With those small googly eyes perched un-evenly on top of their head, vibrant orange to red spots and pretty good eating qualities, it’s no wonder the humble plaice is one target that is high up on any shore or boat anglers list. I like nothing more than watching their unmistakable form approaching through the clear water column when targeting them from a boat. We are lucky that we have such a good fishery for them here in England where from the early months in the year they come inshore along the south coast and get their heads down to have a proper munch! There are several ways to target them and I hope in this article we can cover these methods with the input of a few guys who know a little bit about catching them.
My first experiences of plaice fishing were from Weymouth when fishing aboard Josh Simmonds boat Fish On 2. One particular trip I recall, we spent half the day targeting black bream and the other half drifting the mussel beds for plaice, with some pretty spectacular results. We ended up with over fifty plaice on the boat, most of them in size and a few real specimens of around 5lb. I’ll leave Josh to tell you a bit more about how he goes about it later in this piece and I’d like to talk about the option of self drive plaice fishing.
In recent years the option of hiring your own self drive boat has become a lot more accessible to those who fancy being in control of their own fishing for the day. There are many places around our coast that offer this. The one I frequent the most is Beer in south Devon. A beautiful little shingle beach where you can take out one of the little wooden, diesel engine boats and set off in search of some fishy fun. The boats run between the Easter holidays and October. The ground immediately off the shore line is generally quite soft and sandy which plays host to various species including some nice red gurnards but most importantly plaice. Once out in your vessel for the day you can draw an imaginary line between Beer Head and Haven Cliffs in Seaton and know that anywhere inside that line you’ll be on the right ground. The plaice here, in my experience, don’t seem to get up to specimen sizes but we have encountered many over the years that are above the 27cm minimum size limit. The most important part of all this is that it’s a lot of fun, so don’t necessarily go with the intent of bagging your dinner just go and enjoy a few hours out with your mates or family.
I tend to keep the rigs and tackle very simple. Light spinning rods are ample enough with weights from 1 to 3 oz being more than enough. A standard flowing trace on a running ledger with anything from a size 6 to a size 2 Aberdeen shaped hook will suffice. You can add a bit of ‘bling’ if you fancy it in the way of coloured beads and spinning blades but it’s not needed. I have in the past picked them up on sabikis so they’re not overly fussy. Just set your drift and make sure your rods are all facing out from the same side of the boat.
Bait wise, we usually tend to take a mixture, but good old fashioned ragworm seems to take the majority of fish. You can add a bit of raw prawn or a strip of squid if you wanted to add that extra bit of attraction.
The fishing itself again is relatively straight forward. Hit the bottom then pay out a good few metres of line and sit back and wait. A plaice bite can be a good aggressive rattle on the rod tip but don’t be too quick to strike. Instead just let out a bit of line to give them time to have a chew on your bait. Once you feel the fish is hooked don’t strike just wind and keep going! It’s really quite easy! As with most flatfish species there is always a real possibility that it may be deep hooked so please make sure you take the appropriate unhooking tools required.
If you haven’t experienced a day aboard a self drive boat before then I can’t recommend it enough. I’ll be covering more of this in a future issue so keep your eyes peeled.
When fishing from Poole you have the unique opportunity of fishing within one of the world’s most beautiful natural harbours or fishing along 7 miles of golden beaches and further out to sea on some of the many banks within Poole and Christchurch Bays. Over the years Poole Harbour has thrown up many big plaice to 7lb and continues to surprise many anglers with the quality of fish it produces, drifting along the channels will provide fish of all sizes but has its downsides on sunny days when the iconic lifting bridges open and the volume of boats exiting the harbour can make for an uncomfortable few moments until they have passed!
Drifting along the golden beaches or as the locals put it ‘the front’ and between the piers has its rewards in a slower and more peaceful drift than the harbour and allows for a more relaxed day with the best of the fishing from August to October and this is the area the existing British shore caught plaice record came from… a whopping 8lb 6oz, what a specimen! It is not uncommon for over a hundred plaice to be boated during a single session later in the season. This year the plaice arrived early and were being caught in numbers from mid January whereas years ago they did not start feeding until mid March and this heralded the start of the season. I am not sure if this is down to milder winters and the seasons merging into each other but we won’t complain.
Tactics vary from area to area along with different colour beads, we all have our favourites, mine being yellow and green with a small spoon in the middle but to be honest it is what you have most confidence using and over the years I have seen all sorts of ‘contraptions’ and set ups used and all have caught. Off the shelf traces work well but please check the knots as I have seen some good rod benders escape and the angler left with a curly end on his trace where the hook used to be attached. Some anglers use multi hook rigs with great success often landing double or triple shots.
