For reasons I can’t recall, I never did make it down to Chesil beach in 2021, though a house move amongst other obstacles probably contributed to a lack of time that saw me neglect the beach for the first year in living memory. But such a fantastic venue can never be too far from the heart and mind, and so at the beginning of April, a date was pencilled in and, as ever, fingers were crossed for a weather forecast that might make for an enjoyable day’s fishing, complete with fish.
Spring time on Chesil Beach is plaice time and there was a period of a good few years when I would religiously make the long drive down to target these pristine flatfish. In all of that time, the one factor that was essential to success was undoubtedly water clarity. Feeding habits of fish seldom change and as a sight feeding species, water clarity really is essential. In order for the water to clear on any coast, an offshore wind is a must and so it was with much excitement that in the days leading up to my planned trip, a northerly wind was predicted. As it transpired, A northerly wind it certainly was, but it came with something of a sting in its tail. A wind from this direction is always a cold one during the early spring and on this day it had a particular bite to it. My plan to travel light in order to make the long stomp across the back of the beach more manageable was neglected and the beach shelter was duly added to an already fully loaded van.
Arriving at Cogden that morning, just opening the door of the van was an effort as what was an incredibly strong and cutting wind buffeted all in its wake. Stripping to the waist at the side of the van in order to pull on a base layer that I was to become so glad of throughout the day, the wind was ferocious, but in no time at all I was fully attired and as heavily laden as any angler who makes an attempt on this vast stretch of Dorset shingle could be.
As I made my way down the rough track and negotiated the waterlogged meadows that merge with the rushes adjacent to the beach, the wind continued to do its best to deter me, but the sun shone brilliantly and it really did feel like spring had arrived at long last.
Stopping at regular intervals just to take in my surroundings, it felt good to be out in those elements, and never being one to fish within a stone’s throw of a carpark anywhere, my legs just kept on going until I was far enough away to avoid congregations of other anglers. I guess it’s the wanting to truly desire that escapism for the day that has always lead to this mindset.
Soon enough, boggy earth and sodden grass gave way to shingle and after a quick breather and a swig of water, it was time to erect the beach shelter. Now, Bristol Channel anglers are not exactly fluent in beach shelter erection at the best of times and on this particular occasion, the savage wind did its best to turn the wretched thing in to a hang glider.
Piles of shingle were scraped, kicked and scooped on to the skirt of the shelter and soon enough, my home for the day was set up and it was good to duck out of the wind at long last. Beach shelters aren’t the lightest thing to be carrying for any real distance, but when conditions are truly bitter, it does make it a worthwhile, yet somewhat cumbersome addition to the armoury.
My tackle for the day, for those of you interested in such matters, was a matching pair of Anyfish Anywhere Tournament Match Pro rods paired with a couple of Penn Fathom CS reels. Rigs were to be simple two hook clipped affairs carrying size 1 hooks that were to be baited with fresh ragworm. The reels were new and a recent acquisition purchased with Chesil beach in mind. Mainline was a 0.33mm, much finer than anything I’d use back home in the Bristol Channel and of course, a shock leader was in place. By fishing lighter like this, it’s possible to gain a few extra yards which can be a useful string to the bow anywhere along Chesil, but is particularly effective at the western end when flatfish are the main quarry.
After wetting a line, a bait was soon sent seawards and even though I hit it slightly lower than intended, the tailwind ironed out this crease and saw it land a respectable distance offshore. The plain lead was allowed to roam freely in the trickle of flood tide that had only just started pushing through and I sat back in the comfort of the shelter with a view to checking the baits after fifteen minutes. Spider crabs are often a real pain in the springtime and there’s nothing worse than winding in to find your hooks have been removed, often near to the swivel rather than the actual hook. For this reason, I personally see no reason to use braid as a snood material as some do and prefer to time my baits and refresh them as and when necessary. Fishing hard with just the one rod is also more manageable for this very reason.
That fifteen minutes sailed by and whether or not I had actually experienced a bite, I couldn’t say for certain. The wind made spotting bites nigh on impossible but regardless of whether or not a fish had made its presence felt, there was certainly some resistance as I began the retrieve. The tell-tale weight and the occasional tap on the rod tip gave the game away though and I decided to shuffle down the shingle bank and on to the sand in order to intercept whatever might be hanging on one of those hooks. Sure enough, a pristine little plaice was soon swung to hand, the paint-like spots of colour present, as if they had been dabbed on with a brush across its entirety, lending extra vibrance in the early afternoon sunshine as it spun in the wind on the trace line.
