The rays are around on the Kent shore with a January thornback for Dover specimen hunter, Brian Price, one of three in a couple of trips to Sandwich Bay.
The mild winter, it may have all changed by the time you read this, has lulled anglers into the false dawn of spring. Thoughts are already on plaice bling and rays and surprise, surprise the latter are already showing in Kent. Are they late autumn or early spring is the question? The answer I believe is that ray numbers have increased in recent years as they took over the habitat of the missing cod etc and they are now appearing inshore earlier simply because of the overflow of stocks. In my region rays always were a winter species for the boats when the cod left, now they are a winter species for the shore rods and have replaced the cod. Now rays are never going to set the world alight in terms of their pace or guile, but for sheer plastic bag in the tide pull they take some beating – Shame they don’t make the 100lb mark – I remember some diamond rays I hooked from the Beach in Africa that just run all the line off and Gambia’s sting rays take some stopping once they beat the 50lb barrier. All in all ray fishing can be fun when there is nothing else of any size to fish for, some people even eat them!
However, its plaice that get my attention now that the light evenings have hit 5.30pm. The species have been in decline for the last couple of decades with the numbers and average size having dropped dramatically, but last year they made a small comeback along the Channel coastline. OK, not mega size plaice of the past but enough tipping the pound to suggest they were worth fishing for deliberately. Anglers flocked to venues like Brighton and even Kent could boast of a couple of plaice venues with Dengemarsh and Seabrook amongst the pick, the reason given for the upsurge in the plaice population was that the commercial quota limit had been reduced. Well an MZ is about to come on line in Hythe Bay and that should do the region’s flattie population a power of good because soles and plaice are plundered mercilessly by the regions trawlers.
Back to the plaice and it’s time to check out the bling that you can add to hook snoods to attract plaice to your baits. I am a big fan of pop up beads, the luminous pattern with pink spots from Gemini, although beware because they can lift bait clear off the bottom – too many beads and you will be fishing for garfish on the surface. Sequins and plastic beads are also favourite and during a trip last year aboard Brighton Diver out of Brighton after plaice – I discovered the deadliest bead combination ever. Twelve standard plastic coloured beads on a snood with red, green and yellow bringing the best results. Bait was lugworm and you could do worse than add a sliver of squid to the hook point, plaice seem to like that! As for spoons, they also work with a short snood full of beads and sequins and if you bend the sequins alternatively that adds extra reflection angles! Not so keen on blades because they spin and cut casting distance although in summer they do add the chance of a mackerel to the catch.
I am just back from the Irish Winter beach festival fished from the Wexford beaches where I switched to fixed spools and light line because of an arthritic shoulder, but reeling in left handed did me little good in the event and I finished half way down the list. But I did fish Continental style with the new range of lighter blanks from TF Gear including the Force 8 Continental and the Delta Slik Tip (look out for them in the coming week) It’s a whole new ball game fishing with light sea fishing tackle and the one thing that struck me is the decrease in tide pull using lines below 12lb. This brings plain leads into the game, or should I say wireless leads because I tried some weird shapes and removed wires. All I need now is a watch lead mould because they hold bottom well with a light set up. I also used a variety of cone and pyramid leads with the double cone coming out best – where can I get them from, my last lots came from Portugal?
The winter beach was won by Paul Tyndall of Bray another of the up and coming Irish Match anglers – I tell you what I was impressed by the standard of the Irish – to a man they fish light and small and I reckon if the Irish World team was picked from the anglers that fished the winter beach event Ireland would win a gold medal. But Ireland has a county selection problem and that means they rarely field a team of top anglers, time for change there.
All this talk of spring is all very well, but what if it does turn cold? Catching anything from the shore once the temperatures have fallen and the frost have got a hold is a challenge. On many venues cold rain or snow melt water, exposed sand that has frozen overnight combine to drive the fish away and that’s on top of the terrible weather – Just rockling, small coalfish, tiny codling, dabs, whiting and the odd flounder remains and in such conditions, fish on and you must accept the consequences.
The problem is that fresh and sea water do not completely mix – they layer because fresh is lighter and floats above sea water – That’s why Icebergs float, they are fresh water! This means that layers of freezing cold freshwater can invade the inshore regions. This is particularly common in the large estuaries like the Thames, Solent, Severn, Mersey, Tyne etc after heavy rain or snow where the fresh water layers can drive fish completely away from a venue during an ebb tide, whilst on the other side of the river the fish are prolific in the salty flood tide.
Small rivers, streams, even road drains and localised fresh water outfalls can affect the fishing on all types of beaches even well away from the estuaries. Beware too of snags comprised of trees, bushes and rubbish spewed into the sea with the flood water at the mouth of the stream etc
Another major hazard for the winter angler is that a shallow region of sand and sea bed exposed to an overnight frost will cool the incoming tide so rapidly that the fish will avoid it. – My rule after for February and March is: NEVER TO FISH WHERE I CANNOT CAST PAST THE LOW TIDE MARK – In other words always fish on a sea bed that is never exposed at low tide!
My next away trip is to Norway, which I may have mentioned before, in a quest to catch shore cod after the worst cod season in my memory. It seems the cold is going to be my biggest problem with Norway in March a bit chilly. Thermals, onesies, floatation sallopettes and a Delta Marine jacket plus woolly hat, thermal socks and gloves, even my Rockhopper boots have snow grippers. The only trouble with flying is that it doesn’t leave much room for the tackle!
Last year I fished for the Dover Sea Angling Association team in the World Club Champs in Portugal –This year it appears that England is not represented at the event in Spain – the probable reason is cost because it’s around £2000 what with accommodation, flights etc. If you can raise a club team get on to the Angling Trust.