I am often asked by non-fishing, boat-owning friends if they can catch a fish or two for the pan from their yacht (or power boat for that matter). The answer is yes, of course, and very easily. You don’t need expensive, complicated tackle although the danger is, if you get the fishing bug you might end up buying a lot. This page is a guide to the sort of casual fishing you can do around the Solent from a leisure boat of any size.
Where to fish
You can fish from a boat either going along slowly (2 knots or so, called trolling), drifting engine off (called jigging), at anchor (jigging or bottom fishing) or on a mooring. Fishing in a marina is usually not allowed. I will explain the different techniques for these situations below. I am assuming that you are not making a dedicated fishing trip, otherwise you would be reading all the other pages on this site. If you want to fish as you are pottering from one spot to another, or drifting for mackerel on the way from A to B, or dangling a line from your anchorage while you have lunch, then this page shows you how.
You can fish from a moving boat successfully anywhere in the Solent and approaches – have a go. Drifting is better done in known fish-holding areas, such as around the Forts, near the larger buoys, over marked wrecks and where you see birds feeding. Sometimes you can even see the fish as they chase small fry. Fishing at anchor is more productive over rocky ground but you will have chosen a spot based on lunch rather than fishing, so have a go anyway.
What you can catch
In Summer, expect to catch mackerel, bass and garfish when trolling. Jigging catches the same species, plus pollack and pout if you are over a wreck or rocks and fishing near the bottom. What you catch when bottom fishing depends on what bait you are using. You can catch any of the above plus bream, dogfish, smoothhound, rays, and if you are using worm baits, dabs and plaice. If you are unfamiliar with these species it would be helpful to have a fish identification chart on board. There are many other lesser-known and exotic species that turn up, particularly in late Summer as the water warms up. Trigger Fish, Sunfish, Tuna and Amberjack are all reported occasionally from the Solent approaches and further west.
If you want simple tackle that is cheap, easy to stow and just as effective as expensive rods and lines, then go for a simple hand line line the one below (you can order from the link).
With a few variations on the stuff on the end, it will serve for trolling, jigging and bottom fishing. You will also need a few spare sets of mackerel feathers, single mackerel lures and weights of 8oz and 12oz which you can buy at local fishing tackle shops. You might also want to try plastic sandeel lures such as Red Gill, Gummy Macks or Sidewinder which are great for bass and pollack. More on that later. Buy a few swivels, snap links and a booklet on fishing knots. Practice the Grinner (or Uni) Knot, it is almost the only one you will ever need.
How to Fish – Trolling
The easiest way to catch mackerel, garfish and sometimes bass is to tow your lures behind a slowly moving boat. The depth at which you fish is dependent on the speed of the boat and the weight on your line. Ideally you need to be going dead slow, at tick-over speed if motoring and no more than 2 knots if sailing. There are various ways of rigging lines to troll: here are some choices. All work!
Let out about 30 metres of line. Tie the hand line to something, it is easily dropped in the excitement. A bungee hook is ideal. Mackerel can be at any depth, try heavier weights and slower speeds to get the lures down lower if you are having no luck. You will know when a fish is on because you will feel the sudden extra weight and the tugging as they struggle. Pull them in, give them a sharp rap on the head and put them somewhere cool until you are ready to cook them. Mackerel in particular go off quickly in warm weather.
You are likely to pick up a lot of weed on the lures with this method if you fish in the Solent or within a mile or two from shore. Weed is less of a problem further offshore.
If you want to try for bass or pollack, try a sandeel lure rigged as in Fig. 1 but with a longer length of line between weight and lure, 10 metres is not too much. Fish well behind the boat, over rocks, reefs, wrecks and sand banks.
*** Warning *** Take great care not to troll near other boats, particularly in entrances to harbours. Your line is impossible to see from another boat, and anyone crossing astern could catch it round their propeller.
How to Fish – Jigging
This method suits any area, but as you are not covering much ground you need to fish where the fish are, as explained above. Rig your hand line with a weight or heavy lure at the bottom, and mackerel feathers between it and the hand line (like Fig. 3 above). With the boat drifting, let out a few metres of line directly below the boat. Jig the line up and down for a minute or two. If nothing happens, let out a few more metres and repeat until you catch a fish or hit the bottom. If you catch a fish, mark the depth with a twist of cord or rubber band on the line before you wind it in, then you know what depth to let it out to catch more. If you hit the bottom, just carry on jigging, this time winding in a few metres between jigs. Work the lures from the surface to the bottom and back until you find fish – or decide to try somewhere else! If you jig close to the bottom over rocks you can catch pollack, but you can also snag your line so take care not to wind line round your hand.
How to Fish – Fishing at Anchor
Here is a simple way to catch supper while you eat lunch. If you are in a mackerel area, tie your jigging tackle to fish mid water and let the rocking of the boat do the jigging for you. If it is flat calm, you can still catch mackerel but you need to bait your lures. Cut a thin slice of skin from the tail of mackerel you have caught and put a bit on each mackerel feather. That will add some extra attraction that will work even if fished static.
If you fish on the bottom you will catch a much greater variety of fish but you will need bait, which could get messy. A simple bottom rig is the same as the Jigging rig but you must use either mackerel feathers or an old set with the feathers cut off leaving bare hooks. Some mackerel “feathers” are hard mini-lures which don’t work as well when baited. Bait each hook with a strip of mackerel flesh cut from a fish you caught earlier, a strip of squid from the fishmonger or fishing shop, or ragworms. You can buy ragworms from fishing shops or find them in the mud at low tide. They are expensive, leave stains on white gel coat and have biting pincers so they are only worth using if you really want to catch plaice and dabs! Easier to use mackerel or squid strips.
To fish on the bottom simply bait the hooks and lower the weight until it touches the bottom. Either keep hold of it or tie the line to something because a fish can easily make off with the whole lot. If something tugs at the line, haul it up! It is that simple.
*** Warning *** One fish you may catch at anchor is the Weever. This small fellow has poisonous spines so take great care if you think you have caught on of these. This is why the fish identification chart is useful!
Have a look at the Cooking pages for ideas on how to cook your catch.
For more instructions on sea fishing, there is a great little book from Hugh Fearnely-Whittingstall’s mate in the River Cottage series simply called “Sea Fishing” – click on the link below. While you there, have a look at the River Cottage book on seashore foraging too!