Here’s a nice photo to share, a cracking bass caught by Oliver Aubrey-Thomas from a mark south of Bracklesham Bay, West Sussex. It was tempted by a bait of fresh squid, fished on the bottom.
After weeks of lockdown watching day after day of perfect fishing weather pass us by, we could hardly believe our luck when restrictions on fishing and private boating were eventually eased and we were blessed by a few days of calm and sunshine.
Most people with boats on moorings and in marinas hadn’t even been able to visit them to make sure all was well, although it was nice that the marina staff at Southsea Marina kept an eye on the boats and even sent us a phot if we wished. It wasn’t the same though, and when we got the green light there was a rush to get boats in the water, checked over and out to sea.
Social distancing still applies so it was “families only” for boat-owners, and single occupancy for charter vessels. I think most people were just happy to get a line in the water and the sun on their faces, and it certainly made a welcome change from Zoom meetings, queueing down the street to buy a carton of milk or wearing a groove in the same old park walk.
Even though we have only had a week or so of actual fishing to report on this month, the results have been surprisingly good. You may recall from the Local Guide we published in the previous issue of SAN, in May we can expect seasonal visitors of some big tope, bream over the rocky marks, smoothhound, plaice, the first mackerel and of course all the residence species.
Team Crawford (Heber, Heber Junior and Archie) found quality tope south of the Island and an epic trip included a personal best for Heber with a tope of 60lb plus.
Bream are plentiful if you get the tide and location right. My daughter Aedy and I fished a popular bream mark and only managed to land one. When we returned to the marina we found that another boat which had been on the same mark at 5am caught 60 (only keeping a few for the table). On another day, Arron Shons located some very good specimens and also boated the spectacular cuckoo wrasse which in those colours and weather conditions looks like it belongs in the tropics.
One of the problems of “social distance fishing” is that there is nobody to take your photo so unless you have a family member present or are proficient with the self-timer, you don’t get the fish and the angler in the same frame. Nevertheless Tim Andrews reported this nice blonde ray and a brill.
The combination of warmer winters and bass conservation measures has meant that bass are now much more plentiful, and the sizes are increasing steadily too. We can now keep two bass per angler per day over the MLS of 42cm. Drifting over the banks south of the Nab Tower and southeast of Selsey produce good catches, and boats reported plenty over 4lbs in size.
It seems to be a human trait to respond to adverse situations like the current crisis with humour. Thanks to Bill Arnold for his bream complying with precautionary measures, and the social comment from the fish point of view!
Let’s hope that all the efforts we are making to control this virus remain effective so we can progressively return to normal, including more charter trips and catch reports.
Southsea Marina Angling Club
Read the full issue of SAN here
Langstone Harbour Local Report – there was no fishing due to lockdown restrictions, so instead we published a guide to fishing in the area. This was published in the online edition – there was no print edition this month.
Firstly, I hope all our SAN readers are able to stay safe and well – and a big Thank You to all the frustrated anglers who are supporting the NHS by staying locked down at home watching some perfect fishing days pass us by. It will end, and to help visiting anglers plan future boat trips this special edition of the Langstone Harbour report is a fishing guide rather than our usual report on recent catches.
For sea anglers, the coastline covered by our regular reports is one of the most varied and interesting in the country. It includes the busy but sheltered eastern half of the Solent; the Eastern Approaches which covers the area from Portsmouth to Hayling Island and along the east coast of the Isle of Wight; and the part of the Sussex coast from the entrance to Chichester Harbour to Selsey Bill. There are good fishing marks from close inshore all the way out to the reefs and wrecks in the English Channel.
Own boat or charter?
We are spoilt for choice – if you own a small fishing boat there are 29 launch sites listed on www.boatlaunch.co.uk between Lee-on-the-Solent and Selsey. Some are only suitable for beach launching but many have concrete ramps accessible at most states of tide. The website gives details of parking and charges. There are also many clubs and marinas where boats can be stored – Southsea Marina and SMAC, Eastney Cruising Association, Langstone Harbour Fishermen’s Association and Southsea Sea Angling club are all local to east Portsmouth.
There is also a good choice of charter boats operating out of Portsmouth, Gosport, Southsea Marina, Langstone Harbour, Chichester Harbour and Bembridge on the Isle of Wight. Some advertise in SAN, others you can track down with a web search for charter boats operating out of the ports listed.
