‘Do you know what,’ I said to my wife as I was just about to step out the door. ‘I don’t think I’ve been to Chesil since Cerys was born.’
‘Yes you have!’ she replied. ‘You’ve been away plenty.’
‘Yeah, I’ve been away a bit,’ I said. ‘But not to Chesil.’ We both stood for a moment, looking blankly at each other before her expression changed as she silently accepted that I was right.
As insignificant as this conversation seems, at one time, it would have been unthinkable that even one year would go by without me making the pilgrimage from Cornwall to the hallowed shingle of the Chesil bank. My daughter is now nearly three.
And there was me four years ago thinking that becoming a father wouldn’t change me that much.
Between 2014 and ‘17, I fished Chesil pretty regularly in the autumn and winter time, although I’d never been up there in the height of summer. That was about to change, thanks to an invite from Cornish angler Andrew Proudfoot. I first met Andrew at the end of last year, fishing a popular venue for spurdogs. I’d heard of him plenty of times before, particularly of his prowess at plucking bags of big flatties from Dorset’s premier venue.
When I first floated the idea to him of doing a story about his approach to plaice fishing on Chesil, he seemed keen. Six months and a national lockdown later, he was still up for it and so I found myself powering up the A30 one evening, looking forward to feeling the crunch of shingle underfoot.
I arrived just before dark and rushed to get my gear out the car before I missed the prime feeding spell. One thing I’ve found from fishing Chesil is that if you’re meeting another experienced angler out there, you can pretty much guarantee that they will be the one furthest from the car park in whichever direction you’ve agreed on. This occasion was no different. Andrew had given me a landmark to head for and, on reaching it and walking over the bank, I found myself meeting Till Hall who urged me to get a bait out quickly as he’d just caught six plaice in short order.
Andrew would be along as soon as he could. Keen to capitalise, I quickly prepared and cast out some succulent offerings of premium quality rag and lugworm that I’d picked up from Premier Baits in Redruth the day before.
It soon became apparent that the plaice had stopped feeding almost as soon as they’d started, but at least the smoothhounds were active. Till landed a small one and then I enjoyed a decent scrap with a better fish.
Andrew had arrived in the meantime and with the light rapidly fading, all our thoughts turned to targeting another species of flatfish. A succession of worm-baited rigs were thrown into the night, hoping to attract the attention of a snuffling sole.
Wandering over to Andrew, I decided to pick his brain a bit about sole fishing on Chesil, ‘Usually it’s a question of wading through a lot of small pest fish to catch them but I often find that they feed best when the tide slows or goes slack, so it’s worth concentrating hard then,’ he says.
‘You’ve got to have your rig nailed down on the seabed as they won’t chase a moving bait like plaice will.’ Something that I’ve been told many times is that you have to be fishing over the clay beds to catch sole at Chesil and Andrew agrees, ‘You definitely want to be out on the clay for the sole as that’s where they’re feeding. The clay is quite a long way out on this stretch and you need a decent cast to get out onto it. You can tell when you’re on the clay properly as it will feel sticky when you start to reel in.’
The next few hours brought nothing but the usual nighttime suspects and Till soon headed off, having work in the morning. The tide had slowed to virtually nothing and I decided to have a short doze in my shelter and attack first light. After waking to the hiss of the sea lapping at the shingle, I looked over to see that Andrew’s rods were now out of the water and only his boots were visible, poking out the door of his shelter. I fished hard all the way through until mid morning without so much as a nod on the rod tip. Nonetheless, I kept a good rhythm going, spending the time between casts mending my spidered rigs and preparing the next baits.
Andrew surfaced at 10 am, just after high water. The tide had been running through nicely and I’d felt confident that I’d get something but the bite never came. I watched as Andrew sent his first baits of the day well out to sea before crunching over to see how he was doing. ‘I often find that when it’s fishing well, you’ll catch plaice in the evening and early mornings,’ he says. ‘When it’s fishing hard like this, the early mornings are not so reliable and your only good chance might be later in the day.’
