Few anglers will not have heard of the Devon port of Dartmouth, as it has been a major player over the years with the capture of a huge number of specimen sea fish. It would always be known as one of Britain’s premier boat fishing ports, but all along the local coastline there is also some excellent shore fishing, and set in beautiful surroundings makes it a pleasure to fish. Dartmouth has always been linked to naval history but the protective quality of the deep estuary and river made it ideal for human habitation from many centuries ago. The river actually runs way back inland to Totnes, the entire area having been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This sheltered waterway was a launching point for the sailing ships that left for the Crusades, and was home to the Royal Navy from the reign of Edward the Third. Many famous mariners have stopped off in the port on their voyages across the Atlantic, so its association with maritime history is second to none. Ships even left here to meet with the English fleet that fought the Armada. It is hard to believe that the town as you see it today was previously mud flats, and the basis of the existing embankment was the result of laborious work undertaken in the 19thCentury.
The Americans used Dartmouth as a launching point for the Second World War attack during the D-day landings on Utah beach. Around the end of August the Dartmouth Royal Regatta takes place, and that is not the time to expect easy car parking! The maritime climate means cool summers and mild winters, and in June 1976(the year of the drought) it recorded just under 87 degrees F!
On the opposite side of the river is the town of Kingswear, where the small station connects to Paington and other Devon towns. You can travel over the river with daily ferries as a foot passenger, or on the upstream edge of town there is a small drive-on car ferry. The Royal Navy’s Officer Training College is just up the road, and today the town is a centre for tourism. Jammed in summer, and still fairly busy in winter, as the coastal drives are quite spectacular.
GETTING THERE- It might be OK in autumn and winter, but come spring and summer Dartmouth definitely is on the higher sides of the “busy”scale.Take the M5 south. This turns into the A38, then A380, and A385.At Totnes take the A381 south and then the A3122 straight into Dartmouth.
The main reason that anglers love it is the diversity of fish species. Inshore around the tide races you have the bass. Up against the rocks you have the ballan wrasse. The inshore sandbanks are home to Turbot, Blonde and Small Eyed rays, and the reefy areas offer conger, bull huss and pollack. Some of the Dartmouth charter boats offer long haul trips out to the wrecks, and the sport on offer ranges from rod-busting conger, to pollack, coalfish and cod. During the months of June to October you can run 10 miles offshore and always be in with a shout for tackling the blue shark. But of all the species that Dartmouth is famous for it is that humble flattie, the Plaice that probably attracts the most attention.
This is due to the proximity of the famous Skerries sandbank, where many species feed, but where this flatfish is predominant. You can get huge numbers of small fish, or you can crank up a Plaice the size of a dustbin lid. It really is a hotspot. My own introduction with two Paington SAC flattie specialists, Tim Bird and Mike Johnson. Tim runs his boat “Otter” out of Dartmouth, so armed with camera and notebook I was soon standing (at about 6am!) on a pontoon on the Kingswear side of the river waiting to be collected. I had already filmed Tim and Mike back at their super clubhouse in Paington, where the walls are scattered with previous British record fish and photos of specimens across a huge variety of species. Paington has a huge following of members, and is one of the best club’s on the south coast, covering both boat and shore angling. In fact many of the specimen fish are caught by their shore members, and Mike was no stranger to them, with a monster Thornback Ray of 22lbs 11ozs on peeler crab fished on a Pennell rig….off the shore!! Back at Tim Bird’s “garage” which looked like a bait shop I should not have been surprised that Mike took the big Thornback on a Peeler as the pair specialise in putting out traps to stockpile their favourite bait. Tim has everything you could ever want, from frozen cuttlefish and Launce, Razorfish to Mackerel, and live peeler crabs in varying stages of molting, and even a sandeel tank with live eels on tap! Any fisherman would think they have died and gone to heaven, but maintaining such a huge stock of baits takes a lot of time and trouble.However, that extra work is reflected in the high proportion of bigger Plaice that the pair land. Whereas most anglers would only think of going Plaice fishing with a few beads ands packet of Ragworm this pair of anglers believes in big baits that look more suited to monster bass. How about an entire peeler crab topped off with a full side of Launce fillet? So as Plaice are considered to be flatfish, it is a bait bumping along the seabed that catches most. Rather than list different techniques with each mark, it seems more logical to use the info straight from Tim and Mike as their consistent catch rates speak for themselves.
Here’s how it goes, as I was filming the interview anyway for our site www.totallyawesomewfishing.com and having experienced their higher than average size of fish, this is how they do it. Plus, as well as making the film I even managed to scratch out a few of the fine flatties myself! Both anglers favour light outfits, so you won’t find any 30/50lb boat rods in their holders. The huge stockpile of frozen baits is merely to get them fishing in the event that fresh Launce is hard to come by. Coupled to the use of Peeler crabs, the Launce are of paramount importance, and generally feathered up near the seabed by the Eastern buoy using a set of small Hokkai feathers. I must confess they were monstrous Launce, and I took some home to film them later catching big Blonde Ray up off the Isle of Wight.But, as the saying goes, that’s another film.
