With spring in full swing most beach anglers start thinking about the usual few species, such as ray, plaice and hounds, with gilts and stingray being newer targets in recent years. I’ve had something different in mind over the past few years, spending a couple weeks to a month concentrating on turbot and the chance of a brill. More frequently targeted from boats, there’s plenty to be had from the shore in the right places at the right time and tailoring tactics appropriately.
I set myself a personal target a long time back of a Hampshire or Dorset shore caught turbot over 3lb and brill over 2lb. Though any shore caught turbot and especially brill is a great fish, ones over these benchmarks would be a stonker locally. The average fish to be expected from Hampshire and Dorset shoreline are around 10oz to 1lb 8oz. There’s no shortage of areas to fish for them, from the Solent to Weymouth and the West Country, in particular Cornwall. Most often they’ll be on the same marks as many of the ray species will be targeted on, predating on the same sand eel living in the large sand banks just off shore.
Most large shore caught turbot tend to come to those targeting ray at the time, but adding a bit of movement when targeting them specifically is the main difference to ray fishing over the same ground.
I’ve always found that a windy start to the year through February and March followed by a settled spell tends to build considerable sandbanks close to the shoreline, bringing in larger numbers of the tasty flats as it no doubt attracts more significant numbers of sandeel inshore too. Large fish baits such as sandeel, mackerel, herring and bluey are the preferred baits of choice. Two hook clips downs or long pulley up and overs work well as far as rigs go, with a hook size of 2/0s or 3/0s being fine for even the smaller turbot which have a large mouth and can inhale massive baits. Range can be varied from 30 yards to 100 yards, its really about finding the banks and where the fish are holding on it. Its good to spend some time searching them out, trying different ranges, looking for the banks and gutters they like to feed in. Rolling baits on calm clear days can work very well! Once you’ve located the fish, there’s usually more than one to be had.
I’ve never struggled to find these fish each year, with bags of fish up to 9 in a session and even a nice brill from a local beach. The biggest turbot over the years of trying came to my good friend Adam Fadli, a stunning fish of 2lb 11oz and up until this year my biggest came as part of a brace, both weighing exactly the same at 1lb 15oz! Last year I took a break from targeting them, almost giving up on the idea of finally nailing my target but this year I decided I would put some hours in again to find a few turbot having noticed a couple of better fish being caught to ray anglers.
I stocked up on sandeel and fish baits and headed out around the middle of March, recording my first blank of the year with only a few dogs and whiting to show for it! These early sessions are often more about working where the new sandbanks have formed, so any catches are just a bonus. A week later, same story again with just small whiting and dogfish to show for my efforts. I had started to get a good idea of where the banks were building though, which gave me confidence for the better tides to come. The groundwork is so important when pursuing such a species that isn’t prolific from the shore.
After a busy couple of weeks and Easter taking up my fishing time, I headed out to the same area I fished in march, with the added confidence following those hours of identifying where the banks had formed and how the tide was behaving around them. A couple of hours into the flood, without fail the first dogfish made its appearance! Thinking this was going to be the story of the session again I was sat on my phone and I noticed my left hand rod had dropped slack slightly, then it tightened up fast and slammed over giving a very solid thumping bite. I knew from several years of pursuing these fish that it was the target species. After giving the fish a couple of minutes I picked the rod up and wound into it, lead breaking out of the sand and hitting into a good weight, head shaking all the way in and staying deep near the bottom. It felt a good fish and sure enough a lovely turbot broke surface.
Could this be the fish I’ve waited all these years for? It slid up the shingle and I knew YES!!!! On the scales she went 3lb 10oz! I was absolutely buzzing at this point, jumping up and down I just couldn’t believe it. This really is what its all about for specimen angling. Getting a species in mind and doing what’s necessary to learn it’s movement and feeding habits to give an edge, yet still knowing that may not be enough. It’s sheer elation when it all comes together successfully, which is far from always the case no matter how good the preparation! This time though, it had finally happened! All those hours, tons of bait, all gone in a flash. I plopped a bait back out on the same rod in the same area and sat back smiling from ear to ear.
I quickly let a couple of friends know I had done it, but then off went the rod again! It was another solid turbot bite and sure enough I was into another one. This fish felt good as well and as it slid up the shingle I really did think I had another 3lb fish, but she was a bit smaller at 2lb 13oz.
Still a cracking fish and had completed my brace for the night along with a few dogs and after a few small eyes later I packed up and headed for home a very happy man! Fishing’s an addiction though and success rarely draws a line under a pursuit but more often leaves us anglers craving the next hit! So, the very next night I headed out again, but only managed one small turbot. It was still a lovely fish, just not quite on the levels of the previous evening. Like all flat fish they have a place in my heart and it’s now time to plan the next set of good tides for hunting these stunning flatfish!
If you want to target them locally to you, the best place to start is looking for instances of them being caught as by-catch on ray marks. Typically this will be in-shore sand banks with a good amount of tide over them. It may only be the odd fish as by-catch, but hours spent finding how and where they are feeding around these marks will soon start to yield more positive numbers. Never be afraid to give it the effort!