LOCALS KNOW BEST
You plan a session, gear up for a method and nothing happens. Good job there is a better idea…
When changing a plan pays off.
Don’t you just love it when a plan goes wrong! There I was, all set for a livebaiting session for bass, but my target species gave me the brush-off. My colleagues had a better plan and, fortunately, it paid off. There’s a lesson here, because I was visiting a venue away from my normal fishing area and was lucky enough to have two local anglers to show me the ropes. As many of you will know, fishing anywhere without some local information can waste a lot of time.
Being a usually sensible sort of guy, I like to seek out good advice from local experts, which, over the years, has put me in touch with lots of great anglers, allowing me to tap into their knowledge and experience on different venues.
I first met Dave Lane and Terry Hartnell at a shore fishing competition in 2006. In the years since, I’ve got to know both anglers really well. When
I fancied fishing at Charmouth, in Dorset, I had very little knowledge of this particular beach. Both Dave and Terry are local to the venue, in fact Terry grow up in the nearby village of Beer, in East Devon, and Dave at Weymouth, in Dorset. After I called on these guys for some information, they went one better and arranged to meet me on the beach for an evening session.
Charmouth is a small village between Lyme Regis and Seatown, with its beach located at the mouth of the River Char. Part of the Jurassic Coast, it is a very popular destination for holidaymakers in summer. A café, masses of car parking and quick access to the beach make the village an ideal location for anglers of all ages and abilities, who can enjoy catching a wide variety of species.
WHERE TO FISH
We’d arranged to meet at the beach car park for 6.30pm. I decided to arrive slightly earlier to check out the ground we would be fishing. This is a high-water venue where the best fishing times are two hours either side of top water.
I had geared up to fish livebaits for bass and, at first glance, the right-hand side of the beach looked perfect. The shingle on the right was much steeper than on the left, it looked deeper, and there was a series of nice-looking sand gullies.
On this occasion I was the visitor, and it was Dave and Terry’s decision. They chose to fish to the left of the beach, their reason being we would have a much better chance of catching a few rays. After a bit of persuasion, I was happy to go along with that idea.
Apparently, a series of reefs makes the right-hand side of the beach very snaggy. Although that sounded perfect to me, I got the impression that neither angler was in the mood for rough-ground fishing and the inevitable tackle losses.
On the subject of rough ground, on the left-hand side of the beach there is also a reef that runs straight out from the car park. The seabed does, however, clear to much cleaner sand once you have reached the area on the beach adjacent to the cliffs.
We set off left, crossed the River Char, walked alongside the cliffs for about five minutes and arrived at a mark where Terry often fishes. The mark he had selected had easy access off the beach and up to a coastal path, and was very safe. Be warned, though, that when fishing spring tides at Charmouth you could be cut off easily by the tide and get pushed right up against the cliffs. The lesson is to check the size of the tides, take the weather into account and be safe.
Our plan was to fish two hours up to high tide and one hour down. We would be fishing one hour of daylight targeting mackerel and scad, and then two hours of darkness fishing for bass and rays.
Dave and Terry set up two rods each, one heavy and the other light. Terry cast out his heavier rod first with a sandeel bait, and then Dave followed with a fresh peeler crab.
Apparently, you can catch small-eyed rays in daylight here, and there is a chance of smoothhounds on the crab baits. Having said that, it seemed neither angler was expecting too much action on their heavier gear before darkness and placed more attention on the lighter gear.
Their lighter rods were set up with threehook flapper rigs, made with long snoods and carrying pop-ups, and small hooks baited with strips of mackerel belly.
If fished correctly, pop-up beads will float baits off the seabed and attract those species that swim nearer the surface. This method produced bites straight away, and Dave and Terry were soon winding in fish.
Mackerel were feeding from the off, followed by scad and pouting as the daylight began to fade. This was great news for me as I was livebaiting and, as a result, several good fish were placed in a bucket of seawater. By the time it got dark, both Dave and I were fishing a livebait in the gutter, while Terry persevered with the sandeels, looking for a ray.
Apart from pouting on the sandeel baits, there was very little action leading up to high tide. By this point, Dave also had a fresh mackerel bait fishing farther out in the tide.
Just as I wondering if anything was going to happen, Dave had a good bite on his livebait rod. He picked it up and appeared to be into a good fish. Smiling from ear to ear, he was certain this must be a bass.
As the fish swam into the light of our headlamps, I remember him saying “Here it comes”. Imagine his disappointed when a strap conger, which had taken a small pouting, appeared on the beach.
Seconds later the line on Dave’s other rod went slack and he retrieved a dogfish. Two fish were landed in quick succession, but neither was one of our target species. Nevertheless, it seemed like the fish were coming on the feed.
The action continued when Terry’s rod tip pulled down very slowly, came back up and his line went slack. It was a cracking bite that looked unmissable… but, unfortunately, when Terry lifted his rod the fish was gone.
After another quiet spell we reached one hour after high tide. At this point I was ready to call it a night, considering I had a long drive back to Bristol and work the next day. However, Terry and Dave seemed fairly confident that we could still catch a ray. I was persuaded to stay another hour.
Just a matter of minutes after my decision, Dave had another good bite and was into a
fish. All three us gave a loud cheer (of relief) when a small-eyed ray slid up on the shingle. This was our first of the night, but no more than five minutes later Terry wound in the second ray.
As it appeared that the rays were on the feed, I didn’t want to miss my opportunity. I wound in my livebait rod and pinched a pulley rig out of Dave’s tackle box. This definitely was the right time in the tide. In a matter of minutes I caught the third small-eyed ray of the night. Then, as quickly as they had arrived, they were gone. A few more casts produced a dogfish and numerous pouting.
As the last of the water was running off the beach, we had to call it a night. It had ended up being a good session and I was really glad I had stayed on for that extra hour.
Unfortunately, there were no bass caught on this occasion, but I will definitely return to Charmouth for another try. Apparently, any time from late September into early November can be a great time for the bigger bass, particularly when the sea is rough.
Terry Hartnell’s casting stops the traffic Mackerel livebait
Dave’s strap conger had taken a small pouting
A small-eyed ray for Terry
Several good fish were placed in buckets of seawater
Dave casting out at dusk