The winter may have been long and cold. The Cod and Whiting may have moved out to deep water, and the warmth of summer seems far in the distance. But many species start to move inshore during the month of March, and while it is still deemed something of a changeover month, the prime flattie species are on the move. Its time you should start to….
“MUSSEL IN ON THE PLAICE”……………………………
Finding reliable inshore fishing is generally something of a hit-or-miss affair. You might latch into a late winter Cod, or even an early Bass, but these are generally recognised as stragglers and rarely worth putting in the crosshairs of your species target list. I wouldn’t know the ceiling weight of the Plaice here, but I do know a guy had a 6 -plusser many years ago, and 2 to 4 pounders are not uncommon at all. For years the flatties in the Solent area seemed to zero on one particular area. Known as the Mussel beds off Langstone, it is a fairly general area that plenty of people know about, yet it still seems to hold up well. The Plaice in particular seem to move into this area first, as soon as early March, depending on how cold the winter has been. Given that the jet stream seems to have been altered by the ice melt in the Arctic cooling the Gulfstream we can surely look forward to milder, but wetter winters. That means the Plaice are likely to be moving on the mussel beds perhaps as early as late February. They stay until the end of April, and while they don’t leave en masse, the catches start to dwindle considerably. From what I’ve heard it’s a bit like blue shark migrations. The large, specimen Plaice move in first, then the packs of small to average fish. Then late in April, while the numbers are down, you have the chance of a biggie again. The Flounders tend to move run a bit later, but many anglers say these have been decimated by inshore trawling, and I would not dispute that having seen the decline in Flounders when beach fishing off Hayling sea front. Thirty years ago, a winter day/night session would give us up to 60 Dabs and Flounders. Today you might get 4 in the same period.
So what brings the flatties on to the Mussel beds? Some say it is to breed, but I have doubts about that, as I thought they bred in deep water. General consensus is that they breed July to December, with the main breeding grounds being south of the Dogger Bank, in the North Sea. Research revealed an interesting phenomenon in that these North Sea Plaice use a sort of tidal conveyor, to leap-frog their way down the coast. Electronic tagging has revealed that they actually rise up to mid water when the tide is flowing and get carried down the ocean by the tide, before sinking to the sea bed as the tide dies, then doing the same again. They use this tidal flow to get to their sub-unit population that run into the Eastern English Channel, and it may be from there that they find their way onto the Langstone Mussel beds. Since October 1977, nearly 500 tagged Plaice have been released and so far 100 have been retuned from European ports around the North Sea.
These special electronic tags measure the depth in the shape of water pressure, daylight, and sea temperature. They can log the date for 900 days and store it for an amazing 25 years, though I cannot imagine a Plaice surviving for a quarter of a century around our coastline without getting caught. It is more likely to be a food source, and my guess is they are not feeding on the Mussels. A Plaice would have to use a Kango hammer on a mussel shell, so I reckon it is something like pea crabs or young Hermit crabs that they are after, living in amongst the mussel clumps. So you have to ask yourself why Ragworm is the killer bait, yet the Plaice would hardly see carpets on them over the mussels? We have all caught Rays on Mackerel, yet in their natural element A ray is hardly likely to come across a piece of Mackerel, or even a live one. I know some anglers use garden lobworms for flatties, and you’ve never seen a flattie flipping its way over the veg patch in your garden. So last year I decided an investigation was required into whether the flats really were providing good sport off Langstone harbour. It was also an opportunity to christen my latest acquisition, the new 17-foot Wilson Flyer “Hi Sea Drifter”.
Now I have to make a confession. I was that desperate to get Drifter in the water for a boat test I went without many things, including GPS and Sounder, though we did take handheld VHF for emergency. The chart was an old one from years ago, and although it was deemed a boat test, the weather was so peachy I just couldn’t resist ordering up 1lb of Ragworm. So with a dozen rods loaded we pulled into Northney Marina. Now for those small boaters in the know, this would seem madness, as you can use the beach launch at Southsea, and just dive out through Langstone cut to the mussel beds. But I had been told to beware of the rip current swinging the boat on/off the trailer, panics to make sure engine etc worked due to the current, and worries about low water retrieve. So I opted for what must be one of the most expensive slip launch facilities in Britain. Just over £20 at Northney Marina, Hayling Island .Here you have 24/7 water, no tide rips ,but a very long run right up Chichester entrance and round the front of Hayling Island. Northney Marina is one of 19 UK locations owned and operated by MDL (Marina Developments Ltd). It is situated just over Hayling Island Bridge, on the north side of the island, within Chichester harbour, one of Europe’s largest natural harbours. There are fuelling facilities,good toilets, berths for pontoon moorings(on availability) dry stack storage,workshops,and although very expensive, the slip price does include parking for the car and trailer, plus it is covered by CCTV.With a new rig behind me this is really the reason I use it. There is also a hotel right next door, so if you wanted a 2-day stop it is ideal, and you could book your boat and trailer into Northney Marina for the overnight as well. This could be handy in the early summer when you want to try a couple of days after Tope, Black Bream and Smoothhound.
