Catching fish in the North-east kelp jungles

Cod just love the tangled kelp beds found on deep water rocks.

Thousands of years of constant erosion along the North Sea coastline around Northumberland have produced a varied landscape. The soft rock has been worn away, but the harder granite has survived to form long rock fingers (skeers) which can run several hundreds of metres out to sea. In other areas along this coast, there are larger flat expanses of rock giving access to greater depths of water fairly close in. It is rare to find any of these rock formations without heavy and extensive weed beds. At low water, the first sight of the snag-ridden rocks and thick kelp – with/their promise of expensive tackle losses – may well be a daunting sight for any fisherman new to this type of fishing. But to the informed angler these areas provide some of the most exciting and rewarding cod fishing in Britain.

A natural larder

Cod like this type of ground for the simple reason that food is plentiful. Rock gullies and inshore pools hold a great assortment of small sea animals, sheltering in the nooks and crannies worn by the action of waves and tide. And patches of sand between rocks may harbour colonies of lug and rag. In deepest mid-winter large numbers of well-conditioned cod come in to feed along the gullies and in the depths of the kelp jungles.

Get physical

Understanding the physical layout of the rock plateaux and skeers is the key to locating fish. A knowledge of the contours of the sea bed usually covered by water is essential. The best way is to walk the area at low water during a spring tide – fish-holding features are then obvious. Even at the lowest of low tides, there are holes with enough water to hold fish as they wait for the returning tide.

Gullies are another favoured haunt of big cod, pollack and coalfish. Here they can work their way up with the tide, protected from the worst of the waves. Patches of sand are also productive as fish hunt for the worms which live there. Generally, any areas of deeper water are highly attractive, though which one is best on a particular day depends on the tide and the weather conditions.

Swell fishing

The direction of the wind and tide is crucial in deciding where to place your bait. Generally, winds prevailing from any direction between north-west and south-east generate a swell. These conditions directly influence where the fish feed and therefore where you are most likely to catch them.

In calm seas, cod often forage among the densest weed or venture on to underwater rocks. This makes them difficult to find, and to land once hooked. Provided the swell isn’t too excessive, fish do move into rough water – as long as there is always a way back into calmer or deeper water.

In anything more than a light swell, the cod most often feed in areas protected by the rock formations, so once again, knowing how the rocks lie is a great advantage. The skeers and tables of rock break up the waves and provide calmer water, which the cod prefer for feeding. Most of the fish lie just out of the heaviest waves, picking off food churned up by the sea (other areas become unfishable and probably contain few fish anyway). These protected areas and hiding places vary with the tide and direction of the swell, so you need to think quite carefully before casting in an unfamiliar area.

In some parts of the coastline, inshore reefs form holes which you can reach at low tide. These are a favourite haunt of feeding cod in really heavy seas and present possibly the best chance of connecting with a double-figure fish. Typically, these underwater reefs are enough to knock the top off a big swell but still allow the main body of water to cascade through. Most of this type of shoreline fishes best in a moderate swell, with the best period coming as rough seas begin to die away.

Casting couch

Fishing rough ground rarely requires you to cast any great distance. Accurate placing of good-sized baits is far more rewarding. If you find several rocky points running parallel to each other, there are gullies between them, often no more than 15-20m (50-65ft) wide. A cast of no more than 10m (33ft) often produces fish.

Once you have learnt the basic format of the rock structures, it is possible to select targets you can fish at every stage of the tide, but most marks perform best around low water. This gives you access to the deepest water and brings you closer to the edge of the weed beds, improving your chances of getting your tackle back cleanly. The ideal spot is where the rocks flank a sandy beach, particularly one fringed with weed. It is often possible to get far enough out to cast behind the incoming waves, giving you quite an advantage. As a general rule, if you position yourself with your back to the wind, you are probably in the right place. You can also take advantage of any shelter the rocks provide to make yourself more comfortable.

Power tactics

The rocks and weeds make tackle losses inevitable but it’s often easier to haul a fish out than it is to retrieve bare tackle. Obviously you must choose tackle appropriate to the situation – use 30-35 lb (13.6-15.9kg) b.s. line throughout, including the hooklength as well as the main line.

When hauling fish through weed, keep the pressure up on it until you’ve landed it. If they do get snagged, fish have to be dragged out or they can wrap the trace around the kelp stalks, making them totally immovable. As a last resort, if the fish can’t be shifted, try giving it plenty of slack line which encourages it to try to extricate the tackle itself.