hunting species by richard widdowson

I’m an HGV driver, so any excuse not to get in the car is good for me. This has encouraged me to explore sea fishing locations close to home. My favourite local spots include Boscombe pier, Poole Harbour, Southbourne and Swanage (when the ferry is running).

I’ve been fishing over 40 years, starting with course and fly and then progressing to charter boat fishing. I learned from some excellent skippers such as Steve Porter, Matt Rowe and Mervin Mimms, who all helped me understand more about sea fish behaviour and began my interest in species hunting. Regrettably regular charter boat fishing became too expensive for me, so I decided to start species hunting off the shore.

Having done well locally in 2018, winning the Wessex tackle species competition (Hampshire & Dorset) and the Boscombe Pier species competition, It encouraged me to enter the 2019 Tronix sponsored specimen and species competition on the UK Shore Catch reports Facebook group. This has proved very enjoyable. Setting serious fisherman who are regularly catching specimens against fisherman like me who enjoy the hunt for multiple species has proved interesting.  Although being a species hunter will not win the overall competition, it’s been exciting to have won October with a high number of species plus two specimens in a gar fish and a ballan wrasse.

My species tally of 24 included a cracking thick lipped mullet from Poole Harbour and then most of my other fish were caught off Boscombe Pier including turbot, undulate ray, small eyed ray, dab and bass. The variety for one small patch is absolutely incredible!

I’m a regular at Boscombe Pier, joining the BPC club has given me access out of hours, so allowing members to stay on the pier after 4pm in the winter. The pier offers shelter from all but a southerly wind and the structure provides habitat for such a variety of fish it significantly improves my chances of catching on a shallow featureless beach. It is also a great location to catch local squid for bait and eating. Landing squid and fish can at times be awkward because of the wires surrounding the pier (installed to stop people jumping in) but can be overcome with care and prior thought of how to go about it.

Every time out fishing is a new experience. No fishing trip is ever set in stone but if I can pass on any advice on species hunting that I’ve picked up along the way, here are some ideas:

1. Use previous experience: Coming from a course fishing background has helped me with my approach to sea fishing. Certain species like mullet you can usually catch using course fishing methods. I tend to use river pole floats with bread. There is an element of watercraft, understanding the topography of the coast and tide strength with this knowledge you get a better understand of fishing habitats. 

2. New modern ways: I’ve spent years trying to get the tactics right for catching a variety of fish. The more modern continental way to fish with smaller hooks, lighter tackle and smaller baits certainly helps me to catch more species. I very much enjoy making my own rigs from scratch and find combining bait presentation, small hooks, length of rig and pop ups increase what I catch but this is still a learning curve. Constant trial and error till you find the combination that works is paramount.

3. Make friends: Whilst anglers don’t want to give away where they have caught fish, people will share some information so get to know your local tackle shop and make friends with your fellow anglers and help point each other in the right direction. 

4. Technology: Social media is also essential to understanding what and where it is fishing well. Google earth has proved a very useful tool to identify less obvious features in shallow water that will attract a selection of fish. The digital magazines and other digital media available these days is incredibly helpful.

5. Be prepared: I try to fish as much as I can, so by having my species card and my phone on me I’m always species hunting. Species competitions gives you more flexibility than a set match allows. You don’t have to be at a certain place at a certain time. I can fit it around the rest of my life. Being prepared with bait in the freezer allows me to fish at the drop of a hat. A few hours fishing in the right location and conditions are worth more than a planned day out when things aren’t right.

6. Minimise danger: Don’t be scared to use an expert especially when you are exploring new locations. You are better off going with someone who knows where to fish safely.

Overall, species hunting is a great way of getting a reward from fishing if big specimen fish are not on your doorstep. There’s still a target to achieve, a challenge to overcome. It’s also often a more accessible form of fishing than out and out big fish specimen hunting and a great way to introduce new people to the sport with he variety of fish available to us. Whilst the challenge is harder with less variety in the winter months, I’ll still be out there trying to rack up the points in the competition!

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