Tim runs his live Sandeel tank with a circulation pump that pushes the water through an old ice-cream container filled with filter material, shingle and crushed shells. In addition he runs an oxygen pump to keep the sandeels happy, and has kept them for up to six months in the garage. In addition, they net and keep live prawns in the same tank for use when the Devon bass start to come on the bite, as a big single prawn can be very effective. The crabs are kept in polystyrene insulation boxes, covered with weed, and stored in a fridge. They are then checked daily, and any in an advanced stage of molting will be graded into another box, from where they can be used as a softie, or peeler bait.
Mike’s favoured Skerries Plaice tackle is a 12lb Kenzaki rod, coupled to a Saltist 6.1:1 high speed ratio multiplier reel. On this he loads 15lb braid line, and a further 30lb of rubbing or shock leader. For the end tackle he has a sliding swivel, link swivel to leads as light as 2 ounces, with the entire trace length being in the region of 10/12 feet. If the wind is down, and the tides are neaps then the drift allows the use of 6lb outfits, which not only allow better bite detection, but you get a better scrap from the plaice as well. Mike’s main tip when using big bait, especially if you are holding the rod when you feel the take, is to free spool line straight away as the boat continues drifting. You don’t want to be dragging the bait away from the fish. You need him to eat it on the spot, so by running back up to thirty yards of line you get a higher hookup on the fish. Mike’s main tip when using big bait, especially if you are holding the rod when you feel the take, is to free spool line straight away as the boat continues drifting. You don’t want to be dragging the bait away from the fish. You need him to eat it on the spot, so by running back up to thirty yards of line you get a higher hookup on the fish. Mike’s main tip when using a big bait, especially if you are holding the rod when you feel the take, is to free spool line straight away as the boat continues drifting. You don’t want to be dragging the bait away from the fish. You need him to eat it on the spot, so by running back up to thirty yards of line you get a higher hookup on the fish.
Now as most anglers know the flatties love their “bling”, and while Tim likes to use a flashing attractor blade, Mike goes for a rig with straight beads. His two-hook Pennell rig has a size 1 hook at the top which he fixes by making a couple of wraps of line around the hook shank. The lower hook is a larger wide gape 4/0 crab hook. But here’s the unusual part about the rig. The actual hook length trace is short, around six inches up to a barrel swivel. Then the beads, which are about half a dozen black and red, go on the other side of the swivel. The bigger Plaice still scoff that 4/0 down so rather than cut the trace and have all your beads fall off, all you do is tie on a fresh length of hook and trace six inches below that swivel.Simple, yet effective. About three feet up from that Mike puts another snood from a 3-way swivel making two rigs on the one trace, and those two crabs and launce baits let out a lot of scent as they are dragged over the sandbank.
Finally, how to hook these large baits. Break the legs off the peeler and hook the body onto the larger 4/0 a couple of times. Then bind it on tight with some elasticated thread. Slide the top size 1 hook down, take a couple of turns of line around the hook shank and nick into the top of the crab. Then using a good filleting knife take a clean fillet off the side of a big Launce and nick it onto the end of the 4/0 once. Thus you have the smell of the peeler crab and the visual movement of the launce fillet that looks like a small sandeel to the Plaice. Trust me it works. I’ve got all the action on the film. Now to the marks.
MARK 1)-N50 degrees 17.048 by W 3 degrees 33.191 This is just a rough number which should put you on the NE corner of the bank, which you will run over first as you come out of Dartmouth.
MARK 2)-N50 degrees 15.117 by W 3 degrees 35.279 Again this would be the SW “ish” end of the bank, which actually tapers down and runs in the direction of Salcombe. While you can work out your drifts on the tidal direction with no wind, as soon as there is a breeze you will be going over the bank at a different angle.
MARK 3)-N50 degrees 15.446 by W 3 degrees 34.652 This could be something of a finger on your charts and good be good for the better size Plaice. It is maybe 300 yards across, but every fisherman has a different idea of when the “finger” actually starts and finishes. About half a mile long it runs roughly NE to SW to join up with the main sandbank again. The whole of the bank is deeper on the west, and shallower on the East. As a guide it tapers down towards Start Point, narrowing, caused I would guess by the strength of the tide washing over it.
Accommodation- There are a wealth of guest houses, bed & breakfast, or hotel establishments available to suit all tastes. Just enter-Guest houses Dartmouth into your search engine ands you will come up with plenty of choice. If you intend using a charter boat rather than launching your own some of the skippers may have establishments that specialise in taking anglers. Always wise to check.
Launch Site– According to Mike and Tim the easiest one is right alongside where the car ferry leaves from at the top of the town. There is a car park right opposite, and apparently you can pay to leave your trailer as well. It launches straight into the river, but remember it’s busy in the peak periods. A concrete slipway, watch out for wash, and most small boaters launch as the ferry departs for the other side. Pay harbour dues to river officer or on the South promenade at the Harbour Masters office.
Tackle shop– The Fishing Tackle Shop.12 Higher St.Dartmouth.Tel-07878-014491
Safety- Dart Lifeboat station currently operate a “D” class lifeboat. Based at Coronation Park.
North Embankement.TQ6 7NL.Tel-01803-839224
Contacts- Try Paington Sea Angling Club, 26 Cliff Road.Paington.TQ46 6DH.Telfirstname.lastname@example.org
Weather- Check with the local Harbour master, plus any localised weather stations via the internet. Or online @http:/www.metoffice.gov.uk
Location & Travel- ***
Tackle Shop ***
Fishing quality ****
COPYRIGHT-Graeme Pullen.All Rights Reserved.