My quick commute each morning takes me along the local seafront looking out across the Bristol Channel, recently feeling somewhat subdued at the fact that the autumn months are well behind us, and we find ourselves in the midst of the coldest most hostile fishing months.
The recent memories of jumping on the boat with good friends in nice mild conditions fills me with a sense of regret and disappointment that I did not make more effort to get out afloat but, as the sun rises over a moody channel, an almost eerie sense of excitement hits me… the winter does not have to bring a stop to our boat fishing. In fact, all around our coastline there are plenty of species to target. The following article is just a short summary of what a few ports from around the coastline can offer should you want to head out and try your luck at something different this winter.
Here in the channel, the main focus is on the cod. For decades, the Bristol Channel has been famed for its cod fishing as these migratory fish make their way into our dirty waters to feed on the sprat and herring shoals that also make their journey through our extremely tidal waters. As explained in last month’s feature by Tommo Wright, there seems to be a serious lack of them nowadays. Whether that is from overfishing or the warming sea temperatures keeping them further north is up for discussion but, there is no doubt that there has been a serious decline in their numbers here. This can leave us anglers feeling pretty hard done by, having spent a small fortune on bait, food, travel expenses and charter fees targeting them!
Why is it all about the cod? Well, it doesn’t have to be. The colder months here can provide excellent sport targeting other species. The spurdogs turn up in vast numbers again following the sprats and herring up the channel and once you have located a pack you will struggle to keep a rod in the water. They certainly are not the most exciting of fish, but it is a nice one to tick off the list and they certainly put a bend in the old rod and can brighten up the coldest/darkest days afloat. The ray fishing never stops here either, with good blonde and thornback sport to be had all year round. Why not just go fishing for fish instead of hedging your bets inshore for a cod? Chances are that someone will find one anyway as they can turn up anywhere and at anytime so just go and fish!
Moving round the coast to north Devon is always profitable in the winter months as this is where you will find the huge packs and numbers or spurdogs. I know charter boats from Ilfracombe are fully booked through with trips to the deep channels where big spurs of 18lb plus are a very realistic target, with other species such as rays,…
…huss and large conger eels making up the rest of the catch! Make sure you take some heavier gear though as you will need a bit of lead and a step up in your traces! All of these species can grow quite large and have a serious set of gnashers!
The grounds from the likes of Penzance and southern Cornwall will continue to be a species hunters dream, and with the sharks all but gone a day can be spent targeting the deep-water species.
I use the word ‘winter’ very lightly nowadays as the generic winter months of November-March are somewhat a thing of the past where fishing is concerned. We are forever seeing some of our more summer associated species stay later and later into the year, with November/December and even January seeing some exceptionally good mixed fishing nowadays.
Ray fishing for blondes and small-eyed ray can be exceptional through.
November and December. Lure fishing can be very productive for pollack, coalfish, cod, bass and even wrasse from November till February. Mixed fishing with baits can provide a great variety of species through November, December and January. February normally sees some horrendous weather and big storms which limits our fishing, rarely getting out at all during this month but when the weather permits it tends to be a relatively slow month anyway.
The winter fishing around Poole is dominated by bass, channel whiting, rays, congers, squid, spurdogs and the occasional bonus turbot and big solitary pollack.
We used to have a very good cod fishery, often producing 30lb + specimens but, sadly this has not happened the last few years. On the bigger tides during November, bass fishing can be excellent with 10lb plus fish not uncommon and this is usually followed by a stop off on the way home for Squid.
As the light fades, this is when you hit it right. It is hilarious with anglers trying to avoid getting ‘inked’!
In December, the best of the channel whiting starts, which lasts through until the end of January and this period often produces some big pollack and turbot as bonuses. Come mid-January our thoughts turn to the offshore marks during the weaker tides which provides fantastic spurdog and blonde Ray fishing with spurs up to 26lb not uncommon and in amongst these are tope and bull huss. This fishery extends into March and sees our winter season out. In March, the plaice start to filter into the bay and our spring season starts.
We have four charter boats serving Dungeness and Rye. Fair Chance, Elizabeth Jane and Sea Otter which are beach launched at Dungeness and Peganina which runs out of Rye harbour.
The Dungeness boats take up to 6 anglers, although 4 is a perfect number, Peganina is licensed for 12 anglers.
From Dungeness, January and February sees prolific ray fishing with good numbers of thornbacks to double figures and the chance of a 20lb+ blonde ray. Bull huss have been increasing in numbers in recent years and their smaller cousin the lesser spotted dogfish is ever present. Decent whiting can also make up catches as do gurnard, plaice and scad plus pollack and occasional bream around the wrecks. There are also some very big conger eels on the wrecks off Dungeness. Turbot and brill inhabit the banks, however, they can prove frustratingly elusive.
A recent development is fishing for squid, which can be prolific or equally frustrating if they have decided not to feed! Catches of over 50 squid for 20kg+ have been made in what is a new discipline and with evolving techniques.
Peganina out of Rye offers a variety of trips. On the wrecks offshore she targets pollack and bream, big wreck squid plus the chance of a cod. Peganina also does long trips for some prolific bream fishing on the French side. Conger and thresher shark trips can also be booked. February will also see her finding a few codling on the wrecks plus some early plaice.
