"You're looking at cod, rays, whiting, flounders, pouting, dogfish and a few bass," local match angler George Smith confirms. "We get a good run of spring cod every year but the fish vary in weight, plus there's the odd scattering of dogfish too."
All of them biding their time...
According to Hull University's Geography Department, few coastlines anywhere on the planet are disappearing as quickly as this one. The soft boulder clay cliffs left behind by the retreating ice sheet 12,000 years ago are at the mercy of North Sea breakers and currently slim down at a rate of between one and three metres a year, necessitating a sea defence programme that currently accounts for almost seven miles of this crumbling shoreline in East Yorkshire.
As the old Irving Berlin song goes, with a slight alteration, however, "There may be trouble ahead, but while there's moonlight and music and love and romance, let's face the music and fish."
That's probably not quite how George Smith puts it, but while the waves that bring ruin also happen to be bringing fish, he and pal Karl Nangle could be forgiven for focusing on the short-term when they tried their luck at Hilston and Withernsea, two marks typical of the 15-mile Holderness coastline that separates Skipsea and Spurn Head.
"YOU have to take care with the cliffs, especially if you're an older angler," Smith warns. "Local anglers have cut paths into most of them but, being clay, they can be treacherous if it has been raining."
If you can get down to the beaches safely, though, then the fishing is year-round, although it is the spring run that offers the greatest variety.
"In winter, there are cod and pouting, with dabs and flounders in calm weather," says George. "The summer fishing is for dogfish and rays and you stand a chance of a bass throughout the year. In spring, though, you never know what you might catch.
"You can get bags of 30-40lb at that time of year. Rays and cod go to 10lb and bass to 6lb."
The coastline can be fished day or night and on any tide, although the size of tides varies either side of Hilston. "You get the bigger tides north of there than those between Hilston and Spurn to the south," Smith points out. "You get the advantage of more movement in the water on the bigger tides, but if they are too big you can get pushed back onto the cliffs. Normally, the beaches fish right up to high water."
Best after the wind has been blowing, the Holderness coast will fish from low water up to high and a little way back down again. The terrain is shingle, giving way to sand with patches of clay, and is striped with sandbars and gullies, the precise layout of which can be inspected at low water.
"The fish tend to occupy bands of water and your initial casts should be to different distances, so you can discover how far out today's band is," George maintains. His own tactic is to fish two rods, one working the sub-100yd range while the other explores deeper waters.
Karl will bag a 4lb 8oz codling within 10 yards of the shore on this occasion and George adds that this can make it a good mark for anyone who would like to fish lighter than usual.
"It means you can get by with a two- or three-hook flapper and save your clipped-down rigs for more long-range work. For the pleasure angler who's after a big fish and fishing at different distances, I would recommend a size 2/0 hook on a 25lb snood. I like my snoods long to promote more movement in the water.
"I use 18lb Ultima F1 Black mainline with a decent shockleader and a lead weight of 4-6oz will handle the kind of tides you get here. Be as light as you can with your lead when fishing close in, so that it rolls around a lot and keep an eye on your rod because it could get dragged in by a fish that close."
Bait for the spring season consists of ragworms, lugworms, crabs and squid, with the latter a big plus at a time of year when the coast enjoys a run of squid and cuttlefish that the larger predators seize upon with relish. Fish it on its own or use it in a cocktail with worms or crabs. Bring your own worms, though, as the shoreline fishes much better than it digs.
"There aren't too many crabs around to strip your bait in the spring, so you can leave about 20 minutes between casts," says Smith. "In the summer, you need to re-bait more regularly."
If you want rays, he recommends that you wait for a calm day with any breeze coming from the west. Dogfish also show in calmer conditions, while cod and bass seem oblivious to the weather conditions.
One final word of advice for the casual angler: if you are looking to take your pick of the Holderness marks, it may be advisable to take a day off during the week.
"All the matches in the area tend to be rovers and places like Hilston, Holmpton and Hornsea's north beach get busy at weekends," George, an England shore angler, advises.
Otherwise, the place is all yours. Enjoy it while it lasts.
Shore international Andy Young has fished the beach at Cleveleys, just north of Blackpool, for well over 20 years.
"I don't know if Cleveleys has an historical tradition for smoothhounds," he says, "but I do know that ever since the water quality in the area improved they have shown up."
The accompanying pictures were actually taken on one of the mark's quieter summer evenings. Three smoothhounds were brought in, compared to five the night before.
"You tend to get them from late May to August but you need calm weather or something close to it," explains Andy. "They can be had at any stage of the tide and in any size of tide, but you don't want it to be too rough - nothing more than a slight 'edge' on it."
Know your gullies
The stretch of beach between Cleveleys and Blackpool is a flat, shallow, sandy affair where you almost have to be cursed to lose tackle.
The shifting gullies that score its surface are of varying depths and can be a mixed blessing to anglers, providing havens for 'hounds' at any stage of the tide other than low water, but also posing a threat if you have one situated between you and your retreat to the promenade as the tide advances.
The flood can come quickly here and gullies can fill up behind you, so an inspection of the terrain at low water can be useful from both a fishing and self-preservation viewpoint.
If the sea has already begun its advance up the beach, Young suggests that you scan the water's surface to find the calmer patches that point to the presence of a gully beneath them.
All right on the night
"It's mainly a night mark when it comes to smoothhounds," Andy explains. "If you are hoping to catch one in daylight, the water will really need a bit of colour in it."
In this respect, you are looking for a south-westerly wind, which stirs up dirty water. North-westerly and westerly winds tend to produce clean surf that doesn't churn up the sea bed quite so much.
Andy, from Lancaster, fishes a Zziplex F1 rod (although he says any good beach rod will do the job) equipped with either an Abu 6500 or Penn 525 reel, loaded with 15lb line and the 6oz Gemini lead weight he uses everywhere.
"I like to use a single hook pulley rig consisting of a size 1/0 or 2/0 hook and a 3-4ft snood of 30lb line," he says.
"Peeler crab is really the only bait. I've tried ragworms and squid as alternatives, but nothing works as well as peelers. I get mine from a tackle shop and I'd advise anyone to buy them from a dealer because there aren't many to be had on the shore at Cleveleys."
On a flooding tide and under cover of darkness, smoothhounds can be caught in two feet of water when they take refuge in the gullies. Young prefers the more sporting approach of casting as far as he can, however, so as to increase the time he is likely to spend playing a fish.
"When you get one on, the important thing is not to go mad with it," he warns.
"Smoothhounds are very powerful fish with a good turn of speed and the ability to come back to life just when you think you've got them beaten, so don't set your drag too tight or they'll snap your line. Take your time playing them."
A similar vigilance is called for even before they take your bait.
"Just leave your reel on the ratchet," Andy cautions. "They give your line a gentle tap and then they just run. If your drag is too tight they'll take your rod with them."
Smooth ground is the answer
You can expect the average Cleveleys smoothhound to weigh in at between six and ten pounds, with a good night's specimen breaking the 15lb barrier.
"It has to be one of the best marks for smoothhounds in Lancashire," Andy points out. "There aren't many other places round here producing 'hounds in such numbers between May and August."
They are best fished for by working your way south down the beach towards Blackpool, until your cast gets you among the fish. North of Cleveleys, heading up towards Rossall Point, the terrain is increasingly punctuated by rocks and therefore far less amenable to the smoothhounds.
Increasingly amenable, on the other hand, is the quality of Cleveleys water.
Awarded a 'basic pass' in the Marine Conservation Society's Good Beach Guide almost a decade ago, its status was upgraded to 'MCS Recommended' in 2005; an award "for the highest water quality standards".
So it’s most definitely worth remembering this mark for sessions later in the year - the local population of smoothhounds will hopefully be poised to deliver their own ringing endorsement in time for another productive summer.
Bass and other species
Preceding the night's sport with smoothhounds was a bass caught on a spinner during daylight. It was taken near Rossall Point, which is the preferred end of the beach for bass (4-6lb), although it is possible to catch fish to 3lb from the same parts of the beach as those ‘hounds.
A bit of surf is needed for bass fishing, whatever mark you try, however. They can be caught more or less year-round these days, although September and October tend to be the key months.
Locals maintain that the Heysham power plant nursery area further north is behind the increase in local bass numbers and anglers are encouraged to do their bit by returning all undersized fish.
There are occasional patrols by fishery officials to enforce size limits.
In the area between Rossall School (south of Rossall Point) and the Bull Nose, January and February see the last of the codling and whiting, while March is usually a quiet month, as the winter and summer species swap shifts.
A few thornback rays and dogfish show in April, followed by some flounders and the occasional plaice in May. From September to December, an incoming tide yields good bags of whiting and codling, especially the area around the Five Bar Gate at the north end of Cleveleys promenade.
