The Purbecks have something for everyone. From shallow beaches to deep, fast flowing water, heavy ground marks and everything in between. The area is well-known as part of the Jurassic coastline much-loved by fossil hunters, walkers and people who just want a bit of space. Fishermen are a rare sight but a small community of dedicated anglers know that there are plenty of marks where specimen fish are possible every month of the year. Most know each other but because of the amount of marks, I initially fished for about three years without bumping into any other dedicated anglers. Throughout summer a few light gear tourists are seen around the easier to get to marks but that’s about it. That does make things tough when trying to learn an area of such size.
When you’re spending months fishing the same location to try and figure it out before trying the next one, the sessions can become a little bland but, fortunately, the scenery is so stunning that the blanks are easily dismissed. The remote nature of the area, however, means that you nearly always face a good walk to get to your mark. A short easy one would be about 20 minutes stomp through fields, down a cliff and a little scramble at the end. Pushing yourself to the most remote marks would call for more like an hour and a half’s quick walk over difficult terrain. It certainly keeps you fit, or tired, depending on how you look at it.
With so many different options it can be hard to decide where to plan the next session. Like with all shore fishing, safety is paramount – I like to break the marks down into sea level and higher ledges. This gives you options: if there is a bit of swell you can fish from higher ledges to get out of the way. When there are months of flat spells then you can fish closer to the water. I like to break the sea level areas down into shallow and deep water marks. You can find spots to fish with anything from six feet of water, down to around 50ft+ deep. Having now clocked up several years’ worth of fishing this area, I do feel confident of where to go to stand a decent chance of a specimen. I also believe there are still spots that have never seen an angler. With climbing being one of my passions, the Purbecks is also a paradise for this and attracts many like-minded folk from far away. The ability to navigate some of the less-accessible spots certainly helps when wanting to recce new areas and makes landing the bigger fish safer on a few select marks.
No matter which mark you choose, landing fish is always a problem. I have fished more often alone than with other people and decent hook holds have been the only reason I’ve gotten some of my better specimens ashore. If I could choose, then I would always fish with a buddy but everyone has hectic lives and busy jobs, families etc, so it’s not always possible. This also has an impact on choosing the mark for the next session. The higher ledges require a landing net. I’ve tried poles with landing nets but I’ve found that this added length has just added to the difficulty of lining the net and fish up. Generally, there is a hefty swell of up to around three metres when attempting to land a fish from up high, so things are always tense on the vinegar stroke. We try and find landing points as close to the water as possible so sometimes we abseil down to a lower ledge, somewhere still high enough to be safe. I know of some people that are happy to climb down unaided but with my climbing background, it’s easier for me to just knock or drill in a peg. Suitable anchors for ropes just make it quicker and safer for me to get down.
Packing a couple of ropes, harnesses, carabiners, ascenders and a climbing net does add to the weight in your rucksack substantially but has never been a consideration in not choosing a mark. After scaling a cliff three times in a row to land your buddie’s specimens, it really takes it out of you and envy can kick in… plus a few choice words. I actually feel a little guilty if I’ve had someone go down a few times in a row to land mine.
You would think the sea level marks would be easy but, unfortunately, that’s not the case. Sometimes scrabbling over dozens of car-size boulders needs to be done and timing the walk right with the tides is a must due to the prospect of getting cut off over high. Adding to the difficulty of planning around the tides, there is a phenomenon in the Purbecks where a double low tide occurs in the west part and the east part experiences a double high. This can change from one to the other also, depending on whether it’s springs or neaps. Confused yet?
Basically you could go fishing on a double low and fish for nearly six hours at low tide, then you’ll get 2 – 3 hours of flood before high tide. There is only a 2-ish metre tidal range and to really mess your mind up, the tidal direction doesn’t change at high or low, it’s more like mid tide. This may be not so critical when fishing but I’ve certainly experienced the full strength of this whilst shore diving and boat diving in the area. If you want to plan a short session then being aware of these tidal quirks really helps because, like most places, the fish like to feed when the tide is running. One other consideration for rock hopping is the amount of slippy algae and weed on the rocks. This can really slow you down and dampen spirits when walking back in the early hours. I bought some attachments to my boots that are made for walking on ice and these work a treat. It’s just like having studded boots but I can take them off for the long walk, then put them on once needed.
All these options aren’t for the faint hearted but I believe if the same number of anglers fished this area regularly as Chesil beach then the results would be comparable. Any month of the year, double figure undulates and huss can be landed – same for congers with fish in excess of 50-60 lb having been recorded. Blonde rays are now being seen all year round in to the 20lbs. The spotted and small eyes turn up in spring but are generally very localised. Larger pollack are seen in January and February. Wrasse are abundant throughout with fish of over 4lbs being achievable. Bream seem to be in time with the rest of the coast line but they feed at night here which surprises some.
As I claim, this area is on par with Chesil. I’ve only had one smoothhound here but it tipped the scales at 17 lb. I guess this fish had lost its way but, then, I’ve seen a handful of doubles in December and it’s now the norm for us to expect them in the last few years. Bass are targeted on lures very effectively with 8–12 lb specimens landed in our small group yearly. Whilst diving I’ve seen topknots, plaice, sole and pretty much every species that are present on the UK shores along here. Last year I saw a tuna only 20 metres from the shore and the boats targeting the porgies aren’t too far out. You really don’t know what will turn up.
Tackle wise, I like to have everything beefed up ready for the fish of a lifetime. Having nearly been dragged in on more than one occasion and being bitten off on 200lb mono, these have shaped why my main line is 60lb braid and the hook snoods are always wire. The mainline means I can beef up my weak links to 30lb on the lead and this lets me pull through weed easily enough. Hooks are 6/0 or 8/0 with a 3x strong wire. Baits are generally large fishy offerings but, just recently, I’ve been having more success with smaller baits at distance so I’ll follow that approach with at least one rod. Having not broken the 30lb mark for an eel, it can’t be far away for me and I generally clock up quite a few 20’s each year. These can’t be babied in as the heavy ground gives them plenty of opportunity to get into a hole and hunker down.
Having not actually named any marks, if anyone is interested in this area then a quick search on the net will name plenty of areas with quarries where getting down to sea level is possible and all of them are fishable (but expect to lose a bit of gear). This will give you at least ten marks to start with and once you’ve gotten familiar with the area, I’d suggest walking the coastal routes in between marks and finding all the other gems this amazing stretch of coastline has to offer.