Fishing from a small boat is one thing. Sounds like fun when you are out on the water, and of course it is. Launching and retrieving a small boat is bound by all sorts of difficulties, and can give enough worry to two anglers doing it together. When you think about launch and retrieve on your Jack Jones, and then fishing all on your own, the whole scenario seems almost impossible. Buts its not, roving reporter Graeme Pullen has done it himself, and has found one south coast enthusiast who has been fishing “Solitaire” for years. Welcome to…………..
I thought fishing alone was only something I had been doing for lack of friends, but it turns out there are quite a few boat anglers who are happy enough in their own company. Of course the average 17-footer can offer a confined enough space that you soon learn whether you can get on with the guy two feet away or not. As I search around the coast for angles on stories, it was just over a year ago that I stumbled on a forum (I’m not great with computers) and on it were all the usual catch reports. But I saw one angler with a great day’s fishing of big Conger and Cod, and reading on I realised he had been out in the Eastern Solent, in the middle of winter, catching all these fish on his own. Now there’s dedication for you! It took a few months to finally track Wayne Comben down, and after a couple of trips out on his 17-foot Wilson Flyer “TARYN”, I can confirm that he takes his sport very seriously.
We decided on an interview, and for other boat anglers who want to hear the audio version, you can visit Phil Williams website, which is where the podcast will be appearing. You can then listen at leisure, and hear some of his background and successes while fishing the Eastern Solent area. He cut his teeth on flounders up the local creeks, and as a Havant man he used to spend a lot of time after the flatties. He then moved out into the sea, and although occasionally fishing charter boats, he really does like doing his own thing like the rest of us. To that end he teamed up with another friend who had a really old inflatable and even older outboard. To say their techniques were basic would be an understatement, as they went to sea without even carrying an anchor!! In the early days they ran out of Langstone harbour down towards Selsey where the mode of securing the boat in a fixed position was to ask one of the local crabbers for permission to tie up to one of their potlines. Fortunate favours the brave as the saying goes and one potter let them tie up regularly.
Both anglers were conscious about the increase in popularity of the Smoothhounds, and as Wayne admits they probably didn’t realise just what stamp of fish they were catching. They hauled many upper doubles to the surface, and had plenty of twenties. The sort of catches that today, any angler would be pleased to see. He then moved away from angling for a while, concentrating on the sport of hunting with dogs. He became such an expert at it, he was actually accepted as an authority on the subject, and wrote many articles for the hunting magazine. It was only as his two dogs got older that he decided parting with a trusted dog that’s old wasn’t such a great thing.”You get so attached to them “said Wayne, “and to be honest they just don’t live long enough”. It was then that he packed in the dog hunting and returned to the sport he wanted, that of fishing from his own boat. About six years ago he did the rounds of boating adverts, and settled for the tried and trusted Wilson Flyer, a 17-footer, same as mine but white. It has the same flying bridge canopy fitted (a godsend for keeping dry and warm), and fitting much of it out himself, he bought it as a package with a tuned-down 70hp Suzuki, which is rated at 60hp. With speeds in flat calm up to 30 knots he gets pretty much anywhere he wants. The dash is covered with Garmin, a couple of GPS units and a sounder, which at present he finds more than suitable for the job. He doesn’t trail “Taryn”, but keeps her in the compound of Eastney Cruising Association, which is ideally located at the mouth of Langstone harbour, giving him instant access out past the Winner Bank bouy, to the waters of the Nab Tower and beyond. The facilities here, for the money, I think are first class. There is a double boat ramp slip, and double winches in operation, meaning two boats can go down at the same time. Should both winches pack up there is a heavy duty tractor, and if you find someone with a 4wd you could use that as well. The wide concrete ramp eventually drops into the shingle beach, and in the compound you have a workshop, fishing room with freezers, full clubhouse with bar, and of course a slot designated for your boat, plus car parking .All with 24 hour security. Current price was under £300 a year, which in contrast to mooring on a marina pontoon, would save you enough money over two years to buy a second boat!
This eastern end of the Solent has a huge number of boat orientated anglers, and the Wilson, being built locally in Bedhampton, is probably one of the more common makes. That said, the Arvor must run them a close second, and even these are run down the Eastney slips on the winches. As for species, well it goes on for ever, but in winter prime targets are the big cod(last year a 33 pounder hit the decks) and whiting. In addition you have Thornback rays pretty much all year round, and while the average cod sizes run from October to December, its the month of January that the Solent anglers reckon on landing the lunkers.The one dead month is February, when not much at all shows, and a lot of anglers use this time to service boats and engines, as around Mid-March the Plaice start to run in off the mussel beds by the submarine barriers. This is barely a mile away, and Wayne has counted up to 90 boats in a session there fishing for the prized flatties. I did know of a 6 pounder coming off there many years ago, but 1lb to 3lb is the average, and when they do run, legered ragworm on spinning rods can get you the numbers.