We talk rods for a bit as his first baits soak. Andrew is a really accomplished caster with a great style and I’m interested in his choice of gear, ‘I’m using Zziplex Dymic HSTs at the moment and I’m kind of stuck on them,’ Andrew says. ‘This is a pretty old design now but I like the fact that (at 13’2’’) it’s slightly shorter than most modern models. With this rod, if I have a bit of a slope behind me I can just shorten my drop and still get a good cast. With longer rods, I’ve found that I can’t do that as easily. I really like some of the current Century rods, particularly the Excalibur C Curve which I have at home, but I’m not a fan of the Fuji K Guides they come built with. I’ve found these more prone to breaking than the Alconites I have on my Zziplexes.’
Andrew’s words resonate with me as I’ve recently broken three K Guides on three of my Century rods. ‘I never go fishing now without spare guides and hot melt glue in my kit,’ Andrew says. ‘I’ve had loads of incidents where I’ve had to replace a rod ring on the beach to carry on fishing. It’s not worth risking going without spare guides, particularly if you’re a long way from home.’
Andrew’s first cast finds a small plaice, a sight that I’m a bit stunned by after presenting dozens of baits over the preceding six hours without any reaction! But knowledge and experience is so often the key in finding those odd fish at times when everything seems to have its mouth nailed shut and Andrew has plenty of that when it comes to fishing Chesil.
He explains that, fishing a little further to the eastern end of the beach would almost certainly have caught us more plaice but that he favours this particular area for the better quality fish. ‘If I’m going to put in the hours to catch plaice,’ he says, ‘I want to be sure that I’ve got a good chance of catching better fish. On this spot, I’ve had sessions where I’ve caught upwards of 20 plaice with plenty of them being over 2lbs.’
As the morning became the afternoon, the heat of the day started to become sweltering and the temperature inside my shelter was near unbearable. I spent some time photographing Andrew’s cast and asking him about his rigs. One thing I’d noticed, even when he was fishing for spurdogs, was that Andrew’s rigs tended to have a slimline appearance and showed a lot of attention to detail, like using tubing to cover his knots and help snoods stand off from the rig body.
This day, Andrew was using pulley dropper wishbone rigs with luminous components and attractor beads. ‘I like the wishbone for plaice fishing,’ he says, showing me an all-monofilament version. ‘I often use a braid wishbone when the spider crabs are really being a pain although I prefer to use mono when I can. When the tide is really running hard like this, you can catch plaice although it isn’t the optimum time for a bite.’
Andrew continues ‘I use grip leads to hold through this spell and then as soon as the run starts to ease, I’ll switch to pyramid leads to let the rigs move a bit. These spells when the tide starts to slow (or begins to pick up) are when the plaice like to feed most so you need to take advantage of them. When the tide slows even more, I’ll put on a rolling lead. Controlling the movement of the bait is a big part of my approach to plaice fishing.’
I’d never intended to stay until the evening, even though it was certainly going to be the optimum time for a few fish. With thoughts of a long shift at work the next day and the lengthy drive home, I packed up and left the beach just after lunchtime. I hadn’t caught any plaice myself but the fishing had been tough with very few bites and lots of spider crab action. I’d enjoyed it nonetheless. Andrew stayed on, having made a plan to meet up with Till again in the evening.
I fully expected at least a few good fish to fall to their rods so it was no surprise to get a message the next day with news that they’d caught a few plaice between them and their mate Brad Price had bagged a sole. Andrew had been right about his choice of location being a good bet for a quality fish as his plaice weighed just shy of 2lbs.
I’ve missed fishing Chesil and when Andrew suggested a return visit sometime soon to hopefully hit a better standard of fishing, I was more than happy to agree. I’ll certainly be looking for any reason to visit it more frequently in the future.