The web site for eastern Solent boat fishing

Author: Neville Merritt (Page 2 of 23)

Owner of and
Author of "Angling Boats"
Director of Pure Potential Development Ltd

Southsea Coastal Scheme

The Southsea Coastal Scheme has now started and will be of interest to anyone passing on or by the seafront whether on land or sea. The existing sea defences which prevent Portsmouth from flooding are now very old and need to be brought up to date. There has been extensive planning of this work to ensure it enhances the visitor experience as well as protecting the island. It will eventually provide improved beach access but the work, costing over £100 million will inevitably cause some disruption.

There is an excellent and very informative website here – have a look at the 3D visualisations on the map too. There will be large barges, dredgers and cranes moving close to the shore, and I expect there will be a lot of sediment distubed in the construction process which may affect fishing. Best advice is: proceed with caution in the area and it’s probably best to avoid the immediate area for fishing if there are boat movements visible.

Peter Merritt 1925-2020

My father Peter Merritt passed away on 30th November and I wanted to share some memories here that relate to fishing and boats.

Dad was always fascinated by boats small and large. He was brought up in East Ham and would often visit the London docks to see which steamers had arrived. Soon after he married Mum in 1953, they bought a wooden sailing dinghy which they renovated – Mum remembers trying to sandpaper over a growing bump that was me (to be). When I was of pushchair age they went sailing in Helford River with me strapped to the floorboards and were caught in a squall. This scared them so the boat was sold. Probably just as well, safety equipment wasn’t much of a thing then.

When I was about seven years old Dad bought me a fishing rod from Woolworths. It had a plastic reel/handle and a metal rod so it was more of a toy really, but it functioned and Dad bought a pack of size 16 hooks to nylon. With the business end sorted the rest didn’t matter. We went to a local stream, baited up with garden worms and to my surprise I actually caught a fish. OK it was only a minnow but he lived on for many years in our fishtank. That was the start of it and all these years later I’m still hooked on fishing.

As a boy I was reliant on being taken to fishing spots, and Mum would be persuaded to take me, a picnic, my fishing rod (I had a better one by now) and a pile of socks that needed darning, down to the Chelmer and Blackwater Canal. Dad travelled on business quite a lot but in school holidays he would research fishing spots near his business visits. He would drop me off to fish, then after his call he would come and collect me and we would drive home. I fished random places all over East Anglia.

We lived well inland in Essex so sea fishing was limited to family holidays or the occasional trip to Southend Pier. In 1972 we spent a fortnight in Ilfracombe and I pleaded with Dad to take me out on a charter trip. We caught mackerel, dogfish, bream, conger and Dad caught a very large ray of some sort. He was so delighted it didn’t take much to get another trip in before the holiday ended.

One thing led to another and somehow a plan for our own boat took shape. We toyed with the idea of fitting out a Colvic hull (they were built locally), but in the event Dad bought a 23 foot wooden Norwegian fishing boat called Punsj which we spent the summer converting into a motor/sailer. We moored it off Heybridge on the Blackwater, and spent many happy days pottering around the coast at six knots. No VHF radio, and our most sophisticated electronics was a Seafarer LED echo sounder! If we got stuck on the mud (which we did) we had to stay there until the next tide.

In 1978 my parents moved to Derbyshire, I graduated and moved to Hampshire and Punsj was sold. Dad never bought another boat but was always keenly interested in mine – starting with a 14 foot dinghy, then a Shetland Alaska in which we all followed the Tall Ships Regatta in Weymouth Bay. After owning my Trophy for 19 years I bought Rebel Runner and Dad was so keen to see it he was determined to get on board even though he was in his late 80s. I have happy memories of he and I sitting in the cabin yarning about past boating experiences, eating slightly burnt sausage rolls and beans.

My favourite memory is of the two of us in Punsj tied up in Bradwell marina on a sunny day. We must have been waiting for Mum and my brother Jonathan or something, who were taking their time to arrive. I remember Dad, usually always busy, leaning back in the sun and saying “Isn’t this marvellous. There’s is absolutely nothing I ought to be doing.”

Miss you Dad, and thank you for everything.

Langstone Report December 2020

This month we have been in a rather unreal state of lockdown which apparently allows for exercise in the form of recreational boating but at the same time actively discouraging us from making non-essential journeys. Charter boats could carry on operating, but with only one additional family group in the crew. The net result was that some people were able to go fishing and some weren’t, so our catch reports are more limited than usual.

