Storm clouds were gathering over the Essex Marina, Wallasey Island, setting a somewhat serious tone for the first Crouch Open Boat Competition. Thankfully the banter, excitement and substantial amount of bacon butties supplied by the marina lifted spirits for the entrants to the competition and nobody mentioned the pending rain that was forecast for the day. The event, the first of what we hope will become an annual spectacular, was the brainchild of top local skipper Mark Peters, owner of Dawn Tide II and assisted by Fil Passeira owner of Fil’s Tackle, Canvey Island.
A staggering 45 boats and 175 keen anglers gathered for the breakfast briefing as Mark and Fil distributed the official measuring devices. Representative boats from the river Thames and river Blackwater had made their way round the Marina to join the Crouch brigade. We even had an inshore trawler leave her nets out of the water for the day and join in the fun. Departing the marina in a loose kind of flotilla, everyone obeyed the speed limit of the Burnham-on-Crouch, poodling to the start line just down river from the moorings, jostling for position for a fast getaway.
The timing of the event could not have been better. The Essex coastline is one of the countries best kept secrets for summer boat bass and smooth-hound fishing and the season was in full swing. I have fished this coastline all my life and never have I seen the hounds in such numbers as the past few years. The omens for the day ahead were good.
The purpose of the event was to promote the quality fishing potential of the coastline and also raise money for the RNLI, which we hoped not to trouble on the day. Normark kindly sponsored the angler prizes and as the Okuma competition flag was raised and the shotgun blasted, boats of every imaginable description tore for the horizon.
Dawn Tide II is a modern 10m Southboat catamaran, capable of 25 knots and taking up to 10 passengers out to the grounds, often some 60 miles from shore. She sped along towards the mouth of the estuary at the front of the chasing pack. I was lucky to bag a berth on the boat for the day and was pretty optimistic of at least witnessing some good fish and possibly bagging a beast of my own.
The river Crouch is a long, thin fast flowing estuary, and coupled with the less than favourable weather forecast, soon the boats thinned out, smaller boats finding estuary sheltered secret spots whilst the bigger boats continued out to the offshore marks.
Located north of the Thames and south of the Blackwater, the Crouch seems to be the dividing line between fish seasonal migration patterns. Once the sandbanks are passed the general rule in winter is to turn left and head north towards the Suffolk channels and banks for rays, better whiting and thankfully the signs of returning cod. Whilst in spring and summer the rule is to turn right and head south to target the bass and hounds, which we duly did. A few boats tried to follow Dawn Tide but Mark soon shook them off and our mind began to focus upon the fishing ahead.
Armed with enough fresh lug and ragworm for the whole competition, we topped up fresh hermit and hardback/peeler crab baits from Mark’s pots, deciding to target hounds first of all. Light tackle and the prospect of decent fish suggested we were in for some good sport. From the start the fish were active and the net was kept in regular action bagging fair sized hounds.
Sadly, after such a dry spring, the heavens, as forecast, duly opened all morning and we got absolutely drenched. Thankfully the continual action of these hard fighting fish made the inclement conditions more bearable. Surprisingly, the hounds were not just feeding on crab and several decent sized fish were also taken on fresh worm for those sneaky enough on board to be hedging their bets for any passing bass.
Reports from other boats coming in with reasonable hounds kept us on the species for a little longer until one super fish taken by one of our boat anglers, Alan Webb, gave us confidence to move on to another one of Mark’s favourite spots to prioritise the bass. Although my biggest hound was not going to be the winner on the day, I was happy with my effort and there would be no disgrace come the end of day drive home.
Shallow water seemed to be the skipper’s choice for the day and we settled at our bass spot in no time and were hammering the fish once more. Worm baits were working a treat in the cloudy water and the light tackle and responsive rods were proving to be more than enjoyable. Weed at this time of year can be, and was, a bit of a pain at times and we all looked forward to the second half of the summer targeting the bass on lures in clearer water and without the salad on even more sporting light rods.
Some of the bass, sadly, were on the small side and every now and then the dogfish would visit for a snack but all in all everyone on board had some good fish. The competition winners for longest bass and hound were up for grabs and reports of good fish kept coming in. Despite several discussions with other boats as to how to precisely measure the fish without stretching them, our confidence of having the winning hound and bass was high and Mark was indeed proving his reputation as the coast’s leading skipper.
Finally, the rain stopped mid afternoon and life was good once more. Sadly, the sunshine signalled the 4pm cut off and we steamed home, slowly gathering the flotilla of competing boats also heading back for the presentations to come.
Gathering in the marina’s Wardroom Bar and joined in full dress by our wonderful lifeboat crew, the beers began to flow as the prizes were laid out and winning fish submissions were scrutinised by the organisers.
So who came out top?
Joint 1st place
Alan Webb on board our very own Dawn Tide II, 105cm & Paul Yeomans aboard Hardlabour, 105cm fish, received £175 each plus rods, reels, lures & tackle from the Normark range of Okuma and Rapala brands.
3rd place Phil Browning aboard Braveheart II, 104cm, received £80 plus line, lures, tackle and an Okuma hat from their range.
1st place Trevor Burrell aboard Bellamy, 68cm, received £200 plus a rod, reel, lures, tackle and clothing from Normark.
2nd place Mick Lane aboard Maggie May, 59cm, received £150 plus a reel, lures, tackle and clothing.
3rd place Mark Taz aboard Outlaw, 57cm, received £80 plus tackle, a hat, line and lures.
Congratulations to all participants and especially to the winners. Congratulations most of all though have to go to Mark Peters for bringing this to life and to Fil Passeira for ably supporting the event. I know, speaking to Greg Millward, Senior UK Sales Manager at Normark, that the sponsors were also delighted with the event and look forward to more to come.
For those who are interested, the guys are planning a late summer bass only competition. Those that are interested can find details at the Crouch Open Boat Competition facebook page.