I have realised of late that the sea fishing calendar, for me, is split into distinctive blocks marked by the different fish species I aim to try to catch throughout each year. Not for me birthdays, bank holidays and other auspicious dates, my calendar lists cod, plaice, smoothhounds, bass and rays.
Obviously a little adaptation is required at times. Once I had realised, with a sinking heart, that my nemesis, the cod, were distinctly absent on the Kent and Essex coast during the winter of 2016/17 I had to readjust my thinking, and had a great couple of months chasing thornback rays, as so many of my fellow anglers have done too.
As February hove into view my thoughts turned to plaice fishing. A beautiful looking fish with its distinctive and unmistakeable orange spots, and occasionally white spots are present if their habitat has a large smattering of white mollusc shells on the sea bed. One of the thrills of fishing, for me, is that if I get the tides, weather and venue right I know that I will be in with a better than average chance of catching the species of fish I am targeting, and plaice fishing requires a fair bit of planning. Given the often unpredictable and changeable weather the British Isles experiences, and with a window of only a couple of months (February through to April), if everything comes together you will almost certainly catch a plaice.
Alan Masters was quickly among the plaice.
The Kent and Sussex coast, including Hythe, which is situated on the edge of the Romney Marsh on the southeast coast of Kent, was our venue for this trip. Eastbourne and Brighton are two good marks off the Sussex coast and all within an hour-and-a-half’s drive from home. Marks change over the years and Hythe for me has improved markedly since the rock groynes have been established. These appear to have created soft mudbanks that the plaice happily bury into, covering their backs and merging in with the sea bed.
Hythe itself has an important history as one of the Cinque Ports and was once a busy harbour. It sits between Hasting and New Romney to the west and Dover and Sandwich to the east. There is a military training ground at Hythe that takes up a large section of the shoreline and is obviously restricted, and when in use you will see the red flags flying. However, there is always plenty of shoreline to spare for us anglers.
Trying to arrange a plaice fishing trip, as I have mentioned, can be tricky. If the weather and conditions are perfect it’s not easy for all involved being able to fish; what with work and other commitments, it’s a real balancing act. The wind that week had been all over the place (excuse the pun); however, as everyone was available we decided to go for it.
The aim when plaice fishing is to have very calm conditions and as clear water as possible – that’s the ideal. In my experience Hythe fishes best with building spring tides, with high water around midday. Prior to a planned trip I would prefer approximately five days of offshore wind (at Hythe this is a northerly wind) or none at all. The optimum time here, in my experience, is an hour before high water, over the high and one hour down.
European plaice migrate into deeper water during the autumn and winter and with the mating season taking place between December and February they will travel up to 20 miles over a 14-day period to reach the spawning areas, so you will begin to understand how anglers only have a short window to catch these fish. This is without factoring in the weather!
I had spoken with Darren Mills, Paul Gunner, Allan Matthews, Daniel Bradley and Gareth John to see if they would be around for a plaice meet at Hythe when the conditions were as good as we could get, so it was just a matter of trying to find a day when everyone was available.
Darren has been sea and freshwater fishing for 20 years and is a brilliant tactician, and when asked where his favourite mark simply replies: “Wherever the fish are.” Paul is another superb all-round fresh and shore angler, who I know would show us all how to catch plaice. Living just across from the mark, he could wander across, catch the plaice and wander home again with panache.
Daniel fishes regularly with Darren and has been fishing for about 10 years, while Allan from Surrey has been a regularly fishing buddy for the last few years and is definitely a safe pair of hands, calm and organised – I knew I could rely on him. And Gareth, a lifelong friend, brilliant angler and skipper with so much experience; shared memories always keep us going, even when the fishing is poor.
Great anglers with a huge amount of experience between them, and a proven track record of brilliant fishing wherever we’ve been. When organising a fishing trip, having friends of such a high calibre of knowledge and experience makes it a pleasure.
Apart from getting the weather and tides as near to perfect as is possible there are, in my experience, no hard and fast rules when targeting your chosen fish. Confidence plays a big part and if something works for you on a regular basis then stick with it, while keeping an eye on the latest thinking.
