The sustained battering from storms Ciara and Dennis made getting out to fish from the shore very challenging through most of February. Nonetheless, we hardened shore anglers are a resourceful bunch, spending hours scanning the weather forecasts and latest sea conditions, looking for those windows of opportunity. Sometimes, however, the conditions are relentless and any angler desperate to wet a line is faced with little choice but to plant themselves in the eye of the storm and hope that the weed isn’t too bad. With large seas still pounding the shores of all my local Dorset beaches and with seemingly little options to find more sheltered waters, owner of Shorecast, Graham Warren Jnr; Shorecast team member Colin Night and myself decided to bite the bullet and try our luck regardless.
We arrived at our chosen venue before dark and assessed the situation from the cliff above. Scanning the surface of the heaving water gave us no clues as to the lay of the land beneath the waves. With no visible signs of any distinct features, we were left with little choice but to choose our spots to fish based on where we felt comfortable and confident. We made our descent and walked along the beach, Colin and Graham both setting up in their chosen spots, while I walked a good few yards further along the beach to allow us all some space.
We made our first casts into the fading light. Our primary target was rays, although there was a very bassy-looking sea running so our baits of choice were sandeel and squid wraps or a solitary sandeel. These were fished on fairly long up and over rigs or a mono version of the Bagnall bar rig, cast as far we could muster (fairly standard tactics for this kind of fishing). The fishing was slow for the first couple of hours apart from the odd dogfish rattling the rod tips. The tide eventually topped out and with it came my first small eyed ray of the session, a fit male fish. Although not a massive specimen, this was one of our target species and was definitely welcome. Another small eye of similar size followed soon after.
My run of success prompted a few questions from Graham and Colin as both of them were yet to get a bite from anything decent. I assured them that my tactics were still the same as when we first started and I hadn’t changed anything since our arrival. Graham and Colin are both very accomplished anglers and both cast cast equally as far as I do but, so far, they were struggling. This seemed odd to me considering we were fishing a few yards away from each other. For my part, I reassured them that I hadn’t doctored my traces on the quiet and it was surely their turn for a better fish next!
An hour after I caught the pair of small eyes, the tide changed direction and slowly started dropping back. This seemed to trigger another flurry of activity for me and after landing a couple of dogfish, I saw a decent thump on the rod tip and line began to peel away from the spool of my reel. After a short tussle, a plump little bass was drawn into the surf and washed onto the beach by the breakers. Once again, questions were asked as to what witchcraft I was employing to tempt fish onto my hooks and, once again, I confirmed that my tactics had not changed.
With the tide rapidly falling away, the dogfish became a problem for myself, although the others still struggled for bites with only the odd dog coming to their rods. I did, however, manage a larger female small eye among the dogfish which was the last decent fish of the night. With our session over, we packed up and crunched our way back up the shingle. As we walked back to the car, my mind was full of questions as to why the session had been so one-sided in my favour. Was there some underlying feature where I was fishing that was holding the fish? Was it just that my luck was in? Should Graham and Colin have moved to fish the other side of me? After all, sometimes you can do no worse than move and I’m sure we’ve all had sessions where a swift change of spot has paid off handsomely.
Sometimes, the reasons for these kinds of one-sided sessions are pretty obvious: one angler has a bait that the others don’t, the fish are clearly finding one angler’s baits first and so on. On other occasions it’s hard to calculate with any real certainty why the fish all fall to one person’s rods. Sometimes, you can find yourself puzzling over these sessions for days afterwards with no resolution before concluding ‘that’s fishing’ and moving on.
Shore fishing in the depths of winter with harsh weather and turbulent seas is ‘big picture’ angling. On some nights just being out there and fishing is an achievement, running from your shelter to pelt a bait into the teeth of the wind then reeling in the other rod to find that a 5lb codling had gorged your bait without showing anything recognisable as a bite. It’s difficult to draw conclusions as to why things are or aren’t working from sessions like these. Calmer conditions enable us to put our approach and the fishes’ reactions under closer scrutiny.
Ultimately, only the fish know for sure why they eat one angler’s bait and not others’ and they certainly aren’t talking to us about it. Maybe there are rules that govern their attraction to one bait lying not far from another seemingly just like it. Things as obscure as chemical signals or maybe subtle differences in odour depending on the condition a bait was frozen in and how long it has been in the freezer.
The problem for us anglers is that these minor variations might only make a noticeable difference in a tiny minority of occasions. Is it worth trying to factor them into your fishing just to avoid the possibility of a 1 in 100 whitewash session? For many people the answer is likely to be ‘no’ but the next time you see someone in the next shelter catching fish after fish while you are struggling for a bite, you might not be able to help yourself wondering what their answer would be.