The Sussex port of Littlehampton is synonymous with one famous British species, the Black Bream, but there is a lot more to the eye here than just one fish. The historic town dates back to the Anglo-Saxon village of Hampton. The name Little Hampton was actually used by 11th century sailors to differentiate between this port, and that of its larger cousin South-Hampton. Littlehampton was actually a Royal dockyard of Henry the 8th and a quay was built in 1670.It had various stages of ownership before it became part of the estate of Arundel Castle in 1610.The port by created by the River Arun which runs from the South Downs, into the sea. When the railway opened in 1882 it gave the port a cross-channel ferry route, but this was later lost to the larger harbour of Newhaven. This riverside port has long been a favourite with Londoners who came down to the beaches, and to fish offshore. I believe it was from here that I caught my first Black Bream over forty years ago. Since then the charter boat operations have moved on apace, with faster, more sophisticated vessels opening up the wrecks in the Channel, and with that, larger fish of many species. One of the top all-round charter boats is the 40-foot “Spirit of Arun” run by Neil French. I drove down to interview him for a podcast that can be heard on Phil William’s fishing site “fishingfilmsandfacts.co.uk”, and a huge amount of information and tips are in there to be had. What did surprise me was the size of some of Neil’s larger specimens, and the huge number of Bass he can catch under good conditions. Neil also keeps an accurate daily log of all of his charters, including the slower ones (there aren’t many) in the hope that he can build up some idea of which species feed, and at what stages of tide. My recording lasted some forty minutes, and not only was he willing to pass on some tips for all anglers, he has also given BOAT FISHING MONTHLY, several of his own co-ordinates, covering wreck, standard ground, and inshore, so this could well be the best “Inside Information” you will read, having come from a professional skipper interested in sportfishing for his client base.
The “Spirit of Arun” can be kitted out with whatever his charter requires. If you need heavy stuff for some offshore wreck congering, then 30lb class outfits can be supplied. If you want light tackle Bream, he has rods and reels right down to spinning outfits, and can even get you in the shallows to catch some of the inshore Smoothhounds, which incidentally see loads of double figure fish caught. The £200,000 boat has a flybridge which not only gives extra space, but gives Neil a vantage point to run the boat and either back down or power-drift over the various wrecks. The boat would only need to be fitted with a pair of outriggers to operate as a Big Game boat in another country. Two 350hp Sabre engines are the considerable power supply, both turbo-charged, giving a top speed of 25 knots. Cruising speed is 16 knots. Bristling with electronics both from the flybridge, or down in cabin, are Garmin plotter and fishfinder, connected to another Garmin plotter/fishfinder on the flybridge.48 mile radar, three fishfinders aboard including sidescan and forward looking sonar, dsc radios, as well as AIS radar etc.Neil is licensed for only eight anglers but he purposely keeps the numbers down to specialise in giving the anglers more of a personal service, and extra space. He does lots of corporate trips, with the large cabin giving shelter in inclement weather that we get in Britain. He takes individuals or clubs, always supplies coffee and tea, but hopes the fishing is good enough to keep everyone busy.
Littlehampton has diverse fishing, and braid is best used in the 30/40lb class, but for bream and bass inshore he likes the light tackle rigs to be loaded with 12/15lb mono nylon. This is particularly forgiving for novices, as problems could arise with people trying to take a turn of braid round their hands to break out a snagged lead. On a fast drift that Braid quickly pressures up to cut hands easily, while the mono is more forgiving. The Tope fishing in summer can be excellent, with specimens to more than 50lbs boated. The port can be used by small boat owners trailing their rigs down, as there are two slips available. One is in the private marina upstream of the town on the west bank of the Arun, and here you have toilets, trailer parking etc, and a half mile run down the river to the sea. Then there is the very wide public slip, right in town on the East bank, next to the RNLI.A bit closer to the sea it is wide enough to make a tight turn with a 20ft-rig. One point Neil mentions is that there is a sand bar at the mouth of the River Arun where it empties into the sea. Sediment is deposited here carried by the water, which with a big spring tide emptying, together with the flow of the river, might reach speeds of 6 knots. He advises small boat owners to launch/retrieve about 4 hours either side of high water and mainly due to the swells that can come in here, keep away from it in any strong south-easterlies. Once outside that sandbar, the sea is yours, and there are literally dozens of choices you can make as to species and/or tackle used.
