Find your lucky spot
It may seem too early, but plaice are already moving into the estuaries of North Wales
Catch plaice from North Wales now.
Most plaice fishing hotspots found in the south of the England or Cumbria are open beaches where you fish at medium to long range. It’s a different story in the north and north-west of Wales, with the bulk of these orange-spotted fish being caught from a true estuary environment.
Often anglers are not aware that these fish are even resident and they tend to go undetected. General fishing techniques for bass and flounders, the common catch inside these estuaries, do not necessarily suit catching plaice, so any caught are often lucky, one-off fish.
To specifically target these fish you must adopt a different type of tactic and take a little time to learn some basic watercraft to identify the hotspots.
WHERE TO FISH
Plaice are caught from the estuaries of the Dovey between Borth and Aberdovey, the Mawddach at Barmouth, and the Traeth Bach estuary at Porthmadog in Gwynedd. hey are also caught from the Conwy estuary, and from the Dee at Point of Ayr, Talacre, and as far inland as Greenfield and even Bagillt, although the latter is weather-pattern dependent.
Although rather unique in its environment, the Menai Strait can still produce plaice. Again, few anglers try for them, but the sand channels and banks either side of Caernarfon on the mainland, and south of Brynsiencyn on Anglesey, still hold these fish if you specifically fish for them. Sandy patches in deeper water towards the two bridges can also see occasional plaice caught.
TIME AND LOCATION
The season can be surprisingly early for this far north. I’ve often had them in the third week of February, though I’d expect mid-March onwards to be the real start of the season. Granted, these are thin, spawned-out fish this early on, but there’s not much else around at this time, and catching the first plaice of the year is a welcome sign spring is on the way.
By April the fish are starting to fatten up, and come May, most will be packing weight on quickly. The best time for numbers is May and June, but you will catch them right through to mid September, with the bigger fish often showing in August and into September. After mid-September the fish quickly move out into deeper water as they prepare for spawning.
Early and late in the season you can catch plaice at the mouths of the estuaries on the adjacent sandbanks, but more often in the main channels when they are moving in and out of the estuary, which is a semi-gradual process, depending on the amount of rainfall present.
In mid-season you have to be much more selective in where you fish. They tend to be in centre channel where it’s deeper, and if you can find small areas of seed mussel beds or patches of boulders, then fish tight to these features.
They also congregate around channel buoys where the securing chain becomes a home for seed mussels, and, especially in bright sunlight, they will move in under the shadow of boats. Dropping a cast close to these areas will also give you an edge on the day. Another good tip is to target the deeper channels with sandbanks alongside, which boats use to access harbours.
Plaice also like to sit close to pier and jetty supports, feeding around the base of these, and also in any scoured-out gutters that form under the structure. Remember to fish the uptide side of these structures so that your bait is washed back into the gutter, not the downtide side where the bait is outside the feeding area.
The perfect place for late spring and summer plaice is where a bottleneck of tide increases tidal speed and scours out a deep hole. Often these holes have a very steep incline on the seaward side, but a more gradual rise on the inner estuary end. The plaice always sit at the base of the steep
incline, or in the first third of the gradual rise coming out of the deeper water. This is simply where the food falls as it is washed down the bank by the current, and the fish sit here to intercept it.
These scoured-out holes are a common feature in many of the smaller Welsh estuaries, and sometimes in the inner channels of the bigger estuaries, such as the Dee.
Weather patterns are important when seeking estuary plaice. They like fairly settled highpressure systems with minimal rain. This invariably sees relatively clear water inside the estuaries, with no acidic floodwater coming off the mountains.
Plaice will tolerate coloured water if it is suspended sediment washed out by a strong tide run. However, they will not tolerate coloured floodwater. Whether they just go off the feed and hunker down waiting for better conditions, or move out to more settled water seems unclear. My guess is that they stay put and as deep as they can get, but go off the feed.
Sunny days will fish well, but I prefer warm, but more overcast conditions. Less light penetrating the water column seems to make them feed better. A slight chop on the water is fine. Again it reduces the light levels, but windy conditions seem less reliable, at least in my experience in this area.