Fair Chance 01797 363544
Elizabeth Jane 07896 260369
Sea Otter 07772 708317
Peganina 07989 778361
Fishing over winter off the coast of Whitby is very popular with anglers from all over the country and Europe. With Whitby being well known for its cod fishing all year round, it really comes into its own over the winter months!
We are fishing in six to ten fathoms of water, very close into the coastline and sat over various ledges and gullies.
The majority of these gullies are very rough ground marks but hold some cracking cod which regularly sees fish into double figures.
We usually fish from October until around March time with pennel rigs baited with squid and black lug as the bait of choice. It’s not uncommon to see over 100 plus cod come over the rails on a good day. The coastline is a treasure trove of ledges and great marks for skippers to get their anglers over.
The Fylde area of the north west coast is an area steeped in cod fishing lore. Many still remember the ‘jumbo cod years’, when the area produced some huge fish from both the boat and shore . These tremendous fish are now sadly a thing of the past but, the line of headlamps marking the positions of hardy anglers braving the cold conditions on any harsh winters night show that there are still fish out there to keep them coming back.
For the visiting boat angler there’s plenty of sport to be had. Andy Bradbury, skipper of the Blue Mink based in Fleetwood sails every day when conditions allow and offers some great comfortable fishing. The start of winter will see huss and rays still being caught along with the inevitable dogfish and the start of the codling season. As things cool off the codling become the main target along with some quality whiting that often come on the feed as the tide eases. Spring sees more codling before the return of the plaice and rays.
Andy’s recommendation on the tackle and trace front is a long flowing trace fished on a running ledger with size 4/0 hooks baited with straight worm or worm tipped with squid. Flapper style traces with short snoods and smaller hooks will produce the whiting over slower periods.
There is somewhat of a local bait debate. Many of the older generation prefer frozen black lugworm for the codling, rather than fresh un-gutted worm. The belief being that the whiting find the juicy baits first. This is perhaps a confidence issue, but it is certainly worth considering given the number of experienced anglers who swear by it.
The area fishes best after “a blow”, when the water is coloured. When the weather settles and the water clears the cod become harder to pick up. So if you book a trip and the weather looks touch and go, don’t be too quick to cancel. Keep in touch with the skipper and use his expert advice, else you may just cancel a trip to remember!
The mighty River Mersey up in the north west of England has been one of angling’s true success stories in recent years. To borrow a phrase from well known local angling writer and historian Phil Williams, the river has gone “from running sewer to running salmon” in a very short time. Strict environmental enforcement has seen the river become one of the major players on the northwest angling scene. This is particularly true in winter when it offers boat anglers some tremendous fishing potential.
Early winter will see large numbers of thornbacks still in the river, along with strap congers, dabs and the last of the summer species. As the winter progresses the whiting appear in big numbers with some excellent specimens amongst them. Then of course it’s time for that favourite of every winter angler, the cod. Although sizes vary from year to year the Mersey consistently produces quality cod fishing.
Tactics need careful consideration as the Mersey can be a challenging venue to fish. The tidal run is fierce and getting your baits hard onto the bottom is a must. Uptiding is the best option, where baits must be cast away from the boat with uptide leads and a large bow of line allowed to spin from the reel. Bites will be either pull downs or spring backs producing slack line as a fish pulls the lead free. My favoured trace is a very short running ledger of no more than 50cm to ensure my baits stay close to the bottom. Baits can be simple and I prefer 3 or 4 frozen black lug tipped with squid on a 4/0 pennel set up.
There are many boats to choose from in the area, my favoured one is Jensen 2 skippered by Tony Parry. A great skipper and character whom you’re always guaranteed an enjoyable day afloat with.
With the ever increasing inclement weather, days afloat become far less predictable as we hit the winter season. For this reason, we now relocate My Way 2 to the sheltered comfort of the Menai Strait for the winter period.
Similarly to our trips of late from Holyhead with My Way 2, there is far more available for anglers to enjoy with the speed of this spacious boat.
From October to the end of March we are berthed at Port Dinorwic Marina on the Menai Strait. Winter fishing in and around the Strait has always been productive, however sometimes overlooked in favour of other destinations. But on the Strait we can enjoy some winter sport from a great variety different species. A mystical part of Wales that affords shelter and calm seas from all wind directions!
There is a good array of species to be claimed with big whiting & plump dabs, a good winter run of codling, plus doggies, congers, huss, countless mini species plus more available when fishing inside.
Weather permitting, the option is also available to run outside and onto the broken ground and wrecks to the north for another mixed bag including eels and spurdogs.
To the south and in particular late winter and early spring, the ray fishing can be highly successful with plenty of thornbacks with spotted and blonde rays mixed in.
Whilst our berth will be at Port Dinorwic Marina for the winter season, we have access to various pick up points along the length of the Straits. We have the ability to choose from Port Dinorwic Marina itself, Caernarfon, or Menai Bridge & Beaumaris piers; all depending on the fishing and winds forecast.
Well there you have it. Instead of packing that gear away and sitting at home waiting for some warmer weather why not pop that floatation suit on and book a trip from one of the many ports that still offer an amazing winter fishery!