So how many times have you checked the tides and weather conditions, then rocked up to one of your trusty rock marks just before nightfall, to cast big baits out for rays, bass, huss or eels? The same approach has worked time and again under these exact conditions in the past so why would you ever think to change it? It’s a tried and tested way of fishing that we have followed for ages now, sometimes even turning up hours early to get on the mark, then having a play around with a spinning rod to try and catch some fresh bait or have fun with wrasse around the edges. We don’t usually put out our big baits until last light and if the fish don’t show, then they just weren’t there – that’s fishing.
However, a couple of recent sessions have turned our thinking on its head. Why not fish for other species on these same marks? With that in mind, Rob Johansen and myself set out for an afternoon into night session, with the intention of spending the hours of daylight fishing with small baits at maximum range. We both opted for sandeel baits on one rod targeting rays, then a range of two and three hook rigs with all manner of baits on the other to see what else may be out there. This is commonplace at plenty of other marks all around the country and my standard approach to a lot of beach situations, but something we simply haven’t done much of from the rocks around here.
Our first casts went out and we were into fish straight away, with a bream for myself, along with a lovely spotted ray, swiftly followed by another for Rob. We thought that we were in for a properly frantic session but an hour or more of stationary rod tips followed, with just the occasional kayaker and paddle boarder passing by, plus the odd idiot in a boat who decided that they needed to be within 40 yards of the rocks where we were fishing. This is one thing we don’t usually have to consider on our rock fishing forays, as we usually have the place to ourselves after dark. During this slow time we had a few casts with feathers and managed to pick out a few mackerel and scad to top up the bait supplies. Thankfully, as soon as the tide picked up the fish came on the feed, with all four rods showing bites within minutes of each other. I snared another bream and another nice spotty, while Rob had a pair of spotties.
This pattern continued with my rods showing the typically aggressive bites of bait robbing bream, although I did land another beautifully marked spotty. Rob’s rods, which were fishing somewhere near the horizon, seemed to avoid the bream attention as they were clearly well and truly in ray territory. They steadily produced, with more spotted ray and a pair of small blondes.
While not massive, ranging from 3lb up to a very respectable 4lb 7, the spotted ray around our stretch of coastline are stunningly marked and scrap well above their weight, using every bit of depth and tide to their full advantage. Probably the smallest of the day screamed off on the ratchet of Rob’s rod, taking upwards of 15 yards of line at a rate of knots and had us both scrambling across the rocks. Had he missed it we would have presumed that a tope or big bass had hit his bait rather than a 3lb spotty with delusions of grandeur.
As darkness properly fell (after a stunning sunset), we felt confident that with so much activity out there, surely there must be a big huss or eel with our name on it. We both stuck with one small bait but switched our second rods to the more standard fishy baits on wire traces. However, it simply wasn’t to be. Despite our best effort we fished through to the early hours with just a couple of bream, pout and straps, plus a solitary huss around the 4 lb mark to show – it was dead. On any normal day, we could have easily turned up an hour before dark, caught a few scad then had a dud session. If it hadn’t been for a change of tactics and a few packs of sandeel, we would have missed what turned out to be one of our best sessions in an age.
Was it a one off or had we really been missing out? A week later, we were both keen to find out, so planned to return to the same mark and see if we could recreate the success. Sadly, other commitments meant we couldn’t fish together, with Rob fishing the Saturday and myself only able to fish the Sunday. It seemed our first successful trip was no fluke, as Rob soon sent a photo of a first cast spotty, which he followed up with another. The fish of the session was a cracking 13lb purbeck blonde, which gave a fantastic account of itself in the building swells.
This filled me with enthusiasm for the following day with the wind forecast to drop and conditions looking spot on. Sadly, as with the previous week, I just didn’t have the magic touch with the rays. Thankfully a feisty 5lb bass took a liking to my sandeel bait and a procession of bream smashed baits sporadically throughout. Nothing huge but a couple of fish around the pound and a half bracket meant at least I had dinner sorted.
These sessions have really got us rethinking our approach and wondering what surprises could be on offer if we tackle our existing marks with a new mindset. I, for one, look forward to finding out and all we need to do is convince our families that we need to spend more time out fishing in the hours of daylight as well as at night!