and had a crack at the dorado. At one stage the two of them had fish on and had to pass rods around to prevent their lines from tangling.
Watching from under the boat, Ireckon they were catching a fish about every five to 10 minutes. One fish that was out of the water a bit too long needed a bit of reviving. Igently took hold of it and swam it around for five minutes to get the water flowing over its gills.
What a lovely experience it was to hold such a magnificent fish in all its glory – bright gold with electric blue spots. Eventually, I felt the first sign of recovery as its tail, then its mouth, moved. Iswam it round until it started to move a bit more then watched it swim away into the blue water.
Back aboard the boat Ijust had to have a go at fishing. Not being a regular, Iwas given a quick brief and then cast my lure off the stern. My first attempt wasn’t far enough. “You’ll have to cast a bit further to where you can see them swimming,” advised Henk.
Second cast, then reel in and wham! I’d got a dorado. Hooked, played, landed then returned to the sea all within five minutes. What a delightful experience. Diving in deep blue water with dorado has got to rate as one of my best top 10 dives ever.
We returned to Desroches Island in silence with our own images of the afternoon, the setting sun on our backs, big grins on our faces and a couple of lovely fish for the barbecue.
What’s so fascinating about a FAD?
FADs, short for Fish Aggregating Devices, but big-game anglers call them attractors, are widely used by tuna fishing fleets.
A FAD is a man-made floating object used to attract ocean-going pelagic fish.
They usually consist of buoys smothered in old netting and have a radio transmitter attached so the commercial boats can locate them. Pelagic fish aggregate in considerable numbers around drifting flotsam, rafts, jellyfish or floating seaweed.
The objects provide a visual reference point and offer some protection for juvenile fish from predators. Drifting FAD s are responsible for a catch of over one million tons of tuna per year.
It’s said that ‘When the wind’s in the east the fish bite least’, but it doesn’t apply to Shakespeare beach near Dover, Kent, where you can catch bass from the beach when conditions elsewhere are wrong…
The English Channel has always been a battlefield and at times has been nothing more than a giant ditch that has kept out the enemy. Just last month we remembered the fleet of small ships that brought our troops home from the Dunkirk beaches.
For many, Dover’s sparkling White Cliffs epitomise the Battle of Britain and were the landmark for the returning fighter planes that swept the sky for hostile warplanes.
Down at sea level I have my own memories. From a young age I was drawn to Dover’s piers and beaches where I could always guarantee a great day’s fishing. Later, when I owned a boat and the weather always seemed perfect, we landed so many cod we almost became blasé about the standard of sport. My fascination with the English Channel and the two World Wars led me to dive its depths in search of the many tools of war which litter the sea bed.
The chalk cliffs, that on closer inspection have dark black flint running through them, make an impressive backdrop that every angler in the country can immediately identify. These cliffs, which reach a heady height of 350 feet, spread east and west from Dover, which remains an important and busy port. There are so many angling marks in the immediate area you could write a book on them.
Bass are extremely difficult to track down and a little knowledge puts you on the right track. That’s why I called local rod John Hutton, who has fished Dover’s shores for many years and is an expert bass angler. What he said had me drooling at the mouth, and together with Jason White (pictured below left) from Dartford we planned a trip to Shakespeare beach. The terrain here is quite snaggy so I left my rods at home, and with camera in hand decided to put pressure on John and Jason.
You need a ‘rotten’ rig
Jason has fished Shakespeare throughout the spring and summer months since the mid-1960s with his pal Steve Eggleton. At low tide during the 1960s it was possible to walk around the shoreline of prominent Shakespeare Cliff to Folkestone Warren.
At that time the drill was to fish two hours before low water on a neap tide and two hours after high water.
“Our best results back then came on the early evening low tides, just as the tide started to flood and daylight started to fade,” remembered Jason. “It was not unusual to catch at least three bass a session. Steve and I have had some lovely bass up to 7lb-plus.”
He continued: “We found that an easterly wind pushed food into the rocks and the bass knew this. This was a great indicator for us because we often knew exactly where the fish were.”
I’ve already mentioned the ground is rough and if you don’t believe me, stand on the cliff tops overlooking the mark and you will get a superb view of the landscape…and you might even see France on a good day.
There’s only one get-out card when you fish Shakespeare and that’s fishing with a rotten-bottom rig (pictured above right).
“My reliable rotten-bottom set-up is a three-way swivel and a Genie bait clip, which is clipped into the bottom eye,” said Jason.
“In effect you are clipping the Genie upside down, which will enable you to load the sinker eye on to the bait clip.
The weak link is 8lb line attached direct a 5oz or 6oz lead weight. My 15lb snood tied off the three-way swivel carries a size 3/0 Viking hook.”
Jason’s neat tip to help prevent continual snagging up is to fish with a limp line – tightening up on the weight can pull it into the rocks.
Rods, reels and bait
It always worth knowing what the locals use, and in this case Jason went for a fast-retrieve reel with a light rod - the Penn 525 Mag and Zziplex Profile Lite.
John Hutton used a Daiwa AWB 129 rod and a Daiwa Mag reel. His end rig differed from Jason’s rotten-bottom set-up in that he went for a long trace on an up-and-over rig (shown right), which is excellent for nailing bait hard to the sea bed and keeping the fish underneath the weight. Both are baited with peeler crabs, which are without doubt the number one choice for bass.
“I have tried ragworms, mainly on a float rig, and all I could catch were school bass,” confirmed Jason.
Avenue that actually fishes in an easterly
Conditions were a very light easterly wind with an overcast sky, which was perfect for this venue. This makes Shakespeare unusual in that most venues won’t fish when an easterly is blowing, so it is worth having this mark in mind when conditions elsewhere are wrong.
“Previous trips have produced big silver eels, which always give a good fight, along with wrasse. I’ve also landed codling to 4lb,” said Jason.
On this trip the duo landed two bass each, which just goes to show you can’t beat having the local knowledge, especially when it comes to wind direction, and the rigs and baits that actually work.
If it's rod thumping, line stripping beach fishing action you demand, Paul Fenech says bait your hook with a peeler crab and wait for the smoothhound to strike as the sun sets.
If there was ever an angling success story in UK waters, then surely it must be the upsurge in smoothhounds that arrive every summer.
They have survived and prospered because they are not a commercially sought-after species and long gone are the days when an angler knocked his fish on the head. A picture of an angler posing with a big grin in front of a pile of dead double-figure smoothhounds is now considered illegal in angling circles.
Today, the conscientious shore angler is adopting lighter tackle, smaller hooks and enjoying the long lunging runs that these small sharks offer. When the battle is over, the fish is handled with care, gently unhooked and then held in the water until it regains its strength. With a simple flick of its tail, it’s back in its own environment none the worse for its ordeal.
Because so many smoothhounds are being returned by shore and boat anglers alike, stocks are flourishing, which is really good news for us all.
Smoothhounds predominantly feed at night – but not always. If you choose a venue that offers deep, coloured water, catching will be possible in daylight.
Many beaches often remain quiet until the sun goes down. When dusk arrives packs of smoothhounds will head inshore for their nightly feed. Usually, if the sea has been rough for two or three days and then suddenly settles, this is regarded by many as the ideal time for catching a smoothhound.
Read the venue
Choosing a location may need a little thought if you want to succeed. A venue may be a renowned mark for catching smoothhounds but you can bet the last quid in your pocket that it will have a ‘hound hotspot.’
You can do a few things to help put yourself on the right mark. Start by talking to the tackle dealer nearest to the mark you intend targeting. With anglers in and out of his shop every day, each one has his own story of success so he’ll have a very good idea where the fish are, what tides are best and what the killer baits are.
Going to a venue the night before a session while anglers are fishing will give you an insight. You can spot where the most action is occurring and then pick a mark. Always remember the old cliché though, that two days and tides may never fish the same.
Finally, a favourite among anglers, walking a venue at low tide can give you more than enough information. Smoothhounds search for food in gullies. If you can find a few sandbanks and gullies at a venue that will be covered over on a flooding tide, it is a good bet that the smoothhounds will make their way there to feed.
Bait is important
Crabs, such as peelers, hardbacks or hermits, are considering the best bait for smoothhounds, but lugworms do produce fish in some areas
Smoothhounds love crabs! Hardbacks, peelers, softies, crispies, hermits, you name it, they’ll have it. Hounds smell a crab a mile off, and if an area has had a recent moult of crabs, the fish won’t be too far away.
Some areas, though, can see fish and worm baits working too, such as sandeels, launce, Bluey, squid or mackerel along with lug and ragworms, but crabs should always be top of your list.
Match your tackle
Smoothhound fishing is not very complicated but be careful not to go ultra-light. A standard beach rod with either a palm-sized multiplier or medium fixed-spool reel will do the job.
A mainline of around 18lb is perfect but it may be wise to beef up on the size of your shockleader. This is not for power casting but insurance when you handle a big specimen, maybe at night in a tumbling surf.
I’ve seen anglers play a big fish to the edge only to see it roll in the last wave and slice through 60lb leader like it was cotton. Smoothhounds have very rough skin, so upping a shockleader to 80lb will give you an advantage.
The same can also be said for your rigs, so it may be another good idea to carry on from your shockleader through to the rig body and snood.
Rigs are by no means difficult to construct but a word of advice would be to stay away from Pennell rigs. We all know the benefits of using this type of rig for fish such as bass or cod, but a single hook is much more fish-friendly.