Directions and parking
Leave the M6 at J32 onto the M55. Leave M55 at J3 heading north onto A585 for Fleetwood. After about eight miles, turn left at the roundabout onto the B5412 (Victoria Road West). Take this road to the seafront and turn left onto the Promenade. After about half a mile, you will see the Bull Nose promontory on your right and Anchorsholme Lane West on your left. Park on the promenade in the vicinity of the Bull Nose.
The Welsh must love it. Stick five consecutive consonants in front of an Englishman and watch him sweat.
“Pwelly” was how my father pronounced it when we holidayed in nearby Criccieth, 30 years ago and compared to some of the stabs at pronunciation that I’ve heard since (“I almost get catarrh trying to pronounce ‘Pwllheli’,” I have heard one outsider lament) he at least deserves a gold star for effort.
The correct rendition is actually ‘Purthelly’.
Get to that point and everything else about this pleasant Gwynedd town is plain sailing, as long as you can manage words like bream, tope and ray.
There is a variety of fishing from Pwllheli’s South Beach that has brought George Smith to this corner of northwest Wales time and time again for over20 years. If he usually has his matchman’s hat on when he arrives, that’s not to say it’s a mark purely for the match angler.
“It’s one of the most angler-friendly beaches in the area,” says the North Lincolnshire man, “and while it’s known as a match venue, I always go fishing there if I’m on my holidays.”
The beach is a slightly-shelving sand-and-shingle affair, where the sea runs deep at its eastern edge, marked by Gimblet Rock and shallower at the opposite end, as you move towards the golf course.
Kind to tackle and fishable at all stages of an ordinary tide, the beach also offers a variety of fishing around the year.
“The pleasure angler should be looking for rays, garfish and bream in the summer and whiting and codling in winter,” says George. “It’s also something of a dogfish nursery, though; you’ll get loads of them and there’s not much you can do about it!”
The dogfish are known to congregate particularly in the months of March, September and October.
The camber of the sea bed sees the bream, whose season is June to August, stick to the shallower water off the western half of the beach, while the deeper water off the eastern half, leading down to Gimblet Rock, plays host to rays over 10lb, the occasional tope to 30lb and the even more occasional conger in the vicinity of the Rock itself.
Mackerel on tap
“This is a mark that is perhaps best fished from low water to just after high,” says Smith. “You can still fish at high water, unless it’s a particularly big tide that covers the whole beach.”
He would use a cocktail of squid and lugworms or ragworms for bream and advises that while the latter average about 1lb here, you can expect to catch plenty of them if they’re about.
“For rays, I would use a big chunk of crab and mackerel. The fresher the mackerel the better,” he adds. Other anglers also try a frozen sandeel as an alternative.
While there is no bait to be dug from the beach, fresh mackerel need not be a problem.
On calm summer evenings, float fishing or spinning can produce mackerel from Gimblet Rock, which tends to be marked out of bounds for matches on the South Beach because of the unfair advantage it enjoys in providing access to deeper water.
Once an extensive granite plateau, the Rock has been quarried in the past to provide paving materials. What remains provides several platforms for anglers, although they can be very crowded when the mackerel and bass are in the area. The steep access to the water which the Rock offers, however, can be useful when there is a lot of weed about.
While George warns against specifically targeting tope, unless patience is one of your strong points, the Rock end of the beach is where they are most likely to be found.
Garfish, meanwhile, are everywhere and they go to 1lb, on average. Smith would use a small sliver of mackerel or a sandeel for bait, as anything white seems to attract the fish. For winter fishing, he recommends sandeel, worms and mackerel.
He tends to fish a standard beachcaster, using three size 1 hooks clipped down to get among the dogfish in a match. For rays, he would try two baits and 1/0 hooks (size 1 if matchfishing) on an up-and-down rig with long snoods of 30-36in. “When there’s a tide on, the fish virtually hook themselves,” George explains.
When fishing for bream, he recommends size 4 short-shank Kamasan hooks and a flapping rig wherever possible or alternatively a clipped-down rig.
For garfish, in a calmer sea, he opts for float fishing with a sliding float positioned some 20ft above the hook.
“The best mainline is 15-18lb, or 20-25lb if there’s a lot of weed in the water,” he explains. “I use hooklengths of 15lb for bream, 20-25lb for dogs and rays and 10-12lb for garfish. Leads of 5-6oz should be enough.”
Generally, the weather has little effect on the fishing (although easterly winds are said to slow things down) but a bigger-than-average tide is preferred to get the fish moving and encourage a variety of catches.
“I have fished it in stormy weather and had dogfish pups washing up at my feet in the surf, but those kind of conditions do tend to bring the weed in,” says George.
“It’s not your everyday kind of weed, either; you tend to get the really thick stuff here.”
Other anglers have noted that bass to 6lb are also in evidence close in at high water after stormy weather, however, so you take your chances.
Another dilemma concerns the time you fish. George prefers daytime fishing at this venue, as he says night time is likely to find you overrun by dogfish without any compensation in improved catches of other species. In summer, however, use of the beach by holiday makers can leave you with little option but to wait for nightfall.
Bream can normally be found about 60 yards out, while rays occasionally come in that close but are more commonly found at 80yd. Winter fishing tends to happen at a minimum range of 80yd.
No stranger to shore venues that are part-fishing, part-triathlon, with a bumpy drive and a hike to negotiate before you wet a line, it’s no surprise that George’s love affair with an easily accessible mark on the other side of the country has lasted long enough for him to pronounce its name with ease. Five straight consonants? Piece of cake.
Access to the beach is through the town. Embankment Road takes you out of the town centre towards the seashore. Turning right on to The Promenade takes you towards the western end of the beach and there are parking bays along this road.
For Gimblet Rock, turn left off Embankment Road onto Bron-Y-De, which takes you through a small housing estate, where you will find a small car park on your right, opposite a boatyard.
The shingle rules the South Beach out for wheelchair users, but those disabled anglers who can walk a short way will find a walkway and handrail leading down to the beach.
Of the best laid plans of mice and men often turn to rubbish, to paraphrase poet Robbie Burns, it is fair to say the process can work just as unerringly in reverse.
For all the planning we put into life's landmark moments, how often does the tension of arranging the perfect wedding or surprise birthday party dilute our enjoyment of them? And, on the flip-side, how often do some of our fondest memories involve those unscheduled humdinger social occasions that grew out of nothing?
If you've ever popped into the pub for a quick half and five hours later found yourself part of a 12-man chorus singing 'You're just too good to be true' to the landlord's wife, you know where I'm coming from.
Fishing can be like that. What began in despair, as weed threatened to strangle a day's codding at birth and continued with this writer rushing to Lowestoft at the last minute in anything but an angling frame of mind, ended in resounding success.
From bad to better
Paul Kerry's dejection 24 hours earlier had been understandable. By his reckoning, the last time the fishing at Pakefield was this good, Bill Clinton's furniture was still being moved into the White House.
Think codling off Pakefield beach any time during the last ten years and you're thinking 2lb. Five years ago, that figure doubled, and then a 8-10lb fish was attainable on a good day, and the beach is buzzing with anglers.
No wonder Kerry had sounded a broken man on the phone. With everything set for Sea Angler's visit, two friends had gone down to the beach for a dress-rehearsal, only to find the sea thick with weed and the cod conspicuous by their absence.
Paul was determined to give it another try. He would fish Pakefield early next morning and call me if there was any chance the day could be saved after all.
Now maybe it's my age but just as ocean liners need a mile or two in which to change direction, I don't exactly hop like a mountain goat from one mindset to another. Paul sounded desolate, the weed sounded here to stay, the day sounded very much off. I was halfway to work the following morning before it occurred to me that I had brought no waterproofs or thick coat with me, should a miracle occur.
By 10am, however, my oversight was looking purely academic and no bad thing, judging by the way a minor gale was making the tree branches dance outside my window.
That Pakefield weed may have done us a favour, I reflected, just as my telephone rang.
It was Paul, and to someone underdressed for the occasion, his voice was alarmingly enthusiastic. The weed was gone, he and Gravesend angler Shane Pullen had several cod between them and could I get there by lunchtime?
So what brought all this on in the first place? Paul Kerry has no doubts.
"It's because the sprats are in," he says, once I have composed myself as best I can on a bracing afternoon on the Suffolk coast.
"Some people say that kills the fishing because the cod are too busy with the sprats to see your bait but I think it works the other way round - the sprats get the cod's mind on feeding and it will go for anything. Whenever I've caught several cod in a short space of time down here, they've all had sprats in their mouths.
"I've tried wrapping sprats with lugworms to improve my catch rate but I've found it doesn't lead to any more catches than lug on their own."
The feeding frenzy has made for a welcome infusion of promise into a region that has not exactly been fishing its head off of late.
"Norfolk has been quiet but between Pakefield, Kessingland and Southwold, there's been a concentration of cod this year," Kerry confirms.
