I recently joined a social media group on Facebook, called Species Hunt. It offers the chance to win prizes by catching numerous species of saltwater fish from around the UK from the shore, with the added bonus of being free to join and able to fish at your own times and venues.
You register through the Angling Trust website, where you will find the relevant information.
James Lewis, who runs the competition, also runs the Species Hunt Facebook Group. It really is a fantastic group to join, with people always keen to share knowledge with everyone, including identification of species if you are unsure as to what they are.
The competition is sponsored by George Cunningham, owner of TronixPro. He has put together a nice bundle of stuff, which is awarded for a specimen fish, and I also believe that there is a prize for the most species caught during the hunt.
So, having registered, it was all systems go for Chesil Beach.
Now, the mighty Chesil is a world-famous name with many records being taken off here over the years. What’s better for a species hunter is the amount of species this particular venue has to offer. From mini species to specimens, all can be caught here using a whole variety of tactics, from a heavy pulley rig to a three-hook rig with smaller hooks.
The size of the shingle bar (18 miles long) is a breathtaking sight, and one that has to be seen with your own eyes to believe just how big this place really is. It sits along Dorset’s Jurassic Coast and is buzzing with wildlife from dusk till dawn.
My Approach To A New Venue…
I tackled this particular ‘new to me’ venue using two rods; one with a standard pulley Pennel rig, while the other I chose to fish with a three-hook clipped-down rig, baited with a selection of three different baits. These included ragworm, black lug and small strips of squid, to be used to pick off the black bream, late plaice or even a few gurnards.
As with any long journey from South Wales it was only natural that a few of the lads from around my area jumped at the chance to fish this venue. It didn’t take long to get a little group ready to head off there. Simon Monks, Jeff Pike and another mate Gary Old, who you may have seen in previous articles with me back last year, jumped at the chance.
We decided to fish a mark called Abbotsbury, as Simon and Jeff have both fished this area before with good results, including catches of undulate rays, bass, bream, and therefore it was the obvious choice to head to.
Being the first time I have ever fished there I didn’t really know what to expect, so like every angler I overpacked my fishing box, taking three rods ‘just in case’, a little camping cooker for a cuppa and then the essential food supplies. Along with this I took a beach buddy and the Species Hunt Card.
All you have to do is catch a fish, place the fish and card together and e-mail a photo off – it’s as easy as that, really. The hard part, though, is mixing the fishing up to target the different species, and the more you get the harder it becomes.
As we reached the venue, Simon and Jeff explained to me what to expect and how to fish this particular stretch of shingle. Knowledge is key for all marks so it’s worth spreading out a little and using a whole selection of baits to maximise the chances of fish. Absolutely anything can be caught from here, including stingrays and monkfish. You really never know what’s going to be caught – it’s just one of those marks. Also no two tides ever fish the same, as I was to find out.
A red mullet boosted John’s tally.
A streaked gurnard was a potentially heavy scorer.
Setting Up Camp
As on any mark, I like to hold off from everyone else, who are like greyhounds charging to their chosen marks in a frantic rush to set up and send the first baits out. Even more so if I am fishing a mark for the first time, I like to take in the scenery and survey the area. This is a part of fishing that is sometimes only noticed after you have cast out and actually sat back and taken a look around.
While the lads I was with set up camp, I decided to move maybe 80 yards to the far left from them. I set the beach buddy up and unloaded the gear, taking my time to set the gear up while looking out to sea now and again. There were mackerel everywhere and the beach was filling up around us in both directions, mainly with people after the mackerel.
Gary thinks he spots a bite developing.
I set one rod up with a set of feathers and calmly walked towards the sea and sent the feathers out for some fresh bait. After the first cast I had enough to see me through the day and into the evening! With five fish on the feathers that was plenty for me, and I had an added bonus in the shape of a scad, or horse mackerel as they are known. So I was now off the mark on the Species Hunt with two species on the first cast!
