With a decent spell of weather, it took me no time whatsoever to respond positively to Kelley’s Hero skipper Ian Dale when he told me of a plaice trip that was on his schedule. As usual I was up early, and was quickly on the road to head down to Portsmouth. We had a fairly leisurely 8am start, but with the M25 to contend with you do need a flying start to beat the traffic.
I arrived at Southsea Marina to find Ian already there and readying the boat. I must admit, I was impressed by the Southsea Marina, it was easy to find, offered free parking and, if we had been setting off a bit later, we could have got a breakfast there too.
We were soon joined by the rest of the day’s crew – Ian’s dad, Brian, plus Roy Gattrell, Derek Norman and John Horsley – and after all the introductions had been made we all got busy assembling our gear while Ian organised the bait.
With bait quickly sorted we were soon off and in search of flatties. On the first couple of drifts I rigged up with some Sabikis in the hope of snaring a few fresh mackerel, and if I was really lucky a launce or two to supplement the bait. We had some frozen mackerel but it’s always nice to have fresh bait as well.
The mackerel and launce had their own ideas on the subject, though, and I wasn’t able to add to our bait supplies, which put a bit of a dampener on things.
Obviously we had decent supplies of rag, plus some increasingly hard to get squid, which would feature well on the plaice menu.
However, I do like to have a drift with mackerel strip every now and again when on the plaice grounds. I know plaice will take mackerel strip, and it also puts you in with a better chance of other species. I’d heard that a few brill were showing so I wanted to maximise my chances of landing one as a bonus.
I had asked Ian what size lead we would be needing, and had been given the astonishing, but welcome, news that 2 to 3oz would be fine. We were going to be over pretty shallow water on a rather small tide.
I was able to tackle up the 8ft Leeda Icon 6-12lb class rod in confidence that it would handle the range of leads that we would be using. I’d also bought the 8ft 3in Snowbee 20lb class Skad rod as a backup, as I’ve been caught out when biggish leads are needed.
However, the light rod looked favourite on the day; it would be nice to play fish on, and it would show the takes better too. At less than £40 these rods are an absolute bargain. They are becoming popular with skippers for use as hire rods due to their price, but they are terrific to fish with too. The 8ft length gives them a bit of reach and the action is superb. And having landed fish to double figures on it, the rod has proved itself to be well up to stirring battles.
Skipper Ian Dale’s dad, Brian, enjoyed himself on the trip.
As things turned out the plaice were a bit tough to tempt, and the ones that we did catch were a bit on the small side. A very slow drift speed due to the small tide didn’t help. We were barely making half a knot, and I started to get the feeling that the fish were getting way too much of a good look at our baits, and either not taking them, or ragging them without getting hooked.
We had all started off on decent length traces, but after a couple of hours the hooklengths were trimmed right back. The intention was to turn the rigs into self-hookers by giving the fish less free line to swim about with, turning them into bolt rigs. Even this didn’t always work. I had one bite that seemed confident but didn’t develop. Winding back up to check the bait, the sliver of squid had been neatly removed from the hook, while the ragworm was still wriggling and looked to be untouched.
Eventually I attracted a decent rattle of a bite, which then turned into a solid pull-down. Winding up it was obvious that this wasn’t a tiny plaice, and I’ll admit to being suckered into thinking I’d bagged my brill.
However, what came into sight was a dogfish, which does tell you something about how slowly we were drifting.
On another drift I attracted another strong rattling take, which initially I thought I’d missed as I wound up with little resistance. Tiny plaice? Small gurnard? Wrong on both counts, it was a decent sized scad, an odd capture at full depth.
I decided to borrow Ian’s LRF rod to have a few casts with a very light lead, spinning the bait back along the bottom. It’s a method I’ve picked up a few plaice with, after being shown it by top angling guide Robin Howard.
Unfortunately, by the time I had it rigged up the tide had picked up just enough to make it unviable – I should have stuck to my guns, or done it when I first thought about it!
One or two more plaice showed, but again they were small and were carefully returned. We were grafting pretty hard for scant returns and not even picking up bonus gurnards.
Ian worked very hard, setting us up on decent length drifts, then returning to any that had produced takes. The fish seemed to be holed up in small pods with plenty of space in between. With the water clear we had all gone down to pretty fine hooklengths, which helped somewhat without really setting the place – or the plaice – on fire.