The annual SMAC Cod Open Competition had to be postponed until 6th December and at the time of writing, indications are that the restrictions will be lifted so that this can go ahead. The latest situation will be reported on the SMAC Facebook page.

So on to fishing news: November is when we are firmly into the winter species and this year is no exception. Whiting are around in good numbers with some larger fish among them which are well worth filleting! If you want to take some white fish home it’s best to keep a few whiting because cod are still hard to come by, so much so that they are now referred to as Solent Unicorns. Those that have appeared are on the small size, under 10lbs in weight and you would be very lucky indeed to see more than one in a boat after a day fishing. Having said that, we have seen a few more in the last week so maybe there will be a run in December. Tim Andrews is leading the SMAC Cod Cup listing with this 9lb fish.

Colin Fry, fishing from Tim Andrews’ boat landed this haddock – a rare catch in this area but not unknown. It seems odd that a fish preferring deep, colder water would come into the Solent, when we are also seeing fisher from warmer waters such as trigger fish also making an appearance.

Some very good bass have been caught, Paul Harris landed this magnificent 15lb 4oz fish from his own boat “Emma” on a squid bait. Martin Morgan shows another good bass of 13lb. As a reminder, the Catch and Release season for bass starts on 1st December when no bass can be landed and all bass hooked have to be released unharmed.

Other species we regularly catch at this time of year are spurdog, rays and bull huss. For reasons known only to themselves and possibly marine biologists, conger decide to go travelling from November to January, and roam open ground in large numbers. They vary in size from small strap congers weighing a few pounds to brutes of 40lb plus. A pack of conger can monopolise the fishing in some marks making it impossible to catch anything else. I sometimes wonder where they hide at other times of the year. I recall once seeing a conger tank in one of the Sea Life Centres where an old Robin Reliant car was sitting on the bottom, jam packed with congers. I image our local wrecks must be similarly packed in summer months.

That’s all to report this month. I hope next moth we will have a successful Cod Competition to talk about, or at least a bit more fishing!

(The captioning went a bit wonky in this issue of SAN!)

Langstone Report November 2020

Autumn is upon us, marked by the weather, shorter days and seasonal fish movements. The end of summer is the time some anglers target sole at night – Alistair Gicquel and Peter Churchill show examples of what can be caught. Catching sole isn’t easy (what is, these days?) because success is a result of finding the right location, the right calm conditions, nailing a bait to the seabed and sitting it out. Or you could fluke one out in entirely adverse conditions, just to confound the experts!

Another seasonal change is the departure of the mackerel. This year we noticed the fish were very much smaller and often missed when using conventional feathers. Sabikis seemed to find them. We saw a lot of scad shoals along with the mackerel and they are just as good (some would say better) than mackerel both for bait and for eating.

The elusive cod is scheduled to make an appearance at this time and in common with recent years, we are teased with occasional catch reports but we don’t experience the autumn codling “run” that we used to see. Nevertheless a few are being caught from the Solent and approaches – Neil Glazier and Tim Andrews show typical autumn codling which cheered us up. Organisation for the annual SMAC Open Cod Competition on 8th November is in full swing, and the reputation from previous years and a big prize table will attract boat anglers from across the area. First prize is £500 cash for the largest cod with numerous runner-up prizes. If we run out of cod to weigh in, we switch to largest whiting. Although cod can’t be guaranteed, we can guarantee whiting so everyone is in with a chance of a prize. Contact Steve Kelly at Southsea Marina for further details.

The main competition held this month was the annual inter-club specimen contest between SMAC, Eastney Cruising Association (ECA), Langstone Harbour Fishermen’s Association and the Southsea Sea Angling Club. Winner-takes-all prize is for the best specimen caught on the day, and 36 anglers representing all four clubs fished. Mark Argyle won with a bass of 8lb 7oz, securing the prize for the ECA. He is pictured receiving the trophy from Pete Kilshaw.

Rays are plentiful locally and the area is famous for big blonde rays. John Wearn caught an impressive blonde of 22lb which rather overshadowed Terry Watson’s fish of 16.5lb on the same boat, which would have been a good fish in itself. On a different trip Guy Chandler boated a blonde of 21lb, another very good fish.

We have a healthy local stock of bass and the shoals of school bass from previous years are maturing nicely. Preston Firth shows a good fish of 7lb 14oz.

