You know the saying: “Big or small we love them all”? Well, that is my philosophy when it comes to sea angling. There are so many species out there on the UK coastline, from the tiniest of blennies up to the largest of the porbeagle and mako sharks, and targeting this whole variety of fish should be on every angler’s mind.
A good way to do this is to make a fishing session with your mates a species hunt; it’s a fun way to pass the time and it makes things a bit more interesting, as you will have to have make different rigs up with different sized hooks for the variety of species you could find – and a friendly £2 bet for the most species caught adds a little bit of fun to it as well!
With the warmer weather approaching I decided to organise a road trip from East Anglia down to the mighty Chesil Beach, to target the vast array of summer species that appear on the 18-mile-long shingle bank. I put the word out on social media via the East Coast TSF Facebook page that we would be heading down, and that everybody was welcome to join us for what would primarily be a species hunt, but also a social gathering at the same time.
A beautiful Chesil sunset – worth the trip on its own.
Now, I chose Chesil as in my eyes there is no other venue in the country that has the capability to produce the variety of fish that this place does. On a good day in the summer the waters within casting range for even the most novice angler can be like an aquarium, with every cast being a lucky dip. One minute you could have a little red mullet on your hooks, the next you could have a large undulate ray tugging your lines and putting a smile on your face.
The morning of the trip arrived and we started the four-hour journey from Ipswich to Chesil. The weather reports weren’t looking too great, though. Strong southwesterlies had whipped up and this would mean the sea would have a nice swell, but the wind would reduce casting distance. Another downside of this would be that as it was going to be a lumpy sea, so the possibility of finding certain species was dramatically reduced.
Arriving at the Ferrybridge end of Chesil beach we soon unloaded the vehicles, paid the £8 fee for 24 hours car park and started the yomp across the shingle to where we would be fishing.
We opted to head right a few hundred yards to an area with a more clay bottom and ledges that would hopefully hold more fish. Walking for around 20 minutes we reached the spots we would be fishing, made our way down the shingle ridge and started setting up our camps for the next few hours.
The wind was blowing straight in our faces and the sea had a lumpy swell, which scuppered the plans to hit the mackerel, garfish and scad on feathers, leaving just the bottom bait fishing to hopefully produce the goods.
Taking my rig winders out of my seatbox I started picking through my rigs, trying to work out a plan of attack. For this trip I had tied up two-hook flappers and up-and-over wishbones for the smaller species, and some pulley droppers and long up-and-overs for the larger species. My flapper rigs consisted of 80lb Varivas rig body, 20lb Asso Oblivion snoods to size 4 Owner Point hooks; above these hooks were some coloured beads and then directly above the eye was a Bonebass lumi attractor for added appeal. My wishbones were the same make-up of components just with different coloured Bonebass attractors above the hook. The droppers and the up-and-overs also had 80lb Varivas rig body, but these then had 30lb Amnesia snoods to size 3/0 Varivas Big Mouth Xtra hooks for peace of mind if I picked up a big fish.
My buffet selection for the fish consisted of some fresh peeler crabs for if the smoothhounds were about, some absolutely cracking fresh black lug from internet bait company Crab ‘n’ Lug (www.crabnlug.co.uk), fresh raw jumbo king prawns from the local supermarket, unwashed dirty squid, fresh mackerel and some lovely ragworm dug by my fishing partner in crime, Scott Lewin.
Fresh prawns proved to be good fish catchers.
I opted to fish with the flappers to start with, loaded up with a 2in segment of black lug on each hook and tipped off with a sliver of squid. I sent the rig over the foamy breakers into the slightly calmer sea, but with the wind pushing hard straight in our faces casting distance was dramatically reduced.
The thing with Chesil is it’s deep very close in, so finding fish shouldn’t be an issue. With the rig on the sea bed I placed the first rod into the rest and sat back. The weather predictions had been saying on and off rain all day but they couldn’t have been more wrong; the sun was beaming and the hoodies had been thrown down, this was T-shirt weather and fishing on the mighty Chesil in this was total bliss.
Looking out to sea I sat watching terns working beyond the breakers, diving into the churning sea, picking out all the tiny titbits of shellfish and other food items that the waves were dislodging and scattering about in the surf. This boded well for us as these little birds are a great visual aid to the angler; seeing them working is a surefire sign the food is about, and where there is food there will be fish!
