MUDEFORD QUAY…. By Graeme Pullen.
Few people would know this, and I was one of them, but apparently Christchurch in Hampshire used to be a paradise for smugglers. Back in 1784 the Revenue cutter “Rose” pursued the “Civil Usage”, and after much chasing, the owner unloaded his “booty” on nearby Avon beach, just outside Mudeford Quay, and where I had previously beach fished at night for bass. Many such smuggling operations were undertaken, and quite a few smugglers were caught. The entire area around Mudeford is capable of producing a wide variety of marine species. It marks the entrance to Christchurch harbour where a fierce ebb tide runs out, and is known locally as “The Cut”. We used to have family holidays here and I recall being hauled back from the edge of the “Cut” for fear of falling in, on my quest for catching yet more crabs. The crab-catching youngsters can still be seen lining the wall, hauling them up, and then dropping them back in the sea. On the eastern end of Mudeford wall you have Avon Beach, a popular tourist spot. On the opposite side of the “Cut” you have Hengistbury Head. Popular with holidaymakers in summer, and beach anglers in winter. It was around the 1920’s that the first leisure huts were built on the breach here. Prior to that it was thought mainly fishermen had built their store huts on the sandy spit. Christchurch harbour is a haven for wildlife as it is generally shallow, and due to the influence of tides actually has a double tide of high water. There are two rivers that empty into the harbour. The famous Hampshire Avon and Dorset Stour. Both are top quality coarse fisheries in their own right. Nearby Stanpit Marsh, part of the harbour, is a local nature reserve.
Mudeford Quay is a tiny fishing village, picturesque with its crab and lobster pots stacked up, and the Haven House Inn was supposed to be linked to those early smuggling activities. Fresh fish can be brought from the fish stall, or you can catch a small ferry over to the other side called Mudeford Sandbank. It’s a great spot to watch the Salmon and Sea Trout netters at work, and there’s always the chance of seeing a fish flapping in the nets, even if you can’t catch one of rod and line.
The many boats that leave around the quay will invariably be fishing all the marks around the Isle of Wight/Needles area. Call it the general western Wight area. That encompasses a lot of different species and a wide variety of marks to fish. There will be sandbanks with fast tidal flows, rough ground areas of boulders and rocks, or clean open sand where you can anchor or drift. There are not too many charter boats operating from the quay, and those that do go out will probably be after the popular inshore species like Black Bream, Smoothhound or Rays.
One of the boats to run out to the deeper waters offshore is the new Cougar Cat operated by Steve at Blackjack charters. Sponsored by Penn and powered by twin 250hp Nefs this boat can run out to the mid channel wrecks for bigger species. It carries a full range of electronics including a C120 Raymarine Plotter/Sounder, Koden CU5 colour sounder, 2 x GPS navigators, a 24-mile range radar, and 2 vhf radio systems. Steve will also specialise in bass fishing with twin live bait tanks, 8 rod holders, new Penn 20/30 rods and matching Penn GTO 230 reels. If you go with a boat as fully equipped as this you are certain to be giving yourself the best shot at fish. You can go for smaller species using light tackle, mid-range species like rays and bass using say, 20lb outfits or even uptiders, or select a set of good wrecking tides when you get the chance to run further offshore for the really big Pollack, Cod or even Conger. In the summer months from around the end of May to the end of September you can also drift offshore on the tides, laying down a good chum trail in the hope of hooking into the hard fighting Porbeagle shark. This species is present in enough numbers to make them worth a shot, but use at least 50lb class rods, 50lb line, and a good lever drag reel as there are always encounters each year with sharks up to about 250/300lbs by anglers fishing for Cod and Pollack over the offshore wrecks. The beagles probably don’t come in as close to shore here as they do off North Devon, but with the chance of a 300 pounder, and the bonus of a big Thresher shark, always take a 50lb outfit and a shark trace along on these long distance wrecking trips. Most of the sharks come up after Cod being caught over the wrecks, and there have been many pictures of head-only Cod being held up. I heard only this year that a big Porbeagle was living over a wreck and regularly taking Cod and Pollack off the angler’s hooks. I’m going to stick my head out here and say my feeling is that it might not be a Porbeagle, as these tend to be pelagic, and constantly on the move, while its cousin, the Mako,an even more sought-after shark, is more likely to be the culprit. This shark will stay in an area where the food is constant, and there used to be a 200- pounder regularly seen off the Hands Deeps reef down off Looe.They probably don’t move off those wrecks until late October.