Hounds have relatively small mouths in comparison to their size and, unlike tope, they lack teeth.
Their mouths are designed for bottom feeding and searching out shellfish such as crabs. What they lack in teeth they more than make up for in crushing power, which is capable of mashing a whole crab in seconds.
A single size 3/0 hook is more than adequate to hold on to a good smoothhound but, better still, it is very easy to unhook a fish without causing it too much damage.
It may be better to match hook size to the size of bait – half a large peeler will attract the attention of a feeding fish. Make it too big and you risk missing bites.
Bites can often be unmistakable and other times they may be just dogfish-esque. A first hit can see the rod thumping over in the tripod or being dragged from the rest and down the beach.
Other times, you may just notice a slight nod on the rod tip but it’s always better to be safe rather than sorry. After casting, sit the rod in the tripod and slightly loosen the clutch so if a fish strikes, it can run without dragging the rod from its rest. There will be times when you may be away from your rod, preparing another rig, and it is at this time that a fish may take the bait.
Choice of rig is not such a headache and many prefer a pulley or simple paternoster rig.
Handle with care
Never hold a fish upright by its tail but instead use one hand to support its belly and the other to hold the tail in a horizontal pose. Fish can easily have internal organs damaged if held upright by the tail.
Some of the bigger specimens are normally females and often can be caught while pregnant. Again, handle carefully and try and return quickly . When returning a fish, it is best to walk a few feet into the water and support it until it swims off. Never throw it. Keep an eye out for fish trying to swim ashore, as some temporarily lose their bearings and end up swimming back on to the beach.
Go the distance
Casting is a big debating point among many anglers. Some reckon blasting it to the horizon is the only way to locate a hound, while others recommend dropping it short.
Long casting can often work during daylight but fish can be literally yards from the beach once darkness falls. Vary your distances until you find the feeding fish or watch what other anglers around you are doing.
Stars in your eyes
Starry smoothhounds or common smoothhounds – can you tell the difference? If you thought that a hound with spots across its back was a starry version and a fish that lacked spots was a common, you might be wrong.
There is only one way to tell the difference, and checking the markings isn’t it. An expert would have to open up the fish and check its internal organs. Starry or common? Does it matter?
With the smoothhound population rapidly growing, they’re turning up at venues where they were once unheard of. If anglers keep returning them, who knows, they could be visiting the North East within a few seasons.
Other fish too…
When targeting smoothhounds, it is not uncommon to catch other species too.
Flounders, eels and bass can all take a bait intended for a hound, and don’t forget that tope are often mixed in with them.
Try a fillet of mackerel with a strong hook and a wire biting trace and you could soon find yourself playing an even bigger member of the shark family in the surf! SA
Big bass are said to be difficult to catch, yet record-breakers are so often fluked by complete novices. If you want to catch one, Alan Yates has two pieces of advice... first cast short and then sit and wait
Serious bass fishing takes time...
Dedicated bass anglers pull their hair out when they hear a novice has fluked a fish of a lifetime.
But this tells us something about the bass, which is that it hugs the shoreline and is not averse to grabbing a large untidy bait dropped short because of a bad cast.
As a junior I was raised catching bass with my father, and he and his best angling mate were absolute fanatics.
They thought nothing of spending hours biteless in the quest for the odd red-letter day or specimen. That may be why I took up match fishing – to me, waiting hours for one bite was brain-numbing, although I do understand why there are anglers that get their kicks from this type of sport.
Bassing by attrition is still the best tactic, although modern society’s need for an instant fix means there are very few sea anglers prepared to put in the hours, which is why many quality shore bass are caught by accident.
Bass are a shoal species and when small can be suicidal, but once over 2-3lb they are far less likely to be caught in numbers.
A shortage of bass over 5lb could be something to do with their extremely slow growth rate. A 10lb bass is likely to be 20 years old, and returning the large fish – something I have been advocating for years – is now accepted as the best conservation practice for the species.
Big bass appear as loners, but this is entirely down to the size of the shoal, which reduces with time.
The species is a member of the perch family, renowned for its patrolling shoal instinct, and bass are very territorial and patrol their section of the sea vigorously.
My father’s tactic was to ambush the bass, and he had a series of different spots he would move to on the different states of tide.
On occasions he would catch two or more fish, on others none for weeks, and that’s what you face if you take up fishing for bass.
WHERE TO CATCH BASSEach choice has its own methods and best times
Bass are common to a range of different venues, and although the short cast theme is continuous, no single bass fishing bait or tactic will catch everywhere. Much depends upon the venue, the season and the weather conditions.
■ Rock/beach bass: By far the most common venue around the UK to catch bass is from beaches and mixed-ground shorelines edged by rock reefs and weed.
Venues of mixed ground are home to the bass’s favourite food, crabs. From spring the bass feed on the common shore crabs when they shed their shells, then through summer the fish switch to edible crabs and velvet swimmers and, in an increasing number of regions, spider crabs. Between times prawns, small fish and sandeels are also a target. Beach bass are not averse to taking a large mackerel or squid bait and, into autumn and early winter, a live pout or whiting.
Rough-ground venues tend to fish when the sea is rough and coloured, with the first of the flood tide best and, when the sea is calm and clear, flood tides that coincide with dusk or dawn.
■ Surf bass: Surf fishing for bass is the classic style. Casting a lugworm or peeler crab bait into a raging surf spawned the classic surf bass rod, and it is the Irish surf strands that are famed for this.
However, surf venues are limited and the sea needs to be stirred to produce the perfect conditions that attract the bass to feed. The first of the flood as it pushes across the sand is often the hot time.
■ Pier bass: Catching big bass from a pier is a comparatively modern style and came about because many mackerel anglers headed and gutted their catch before leaving the pier (and some beach and rock marks). This led to the bass moving in with the tide to feed on the heads and guts.
Some South Coast piers produce big bass to large mackerel heads, flappers and fillets fished alongside the wall or around the pier piles. Tide is the key to the best fishing, with the early tide generally the top time.
IS THIS THE ULTIMATE? Big bass rewards require real dedication
Bass fishing is the ultimate in specimen hunting. Fishing with one rod and one bait for hours, waiting for the big one to hit the bait, requires dedication, but the rewards can be special.
With time the bass angler will build up a picture of bass movement on the venues being fished, along with the best time to fish.
Bass bites are usually strong – either a slack liner or the rod dragged over. You can use a rod rest or hold the rod, but don’t leave your rod unattended.
Some anglers find casting short difficult. Casting inside 50 yards is essential, and on occasions even 12 yards can be enough.
Over rocky ground an accurate plop into a gulley can put your bait in front of fish, and a knowledge of the low-tide terrain is a big advantage, so check it out.
■ Landing bass: In most situations you can use the waves to help you beach your bass, but don’t drag it on the hook snood alone – use the waves and then pick the fish up once it is grounded, or use a net.
Bass have a spiky dorsal fin which will draw blood, but far more risky to your hands when handing fish are the edges of the gills, which are razor sharp.
Pick a bass up safely by its mouth, or draw it gently over a flattened-out palm of the hand.
RIGS FOR BASS From running leger to pulley
The classic bass rig for rough ground is the simple running leger, a variation of which is the running paternoster or the one-hook fixed paternoster.
For really rough ground the pulley rig, shown right, is a favourite.
Large baits are essential, and a hook size of 3/0 upwards is suitable for baits like a peeler crab or mackerel fillet, with a 6/0 the hook for a mackerel head or a live fish. Atwo-hook Pennell rig can also be an advantage for larger squid or crab baits.
THE BEST BASS BAITSThere's something for every occasion
A whole peeler crab is the hot bait on many rock venues, with the largest jelly softies deadly when available. Fish one on a float along a pier wall or on a leger.
Lugworms catch school bass on the surf beaches and Irish strands, but do not catch so well over rough ground.
Other worm baits like ragworms and maddies catch bass in surf, although these are more likely to attract flounders.
A large mackerel is good from summer beach marks, rocks and piers, while a whole Calamari squid works in autumn.
A small live lip-hooked pouting or whiting fished on the surface is a great autumn and early-winter bait from beaches and piers, especially after dark.
Rays are thriving because commercial fishermen do not want them. This not only means stocks are increasing, but fish are getting bigger, too. Learn how to catch your share of the spring run with our easy-to-follow guide
If you are an unattractive table fish then you grow and survive. That’s pretty much what has happened to the ray family and dogfish. They don’t command big prices in the shops, so they have thrived ,and all sea anglers have cashed in on this fishing bonanza.
Add to that the fact that both are found in a similar habitat, enjoy an abundance of food, maybe at the cost of the prime species, and boat and shore anglers return most rays they catch, and you can understand the reason for the population explosion.
The two major ray species of spring are the thornback, which is the most prolific countrywide, and the small-eyed (sometimes also called the painted), which is more limited to the English Channel and Irish Sea coasts.
There are a few other rays that tend to appear from the shore occasionally, but they are mostly considered boat rays. These are the undulate, the cuckoo and the blonde, which is the biggest and the most prevalent of the less common rays.
In Kent the thornback ray has made a dramatic return to the shoreline. What this has done is allow anglers to land one of the bigger species from the shore during the less productive months between the end of the winter and the start of summer.
Big fish from the shore are scarce, and it is not easy for most anglers to catch a fish over 5lb.
