Thursday, 23 May 2013

sharks pups and south easterleys

With a nice breeze skipping from the west over the shingle behind me, and the intermittent cloud cover, it looked a fine sort of day to begin things. The tide had two hours of flood left until it hit slack water and the wind was combining with the lapping sea just enough to make me smile. Even as inexperienced as I am, I know that too little surf makes for clear seas and lethargic fish, whilst too much can halt fishing entirely  Hence today the early morning wind had the waves forming a thirty feet off the shore and the sea looked just about right to me.

My last encounter with sea fishing over six months ago had not gone well. Like all types of fishing there are good times and bad, and after many a good time I had fallen, flailing face first onto a bad one. The geography of the environment where beach fishing takes place can make it feel very black and white. By that I mean that more often than not it's a case of there is, or is not, feeding fish within casting range of the beach. So as I stood there with poised to cast with four ounces of lead swinging in the breeze waiting to tow my oozing bundle of peeler crab towards the horizon, I hoped this was not going splash down into fallow water... 

I sometimes think those moments waiting for that first bite of a trip are the most nerve racking, with the tone of the fishing ahead hanging in the balance. Then when that first dip rattle or bleep occurs the relief is palpable and you can relax knowing that all will not be for waste. It took exactly five minutes for my first bite to develop. The initial single nod widened my eyes immediately and called me to the rod, but my brain reminded me I wasn't fishing for winter dace and waiting to strike would be more beneficial in this scenario. Two more nods and then the rod was heaving over like Moby dick himself was attached to my line.

On one hand sea and tackle take away much of the fight of captures made in the waves, but on the other they add to it too. Most rigs drag lead behind on the retrieve as the sea seems to try and suck back fish as you reel them in. Even reeling in the smallest of fish can be a job in itself. My fish was pulling back and had as yet remained a mystery as it kited across the last few waves. Then a pointy nose appeared from under the last wave before a miniature fin was seen in the receding wave and the tone of things to come was instantly set.

Smooth hound pups are undoubtedly cute and their tenacity to consume baits you would have always thought to large for them is commendable, but the capture of one on my first cast usually means the sea bed would probably be paved with them. Frankly though, I needed the confidence boost a morning of catching these little sharks would provide, and I did enjoy it as one after another they searched out my single crab bait on the seemingly featureless sea bed.

By the time the tide had stalled, then turned, I had caught dozens of them at all kinds of ranges and happily the size of the fish present on this beach seems to be increasing. As normally they they average a eight inches long and maybe half a pound but several were four times this size. Though this could be down to them being veracious little critters, like this one which was determined to gum my finger or hand, which resulted in my rather perplexed look! 

Two days later I had had enough of smooth hound pups and was considering new marks further south. It just happened that early one morning as I drove towards one new area a road accident had closed off access to, that I diverted to a totally different bit of beach. Kessingland beach is a serious competitor for the most easterly point of UK and common belief in this area has it that in the next ten years it will gain enough ground to depose its close neighbour of this title.
After trudging across an endless sea of shingle I for one did not find hard to believe that Kessingland will soon become usurper to Lowestoft's crown. The bank of pebbles I had to descend down to the quickly sloping sand was nothing less than epic. Quite literally I had a small house sized bank of constantly moving shingle jutting up from the sandy bar where I stood at forty five degrees that ended in nothing but sky.

That first morning was certainly to be eventful. Bites weren't easy to come by and the few that did appear were nontheless from more smooth hound pups hanging out way beyond the sanctuary of the bay where most of their relations were residing northwards of. I was considering making a move when out of nowhere my rod really bent over shaking violently as it did. My instant thought was I had found my holy grail and a bass had found my bait beyond the surf... But I was mistaken! 

The culprit really made me work hard to get it towards the beach and if it was not for the definite sideways movement I would have certainly said I was dragging in a clump of weed. By now the tide had begun pulling and that made a hard job worse, but my careful persuasion came good in the end. It was almost reliving to see my bright red line become my orange shock leader and when it finally passed through the top ring of my rod I knew I was about to my hands on a decent prize. Expecting a good bass to appear as the waves receded I was shocked when a rather much larger smooth hound of of maybe five or more pounds materialised. In a total panic I rushed forward to grab it just as another wave came in. Being a trainer wearing landlubber I backed off not wanting to get wet, only to see the fish get pulled back out to sea. I stupidly grabbed the only bit of the rig to hand which just happened to be the lead. A lesson was quickly learnt. Turns out me pulling from the lead end of the line and the sea pulling back too, as well as the shark thrashing around is basically to much strain for two feet of even 30lb mono line to bare.
I felt the line crack the instant it went and for all my vain effort to try and grab hold of the little sharks tail it was gone back to where it came from, leaving me staring at the waves where it had once been. I did re-rig and try again but that was my shot for the day gone in the blink of an eye, leaving me regretting not just holding onto the rod instead of grabbing at the prize.

I stewed all night on that loss and brewed new plans to return to the same spot early the next day to try and set the record straight. But as always the weather had something to say on that matter. At four thirty I woke, dragged myself wearily from my warm bed and set about brewing some tea. Cup in hand I drew back the curtain to be met by the sight of the blossom on the cherry tree outside our digs blowing across the lawn like snow. Overnight night the wind had swung round from the south-west to the south-east and had increased power by three or more times.   

Not to be perturbed I headed out any way. All the way there I tried to measure the strength of the wind by various objects. Yes that bush is bending over alarmingly and yes that wind turbine is moving quite rapidly but I am sure I might get a few casts in. Wrong! Very wrong! Incan honestly say that I did not know that wind over sea moves twice as fast as wind on the land, so what according to the land lubbers weather forecast is a 16 mph wind gusting to 25 mph on the beach, is a 32 mph wind gusting to 50 mph.

