Boat Angling

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Langstone Report February 2021

The Southsea Marina Sea Angling Club year runs from February to January, so 31st January marked the end of the 2020 Season and competitions. The final couple of months are usually quite exciting with last-minute changes in the club competition standings and winter competitions to look forward to as well. Well as we all know, this year has been like no other year and with the second major lockdown restricting travel and competitions, the club activities drifted gently to a halt. Our winter cod competitions were cancelled and with only a few local anglers being able to use their boats, there weren’t many fish caught of note.

Kev Johnson was the overall Club Champion and managed to bag a few more trophies as well, including the Bass Cup for this 11lb 10oz beauty pictured! Next month we will be announcing all the winners of the SMAC competitions and hopefully we’ll also know more about when we can all fish together again.

SMAC is independent from Premier Marinas Southsea although we are based in the marina, and we are very grateful for their support. Premier have kindly given up a page on their website if you would like to find out more about the club and activities, please visit and look at “About Southsea Marina”.


Langstone Report January 2021

Well this has been a tough month. We’ve had several waves of stormy conditions passing over the area putting a stop to boat fishing most weekends, and only those lucky enough to be able to go out midweek were able to fish at all. Then, just to put a final nail in it the local area is designated Tier 4 so anyone living outside Portsmouth can’t travel to their boats even if the weather improves. Oh well, I suppose there’s always next year!

We do have some fishing news from those that managed to get out however. After a slow start to the winter season we saw more cod coming out, some over 20lb. Neil Glazier now leads the Southsea Marina Angling Club Cod Pool with this nice fish of 22lb.

There are a lot of whiting inshore. Strangely, they seem to be either very large and few in number of very small and in large, ravenous shoals. The larger fish such as the 4lb specimen shown by Nick Reeves are very welcome. The smaller whiting strip large baits or give themselves up within minutes on smaller baits, making fishing very difficult.

I found that putting a dead whiting on a large hook and sending it down again kept their brethren away and gave other fish a chance to find the bait. Using this method you can expect to hook up with rays, congers or even cod if you are lucky. Mark Jackson shows the largest of three good undulate rays caught that day, topped by his crew mate Richie Shippen with an undulate a pound heavier at 15lb.

The SMAC Open Cod Competition was postponed from early November because of lockdown restrictions, then when restrictions were eased we had to postpone due to adverse weather conditions. With the new, tighter restrictions in force we have no revised date to publicise. We will have to wait and see what s possible.

Let’s hope that with renewed efforts to combat the virus and the roll-out of vaccinations we’ll be able to get back to some form of normality in 2021, and we can all go out fishing again as we used to.


Bass Fishing Limits 2021

The government has rolled over the 2020 bass rules into 2021 as we await the results of continued discussions over fisheries policies and EU trading rules.

Briefly, rules are different for North Atlantic (that’s us) and South Atlantic. In our waters, we can retain up to two bass per angler per day between 1st March and 30th November. The MLS of 42cm still applies. Outside these dates it is Catch and Release only.

This may change in April, so watch out for announcements in the press and updates here.

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.


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