Although Pakefield's shingle-and-sand beach is shallow, a cast of 100 yards gets you into an adequate 15ft of water. Paul and Shane were both working at 180yd range, however, to get their bait in the vicinity of a sand bar.
While both men take precautions against any weed that may still be around, standing their rods as steeply as possible against the rod-rest so as to keep the tip high and as much line as possible clear of the water, it turns out that they have indeed been spared; a fortunate break, as the stuff can sometimes hang around for a day or two.
"I've caught one or two fish in weed but generally, I don't think fish like having it around them," Kerry reflects.
The best tactics
He uses lug exclusively for bait, with razorfish an optional extra, depending what decade we happen to be in.
"I used to tip the lug with razorfish but the razors have gone off round here. I think it's because the ground has shifted.
It's a cyclical thing with razorfish; 30 years ago there were none to be found here, ten years ago we had them but now they've gone again."
He uses a single clipped-down metal boom, as casting distance is not at a premium here and the boom allows him to try a different bait presentation.
"I'd recommend a 170g grip lead because the extra weight lets you make a slower, smoother cast and improve your chances of getting your bait further out," Paul points out.
"I like to fish two rods, casting to different distances with each one so I can find the fish. If the tide is humming through, you need to fish closer in, while if there's a slack tide or there's weed about, you have to fish further out.
Night fishing can be a little better for fishing, although the difference is not critical and both the ebb and flood tide fish well. The limited casters among you should note that two of Shane's friends subsequently tried the venue and found that their shorter casting range made less difference under cover of darkness.
Shane Pullen cuts no corners where his bait is concerned. He made a 90-mile round journey from Gravesend to Deal to collect his yellowtail lug the night before, before rising at 4am and heading to Suffolk not long afterwards, for a day that could easily have come to nothing.
Eight hours fishing and 25 cod later, his gamble had paid off.
"It's a very shallow beach, compared to what I'm used to in Kent and after the solid shingle beaches and muddy banks of the Thames that I fish, the sand up here has got my eyes red raw when the wind blows. On the plus side, I haven't lost any gear all day!"
After Paul enjoyed some great fishing in the Thames at Shane's invitation, this was Paul's chance to return the favour.
Shane has opted for a clipped-down two-hook rig, size 2/0 Viking Pennell hooks and a 5oz lead weight, fished from a 80lb shockleader and 15lb mainline.
He is particularly enthusiastic about Breakaway's Imp bait clip: "It's an all-in-one bait clip and shield," he explains. "I've found traditional Impact leads can get clogged up but I've had no problem with these. They release every time."
Boom or no boom, both his approach and Paul's do their stuff on a thoroughly satisfying afternoon. You hear of pockets of resistance like this whenever fishing slips into a general lull; venues that go quietly against the grain and fish their heads off.
Usually, they are somewhere at the other end of the country, so to be able to enjoy one first hand is a rare treat. So much so that only when it's time to leave do I realise just how much I've missed a decent coat.
While many people regard Pakefield as a suburb of Lowestoft, it is in fact a separate village, sat alongside its larger neighbour on a bulge in the Suffolk coast that forms the most easterly point of the UK.
Thanks to sea erosion, that bulge was disappearing at a rate of several feet a year until the Pakefield's Jubilee Wall sea defence was completed in 1944.
Park in the car park at the top of Pakefield Street. Not only does this leave you with the beach straight ahead but you also have the Jolly Sailor pub on one side of you and Pakefield Plaice fish and chip shop on the other.
This is not the place that put the 'ease' in Easington. Cinderella Rock, with all its connotations of glass slippers and romance is actually more like something from ‘Who Dares Wins’.
Calling for tricky climb, it leaves you stranded by the tide for an hour or two, when you must steer clear of its crumbling edges and brace yourself for a drenching if you've misread the weather forecast.
If you're lucky, the locals on the cliffs just look at you: unlucky, and they throw things. Then when you're done and the tide's gone out, there's another tricky climb back down. Don’t all rush at once.
One man who swears by it, however, is Wayne Harriman. Since childhood, the local match angler has watched the Rock surrender gradually to the sea, its teeth ironically sharpened by the same demise of mining that has otherwise had such a mollifying effect on these County Durham beaches.
“High tide once fell 150 yards short of the Rock but when the tipping of colliery waste stopped, there was nothing filling up the beach any more and the sea advanced,” he explains.
Now high water surrounds it, leaving 20ft of water between you and the mainland. A 100yd cast from its top is equivalent to 250yd from the beach behind it. Wayne has had cod to 8lb here and the average is 2lb 8oz. Coalfish in the region of 1lb 8oz are available, along with whiting, flatties and eels.
Not for the faint hearted
So let's break down the challenges of Cinderella Rock one by one.
Firstly, with the best time for fishing being the last three hours of the flood and first two of the ebb tide, you need to be absolutely sure there are no psychological skeletons in your cupboard where being cut off by the tide is concerned.
Avoiding such a fate is so heavily ingrained in any shore angler that consciously embracing it for once might not be an easy mental U-turn.
Wayne Harriman admits to loving the solitude as the tide seals him off from the mainland but if you’ve ever felt your hands go clammy while watching 'Robinson Crusoe', this might not be your type of mark.
Even if it is, don't forget to take a good book with you, in case it turns out to be one of those days when the fish aren't interested. You can't just pack up and leave this mark.
Next - and this is crucial - you need to have studied the weather beforehand as thoroughly as if you were going out on a boat.
“I like fishing there when the water is just running off after a big sea and you watch the big swells rolling by but it's only fun if the wind isn't a northerly,” Wayne cautions. “If there's a northerly and it's a big sea the waves will explode on the front of the Rock and you'll be soaked. A dying northerly is ideal for fishing but you have to be certain the wind is dropping.”
The cliffs behind provide an effective windbreak to anything coming from the west, north-west or south-west, as well as providing the perfect vantage point for spectators. Sadly, the latter point is not always good news. On one occasion, Harriman had two juveniles throwing stones at him while he fished the Rock.
There is room for three anglers on the Rock, four at a pinch but beware that this is a sandstone feature that had a 20ft high pinnacle not so long ago. Erosion takes its toll and the edges can crumble.
“You all need to know what you're doing,” Harriman confirms. “If there's a small group, everyone tends to set up to the left to make casting room available.”
The Rock is primarily a winter mark and local matchmen all head elsewhere for their fishing 'fix' when spring beckons (which does, however, clear the way for some good mackerel fishing here during the summer).
The winter season extends from late September to early March if conditions are favourable.
“You have 10ft of water in front of you at high tide and directly in front the ground is very heavy, although less so to either side, say at 10 o'clock and two o'clock,” Harriman continues.
The mark will fish in any size of tide but as previously advised you do need to know from which direction the wind is coming. And if all this is not quite challenging enough, Wayne calmly informs us that the mark can also fish very well in the dark.
“I once had 18 codling of about a pound-and-a-half each one night,” he recalls. “And I was catching them two at a time.”
The fact that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea as marks go does work in favour of Cinderella Rock’s regulars, however. You may occasionally find that someone has beaten you to it but it is not heavily in demand, even among match anglers fishing a local rover competition.
Tackle and bait
“I fish a Greys Platinum beachcaster and a Penn 525 reel loaded with 20lb line and a shockleader,” says Wayne.
“I’ll use a one- or two-hook clipped rig, although you can make do with a two-hook flapper for whiting and codling if they’re close in, say 60yd off the Rock. Unless the water is fl at and clear, though, you need to cast about a hundred yards.”
He uses 6oz plain or grip leads and size 1 to 3/0 hooks, opting for a Pennell set-up on his clipped rigs. Rotten bottoms are essential: not only is there rocky ground out there but Easington’s mining tradition has left all manner of mechanical bits and pieces embedded in the sea floor.
“As far as bait goes, it’s crabs from September until mid or late November and then lugworms until the end of the season,” Wayne adds.
Should an unfavourable wind, vertigo or a phobia for being marooned put Cinderella Rock out of your reach, however, fear not, for there is still good fishing to be had from more conventional marks along Easington beach.
Just to the right of the Rock, parallel with it, is the Lime Hole. Once a prodigious flounder mark, much of the sand in the hole has been washed away but it can still hold fish.
Three hundred yards further south of the Lime Hole is The Twelve Foots, (“My dad used to swim there and he’d dive off these rocks into about 12ft of water, so I assume that’s where the name comes from!” says Wayne) a group of low rocks that can be fished at low water.
On the northern side of Cinderella Rock, meanwhile, is the Old Flight mark, a sandy bay adjacent to the Old Flight itself, where colliery waste was once tipped.
“This is another good flounder mark,” explains Wayne, “but there is a deep gully about 60yd in front of you at low tide that can hold a lot of codling.”