What you can expect to catch
Being located in the middle of the South Coast, we get the benefit of warm-water species migrating north in summer, and cold-water species migrating south in winter. As a result we have a huge variety of fishing available to us and club members entering annual Species Competitions regularly list 40-50 species caught. Ray, conger, pout and dogfish are with us all year. Bass are also around all year now, but are more likely to be targeted by anglers from Spring to Autumn. In the Spring we have a run of plaice which breed inshore but stay around into the Autumn on particular marks. These are followed by bream, smoothhound, mullet and garfish in late Spring then the tope, scad and mackerel arrive, usually in good numbers. Some anglers target shark south of the Island and every year some more exotic species are reported. Stingray are caught in summer close to Solent shores, along with sole at night. In the autumn trigger fish put in a brief, localised appearance then we may get an autumn run of codling before the whiting arrive in force. We always hope for cod in the winter months but lately catches have been very disappointing. These are the main targets but there are plenty of other species that will be caught. Small pollack can be caught inshore in summer, but offshore much bigger specimens are caught over channel wrecks and reefs most of the year.
Popular fishing marks
The best marks are the ones you find yourself! Every bump or hollow will fish differently according to season, tide and weather so this guide is only intended to describe what can be expected in the general areas shown on the accompanying chart. If you go out on good fishing days you will see clusters of angling boats in many of these locations. To help you anchor: a flooding tide will run from west to east, and an ebb tide will run from east to west. The turning point is about an hour before the actual high and low water times. Please refer to the chart for the following marks.
- “Gilkicker” – a steep drop into the shipping channel where the water runs fast and deep. Popular in summer for mackerel and winter for cod. Most other species are also caught but floating weed is a problem in summer.
- “The Blocks” – an area east of the submarine barrier which is a regular spring plaice mark.
- “Princessa” – a rocky ledge with several wrecks nearby. The tide runs hard here but you can expect cod and whiting in winter and most seasonal species in summer. There are more sheltered marks in nearby Sandown Bay and Whitecliff Bay.
- Bracklesham Bay – there is a line of rocky outcrops running west from The Hounds which gives sheltered marks holding bream in late spring. Summer plaice can also be caught drifting the flat sandy areas.
- The West slope of Boulder Bank is another good bream mark in Spring but the tide can run hard here over the shallow bank.
- “Pullar” is a good area to locate bass and tope – look for holes and gullies.
- New Grounds is an area of flat hard rock which is almost devoid of features but seems to hold fish. It is good for summer drifting for rays and bass.
- “Dean Tail” has several marks. The wreck of the Flag Theofano is conspicuously marked and many anglers stop here to feather mackerel for bait. Nearby there are other bumps and hollows which hold fish in all seasons.
- Bullock Patch is a rocky outcrop famed for producing large bream in the Spring. It is also worth seeking out marks along the edge of the shipping channel which have produced good cod in previous years.
- “The Fingers” is a popular cod mark in winter, named after the fingers of banks visible on the chart. This general area of banks is also good for rays in summer. South of this mark is an area of deep water locally called “Utopia” and is one of the best tope marks, but it can be very challenging when the tide runs hard.
Bait and tackle
The increase of on-line shopping has taken a heavy toll from our local shops and we now only have one tackle shop in Portsmouth; Lock Stock and Tackle. It is best to order bait ahead, or have it delivered from the local bait supplier Baits’r’Us. Southsea Marina office stocks frozen baits for berth holders and visitors.
In summer there is no doubt that freshly feathered mackerel is the best all-round bait when you can get it. Frozen squid will catch almost anything and is a great stand-by. Ragworm is the popular flatfish bait but frozen black lug is easier to get and in my opinion just as good. Peeler crab and hermit crab were once thought of as essential baits for smoothhound but good catches are made using ragworm and squid. We also used to think that live sandeel were essential bass baits but the development of artificial lures has shown that in the right hands they can be just as effective.
Special safety considerations
This area is exceptionally busy for shipping and this makes it very interesting but also potentially dangerous. We have cruise liners, container vessels, bulk transporters and car carriers going into Southampton; tankers going to Fawley oil refinery and naval vessels and ferries going into Portsmouth. Add to that the Isle of Wight fast ferries, vehicle ferries and hovercraft, plus dredgers, fishing boats, special purpose vessels and literally thousands of yachts and motorboats. This means that when navigating anywhere, and particularly in shipping lanes and harbour entrances you must be aware of other vessels approaching. Take care where you anchor and always hoist an anchor ball to warn passing yachts that you are not moving.