If you fancy a run offshore there are good bass wrecks barely three miles off, and due to the ports of Dover and Southampton/Portsmouth there was an incredible tonnage of shipping sent to the bottom by the German U-boats over two World Wars. You also have the famous Kingmere rocks about 5 miles off, but many people don’t realise the Kingmere is just part of a reef system that actually begins life right in front of Butlins at Bognor Regis to the West, where it is known by locals as West Ditch and East Ditch, disappearing for about a mile, then buries in the sand again to appear as it runs way past Littlehampton on a south-easterly curve. Add to this the inshore mussel beds to the East of Selsey Bill, home to humungous Plaice, or the inshore mud where double figure smoothhound queue up to snaffle crab and squid baits, or the light tackle bream and bass shoals of the Kingmere rocks. There are sandbars and gullies in deep water for the tope and ray fishing, and they even have spots for Brill and Turbot. Neil’s general advisory would be springtime and summer to target the Bass and Bream on light tackle, moving out to the wrecks June to September, running as far as Alderney in the Channel Islands for the Turbot and Brill. The main mark of Kingmere has a huge run of Black Bream that come in to spawn on the reef system, but anglers may not realise they don’t actually spawn on top of the rocks, but just off the edge of the reef where they make their nests. It is here that they are targeted by pair trawlers which Neil believes are the main reason for the species being hit so hard some years back. He has, like many, seen a boom in Bream catches over the last five years, with specimens in excess of 5lbs falling to his boat. To attract them at anchor he uses tins of cat food with holes punched in, dropped to the bottom on a line, with hookbaits of quite large sections of squid. He believes a tiny bait gets nibbled off in that first rod rattle, often leaving you with nothing, whereas if they chomp some of a big bait, there will always be something left on the hook for them to come back to. He believes the current humming on the anchor rope will push the Bream farther back, so he gets his anglers to use just enough lead to hold bottom, and cast or trot the baits away from the boat up to forty yards. The best of the Bream and Bass lie underneath the overhangs of current -scoured rocks, and it is here you need to get the bait. Another tip on Kingmere is not to drop your best anchor and chain down, as come the turn of tide and inevitable boat swing, your chain wraps under and around the overhangs, jamming so you eventually cut the anchor. He knows this as the local divers go out to collect £100 Bruce anchors and £30 worth of chain several times a year as a useful sideline business. He uses a home-made grapnel anchor that allows him to bend the spikes on, coupled to a short length of chain. Worth noting if you are a small boater. The far eastern end of the Kingmere rocks is better known as “The Spur” and if you set yourself up here to drop baits back into the rocks,reanchoring to the other side as the tide changes, you should be in one of the best taking areas. The outer edges of “The Spur” are really where you want to be, if its bigger Bream you want.Again, this spot is good for the secondary run of smaller bream that arrives in September. There are talks to make Kingmere a conservation area because of the fact that the bream do spawn there, up to 6lbs, especially the end of April to early June.40 or 50 bream a day is not considered unusual, given the right conditions. It’s no deeper than about 35 feet so 8 to 12lb outfits are ideal .Another tip from Neil is to add a small floating bead above the hook, as this stops the bait from sinking into any fronds of weed growing on the seabed. They also catch a lot of Undulate Rays, as this species of ray actually favours feeding over rocky ground. Trigger fish, Pollack and Wrasse are also taken there.