The appearance of rays has changed things and this, along with captures of smoothhounds, bass and a few other summer biggies, has changed the face of sea fishing. There are those that claim spring and summer are now more attractive for shore fishing than the winter, when cod are often the only big species around.
For the last three years from spring through summer the thornbacks have expanded their size and range, and now anglers in Kent can target a ray deliberately. Kent is not the only place where the rays are showing in increasing numbers. Wales, the South West and the Bristol Channel have always been ray strongholds, but now even the North East, the Mersey estuary and the North West are producing thornback rays.
A pulley rig is perfect because the lead is lifted off the sea bed as the line is pulled through the pulley bead until it stops at the swivel. This brings the lead up to the swivel and it travels off the bottom ahead of the fish.
A single hook mono paternoster is also very effective from less snaggy venues. Anglers following this series should note that both the pulley and the paternoster are the perfect rigs for smoothhounds. In both cases a bait clip device will boost your casting distance.
The single hook snood on the mono paternoster can be fixed using crimps, stop knots or rubber bait float stops which, after the snood is fixed, can be moved easily by moving the stops.
In general snood lengths of 30in-plus are preferred for ray fishing.
RAY RIGSWhy a paternoster system is best
In most cases rays are caught well out past the surf line. Rarely are they found under your feet except from a few deep water rock marks where they feed close to the kelp line.
In general you need to cast more than 100 yards, often further. There is one rig that is particularly favoured for catching rays, and that’s the pulley rig. This is a single hook rig that mixes the principles of a flowing trace with a mono paternoster. It is considered ideal for catching big fish at maximum range, and is particularly efficient at avoiding snags.
From many ray marks, such as those in South Wales and western Ireland, the bait has to be cast out past inshore rocks and ridges and any hooked fish is retrieved over the same ground.
HOOKS, CLIPS AND STOPSSimple tricks for making aerodynamic traces
The hook set up for both the pulley and the mono paternoster can be a single hook or a two-hook Pennell.
In many cases ray and smoothhound anglers who wish to return their catch use one hook, but the Pennell rig with two hooks does allow larger baits to be presented so that they stay intact.
There are several ways to make the two-hook set up on a Pennell rig. You can just slide the top hook on the snood line and then wrap the line around it to secure it in the bait.
Alternatives include a short length of rubber tubing threaded on the line to hold the sliding hook in place, while a Pennell clip actually allows you to change the hook at any time.
If you chose to use a single hook clipped-down paternoster then include a Gemini tensioning spring, known as an SRT, underneath the swivel.
This keeps the bait clipped up during the cast and is especially effective when using large baits and for casting in a buffeting wind.
Abait stop is also advised if a single hook is used. It prevents the bait blowing up the snood away from the hook during the cast.
Various options to clip the hook bait behind the lead weight on both rigs are available.
The Breakaway Impact lead is the most fail-safe. Others include the Gemini lead link with integral bait clip, the Breakaway Impact shield and the Breakaway Imp.
RAY FACT BOX
Seven things you need to know
■ Grabbing a ray by the nose is the typical way of holding it up for a picture. However, while the thornback is covered in large spines, most of the others are covered in razor-sharp sandpaper-like mini spines . So beware, because they can take the skin off your fingers. K
■ The British shore record for the thornback ray (Raja clavata) of 21lb 12oz is likely to be broken soon because lots of anglers return rays and they are being allowed to grow bigger.
■ Rays are not flatfish – they are in fact closely related to the sharks.
■ The commercial name for the thornback rays in the South and East is roker. It is also commonly called skate, but the skate (Raja batis) is a separate species and much larger.
■ Female rays grow bigger than the males.
■ Breeding age for a thornback ray is around seven years old for males and as much as nine years for females.
■ The name ‘painted ray’ is also given to the undulate ray in some areas, which causes confusion.
ALWAYS USE THE BEST BAIT There are several major choices for thornback rays
■ Frozen sandeels: A frontline ray bait that works all around the UK and Ireland is an Ammo frozen sandeel (red packet). Make sure it is the Ammo brand because few frozen sandeels stay as hard as these, with many of the inferior eels bursting their bellies and going soft once thawed. A few turns of light elastic bait cotton can be used to secure your bait.
■ Peeler crabs: The second-best bait for rays is a peeler crab. Rays of all kinds do become preoccupied with crabs when they are peeling, especially in many of our river estuaries.
■ Mackerel: A fresh mackerel is particularly good in high summer when these fish are plentiful. It is also THE ray bait in Ireland.
■ Prawns: A local choice in some estuaries for thornback rays, with Salcombe one place where it is favoured for large fish.
■ Calamari squid: Often seen as the best ray bait, although it may only catch more rays than anything else because it’s the most used, being easy to obtain. It is the perfect bait size for rays and can be used in a cocktail sausage with a crab and some mackerel.
■ Fresh herring: Highly rated by boat anglers in early spring before the crabs peel.
HOW A RAY FEEDSBites are positive
Rays often fall on the bait and smother it. Having an under-slung mouth, this can produce lots of rod tip movement but lots of missed fish because of premature strikes.
Wait until the fish moves off after taking the bait. Bites are positive and can pull a rod in, so secure it or set the drag so the spool is released on the ratchet if a ray pulls line tight.
LOCATE AND CATCH Your key to success
Catching rays is mostly about locating them, because they are a shoal species. A bit like buffalo, they graze in numbers and are very vulnerable to being picked off easily.
Find one ray from a shore mark and there will undoubtedly be others. Often it is a matter of finding the precise time the species moves through on the tide.
If you are a beginner, don’t think that all you have to do is fish ray tackle and bait to catch. Choice of venue is the first step and in most cases the productive ray marks are well known.
Rays feed during day or night with the first glimmer of dawn the red-hot time on many venues, with darkness the most consistent on others. Like many large species they do take advantage of conditions, with a calming onshore sea sometimes hot in daylight and a very calm clear sea best at night.
Black bream won’t ever test standard beach gear, but they are in a class of their own on light tackle.
Not only are they a challenge to catch, but they are very special in terms of looks and angling kudos. And they taste delicious.
A sub-tropical summer species, their ability to remove a hookbait in seconds, their hard to hook, rat-a-tat-tat bites and their powerful jagging runs put them way above summer pouting, flounders and dogfish when it comes to fun.
The odd specimen will be hooked on standard or heavy sea gear, but it is anglers who lighten up their mainline and snoods who get the most enjoyment from this spunky fighter.
The best tackle set-up for bream is a light fixed-spool beachcaster of around 12-15ft long and a reel loaded with 8-12lb mono or similar diameter braid.
The longer, lighter rod allows extended terminal rigs to be used, and the baits can then be lifted and moved enticingly. I am not saying bream can see the line or hooks on a heavier outfit, but it is obvious that the lighter outfit, allowing a more natural behaviour of baits, will bring more bites.
WHERE TO CATCH THEM
Black bream are not common in all areas, but like a few other summer visitors the species has expanded its numbers and range in recent years and has made something of a comeback. Perhaps the demise of several of our prime species due to commercial fishing has given the black bream more room and far fewer predators.
The South West and the western end of the English Channel have always been black bream country, but, like many of the tropical and sub-tropical species that visit our shores each year, they are spreading.
Bream are a fish of the rocky reef and often shoal offshore around such marks, venturing close to shore on all types of sea bed after dark.
A localised species, like the wrasse, bream tend to take up residence on rock and mixed-ground marks and rarely move during summer except for those night time trips inshore. This means that bream marks are fairly well known and are not difficult to discover. Ask coastal tackle dealers, because they know where the bream can be found.
BAITING YOUR HOOK FOR BREAM
Bream are not fussy when it comes to food and will take lots of different baits. Fish, crabs and worms are among their favourites, but your bait must be neat and its presentation perfect.
Bream have a small mouth and a fine set of teeth that can nibble, nip and remove bait from a hook with surgical precision. Rapid-fire bites often result in a bare hook and a missed fish. The simple answer is small or compact and deliberate hookbaits without worm tails and parts hanging off for these fish to nip and pull.
Being a shoal fish they compete with each other, and this is why you get darting-type strikes at the bait. After dark the shoals become hyperactive and it will pay to have a second rig baited up and ready to go to increase your chances of catching.
A small cube of fresh mackerel sewn around the bend of the hook is a classic bream bait. Alternatively, half a peeler lashed close around the hook with bait elastic catches in some regions, as does a ragworm and a tiny sliver of squid.
A few peeled crab legs/claws or the soft abdomen of the hermit crab are other favourites.
TERMINAL RIGS FOR BREAM
Light line and small hooks hold the key to success
Your terminal rigs must be light, and many anglers prefer a simple light-line paternoster with a long body and snoods. Modern fluorocarbon lines are popular when a strong, light snood line is required.
A light rig allows the baits to sink and flutter in the tide. Movement of the rod tip and bait is a good method to get the bream to attack the bait with more urgency.
The addition of floating beads or poly balls enhances movement and is also a very worthwhile summer ploy in clear water to catch many of the other species, such as mackerel, garfish, pollack and mullet.
A plain or wired grip lead weight allows tackle and baits to react differently to any rod movement. A grip weight will stay still, allowing the bait to flutter in the tide, while a plain sinker will hop off the sea bed, producing plumes of sand. Both tactics are worth trying.