Regular readers of this report will know we like to celebrate the successes of our junior anglers. Ollie Shons on his first boat trip was delighted to catch this conger – those sharp teeth will be something to talk about at school! Jake Kelly also scored well with a good Junior Specimen undulate ray of 12lb. It is good to see fish being handled sensitively with a weighing sling doubling as an unhooking mat. As you can see from the lack of red tinge to the wings, the fish is relatively unstressed and will make a good recovery when returned. Jake also added to his Species List with a spotted ray, putting him in the lead of the SMAC Junior Species competition.

Next month I hope I can report more cod catches. Until next time!

Neville Merritt


SAN November 2020

The mystery of the “Dean Tail Wreck”

This wreck is a popular angling mark where in summer many boats stop to feather for mackerel. It is easily located by the north and south cardinal buoys marking the wreck and shows as a distinctive hump on the fishfinder screen.

You may also know the wreck as the Flag Theofano MV, a freighter built in 1970. She was 324 feet long, weighing 2,818 tons She had several names in her 20 years of service before sinking in January 1990. But why did she sink? Why was her loss not discovered sooner? What happened to most of the crew? The circumstances of the wreck remain a mystery.

On the 29th January, Flag Theofano was carrying 4,000 tons of bulk cement from Le Havre to Southampton, with a crew of 19. That night a severe storm drove many ships to find shelter making it very difficult for the marine traffic controllers to find safe berths for them all. They were unable to provide a berth for Flag Theofano so she was called on the radio and instructed to anchor off Bembridge in the area called St Helens Roads, where many commercial vessels can be seen anchoring today. This was acknowledged by Captain John Pittas and the marine traffic controller then continued to look after other vessels in the area.

The next morning, Flag Theofano was called on the radio with new berthing instructions but there was no reply. Other vessels nearby were called but they could not see the vessel. She had disappeared. The full horror of the situation was revealed when two empty lifeboats, a life-raft and two bodies were found nearby. Flag Theofano had sunk, nobody had heard a distress signal and nobody had seen it happen. At the time they didn’t even know where the wreck was located.

Boats searching the area came across an oily patch in the water, bubbles escaping and ropes attached to something below the surface. As soon as the weather eased, divers were sent down and found the wreck upside down on the seabed 20 metres below the surface right by the main shipping lane leading to the Solent.

Salvage operations started in August 1990 but by now the cargo of cement had come into contact with the water and fully hardened, creating a huge block of concrete that was impossible to move, either to locate any bodies or to salvage the wreck. The bodies of the 17 remaining crew were never found. They may still be under the wreck, or they may have been swept away in the storm.

Nor do we know why the ship sank. It must have been sudden or distress signals would have been sent. Possibly the cargo shifted in the storm leading to a capsize, but was this before she anchored, or did she drift from the anchorage to Dean Tail later in the night? We will never know. It seems bizarre in this age of total electronic surveillance that even in 1990 a ship a few miles from land can simply disappear and not be missed for hours.

The only human connection we have to this wreck is the unmarked grave of one of the sailors in Portsmouth’s Kingston Cemetery: Ibrahim Hussain who was only 19 years old. If you pass the wreck at Dean Tail, spare a thought for him and his 18 colleagues (all from Chios Island in Greece) who have been forgotten by history and are just a distant memory to their families.

If you would like to know what the wreck looks like close up, this video on YouTube gives a rather murky view. The wreck is lying on a seabed of mainly mud covered in a layer of shells.


Langstone Catch Report October 2020

You know September has arrived when someone somewhere says they had heard that a codling had been caught in the Solent. Then someone else jokes “That’s the one caught for the year then” and you secretly wonder if they are right. Well, a couple of small codling have been caught, the Southsea Marina Angling Club have opened their Cod Pool and also confirmed the annual Cod Open Competition, which will be held on Sunday 8th November. Prevailing Covid-19 rules will be observed and the prize table is still to be announced but going by previous years, it will be generous and will attract a lot of local boat anglers. Keep an eye on the local Facebook pages for further details.

Looking back at the last month we have a couple of very interesting fishy stories to share. The first one isn’t a catch as such – a 396lb (180Kg) Atlantic bluefin tuna was washed up dead in Chichester Harbour and was recovered by the team at Thorney Island Sailing Club. Simon Horsfield kindly provide the photos of this huge fish which was in very good condition and showed no sign of damage. It was taken away for analysis by Sussex IFCA but no cause of death could be established. Although these fish are rare and it is illegal for anglers even to target them, it is rather exciting to know that they and possibly similar species are active in the local area.