I generally recommend single hook set ups as this lessens deep hooking as you feel the contact without waiting for another touch. Bait is down to the anglers’ preference with ragworm, squid, raw prawn, mussels in various combinations all working well in the Poole area. Make sure you have a good supply due to the amount of ground covered and the different species you will come across, such as gurnards, mackerel and the bait robbing little bream. Plaice always put up a good fight on light gear with many anglers including myself sure the fish is bigger than it actually is.
With spring around the corner the avid angler begins to direct their thoughts once more onto the mighty flatfish. In fact the plaice is on everybody’s menu of what to catch next and all true saltwater fishermen and women would love to catch a giant big orange spotted plaice.
The waters around Weymouth and Portland are the Mecca for this quest. Between the Portland Race and Shambles Bank we are blessed with an array of ledges. Clinging to these ledges and Jurassic rocks are millions upon millions of nutrient sucking delicious mussels, irresistible to plaice.
This is one reason the plaice grow so fast and reach such a size; they have an endless supply of protein rich fishy food.
The best time to catch these beauties is between the early parts of April to late May and early June. They can be caught on all tides although middle tides are better and late afternoon at the beginning of the ebbs are certainly the best. They seem to be more active when the sun is high and the water is clear.
Green and black beads on the mussel beds seem to do the trick for most anglers, with a lot adding a bit of bling into the mix, each angler and skipper have their own variation of the rigs but most importantly you’ll find that we all agree on freshly sourced bait!
We all know they love a bunch of wriggly worms on a 1/0 long shank and most anglers use uncooked prawns tipped with rag. You can slice the prawn up the middle and thread it up the hook whipping it tight with bait elastic like a little shrimp sausage tipping it with a bunch of fresh medium sized worms. Keep the trace short and always keep an eye on your fellow anglers to see whose catching and shorten or lengthen your trace appropriately.
A floppy, light rod outfit works best for bite detection. Be patient with the bite and let them smash the bait then wind into it and the floppy rod will be much more fun for playing the fish!
If you fancy a dabble at the flatfish I have some availability aboard Fish On 2 in Weymouth and can be contacted through my Facebook page Fish On Angling Charters.
As winter turns to spring, I start to get rather excited at the prospect of fishing for plaice on the inshore sand banks. My method for catching these striking flatties is nothing spectacular, in fact I keep it as simple as possible because in essence that’s what’s so enjoyable to me. What I like about plaice fishing is the sit back and relaxing nature of it in comparison to my usual pursuits.
My absolute favourite venue for plaice fishing is the Skerries sand banks off the south coast of Devon. For those that aren’t familiar with the Skerries, it’s an impressive formation of sand banks sitting just a few miles from shore easily accessed out of Dartmouth.
I fish this area frequently from my SIB so long as the wind isn’t blowing an easterly, as anyone will tell you who fishes this area it’s best avoided in these conditions. I like to pick an average size tide with a drift speed somewhere close to 1 knot being preferred but most importantly, decent water clarity! To me, when the sun is out shinning and there isn’t a breath of wind it’s time to go plaice fishing.
There’s nothing overly technical to the method I use, a spinning rod provides the best sport paired with a 3000 fixed spool loaded with 20lb braid. I fish a running ledger, the multi-tool of sea angling rigs. Hooks should be kept subtle; a size 1 fine wire Aberdeen will provide good hook up rates although plaice are notorious for being timid on the take.
My outlook on bait is that so long as it’s fresh and has some movement then it will catch plaice; lugworm, ragworm, mackerel, sand eel, squid and prawn have all done well for me in the past the key is you want the bait to flutter in the tide. Recently I have been using strips of FRESH caught mackerel to good success finding the better plaice over worm baits with the additional chance of a turbot. Beads and other bling like sequins and spinning blades make the trace look nice and sometimes I like to utilise them but to me it all comes down to top condition bait.
When fishing the Skerries from my SIB I like to set up a drift that runs parallel to the shore, sometimes I’ll drift the top of the banks and other times I’ll drift the drops. The key is to let out plenty of slack, so the bait is bumped along the seabed catching the attention of fish as you pass on the drift. I like to hold the rod and feel for bites, as soon as I do the bail arm is opened for 10 seconds, back over and then feel for the fish on the end. As I mentioned earlier plaice can be shy to take. Giving them that short time to pick up the static bait will improve your hook ups. I really recommend studying some underwater footage of plaice following baits as it will open your eyes to how they feed.
I would like to thank Philip, Josh and Oban for their input into this article as they know a damn sight more about it than I do. These are the guys that are out there doing it on a regular basis so I hope you can take something from what has been mentioned above and put it into your own plaice fishing whether you’re a novice or a seasoned flattie basher! Good luck and fish hard!