Small hooks are essential, with size 2 the largest you will need and sizes 4 and 6 the more popular choices.
The strongest small hooks are patterns designed for carp fishing, and they are ideal should you accidentally hook a larger species.
BEST RIG DIMENSIONS
These can vary, but with a longer rod it is easier to use a rig over 6ft long. The longer the rig body, the longer your snoods can be and the higher the baits can be fished off the sea bed. Distance casting is rarely required, so flapper rigs are the norm.
By using an 8ft rig body of 30lb line, two or three long 10lb snoods can be placed well apart so they do not tangle.
Popular hook configurations are two-up, one-down styles with the lower hook fished hard on the sea bed and the upper two off the bottom. The two-up rig is perfect, with swivels, crimps and clips kept to a minimum and the smallest hook patterns increasing the movement of the baits.
Even more top bream
There are several species of bream in British waters, but only the black and red types are common. Others include Couch’s, rays, bogue, pandora, dentex and pagre.
- The previously rare gilt-head is increasingly common as far up the English Channel as the Isle of Wight, and this species grows large and is a powerful fighter. The British record is 10lb-plus. Let’s hope the species expansion continues.
- Like the wrasse, the bream (Sparidae family) are hermaphrodite, changing sex to suit population demands.
- Bream are an increasingly common target for boat anglers and here, too, the light tackle approach is best.
Mackerel are more than baitfish or a summer holiday pastime. Caught on the right tackle they can be real fun to catch. Alan Yates opens up the options for catching mackerel - a very popular sea species…
Mackerel get a lot of bad press. ‘Proper’ anglers don’t want the stigma of catching them or being associated with lines of holidaymakers banging out strings of feathers to catch a fish to feed the cat.
Some see those summer feathering hoards thronging the nation’s piers as a threat to angling’s very existence, as well as jeopardising access to many favourite sea fishing venues. However, once you step around the appalling behaviour of a few people you come face to face with a fish that is a bit special in terms of angling enjoyment.
The mackerel is Britain’s only real tropical inshore species, a close relative of the tuna and a true member of this speedster family. If they grew to 10lb, instead of an average 10oz, then we would have to use special tackle to tame them. Even so, fished for with light gear, lure or float, a mackerel can put up a lively scrap, although its reputation is marred by the fact that it is also a sucker for multi-lure rigs worked with minimal skill.
Having said that, thousands of would-be anglers are introduced to the sport because of the mackerel’s availability and ease of capture. Indeed, a cheap rod and reel costing under £50 will get you fishing, especially from piers where mackerel shoal up and can be captured fairly easily.
The step up from mackerel to proper sea angling may be a major one, but feathering with a string of lures is a fun pastime that is enjoyed by thousands every summer around our coast.
WHERE THEY ARE FOUND
Common all around the British Isles during midsummer, the mackerel is a shoal fish that shows in large numbers on the surface when it is feeding on the small baitfish, mainly whitebait, that it chases and corners along many tidal pier walls and groynes.
Feeding mackerel get into a frenzy and are oblivious to lures, snatching at anything that moves in their competition to eat. Originally a few chicken feathers tied to a hook were all you needed, but now a range of more elaborate synthetic lures are available.
Their distribution is affected by sea temperature and weather, so that the far northern regions of the UK have their mackerel season in mid and late summer, whereas in the south, mackerel are offshore for most of the year, moving inshore and northwards in spring.
TOP MACKEREL LURES
Feathers: White or mixed coloured feathers are still available and popular because they are the cheapest around.
Hokkais: These have a small luminous fish head design with glitter/tinsel and feather streamers. In small sizes, they are really deadly for mackerel and for use as baited lures.
Sabiki: Amini lure that is superb for catching the smaller baitfish like sandeels, launce, herrings, joey mackerel and scad. Amust-have during summer for catching bait, but cast with care because they are fished off light line.
Silver tinsel: Atried-and-tested favourite. Made with silver tinsel with a red whipping around the hook spade, they tend to fall to pieces with use but then they seem even more deadly.
Shrimp: Several companies produce shrimp patterns in large, standard and mini sizes, with the latter considered especially effective for mackerel.
Daylights: Another favourite, these are made from silver or white reflective materials with a full-length coloured whipping on the hook shank, one of the toughest of the mackerel lures.
A SLIDING FLOAT IS FUNMake sure you have plenty of room to fish
Some days mackerel turn their noses up at a string of feathered lures, and this could be the time to try a small bar spinner or even cast a fly. At other times fishing a single fish bait under a float really works.
It’s the same tactic for catching garfish and is the most sporting and enjoyable way to catch mackerel. However, don’t try it from a crowded pier because you need plenty of space to make it work. Drifting a float in the tide allows the bait to cover a larger area of sea, so fishing away from those that want to feather or bottom fish makes good sense.
The depth at which you fish the bait is crucial, and a sliding cigar-shaped float with the line going through the centre is the best because you can add a stop knot to the line above the float to fix and adjust the depth.
When you retrieve the line, the bait is stopped and lifted towards the surface by the float. It’s a deadly tactic that can be used regularly as you drift the float and bait back into the tide.
Another method from the beach involves the split rig. This is a long rig that positions the baits high in the water with the aid of pop-up or floating beads.
How to fish with feathers and lures
Clip on a set of three lures and cast and retrieve sink-and-draw style from most piers or deepwater beaches from May to September.
The technique is to cast the lures and allowi them sink to the depth required, and then retrieve them through the water. Sink and draw involves lifting the rod and then reeling as it is lowered, producing continual movement of the lures, which the mackerel seem unable to ignore.
From many venues the depth at which the fish are feeding is the key to catching. If they are shoaling on the surface don’t let the lures sink too deep, and retrieve them more quickly. If the fish are not showing, allow the lures to reach the bottom and retrieve more slowly. It is easy to change the depth the lures are fished at sing the sink-and-draw method, explained in our accompanying diagram. The method is so popular on many venues that they are crowded at weekends, especially at high tide when the fishing is usually best.
Top catches are made in clear, calm water. Mackerel don’t like heavily coloured water and are not found in the siltiest estuary regions.
Most of the feathers are produced in the Far East by non-anglers, so the knots, line strength and clips are not always suitable for our power casting styles with a 5oz or 6oz lead weight. So take care that your cast doesn’t overload the rig, snapping the line or pulling knots and lead links open.
Look for rigs made with 40lb-plus mainline. The small Sabiki lures are generally made in light line, so take special care casting them. If in doubt about the strength of the mainline, reconstruct them using 50lb trace body line. From a safety point of view, scrap the original top swivel and lead link and replace with stronger components.
Use a heavy lead weight to catch mackerel in deep water because it adds fizz to the lures as they sink. Amistake many anglers make is to fish with a light 2oz to 4oz sinker in an effort to make feathering more sporting, but a light lead does not sink the lures quickly enough.
FOR MORE SEA FISHING TACTICS TO HELP IMPROVE YOUR SEA FISHING CLICK HERE
Poppers have attitude and bass have a bad attitude, so the combination is electrifying. First you have to learn to get your lure to dance over the surface of the sea, says Henry Gilbey
I n the murky half-light that comes just before the sun rises, you can see a gentle chop to the rolling sea, with inviting lines of white water lapping eagerly against the slippery rocks.
A chill still pervades the dawn, but in no time at all the sun will begin to rise – the secret here is to get fishing as fast as you can and take advantage of this time.
Slightly fumbling fingers just about manage to clip on a popper, and that first cast arcs out into the gloom, to land somewhere out of sight in front of you. Click the bale-arm back over and begin that subtle but persuasive snap back of the wrist to get the popper spitting water to awaken the sleepy bass.
Perhaps 30 yards out and you can make out the lure doing its stuff, but be careful to avoid hooking up on that big rock. Bass, though, love to lurk behind rocks, so make sure you cover this exact area again.
The second cast flies out. You retrieve the popper so it begins a line towards the back of the rock, and then nearly fall off your own perch as a fish suddenly swirls right behind the lure, but misses it. Keep calm (easier said than done, especially when I am fishing), keep retrieving and make that lure dance.
The fish hasn’t been pricked, so it will attack again.
A split second before your popper hooks up on the rock, a fish swirls right over the top of the lure and everything suddenly goes satisfyingly tight. The rod kicks, the fish splashes on the surface and line peels off the reel. It’s hard not to shout your head off with pure joy as you hook up and engage.
Hell, why not? It’s first light, so scream like a madman. I do!
Welcome to the most exciting form of fishing on Earth – top water lure fishing. Put bass and surface lures together and in my view you have reached the pinnacle of European light-tackle fishing.
I can’t get enough of it.
There’s nothing complicated about using surface lures, and as far as I can work out, it is something of an inexact science. There are guys out there who know far more than I do about top water bass fishing, and while sub-surface lures are arguably the most historically successful overall for bass, popping is another world.
It is accepted that warmer water helps for top water action – that’s why this style of fishing is more successful later in the season – but remember that a lure that does not sink allows you to fish nastier, rougher and shallower areas that the bass love.
First and last light are good times to fish surface lures, and especially the period before the sun comes up. I reckon you can almost wake bass up sometimes by using a noisy, splashy popper. It’s happened too many times to be a coincidence.
It is vitally important that you work surface lures hard, and by that I mean this is not the kind of fishing for the angler who likes to sit back and simply crank back and forth. Surface lures come alive because you make them, and this involves you working your rod and reel continuously, sometimes for long periods. It’s well worth it when a bass nails your lure.