The second big story is the report of the catch of a record-beating thresher shark by Dr. Stephen Hutchinson from his own boat over St Catherines Deep, south of the Isle of Wight. The fish took his mackerel flapper bait only 17 minutes after starting the drift, but it took nearly five hours to finally get it alongside the boat. It was measured at 112 inches nose to fork which matches a weight of around 630lbs. This easily surpasses the existing record of 323lbs but isn’t as big at the largest thresher recorded which was caught commercially in 2007 weighing 1,250lb. Dr. Hutchinson’s shark was released so cannot qualify for a record claim, and will join the list of other record-beaters caught locally which were released by conservation-minded anglers.

Meanwhile, the rest of us were catching much smaller fish but having plenty of fun nevertheless. The summer plaice marks are still producing a few fish and the calm sunny days make drifting for them a very pleasant experience. Another tasty fish, the red mullet isn’t specifically targeted here but they are welcomed when they do turn up, either to add to a species tally or if they are big enough, to add to the pot.

Rays can be relied on to put a good bend in a rod and the blond rays run to a good size – Clive Smith and Guy Chandler both caught blonde rays of 21lb and Ray Jenner one of 24lb. We have a good stock of undulate rays and thornback rays on the shingle banks and a good thornback ray can put up a worthy struggle as Chis Satow can confirm.

Further offshore over the wrecks and banks anglers are still targeting bass. Kev Johnson boated a superb bass of 11lb 10oz on a scad livebait. The wrecks are where you will find bass and pollack but you will also catch other fish. Dennis Fuller caught not one but two of the much rarer John Dory, largest 2lb 8oz.

After a dearth of mackerel during the summer a few more are now showing up which is just as well because we need to stock freezers for winter bait. The whiting and hopefully even a cod or two will be here soon so I expect we’ll be including them in the next SMAC catch reports.

Until then, Tight Lines and we’ll hopefully see you at the SMAC Cod Open on 8th November.

SAN Reoport October 2020

Huge thresher shark caught off the Isle of Wight

Dr Stephen Hutchinson set off from Christchurch is his 25 foot Orkney heading to St. Catherines Deeps, south of the Isle of Wight. At 10am he started a drift, after setting up a chum trail consisting of minced mackerel, rainbow trout, bran and sardine oil. Two rods were set up, fishing mackerel flappers on de-barbed Owner 10/0 Super Mutu circle hooks attached to 480 lb 49 strand stainless steel cable and 400 lb wind-on mono rubbing leader with a hollow braid loop. This was attached loop to loop cat’s paw to double line tied with Australian plait.  A 3 oz lead held it under a Redi Rig Mako Buster Release Float. The float was set to fish at a depth of 80 feet.

The boat end of the tackle consisted of a Penn International Stand-up Rod VS5010AWA 60 with Aftco wind-on rollers and a Winthrop Tackle Adjusta-Butt. Reel was a Penn International 50 VSW reel loaded with 530 m of 60 lb Momoi Diamond Mono, attached to Dr Huchinson with a Braid Blue-Fin Harness and Power Play Rod Belt.

Thresher shark fishing Isle of Wight

After only 17 minutes there was a run on one of the baits. The fish took 500 yards of line. Although it moved quite slowly the sheer size of the fish made it unstoppable. There were no fast runs or leaping.  The fish was just dogged and 30 lbs of drag was insufficient to move it. Only after clamping down on the spool with his thumb so that he could back the drag off and turn the pre-set up to maximum to get 45 lbs of drag was he able to make any progress. The boat drifted about five miles during the battle.

At around 2pm Dr Huchinson finally caught his first glimpse of the fish. However it was another hour before it was finally alongside the boat.

Thresher shark fishing Isle of Wight

At 3:10pm the fish was measured at 112 inches nose to fork (estimated total length 199 inches) and released. According to published weight tables this gives a weight of around 630lbs. This is significantly bigger than the current British record of 323lbs caught in this area in 1982, but not as large as the biggest commercially caught thresher shark which was a massive 1,250lb landed in Cornwall in 2007.  Dr Hutchinson’s catch is an incredible fish – and although older and wiser, it is still out there! More information on thresher sharks here.

Thresher shark fishing Isle of Wight


For another shark story read here.