Whether to use beads, sequins, or spoons on your rigs proves this point. When drifting for plaice on a boat they undoubtedly work, especially using a spoon. Anecdotal evidence veers towards beads working well as an attractor for plaice, and as they are sight feeders it makes sense. A trip to Hythe in April, 2016, proved to be one of those trips that could not go wrong, with eight plaice, some on rigs with beads and others without. Watching those fish swim off when placed in the clear water made the trip perfect. However, I do err on the side of caution and make my single-hook (Varivas size 1) loop rigs with a black/green combination of beads!
Wendy Pullen hedged her bets with the bling on her rigs.
A drifting lead works well and in fact Paul chose that option on this trip. Drifting will work well in clear water, for obvious reasons. Paul dropped two of his spikes, allowing the lead in dig in and pull out, keeping the bait moving.
A trip to Eastbourne in 2016 with Paul proved to be a masterclass in plaice fishing, when I sat back and watched with admiration and incredulity. Paul landed a double shot of plaice and before I could reach for the camera he had returned them. I said that I had wanted to video him with the fish, but before I knew it he landed another double shot and they just kept on coming – 20 fish in one session, with stunning casting to boot.
We were all set up and ready to fish two-and-a-half hours before high tide, and all within shouting distance of each other. No surprise that, as there were plenty of other anglers to the right and left of us, which was brilliant to see as it’s many months since I have seen any venue so busy.
The beach was pretty busy – someone must have mentioned that the plaice were in.
Everyone opted for loop rigs, apart from Gareth, who was fishing with a three-hook clip-down rig. A variety of different coloured beads or no beads were in evidence, and with Darren and Paul producing the most fish you may want to know that Darren chose a red/luminous yellow combo and Paul had orange/yellow on one rig and green/black on his second.
Our choice of bait is non-negotiable; it has to be the freshest black lugworm you can lay your hands on. Gareth, Darren and Paul are all bait diggers and had great big fat worms they had dug that morning. I have found, if you are drifting, a 5in sliver of fresh squid just placed on the hook works well as an attractor; worth a try.
Daniel Bradley, who was alongside Paul and Darren, was the first to shout, landing a lovely plaice. We were away, and it certainly gets the adrenaline coursing through the veins when the fish start showing. Then Paul landed his first plaice, another photograph and I relaxed – we had a feature. The conditions weren’t perfect but the fish were showing. In fact you could see the clear water as a distinct line quite a way out and this is where we were aiming our baits.
Allan to my left landed a lovely plaice and as I finished photographing him, Paul crunched up the beach with a double shot of plaice! Darren, as the high water hit, caught his first fish of the day and every time I looked up I could see him winding in another plaice to add to his tally. Gareth, to my right, with his fresh worms landed two fine plaice. At this point I saw my rod pull to the left and I reeled in my first fish of the session.
Gareth John – a brilliant angler on many species.
There were reports of plaice being caught all along the Hythe shoreline that day, which proves that if you get it right and conditions are in your favour, the fishing can be really good. Everyone was on a high and even when I was packing up I looked along the beach and they were still winding fish in.
Darren Mills (right) and Daniel Bradley (left) with a couple of nice fish.
Rods used that day were Century Tip Tornado Match (Daniel), Paul and Darren chose the Zziplex M4 GT, Allan had a pair of Zziplex Profiles, Gareth a Zziplex HSM and I chose the Zziplex Profile Evo. Reels included Daiwa Tournament (Paul and Gareth), Darren and Daniel opted for the Penn 525 Mag reels and Allan had a pair of Daiwa STs while I went with the Daiwa Tournament ST. I used the Nite Crystal 16lb line with Daiwa Tapered Leaders.
A great place to eat in Hythe is the Spitfire Café, and if there are a few of you going it’s worth ringing ahead (01303 268322). They do a great breakfast.
Mick’s Tackle is situated close to Hythe Railway Station
1 Dymchurch Road
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