From the south: leave the A1(M) at J49 and follow the A168 and A19 which take you through Middlesbrough and past Hartlepool and Peterlee. In Easington, leave the A19 for the B1283 (Hall Walks, Rosemary Lane and Seaside Lane) to Easington Colliery.
From the north: leave the A1(M) at J62 for the A690 towards Durham. Turn left onto the A181 at Gilesgate Moor and just before Sherburn bear left onto the B1283 for Easington, which will take you into Easington Colliery.
Parking is available on the site of the former colliery. From here a footpath takes you on a 15-minute walk to the beach. At the cliff top, you will see Cinderella Rock to your left.
Long after it was written off as a resort, Ravenscar the cod haven is thriving. Steve I’Anson explores a Jurassic classic
Ravenscar is the town that never happened. Back in the early 1900s, builders hoping to cash in on the new Scarborough-Whitby railway got as far as laying out roads, sewers and foundations for a town called Peak, which it was hoped would provide Victorian city dwellers with homes near the beach.
That the beach lay at the foot of a 600ft cliff only seemed to register with anyone late in the proceedings. The idea never took off, only a handful of houses were built and in the 1930s, Peak was renamed Ravenscar.
History also links this building with mad King George III, who was reputedly treated here, and with the smugglers and pirates who took advantage of its difficult access to smuggle tobacco and brandy.
Nowadays, the sea’s produce is more legitimate, although the angler who hankers for the good old days shouldn’t look too closely at the cliffs as he descends to sea level. This is prime Jurassic period coastline and those craggy walls offer much fossilised evidence of the denizens of the deep that lurked here millions of years ago.
Their fishy descendants, though, are not to be sniffed at. Indeed, it is the chance of cod of monster proportions that regularly draws a loyal legion of foot soldiers to fish this mark, despite the physical rigours involved.
In the descendancy
The good news. This is a beautifully wild, untouched place to go fishing. High, terraced cliffs, lined by trees and decked in bracken enshrine the rocks below in a mysterious cloak of shapes and shadows.
Let your imagination run on a murky day and you could really imagine you are in a scene from Steven Spielberg’s epic movie Jurassic Park, the rocks shuddering underfoot, especially as your rod creaks seaward in a seemingly unstoppable arc.
The bad news. The cliffs here are over 500ft high - some of the highest in the country - and the sea can seem a long way down when you walk the path from Raven Hall. While the track is steep and basic, however, it is quite manageable and some steps have been cut out and reinforced for part of the way by the National Trust.
A quick look over the cliffs before the descent gives you an idea of the venue’s basic layout: a boulder-strewn shoreline tight against the bottom of the cliffs, trapped between two prominent scaurs that become exposed at low tide.
The scaur to the north, below the Raven Hall, is Peak Steel and the scaur to the south, below the old village car park, is Blea Wyke Steel.
Three routes lead down to the beach below. One is down the track below Raven Hall Hotel, which sits proudly on the South Cheek of Robin Hood’s Bay. Follow this down past the golf course and progress to the beach. The track splits towards the bottom; continue straight down to fish Peak Steel and turn right through the bracken to reach the shoreline beneath Raven Hall, which leads south to Blea Wyke.
Here can be seen wreckage of an old Ferguson tractor and caterpillar tractor from 1965, abandoned after an abortive attempt to salvage the wreck of the Fred Everard, a cargo ship that ran aground, some of whose remains can still be seen at a spring tide’s low water mark.
The alternate routes are the spiral staircase that leads down from the old village car park, and the other is above Lady Green, about half a mile further south on the Cleveland Way cliff path.
Take my advice, use the track under Raven Hall and leave the others to the local wildlife and experienced anglers.
Most fishing takes place over low water on and in between the two Steels, although south of Blea Wyke Steel is a good area known as Lady Green and Common Cliff, which runs to Rocky Point, marking its boundary with the village of Staintondale.
Straight below the path is Peak Steel, which is exposed to its full length at low water and fishes best two hours either side of low tide.
The Steel can be fished in all but the roughest weather. During winter, the best place is fishing the north side and end of the Steel, fishing into kelp-lined gullies with a relatively clean bottom. In summer, the best place is halfway back along the south side of the steel, casting into the thick tangle beds. Beware that the Steel does get cut off from about mid tide.
To the south of the Peak Steel, under the cliff below Raven Hall, is a shoreline comprised of a room-sized boulders that plunge into the deep, kelp-festooned North Sea. This shoreline stretches south right up to the opposite side of Blea Wyke Steel.
This rough ground has very few prominent fishing holes, but one that is easy to spot is an area of clay scaur exposed between the rocks. A third of the way between the Steels, it marks what is a cut-off point between the two Steels from about one hour before high water.
About halfway along, the boulders come back in towards the cliff slightly, marking another popular mark called the Pulpit Rock, where you will be fishing mostly from boulders into thick kelp and deep water.
Fish can be taken here at most stages of the tide, but most anglers tend to fish it over high water after they have been washed off or are waiting to go onto the Steels. Unless you know where to fish, the best way is to have a cast and move on until you come across fish; anywhere along this front can produce.
Blea Wyke Steel
Probably the most popular venue at Ravenscar, but it takes about 20 minutes to walk from the bottom of the track to Blea Wyke Steel. As the tide starts to ebb then the Steel becomes progressively more exposed.
Once onto Blea Wyke Steel you are fishing into very deep water. Fish can be taken here all year round and it fishes well in both summer and winter, best months being from December to March, but good fishing can be had in June and July for red cod.
The ground is very heavy kelp at the point nearest the shoreline, and, as you progress to the end of the steel, the snags become less and the water deeper with more tide. On the very point of the Steel, sub-surface ledges can be felt as fished are dragged up from the depths. Fishing is best here from about two hours either side of low water.
Directly South of Blea Wyke Steel is Lady Green, where the ground becomes more boulders and kelp. The cliff directly behind is very low, forming a bracken-covered depression at the foot of the higher cliffs.
Fish can be taken throughout the tide; best times are over high and low water on spring tides. It can fish well in summer.
If John Lennon Airport sounds right at home in Liverpool, for obvious reasons, Jericho Lane is a very different matter.
The moment Bill Lindfield points you in the direction of Jericho Lane when you fish Otterspool promenade, it is impossible not to wonder what link with the Holy Land gave rise to such an address in Liverpool 17.
God and rod, it turns out, are the two major themes in the history of this suburb on the Mersey’s north bank. The original Otter’s Pool was part of a creek that fed the river and was a prize fishery for centuries.
Local monks were granted fishery rights here in the 13th century and it was only in the late 1800s that industrialisation began to take its toll on fish stocks. "Twenty years ago, there was plenty of fish to be got on the Mersey waters,” reflected Samuel Kennerley at the time, one of the last generations of commercial fishermen to resist eviction from Otterspool’s Fisherman’s Cottage. “At this spot, salmon, codling, whiting, fluke, sole and shrimps (none better) - but now…the dirty water has driven them away. Garston Docks spoiled the fishery, and the Manchester Canal was the final nail."
Meanwhile, farmland had been leased to a community of Puritans in the 16th century, whose religious devotion displayed itself in place names. The creek feeding Otter’s Pool was re-named River Jordan and one of the farms was christened Jericho. Were those devout folk still around today, no doubt they would be claiming the Mersey’s return to fishing form as a miracle. As it is, the mark has no shortage of pilgrims.
“It’s very popular for match fishing because the fish are so accessible,” explains Bill. “We’ve had a good run of 2-3lb codling recently and you can get them anywhere from five to 15 yards out.”
Situated six to eight miles upriver, the prom is sheltered to the point where your fishing will rarely be blown off (although Bill says an easterly win can quieten proceedings somewhat) and it is blessed with an established supply of fish. No wonder that a recent two-day match there was won with 42 fish.
The promenade was opened in 1950, its construction partly a case of ‘needs must’ for a city looking for somewhere to dump vast quantities of rock and gravel after scooping out the Mersey Tunnel.
The result is a two-mile stretch that is not only popular with anglers but also joggers and those out for a stroll.
A popular match venue, the prom’s easy access makes it particularly suited to disabled anglers, who have the bonus of fish within easy casting range.
There is a channel 60-80yd out from the prom that is also good for fish but the tide run there is formidable (“like The Flying Scotsman on anything over 26ft,” according to one local angler) rendering it unfishable apart from during the slacker water of mid-tide. At any other time, you should concentrate your efforts on the margins.
“It can fish well in summer for eels,” says Lindfield, “but it’s mainly a winter mark, with the best time being October to February, whenever the tide is between 25ft and 28ft. You’ll get the occasional dab but it’s mainly whiting and codling, with the whiting found in the channel and codling closer to the wall.”
The mark fishes both by day and night, although as with any venue in an urban centre, you have to be mindful of neighbourhood rogues. A look at the local Internet message boards reveals the occasional story of parked cars being broken into here, although Bill has fished numerous competitions at Otterspool, travelling across the river from his Wirral home, and he says he has never known crime to be a major problem.
