The Flatfish Follies

Having had a few conger, huss and smaller species off the rocks to start my year off it was time to change tactics and move on to the shallow surf beaches with mainly flatfish in mind. The late February through early April period can be a tough time for shore fishing as the majority of fish are offshore spawning, but not all.

I find this period good for the odd big flounder that seems reluctant to join the rest of the clan far offshore making little flounder and they tend to hang around in the surf and leave late. This same period can also produce the best dabs of the year, but also a mixed bag that might include turbot, rockling, whiting, school bass, coalfish and codling.

I always fish two rods. One cast as far as possible carrying a 2-hook clipped up rig armed with Kamasan B940 hooks, size 2’s. This rig tends to target the dabs, but has also seen me take the odd March thornback ray, early plaice if fishing in daylight, as well as rockling.

The bulk of fish coming my way will be on the second rod cast close in, usually with 60-yards and often less than half that with the baits right in the white water surf band. With these baits being in the tumbling surf tables, I choose a three boom rig. In rougher seas the booms I use are the short, stiff Shakespeare SALT shore booms. These avoid the worst of any tangles, though I do keep my hook lengths to no more than 10-inches in length and make them from stiffer 20 to 25lb Fluorocarbon. In calmer seas with little surf, I use a longer 8-inch softer boom that gets the hook lengths further away from the rig body line. I also drop the strength of the Fluorocarbon to 15lb and make the hook trace length up to 15-inches.

I like to fish both rigs to a static grip lead. Fish won’t always chase baits in these cold, early year sea temperatures, so make your baits an easy static target for them and you won’t go far wrong.

The night this blog is based on saw me on the beach three hours before high water and I’d fish through until the hour after high water. The surf tables were light, but breaking up to 40-yards out. It was cold with a light easterly wind and with bright stars.

I’d baited the boom rig with two frozen mackerel baits and the middle with sticky black lug. The long range rig went out with sticky black lug baits tipped with sandeel and mackerel.

It was no surprise to see the close rod tip start to show action first. I began with a whiting double, both on mackerel. These were decent whiting which have stayed late here in North Wales this year so far. I added more whiting, but then as the depth in front of me increased as an inshore gully filled with the flooding tide, I dropped the baits just 20-yards out right in to the middle of the gully.

Barely a minute passed before a small rattle shuddered the rod tip. It was obviously a flattie and I left it. It rattled again, then pulled over. I felt the tugging of a flattie as I reeled in but there was more weight there and a sizeable whiting with a plump flounder on the bottom boom broke surface. I weighed the flounder before releasing it which was short but thick bodied and was surprised when it went over 1.5lbs. I kept adding whiting, inevitably had a couple of dogfish, then another flounder, more whiting, followed by a single dab. All were on mackerel, nothing fancied the worm.

The long range rod had been a waste of time until high water. But as soon as the flood got underway I started getting bites at long range to lug. These were tetchy bites, so I dropped down to size 6 Aberdeen’s from size 2’s and started picking up dabs, but not big ones, plus more rockling before packing up.

I tend to keep these trips short to no more than four hours and time them either over high water or to coincide either side of low water, which are the best times generally speaking. I rarely fish by day, always at night as the fish forage closer in at night and in better numbers. To be honest, smaller neap tides can be just as good as bigger spring tides, so I don’t worry too much about the tide I’m fishing.

My baits are nothing special either. I rate frozen mackerel as good as anything for these early year flounder, and this will also take the dabs and whiting, though for the dabs I prefer frozen sticky black lug and tip with mackerel or sandeel to pick out the bigger fish. The turbot take sections of sandeel or razorfish, with the bass, codling and rockling hitting the lug again.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make at this time of year is to continue on fishing big lug baits hoping for cod that for the shore angler in most areas just won’t be there. It’s far better to drop down in hook and bait size and target specifically what species are likely to be in front of you and enjoy the moment. The bigger fish will return soon enough and you’ll keep your confidence high in the meantime!

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