It is far more efficient to work surface lures with fast action plugging rods. Their stiffer tips and braid mainline’s lack of stretch make it far easier to get the lures disco dancing over the surface. The style isn’t powered by rocket science. Not only do stiff-tip spinning rods work the lures more efficiently, but they are far less tiring on the arms and wrist.
A closer look at the lures
There are three main kinds of surface lures used for bass fishing – poppers, walk the dog and hybrids – but anglers call them by various names...
A popper does what it says on the box – as you retrieve it by snapping the rod tip back repeatedly, it pops and spits water. Use either a low or high rod, whichever is the more comfortable for you.
Poppers make varying amounts of noise and disturbance, and as far as surface lures go they are the most stable in choppier conditions.
Some anglers mistakenly believe that surface lures are to be used only when the conditions are flat calm, but a popper works best when the sea is a little lively.
Its stability and relentless action can help bring the fish up to the surface, and the accuracy with which you can fish them really helps to fish tight areas where the bass often lurk.
If the popper does not feel right on the retrieve and is behaving strangely, it has most likely turned over in flight and the trebles have caught your line. Wind in and check – this does happen from time to time.
■ Storm Chug-Bug – one of the most popular poppers and still going strong, but more modern poppers cast better.
■ Halco Roosta popper – hard to track down, but casts like a bullet and is very stable.
■ Tackle House Feed Popper (right) – a quieter popper with no internal rattles. Good, subtle action.
■ Lucky Craft G-Splash – an all-time classic popper lure.
■ Maria Pop Queen – Maria makes great lures, full stop!
Walk the dog
A walk the dog lure requires that you systematically work the rod tip back and forth while jerking the reel handle in time to virtually make the lure ‘walk’ across the surface in a zigzag motion.
It takes a bit of practice to master and it is tiring on the wrists, but it is a hypnotic way to fish. A true walk the dog lure is best fished in relatively calm conditions, for they are easily knocked off their stride in a chop.
They tend to be more effective when fished at a slow to medium pace.
The biggest lure-caught bass I have ever seen came on a walk the dog lure, the famous Lucky Craft Sammy.
■ Lucky Craft Sammy (right) – a real favourite.
■ Owner Tango Dancer – casts very well, lovely action.
■ Xorus Asturie – not easy to find, but popular for calm conditions.
■ Zenith Z-Claw – again, not easy to find, but a modern bass classic in the making.
The third kind of surface lure is what I call a hybrid surface lure – a cross between a popper and a walk the dog lure. These hybrids are walked instead of popped, but while they walk from side to side in that zigzag motion they also spit and pop.
These lures are more stable than a walk the dog lure and can be used in choppier conditions. If you had to name the most popular and arguably successful bass surface lure, then I reckon a hybrid is it.
Work them at the same pace as you would for a walk the dog lure, and straight away you will notice the difference. Lures like this are appealing to the bass in a variety of different ways and I use them with a huge degree of confidence.
■ Yo-Zuri Mag Popper – one of the most popular and successful hybrid surface lures. Still excellent, but more modern lures cast further and cover a bit more ground.
■ Xorus Patchinko – one of the new breed of surface lures for bass. Casts like a bullet and fishes like a dream.
■ Lucky Craft Gun Fish (below) – a classic among bass freaks. I know some anglers who swear that this is the only surface lure you will ever need when bass fishing.
There is something addictive about fishing for smoothhounds. Maybe it is the fact that they are actually members of the shark family that stirs the blood, or simply that once you have caught one, and felt its awesome power first hand, you become hooked for life.
The initial run of fish starts as the evenings draw out in April. But these are usually tiny specimens and it’s not until the crab peel gets going that the bigger boys move inshore.
Then, as summer warms the shallows, the hounds move around the coast and the mothers of all smoothhounds move close to shore to drop their pups. It’s then that the 20lb-plus specimens are landed.
Smoothhound fishing is brutal – no shy nibblers, these, they are hit and run merchants with an incredible turn of speed.
Even a four-pounder can pull your rod over, while a 6lb fish can catch you out if you haven’t balanced your clutch.
Good news is that stocks of smoothhounds are on the increase, they are getting bigger, and a fish that was a rare sight a couple of decades ago can now be caught from many marks around the Britain coastline.
Undoubtedly anglers returning this species alive is one of the contributing factors, although the species is considered labour intensive to catch and market for commercial purposes, as well as being unpopular on the fishmonger’s slab. That’s good news for the fish and sea anglers.
Let’s not get complacent here. Being caught for fertiliser could be their downfall, as greedy commercials switch to a less profitable species after catching and killing everything else.
Where to catch
From south to north, there are many great opportunities Venues are well established, with mixed or clean sand sea beds holding a population of crabs, including hermits, spiders, velvet swimmers, shore crabs and edibles, which hounds love to crunch.
The bigger female fish come close to shore to give birth and are hungry before and after this natural cycle, so they are always seeking new sources of food.
The fact that the different species of crab are peeling at different times through the spring and into summer prolongs the smoothhound season.
There are a growing number of well-known smoothhound venues as the species expands its range northwards. Some offer more hounds than others, some have the bigger ones and even a longer season.
Here are a few of the best known:
■ Sussex & Hampshire: Selsey West Beach, Bracklesham Bay, Pagham and Hill Head.
■ The Isle of Wight: Burntwood, Hampstead, Fort Victoria and Yarmouth pier.
■ Dorset: South Bournemouth beach, and Chesil beach at Ferrybridge.
■ Devon: North coast through the Bristol Channel, Porlock and Minehead.
■ South Wales: Aberthaw, Marcross, Monknash and Rhoose.
■ Anglesey: Llanddwyn Island and Raven’s Point.
■ Lancashire: Cleveleys and Rossall Point.
■ Cumbria: Nethertown and Braystones for the odd smoothhound.
■ South-west Scotland: Kirkcudbright region for the odd smoothhound.
■ Yorkshire: Easington.
■ Lincolnshire: Chapel Point, Chapel St Leonards, Moggs Eye and Huttoft.
■ Suffolk: Mundesley and Orford Island.
■ Kent: Sandwich Bay, Reculver and Dover breakwater.
Useful facts about the smoothhound Why there are two distinct species, how to identify them and advice on lifting a fish
Smoothhounds give birth to live young and the two species of hound, the starry (Mustelus asterias) and the common (Mustelus mustelus) do this differently.
That’s how it was discovered there were two distinctly different species. Originally it was thought starry were immature commons.
The difference is that the starry is ovoviparous, which means the young hounds inside the mother are nourished by the yolk sac only. The common is viviparous, so the eggs not only hatch inside the mother but the young are nourished directly by the mother before they are actually born.
■ Smoothhounds don’t have teeth, just a row of bony plates with which they crush their prey.
■ Picking a smoothhound up by the tail is said to strain its stomach muscles, which are normally supported by the sea. Pick a hound up by its tail and pectoral fin (that's the large one just behind the gills) and support the fish’s tummy with your arm.
■ The smoothhound does not have a legal minimum size limit on the Defra list. This is because the hound is not commercially popular. The limit used by sea anglers is usually 51cm and this is mainly for catch and release competitions.
Peelers have pulling power Lots of baits will catch hounds, but never be without crabs
Smoothhounds get caught on a multitude of baits with squid, ragworms, lugworms, sandeels and mackerel among the most successful, but the one bait that tops them all is a peeler crab. Hounds do take hard crabs, but I assure you that peeler is far more deadly.
Any type of peeler crab will catch them – common shore crabs, velvet swimmers, edibles or spiders – while afloat, hermit crabs are claimed to be the killer bait. This is probably because they are easy to collect and keep.
Hounds move inshore to feed on peeling crabs and it’s a fact that each different crab’s peeling season is targeted around different parts of the coast. Maybe the most sought-after (as they peel for most of the summer) are common shore crabs, but small hard crabs are also an easy mouthful.
The biggest crabs that peel en masse, like the spiders, are more localised and peak for a short period, attracting fish over a matter of weeks.
Remember, crabs are nearly always the food the hounds are looking for.
Present a tasty meal How to produce a neat and tidy crab bait
A peeler crab needs to be tied on the hook neatly because it’s a large lumpy bait that can easily slip down the hook shank and hang around the bend, which then masks the point.
Some anglers do not bother fully removing the shell because hounds are not that fussy. However, some superb bites are missed because baits move and the shell shields the hook point.
So peel your crab completely, part cut it in half, open it out and lay it along the hook shank before binding securely with light elastic bait cotton so that the bait cannot move during even the most powerful cast.
Peel a couple of claws and legs and add to the hook point if you are worried about the fish spotting the cold steel, although hounds aren’t delicate feeders and ask no questions!
Use these easy rigs
Try the pulley or single hook paternoster
In the last issue we featured the pulley rig, which we said is great for catching rays. It is also the frontrunner for the smoothhound, especially over very rough ground where it has no equal.
The one-hook clipped paternoster with a long snood is also widely used, and is all you need from many of the mixed or relatively clean sea beds that smoothhounds favour.
The simple single hook paternoster is constructed with mono line with a 60lb-plus breaking strain body and 30lb hook snood.
The hook snood is tied to a swivel trapped on the main bodyline of the rig by beads and crimps, stop knots or rubber rig stops.
