When taking the Bristol Channel in to consideration from a sea angling perspective, I wonder just how many anglers would regularly use an outfit more akin to freshwater pike fishing and carry leads in their armoury of just two or three ounces? Not many, I bet. Channel law has seemingly always dictated that heavy leads and beefy rods are the order of the day and essential to fish effectively in the fearsome run of tide as well as the terrain encountered here.
Though, as with any stretch of coast here in the UK, this muddy waterway that is continuously tortured by a racing tide that forever torments the sediment within, does feature some quieter areas where the tide run is negligible, the water shallow and in some places, visited by fish on the feed.
For that very reason, scaling down your entire approach can provide some fantastic sporting opportunities. If there was ever an opening for a freshwater angler to sample the salt, this really is it and for many, the watercraft they have acquired and the experience of the tackle they have gleaned over time, will stand them in good stead.
For the vast majority of sea anglers, the traditional thirteen foot rod designed to cast up to eight ounces of lead with a bait, offers little in the way of sporting potential. The fish that are so often encountered, in particular by the novice, are small and present little or no fight on this tackle. By scaling down, you’ll immediately begin to appreciate the sporting aspect of any fish that, with conventional tackle, you would have simply wound in.
You’ll also discover what the mechanism is on your reel that allows line to be pulled from the spool when under tension. The clutch, as it is widely referred to as, sees little use by the sea angler when practicing shore fishing with the traditional approach.
The species of fish present here may not strip two hundred yards of line from your reel in a matter of seconds, but some will pull back and it’s hugely exhilarating to experience this on the correct tackle.
If fishing at close range and with little tide or weather to contend with, it’s realistically possible to scale right down and use a lure fishing rod, a small fixed spool reel and an ounce of lead. That’s when you’ll really be able to appreciate the beauty of this method.
And for those anglers who already enjoy lure fishing, the very same tackle could be used to present a static bait when water clarity or other limitations prevent the use of a lure.
The key is to find those areas that are frequented by fish at very close range and where the tide run is gentle at best. You’ll be amazed just how light you’ll be able to get away with when fishing at such close range. You’ll also be surprised at just what is lurking in this shallower water. Bass, rays, conger and thornbacks are all species of fish that I have come to realise will often feed a lot closer to shore than I’m sure many anglers realise. Rocky outcrops, small bays, inlets and creeks all lend themselves to this style of fishing, especially over high water. If you can find a spot that you can begin fishing around three hours before the top of the tide and gradually follow the tide line back as it floods, these are often the best options and it really does pay to keep a bait in the shallow water just behind the surf line. By purposely placing a bait in such a place, the flooding tide will have to pass it and fish moving in the vicinity of the tide line stand a far better chance of picking it up, rather than if you were to immediately cast beyond this point.
The trick is to keep the bait in the shallows, leave it there for fifteen or so minutes until the tide advances a little way beyond that point, wind in, change the bait and repeat. I can’t emphasise enough just how close to the shore it is possible to catch bass and other species. On many high water marks here on the Bristol Channel coast, you will find yourself fishing from rock, but casting on to mud. Placing a bait right on the edge of the rough stuff can really pay off. I recall fishing from one such venue many years ago and hooking a conger eel estimated at around 20lb. This surprise catch took a free-lined crab bait in just a couple of feet of water and put up a memorable scrap on a spinning rod rated at 20-60g. If the ground is relatively clean, it is very possible to fish with tackle as light as this and enjoy a sensational close quarters battle. It’s also a rare opportunity for the sea angler to experience a fish taking line from the clutch of the reel!
Your first consideration should be a suitable rod and reel. As I’ve already alluded to, a regular pike or carp style rod and matching reel is perfect as a starting point, though some modern carp rods have the backbone of a beach caster and so defeat the whole point. Something with an action of around a 2lb test is perfect as an all-rounder, but it is very possible to go lighter than this when conditions allow. As a general rule, a bait runner style reel of around 5000 size loaded with 30lb braid and a cut down tapered shock leader is ideal. Braid offers so many advantages and although the initial cost outlay is higher than that of monofilament, it will literally last for years on the reel and require very little care. The relatively heavy breaking strain is extremely useful should your end tackle become snagged, allowing you to get the full set back nine times out of ten. The tapered leader should be tied to the braid with an FG knot (I was shown this knot around five years ago as a braid to mono connection and have not looked back) but it is advisable to cut the heavier end of the leader back some way. You’ll never need to go any heavier than three ounces of lead when casting, so this negates the need for the heavier, thicker shock leader.
Rigs should be kept simple and the use of a two piece eleven-twelve foot rod will mean that it’s practical to keep the entire outfit rigged up and ready to go without causing hassle in transit. It also means that you can be fishing within moments of rocking up at your mark. The rig itself should be a running ledger comprising of small, neat components that have less chance of becoming wedged in a rock and getting snagged. The lead can run on either a swivel with a link or any number of the running ledger style mini booms that are now available. Use a three foot length of 25lb Amnesia for the trace line and tie a 4/0 circle hook to the end and you’re good to go. It’s a method of fishing that requires very little tackle and so it’s advisable to travel light, adopt a roving approach and keep on the move, always conscious of keeping your bait or baits in the shallow. A tripod is useful, as if fishing two rods it’s not practical to hold two at a time. A single rod can be held as you await a bite, but you just know that the second you place it in the rest, you’re going to get a bite.
Bass takes are usually extremely aggressive but often start with a sudden and intentional jab to the rod tip. At this stage, I like to drop the rod tip or pull a little braid from the reel. I believe this gives the bass confidence to continue taking the bait, feeling little or no resistance which could cause the fish to drop it and move off. As the fish does pull away, don’t strike, let the circle hook turn in the fish’s mouth and slowly tighten down to it. Bass are great fighters on this kind of tackle and give a good scrap on the right tackle. A landing net can be extremely useful, as other than lifting the fish from the water on the trace line, there is no alternative way to land your prize successfully.
Place your netted fish either on grass, flat rock or weed to offer it some protection and try to avoid sharp rocks that may damage your fish. It’s then entirely up to you whether you choose to release or retain your catch, but I would recommend only keeping fish for the table of between three and four pound in weight, if possible and anything bigger or smaller than this sent back home. Larger bass are breeding fish and should be treated with the upmost respect.
Once you’ve tried fishing in this way and made your first catch, I can guarantee it’s something that you’ll come back to year after year!