Tackle and bait
“For tackle, I use a 12-15ft rod, 15-18lb line and a standard two-hook flapper rig,” he points out. “If I’m targeting codling, I’ll use 25-30in snoods and 2/0- 4/0 hooks and a plain lead if I’m fishing rougher ground. The margins can get a bit snaggy because there used to be a dump nearby.
“If I fish the channel, then I use a grip lead of 5-6oz to counter the tide, although if it gets too strong the fish stop feeding anyway.
“For whiting, I cut back to snoods of 18-20in and 1/0 hooks. They take mackerel or a black lugworms and mackerel cocktail. Codling prefer crabs, fresh or frozen, or fresh lugworms tipped with a piece of frozen crab.”
The whiting here come between 27 and 42cm, while codling weigh in at the 1lb 8oz to 3lb, which is about 35-60cm. There are a lot of small fish around but expect occasional fish to 10lb.
One final word of warning; please note the accompanying car parking instructions because parking on the promenade could earn you a quick invitation from the boys in blue to park elsewhere. We understand some local residents could out-draw Jesse James for the phone when they see the ‘no parking’ rules being flouted. Perhaps some of that Puritan spirit still lives on…
There is a large car park at Jericho Lane. If the Britannia Inn’s car park on Riverside Drive is not too crowded already, the owner might be willing to allow the occasional angler’s car to use the pub’s car park, provided you intend to patronise the establishment once you have finished fishing. You should always ask first. Parking bays are also available off Riverside Drive.
Wrasse fishing is often a holiday pastime centered around a few hours of float fishing at a handy harbour breakwater or rock mark, where a cooler bag full of cold soft drinks and a decent pair of sunglasses are as important as your bucket of bait.
So why was I standing on top of Portland Bill’s famous Pulpit Rock on a bitterly cold and frosty day freezing my bits off a week before Christmas 2005...fishing for wrasse. Surely, the scientists have got this global warming thing completely wrong?
There were three of us sat on top of this exposed rock, including my regular angling pal Byron Way and local shore angling expert Pete Hegg.
When it is running the tide literally powers past Portland and Pete had told us it would be pointless attempting to fish until the thundering flow started to ease towards low-water slack. Yet we had to claim our places on the rocks two hours early in order to secure the hot spot on to top of Pulpit, such is the popularity of this extraordinary venue.
Take it from me, two hours of waiting to fish on top of an exposed Dorset rock outcrop in mid-December tests the most ardent angler's enthusiasm. Bet you have tried the hot coffee cup hand-warmer trick?
The upside was the waiting time gave Pete a window to brief us on the fishing. Originally from Cheshire, Pete moved to Portland over three decades ago when he was serving in the Royal Navy and based at the famous dockyard.
Always a keen angler, for years Pete’s RN status gave him privileged access to fish inside the dockyard, but of course he spent a lot of time exploring further afield, notably Chesil Beach, the Purbeck coast and the southern coast of Portland, including Pulpit Rock, which is a five-minute drive from his home.
With such a wealth of fishing opportunities at his fingertips you would expect Pete’s personal best list to make impressive reading and it does. He has caught cod to 20lb 10oz, gilthead bream to 6lb, several 40lb-plus conger eels, bass to 12lb 10oz and plaice to over 4lb... all from the shore.
But it is Pete’s personal best ballan wrasse that sets him apart from other anglers, a clonking great 9lb 1oz brute that since 1998 has topped the British shore record list. And guess what? We were fishing in exactly the same spot where he caught the record-breaker all those yeas ago.
I expect you can sense my excitement and it wasn’t because Santa was just a week away.
Before continuing this tale I should also tell you that, for many years, Pete and his son Martin were the only father and son duo to simultaneously hold British records. Back in 1990 Martin, then just eight years old, caught a 1oz 2dr butterfly blenny to establish a record that has only recently been broken. Ironically, it was only beaten after Martin, who at the time was crewing aboard the Weymouth charter vessel One-For-His-Knob, correctly identified the bigger fish one of the anglers had caught on the boat.
Pete is undoubtedly an extremely knowledgeable and committed angler, for besides his record fish he has landed several over 7lb and a great many over 5lb, the benchmark for what many wrasse anglers regard as being a big ballan wrasse.
Lost - a 12lb ballan
As the tide eased I was keen to learn more and asked Pete if he had ever lost a wrasse he felt was even bigger than the record. I could almost see his mind flashing back to one particular morning, when he was fishing in the dockyard.
“My lad Martin and I were fishing a match,” recalls Pete, “and the youngster was using a tiny little rod to snatch small wrasse, pout and other species close to the wall.
“Eventually he wandered off to play with his mates, as young lads do, leaving me to watch his rod. Before too long I noticed the light tip rattling to the tune of a hooked fish, so I picked up the rod and tried to reel in.
“Once the fish felt resistance the light rod tip was pulled down savagely as a good fish tried to escape. At first I though I had a bass on the line, which wasn’t good news for me bearing in mind the gear I was using.
‘I didn’t really expect to land whatever I had hooked, so I tried to be patient to draw it towards the surface. I was still convinced I was attached to a bass, so you can imagine the shock when the mother of all ballans rolled on the surface, a tiny little goldsinny wrasse clamped firmly in its jaw.
“My problems were just beginning because I was fishing off a high harbour wall and had to try and lead the wrasse some 30 feet to some steps.
“Things started out well enough until the fish decided it had had enough, opened its mouth and spat out the smaller fish. To my horror the big wrasse hadn't even been hooked.
“Even now I flashback to that day because it was a double -figure fish that may have weighed around 12lb.”
It certainly makes you question whether or not it was this single fish that keeps him on the trail of those big ballan wrasse?
Tricks of the trade
Time was ticking by and I wanted to land a wrasse, particularly with the challenge of such strong tides and a gear graveyard waiting below the waves.
We had equipped ourselves with meaty beachcasters that had enough poke to wrestle a 5oz sinker and muscle-packed wrasse up to the surface. Pete had urged us to fish with fast-retrieve reels that had the ability to hold several hundred yards of 30lb line. Fine but what about terminal gear?
“You’ve got to keep things simple,” advised the master. “It’s common sense that the more bits and pieces built into your rig, the more chance there is of something getting snagged or breaking.
“My only concession to terminal gear is a three-way swivel tied directly to the end of my mainline. To the bottom I attach a short length of 30lb line to which the sinker is tied, no rotten bottom, and to the other eye I tie a 30lb hooklength.
“Some anglers use a stand-off loop, but from my experience they are not as strong as the three-way swivel.
“When it comes to bait choices you have two options,” says Pete, “hardback crabs - either common green shore crabs or velvet swimmers - or hermit crabs. Hermits will catch you more fish, but there’s no doubt if you want a bigger ballan then bait up with a hardback.
Worms and peeler crabs will also take plenty of smaller fish, especially throughout the summer. Pete first removes all of the legs then the carapace of a hard crab. If it’s a big one he'll cut it in half, which really gets the juices flowing. Smaller crabs are fished whole. The perfect hook is a 2/0 Kamasan B940.
That’s just the sort of key information Byron and I needed. What left me confused was the fishing season, which I had always thought peaked in autumn.
“The best wrasse fishing starts in October and continues right through into the New Year, with everything hinged on water temperature. Certainly from my experience sport peaks around the Christmas,” confirmed Pete.
“We will soon see,” I quietly chuntered under my breath as Pete lobbed a bait some 60 yards out from Pulpit over a deep ledge rising up from the sea bed.
Hang on, here we go
Pete not only talks the talk but walks the walk, so within minutes was clocking up his first bite. He missed that fish, we had already been warned to expect plenty of missed bites or end up snagged.
A tip here from the Hegg fishing guide is if you find yourself locked solid into a fish that has gone to ground immediately give slack line, which could result in the fish pulling the lead free. It worked a couple of times for us.
Pete’s second cast produced a thumping bite followed by a bent rod that resulted in him handlining a solid fish straight up the side of Pulpit. And what a first fish it was; our session kicked off with a colourful 4lb 15oz beauty, which was released back into the tangle of kelp, rocks and tumbling seas. Fish number two fell to Pete’s rod, another 4lb-plus cracker, and during the next couple of hours we had bites galore. Biggest fish I photographed before the tide kicked in weighed over 5lb. I bet you can guess who caught it.
Portland and Pulpit Rock must be one of the hottest wrasse marks in the country.
Three anglers can comfortably fish off the top, but obviously you need to be extremely careful. Having fished Pulpit I can’t say I’d relish the prospects of fishing here at night and obviously the weather should always be a consideration; the mark is exposed to southerlies.
This is definitely not a mark that is suitable for junior, elderly or less able anglers. There are plenty of suitable flat ledges either side of Pulpit that also produce plenty of fish.