Best dimensions are a 6ft body length and 3ft hook snood. This prevents the hook snood wrapping and catching on the top connection clip. The use of an Impact lead or an Impact shield as a bait clip is an efficient way of fishing.
Smoothhounds have rough skin and this can abrade light mono, so hook snoods should be a minimum of 30lb. In many regions spider crabs are also hard on the hook snoods and some anglers prefer heavier mono, say 60lb, or braid hook snoods.
Henry Gilbey explains how to handle and release bass without getting hurt. Bass don’t bite humans – they try to spike and cut them instead!
“That’s a lovely looking bass, let me have a closer look.”
You know what’s going to happen – the angler grabs the shiny looking fish and reels back in pain.
We can’t repeat exactly what the shocked angler says as he mops the blood seeping from his hand. Like a lot of anglers new to bass fishing he didn’t realise the fish was armoured like a Roman legionary!
Every bass angler has done the same thing, and probably bears the scars, or at least the painful memories of his first encounter with an ‘ironclad’.
The bass should actually be renamed the Wilkinson fish because its gill plate is razor-sharp, so sharp in fact that even seasoned bass anglers take great care when grabbing a hooked fish.
The other danger area is the fan-like dorsal fin, which the fish raises in anger or when under threat. Armed with a row of spines like sail-makers’ needles, the unwary hand can easily be punctured. No wonder it’s called a ‘spiky’ by some anglers.
All joking aside, you do need to know how to land and handle a gutsy bass so that you don’t keep spiking yourself – it could put you off bass fishing for life.
So here we are going to talk about three important areas of bass care: how to unhook them, how to handle them and, and just as importantly, how to return a fish unharmed to the sea.
There is nothing wrong with taking the odd bass to eat, but I am guessing that most of you want to return the majority of the fish you catch. Here’s something you ought to know – the 4-5lb fish taste the best: the bigger brutes should be left to breed.
Use the sea
The easiest way to land a bass when you are fishing off the beach or in an estuary is to literally let the sea do it for you.
Time it so that you can ease your fish on to dry land as a wave recedes, or simply wade into the shallows and pick up the fish either by the bottom lip or with a specialist fish-grab tool.
The problem is, bass have an escape routine. They can spin, buck, twist and kick when you are least expecting it, resulting in the fish scarpering in front of your eyes.
This is where fish-grab tools like the Berkley Tec Trigger Grip are so handy. I wouldn’t go bass fishing without one now. A fish-grip is essentially another pair of hands that securely locks on to the fish’s bottom jaw, without harming it in any way, and without any chance of it twisting free and falling off.
Most fish-grips have some kind of trigger system that you need to press or pull back to open the jaws of the tool and then clamp on. The jaw will not then open until you press or pull the trigger again.
They are designed to cause no harm to the fish’s jaw, so while it might sound like a pretty brutal way to deal with a fish, in fact it is very humane. Anything is better than dropping a fish because it has twisted out of your grip and spiked you.
There are a lot of different fish-grips that don’t cost very much and do an excellent job. Most are fairly small and highly portable.
When you see one for the first time I would guess you might recoil at the robot-like stainless steel jaw, but once you start using one you will wonder how on earth you ever managed without it.
The original and still one of the best fish-grab tools has to be the American Boga-Grip, available in different sizes for various fishing situations. Virtually every fly-fishing person I work with anywhere carries one. But this is an expensive and relatively heavy bit of kit.
Finger on the trigger
The lightweight, gun-shaped Berkley Tec Trigger Grip is perfect for British bass fishing, and it sits conveniently in a holster around your waist, out of the way until the time you need it.
Wrap the lanyard around your wrist, run down to the edge of the water and simply pull the trigger and safely grab the bass. Once you let go of the trigger, the clamp locks into place and can’t open up until you depress the trigger.
The predator is now secure. Don’t wave it around high up off the sand – it is far better for the fish if you keep it low to or on the ground.
Move back from the water’s edge and use the fish-grip to secure the bass while you take the hooks out, or stand in the water while you unhook it and slip the fish back from where you are standing.
Landing big bass
When the bass is too big to lift, you literally have to think on your feet and work out how to get it in. Always put your safety first and do not put yourself in a dangerous position to land the fish.
I know we all get very excited at catching a good fish, but is it really worth a life? Use the sea to help you land the bass. Sometimes you can steer it into a handy gully or rock pool, which is the preferred way. If you are wading, then you can steer the fish to hand.
On your own everything becomes that much tougher, but thinking fast usually does the job. With a friend you can work as a team and time the landing to coincide with wave patterns. I can’t give you hard and fast rules about what to do, but experience and common sense works every time.
Notice that all the photographs, which were taken on the south-east coast of Ireland, show the bass close to the water, and this is because the well-being of the fish is of the utmost importance to me.
By all means capture memories of your catch in pictures, but keep the fish in the water, let it calm down and recover, and keep its time out of the sea to an absolute minimum.
Release the fish only when you can feel it kicking hard either in your hands or on a fish-grip, which will mean that it has regained full strength.
For me the biggest thrill of bass fishing is watching a fish that I have taken swim away...and to do that you need to know how to handle the fish properly.
Rocks create problems
Landing bass on rocks is a different matter. I wish all my fish were big, but in all honesty a lot of the time the easiest way to land a bass is simply to lift it out using the rod.
Make sure to keep the rod as low as possible when you do this, and never point it to the sky and swing the fish up and in. Modern rods are seriously strong, but any rod tip that is doubled over can snap.
This is one time you wish you had your long-handled or telescopic landing net with you.
Lay the fish down, use your fish-grip on the bottom lip and take the hook out. Hook barbs should be crushed so that hooks can be removed with speed.
I don’t feel comfortable with the thought of having to struggle to get a set of three fully barbed trebles from a fish’s mouth, especially if I have got one eye on its spikes and sharp gill plate.
Why a collapsible net could be the best option
There are no real landing or handling problems when you are bass fishing from a boat. You simply steer them in over the landing net and scoop up the fish. Easy, quick, efficient and good for the fish.
The bass gets lifted out of the water and laid on the deck. A lot of people will wet a rag with seawater, lay it over the body of the fish, and then remove the hook.
Many anglers don’t realise that just about the safest way to pick up a bass with bare hands is to simply grip the fish’s lower jaw. There are no real teeth to do any damage and your hand is well clear of the spines and gill plate.
The great thing from the bass’s point of view is it can spike you, but this can cause you to drop the fish on the deck. That wouldn’t be a good day out for the fish.
The bonefish that you find on tropical saltwater flats are livewires when you finally get them in, but a trick is to hold one upside down and take the fly out. It might work with bass, too, but watch out for those spikes.
The first rule of shore fishing for bass is to carry a landing net. Why not travel with a collapsible one clipped to the back of your fishing waistcoat, like a trout angler?
It is easy to say that you should be carrying a landing net, but the thought of walking miles over rocks with a long-handled net is a nightmare, which is why travelling the trout way could be an option. The key to bass fishing is mobility, and being able to fish close to the waterline, so you might want to dispense with a net.
The Duchy of Cornwall is a county with two different faces. On the one hand there are holiday resorts bustling with visitors, and on the other... a stunning coast where you can fish in peace away from the crowds.
IT NEVER FAILS to amaze me that sea fishing is a fraternity of brothers, and sometimes sisters, who unite in the joy of trying to outwit a fish with a morsel of bait hanging from a metal hook.
Nothing beats spending time with anglers who are passionate about their sport, and every time I fish with a different angler I come away with spirits lifted, knowing that so many people get a genuine thrill from their sport.
Martin Cook is one of these people – by his own admission, a regular kind of guy who works as a general builder and lives in a sleepy part of Cornwall that most holidaymakers don't even know exists.
He's been fishing since the age of five, and loves it more every year. Living in a perfect part of the world for sea fishing means that he is literally spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing somewhere to go, but Martin has a particular love of the Roseland peninsula, that glorious piece of coastline stretching from St Austell to St Mawes.
While he can be found around Falmouth and Newquay too when the conditions are right, he prefers the quiet cliff paths of this rugged but easily accessible peninsula that lead towards many treasured marks.
What of his favourite species? I am over the moon to report that Martin gets the biggest kick out of catching the hard-scrapping ballan wrasse that abound in these waters. Wrasse will forever be something special to me as well, but I've never caught one anywhere near as big as Martin has.
Cornwall's Roseland peninsula seems to be so tucked out of the way that too many anglers don't know it is even there. While the rugged north coast will always attract a high percentage of anglers who are drawn to the sheer splendour and quality of the fishing, the gentler inclines of much of south Cornwall hide some great fishing spots as well.
To those in the know, areas like the Roseland peninsula are simply covered with great fishing spots that are very much under-fished. A wonderful array of high-sided Cornish lanes will get you to this part of the world, but be sure to consult a detailed map before setting off – take it from me, it is very easy to get lost in this part of the world. Martin Cook and his fishing fanatic brother Kevin Andrews tell me that most times they go fishing they consider it very rare to bump into anybody else. This is my kind of place.
HEARD IT ON THE GRAPEVINE
IN the current age of the computer being so important to virtually all of us, it is interesting to learn that Martin places great value in good quality fishing forums.
I am sure that many of us were at first suspicious of these online facilities that allow for a virtual getting together of all kinds of anglers, but in time I have come to see their value, just like Martin.