It’s always nice to get a fish early on in a session, but I did then wonder if this early stroke of luck might just have been that. So many times, a fish on the first cast can spell disaster for the remainder of the session. Regardless, it was a pleasing opening cast and the second was sent seawards with greater enthusiasm, especially as the lead climbed on a higher trajectory and really got the wind under its bum, resulting in a satisfying dot on the ruffled surface some seconds later.
What was notable though was that the second hook still contained some bait which suggested to me that the dreaded spider crabs might well be having a day off; either that or I had picked a section of beach devoid of these ugly aggravations. I baited up another trace and returned to the sanctuary of my shelter, all the while observing the bizarre weather which continued to reveal itself in many colours. One minute, beautiful blue skies, the next, soaves of black and grey which brought with them sleet, snow and hail. The wind continued to hammer the shelter with some aggression, at one point almost lifting it off the ground.
As my first retrieved cast had shown little sign of crab activity, I opted to leave this second one for a little longer and after twenty five minutes I left the relative protection of the shelter and made a grab for the rod. Again, I was somewhat surprised to feel immediate resistance, but it did indeed feel like a second fish might be on. Once more, I found myself shuffling down to the tide line and it felt like I’d been winding for an eternity when I finally spotted my catch. And spotted was very much the word as I set eyes on another beautiful little plaice. Similar size to the first, she was soon unhooked and sent on her way after joining me for a quick snap or three.
A fish a cast is the stuff of dreams when it comes to plaice fishing and the only thing better would be two fish a cast (okay, so three is better still, but remember these rigs are carrying just the two hooks), so with this in mind and the still reasonable amount of bait remaining on the traces, this time I opted for a half-hour cast in the hope of doing the double.
As before, the weather went through some noticeable changes within the space of this thirty minutes, but as the wind suddenly eased following the passing of a front, I noticed a definite pull down on the rod tip.
Realising that this was a definite enquiry, I opted to leave the rod alone for a few minutes longer to allow that bite to mature and possibly attract further interest from other fish in the area.
Time passed and more bites followed. Things were certainly looking interesting. The best part of forty minutes had ticked by when I plucked up the courage to go for the wind in.
The wind was absolutely bitter and I eagerly reached for my hood to pull it up over my beanie as I stepped out in to it.
Sometimes, it’s best to leave bites to develop and sometimes, it can be the kiss of death as a crab could appear on the scene and snip off the trace lines. Either that, or the fish scarper for whatever reason. That said, there I was, picking my moment and going for it. Was it the right choice though?
It certainly seemed that way and as I lifted the tip and gradually eased the wired lead from the clay that the tide had pressed it in to, a noticeably more impressive weight was present. Coaxing it gently through the clear water, I questioned in my mind, as I often do, just what might be about to present itself. Two plaice? A dogfish? A spider crab?
As the shock leader came in to view, my heart sank a little when I spotted a large sheet of plastic that had attached itself to the mainline at some point, but as this lifted from the surface and jammed in the tip ring, there was still a healthy weight to the rig itself. Taking a few steps up the beach to land the fish, two tails fins were soon slapping the sand and with a quiet smile to myself, I reached down and held aloft the double shot I had been hoping for. More than one fish on a trace is always a lovely sight to see and there’s no better backdrop to do it than Chesil beach.
It really was shaping up to be a great day and over the course of the next few hours I had very few casts that produced nothing. The conditions continued to improve and as what was to be the last weather front pushed away to the south, the wind dropped further still and the sun brought some warmth to my face once more.
The plaice I caught were of no great size, but their painted presence certainly brought some further colour to the spring landscape and provided some consistent sport.
As darkness began to fall, I edged my bets on a small eyed ray and cast a single clipped down sandeel as far as I could. It would have been the perfect ending to the session and indeed, this little story too, but alas, it wasn’t to be and I soon found myself making the long trudge back to the van.
Chesil is such an enormous place and no doubt a daunting prospect to the visiting angler, but on its day there really is no finer beach to wet a line in the entire country and I really do stand by that. I think after neglecting her last year, I have some time to make up for in 2022!