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Off the Westcountry Coast - getting started in sea fishing

December 10 2008

I suppose the most attractive thing about starting sea fishing is that large parts of our stunning coastline are hugely accessible and of course free to dangle a line from. At certain times of the year we have large numbers of fish that are (fairly) easy to catch, coming as they do right in to the shoreline, and for those starting out, just how important is it to see a few fish? I bet all of us remember that first fish we ever caught.

If you want to get started in sea fishing or want to take a beginner with you, then it seems sensible to take early summer as a good starting time. As you gain experience then you may want to fish all year round for some great fish, but the warmer and calmer months are the time for those first steps, and happily this season coincides with quality fishing.

The humble but plentiful mackerel is a great fish to start off with, for they can be easy to catch, they often shoal around easily accessible places, and one does not need to spend lots of money on a bit of tackle and bait. I am not one who favours hurling out strings of feathers to catch masses of these fish, as to me it seems desperately unsubtle, wasteful and unsporting. Massive a mackerel may not be, but on balanced floatfishing or spinning gear they put up spectacular fights and look impossibly beautiful when fresh out of the sea. Just take a few to eat or to keep for bait and thus avoid removing piles of unwanted fish from the sea.

A simple carp, spinning or pier-type rod and fixed spool reel will the do the job perfectly, teemed up with a big sea float, ball-lead and 1/0 hook. The mackerel is not a fussy feeder and will feed on strips of sandeel, garfish, mackerel (yes!), squid and so on. The same tackle can be used to cast out 2-4oz spinners as well, and often you will pick up the bigger fish at greater depth.

The tail-walking garfish can also be caught using floatfishing methods, but for these weird looking fish, set the hook to lie no deeper than 10' below the surface. Try a little deeper for mackerel, although they can be anywhere. Just look around in the summer at your local piers, headlands and breakwaters and no doubt you will see plenty of people fishing, but of course do not go too close to the water. The major holiday resorts all seem to have places for easy summer fishing, so simply get down there and join the throng. First and last light though are often the best times.

Moving on from mackerel and garfish, I reckon the next step up is to start fishing for the bottom dwelling ballan wrasse that are usually fairly plentiful around much of our coastline. Again these fish can often be caught from the above kind of places, but bear in mind that the wrasse is a bottom feeder and tends to live where there are rocks and broken ground. Happily lots of headlands, piers and breakwaters are still worth fishing from, although the biggest wrasse tend to be caught from more out of the way places…..that though is for another time.

The same kind of tackle can be used for wrasse fishing, although a slightly more powerful rod and reel is helpful for the bigger ones. If you use a mainline of about 20lb breaking strain you should be fine, together with a hook of about 2/0 or 3/0. Wrasse are not that fussy and will accept both the lugworm and ragworm that are readily available from so many fishing tackle shops. Thread one of these on the hook and use a lead weight of perhaps 3-5oz to get your offering hard on the sea bed. Bites can often be very savage, and fight these fish hard to get them away from their rocky sanctuary. Deep-set floats also work in some places and it can be a great way of fishing for them; indeed, who doesn't like watching a bite on a float?

If you hook a wrasse of over 3lbs, you will be totally amazed at how a comparatively modest sized fish can fight so hard! Lay your hands on some peeler crab for bait and you are on the road to some great fishing, although at times this bait can be hard to come by; worms tend to sort out plenty of fish, and you never quite know just what you will catch. Please do handle all wrasse very gently and remove the hook as quickly as possible; they make terrible eating and thus every wrasse should be returned to the water to fight another day. Take a quick picture and admire this very pretty fish, but I implore you to put them back alive.

Henry Gilbey :