The area they catch the giant Plaice is actually very prone to strong tides, so Neil advises picking small tides that you can actually fish for a 3-hour period. That’s an hour before, one hour during, and one hour after slack tide. Neil’s personal best Plaice is 6-14, but the species is under the hammer, not from anglers, but from spear fishermen, as the water at 35 feet is shallow enough for them to swim over the bottom spearing them as they lay on the seabed. A really good day would be 30 or 40 Plaice by a boatload of anglers, all using ragworm, some using baited spoons, with the blade about 6 inches from the hook. You need to be constantly bouncing the bottom, and even though shallow you may still need 8 ounces of lead. The mussel bed is around 4 to 5 football pitches in size. Turbot and Brill? They are on the cards as well and always come off the Gascony Bank or Eastborough Banks, both shown on the charts. Blonde Rays come in April, on a Neap tide well into the 20lbs, plus Undulates, Spotted and Blonde Rays.
Within twenty miles of the port there are at least 100 wrecks, but while many are hammered, the 35-mile wrecks still have good quality Conger, Cod, Pollack and even Ling, the latter into mid Double figures. Shads and orange gills pick up the better double figure Pollack in 180 feet of water. The Conger come on slack tide neaps, fishing for about an hour, and fish to well over 70lbs have been taken. The bass numbers on the wrecks can be excellent, with a staggering 300 being about the best Neil has done in a single session. Looking in his log book I saw a week where for three days about 200 a day were landed, the other days dropping to 150/170 a day. He gets around thirty double figure bass a season, generally on mackerel livebaits on special helicopter rigs, last season the biggest was 13-9,though he has had them other years to almost 15lbs.Finally,for giant toothy critters you may be amazed to learn that the area has had Thresher sharks before, including a previous British woman’s record. Only last season Neil had a hookup on a big Thresher while he was tope fishing, and fought that one for about 40 minutes before it broke off. On trips to offshore wrecks he has often had half a Pollack or cod come up where a cruising Porbeagle shark had taken more than a passing interest in the fishing. So Littlehampton has a wealth of good, mixed sport. Now to the actual marks, and as “Spirit of Arun” has plenty of Garmin electronics he was keen to give some numbers away. Get your pen and paper out, as not too many commercial charter skippers are as helpful as Neil.
MARK 1 50degrees 34.28N by 00 degrees 30.74 W.This is the wreck of the “CANDIA” known among local skippers as “Wreck 30”.Torpedoed by sub UC65 the 6500 ton ship went down with 8000 tons of grain and 1000 tons of lead .It is 137 metres long, 15 metres wide, and rises 18 metres off the seabed. Located in 180 feet of water it’s about 15 miles offshore. There are lots of bass to double figures on this one, with Mackerel livebaits or Storm Shads picking them up. Also good for Pollack, but not easy to anchor. Choose a neap tide, get the pick down and if you are positioned with baits flowing towards the hull you can expect Conger to 70lbs, though much larger eels exist there. It fishes on either ebb or flood. Use 30 or 40lb braid, and at least 8 ozs of lead on the drift. Due to the depth big bait bounced along stands a good chance of connecting with a Ling. In summer, the Cod swarm over it, with specimens of 20-plus usually falling to a twin tailed orange lead head on 3 feet of 50lb trace. The method is called “Hopping”, as you bounce the lure along the bottom. It lies just off South to North, so being across the tide flow has a lot of turbulence, which is why it is a good fishing wreck.
MARK 2- The Kingmere Rocks system. 50 degrees 43.48 by 000degrees 28.67 is Neil’s mark for the famous “Spur” section of the reef. Other areas for Bream are the East and West ditch off Middleton, and the Black Ledge. The “Spur” is about 35 feet deep, and the entire reef is about 800 yards wide and 2 ½ miles long. Use somewhere around a 5 ounce lead and try to bounce it back, using a 1/0 hook and good portion of squid. It can also be very good for bass, averaging about 6lbs, which the charter boats catch using half a mackerel with the tail cut off so it doesn’t spin, on a fine wire 6/0 hook. Groundbaiting can also work here for the Bream shoals, but remember to reanchor over the slack tide so you don’t lose an anchor round the bulbous rocks as you swing at change of tide.