Other species on the cards include mackerel, pollack, conger eels, garfish, bass and a few cod - occasionally very big ones, all depending on the season.
You can fish off Pulpit on all sizes of the tide, with the prime time being from two hours before low water, up to two hours before the next high tide, based on Weymouth tide times.
To get to Pulpit, follow the signs from Weymouth over the Ferrybridge onto Portland then the brown tourist board signs out towards the lighthouse. There is a pay and display car park with toilets and a café, but be sure to pay for your ticket otherwise you will get a parking fine. It’s a short walk to Pulpit Rock, which you’ll find located on the western corner. Convenient hand and foot holes have been cut into the rock... but please be careful.
Tempting fate, bad karma – whatever you want to call it, I now know what you shouldn’t say when your mate says Roker Pier has been producing cod to 7lb all day.
“Great, cod guaranteed then,” I replied, before compounding the voodoo by setting out the terms of tomorrow’s visit. “First to ten fish, and everything less than 5lb goes back.”
It turned out I would not even wet my line before cracks in my confidence began to appear. Arriving at the pier at 6am, I met some anglers who were just coming off the ‘night shift’.
“Nowt doing mate”, they warned, as they clambered into a taxi. This was hard to believe, as the conditions seemed spot-on, with a nice lazy swell running into the pier.
Bob Surtees, whose tip-off had got me here in the first place, was already fishing into the first hole on the seaward side, about 100 metres along the pier.
Access all areas
Because of the nature of the ground, Roker is one of those venues where there is no need to make a headlong rush for the end of the pier. The best fishing can often be found just behind the breakers, where there are several inviting holes.
As the rest of the pier overlooks much the same terrain, it is a good idea when the conditions are right to start off at the bottom of the pier and work your way to the end until you find feeding fish.
We fished here for a couple of casts with single big lugworm baits tipped off with razorfish on size 4/0 Pennell rigs; a typical Roker cod set-up.
Unfortunately, only a few small rockling-type bites and lots of loose weed in the water forced us to move further up the pier, with no success.
The pier has broken ground on either side and there are areas where the bottom is very snaggy, with kelp beds and rock outcrops. The end, however, is relatively clean ground and snags are not too common, but when they do happen it is usually due to lost tackle and debris collecting on the bottom.
It was to the end that we now relocated ourselves, as it was beginning to look as if the departing anglers had been right.
Staying with the same big baits to try to pick up a cod (and hopefully deter the whiting long enough to give the cod a chance to find the bait) we swapped for grip leads and had a few hours fishing off the end while watching a bright winter sunrise.
We had bites almost straight away, but they were the short, sharp knocks of a typical whiting bite.
It doesn’t matter how big your baits and hooks are; the permanently ravenous whiting will easily take a 4/0 hook right down.
Whiting on the wall
These were not too bad, with the odd bigger ones around the 1lb mark. There were obviously a lot of them around, hitting the baits hard before any others got to it first. Survival of the fittest must make it a tough world beneath the surface when natural food is scarce.
Even after an hour or so of nothing but whiting, all of us fishing on the end were still convinced that a few cod would turn up any time now, and whenever anyone had a slightly harder, more vicious bite, he would quickly pick his rod up just in case, but it was whiting all the way.
Nevertheless Bob and I had a good session; the whiting were of a reasonable size and most were nice, fat specimens, not the skinny, parasite-infected ones that sometimes turn up.
We had around 15 ‘keepers’ between us, but we put most of them back when possible, Bob only keeping those that had been badly hooked.
On lighter gear and multi-hook rigs, baited with the classic whiting bait of worms tipped off with mackerel, we could have had two fish at a time.
Refusing to give up on the cod, we moved back down the pier for a few more casts into the rock and kelp, which eventually resulted in a coalfish for Bob.
Resigned rather than inspired, however, he promptly announced with a shrug of the shoulders that this was not going to be the day for cod.
There is always next time, though. Just to prove the point, a few days later, local angler Micky Quayle landed a cod of 12–13lb from the pier, and other anglers had fish to 7lb.
Bob has a conspiratorial smile on his face as we pack up our gear. “Cod on Hendon Wall tonight,” he promises, optimistic as ever.
I make do with a nod. I’m not going to jinx it for us this time.
Begun in the 1880s, Roker Pier took 22 years to build and the 2880 feet long breakwater, with its distinctive red and white granite lighthouse (home to the most powerful port light in the country at the time) was officially opened in 1903.
The pier guards the north side of the River Wear and is a popular year-round venue, particularly in the summer, both for match and pleasure anglers.
The pier can produce a variety of species, including local rarities such as conger eels, turbot, pollack, shad, herring and dogfish, all of which have been caught in recent years.
Pollack seem to be increasing in number, with plenty of specimens around the 2-3lb mark now being caught in summer on mackerel gear. Shad also seem to be reasonably common then and are taken on small mackerel lures and fl oat-fi shed baits, as well as bottomfished worm bait.
There are two shad species around the British Isles - the allis shad and the twaite shad, both of them estuarine fish.
They are a protected species, so if you catch something that looks like a large herring with big scales and a deep forked tail, it is likely to be a shad and should be released.
Herring are caught on lures and float baits intended for mackerel. The Northern Federation record is just over 5oz so if you do catch something bigger than this, make sure it is not a shad.
Coalfish are still here, although nowhere near as numerous as they once were. On a good day in late summer, you can still have a good session for coalfish down the pier side with light tackle and worm, crab, or mussel baits.
All of the usual species can be caught from the pier end at some time, and it is a favourite spot for flounders, whiting, and summer mackerel.
During the summer the mackerel often stay around until early October, and when they are present in numbers the mackerel bashers tend to monopolise the end, many of them armed with heavy beachcasters, feathers, cider bottles and little consideration for others; a combination that has caused some nasty accidents in the past, so be wary.
The remainder of the pier can be excellent for spinning and fl oat-fishing tactics, with mackerel often present only 50 metres from the shore, sometimes on both sides of the pier.
A good mark is opposite the first flight of steps on the seaward side, where there is a good chance of picking up a bigger coalfish or pollack on float-fished sprat or mackerel strip.
This same area is a well-known winter cod mark when there is a slight to moderate swell running,and will often out-fish the end.
On the seaward side, there is a big kelp bed to fish into and on the inside, during a good south-easterly sea, the fi shing can be even better. At the right time, with a moderate to slight swell running, it can be a very productive cod mark.
During the summer and into September, an all-night session can be productive for cod taken on fresh crabs, while worm baits produce the whiting which move in during darkness.
Expecting cod, I was using my Cono-flex Nemesis rod and Abu 7000 multiplier reel, loaded with 18lb Berkley Trilene and a long 50lb leader.
Even on this relatively stiff rod, however, the whiting bites still looked quite spectacular when the bait had been hit hard. I was using a standard leger rig with a size 4/0 Aberdeen plus a 4/0 Viking as the top Pennell hook, on 25lb memory-free line.
The long leader is used in case a bigger fish has to be hand-lifted up the side or taken to the beach, when the long 50lb leader can be retrieved earlier than a short one, without putting too much strain on the lighter mainline.
This isn’t such a problem when fishing the inside of the pier or the round end because there are a few sets of steps here down to the water’s edge.
The most important piece of gear needed - a drop net or landing net - would overcome most problems likely to arise when steering a fish to the steps.
Bob was using his favourite Zziplex Primo rod and a Daiwa SL30SH reel set up similarly to my Abu, but he preferred to use a pulley rig rather than a fixed leger rig.
If I had known that the menu would be whiting-only, I would have used an Abu Zoom beachcaster, which is a bit softer in the tip and more sporty but can still handle a big fish with a bit of care.
The one thing that lets Roker pier down is that it is low in the water and unfishable in anything rougher than a moderate to slight swell.
If you are planning a winter session, you must be prepared to move to another venue if the conditions are rough.
There are plenty of marks a short distance away in the river and it is only a short journey north to the River Tyne and South Shields pier, which is much more protected in a northerly sea.
Roker Pier has a barrier across its entrance and access is via a small gate which can be closed at short notice and does not always open again straight away when any rough seas start to drop.
Leave the A1M at J65, heading east on the A1231 until you reach Monkwearmouth, when you join the B1289 (Queen’s Road).
This road becomes Kier Hardie Way and will take you past Sunderland AFC’s Stadium of Light on your right-hand side.
At the junction with the A183, turn right onto the latter and then left some 300yd later into Dame Dorothy Street, which eventually becomes Harbour View, taking you into the vicinity of the harbour, flanked to the north by Roker pier. For refreshments, there is a new café next to the pier car park.
Carved out of numerous rocky juts and indentations, the Muchalls shoreline brims with obvious cod potential. Having never fished the stretch before, it’s a place that has intrigued me for many years.
An old friend, who hung up his shore poles long ago, used to recount tales of hardy cod anglers streaming off the steam train at Muchalls and heading for the nearby rock marks.