Gary, Simon and Jeff were also into mackerel so a photo of them was quickly taken before we switched to baits. It was time for me to set up two rods with bait, one close in and the other as far as I could cast it. I used a Gemini weight to hold in the currents, in the hope of a ray. The other lads did pretty much the same, although different baits were selected for obvious reasons.
It wasn’t long before the rod in close registered the first of the bites, although it failed to materialise into a fish. Just as the light was fading and the mackerel fishermen were departing the shingle, Gary was now onto his second species with a nice gurnard just shy of 1lb in weight. I do like the look of gurnards – a pretty fish, I am sure you would agree, and this one was even more interesting. At first we thought it was a red gurnard, but looking at the photographs when we returned home it may well have been a streaked gurnard, which is a huge tick in the species book for any angler. Shortly after I added a similar fish that looked even more streaked – I was happy with that.
Unfortunately that was the only fish I caught during the late evening, as darkness was fast approaching. There was a feeling of excitement and of course the unexpected suspense of what was going to be caught during the night.
It didn’t take long for the small black bream to show, along with the pouting stripping our baits and getting hooked up in twos or threes at a time. The species count was ticking along nicely, but what I really wanted was an undulate ray, as I have never caught one. This was now my main target fish.
Jeff Pike was delighted with this dragonet – a new species for him.
During The Night
As the light faded the fishing was non-stop, with countless pouting and small black bream being caught almost every cast. A rough tally up between the four of us was around 40 plus of them, but still no rays unfortunately, although Simon did hook into a heavy fish, only for it to free itself of the hooks. Maybe it was a ray, but we will never know.
As darkness began to set in the bites become fewer and far between. With this in mind we had a chat among ourselves to see if we should move to a different part of the shingle or sit it out. We decided that we would stick to our guns and stay at this mark, then had something to eat before getting our heads down for a few hours sleep, ready for the first of the daylight. Our expectations were still high and we hoped that the fishing would be better during the day, with a few more species to show for it also.
Thick-lipped grey mullet were a bit of a surprise.
As the sun broke through the last of the darkness, the baits were sent back out, searching for the fish. It wasn’t long before the red mullet made an appearance, also a first for Jeff, a dragonet. Granted it’s a mini-species, however, it was beautifully marked with its dorsal fin pointing up to the sky. This made a picture-perfect moment, before it was released back into the water once again.
The species count was now notching up. As I hooked into a nice fish at close range, Gary did the honours of landing it. It was giving a good scrap in the shallows and Gary shouted up that it was a nice bass, but in fact it was a thick-lipped mullet! Taken on a two-hook flapper baited with lugworms, I couldn’t quite believe that I had a mullet on the gear I was using. Another nice photo was taken for the species hunt before being released.
Gary had managed to catch one too. Again a few photos were taken before it was released back into the gin-clear water. The longer I was there the more I was beginning to love the place. There is just something about it that screams fish!
Time was now moving on very fast and it was Gary’s turn to pick off a nice plaice, a personal best of 1lb 7oz. Well done mate. I did, though, see what rig he was using and knew that I had a similar one in my arsenal of rigs, so it was obvious I would now turn my attentions to these fish to pick one off for the Species Hunt. A quick change of rig and it was sent out with worm baits. It couldn’t have been in the water for more than 10 minutes when I was rewarded with a plaice. Even though it wasn’t big, it was still another fish off the species hunt list. Again this was photographed and released to fight another day.
Unfortunately that was it for me. It didn’t matter what tactics I used, the fish seemed to move away from me. It was quite frustrating considering that Gary, Simon and Jeff still continued to pull the fish up on to the shingle. Even though the fishing died off it was still nice to get the camera out and take some shots of their catches, and to be able to release the fish for them.
We decided to call it a day at 3.30pm, due to the drive back to Wales. We are already in talks with the local anglers from there to meet up and get on the cod next time, something that I’m quite excited about.
Time To Join Up
Unfortunately, neither of the other boys who I was fishing with had joined the Species Hunt. But after telling them exactly what it was all about they are now keen to sign up. No doubt we will be returning to the mighty Chesil Beach and, you never know, next time I might get my undulate ray to tick off on the species hunt!
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