Chesil Heaven or Chesil Hell?

Much has been written about the eighteen mile stretch of Dorset shingle known as Chesil Beach. It would be no exaggeration to suggest that this part of the coast receives more angling attention throughout the year than any other. On the face of it, the attraction is clear to see, with its alluring array of species on offer at any given time, deep water just a stone’s throw away and the simplicity of easy parking plus the potential to be fishing just yards from the car if you so wish, but is it really as good a venue as has been documented over the years?

Let’s take a closer look in an attempt to get to the bottom of why some anglers refer to it as the beach of broken dreams, whereas others enjoy regular success at this popular location, because there really does seem to be a mindset of either “Chesil is Heaven”, or “Chesil is Hell”. 

Two rods contributing to thousands of rod hours on Chesil over a given weekend

The first thing to consider is the number of anglers who might be fishing on the beach at any given time. If we take in to account those locations along its length that are the most recognised and well frequented, namely four- Cogden, West Bexington, Abbotsbury and Ferrybridge, we could make a sensible estimate as to numbers of anglers on the beach at any particular moment. Having spent some time stomping the shingle myself, my own experience tells me that of a weekend, either a Saturday or a Sunday, there would be between 150 and 200 anglers in situ each day. This gives us a sum of between 6 and 800 bodies. 

So, that’s potentially 1,600 anglers over the course of a weekend on just those most recognised of locations as listed above.

With many anglers choosing to fish for a lengthy period, let’s say that each of those anglers is fishing an average of six hours. That gives us 9,600 rod hours. If only half of those anglers are using two rods each, that gives us a total of 14,400 rod hours across the weekend. 

Okay, so there is nothing remotely scientific about these calculations, you could even say they are speculative at best, but they are sensible estimates based on my own experiences over the course of time and with a lack of accurate data to hand, they’ll suffice for the purpose of this piece.  

It's a rarity to capture such a quiet scene on Chesil

Now, that is a lot of fishing time to consider and you would expect a mixed outcome at best when it comes to fish landed. Is it any wonder that, with only so many fish to go round and when you begin to contemplate the close proximity (pre covid times) that many anglers would find themselves in, that the outcome is what it is? It would be next to impossible for each of those anglers to make a good catch, or indeed for each of those anglers to catch nothing, so you would entirely expect results that you might consider to be, on the whole, middle ground. That said, it would equally account for some of the magnificent specimen fish that are frequently pictured across social media channels. This is the whole reason we arrive at our divided opinion, but numbers alone are just a small part of the equation. 

Who is fishing effectively and who is not would be my next question. 

How anyone chooses to fish is entirely at their discretion and really no one else’s business, but in the interests of this piece, it’s well worth a glance. One observation that could be made is the general standard of angling on that beach. Again I reiterate that far-be-it for me to judge anyone’s ability and as far as I’m concerned if another angler is enjoying their fishing then that’s all that matters. Plus the fact we all had to start somewhere. But if we take a look at the tackle that is being used and the way it is being used, again we have further clues as to why only a small percentage of those fishing enjoy regular success and such a large proportion fail. 

Are rigs practical for the target species? Are reels geared towards distance casting, if this is the order of the day? Are the right kind of leads being used? The list goes on.

There are a great many variables here, but all worthy of consideration when it comes to fishing effectively and giving yourself the absolute best chance of a successful session.

Chesil can certainly look like heaven when caught in the right light

A further consideration would have to be bait and this is one that I see crop up time and time again. It is often those unsuccessful anglers who report their slow session alongside listing a whole variety of different baits used, when in fact, had they just used a couple of those listed and focused their attentions on these alone, they might have fared better. But not everyone is to know that and only experience will reveal some things. For example, a spring plaice fishing trip would require just a small selection of worm baits, probably just two actually in the form of ragworm and lugworm. Bringing a greater selection of bait only presents further unnecessary variables. 

Taking all of the above into account when analysing your approach is a crucial step towards consistency and could mean the difference between success and failure. Successful trips and unsuccessful ones will sway your opinion over time and here lies the route of the problem. 

We tend to base our opinions upon our own life experiences and so it makes perfect sense that as anglers we would apply that same logic. But it’s hugely important to look at the bigger picture and take in to account the experiences of those around us if you wish to build on your angling ability. 

The best of the brace of chesil cod for Rob Stammas
Everyone will tell you that you need rough seas and dirty water to catch cod... but see what Rob Johnson and Rob Stammas learnt (If you click the image, it will take you to their feature).

Long sessions with a multitude of different baits are unnecessary when you begin to take a look at the small number of successful Chesil Beach anglers. And it is a small number. It has often been said that just 5% of the anglers catch 95% of the fish and I would wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment. But why are they successful? Why are these the guys that consider Chesil Beach to be an excellent sea fishing venue? Attention to detail and observational skills are undoubtedly key.

It’s not enough to simply arrive at a venue and expect to catch fish from the get go. 

Experience will reveal the beaches secrets, but only over time. It’s always a worthy investment of time to self analyse once in a while (I still do), but also pay close attention to the successful anglers. What are they doing that you’re not? What can they do, that you can not? 

To conclude, my biggest piece of advise would be to never refer to Chesil Beach as Chesil Beach.

Break it down. Refer to that particular part of that beach by name and so begin to condense it in to digestible chunks. No stretch of coast that is eighteen miles long anywhere in the UK will produce fish consistently across its length and Chesil is no different. Broaden your observational skills before casting judgment based on your own findings and think of this beach as one big Rubik’s Cube.

Once everything slots in to place, that is where success is born and consistency flourishes.

And I guarantee, that will be the greatest thing to influence your opinion of Chesil Beach or any venue, for that matter.

Ben Stockley's consistency on Chesil is a prime example of the benefits of learning the beaches behaviour
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Further reading: The excellent guide to Chesil Beach from Veals Mail Order