Although Wayne has had Bass as a by -catch to 5lbs,he doesn’t target them, as if you want the big numbers you need to run to the offshore sandbanks with a livebait tank full of sandeels. He has tried with sandeel in a cooler, and the tip is this. Put some blue freezer blocks in the bottom of the cooler. Then lay several layers of newspaper over the top, but the paper must have been soaked with saltwater, not fresh water. Then lay some eels over the paper, another layer of water soaked paper, then more eels and so on. Providing the cooler is kept out of the sun its possible to keep a fair number of eels alive using this method. The alternative is to rig up a bin, half fill it with seawater (make sure it’s tied near the back of the boat for stability) and use an aeration pump like the Keepalive from your 12volt battery. You get a livelier eel and it can take a bigger number, but the downside is the weight of the tank. The Solent bass are notorious for snaffling large baits like whole double squid, or mackerel flappers, and by big I mean fish from double figures up to 15lbs.So sandeels may well get the 3/5 pounders, but giant baits can often see you luck into a biggie.
A lot of the Eastern Solent ground is smooth, with broken areas, and few rocky outcrops. You are not going to get the huge pinnacle reefs that come up from the seabed like the West Country. So for that reason of ground similarity there is pretty much an overlap of species. You can get good Conger, big Cod, and even Thornback ray, all from the same broken ground, and it is these areas that Wayne has been trying to track down. Marks like the Bullock’s Patch,Medmery and the Spoils are known to all, but by spending some time searching away from these main areas, Wayne has stumbled over smaller outcrops of broken ground that nobody has been fishing, and it is concentrating on these that has given him many good catches. One mark he has found gives him Small Eyed Ray, Undulates, Thornbacks and Spotted, and by this I mean you can catch all four from the same mark in one day. Wayne doesn’t really fish small hooks and baits, preferring to go for the bigger fish, but he does like Plaice fishing off the “Blocks” just outside Langstone harbour, using light tackle, and has plans to run down towards Bognor, to fish the pea mussel beds where some of the boats are returning with huge flatties up to 6lbs !!. It’s a long run down, and is the last place you want to get caught out if you suddenly get a wind against tide situation. I know personally of one guy that ran down there and the wind picked up. He had a Shetland, and couldn’t make much headway in a rising wind. It took him THREE HOURS to punch his way back, and that after he had packed up early and blanked. When you have a long run, don’t just allow a tank of fuel down, and a tank back. If you can’t get up on the plane due to bigger seas you are running a risk of not having enough fuel.
One mark Wayne has located is between Bullock’s Patch and Medmery. In fact, for an entire season he never had a boat near him, and then his honesty in posting his catches on the forums has seen more people recognising his boat. A distinctive white Wilson with the boat’s name has seen many anglers swing past him, slow down, and he has actually seen them look at their gps as they put the numbers in for a return trip. He’s philosophical about it, but just wishes others would put in the same amount of effort in looking for new marks. In barely forty feet of water, he once had several Cod to within a whisker of 20lbs, several 20/30lb conger, and lost big eels too, almost double that at the boatside! This was in the middle of winter, when most other boats were struggling. His belief in this mark is that the Pouting move in around the end of October, and the bigger conger move in to feed on them. A flappered pouting trotted down tide on a light lead is almost a sure shot of a close encounter of the wriggly kind. I had a couple of trips out with Wayne to get some pictures, and straight from the launch I could see he was well organised in the boat operation. However he laughingly recounts one episode when launching on his own almost saw his boat lost.
His procedure runs like this. Get the tractor, hitch up the Wilson from its bay, and drive it to the top of the two-berth slip. Clip on the winch, apply the brake and drop it down the slip into the water. Then comes the tricky part as this is normally a two-man operation. He tosses over the bow anchor, lets it pull tight, bow-first into the tide/wind, and then out goes a stern grapnel to hold it steady. He then winches the trailer back up the slip, tractors it to his parking spot, and using chest waders he’s soon off fishing. This particular morning he returned to see the boat a lot further out than he anchored, and getting sucked down the estuary in the tide run. The wash from a speeding large boat had lifted the anchors and soon “TARYN” was on her way! He saw no choice but to strip down to his boxers (In April????), swim out to his drifting boat, and climbing up the outboard he re-dropped the anchors, shivering, to avert disaster. He then realised that he had left the engine keys in his trouser pocket on the beach. Fortunately a small boat was passing and ran in to get his keys before he expired from hypothermia. A warning to all us solo-launchers.
