Mid February through to the end of March is always a tough time for shore anglers. Most adult fish will have moved offshore to spawn leaving only generally smaller fish to fish for. Persistent gales, heavy rain and lots of weed have not made for easy fishing of late either. I have been out though, mainly targeting flatfish, when the sea state has allowed, and I’ve been doing okay.
I’ve kept my fishing sessions short, just looking to fish over the key period of the tide when the fish are most likely to feed. This has tended to be the first three hours after low water when the new flood tide and building surf disturbs the most food from the sand. The available food at this time of year tends to be concentrated more towards the low water line, hence the first three hours after low water proving the best. There’s no point in longer sessions as the fish tend not feed for overly long periods this late in the winter when the sea temperature is cold.
Also try and fish a tide that starts to flood after dark. This makes a big difference as the fish move in with confidence under the cover of darkness and you will have far more fish working in front of you than you will on a tide flooding in daylight, especially when the water is shallow.
Long distance casting can be the key to catching a greater variety of fish at this time and this season so far has been no different. I’ve been fishing my ABU 6500i TSR reels loaded with just 12lb Berkley Trilene XL Clear and a 60lb shock leader. The 12lb line, with its finer diameter, offers less air drag during the cast than even standard 15lb line, so you gain a few more yards on the cast and on occasions this can be critical. This long range tactic has caught me lots of dabs this year. In fact the numbers of dabs, certainly locally to me, seem to be increasing, which is good to see as they offer consistent sport when little else is about.
For this long range fishing I use a clipped up 2-hook rig. By clipping up, as opposed to clipping baits down, you retain better bait presentation as during the cast upward air pressure on the bait keeps the baits tight around the hook shank and point. Also keep the hooks small, say size 4 to 6 Aberdeen’s, and use a bait just big enough to fill the hook length, no more. Fish are not overly eager to feed during this late winter period and smaller baits and hooks will always catch far more fish.
I also fish a second rod but cast this in close. I tend to catch flounders and rockling close in, occasionally school bass and even small turbot, between February and early April, often on baits lobbed just a few yards out in the surf tables. I fish a 3-boom rig for this which is by far my most consistent rig for this time of year when targeting a variety of species.
So what baits work best? Blow lug either very small ones or sections of lug body, small one-inch sections of ragworm, small mackerel strips, an inch long section of razorfish or a single mussel are all easy to get but consistently good baits. The mackerel strip often picks out the bigger sized flounder. For the dabs use black lug that’s gone sticky, again short inch long sections.
These then are just a few hints and tips that I hope might help you continue catching fish over the next few weeks when conditions will be tough and the majority of fish in front of you typically small and hard to catch as the sea temperature reaches its lowest of the whole year.