John Horsley tempted this bass with a rhubarb and custard lure.
One thing of note was as the tide picked up a bit of pace the mackerel began to respond. Derek Norman quickly feathered up enough for bait, and also picked up a bonus garfish for his troubles.
It was at this point that Ian came up with a master plan, and offered us a dart at some bass, rather than banging our heads against a brick wall with the tetchy and uninterested plaice.
The mark was well known to several of the crew members; a steep bank that was a bit of a tackle graveyard but which did hold decent bass in fair numbers.
Just how rough it was became clear on the first drift when Roy and I both lost lures.
On the way to the mark we had all retackled with gilling rigs – it was a good job that we had all bought plenty of plastic lures with us.
With bass in mind I searched out my lures that featured plenty of blue and white, and also some that looked very imitative and natural.
Typically John Horsley landed one of the earliest fish on a rhubarb and custard pattern.
The rest of us did stick to more imitative colours, though, with Derek Norman showing us the way with some interesting looking Savage Gear mini sandeels.
I didn’t have any of those, but I did have some small Redgills that proved to be very effective.
The only problem was, that while a standard Redgill was a bit too big, the small ones were a bit too small. While I was picking up bass pretty quickly on them, they were of a very small average size. All were returned in fine fettle, but even had I wanted to keep my allowable one for the pot, they wouldn’t have made the size limit. Small or not, on the 6-12lb class rod they gave very impressive scraps, and I was hoping to hook something that really gave it a testing.
Roy stuck to bigger artificials on the basis of big bait equals big fish, and he was proved right with a superb looking fish on our second to last drift.
To be honest there was a definite knack to getting the best out of the technique, and the first angler really in the zone was Derek.
Having lost some gear I was obviously a bit wary, and was coming too far off bottom to attract takes, and even when I was given the nod things didn’t improve much.
Derek’s words of wisdom were to let the lead hit the bottom, then make two turns of the reel handle before letting the lure fish itself, only readjusting upwards when the lead was felt touching bottom again. Even following his winning advice I struggled for takes on the early drifts, until the penny dropped.
I was using an Okuma Andros twin speed, with the speed set at its fastest – an eye-watering 6.4:1 ratio. Two turns of the handle had taken my lure more than seven feet off bottom – too high in the water for the hunting bass.
I had the option of knocking the reel into the lower ratio, but instead I decided to just make one turn of the handle – I wanted the option of a fast turn taking me out of trouble if I needed it.
That was the bit of magic that was required – staying low enough to be in the feeding zone, and I was certainly doing that because I WAS able to feel the lead making contact with the bottom from time to time.
Derek Norman was quickly into the bass.
Sure, bass will chase fish upwards when they are feeding hard, but these fish weren’t quite in that mode, they were mooching around picking up prey that wasn’t too testing to chase.
On the last drift of the day I did try the big bait equals big fish combination but it drew a blank – in fact no-one caught a fish on the final drift, and reluctantly we tackled down and headed for home.
The trip back is usually an opportunity for a bit more banter plus reflections on the day, but this time we were treated to something a bit different.
About halfway back we saw the distinctive coastguard helicopter heading out to sea, passing us on the way out. Was there a boat in trouble out there?
It seemed not, because the AgustaWestland turned around and began following us.
Ian tuned into their radio channel and was asked to keep the boat at a constant speed and on the same course. We were asked to clear the rear deck to allow one of the coastguard crew to be put aboard as part of a training exercise.
With the helicopter in position the crewman was winched down to the deck, where he unclipped his harness and made his way to the cabin. After shaking hands all round and thanking Ian for his cooperation he made his way back to the rear deck to perform the trickier move of being taken off.
The gear was lowered and he swiftly clipped on before signalling that he was ready to be lifted off, and away he went. Smooth, fast, efficient – our coastguards give a service that we can be proud of.
It was an exciting end to another great day on the water – can’t wait until I can do it again.
“Ah, here comes my ride.”
BOSS OF THE BOAT
Derek Norman and Roy Gatrell
Another very close call, and it would be unfair to separate these two guys who put in great shifts in the pursuit of fish. Roy had the edge on the plaice, Derek on the bass, although it was Roy who landed the biggest bass of the day.
Fine angling performances from both guys, who were a real pleasure to fish with, as were John and Brian. All in all it was a superb day out. Working for fish is always a pleasure, never a chore.
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