“The catches made on primitive tackle and baits were usually enough to keep families in fresh white fish for days,” he used to say. Sadly, the railway station is no longer there and the standard of North Sea cod fishing has disappeared down its own plughole in the most recent decades.
The one bright light is that these indomitable rocks are a constant and there is no reason why decent numbers of cod, by today’s standards, shouldn’t be caught here.
I could see no reason why the area wouldn’t produce fish in the modern era, but my curiosity has always niggled as to why there is little mention of Muchalls among the regular cod-roving fraternity. Could it be well guarded a secret? Or, maybe, there was an downside to the place? Maybe it was time for Souter to investigate.
Cod fishing in Scotland’s north-east had been indifferent in the days and weeks leading up to my weekend visit. Our band of five adventurers weren’t exactly bursting with ideas; my suggestion to give Muchalls a bash met with no objections, probably because they didn’t have any ideas either.
In keeping with many such coastal settlements, the charming surrounds of Muchalls and its rocky outward crust are steeped in sinister history.
Stories of smugglers’ warrens and ghostly phantoms abound, but, for all that, Scotland’s most famous bard, Robert Burns, once described Muchalls as “a good deal romantic.”
If first impressions count for anything, it is difficult to disagree with the man whom I hold responsible for my annual intake of a sheep’s stomach stuffed with minced offal and spiced meal.
The race is on
Muchallsis an expansive area and I had no directions to any specific marks. Views of the shore edge from the high cliffs at the northern end of the venue are a sight to behold. Landmarks with captivating names, like Grim Brigs and Brown Jewel, adorn the maps.
If the names on paper prick the attention, seeing the area for real is something else. There is a savage splendour to the broth of raw rock features greeting the unsuspecting eye.
Various little rock islands that oozed cod potential caught our attention. These were lapped and, in some cases, surrounded by the incoming tide. An isolated sea stack, known as the Old Man of Muchalls, stood out to the right, while rock-strewn basins cut into the shore either side of lumping great hillock directly in front of us.
The place was a scatter of choices, most which I would later come to rue passing over. The grass is always greener they say and, after a brief inspection of all before us, we decided to head for an obvious point that protruded well out to sea about a mile in the distance. Getting there wasn’t a walk in the park, especially when carrying rod holdalls and rucksacks stuffed with lead weights.
Five of us yomped for 25 minutes across several fields, creaky stiles, dry stone dykes, streams and footbridges. We had no prior experience of the area, so this was a simple case of following our noses towards the sea.
The sweaty toil aside, it wasn’t an unpleasant trail in the sun, but the killer irony here is that I later discovered we could have deviated down an alternative quiet track and parked up a couple of hundred yards from Doonie Point, which I later discovered was the obvious mark we were heading for.
Cresting the last rise, we were again greeted by the rough shoreline. We had emerged only a short distance from the point and access to it looked straightforward. It was then I spotted two anglers cutting across the field to our right; they had spotted us too and were now galloping towards the mark ahead of us.
You realise there was a much shorter route - the sea angling party pause at a footbridge over a stream during their route march
Room for two
Unlike us, Craig Dempsey and John Osinski, from Fife, the newcomers, had fished here before. They knew that space was at a premium and that first to reach the mark would claim the prime spots.
John was off like a shot, scurrying over rocks and up onto the point like a proverbial rodent up a drainpipe. As expected the Fife lads commandeered the point, and with no Plan B up our sleeves, we split up.
I won’t spout bull about using skill and watercraft to pick a likely spot because the truth had more to do with beggars, choosers and necessity.
The flood was an hour-and-half old and was already forming a wide trough that snaked behind us. Stan Eggie and his fishing-mad grandson opted for the safety of a higher spot several hundred metres back. With time the enemy on the lower rocks, Mark Davidson, Shaun Cumming and I gambled on a plateau of rock in front of a string of big rocks that would act as safe stepping-stones back across the rising moat of seawater when the time came to bail out.
Lug and crab baits carefully mounted on simple single hook rotten-bottom rigs quickly winged their way seawards. However, lack of venue knowledge stung me minutes later when an attempt to strike a solid bite saw me snagged solid and lose the lot.
The fuller nature of what we were casting into became obvious when Mark and Shaun tried to wind in and found themselves locked into sea bed.
Shuffling along the rocks in the hope of identifying a less vicious tract didn’t help, while long casting or short made no difference to our tackle casualties.
With a cautious eye on the fast-filling gully behind, I caught sight of action back along at the point. John’s rod was pulled over into a healthy bend, and he was now carefully working to draw the fish ashore. Craig stood close by ready to get involved should an extra pair of hands be required.
Acodling of about 4lb broke surface and, seconds later, John dipped his rod and swung the kicking fish to hand with an assured expertise. He then hoisted a cod in the direction of three envious pairs of eyes.
John’s success was the final straw and our cue to beat a retreat. With the tide well up in the gully and our route to safety fast disappearing under water, we conceded defeat and abandoned the rock. Stan and his grandson joined us at the top of the shoreline and reported the total of a couple of coalfish from equally merciless ground that they promised never to revisit.
On the way back to the cars, we stopped to chat with John and Craig. In stark contrast to our misfortunes, it turned out they had both missed other fish and lost only a couple of lead weights. What price local knowledge?
It would be easy to be dismissive of Muchalls on the strength of this bad experience, but I won’t be throwing in the towel just yet.
I still have a hunch about the place, an infuriating itch that still needs scratching. Putting events in perspective, we learned exactly the areas of Muchalls not to fish, which I suspect is only part of the picture. I saw too many mouth-watering possibilities from where we first surveyed the shoreline to concede defeat after one bad outing.
If the opposite end of the venue that I earlier ignored comes up trumps then I’ll let you know. If not, then I’ll never mention Muchalls again.
If we had paid closer attention to the map and parked at Bridge of Muchalls, rather than a full mile further back at Muchalls itself, we would have had only a short hop to Doonie Point.
Take the A90 past Stonehaven and on towards Aberdeen. Turn off at Bridge of Muchalls, which is clearly signposted on the main drag just before Muchalls.
Follow the road to the end and park carefully alongside the little cluster of stone dwellings and outbuildings.
Doonie Point is a short jaunt from here and obvious from the edge of the shore.
See Ordnance Survey Landranger map 38.
When describing Cardiff Foreshore it’s best to use the term 'beach' advisedly. For Cardiff Foreshore is the ugliest, uninviting, awkward and certainly the most uninspiring rat-infested place you can go for a good day out.
Shoe-horned between the industrial sprawl of Cardiff docks and the thickly coloured, swift flowing waters of the upper reaches of the Bristol Channel, the coastline looks like the outskirts of an Iraqi town paid a courtesy visit by the US air force.
The smashed concrete slabs and girders, tangled steelwork and the general detritus is all that's left of a once profitable, productive and now long lamented industrial age. Put bluntly, the place is a bloody mess.
So why aren't anglers advised to head further west where the beaches don't look like a war zone? Or even the numerous mud and peat venues to the east, marks that might be messy to fish but at least they do resemble a more natural environment?
It's all down to fish. The foreshore is one of hottest shore venues in the area and over the autumn and winter months has been one of the best cod marks for miles
Visit first before fishing
Often I advise sea anglers to make the effort to visit a new mark at low water before attempting to fish it, so that the inter-tidal topography and fish-holding features, such as sand bars, gullies and mussel beds, can be pinpointed and snags located.
Cardiff Foreshore extends from The Gut, a small stream that runs onto the beach near the roundabout on Rover Way nearest to the docks entrance, westwards for approximately a mile and a half, almost as far as the Cardiff Bay Barrage.
"It is possible to fish at the foreshore for approximately three hours over high water on all sizes of tides," advises Clive Vedmore, one of the area's most experienced match anglers, "though mid-range to spring tides are by far the most productive.
"The problem with fishing smaller neap tides is that only a few marks are easily fishable and these can become congested, especially when the word is out that the fish are running.
"I have to admit that anglers capable of presenting their baits at range will often have the advantage," says Clive, "but as long as you can cast a baited rig between 60-90 yards you'll catch fish.
"Quite often the biggest cod, which includes doubles, are caught by anglers fishing very close in. Daytime fishing can be very good, but often more fish are caught at night," he advises.
A brace of Cardiff Foreshore codling for Gary Parsons.
Catch more than cod
A wide variety of species can be caught with cod top of the list and the first codling appearing by early September. Sport generally peaks late autumn/early winter, but in recent years there have been plenty of fish around until well into the spring.
Whiting fishing throughout the autumn can be warm work and I once watched former world champion Jimmy Jones amass an impressive haul of over 50 sizeable whiting during a four-hour match here. This season the whiting haven't shown.
The foreshore is noted for conger eels, with plenty of fish into low double-figures and even an occasional 20-pounder from spring to autumn; winter too if conditions remain mild.
