BOAT FISHING WITH BARHAM
Expert advice on night fishing for soles.
Not many anglers fish for soles afloat, quite possibly because it entails fishing at night. However, if you find the right mark and fish it properly, you can reap the rewards. The key is to find an area of relatively shallow water with sand or mud banks, preferably exposed at low water. Soles will almost certainly move up on to these banks as the tide pushes in and covers them. Of course, you need to be fishing an area where they are present, and it’s a good idea to keep your eye on local shore fishing reports to help gain this knowledge – if anglers are catching soles from the shore, you should be able to catch them from the same area afloat.
WHERE AND WHEN
Common throughout the coastal waters of the UK, the Dover sole inhabits sandy and muddy areas down to 150 metres depth, although they are most commonly found in shallow water.
This species migrates offshore in winter, but returns to shallower water in spring, when the mature adults will move to spawning grounds in inshore waters or on the offshore banks where they first spawned.
A fish of 2lb is a very good catch and will give you a good fight on light gear because they are very strong for their size. The largest Dover sole recorded by an angler is a shore-caught fish from Alderney, in the Channel Islands in 1991, weighing a massive 6lb 8oz, but there have been bigger fish caught commercially.
The Dover sole fishing season usually kicks off in the summer, around mid-July, and continues through to late October, and even November if the temperature remains mild. An incoming tide that coincides with the start of the flood in darkness is your best bet, because you want it to be dark an hour or two into the tide (depending on where you are fishing) so the soles have the confidence to move up on to the bank and feed.
TACKLE AND BAIT
When it comes to bites, the Dover sole is not shy. Bites can be savage, so using a rod with a fine tip isn’t a necessity for bite detection. You want to enjoy the scrap, so my advice is to fish as light as the tide and conditions will allow.
I often go for a 10-40g lure rod, which will carry a 3oz or 4oz lead weight and a couple of baits with no problem. Multi-tip boat rods with the quiver-tip-style inserts are also great fun. Match your rod to a suitable fixed-spool reel loaded with 12-20lb braided mainline and you’re set.
I really can’t give you an answer as to why wire booms are so effective for Dover soles, but I can tell you that a rig tied with twisted wire booms will out-fish a standard flapper or a rig with plastic booms by a ratio of about three to one. This observation is based on more than a decade of testing and experience by many anglers.
The wire booms obviously help pin your baits to the seabed, but I get the impression that these wire booms react with the saltwater and give off electrical signals, which may well appeal to the sensitive snout of the Dover sole. The key to using wire booms is ultra-short snoods – no longer than 6in. I prefer to go for 4in snoods, and even shorter if I can manage to tie them.
Most marine worms will catch soles, with a wriggling ragworm being the preferred choice in many areas. Fresh or frozen black lug is also a good bet, especially later in the season as the nights begin to draw in and get colder.
I know a few lads who do really well for big
soles off the shore with a large king ragworm on a Pennell rig, so that’s also worth considering if you’re planning a night’s sole fishing.
A wise old beach angler once told me to sit on my hands at the first sign of a sole bite, and the same rule applies to fishing afloat. This is because Dover soles have tiny mouths, and you must use small hooks, like a size 1, 2 or 4.
As soon as you see a bite you should let it develop, wait, wait and then wait some more. Pour yourself a cup of coffee or eat a sandwich, anything to divert your attention from your wobbling rod tip. Of course, if your rod tip is hooping over and rattling away, you can wind in sooner. As a general rule, though, let the sole take your bait and find your hook.
Use small hooks for Dover soles
A ragworm is a top sole bait
A 2lb sole is a good fish