Don’t leave it too late to target the prolific flatfish population of Dorset’s Poole Harbour
You can still target flatfish in Poole Harbour.
Only a few hours after Big Ben had struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, with the revellers still struggling homeward bound, I was up and about scraping the ice from my car’s windscreen. Yes, it was one of those rare frosty mornings, although just a few hours later another low was predicted to smash into the South Coast. We had a very short window of opportunity for a bagging session.
Along with David Graham and Malcolm Stote, I was heading to the shores of Poole Harbour to meet local flounder guru Steve Lawrence for a short session along the northern shoreline. With the predicted Force 5/6 south-easterly, which would be increasing as the day wore on, blowing directly along the beach, it would certainly shift the cobwebs from the night before.
Under normal circumstances, by early January the harbour’s flounder population would have moved from the upper reaches down to the lower reaches, before heading off to their spawning activities. This year, however, the mild winter accompanied by a series of major frontal systems left the water temperature well above average, resulting in the flounder population remaining in the higher reaches of the harbour for far longer than usual. Usually, by mid-January their migration should be well underway.
Like many large natural harbours, Poole offers a variety of marks, with flounders the principal winter species, although access to some areas is fraught with difficulties, often resulting in a 30-40 minute walk.
Marks along the harbour’s eastern and southern flanks are well documented, with many having easy access; these will be the most productive in February as the flounders concentrate in the lower reaches before heading out to their spawning grounds. The details of some of the better marks to visit during the next couple of weeks are detailed later in this article.
However, there are vast swathes of the harbour’s western and northern shoreline that rarely see an angler, mainly due to logistical factors. The western side is very shallow, with extremely soft mud, not the sort of stuff you want to walk on. In large areas, vast reed beds backing on to private farmland with very limited access fringe the soft mud, so only use designated paths.
The one exception is the Arne Peninsular, which offers some great winter flounder fishing, while bass, mullet and eels figure during the summer, but expect a good 30-minute hike to reach the shoreline.
An electrified railway line runs along the northern shoreline, with access restricted to just a couple of locations, but the walk can be long and extremely swampy in places. Access to some areas is also restricted due to longterm ground pollution. Wherever you are heading, be safe and stick to the dedicated paths and access points.
As we spilled on to the beach, and the approaching storm clouds and strengthening wind were rapidly swallowing a few rays of early morning sun, we were suddenly stopped in our tracks. Two young ladies had stripped down to their birthday suits and gone for a muddy dip; it must have been one heck of a party the night before. Now, with a spring in our step, we were quick to spread ourselves along the spit.
TACKLE AND BAIT CHOICES
While we had not discussed tackle before the trip, all four of us were using fairly light outfits with multi-tip rods, such as the Tronixpro Medusa or the Grauvell Teklon Competition Surf II. Dave had opted for the new Tronixpro Viper, which, at around £100, offers exceptional value for money, while Steve had settled for a Vercelli Enygma Zero. Fixedspool reels, along with light line, were used throughout. Initially, we all used light lead weights, 2-3oz ball leads, but these had to be increased with the strengthening wind as we got deeper into the session.
Steve was using size 8 Aberdeen hooks, while the others were mainly using size 6 or 4 Aberdeens. I went up to a size 2 because I was using a flounder spoon.
Bait choice was ragworms, but, with the water being extremely coloured, older, smelly worms would be far more effective as the fish would be feeding by scent rather than sight.
Thirty uneventful minutes ticked by before Malcolm had the first bite, resulting in a brace of beauties. Within minutes, while I was still busy taking pictures of Malcolm’s fish, Steve was landing a treble shot of quality flounders, quickly followed by a double shot. Oh yes, the flatties were now in a feeding frenzy.
For the next couple of hours it was fairly hectic stuff; to be honest, I was struggling to keep up with fishing and taking pictures in hostile conditions.
TWEAK THE LINE
The fish were definitely reacting to movement, which is often the case when flounder fishing in murky conditions; the more we tweaked the line the better our chances of landing a double or even a treble of flounders.
I was pleased to get a couple of decent fish on a traditional flounder spoon. It’s a great way of fishing; more often than not, the fish will aggressively take a baited spoon as it is
slowly trundled over the seabed stirring up even more mud. I would stress that the hook and line supplied with these spoons are over the top and need changing, so I opt for six inches of 3kg Amnesia armed with a size 2 fine-wire Aberdeen.
It had been one of those action-packed sessions, with everyone sampling good sport, but by mid-morning with the wind strengthening and the first spits of rain being blown horizontally, we headed back to the nearest pub to dwell over the morning’s activities as we supped a well earned pint.
It had been a frantic few hours, with more than 20 quality flounders recorded, but it was also nice to see smaller flatties around the 20cm mark. The future for Poole Harbour’s flounder population looks bright.
From left: Steve Lawrence, David Graham and Malcolm Stote
Malcolm brings a flounder to
Steve with one of the numerous flatties he caught
Dave was using his Tronixpro
All four of us used fairly light multi-tip rods