We used dead reckoning, and rough bearings given to us by John Watts, who fishes a private boat out of the Hamble River. Once level with the entrance of Langstone harbour, and clear of the sandbars there, we ran slowly up towards the submerged submarine barrier, approaching from the East. There was a marker on the south end of the barrier, and two marking a channel to get through to the north of that. We were advised about halfway between these two posts, and about 300 yards East of the barrier. Some anglers like to fish right up to the concrete blocks, but remember it was my first trip with a new boat, and I reasoned that 300 yards off seemed fine to me. The whole Solent area is deemed a nightmare for weed in the summer months, but winter and early spring are usually fishable, so I had opted for ultra-light 6-foot bonefish spinning rods, and fixed spool reels. Shallow water, and 2 to 4 ounces of lead depending on the tide, made for very pleasant angling indeed.
This is an ideal area to try uptiding with something like the Conoflex range of rods. When the tide runs through, you may have to upgrade your weights from 4 ounce plain bomb to ¾ ounce breakouts, but that should just about be it. The art in uptiding which many people forget is to go further up than 90 degrees to the side of the boat, but then letting out a load of slack before engaging the reel. Too many times I have seen people cast a bait uptide then as soon as the lead hits they engage the reel. Wrong. All that happens is the line is pulled directly across the face of the tide and the grip will start to either pull out, or drag round, therefore defeating the object. If you let a good belly of line out then the line of pull is far lower to the seabed and it actually helps pull the grip in. The bite, should the fish be large enough, will be slack line falling away downtide as the fish breaks out the lead. And if the species are too small to do this you will still get an indication on the rod tip. But remember; don’t strike as all you hit is the belly of line in the water. Crank like crazy to tighten up to the lead and then pull the rod back hard.
For this session, which was really a boat test for “Drifter”, I decided to go ultralight, and took eight bonefish rods and freshwater fixed spool reels. With Plaice in mind it seems such an overkill to use an uptider that throws six ounces when the fish I catch might only top the pound! A bonefish rod is six feet long, and the fixed spool reels are easily cast out with just 10lb line and an ounce or two of lead. For Plaice in the spring I do believe you should use some form of attractors. This can be a multiple bead setup above the hook resting right on the bait, or a regular flounder spoon, also with a few beads. What it does to the flatties nobody really knows, but those beads do seem to make a difference. I try to spray a couple of rods out either side, putting the rods in the holders, and another three downtiding off the stern. If the Solent weed is barrelling through, and it often does, then cut the uptide rods out, otherwise they will drag round into the downtide lines and you get “clustered”. With large Portsmouth Ragworm you can always snap them in half and use half a worm on each hook. I find if the bait is too big you get the bites, but not the fish. Try to match the bait size to the fish’s mouth size.
The day in question was cool, but a beauty, with light winds and a piercing blue sky. We had already had a good hour’s run around trying boat handling and the new 60-4 stroke Yam, and all was well. It’s alright playing with boats but you need to remember they are a means to an end. It’s the fish I want. There were several boats about, but being mid-week it was comfortable, and we were a little late in the season. With slack tide passing on the flood I began to wonder if we would be fishless. Then, one of the light rods started twitching around, and after a 30 second wait I wound out the stretch and we were on. Now you aren’t going to get any powerhouse runs from Plaice, but once under the boat they keep digging away and can give you a good scrap. This was no exception and turned into a plump two pounder. Whoops of delight all round as the first fish christened “Hi Sea Drifter”. As the tide picked up so the bites came faster, and I began to realise just how good it might be in early spring when you get the weather. Son Mike was in action with another Plaice then came a pound and a half Flounder. Mike gets a schoolie Bass that goes back, and I get a clonking Plaice that looks towards 3lbs.Another thing we forgot was a set of scales, but hey, it was our first trip. The tide picked up and a bit of weed came through, but not enough to stop the fishing. More Plaice came, but unfortunately mostly to Mike’s rod, which also claimed another Bass!! .The Ragworm stock started getting depleted between crabs and flatties, plus we missed a few bites by striking too early. The average size of the Plaice was high, well over 2lbs, and the thought of one the size of a dustbin lid made me wonder if the light Bonefish rods would be up to it. As the afternoon sun lowered in the sky and the last of the worms got used I could see another trip would be planned. But then it would be a full day session with plenty of bait, and all the equipment on the boat. I have always had a thing about only targeting sharks, common skate, tope and conger but have to admit that scaling the rods down really did make great fishing. So if you are wondering what species to target in your boat this Spring. Get yourself down to Langstone Harbour, get some Ragworm, and getr yourself out to the Mussel beds. You might be pleasantly surprised…..
COPYRIGHT -Graeme Pullen.All Rights Reserved.