While fishing magazines like Sea Angler will always serve a purpose that no website or forum can replicate, to many anglers a lively fishing forum is another way of learning and communicating about fishing, plus, of course, they are generally very up-to-date with local information. I know of plenty of anglers who have ended up fishing together via a forum. Martin actually approached me through an angling forum and asked if I would like to come wrasse fishing with him. I would have been mad to say no.
I am one of those people who knows far too little about the south coast of Cornwall, and so I jumped at the chance to see some more of it with a good local sea angler.
Martin's best wrasse to date weighed in at 7lb 8oz. That is a monster wrasse by anybody's standards, but I know he is quietly confident that this fish can be beaten, and he fancies some of his local marks to do the job.
What is it about wrasse fishing that so grabs sea anglers? I have thought about this long and hard and can come to no specific conclusion, other than it is a very true style of UK shore fishing that lends itself to out-of-the-way places and hard scraps from dogged fish that can at times feed quite voraciously.
If you find these fish feeding hard then you are in for a treat, but don't for one second think that they are pushovers.
Targeting big wrasse requires real skill and dedication, much like when going after other specimens, and that moment when a big fish breaks the surface is for many anglers the high point of their fishing. And who am I to argue?
THE EXPERT APPROACH
I HAVE said it before and I will no doubt say it again, but I place great value in what an angler actually carries with him to go sea fishing.
Too many of us have at times been guilty of taking far too much for a fishing trip, so I was pleased to see how little gear Martin was carrying for a session.
Why take everything when you know where you are going, and you have a rough idea of how things are going to pan out? Martin was carrying a small rucksack, rod, reel, net and some bait – no more, no less!
Martin and Kevin keep things really simple for their own wrasse fishing, preferring to combine the right tackle with good quality bait, a fundamental understanding of their quarry, and, of course, a good knowledge of marks, conditions and tides.
Martin tends to use a good quality 18lb mainline on a medium-sized multiplier, tied to a 50lb shockleader. A lot of the areas they fish are fairly shallow, so Martin and Kevin like to spread their baits around and try different areas until they find the fish.
There is no need for very heavy lines when the ground is not too rough, and the rig need be no more than a running leger and plain lead. Wrasse fishing is almost another expression for losing end tackle, so you might as well keep the end gear as simple as possible and then lose no sleep when you snag up.
Understandably, the guys were reluctant to divulge their specific favourite marks, but Martin was keen to point out that a bit of good old-fashioned walking and logical thought would throw up all the necessary marks for a spot of south Cornish wrasse fishing. A lot of the Roseland peninsula is made up of shallow rock marks and sandy beaches, and where we were appeared perfect for plugging for bass. I reckon a gentle southerly or south-easterly wind would put enough life into the water to make things really interesting.
The same marks you end up fishing for wrasse will be good for bull huss at night. Indeed, Martin loves to fish for them – an ebb tide always works well for huss. Martin also likes chasing pollack, especially at the numerous rocky headlands that jut out into that bit stronger tidal flow.
Bait is the all-important thing when you are chasing a fish such as the wrasse, for the fresher and more appealing your offering, the greater your chances.
Martin and Kevin agree on the fact that hardback shore crabs will usually sort out the larger fish, but that ragworms and even limpets will catch you more of all sizes. Martin feels happiest when he can take some crabs and worms to cover the different eventualities.
What I really like is that the brothers are totally into a catch and release policy for their shore fishing. While they do not seem to be in the least bit competitive when fishing together, obviously a little bit of good natured banter flies back and forth, especially when one rod tip and not the other might bounce to a bite, but both work together to help land the other's fish.
Wrasse will always be something that bit special to me, and I am glad that so many other anglers out there feel the same way. Long may it last.
Henry Gilbey leaves his heavy beach gear at home and stalks an estuary with a light float rod in the hope of tracking down a shoal of mullet. The species can be hard to catch but, when you do, expect fireworks - for mullet are the bonefish of British waters
Give me a heavy beachcaster and a bucket of bait and I’m a happy chappie... like tens of thousands of other shore anglers. These are my fishing roots, but there are times when I get itchy feet and want to try something that is very different.
I stand by the fact that to become a well rounded angler you must occasionally do something different to your everyday fishing. If you want a break from fly-fishing for example, then try for carp, and likewise for us there are fish lurking just under the surface - not way out in the breakers - that can fire our enthusiasm.
Mullet fishing is completely removed from traditional sea angling as we know it. You could argue that mullet fishing is soft sea angling with lessons learnt from the lightweight world of coarse fishing.
The successful mullet angler would ideally like to have the knowledge of tides and weather from sea fishing, the stalking abilities of the game angler and the skill to handle light tackle more familiar to those on the river bank.
One myth we ought to clear up is that mullet aren’t just summer fish. They forage up estuaries, waterways and harbours for most of the year. I would put my head on the block and say that the warmest months can be the hardest time to hook a mullet, although the chances of catching one depends on where you live and the mildness of the winter.
Around the South West, where I live, recent winters have been so mild that you could realistically have targeted mullet nearly all year.
There are times when mullet are easy to catch, but this is rare, and I would agree that the fish deserves the reputation of being difficult to catch. But if you put a little time and effort into learning more about the species then your catch rate will definitely increase. Firstly, put aside the heavy gear and enter the subtle world of estuary mullet.
Searching for the mullet shoals
A flooding tide will often push shoals of mullet up an estuary in search of food and your job is to work out the places to ambush them. Success at mullet fishing will often come to legwork.
You have to walk the bank, with binoculars in hand and Polaroid glasses protecting eyes from surface glare, to search for the fish. Waders could also be useful.
Take a look along the edges of creeks that feed off the main river, for this is where the shoals often lurk. They are fish of habit, so once you locate their favourite haunts you will probably find them there tide after tide.
Remember that if there is colour in the water and you can’t see fish that doesn’t always mean they are not there. Then again, if there is a massive amount of rainwater in the estuary it can push fish back down towards the sea.
TOP TACKLE CHOICES
Until somebody shows me a better rod, I still reckon the Daiwa Porky Pig, a light leger/feeder, is the best tool available and most mullet anglers I know around Plymouth swear by it.
It is not very expensive and ideal for mixed duties, including legering, floatfishing, surface fishing and freelining.
As for reels, it’s up to you whether you spend a lot of money on a top-of-the-range Shimano fixed-spool or go for a less expensive Okuma - they will both do the job.
I am not sure of the best way to go, but the main thing is the reel must have a tapered spool, great line lay and a very smooth drag.
I prefer dark coloured lines like Ultima Xtra in around 6-10lb breaking strains for mainline and traces. In my bum-bag also go my hooks - try Drennan Boilie hooks in sizes 6-10 - swivels, different types of floats, leads and other tricks of the trade. Have rod, will travel... get out there and take a look around.
Let’s get down to tactics
Gauge the way you fish to what the mullet seem to be doing and remember that while they may not be feeding then, they have to eat sometime in the day.
Use buckets of groundbait if you feel the need, but simply breaking up sliced white bread and throwing it in is often all that is needed. Do not overfeed the fish and try to keep things simple.
If you can see fish keen on taking bread from the surface - this happens especially around first and last light - then obviously it makes sense to put on a bubble float or carp controller and get in among them, but do not strike until you feel or see the rod tip go right over.
By all means trot a float down to fish that you cannot cast to effectively. This is the beauty of float fishing because it enables you to get into the middle of some fish, often without them realising, using what are really stealth tactics.
Legering is my favoured method for a lot of places, although the most exciting way to catch them is by floating a bit of bread in front of their noses at dawn. Light legering can work almost anywhere and is simplicity in the extreme, but do not be tempted to strike every tremble on the rod tip. Admittedly this can be hard when the tip is bouncing all over the place when fish keep nibbling at the bread, but try to control your instincts until you get that classic slam-over bite.
Mullet fishing is a potentially huge and addictive way of fishing and I just hope this encourages you to set aside your long rods for something lighter.
Even if you can’t catch the blighters, you get a great kick out of watching the long torpedo-shaped shadows slowly finning up to your bait, nicking a bit of the bread and then turning away. At times it can make you feel like slinging your kit in the water.
DUNGENESS HAS A bleakness all its own – intriguing to some, repellent to others.
The power station and lighthouse dominates the scene, but there is another, more reliable source of energy here – the relentless surge of waves rumbling over steep shingle.
Ever since the 1960s, anglers have made their pilgrimage to this famous Kent shore mark in the hope of catching a double-figure cod. But January onwards, traditionally a quiet time in the fishing calendar, can offer a species less majestic yet in its own way just as challenging – the humble dab.
Dungeness can be brilliant for this tasty little flatfish when conditions are right. A light northwesterly following a southwesterly blow on a cold, frosty morning, when the sky is clear and bright, is without doubt a great time to go hunting them.
The older the better
HOW many times, following a not too successful fishing trip, do we return home with nearly all our bait intact? We don’t know what to do with it and either give it away or bin it.
But dabs love old bait…the older the better. Save the worms, either frozen or stuck to the paper and enjoy catching dabs two or three at a time on the often whiffy bait.
Past its sell by date bait can be tricky to keep on the hook, so tie it on with elasticated cotton. A two or three-hook paternoster boom rig works well with short snoods around 10 inches long. Having traces ready to go saves time and effort. You needn’t worry about worms drying out.
