What is rough ground? A rocky shoreline may be only a precarious access point to a fairly clean sea bed. While this is often very productive, it is the really hard ground of reefs, skeers and copious weed that provides the ultimate fishing experience. By its very nature such ground is both a haven and a larder for marauding fish.
With so many places to hang your lead, such ground is daunting to even the most experienced angler, but there are ways to succeed in this tortuous environment. Understanding what lies beneath the surface is the key to consistently good results.
Rough Ground Tackle
1. Daiwa AWB 129PM-a powerful, sturdy 12ft 9in (3.9m) rod.
2. Reducer for butt mounting of the reel.
3. Shimano Speedmaster IICFS reel with rapid rate of retrieve.
4. Abu Ambassadeur 7000C reel – the standard rough ground reel. You can remove the level wind.
5. Daiwa Tournament 7HT reel – ideal for rock fishing on to fairly clean ground.
6-8. Hooks – size 4/0-10/0 Mustad O’Shaughnessies.
9. Hooks – size 4/0 Cox and Rawle Uptides.
10. Hooks – size 2/0 Mustad Uptide Vikings.
11. Breakaway lead weights.
12. Plain lead weights.
Wrasse are very obliging summer inhabitants of rough ground. They feed in calm conditions and take most baits – especially hardback crabs.
- Conger rig. Conger forage close to shore, especially at night, so distance is not important, making this running leger ideal.
- Running leger for bass. This is a pleasant way to fish with short, precision casts. You can also use the cod rigs for bass.
- Wrasse rig. Make sure that the hook trace is high enough so that the hook fishes about 12in (30cm) above the lead.
- Two hook cod rig. The standard rig for most conditions features long flowing traces with one hook below the lead.
- Single hook cod rig In really bad conditions and over very rough ground – or for maximum distance – use one hook for cod.
- Keep your end rigs as simple as possible. Single hook rigs are often the best configuration.
- The advantage of using disposable items like spark plugs for weights is outweighed by their irregular shape which is more prone to snagging.
- Use a breakaway or fixedgrip lead in heavy seas or strong tides. They help stop the end tackle from rolling around and getting hung up.
Check your hook point constantly since it can be quickly blunted by constant contact with the rocks. Similarly, scrutinize your hook traces and leader for signs of wear and change them frequently.
A sleek 7lb (3.1kg) starry smooth hound. They often explore rough ground looking for crabs.
Bull huss go for whole squid in a big way, as do bass and cod, but make sure the flesh is whitish – that means it’s fresh.
Peeler crab and lugworm cocktail – a tasty treat to tempt cod on to your hook and out of the tangled kelp forest.
Where to fish
Most species forage around the edges of deeper water. On some rough ground marks this is very close in — you can catch many species almost at your feet.
Generally, fish hunt in the weed on the flood tide but as the tide recedes they move into holes to await the next flood. Fish gather in numbers at these places and you can score heavily if you find one. Once you know the layout of the ground, work out how to get within casting range of various features at the right stage of the tide, (and how to get back again!) and you’re made.
Underwater features also provide shelter from rough seas. The fish lie up, feeding on the foodstuffs washed in by the waves. Fish do feed in fairly heavy white water, but they tend to prefer to hang around the edges.
Low water on a big spring tide is the best time to look over areas that uncover with the tide. That’s when most is visible. But you can also get clues about the underwater contours from areas that are never uncovered. As the waves pass over ridges and weedbeds they produce broken water, while deep holes show up as dark patches.
Bait is a key factor in luring quality fish, so never skimp – always use a big, juicy, well-scented offering.
For cod and bass you can’t beat peeler crab, which puts out a superb scent trail. Oily fish baits work well – conger can’t resist a big slab or flapper of mackerel lobbed into the right place. Lesser spotted dogfish love sandeel, while their big brothers, bull huss, readily gorge on whole squid.
Retrieving the situation
You need substantial tackle and rigs if you are going to persuade cod and conger from the forests of kelp they prefer, but you can often use lighter gear for bass or wrasse.
Occasionally you have to fish over visible surface weed. Using 35-40lb (15.8-18kg) main line straight through to the reel generally allows tackle and fish to be dragged through kelp, and often lets you pull tackle out of snags.
Inevitably at some point you will get hung up with a fish. When this happens, use sufficient pressure to free it without snapping the line. If you’re really stuck, try giving the fish plenty of slack line. Frequently the fish swims around until it frees itself and your tackle.
As a last resort, slowly apply pressure to the line by pointing the rod at the snag and walking away from it. Some anglers prefer to wind the line around a piece of wood to take the pressure off the reel, or to bring the line in by hand — you may have to do this in any case if there’s no room to walk away with the rod.
Eventually something eases or the line snaps. Keep your face turned away in case the snapped line whips towards you. Don’t just yank away with your beachcaster -sharp jerks are much more likely to lose you the fish and all your gear.
Where the bottom is particularly snaggy you can use a weak link to the lead to help you recover your gear (and maybe the fish!) when your lead snags up in rock or weeds. Never use weaker nylon for hook traces or you risk losing your catch.
Although many fish frequent rough ground, several are found only in certain parts of the coast. For example, conger are predominantly found on the south and western coasts of Britain. Find out which species are likely to turn up in your area. Conger are probably the supreme challenge, reaching gargantuan proportions. Fish weighing more than 60lb (27kg) have been coaxed from the roughest terrain. Conger forage right up to the shoreline and are particularly active during darkness. Cod and bass are highly prized and during summer or in calm seas you are far more likely to find them in rocky or weedy ground than anywhere else.
Wrasse live almost exclusively in rocky areas in the south and west of Britain. Large ones set up territories in the weediest, snaggiest places.
Pollack and coalies love snaggy ground which is home to plenty of the small fish and crustaceans they feed on. Lesser spotted dogfish and bull huss often gather in marauding packs to hunt, and starry smooth hounds join them to forage round the rocks.
In a snag-ridden environment, you must have absolute confidence in your tackle. Choice of tackle is dictated by the species you’re after and the severity of the ground. Choose a good quality rod with a decent backbone. It needs to be at least 12 1/2 ft (3.8m) long to give you the leverage to haul big fish out, and to keep the line away from the weed. The Century 216 and Long E-Zee, the Daiwa Amorphous Whisker Beach and the Zipplex Gsi and Bullet rods are all long, powerful and rugged.
The reel also needs to be tough with a rapid rate of retrieve to keep you out of snags. In some cases you also need to cast some way. The Abu 7000C and Shimano Speedmasters are ideal for this. Where you are fishing in less snaggy ground, a Daiwa 7HT is perfect, while for really bad areas, you can’t beat the Abu 9000, particularly for the heavyweights — cod and conger.
You can scale down for smaller species such as wrasse or dogfish, but if they have to be dragged through kelp or rocks it is essential that the line is strong enough. Hooks must be very strong- if they snap or lose their points every time they come into contact with rock, change pattern. Vikings up to size 6/0 are ideal for most species, while you need size 8/0-10/0 O’Shaughnessies for conger.
With the right gear and the right approach, you can enjoy some fabulous sport from these fish-rich but hard areas.