Another West Wight angler who kindly passed on a few tips is Steve “Woody” Woodward. He runs the first ever 24- foot “Flyer” built by the Wilson factory, and he runs his boat “Pisces” out of Ashlett’s Creek opposite the Hamble River. His power pack is an inboard Mercruiser 636 with a Bravo 2 leg, producing 180hp and a top speed of 25 knots. He can fish any of the inshore spots like Southampton Water for Smoothhound, or run over to White Cliff Bay for the small Turbot and Brill, or do the long haul to marks outside the Needles area. The important point to remember about the inshore marks like Southampton is that they have the peculiar “double” tides, in which it appears to be slack high water, then all of sudden it starts up again with flow, and makes a second high. I won’t pretend to understand it, but the phenomenon can affect the fishing, be aware of it and adjust your tactics and leads accordingly. The other downside of the Solent area can be the dreaded weed which rumbles up and down the area during the summer and autumn months. It can often be so bad that you simply have to stop fishing for an hour and wait till it eases. You hope!! I have no idea how far to the West of the Wight grounds that this weed travels, but it does roll around for several miles. If fishing for Smoothhound on these inshore marks there really is only one bait and that is the hardback crab. A lot has been written about the best bait being peeler crabs, but you’ll generally find this is the shore angler’s favoured bait, and the boat angler finds the hounds scoff hardback, squid or worms, with equal enthusiasm. The one bait they seem to turn their noses up at is fish bait like mackerel or herring. The crab is what they eat as a main food source, and that is the bait to have on the hook. Don’t be afraid to anchor in water as shallow as 12/15-feet, but obviously work out your tides as you don’t want to be sitting on a mud bank for the next six hours. Two other species that are prime autumn targets are the Sole that run off Lepe beach. These are often caught by shore anglers at night using rag or lugworm for bait, and also the Stingray, which are generally targeted by using the biggest king ragworm you can find. This area should be considered national hotspots for the species.
Once you start running out into the Solent and around the Needles expect some heavy duty tide runs. The old tip that you run offshore on neap tides and fish inshore on spring tides is well worth adhering to, as once you get into the range of 2lb lead weights there is very little sport left for rod and line. However, that said, the commercial bass anglers like those big tides for hitting the offshore sandbanks and tide races for the bass shoals, and this will be done drifting with either lures like the Sidewinder, or better still live sandeels or pout. Your sandeels can be kept alive quite well by using those aeration bucket and pump combos that you can buy from most tackle shops, taking regular batteries. Don’t try to keep too many eels alive at once,30/40 should do, and a totally awesome tip is to make sure you put some gravel in the bottom of the bucket as they can burrow into that and therefore suck up less oxygen than they do by constantly swimming. All you need is a fine wire hook, ten feet of about 15lb mono, or fluorocarbon if you wish, a swivel, boom and a lead so light it barely bumps along the bottom. A point to remember if you are running to offshore sandbanks bassing in a small boat is that being a spring tide, you will soon get whisked off the mark. That means a fast drift, and then you have to motor back up again. It’s best not to run the boat straight over the heads of feeding fish, but go back uptide in an arc. This means you are punching into tide every drift and if you aren’t aware of it, you could find you are low on fuel for the run back home. Don’t take just enough fuel for the trip out and back, but allow for 30 or so drifts that you might have to do during the day. You may be amazed just how far you have driven in a day….just to stay on the bass mark!