Other species include silver eels, bass, flounders, mullet and occasional plaice and soles. Interestingly, dogfish were rarely caught east of Penarth, but these days they are common. Many local anglers, including Clive, feel this is because the nearby Cardiff Bay Barrage and the second Severn Crossing have changed conditions, which suit other types of fish.
For example, vast areas of foreshore, areas that used to comprise entirely of rock and hard ground, are now covered by soft mud that in places is up to a foot thick.
Codling are the attraction for Nigel Davies, at Cardiff Foreshore.
TIPS ON BAITING THE HOOK
Bait should be dictated by target species. If it's cod you want, then fresh or frozen black lug, fresh blow lug and ragworms, squid and peeler crabs either fi shed individually or as a cocktail are killers.
Frozen mackerel is number one for whiting, while congers can be caught on most bait with squid and mackerel being especially effective. Worm baits and peeler crab are tops for flatfish and bass.
Aren't you lucky? The foreshore doggies clean up everything. If you are ace at mini shark snatching then I suggest you fish with fish bait or squid. Personally I can't really see the point.
Single and twin snood paternosters work well, with most anglers using a twin-hook 2/0 to 4/0 Pennell to carry large baits for cod and congers.
If congers are your thing, you would be well advised to beef up the hooklengths. Heavy mono or even wire would be a wise choice for this.
The swiftly-flowing run of tide demands the use of 5oz or 6oz spiked leads with the mark fishable in most weather conditions, but winds with an easterly aspect will kick up a choppy sea and actually tend to be the least productive.
Lug, squid and crab mounted on a Pennell rig is perfect here.
The easiest way to the foreshore is to leave the A48, Eastern Avenue, at the Cardiff Docks/City Centre exit at Llanedeyrn. Follow the signs for Cardiff Docks, first along Southern Way then Rover Way. The dock entrance is just past the steelworks. Parking is restricted because access to the docks is not allowed unless fishing a prearranged open match. Park on the approach road near to the security gates and walk past the heliport to reach the foreshore.
The old saying that you don't miss something until it's gone might have been written for Scarborough's Marine Drive - a jewel in the crown for sea anglers living near and far.
In its pomp, the All England Codling Championship boasted an entry of more than 500 anglers, hundreds fishing side by side along the Drive.
This year-round mark saw action around the clock in all but the roughest seas. It was a source of easy, relaxed fishing and an eye-catching spectacle for the thousands of visitors to the town, many of whom had never seen prime cod without a coat of batter!
Alas, another saying - 'nothing lasts for ever' - now sadly applies to the revamped Drive. Once a magnet for anglers of all ages and abilities, it is now confined to those whose idea of a super-hero is half John Wilson and half Spiderman.
From the roadside, anglers are faced with a concrete wall about three feet high. This drops away vertically for about 10ft onto granite blocks and man-made acropodes.
You may have thought the acropodes belonged on a hilltop in Athens: sadly, not so. They are actually large concrete blocks that collectively resemble giant sugar lumps in a bowl.
Few of them on the Drive lie sufficiently flat to provide good fishing platforms but the real fun begins when you retrieve fish. Previously, anglers simply had to reel the fish to the foot of the Drive and then haul them up by hook or drop net.
Due to the slope of the acropodes, however, the foot of the sea defences is often as much as 20-30ft out from the base of your fishing platform, which means that smaller fish have to be swung up or dragged over these tricky obstacles.
Fish around 4-6lb can be dead-lifted at a price, but anything larger has to be physically retrieved, meaning someone has to clamber down the smooth acropodes to get the fi sh. No wonder many locals work this mark in pairs nowadays.
This cod was caught by Paul Medd at the Shell Hole - a mark along Scarborough's Marine Drive.
It is not ideal and, sadly, the politics behind the new-look Drive could fill a feature on their own.
Many of us believe the situation could have been improved by proper negotiation between the council and local anglers.
Although there was some consultation, we seemed to be facing a done deal and the sad reality is that the Drive has become out of reach for many of our less-able anglers, especially the kind of youngsters who would have once cut their teeth for rock angling at this very spot.
The hunter-gatherer, however, has always had to adapt to obstacles and even on the remodelled Drive, those of the same spirit are still being rewarded with some excellent catches of fish.
Anglers are now using cut-down portable ladders to descend the wall and gain access to the sea defence system. These ladders are lightweight and can be easily carried by hand should their owners want to move to another position on the Drive.
Fishing in tandem, as so many now do, means that one angler can manage the rods while the other works his way precariously down through the maze of acropodes.
The commando wannabes among them descend the slope by ropes tied round the higher acropodes, while several resourceful souls have taken the old Drive drop net to a new level, constructing landing nets that can be lowered 20 or 30ft.
Not everything about fishing Marine Drive has become harder, however. Access to the favourite low-water mark known as the Coffee Pot, is now relatively easier, allowing more time for fishing while the tide permits.
The mark gets its name from a limestone rock with a coffee pot profile that gracefully rises from the sea at low water. It was previously reached by vertical descent down the Drive by rope or an by extended walk. Fishing here is over low water in all but the roughest conditions
Other favourite marks include the grass bank, pump house, double railing and back of Corrigan's, all of which can be identified by a walk around the Drive. But then you can catch fish almost anywhere you can get a line in.
The secret to the Drive is its protrusion into the sea and the fact that you are fishing into a good depth of water with plenty of tide run.
Most marks, from the north-east corner of the Drive right round to the south side can be fished all through the tide. Most anglers prefer to fish over high water with relatively calm seas on big tides but over the years, fish have appeared at any time, although no matter how much they may be biting, fishing is not recommended when a big sea is running.
Waves often encroach onto the acropodes and come over the wall onto the road itself. Getting drenched could be the least of your worries.
A cut-down ladder really comes in handy when fishing here.
The Drive has always been a top mark on the Yorkshire coast, as a venue that will produce year-round. The predominant species is cod and every year double-figure fish are caught, as well as bags around the 20lb mark.
The Drive boasts a whole range of species, including pollack, coalfish, wrasse, whiting, pouting, mackerel and I have even seen a 14lb conger.
Winter fishing revolves mainly around cod, but summer gives the angler chance to flex some lighter tackle. There has always been a good head of pollack on the Drive and over the past few years their number has increased, with fish up to 7lb and a lot between 2-4lb. Anglers can pursue these fish with a float or light lure, along with mackerel and coalfish, which are also common at this time.
Paul Medd fishing at the Coffee Pot.
The most consistent catches are taken at distance, putting the bait out into the tide.
If this fails, try a cast really close in, where the acropodes provide a haven of nooks and gullies in which both fish and prey hide. Good fishing has been had just 30-40 yards out.
The ground is rough though, so if you are lure fishing don't let the lure sink too far.
Big peeler crab baits, rotton-bottom rigs and plain leads are best at Marine Drive.
Rough terrain and the need to lift big fish some way call for heavy tackle, so standard rock angling fare - 30lb line and 60lb shockleader - should be used.
Lighter lines can be employed to gain extra distance, but that need has to be balanced against the increased chance of wear and tear on the rocks.
Recommended rods are standard 12-13ft rock rods, capable of casting up to 6oz, while reels tend to be of the 7000 size.
Hooks depend on species, but for cod, size 4/0-6/0 hooks are the standard weapons on snoods of at least 30lb. Plain leads from 5-6oz on a rotten-bottom are standard.
For float fishing, an 11ft rod is ideal to control the float and lift fish, along with 15lb line or even braid. Lure fishing is best with most types of metal spinners of around 1oz, but artificial eels seem to be the best tactic for pollack, and also the least expensive, given that numerous tackle losses can occur among the kelp-festooned defences.
Extra items peculiar to this mark, as previously explained, would include a cut-down ladder, a 20ft landing net and a rope.
This brace of cod for Dave Medd were caught at the Shell Hole mark.
Summer fishing is best with fresh crabs, which will catch most species, but if targeting pollack with a float, mackerel or sandeel strip is best. If lure fishing,
Wedges and Kosters are ideal spinning lures, whereas artificial eels and shads work well for pollack
In winter, frozen crabs and worms are best baits, but mussels and razorfish will all catch fish
The way ahead?
If it's hardly a model venue for comfortable fishing, the new look Marine Drive at least provided a pointer to the future of sea angling when it hosted its first match.
The competition turned out to be a fish bonanza, with several bags of over 30lb, individual fish up to 9lb and countless caught in the 3-6lb range.
For several weeks afterwards, good fishing continued, but after a while the returns became normal again, prompting the theory that because it had been unfished during construction of the new sea defences, fish had moved into the area in numbers.
The main road into Scarborough is the A64. From here, head straight for the foreshore, where you can't miss Marine Drive, which runs along the foot of the famous headland on which Scarborough castle sits.
There is ample parking all the way around the Drive; although there is a charge from April to October.