CHOOSING THE TIDE
As we’re fishing estuaries, it’s the speed of the tide that governs what tides we fish. This invariably means the smaller neap tides. Often bigger tides, and especially spring tides, push through far too fast in the bottlenecks to make holding down possible.
Weed can also be more troublesome on the bigger tides. It’s always worth fishing either side of low water, as sometimes the plaice move around at this time and find your baits. However, my favourite time is when the tide is just picking up about a half-an-hour to an hour into a new flood and through for the next hour to an hour-and-a-half.
The mid-tide period, even on the neaps, can run too fast, and the fish go off the feed. They come on again just as the tide starts to ease down again an hour-and-a-half or so before high water. I never find ebbing tides as good as the flood. It can produce the occasional fish, but more towards low-water slack. The shape of the scoured-out holes is also more in tune with a flood tide, than an ebbing one and the distribution of food.
TACKLE AND RIGS
Where possible, I like to use a 2-4oz bass rod and a small 5500 multiplier loaded with 15lb line and 25lb shock-leader when using lighter leads in light tide conditions.
Mostly though, due to the tide run and sometimes the distance needed to be cast to reach the scoured-out holes, a standard 4-6oz beach-caster, 6500 size reel and 15lb to 18lb line with a 60lb shock leader is the better choice.
Fixed-spool outfits with 20lb braid can help cut down on tide drag when fishing deep, and this is a good alternative.
Rigs need a bit of thought. In the spring I favour a simple three-hook flapper with shorter hook-lengths of no more than 12 inches. I like to keep the bait fairly static as the fish tend be more lethargic at this time and less inclined to chase a bait down. I fish this to a slightly slack line to make sure all the hooks are on the seabed in deeper water, then watch the bow in the line for lift bites. This is more sensitive than watching the rod tip. Three-boom rigs with short 10in snoods can also work well.
Come the end of spring and into summer, I switch to a one-up, one-down rig with longer hooks snoods of 18-20in. In clear water I like the bait to move a little more to attract the interest of fish. My hook snoods are always fluorocarbon, usually 12lb to 15lb, but I will go lighter in calm clear conditions if I think it is worthwhile and bites are slow. I like the toughness of the fluorocarbon because it’s less prone to tangles, and, importantly, the fish are less likely to see it.
I always fish Kamasan B940 Aberdeen hooks in size 2; they are sharp, tough, small enough for plaice to easily eat, but can land me a good bass should one happen along.
In slightly murky water I may be tempted to add a few beads in front of the hook. From the shore I like alternate black and yellow, or black and green, but I experiment on the day. If I want a bait to move with the current, then again I may go with beads. Mostly, I fish just
bait and prefer this method as it keeps the bait moving more naturally.
When fishing tight to mussel beds or into the middle of a channel, then stick mainly to a fixed grip weight and static legering. If the target feature’s distance is fairly close in, you’ll be able to cast your baits in close proximity to the fish, and they’ll come and find it by smell.
In the deeper channels, try varied casts until you locate the beginning of the bank that rises up towards where you are standing. Baits just on the beginning of the rise are more likely to be taken than baits left on barren flat sand.
When it comes to fishing the scoured-out holes, then I prefer a plain lead weight; one heavy enough to just let tide pressure on the line swing it slowly downtide. Make the cast above the scoured-out hole on the uptide side, then let the sinker and bait roll down the incline, which you’ll feel if you’re holding the rod, and wait until your end gear settles. As soon as the weight stops moving, expect a bite.
When fishing man-made structure, resist the urge to cast. The fish will be in and around the structure and support legs, so a simple vertical drop down of the bait, similar to when downtide boat fishing, is far more effective, generally speaking.
As you can see, if you ignore the plaice potential of North Wales, you’ll be missing out on some great sport. Grab your gear and sample some of the action right now!
This near 1lb 8oz plaice was caught at close range
North Wales is a prime spot to fish for plaice