As we choke down the last of the dry turkey sandwiches, most anglers’ thoughts turn to the fresh new year ahead. It’s a wonderful time for setting goals, learning new skills, and approaching our fishing with renewed fire and determination. How unfortunate it is then, that January through to March can represent one of the most challenging periods in the fishing calendar, not least on my local venue of Chesil Beach.
Persistent south-westerly gales and rough seas mean that many planned trips get cancelled or see us running for a less exciting, sheltered mark. At the other end of the spectrum, we sometimes get persistent easterly winds for weeks on end creating water clarity that might rival the Bahamas if you can ignore the wind chill factor of minus 15 degrees. To further deflate our new year bounce, many of the desirable fish species are conducting far more exciting business miles offshore to provide us with the next generation of cod and plaice to come. So, whilst all this is going on, what can we do to make sure we don’t just leave our rods in the garage until April?
The first step is to target what is likely to be there as opposed to what we hope might be. Two whole blacks whipped to a pair of 3/0’s might get lucky once in a blue moon but most of the time in the new year, that angler is probably going home disappointed. A better approach might be to fish 3 hook rigs with size 2’s and smaller baits such as a couple of blow lug, half a black or small crab baits. You can always put a slightly bigger bait on the bottom snood tucked in behind the lead in case that bonus ray or codling is still lurking.
Let’s be frank, the bulk of what you catch is still likely to be dogfish, whiting, pouting and straps but you have several distinct advantages. By using small, strong hooks you will still land that bonus fish which may come along, but if a decent dab, out of season plaice, sole or anything else swims past you will still catch it.
Strangely, the very nature of fishing three baits when there’s little hope of a quality fish can also be more exciting. If you see a dogfish bite on a pulley rig within the first two minutes of casting, every cast, it becomes, let’s say tedious! The same situation on a 3-hook rig means you still have two more chances plus that little glimmer of hope every time you reel in, that one of those bites you saw might mean there’s something different sat on one of those three hooks.
Chesil being Chesil, always has the ability to surprise, even during a dire time of year. By fishing this way, I’d go as far as to say that most sessions will still yield something that raises a smile. Amongst a catch of maybe 20 whiting and dogfish there’ll be that surprise undulate ray that picked up your bigger bait on the bottom snood or a couple of nice dabs that came in as treble shots with whiting. For me, at this time of year, it’s so much more effective than the single big bait I see many anglers adopt all year round.
Stack the odds in your favour by choosing to fish only when there is some flow in the water. It will vary according to tide size and where you are on the bank but generally three hours either side of high or an hour before low to three hours up will mean you have constant tidal movement which will really help.
I’m not a fan of fishing Chesil during a big onshore wind, wait till it drops and you’ll generally fare far better. I genuinely can’t think of many places I’d least rather be than standing on Chesil in a 30mph south westerly wind, it’s just not fun! When it drops, you’ll have a better chance of connecting with a larger fish like a ray or cod, but you must trade that off against the amount of nuisance fish that may also be present. Calm, clear water may be slow in the new year but don’t let easterly winds put you off, they can still fish well and the extra casting distance is sometimes a massive benefit on certain marks.
Go the extra mile to fish with the best bait you can get. If you’re able to, get the fork out and dig some lugworm, it’s free, great exercise and generally works so much better than blacks on Chesil in many situations. Did you know you can gut them and roll them in paper the same as you would for blacks? In clear, tough conditions they’d be a go-to Chesil bait for me. The bonus of digging is you will also come across other baits such as white rag which can also pick out a few bonus fish when it’s tough. Small halves of fresh crab are another that can attract anything from a small dab through to a double figure cod. Baits do not have to be big this time of year, small offerings catch both big and small species. This is especially true if it’s clear and calm during daylight. Small baits fished further out will almost always beat a huge single one closer in.
Be inventive, try unusual ways of presenting baits. This time of year is great for experimentation and you may find methods that work so well they become part of your permanent skill set.
This is a time of year when I often abandon what I know in terms of the marks I fish and try unfashionable areas at odd times with different baits to those I’d normally use. If I know the fishing will still be tough on one of my go-to spots, why not take a gamble? This is much harder to do later in the year when you will be walking away from an almost guaranteed decent session to experiment. Many of my favourite spots were discovered this time of year and similarly some well-known marks have produced previously uncaught species just by fishing them differently and experimenting.
For those eager to learn more, why not fish a couple of competitions? The locally run Samalite league started their new series of matches on 22nd January and whilst it’s friendly and welcoming, you’ll also have the chance to fish with some top anglers who will share a wealth of information with you that could also help with your pleasure fishing. Most of the best anglers I know have at some point in their life fished competitions and it can be a revelation just watching how some of these guys tackle Chesil at a tough time of year and often in less than favourable conditions.
I really hope that you all have a fabulously fish filled new year and I very much look forward to seeing many of you out on the stones soon.