A taste for sequins
DABS have relatively good eyesight and sequins on the trace really do seem to attract them, especially the green ones. A sequin can also be used as a bait stop if you are using bait clips.
Tie a small knot loosely around the sequin approximately two inches up the snood from the hook. If flappers are your bag, just slide on a sequin before the hook is secured.
A moving bait is something dabs cannot resist and using a Breakaway lead with two wires loose allows it to dig in lightly and then be slowly pulled round in the tide.
By January the dabs will be almost ready to spawn, and they gorge on sprats. It goes without saying that tipping your bait with a sliver of sprat, herring or even squid will attract the larger fish.
Spawning dabs feed on sprats
Long casting is not necessary, nor should it be. Catching dabs is all about choosing when to fish, the right rigs and proper bait presentation. But these flatties are just as plentiful at range as they are close in.
When the cod have gone and the winter blues set in, dabs can lift the spirits and they certainly keep you fit as you find yourself running up and down the beach every 10 minutes to collect another full string of fish.
Bites are very positive for such a small fish, but leave it a while and you may hook two or even three fish a cast.
It is lazy fishing but at least rods tops aren’t sitting static on the rod-rest. And for some reason the cheeky little plump dabs always raise a smile on a cold day.
The famed ‘Tesco’s bag’ remains one of the few shore species capable of pulling your rod over. Even a baby bag - a 5lb thornback ray - will test your rod-rest stability as it picks up the bait and flaps like fury over the sea bed.
Ray do fight - or should it be described as kiting because it uses its wide body to work the tide like a kite does the wind? You might turn up your nose at the fish but don’t scoff until you have seen a ray’s wings surface 100 yards out or experienced a fish toughing it out and staying deep. This is the stuff angling dreams are made of.
My ray fishing experiences were limited - there are not a lot of ray around the Kent coast - until I travelled to the Isle of Wight in the 60s and fished an all-night Readers SAC open. It was June and the small-eyed ray were prolific from the Chale and Atherfield beaches.
I remember it as if it were yesterday. I fished under Blackgang Chine and landed 30lb of small-eyed and spotted ray on frozen sandeels in a mad dawn hour and have been hooked on ray ever since.
These days fewer small-eyed, thornback or spotted ray are caught from the Solent shores or the rest of great Britain for that matter, but there are still enough to make them a worthwhile target from spring and through the summer.
My best catches have come from the rugged coast of County Clare on Ireland’s west coast. The clear water of the Atlantic Ocean supports a consistent inshore population of ray safe from the nets in the kelp and mixed ground.
Thornback are most common, but the rarer types, like the cuckoo, undulate and blonde, turn up on occasions.
Only last year I lost a possible big blonde ray that I could only coax towards the shore but not lift off the sea bed. As a consequence it buried itself in the kelp and was lost. In the past I have landed three thornback on a rig aimed at dogfish and only last year I recorded a double hit of 7lb thornback. Incidentally, mine are always returned.
HABITAT AND TACTICS
You would expect ray to be completely at home on a flat sea bed. Indeed their design suits an even silty or sandy sea bed where they can partially bury themselves in wait for their prey.
Ray are also commonly found in kelp or over sandy patches between reefs and weed, especially in Ireland. Another ray hot spot is the back or deepening side of a sand bar where their shape and fin control allows them to feed at various depths on sandeels, crabs and other marine creatures.
They are also found close to and within many estuaries, especially the thornbacks and sting ray, who enter even small estuaries in spring to feed on the peeling shore crabs.
The species, especially thornbacks, tend to shoal tightly and are particularly vulnerable to commercial nets as well as rod and line. Hook one and you will invariably catch another, which is one reason why their numbers have become so depleted.
In recent seasons thornbacks have enjoyed spawning successes and remains fairly prolific in some regions, including the north-east coast and Irish west coast. Scotland, Wales, the Bristol Channel, Solent and waters into the West Country also get their share of fish.
The hot time for ray is around dusk, during darkness or dawn. They can be caught during daylight from many silty estuaries, while in the deep water of the western Irish coast they are caught in clear water, sometimes very shallow water.
Ray bites generally start with a small flutter of the rod tip as the fish more of less flops over the bait. Once the bait is engulfed the fish will move off powerfully, often pulling the rod over hard, so make sure your rest is secure or you are holding the rod.
ON YOUR MARKS
Most regions of the Atlantic coast and most of the Irish Sea hold ray in summer. Ireland’s western coast with its mix of rocks, estuaries and sweeping sandy bays is a very consistent venue.
The southern side of the Lleyn Peninsula in west Wales is a recognised venue, as are both the Welsh and English sides of the Bristol Channel, where the hot spots include the beaches between Porlock and Weston.
South-west Scotland gets its share of thornbacks in the Solway Firth. Through the English Channel they peak in the Solent, but become rare from the shore through Sussex and Kent, but catching one is not impossible.
Essex rivers, like the Blackwater and Crouch, still produce ray in spring with St Osyth still favourite for a big sting ray.
Beaches above the Wash, especially between Skegness in Lincolnshire and Hornsea in South Yorkshire, all produce thornbacks through the summer months.
BEWARE OF THE SPIKES
The ray’s powerful jaws mean you should remove hooks with care or use forceps. Another danger are the spikes and prickles all over their body which are razor sharp.
Even the dull-looking painted ray’s tiny spines can draw blood if the fish is handled roughly. Grip either side of the nose with a cloth or around the tail, but not with bare hands.
Sting ray should not be handled and never stand on them because the venomous spine on the tail can whip over their head and penetrate rubber.
TOP BAITS AND RIGS
My top ray bait is a frozen sandeel. There is no argument about that. Ray will also take live or fresh sandeels, which is especially deadly afloat. The species are also partial to peeler crabs and hermit crabs in most estuaries during spring, and even hard-backed crabs aren’t safe.
They gobble up fish baits like mackerel and herring and are not averse to getting their gums around a helping of ragworms, lugworms or even squid.
Being bottom feeders they drop on the bait, smothering it and for that reason spiky wire grip leads can be a turn off, especially for the bigger fish. Skate anglers never, ever use wired sinker. It matters less from the shore, although it may be wise to use a long snood to keep bait away from the grip wires.
Ray have no teeth as such, rather bony plates they use to crush their usual food of crabs, shellfish etc. This can damage line and fingers if you let them, so the use of at least 30lb hook snoods is advised.
Hook type too is pretty crucial with a long-shank Aberdeen the easiest to remove.
A size 3/0 Kamasan B940 is ideal and particularly suited to baiting with a six inch frozen sandeel.
Ray are rarely very close to the shore, so a single clipped-down paternoster is easily the most efficient rig.
RAY LIFE CYCLE
Ray are a close relative of the shark and have evolved to live on the sea bed. It has a shark-like cartilaginous skeleton. There is no biological distinction between skate and ray, although those with long pointed snouts are called skate and those with short or rounded snouts, ray.
Confusion has arisen because of the difficulty in deciding if the snout is rounded or pointed, thus thornback ray are often called skate.
The ray is responsible for the mermaid’s purses, which are the egg cases laid by the females. These oblong, dark egg cases have a long horn at each corner.
Only sting ray and electric ray give birth to live young, like other members of the shark and ray family.
Ray mature fairly late with a female unable to reproduce until around nine-years-old, which explains why they are becoming scarce and why angling should put them on the catch and return list.
MEET THE RAY FAMILY…
There are 12 rays more or less common to British waters, some are only caught from the boat.
The most common and the most likely ray to be landed from the shore is the thornback, also commercially called roker. Identified by the many thorns on its mottled back and the cream underside, while most other ray only have thorns or prickles along the tail or midline.
Large thornback ray, those over 20lb, are very rare and the British record of 31lb is going to be hard to beat. In the past big thornback have been recorded, but it is thought these where mostly wrongly identified white or common skate.
Still fairly common through the southern and central parts of the English Channel.
This ray has smaller eyes than the others and is sometimes called a painted ray as is the undulate ray, hence some confusion. Boat record is 17lb 8oz off Watchet, Somerset.
Small species found along the English Channel, Irish Sea and Atlantic coastlines of Ireland. Rarely beats 5lb with the British shore record at 8lb 10oz from Whitsands Bay, Cornwall.
Its undulating dark patterns edged with white spots make it the prettiest of all the small ray. The markings are more distinct than those of the painted ray, which has pale cream markings and no white spots. Rare from the shore except from the Irish west coast.
Distinct yellow and black eye spots on the upper side of the wings mark this as a rare catch. Most common in the south, but has been caught all around Britain at depths between 20m and 150m.
Very rare from the shore, this large ray is a species mostly associated with boat fishing, although it has been caught from the rugged western coast of Ireland. Said to be extending its range due to global warming.
Very rarely caught, but nevertheless there is a British rod-caught record of 90lb 1oz for the species caught off Dodman Point in Cornwall.
There are three species, common, white and long-nosed. Monster fish reach well over 100lb in weight and are still landed by boat anglers in deep Irish and Scottish waters where they are returned, indeed in Ireland they are a protected species.
There are places you may have a chance of hooking one from the shore, including Loch Raig on the Isle of Lewis where the British Record shore of 169lb was landed in 1994. In Ireland Fenit Pier has produced a few.
An angling friend of mine once likened landing one to pulling a grand piano up a cliff.