FISHING WITH BARHAM
How fresh bait can turn around a day, with a very rare capture of two mid-double turbot proving the point
A rare capture of two mid-double turbot.
Ilove the spring, especially when we are blessed with a mini heatwave and flat calm seas. It’s a prequel to summer, and quite often it switches the fish into feeding mode. Another reason why I love spring is because it heralds the arrival of flatfish. The plaice start to show up, albeit thin from spawning, as well as the turbot and brill, which are more often than not ravenous and eager to take a bait.
I popped down to Weymouth in Dorset for my annual ‘big turbot’ hunt on board Duchess II, skippered by a good friend of Sea Angler, Jeff Clarke. It’s a trip I make every spring with the aim of bagging myself a personal-best turbot. However, today wasn’t going to be my day, but it certainly was for two of the anglers on board.
During April and May, the big turbot move on to the Shambles Bank off Weymouth in order to feed on live sandeels and launce that frequent the seabed feature.
Traditionally, it is fresh mackerel strip that has always been the favoured bait, but when you’re fishing this early in the season, the mackerel haven’t even arrived yet, so you have to make do with strips of frozen. However, if the weather and tide allows, it is possible to feather up some live launce at certain spots along the bank and, luckily for us, today was one such day.
As far as rods and reels go for this type of fishing, you need to choose 12lb or 20lbclass gear. Either a fixed-spool reel or small multiplier loaded with 30lb braid is ideal.
For the most part, you’ll be using watch leads around the 4oz to 12oz range, depending on the size of the tide and strength of the wind that’s affecting the speed of the drift.
There’s no need for any fancy business here, all I use is a simple running leger rig tied using 3ft of 30lb fluorocarbon with a size 4/0 hook on the end.
Most of the time you’ll be drifting quite quickly over rippled sandbanks, and after a few fishless hours you’ll start to imagine that every bump on your rod tip is a bite.
The key to this style of fishing is to use the correct amount of lead weight. The last thing you want is to have your bait 200 yards away from the boat, which is what happens if your sinker is too light – you have to keep letting out line to ensure that you’re still on the bottom.
Once you’ve lowered you bait to the bottom, let off a little line to get it away from the boat, and then use your thumb as a brake on the line – don’t put the reel back into gear.
The reason for doing this is so you can let out some line the instant you feel a bite.
Doing this for a count of five gives the turbot the confidence to swallow the whole bait and your hook.
Most big turbot will nail a big bait and swallow it whole in a matter of seconds, but the smaller fish will often just grab half the bait, which is why it’s important to give as little resistance as possible and let the fish take the bait properly.
As soon as you count to five, simply put the reel back into gear and begin winding – there’s no need to strike, the speed of the boat drifting will set the hook for you.
There’s no mistaking a turbot bite. Unlike plaice, which are also usually caught on the drift, a turbot will grab your bait and engulf it in one swoop. You’ll either feel a few rattles on your rod tip, followed by you rod tip dipping as you feel the weight of the fish, or you’ll have the rod almost wrenched from your hands.
BOOSTING OUR CHANCES
We’d spent about two hours drifting with frozen mackerel strips, and we had very little to show for our efforts. My friend, Jim Midgley, was the only person to score so far, and that was a rather small turbot weighing under 4lb. I hadn’t even had a bite, and neither had anyone else on board.
As slack water approached, skipper Jeff informed us that we would be moving to another part of the bank in order to catch some live launce. He knows the area extremely well, and he has specialised in flattie fishing for many years and knew only too well that if we could catch some fresh bait our chances would be boosted. We were hopeful of catching a few turbot once the tide turned.
Today our luck was in, and within just a few minutes we had 20 or so fresh launce in the cool box. It happened so fast that I didn’t even get a chance to grab my camera. They were coming up in threes and fours, and Jeff quickly told us that we had enough and we must get back to the main part of the bank as the tide was just beginning to turn.
The tide had turned by the time we got back to our mark, and within five minutes of drifting I heard a shout from David Pettigrew, of Portland, who was fishing on the stern. A reasonable fight ensued, and as crew person Caroline Haddrell heaved the landing net over the gunnel, I could see that David had caught himself a rather impressive turbot. As the fish flopped on the deck with a thud, it was clear that this was a good double. A quick unhooking and dispatch later and skipper Jeff had the fish on the scales at bang on 15lb 4oz.
During all the commotion I managed to catch a glimpse of David’s rig, which intrigued me. He had some form of weight sitting just above his hook. I quizzed him about it, because I know that he regularly catches big turbot off the Shambles, and he told me that he had been using this set-up for nearly a decade, and it obviously works. The extra weight just helps keep the bait nailed closer to the seabed, especially when there is a lot of tide running.
It’s definitely something to think about, and as soon as I got home the old grey matter was churning and I thought back to my carp fishing days and the weights I used for presenting pop-up boilies. A quick rummage through my carp gear and I found a box of Fox Kwik Change Pop-Up Weights, which are perfect for the job. If you can’t get hold of these, then a regular split shot will work just as well.
NOT A COINCIDENCE
With David’s fish sitting nicely on ice, I began thinking whether the fresh bait had really made the difference, or would that big turbot have taken a frozen mackerel strip? I didn’t have to ponder for long, because within ten minutes Caroline confirmed that the fresh launce was indeed proving its worth for these flatfish.
A rather compressed rod bouncing up and down had me scrambling for my camera, as skipper Jeff readied himself with the net to land yet another stonking-great turbot. This one weighed bang on 16lb.
About half-an-hour later Caroline hooked up again, and it looked to be yet another big turbot, but unfortunately it came off after just a couple of minutes, so we’ll never know.
I tried my hardest to get in on the action, but to no avail, it just wasn’t to be. However, seeing two big turbot boated really made my day. I was over the moon for both David and Caroline, it’s so rare to witness two mid-doubles caught on the same day, let alone within a few minutes of each other.
Next time, one of those big turbot has my name on it!
If you’d like to book a trip out with Jeff and Caroline on board Duchess II, tel: 07778 315778.
Jim Midgley was the first to hook up on a light spinning rod set-up
It’s so rare to capture two mid double-figure turbot on the same day. What a brilliant session it was!
David Pettigrew hooked into the second turbot, and it was clear that this was a much better fish
Don’t be shy when it comes to bait size. A 15lb turbot can easily swallow a whole launce
This one went bang on 16lb for Caroline.