This area has always been busy for shipping, particularly during recent wars and the seabed is littered with obstructions ranging from pipes and cables to wrecks of ships, aircraft and even tanks. Always buoy your anchor or rig it to trip so you don’t lose it.
The entrance to Portsmouth Harbour has special rules for small boats and is controlled by QHM Portsmouth. Langstone Harbour has a very fast tidal run and Chichester Harbour has a nasty offshore bar so always check your charts, weather and tides for your trip.
Having said that, there is plenty of room for everyone to fish even on the busiest days and we are extremely fortunate to have such varied fishing in such an interesting area. There are Spitfires based at local airfields and if you hear the deep rumble of a Merlin engine you may look up and see them looping over the Solent Forts to add to your enjoyment of the day.
Read the full issue of SAN here
The highlight of this month’s report was Southsea Marina Angling Club’s Awards Night which we combined with Southsea Marina Disabled Angling Club. More by good luck than anything, we held it just days before the progressive shut-down of social activities which will also stop our monthly club meetings and SMDAC boat trips for a while.
Rupert Bremer, manager of Southsea Marina was our first VIP guest and presented the prizes to SMDAC winners. Club champion was John Wearn who also won Best Cod, Hambrook cup, SMAC Bream Cup and was SMAC Champion Runner-up. Runner-up to SMDAC Champion was George Dominy who should really be called George InDominitable because despite being well into his eighties George is a regular fisher. He won the Pier and Beach cup and was placed highly in the Lakes competitions. Jon Leythorne collected four prizes including Best Specimen with a spurdog of 21lb.
We then welcomed our second VIP guest, Nick Wallis who as manager of Allan’s Marine has been supporting our clubs for many years. Sadly the shop is now closed but we made sure Nick will still be associated with us by forcing him to accept a lifetime membership of SMAC (and a nice goblet) as a token of our sincere appreciation. Nick and Rupert presented a further 19 awards and as space here is limited I can only include a few. Ray Plomer is Club Champion and also won the Plaice Cop. Tim Andrews our Club Commodore won the Bass Cup plus the Pairs Cup with Mark Banks. Kris Scott won the Cod Cup and John Jones the Pollack Cup.
Ladies were represented too: Natalie Arnold won the Ladies Cup and Kelly Rowen the Ladies Species Cup. Jake Kelly won the Junior Cup and Junior Species Cup and he must have been taught well because his dad Steve Kelly won Best Specimen Cup with a sole of 2lb 9oz.
One of the novel attractions of the evening was a large display board made up by Bill Arnold, illustrating all the successes by club members that were featured in Sea Angling News.
“In other news”….there is almost no other news. For the fist time I can remember, the weather has been so consistently bad for an entire month that not a single fish was entered for the SMAC Fish of the Month medal. Fortunately one or two boats have managed to nip out between blows and found that fish are still there to be caught.
Dean Gibbs shows a bass of 8lb caught on a live whiting – returned because the catch limits didn’t come in until 1st March. You might think that bass looks smaller than it is but in fact it’s Dean that is dwarfing the fish, he’s 6’8”! His father Robin Gibbs shows one of many congers caught, this one was 40lb. As the sea temperatures start to rise the conger will return to their lairs and won’t be roaming the open marks in such numbers.
There were a few spurdog still around but they will probably have gone by April. Those boats that managed to get as far as the offshore wrecks had some excellent sport with some very good pollack such as this beauty from Heber Crawford.
More recently, plaice have begun to appear and the early ones will be very skinny after spawning. John Evans started the new SMAC competition year off with a plaice of 2lb 2oz.
These are very challenging times for many of us. Some charter skippers are no longer taking groups, others are carrying on as long as possible taking great care with hygiene. Those with their own boats can create a social distance of several miles which is probably as low-risk as you can get at the moment!
(edited – going out in your boat is banned due to the current Coronavirus lockdown)
To read the full magazine online click here
Thanks to Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis putting paid to two weekends since the last report, we have only had half the opportunities to go out. Fewer than that actually, because the weather around the storms hasn’t been great either. I expect the inshore mussel beds will have been rearranged so the plaice marks will have to be re-discovered. On the plus side, if you wanted to stock up on slipper limpet for bait there were plenty strewn all over the shingle beaches.
Pride of place in this report is an impressive cod caught by Dean Gibbs from his own boat, fishing in deep water south of the Nab Tower. A squid bait lured this 22lb 10oz fish, big by any standard along this coast and particularly impressive given how few cod of any size have been caught this winter.
