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.
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.