Two open sea fishing competitions were fished from my local Kent shoreline recently and they illustrated the differences in the types of shore fishing contests available to sea anglers. At Dungeness the World Dab Championships attracted 216 anglers to compete in aid of the Dungeness RNLI, whilst at Seabrook 42 anglers fished in the Anyfish Anywhere sponsored South East Open series. The Dungeness even with its tongue in cheek “World” title was a go anywhere rover with all the entry fees going to the RNLI, whilst the more dedicated match anglers went for the pegged, cash prize South East Series event. It could be said that the two required a different level of skill to win with the bigger element of luck required at Dungeness because of a 25cm dab minimum size limit, which is a great leveller in terms of angling skill.
However, no one had factored in the force seven westerly winds, which turned the dab event into a battle against, wind, sea and weed with more than half the entry catching nothing and the more skilled (The matchmen in fact), who could handle the conditions catching the most sizeable flatfish. Meanwhile, at Seabrook the dogfish turned up in numbers at the eastern end of Princes Parade and those anglers with a low number draw enjoyed a fish feast with 176 dogfish recorded.
The results of both competitions reflect the influence of both luck and skill in angling and prove that neither can really be manipulated and that there is no real substitute for skill on a majority of occasions. Winner of the World Dab Championship title was Ian Harnett of the Isle of Sheppey who landed eleven dabs over the 25cm minimum size limit for a weight of 4lb 11oz, incidentally just 1.5oz more than I weighed in.
Winner of the Anyfish Anywhere event at Seabrook was Martin Jenkins of Dover with 13 dogfish for 8.900kg. Staying with big entry shore competitions it was the case in the past that a single big fish could often win. I re member a 2000 entry European and All England championships fished in the last century at Folkestone and Hythe, were I also came second and was beaten by a giant conger eel. The species were fairly common back in the seventies, but nowadays are unheard of from the Kent shore, Yes, the demise of the bigger species has had a big effect on competition entries because match anglers have concentrated their skills on catching the tiddlers to the extent that the average angler cannot compete unless the event carries giant minimum size limits, or is for the biggest fish! Events are nearly always about who can catch the most tiddlers like, dabs, rockling, flounders, whiting and in more recent times, dogfish. That species is having a dramatic influence on competitions around Kent with a move to specialist doggie bashing. The good news about dogs is that at least you can see them bite and they do pull the string. But lots of anglers hate them and because they are unwanted they promote catch and return, which is again not that popular amongst the average ability competition angler. Should dogfish be returned or culled, that’s a hot topic amongst lots of clubs and sea anglers. I pioneered a system in the Isle of Man, which involved keeping three fish, and returning the rest for a set score (500 grams is commonly used) other conservation systems involve retaining just one dogfish, the biggest.
The irony of the subject is that anglers return the one species that there are plenty of and kill those that are rarest. It’s all down to the plate at the end of the day. I have just had a meeting with others in the Dover Sea Angling Association team about fishing the World Club Championships in Portugal – The event in May is supposed to be club teams from all over the World, but as is usual in competition of all kind, there are always those that seek to bend the rules. In the case of the World Clubs its countries that pick an international team and then call it a club. Disgraceful really, but it goes on and that includes one of the British Isle teams. My team has a couple of international in it, but also a 76 year old and all members have been members of Dover SAA for over ten years. Species of the month is plaice – They are showing already from Brighton so I hear. The complete opposite to the dogfish, plaice are rarer than rocking horse dung in my neck of the woods. That was not always the case, but because they are slow growing and easily caught by trawlers their numbers have declined in recent year.
I am told that the reduction in plaice quotas for the commercials has lead to a small population explosion of the species in some inshore regions. I hope that’s the case because there is nothing like a plump red spot surfacing on the end of a trace. Tips to catch them include the customary bling, sequins, and beads, don’t forget the pop up beads and any manner of glitter, because it does attract the species. So get your sea fishing tackle out, add a worm bait, lug is best in my opinion and more the better occasionally, and that’s all there is to catching dabs. Why do I think lugworm is the best bait for plaice? Because lugworm tastes like plaice, don’t ask how I know that!