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.
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