This month we are between the winter season and the spring run of fish, although smoothhound and garfish associated with summer have confused everybody by turning up in January! Debbie Harvey shows off her smoothhound with the white cliffs of the Isle of Wight in the background, a popular mark throughout the seasons. Ray tend not to be migratory and can be caught at any time. On the same trip Debbie also landed this nice thornback ray. Jason Gillespie was also fishing south of the Nab with squid bait and instead of the hoped-for cod he instead boated this impressive blonde ray of 28lb.
The winter run of spurdog have thinned out now but some are still being caught. Heber Crawford shows a nice specimen with the distinctive first and second dorsal spines.
February is traditionally a good month for the larger pollack from the mid-channel wrecks, if there is a weather window allowing small boats to reach them safely. Arron Shons was delighted with his 20lb pollack, and a number of other big doubles on the same trip. Kev Johnson shows another good pollack, caught during much calmer weather before the storms arrived.
We have an active community of young anglers locally and it is great to see their success – even if sometimes they out-fish us. James Smith aged 10 caught this 30lb conger on mackerel and squid by himself, although as you can see he needed help to lift it off the deck because it’s as long as he is.
Our near neighbour the Eastney Cruising Association Fishing Club held their awards night recently. Young Levin Bellinger won the ECA Junior Cup and an Angling Trust medal for his 2lb 14oz bream. Jake Kelly won the Junior Species Cup, the Wrasse Hat and an Angling Trust medal for a small-eyed ray weighing 8lb.
Many of the charter boats take February off for a re-fit before the spring run of fish. They are mostly back in the water raring to go so if we can find some quieter weather before the next issue of SAN we should be reporting on the first plaice caught. I think many of us are relieved the disappointing cod season is over and we are all looking forward to the arrival of more smoothhound, bream and tope in the next few months.
By the way, Arron Shons is the Redgill prizewinner in this month’s SAN! Congratulations.
A big thank you to Dean Gibbs for giving us hope. Dean caught this 22lb 10oz cod recently on a squid bait fishing from his boat south of the Nab Tower. Congratulations Dean, a rare feat.
Many of us have a few extra days off work around the “Holiday Season”, as Christmas now appears to be called, so you would expect December to provide more fishing opportunities. However, the competition for our time from family and social commitments conspires to make those opportunities fewer not more. Nevertheless, many of us did find a few windows where weather, tides and families allowed us to go out.
Alas, the much sought-after cod were not so obliging. In fact, they have now been re-named unicorns because they are so rare in the eastern Solent. We have had some poor cod seasons in the past but this year is among the worst on record, partly due to the low stocks but also probably also because of the higher sea temperatures which would discourage them from moving inshore during winter.
Southsea Marina Angling Club held its annual Mandela Cup on the 28th December – it is “winner takes all” for the largest cod. Wisely, the rules allow for the largest whiting if no cod are caught. In the event, no cod were caught and some respectable whiting were weighed in. Competition winner was Peter Churchill with a whiting of 1lb 10oz. Aedy Merritt weighed in a whiting just an ounce less but unfortunately, in this competition there are no second prizes!
Peter must know the good spots because a few days later 10 year-old James Smith caught a 2lb whiting from Peter’s boat. One or two cod have come along, although on the small side compared to previous seasons. John Wearn of the Southsea Marina Disabled Angling Club shows a Solent codling of 2lb 2oz which is large enough to be placed third in the SMAC Cod Cup which runs all season. This really indicates what a struggle the cod fishing has become in this area.
On the other hand, bass fishing has been prolific. Dave Ford and Heber Crawford show off some double figure fish while Luke Scott shows what can be caught on inshore marks. We are seeing large shoals of sprats on our fishfinders, providing plenty of food for the bass which we are seeing in healthy numbers now. Hunting packs of bass can be indicated by flocks of gulls overhead but unlike in summer, the action is much deeper in the water. Slow jigging at depth will find the fish, although it is strictly catch and release for bass at the moment. We are pleased the bass rules for 2020 allow two fish per day to be retained between 1st March and 30th November which is more than in previous seasons.
Further out, boats have been targeting the winter run of spurdog and also picking up some nice rays. Conger continue to roam open ground and range in size from small strap conger to 40lb and above. If you like catching conger, they provide some rod-bending action but I can’t pretend they are welcome in my boat.
We have just experienced a very violent storm so that will have stirred things up – perhaps there is still a chance of a cod before next report? We shall see.
Read the full issue of SAN here