On the day I fished we ran out to just East of the Nab Tower to fish in about 90 feet of water. You have to keep your eyes peeled for the big cruise ships and container vessels, as by all accounts many don’t always stick to the navigation markers. While we ran down the tide with substantial squid baits, it was the tope that seemed to find us. We were in the same area that had produced an 81-pounder back in the early summer, and It was actually out on the same day I was out doing another feature for BFM.Wayne doesn’t stint on bait, and we had boxes of Calamari squid, Cuttlefish, and I brought along some mackerel and frozen sandeel. Suffice it to say the tope loved all of it, and I even had a jumbo Mack of about 2lbs on a strip of squid intended for Black Bream.
The next session I had aboard “TARYN” was later in the year, and while we punched out to the Nab Tower grounds, the seabed, other than dogs, remained fishless. A week or so earlier Wayne had run to the Overfalls, a strong tidal area at the back of the Isle of Wight. It is a Blonde ray and big Bass hotspot, but the number of times you can fish there are extremely limited. The tide pours over the undulating sandbanks, in a series of eddies and swirls, and should you get a wind-against-tide situation you can have standing walls of water doing about four knots. Blonde’s to 17lbs came aboard, and their follow up trip was even better, with Blondes to 20lbs,and Wayne losing a monster that stripped his braid out before breaking off in the current. You can generally only get to the overfalls on the smallest Neap tides of the month, but you need no wind. Getting the two to coincide means there are only a handful of days you can get there in a small boat. With a reasonable chance of the wind increasing to a 4 Wayne decided to run inshore to his favoured “Middle mark”. Here the sea was less in 40-odd feet of water, and the tide had just started to move. Big baits were still the order of the day, and after dropping down squid baits barely two minutes passed before my rod folded over. There was no need to srike, the fish was on and digging hard, buckling the Conoflex in the tide. After losing line a few times I was adamant it would be a strap conger, so imagine my delight when a fat 14lb Cod planed on the surface. Once in the net Wayne assured me there was a chance of another, so down went the baits, he had one bite, probably from another Cod, while I lucked into another fish. This time the fight was more heavy than head shaking, and soon a nice male Thornback was in front of the camera. About thirty minutes later I was in again, and this time it felt like another double figure Cod.Alas, just as it was getting near the surface the hook pulled. Wayne told me the biggest cod last year was 33lbs,so I look forward to the next encounter. It was then that a small bass snaffled my squid strip, before the inevitable dogs moved in.
As for tackle breakdown of his success, there is nothing out of the ordinary. He dislikes pennel hook rigs, relying on good presentation with single hook rigs on a running leger rig. If the fish are small to medium he will use large fixed spools loaded with 30lb braid, long rods for good bite detection, and small end rigs. For the larger Blonde rays he does not like to drop below about 60lb mono links for leaders as their strong grinding mouth might chafe through anything lighter. The blondes run to over 30lbs, and in the strong tide can put quite a lot of pressure of all the gear. Cod and Conger also take the heavier mono larger 8/0 hooks on a standard running leger is all he uses. Wayne tries to get the lines away from the boat a bit, but isn’t a great lover of uptiding which is more suited to shallower waters where hull slap noise might providing a case for casting well away from the boat. As a general rule he fishes a couple of rods either side, taking care to keep them apart with the right size lead to minimise tangles. Running four reels with braid and having “clusters” is not good news. At the time of writing he is seriously thinking about returning to straight mono, as he believes the advantages of low stretch/good bite detection doesn’t make a significant enough impact on his catch rate, and tangles in braid are almost impossible to sort out, while mono is far more forgiving.
He has been fortunate in having a job that gave him two weeks on, then two weeks free, so there was ample opportunity to pick the weather slots and get out for some fishing. With such heavily fished areas as the eastern Solent you would think everybody knew every mark, but in fact there could be well known marks that just require a different technique .One of those techniques could be that of chumming, or groundbaiting at sea. Many of the locals do it when the springtime Black Bream are in, but few do it throughout the colder months. Keeping all your leftover bait from the last half dozen sessions will probably leave you with enough to mince up for a good day with a bag of chum in a mesh bag on the anchor rope. The Cod and Conger will love it, and you could start to pick off the extra fish. Find some new marks like Wayne has done and then apply new techniques with chum and the world could be your oyster. One method not used would be to floatfish either mackerel or squid strip, or frozen sandeel, about four to six feet off the seabed. Use a heavy sliding sea float to get the depth, and a drilled bullet to hold the bait well down. The target would be big bass, as there are a lot in Solent and Isle of Wight, and this different tack could just start you finding a whole new fishery. One thing is for sure. Wayne Comben will still be out there searching for new grounds and pioneering new marks. And when I drag my own 17-foot Wilson up here from Cornwall, my first port of call will be the eastern Solent to “buddy boat” with Wayne and see if we can’t track something new down. It may be tough, it may be frustrating. But when you get good fish off a new mark there really is a stamp of satisfaction to it. Welcome to….Wayne’s World”….
Copyright-Graeme Pullen.All Rights Reserved.