Recently I’ve found myself struggling to decide what to target with autumn and early winter giving us plenty of options along the south coast. However, whenever conditions have been suitable I’ve inevitably been drawn towards the Eastern end of Chesil to target the blonde rays which inhabit the area.
Last week, with conditions seemingly spot on for them, we decided to fish for the blondes again, however, to scratch an itch, we planned to have a 4 hour Chesil cod session a little further along the beach, before what we thought would be prime ray time.
Rob Johansen had hit the mud and dug himself 80 large lug, whereas I’d taken the easier option of digging a sandy patch in Poole Harbour and got twice as many worms at half the size.
It was fair to say we had more than enough bait between us for a short session as we headed west from Ferrybridge carpark an hour before sunrise. Reports had been pretty slow on the beach, with odd codling coming here and there, but reports are fishing that’s already happened for others and don’t always give an indication of the fishing to come.
Usually, as soon as you see images of a big stormy, chocolate coloured sea, social media is flooded with “looks coddy” comments and, while storm conditions can certainly bring the cod closer to shore, its definitely not essential.
What it does do is get fish feeding, and perfect cod conditions can become endless hours of feeding lugworm baits to ravenous pouting and dogfish. Many of my best days cod fishing on Chesil have been in clear calm conditions, often on pleasant sunny days, which is exactly what we had forecast.
By 7am we had both caught strap eels, dogs and a couple of pout, which at least proved there were fish about. To be honest there were a few too many fish, as baits were getting stripped at an alarming rate.
We both fished hard, launching lug baits (and one unlucky hermit crab) towards the horizon every few minutes, hoping to get through the pest fish.
We also wondered if some of the bites were from squid, so in a brief lull I set up a 3rd rod and chucked a couple of baited squid jigs out, which was then ignored, literally all day!
There aren’t many better times to be on the beach than a clear crisp morning, and this one didn’t disappoint as we were treated to a stunning sunrise, with the warmth of the winter sun certainly welcome once it had cleared the bank. Thankfully sunrise also slowed the nuisance fish down and gave our worms a chance to actually fish!
Sunrise has always been a good time for a cod on chesil, but on this occasion it had been greeted by the rod tips going completely motionless. Baits remained untouched until at around 9am, the tip of my t900, which had been happily bent into the tide dropped back and the line went limp.
Quickly picking up the slack I could feel the fish moving off and I set the hook. Now, nobody is going to tell you that the fight from a codling of a couple of pound is thrilling, but it’s always a great feeling to see the first one slide up the shingle. There’s just something nice about watching them coming in through the clear water under blue skies.
Shortly after my fish, Rob’s rod showed some interest, with an aggressive take, which turned out to be a similar sized codling of around 2lb.
Other than a distinctly bream like bite the next hour past without incident until, while baiting up a spare rig, my right hand rod slowly bent down and stayed there.
I felt sure it was going to be a better fish, and was pretty surprised when a very spirited 3lber was the culprit.
We were fast approaching the time when we had decided we would be moving marks and fishing for the blondes, so started to tidy our gear and pack down our spare rigs and other bits and pieces ready for the move.
Unfortunately Rob also packed down the go pro he had set up watching his rods, as his left rod had a savage take.
Guesstimates went from 2lb to 6lb as the fish thumped on the retrieve, and we were both surprised to see another fish around 3lb hit the shingle. I’m not sure what had gotten into them but the codling certainly weren’t acting very codling like, they actually had a bit of fight about them! They were certainly in fine condition (and have made some good eating since).
With a plan being a plan, and the tide easing we headed back to the carpark, honours even, with a brace of codling apiece, and high hopes for the afternoon session. I suspect that had the stamp of codling been larger we may have been inclined to stretch our cod session out a little longer, but we were keen to have our sandeels soaking for what we anticipated to be the prime ray window.
So back to the car, a quick refuel from Lidl’s pastry department and onto the ray session.
Well the afternoon session wasn’t successful if you purely quantify success by what you catch, and I’ll save the suspense and admit we didn’t have a single ray bite between us the whole session. The rods were almost completely motionless until darkness. However an afternoon on the beach with your mate is never an afternoon wasted. We chatted all the usual nonsense and with some feathers attached, just in case there were any late mackerel about, I had some casting practice.
I’ve fallen into some horrible casting habits recently but with some pointers from Rob, and a couple of videos to help me see what I was doing wrong, I had soon tweaked my way towards a smoother cast, and added a good 20 yards. Still loads of work to do, but I felt a bit more confident in my cast leaving the beach than I had when walking onto the shingle.
Back to the fishing, daylight was incredibly slow, with baits coming back untouched until last light, when the tell tale rattles of pout, dogs and whiting began.
Rob opted to join me in trying for the squid and cuttle which we have caught in the area before, by mounting one of the pouting on squid spikes, but again without any joy.
There was a brief moment of excitement when the rattling on one of Rob’s rods developed into something all together more positive. I said to Rob that I bet his pout had just been eaten, and for once I actually got something right, when it transpired that a remarkably small strap had scoffed his pout.
You clearly don’t need to worry about a bait being too big for an eel, with this strap swallowing a whole live pouting the size of its own head.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable day, and in retrospect we should obviously have carried on cod fishing rather than switching to rays. But we caught a couple each and goes to show that you don’t need to wait for coloured water to get out there catch some Chesil cod!