The sea was smashing up the land. Waves rose well off the beach and as far as my eyes could see in the sand filled wind, the water swelled and throbbed as the wind wound it into a frenzy of white water.

I don't know if it was stupidity or just the curiosity to know what it felt like to cast in such conditions that made me do it, but I dug my tripod deep into the sand, baited a hook and fired the biggest lead I had out into the surf. That cast was a third the distance of what I am capable of and took less than a minute to break out of the hold it had and roll back up the beach. That cured my curiosity pretty quickly and sent me back home for the entire day in one single cast. Though with the wind behind me the walk back to the car was one of the easiest I have had, I must say.

Reports that the bass had shown up on the more northern coloured beaches had me head away from Kessingland and back to my old favourite jolly sailors mark in Pakefeild the next day. The locals being present was a good indicator of the sport changing too. I even saw two borderline legal bass in the bucket of a father and son pair just down the beach, but for my part all I could find amongst the seeming bass brimming sea was more and more starry smooth hound pups.

The report that tipped me off about the bass too also put a shining gem of information into my head. Apparently about a mile south of the area where I had lost the better smooth hound was a very rare and productive feature which is considered to be a banker spot by the locals. Now I have been fishing this area for a few years now and have never heard a thing about it but and adventure to find this sacred spot was just the sort of thing I was well up for. So the next morning I again was up before first light and slipping out the door to go and investigate, even though I knew full well it would be low tide when I arrived.

It was hard walk over loose pebbles through the dunes and half way there I came across the collapsed remnants of a pill box built to defend against the German invasion if it had ever come. Standing three hundred feet from it with maybe five hundred feet to the sea it's hard to imagine anyone could have crossed that bit of flat open land and made it to the other side alive even if the Germans did land on our shores. I nipped up to have a look from its point of view and standing on the very top of it I could see other relics of world war two sea defences along the coast and inland, which showed the full extent of how much of a key feature this particular area could have played should the war have gone another way.

It seemed more like five miles before I finally sited a small building on the horizon. Then as I neared fences and rocks became visible before I finally found myself a the mouth of the Benacre sluice. 

Features on the east coast are rare and this sort of feature is probably the only one of its kind for a very long way. The Benacre sluice is essentially the mouth of a river. Like many places on the east coast the land is just about level with the sea and thus sea defences are needed to stop high tides claiming back that land. But rivers flow to the sea... So where this little trickle meets the tidal defences it has a pumping station and sluice to carry the water up and over the barrier.

When in use at high tide the sluice dumps out the contents of the river built up over the low tide into the sea, creating a small but prominent feature which is said to attract fish from miles around. Standing on the beach at low tide I could even see where the water entered the sea and the combined forces of both formed and trench where they flowed together.

It is not easy to see in the foreground but if you follow the dark trench further down the beach back up you can see the differing shade of pebbles at the bottom of the photo. The only difference between the beach and the trench is that the trench has no sand whatsoever in it were as the beach is a mix of both pebbles and sand.

Intrigued by this new found feature and with the tide now turned I made camp higher up the beach so as to have a go on this spot, even though I was going to be fishing at the worst part of the tide. I did suspect it was going to be a real waiting game so after making a cast I left the rod fishing whilst I mooched around close by investigating the area further.

From the rocks at the bottom of the sluice I could make out the full picture of how it has and does influence this mark. Directly in front of the rocks I could make out the skeletal remains of a predecessor. It looked like before the brick and rock sluice had been built a wooden one had been used and the random spikes of  rotting wood that appeared jutting out of the waves got me wondering how far out they went. On closer inspection, and by closer I mean standing on, I concluded that the old river beds lack of sand to fill the spaces between the pebbles made for a very unstable bit of beach. The first foot I put onto that narrow swathe of pebbles sank about a foot into the single and really made me step back rather quickly. I now knew this was to be avoided when walking down to the surf to cast.

It was as I returned to my rod that I spotted it nod a couple of times before bending over. By the time I had got on the right side of my tripod the line was fully slack and lying on the beach. It was so slack it took ages to pick up the line and make contact with the rig and when I finally did the wondrous sensation of a good fish vibrated back up the line. As always it was a real effort to drag fish back towards the shallower water but thankfully the tide was right now actually helping my in my efforts for once. The fish was moving hard to my right and as it did my vision tracked the line moving in the direction of the wooden remains of the old sluice. My instant reaction to put more pressure on the fish I think may of made things worse, and no time at all I found myself snagged solid.

I had only made one cast and by some modicum of luck I had hooked probably my best ever sea fish and now I had snagged it up on the only flipping bit of rough ground on the entire beach. I tried every trick I know to try and free it; changing the angle, slackening off and slow pressure - none of it worked. I even just put the rod down in the hope the fish might somehow pull the rig out but nothing. In the end I had not choice but to pull the break. Sea rigs always go in the same place, just above the shock leader, and the little pig tail of curl indicated this to be the case here.

I was absolutely gutted that after discovering this wonderful place I had on my first trip here, and on my last session of the trip, lost what I can't help but think was a good bass, even though I knew full and well there could be some nasty stuff hidden out in front of me. Worst off all was it was my only chance too, as after re-rigging and risking the same cast again and again not another bite was forthcoming that morning.

Although it was bitter pill to swallow at the time I now have a slightly better understanding of this mark and even though it is a while away, I am returning east later on in the summer. I am sure with a bit of planning I will find myself on this mark again, fishing a better tide when hopefully the sluice is pumping and those bass are hanging round looking for tit bits.


  1. Great blog and a fantastic read. Unlucky on the one that got away.

  2. Dan I'm off to the sea soon, and while I wasn't going to,but now reading this I might have to have another go at those smoothies or bass.
    Unlucky on the lost fish, mate.