It didn’t take long to see the first bite, a nice solid rattle followed by a few thumps was all I needed to see before I wound down into the weight and started retrieving. Getting closer to the beach I could feel a fish was definitely on the hook, but now I had the churning breakers to contend with that could easily tear any fish off the hook if they wanted to. With the leader now visible I waited until I could see a wave forming, and as it pushed up the beach I wound quickly, making the fish ride the wave as it broke until I could see it flapping about on the shingle out of the danger area.
As I got closer I could see it was a lovely little tub gurnard, one of my personal targets for the day, so this put a grin on my face. These are beautiful fish and the fact they croak at you once caught makes them even more appealing in my eyes. With the small bait rod back out with the same bait on it, word soon reached me that a smoothhound had been caught further up the line. This news quickly fired me into action with getting the second rod set up with a pulley dropper and loaded with a whole small fresh peeler bait.
Making sure the drag was set slightly loose it was a case of sit back and wait for the pack to reach me. It didn’t take long for the rod to arch over and line to start stripping from the reel. The fish flew up the tide and snapped off in the blink of an eye! After a few choice words I was soon back in business and this rod was back on full hound alert!
Yet again it walloped over and this time I got the fish in and a nice pup of about 5 to 6lb was on the beach. A few pics and I sent it off on its merry way back into the clear blue sea.
Sitting back enjoying the sun the tip on my flapper rod gave a couple of solid thumps and then pulled over and stayed there. Picking it up I could feel the weight of a nice fish that was pulling like a species I had recently encountered out on the boat, and after a spirited little scrap a chunky little black bream was soon flapping on the shingle.
Next up and into the hounds was Scott Lewin, with another fish of the same stamp as mine. In fact that was the average size all day, with a handful of larger hounds scattered between us. After returning from a chat with Devon lads Kyle Blackmore and Ian Hooper my flapper rod was slack, and after catching up with the weight it was apparent another fish was hooked – within a minute the fish appeared through the surf. It was a flatfish and upon closer inspection the bright orange spots gave the game away; it was a plaice, and a chunky one at that.
Scott Lewin with a nice smoothhound that marked the arrival of a feeding pack.
As the day progressed everybody was catching; it wasn’t fast and furious on the species count but the hounds kept us all entertained. Kyle had a beautiful little red gurnard and a chunky plaice and I was picking gurnards and bass off with pieces of prawn on the flapper rod. I tried feathering but to no avail, this just wasn’t going to be a viable method today.
As the sun started setting we were joined by top Dorset rod John Bentley, who was trying for rays and tope and hopefully was going to get a fish for the camera. Switching tactics for darkness I opted to keep the crab rod going for hounds, which were still frequently hitting, and the other one was going to be mackerel, prawn and squid wraps in the hope that an undulate was hungry. One had come out in the daytime that weighed 9lb 6oz to Ipswich angler Matty Andrews, so we knew they were about.
Ipswich angler Matty Andrews landed this 9lb undulate ray early in the day.
As the light slowly faded away we were treated to a beautiful Chesil sunset, and as the light fell the hounds returned, with me and Scott both picking up two hounds each in the space of five minutes. Great fun, and it certainly kept us all on our toes through the night.
Unfortunately for me, though, all that my fish baits produced were dogfish, with the crab also producing pout and poor cod. Around midnight I heard a shout coming from John and I knew that could only mean one thing – he must have had a good fish. He most certainly did, and a lovely thornback ray of 14lb 4oz lay on the shingle. He was chuffed and so was I for him, what a cracker and what a way to finish the night.
With bass, tub gurnard, red gurnard, herring, black bream, pout, plaice, poor cod, smoothhound, dogfish, common eel, strap conger eel, undulate ray and thornback ray caught between us it wasn’t a bad species-hunting session at all.
A black bream gave a good account of itself in the surf.
If the winds had been in our favour we would have easily racked up a few more different species, but that’s Mother Nature for you, she doesn’t hold back for anyone. As we pulled out of the car park it was agreed that we would be back later in the year for some of what Chesil is most famous for, its cracking winter cod fishing.
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