Alan Yates Sea Fishing Diary

Just as I sat writing this blog the mobile rang with a multi media message from my son Richard fishing out in the boat off Folkestone. A plump cod of 20lb from a mile offshore, some bigger fish are around so I will have to get out before February arrives and they all move away – You have been warned the big cod window is small so make the most of it! Top of the big cod bait list is a whole cuttlefish on 4/0 plus Pennell hooks – these are great from the boat because they are a real mouthful and the dogs struggle to take them!

I am not looking forward that much to fishing in the New Year, because from the end of January the mature fish of most species move away from the shore line to spawn and shore fishing in the majority of regions is limited to the immature fish. Its pin whiting, thin dabs, rockling and scratching time. The best I can hope for are some plump flounders and the odd codling in my region. Mind you although the chances of a giant fish may soon be gone, along with the glory, it’s a time when fishing can be a challenge – Just getting a bite can be an achievement and because I fish a lot of competitions that alone puts the buzz back into the sport and I can continue through the bad times. Some anglers take rather a long time to realise that the fishing is so poor and either pin their faith on an early ray or a late cod and continue biteless through the New Year to Spring, whilst most simply pack in shore fishing.

For me the acceptance that big fish are no longer available allows me to totally concentrate on the dabs, flounders and the rockling. Out comes the 16ft Delta quiver tip, the fixed spool reel with micro braid, wire booms, light hook snoods and the size 4 hooks, my most desired sea fishing tackle for this time of year. My fellow match anglers all adopt this tactic because if you don’t and continue to fish with a 4/0 Pennell and whole squid then it’s a long cold, boring winter. I am also lucky that the occasional trout session, piking or getting the pole out on the mild days in the lakes spices up the lean times, but overall I do prefer the scratchy months because match fishing gets more interesting than a fishing race. The odd bigger flattie can swing events your way and even the rockling can make a difference. I particularly like club competition fishing at this time of year. Avoiding a blank can be enjoyable, especially when you manage it when others around you don’t!

Some advice for those of you who are going to continue fishing though the ice age months. Firstly don’t fish over ground that has been uncovered by the tide. I ignore venues where I cannot cast onto a sea bed that has never been uncovered by the tide. Not easy in some shallow regions, but believe me worth it. Fish, even rockling and flounders don’t like ice cold water or sand. Similarly stay away from water that contains fresh water, snow melt water. etc.

As for fishing tactics there are a couple that pay off during times of low temperatures and particularly in the competitions. One is to fish in the low tide gulley or gutter – You can cast too far when there are no codling and ignore the dabs, flounder and rockling at your feet. It’s a time when the flapper rig comes into its own. The saying goes; “Clipped rigs for casting show, Flappers for dough” Yes I know it’s my variation of a saying taken from another sport, but its just as appropriate and true. So before you clip on a Loop rig and head for the horizon think about what might be under you feet!

The second vital tactic regards bait. Lots of the small fish are hugging the shoreline in search of marine life that has been dislodged, killed and buried by the storms. That’s why “off” or stale lugworm works so well for flatties. They know that a storm will store up a supply of dead worms and shellfish and that the next ripple of tide will uncover it. They move inshore with a nose for the decaying worms etc, very often a tunnel vision nose. So keep your worms over from one week to use the next. You can bait the softest or sloppiest of worms by almost sewing them on the hook and there is always bait cotton to help. Wrigley harbour ragworm are also a worthwhile bait to use when the going gets tough – they or small white ragworm can induce the tiddlers to bite because of the extra dimension of movement and bites are what you want.


Well not really. It’s a long run in until the light evenings return, the temperatures rise and the fish return to the shore, although the return of the thornback ray is a continuing saga!  The success of the species has lead doubt as to whether the rays caught in January are early or late, but my opinion is that because they are in increasing numbers in many regions they are overlapping their deep water haunts and heading for the shore in search of food earlier every year and they are becoming the shore sea anglers major all year around big species – So lets keep them coming by returning them all alive.

Plaice made something of a comeback last year through the English Channel coast with venues at Chesil Beach and as far up Channel as Brighton producing lots of small red spots. Will they come back this year? Chances are they will, but plaice grow very slowly so don’t expect them to be much bigger plus those early fish are usually thin and wasted after spawning. Its fingers crossed.


The 2012 Sea Anglers Match Federation’s Inter Services Challenge Match takes place on the 18th/19th of January 2013. SAMF Team places will be open to members only. Army, Air Force, Fire Service and Police teams will take part. The event will include a night match at Browndown, Gosport and day event at Magazine Lane and Hythe in Southampton. Fishing is measure and return with bait supplied.  Accommodation will be provided at Marchwood Sea Mounting Sea Mounting Centre and will be FREE of charge.  Total cost for the bait and evening meal are expected to be in the region of £70. If you wish to be considered for the 15 man SAMF team please contact Darren Phillips before 24 Dec.  Darren Phillips Tel. 07971215876

Also coming up is my favourite competition of the year is the Irish Winter Beach Festival, which is fished on January 24/25/26, 2013 from the beaches north of Wexford. First prize is 1000 Euro and a full accommodation package is available at Sean Ogs, Kilmuckridge. The man to contact is Warren Doyle Tel: +353 (0) 12828769 E Mail:

Other big January events include:

On the 13th of January 12, the Air Ambulance Open fished at Amroth. Fishing is from 11am until 3pm and its flounders only. Entry £5 plus optional pool. Book in Amroth Arms from 9am. Contact is John O’Connor 01437 563552

On the 27th of January 12, the Fords Sports & Social S.A.C hold their beach Open between the Rolling Mills and Hamble, Weston Shore, in Southampton Water (Excluding Victoria Country Park) Fishing is from 9am until 2pm. First Prize is £400. Entry Fee, Adult £10, juniors £3, Optional pools £2. Sign on and draw for Zones from HQ, Weston Shore. Contact is Peter Oates 02380693143 or Steve Eales 02380650519


Richard Yates of St Margaret’s Bay, Kent with 20lb cod caught off Dab Alley, Folkestone on cuttlefish and two blacks on a 4/0 Pennell private boat.

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Alan Yates

About Alan Yates

Born in the channel port of Dover, Alan Yates spent his boyhood bass fishing from boat and shore. After a highly successful match fishing career, during which he competed for England 15 times, twice winning gold, Alan went on to become a full time angling journalist. While writing for, among other titles, Angling Times and Improve your Sea Angling, Alan also wrote his seminal work, Sea Fishing. Founder of the Sea Angler’s Match Federation, Alan fought for catch and release in match fishing and sea fishing more generally.