Here are some of Woody’s suggested spots. The “Spoil Grounds” are very flat and uninteresting but for some reason it does turn up some cracking fish. These numbers are only a guide as the way he found it was just to draw diagonal lines from corner to corner on the area on a chart and where they intersected he tried with a fair bit of success. He has also caught cod, thornbacks and bass here.Christchurch Ledge is a rocky outcrop running out from Hengistbury Head to the south east for a couple of miles. It is well charted and some of the catches here can be tremendous. Catches include Bass, Wrasse, Pollack, Bream and Conger at night. This area is a graveyard for anchors so a home-made grapnel type made from concrete reinforcing steel is a must. Another thing you really must look out for is the local crab fishermen’s pot markers. If you fancy a night session then you really want to stay put unless it’s an emergency as you run a very high risk of fouling a prop in these markers and an stern-first boat in a tide run is a bad situation to find yourself in. The further out you go on the ledge the flatter it gets, but Woody has heard over the years that there are huge Plaice settled on the seabed, in areas that are rocky hollows that have filled with sand. Apparently they don’t feed but if you can find that bait that might switch them on you could get a huge fish. He heard this from a guy who used to take divers there.
He has also fished Southbourne Rough and had a good black bream and also had squid follow up the baits. There are some areas that it would be stupid to mention as the waters in the Hurst and Needles area can be very dangerous and needs a good local knowledge of it so he advises its best not to put people at risk, and reckons it would be best to keep away in a small boat.
Blackjack Skipper Steve also has some advice, and the following should get you in with the chance of a fish or two. For in inshore fishing he also rates Christchurch
ledge as pretty good for black bream and bass. He always fishes there fish on the flood tide and on the anchor for the bream, or drifting with a live joey (small mackerel) for bass
again flood tide staring your drift in 50ft of water and run up the ledge. He also confirms bit
is very snaggy so just a small ball weight is all that’s needed as a lead.
Southbourne Rough is also good for Bream and small Pollock. Good mixed area where you can use fairly light tackle depending on the tide, keeping only just enough lead weight to bump the bait along the bottom. Either strips of squid, or a squid and ragworm cocktail. It may be worth nailing bigger bait to the seabed in the chance of a rogue conger eel, or even a Bull Huss or Thornback Ray. For wreck fishing Steve suggests the Segasso. It lies in in 100 ft. water and can be fished on the flood or ebb, (Neap Tide) you can get some excellent tope fishing as well as congers. As the tide moves and you drift off the wreck he can often pick up rays on either squid or mackerel baits. For anyone wishing to venture a bit further the back of the I.O.W there is some excellent fishing for Rays and Bass, fishing the ridges for rays on the anchor using mackerel strips and the try Sphoies bank for Bass again on a flood tide on the drift with either small mackerel or sandeels.
HOW TO GET THERE– General travel is in from the Ringwood area on the A31 where you take the A338 to Bournemouth. Take the A35 into Christchurch from where Mudeford and the quay are signposted. There is a pay & display car park on the quay from where you can launch your boat from a slip, and contact any harbour master. The charter oats pick up from the quay as well.
LAUNCH SITES– At the back of Mudeford quay, in Christchurch harbour, wide enough for standard 17-foot boat/trailer. Can be pot holes on the shingle at the lower end. Top section is concrete. Slip is tidal, so allow about 2 hours either side of high water for ease of launch/retrieve.4 knot limit in harbour, which is shallow, and watch the speed of water on the ebb through the “Cut”.
TACKLE SHOP– Davis Tackle shop. 71-75 Bargates.Christchurch.BH23 1QE Tel-01202-485169 or email@example.com
SAFETY– Lifeboat at Mudeford. In 1994 the station was credited as being 8th busiest in the firstname.lastname@example.org
WEATHER– Online @ http://www.metoffice.gov.uk
Location & Travel- ***
Tackle Shop **
Location & Safety **
Fishing quality ***
Copyright. Graeme Pullen. All rights reserved.