April is never an easy month. I find it’s the transition between winter in to spring. Many of the normal shore species can still be offshore spawning, and it’ll be a few weeks yet before they return in real numbers, as already it looks like a slightly late start to spring, even though the winter, overall, has been mild. The fish that are currently left inshore tend to be few and far between and bites have to be worked hard for, especially in the northern half of the UK.
The fact is, that with a little thought and effort, you can maintain a degree of catches by specifically targeting what fish you actually have in front of you. Many make the mistake of sticking to big cod baits, but unless you’re in the Northeast, or on the East coast of Scotland, maybe the east coast England if there is a spring codling run, then the chances of cod are few and far between in most other areas. Far better then to target the remaining whiting, dabs, flounder and any early plaice that linger along the shore line.
These fish, especially in calm, clear seas (and this can apply to night time too if there is a moon, not just daylight) become less inclined to feed, are somewhat comatose, and tend to stay more towards the low water line. If they feed, they tend to do so on the flood tide, especially either side of slack water, so concentrate your efforts then. If I fish daylight, I look for cloudy conditions rather than bright sunshine. Fish are reluctant to come in to shallow water in bright conditions as it leaves them vulnerable to predators. Night time will always fish best.
The real knack to catching at this time, is your rig choice and how you construct them. For short range work, stay with the proven 2-hook and three hook flapper rigs. I prefer the 3-hook type. These allow you to fish three baits close together using their combined scent trail to form the maximum strength and width of scent trail to cover as much ground as possible. This also helps draw any fish in form further afield. I also use a 3-hook boom rig made with three plastic booms. These help keep the hook lengths from tangling when fishing short in amongst the wave tables. For long range fishing, I always favour a 2-hook clipped up rig. This again fishes two baits close together for high scent value, but being clipped up, the rig also helps preserve bait presentation, even when hitting the cast hard for maximum distance. I also like this rig because it puts the lower hook tight behind the lead weight and in full contact with the seabed where the majority of fish will be feeding. Even at long range, the lower hook often catches the majority of the fish.
In calm seas, reducing the visible impact of the rig to the fish is vitally important. I make both my rig body and my hook lengths from Fluorocarbon for daylight fishing. There are several reasons. Fluorocarbon is tougher than monofilament and a little stiffer. This helps negate any abrasion problems associated with contact with sand and stones, but being stiffer it also reduces tangles and aids presentation when fishing in to direct wave action. When casting no more than 40-yards with lead weights less than 4ozs, 30lb rig body is enough. However, do not power cast with line as light as this with heavy leads. At night, the Fluorocarbon rig body is less important, and clear mono will suffice, but again I prefer to use Fluorocarbon.
My hook traces are also Fluorocarbon. Again because it is more abrasion resistance, and less prone to tangling. For general shore fishing at this time, I use nothing heavier than 20lbs, mostly 15lbs in a light surf and keep my hook lengths short, no more than 12-inches in length. However, if I’m really struggling for bites, then I drop down in breaking strain and will use 12lb, 8lbs or even 6lb hook traces. These lighter breaking strains again are less easy for the fish to see, but also, being a lower diameter and with less weight, will give more natural movement to the bait. Remember this and reduce your hook snood diameter, and you’ll see a quick improvement in the number of bites you get. I use Berkley Trilene Fluorocarbon as its stiff but not too stiff, plus it knots exceptionally well in the lighter breaking strains.
I also go for smaller hooks. We’ve seen that the majority of fish in this period, will be smaller juveniles with just a few better fish mixed in. Small hooks will catch small fish…and bigger ones too. It’s less likely for a big hook to catch a small fish. I choose size 4 or 6 Aberdeen long shank hooks for the majority of my April fishing for general species. These are the right size for small fish, and strong enough to land bigger fish if they happen along. In extreme cases, in daylight, I will drop down to size 10 hooks and tiny baits to get bites.
Which brings us to baits. These need to just fill the hook bend and the shank of the hook, no more. Go bigger and the small fish may not even attack the bait. Small baits are easily taken in and will give the fish the opportunity to show a proper bite on the rod tip. If they just nip at bigger baits, often the fish will lose interest and leave it alone. A good tip, is say when fishing small sections of lugworm, tip the hook point off with either a tiny slip of mackerel, a mussel tongue, a chip from a ragworm, or a slip of squid. If the fish are fussy, this tends to make them attack and take the hook point straight in, rather than ripping half heartedly at a bait.
Just a few things to try then, over the next month or so to keep catching until the fish stocks fully improve and spring finally arrives with its more consistent warmer weather.