The Skerries Bank off Dartmouth, Devon is arguably the UK’s Mecca for boat plaice fishing. From February onwards anglers from all over the country visit this picturesque town at the mouth of the Dart estuary and venture offshore in search of this prized flatfish.
Pure Fishing’s Rob Wyatt and I recently joined a group of local anglers aboard Malc Jones’ boat Sea Angler 2 for a days drift fishing over these famous and prolific banks. The day was hot, sunny, and with a near flat calm sea rippled up only by a light easterly breeze.
Ideally you would choose a neap tide as the drift is slower and the fish better able to chase down the baits. We’d be fishing a big spring tide, but still expected a good catch.
The Skerries plaice show in February, but then and through March can be a little thin after spawning, but by April are packing weight on and in May and June are thickset, fighting fit fish that really use their width and muscle power to give a good account of themselves on the right tackle. Plaice can be caught on The Skerries right through until October, but in lesser numbers.
Light tackle is the best for Skerries plaice as the depth is often just 25ft or so, occasionally up to 70-feet or so on most of the favoured marks. Most fish fall between 1lb and 2lbs, but with a good mixing of bigger fish from 2lbs to 4lbs, and always with the chance of a specimen over 5lbs, so again light tackle gives the maximum sport. We opted for the ABU Revo Bass 742 rod with an ABU Revo Toro Inshore 50 reel loaded with 20lb braid line and a short leader of 20lb Fluorocarbon. Leads were mainly 2 to 4ozs, with only 8ozs needed when fishing under the boat.
Rigs for Skerries plaice always cause much discussion. Some favour long flowing traces, others short hook lengths festooned with multi coloured beads. On their day all rig types work and it’s a case of finding out on the day exactly what the fish favour. A good starting point on neap tides are the longer traces, but with a small ball-weight about a 1/4oz fixed about 9-inches above the hook to keep the bait down on the seabed. On the bigger tides, the shorter hook lengths work better, again by keeping the bait tight to the seabed.
A simple rig that works well here is constructed simply by sliding on a swivel bead or Zip Slider boom on to the leader, then a 5mm bead, tie on a swivel and add a short 20-inch hook length of 15lb clear mono or Fluorocarbon. On the hook length add eight alternate yellow and green, or green and black 8mm beads and finish with a size 1 Kamasan B940 hook. The lead weight obviously goes to the link on the Zip Slider or swivel bead.
Top baits are two or three whole medium sized king ragworm, with a long sliver of white squid left to flap in the tide as the bait drifts along the bottom. Peeler crab, king prawn, mussel, lugworm and even razorfish will also all take plaice on The Skerries.
The technique is simple. The skipper sets the boat up to drift up and over the bank, then down the other side. Good skippers will alternate the side of the boat facing the tide each drift to allow the anglers on both sides of the boat equal opportunity to drift the tackle well away from the boat. Fish can be caught when working baits directly under the boat too, but you cannot release very much line otherwise you tangle with the guys lines fishing off the opposite side. When fishing under the boat you need to fish a much heavier lead to maintain contact with the bottom with minimum line out.
When trotting the baits away from the boat, you release line until you have about 60yds or so out, then hold your thumb on the out of gear spool and feel for bites. Every 20-seconds or so, release a few feet of line to rest the bait on the seabed. This allows any chasing plaice time to catch up and take the bait. When you feel a bite, also release a few feet of line, wait for about ten seconds then re-engage the spool and let the line come tight to set the hook in to the fish. There is no need to strike!
A little trick that Rob wanted to try was using Gulp Powerbait Glitter Trout dough moulded in to the centre of a watch type lead to increase the scent and attraction of the natural baits. This was the first time he’d tried this, and though one trip cannot prove conclusive, this simple add-on attraction accounted for four plaice, so is well worth a try. We’ll be experimenting more this year with the various Powerbait baits when drift and anchor fishing for various sea species and will report back our findings.
Another good tip is to fill the lead weights centre with foam and soak this in pilchard oil. Again this increases the scent factor and encourages fish to chase down a fast moving bait.
Our day started out with a quick succession of plaice to 2lbs, falling mainly to rag and squid cocktails, but lugworm was also successful, this being over the slack water period. Due to the speed of the spring tide bites eased a little during the main flow, yet fish continued to be caught by two’s and three’s each drift even during the peak run. As the tide started to ease again the bites came thick and fast producing several quality fish to 2lbs 8ozs, with Yealmpton’s Adrian Piotrowski proving top rod on the day with nine plaice, as well as taking the biggest fish. Most of the fish were returned alive to the water to grow on for future years.
It was a very happy crew that docked that night with a few fillets of plaice to be turned in to tasty goujons, but far more so the enjoyment of a days light tackle fishing for one of the sea angler’s favourite fish.