‘Been fishing long?’ Somebody said to me the other day. ‘Oh, about 48 years,’ I replied. ‘No, I mean today.’ ‘Well I’ve not cast out yet,’ I explained. ‘Oh, so you haven’t caught anything then?’

So in those 48 years I have had a go at most aspects of fishing, including many years on the course fishing match scene, fly fishing, boat, and shore angling and in my experience there are many similarities in every sector. So the words ‘Just a bigger pond’ ring true. Obviously tackle changes but it is still a lot about what happens at the end of the line that matters.

So a few years back I saw a competition that really appealed to me. Shore only catching specimens and species with a competition card, and a code for each month. Brilliant!

Then take a photo and send it in to the admin team. The first year I entered I came fourth which for me was a great result for me. So I re-entered in 2020 and as I had decided to retire at the grand old age of 58, it would give me something to do! I set myself the challenge of catching all I could from around my area. Basically I covered Christchurch harbour, Hengistbury Head up to sandbanks, round to Poole harbour and over to Swanage. Admittedly a big area, but no more than 8 to 10 miles from my front door. Which handily is only 300 yards from the sea. 

There's ample opportunity for thick and thin lipped mullet locally

When I regularly fished out on the charter boats I would come back to shore and grab something to eat. Then I would go and fish on Poole Quay with any scrounged bait that was left over. What an eye opener that was! By scaling down to course fishing gear, ie size 10 hooks and 10lb line and simple rigs, I would catch a good number of species and some good-sized fish mixed in. Wrasse, bass, bream and flatties, plus lots of mini species all on the same gear. A small piece of rag worm was what they wanted. 

Certain spots would out-produce others, sometimes the tide was a major factor. In particular the second flood seemed to be a consistent time when the fish fed. I also noticed that as time progressed, and I returned the fish that I caught then slowly different species started to appear drawn in by the ragworm scent.

By doing a sort of speed fishing it was possible to catch up to 10 to 12 species in one spot, like in course fishing building the swim. You didn’t know what was coming next. Interesting fishing. The rig was so basic but worked well with minimal snagging in a very snaggy area. 

So there was lots of variety in the harbour. What about on the beach between Sandbanks and Hengistbury Head? My approach was basically a small hook, size 6 Aberdeen for worm, fish and squid strips and a size 3 salt water champion or a size 1 Kamasan. 

This approach seemed to work well for me as I consistently caught sole, plaice and bass plus a good number of undulate and small eyed rays, with even the occasional thornback thrown in for good measure. Admittedly these were mostly small fish, but again I never knew what was coming next. The area is definitely a nursery judging by the numbers of juvenile species. I like to think of it as a layby in the charge of the tide. 

Scaling down allows the capture of some stunning species that would otherwise be missed

The local beach is about to undergo a major re-sanding programme. Huge amounts of sand is being dredged up from an expanse of the seabed near Dover, soon to be pumped onto our beach. How this will effect the local fish population will have to be seen. In the short term it will mean the sea will be disturbed by the sediment giving it an unusual colour and in theory should fish well, but the last time this was done a bloom occurred and the sea turned a rusty red colour with a thick algae bloom which the fish disliked. So we shall see.

Sandbars usually mean sand-eels, which is a major food source for lots of fish. Last year saw good numbers of them and other bait fish in the bay, including large shoals of sardines, plus the usual sand-smelts, whilst right now the whiting are full of sprats so this all helps the eco-system to flourish.

One species that does unfortunately seem to be in decline, at least locally, is the flounder. It used to be quite prolific in Poole Harbour but now numbers are declining. What has caused this population crash? I do not know. Lack of food? Poor reproduction? Predation by birds? Fish and man may be factors. If this were a land animal there would be an outcry, but because it is a fish it goes un-noticed by all but a few. As it is, Steve Perry is asking the very same question about the Southampton Water population of flounder in the very next feature this month, so it seems Poole is not alone in suffering a notable decline. 

Amongst these plentiful turbot, you may even be fortunate enough to land a brill.

So back to the 2020 competition, my plan was to attempt to catch large numbers of species to compete. So I used my knowledge of the harbour to boost my monthly score, catching up to 35 different species in a month. And at 10 points each, all added up, plus with the occasional specimen fish giving me extra points I managed to keep up with the guys predominately catching big fish.

Last year was like no other with all the Covid 19 things happening. We lost most of the spring, only starting the competition properly in July. So I had 6 months of doing what I enjoy most, scratching around in the harbour and searching for interesting marks on the, what at first glance, seems to be a featureless beach. But by watching how the waves break on the sandbars it was possible to notice some areas that were scoured by the waves and tide and produced good numbers of rays, smooth hounds and bass, usually at night or dusk.

I am sure the fish are always hunting and moving along the shoreline so it is more of a case of good bait and good tide that is a major factor in success, although I did find a few better spots on Boscombe Pier!

In September I asked Simon Lancastle if he would like to come and sample some of my local fishing, which he readily agreed to do so. Simon was my main competitor. So I took him to some of my ‘top secret’ spots (that everybody fishes) and, after him ‘borrowing’ most of my rigs and me making him walk up a hill that according to him mountaineers wouldn’t tackle, we ended up with a cracking 29 species of fish in just a few days! This for me was perfect to prove to myself that I had enough knowledge of the potential of this area. 

Now it’s January the competition is over. The scores have been added up, taken away, divided by 6 then cooked at gas mark 6 for 30 minutes! And low and behold, by some miracle, I have done enough plankton fishing to WIN! Much rejoicing in the Widdowson household…(ME!) and the prize a superb Tronix rod, the Competition Match GT2, so thank you George! It may be somewhat overgunned for my everyday fishing, but perhaps I’ll start to find a few of the bigger fish that also frequent this area, including specimen undulates and large conger eels on occasion.

Perfection in miniature! Sometimes the best marked fish are the smaller specimens.

Hopefully the world will soon be over this pandemic, as I know we all want our lives back to normal. I can then go back into Christchurch Angling and ask Tom Bagnall not to give me all the big ragworm! Joking aside, I have to thank him for his fantastic bait and advice. To have his help and service on my doorstep has been brilliant for me and all my fellow anglers.

If anyone would be interested to learn more about the massively diverse range of species we have in this small patch of Dorset, along with guidance on catching them, please check out my Facebook page, linked below, and perhaps give it a like or drop me a message. 

Tight lines, Richard

Share on facebook