Bluefin Tuna in Chichester Harbour

This huge Atlantic bluefin tuna was washed up in Chichester Harbour where it was recovered by the team at Thorney Island Sailing Club. After Simon Horsfield took these photographs, they called in the IFCA who took it in their patrol boat “Watchful” to their Shoreham base for analysis. It was weighed at 180kg. The IFCA officers Dr. Jen Lewis and Nick Rogers took tissue samples from the carcass and took measurements. It was found to be in very good condition and had only recently died. The body appeared to be undamaged so there was no indication it had been caught by line or net. Because the cause of death was uncertain, the body was then disposed of.

Atlantic Bluefin Tuna

Chief fisheries and conservation officer Tim Dapling was interviewed by the Shoreham Herald and said “Historically bluefin tuna regularly frequented UK waters, feeding upon plentiful prey fish species such as herring and mackerel, however global fishing pressure due to high demand and prices caused bluefin numbers to drastically decline over the past century, to the point that they were classified as an endangered species by the IUCN.

Atlantic Bluefin Tuna

“This is a very unusual and positive event in terms of fisheries the marine environment and the presence of a key species. Although it is a pity the fish was not alive, it is first time we have an encountered at close quarters a Bluefin tuna specimen in Sussex coastal waters. There are various reports of Bluefin tuna in the wider channel area and we know they are regularly sighted further to the west off Devon and Cornwall. It was a quite remarkable and impressive fish, why it was in Chichester Harbour or came ashore may never be clear, but we do know species such as mackerel and bass are present in numbers within the harbour and perhaps it entered the harbour to feed and became disorientated.

“A fish of this size and species is used to open sea areas where it can swim unconstrained to hunt prey. “The adult Bluefin tuna are at the top of the marine food chain and the increasing presence of top predators typically indicates the improving health of ecosystems. Of course, this was just one fish, however I’d be surprised if it was the only one in Sussex waters.”

Local anglers have reported seeing tuna in the area. Because it is illegal to target, boat or land a bluefin tuna in UK waters, any closer encounters are probably not reported!

Thanks to Simon Horsfield of Thorney Island Sailing Club for permission to reproduce these photographs.

Langstone Catch Report September

This last month has followed the usual pattern for August: mixed weather, and mixed bags of fish. Some days have been calm and glorious, others torrential rain and strong winds. It is a month separating the main run of summer species from the early arrival of winter species so it can be unpredictable. One of the distractions, for those with a lot of patience, is shark fishing but more on that later.

The larger tope usually move off again by August but there were still some good specimens caught: Peter Churchill 50lb; Dan Churchill 50lb; Clive Smith 40lb and Dean Lodge 40lb.

Calmer sunny days means drifting for bass is a very pleasant way of fishing. We have good stocks in the area. Graham Jones caught his personal best of 11lb and Grant Childs shows one of 6lb 15oz. Most common species of rays are resident on many marks and although the undulate ray stocks are under pressure we seen to catch a good number of them. Mackerel shoals are again scarce although some huge individuals have been caught, James Atkins shows an example. Scad are plentiful however, and make good fresh baits.

Our main event of the month was a Species Competition, organised by Chris Ellis. This was a SMAC competition and we plan to hold this as an Open competition next year, and we will be working with sponsors to put up an attractive prize table. The competition was won by Bill Arnold with 10 species (tompot blenny, corkwing wrasse, ballan wrasse, tub gurnard, plaice, pouting, conger eel, dog fish, scad, black bream); Steve Andrews in second place with 9 and Kris Scott in third with 8 so it was a close fight to the end.

The Juniors also did well – Jake Kelly shows off his silver eel and Max Churchill a smoothhound.

Sharks are always a possibility south of the Island, although they are not in sufficient numbers to rival the fishing further south. It takes a lot of research, planning and patience to catch one but the experience is amazing. These days the fish are released at the side of the boat to minimise further stress, so weights are estimates. We have two catches to report.

Ian Hewett captured an estimated 450 – 500lb Porbeagle equalling his previous best. The shark came up in the chum slick and showed on the surface close to the floats before taking a live Horse Mackerel fished 30 feet below. The fish was officially ‘caught’ after a 2hr struggle when the skipper Peter Churchill touched the leader but it took off again and fought for a further hour before she was ready to finally come alongside to be photographed and released – see pictures.

Heber Crawford fished solo in his own boat and caught his first thresher shark. Coincidentally Peter Churchill was nearby and seeing the action was able to approach and take photos. It was estimated to weigh 220lb and the story of the catch in Heber’s own words makes great reading. See the article “Solo Shark Fishing”.

You can read the full Sea Angling News online here

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