MARK 3- An ideal inshore wreck for small boat bassing is the “FRODE”.50 degrees46.14N by 00 degrees 28.84W.It used to be a popular inshore wreck for spearfishing Angler Fish, the “Frode” was sunk on 11th April 1943 and lies in just 7 metres of water over a largely gravel seabed. It was broken up by explosives but the two boilers still exist, and divers have confirmed they are a haven for bass.54 metres long, and 8 metres wide, the 800 tonner was carrying a cargo of ballast when it was sunk by a German Mine about 3 ½ miles S.E.of Littlehampton. If you can get out very early Neil rates it as excellent for bass on livebait, also wrasse and Pollack. You can drift it, but being broken up Neil likes to anchor it, fishing the “Helicopter” livebait rig with mackerel on 6 foot trace and single size 1 treble hook. The bass average 5/6lbs up to low doubles, but he says there are no congers there. There is a weather station close to it, which stands up about 50 feet, and is around 300 yards from the wreck to give you a guide. June is the best month, but with depths of just 28 to 35 feet the Pollack are on the small side at 3/4lbs.
MARK 4-“THE GASCONY BANK”. 50 degrees 39.39N by 000degrees 40.05W.This mark is very good for Blonde Ray in April and May. They run up to 25lbs and you can catch your own bait in the shape of sandeels at slack water on Hokkai feathers. Tide is strong, so a minimum of 10 ounces of lead may be required, and fish it on Neaps only, with anchoring being best 3 hours over the slack tide. Neil fishes a whole mackerel, by splitting it lengthwise for the Blondes, which puts plenty of scent in the water. Also big bass, some turbot and brill.From June to August it is recognised as one of the best spot for big Tope. As a bonus for small boat users Neil threw this mark in as well, which he rates very highly for Smoothhound. BONUS MARK 5- 50 degrees 42.90 by 000degrees 38.27W.This is mud and mixed shell bottom in around thirty feet of water. From March to May the Smoothies are in there, following the Spider crabs as they move in to shed their shells. On a special day here you can expect up to 20 Hounds a session, some 10 to 15 pounders, up to 20lbs, on both plain hardback crab or squid. You can park in here all day even on a big tide, as it is only about 3 to 4 miles off. An ideal small boat spot. Thanks go to Neil French for being so generous in passing over a good spread of different species fishing marks.
GETTING THERE - Easy to find from the East/West A27 which runs parallel to the coast. To the East is Worthing, to the West is Bognor Regis. Just follow the signs directly into Littlehampton, but if you trail your own boat and want to launch it from the private Marina follow the signs for “Littlehampton Marina”. This will take you over the river to the West bank where you will follow signs to loop back on yourself and eventually the marina. If you launch from the public slip you follow the signs into the town, where the slip is located right next to the RNLI on Pier road area.
Accommodation- As a holiday destination there is no shortage of guest houses, cheaper B&B’s or small hotels in the town and surrounding area. The East side of the river is more built up and will house the bulk of the accommodation. Just type Bed and Breakfast Littlehampton” into your search engine and you will find more than enough.
Launch sites- Two slips. One site inside Littlehampton Marina on the West bank of the River Arun. Daily launch price-£24 weekdays, £30 weekends. Only marina staff do the launch.3/4 is tidal. Contact-01903-713553
Or the public slip in town, very wide concrete ramp (I wish they were all this size).Contact Harbour Master-01903-721215.Listed as best launch times 2 hours either side of high water. Speed limit 6 knots.
Tackle Shops- Tropicana, on Pier Road. Good for tackle deals on Combo outfits. Frozen bait, plus live worms to order. Ask for Malcolm.Postcode-BN17 5BA.Tel-01903-715190.
Safety- RNLI lifeboat station beside public slip in town.
. Or phone harbour master.
COPYRIGHT: Graeme Pullen. All rights reserved.