After many weeks of lengthy deliberations about the weather and angling prospects, we finally meet Mick early on a very cold January morning along the beach at Fleetwood, Lancashire. Today, the weather is acceptable – cloudy and somewhat windy. We’re hoping the gales will abate long enough for us, and other members of Mick’s sea fishing club, to tempt some whiting and big cod.
Belly-deep in the murky Irish Sea, we try our best to steady the boat after Mick launches it into the sea with his Land Rover. The westerly wind and largish high tide bring waves crashing into the stern. Soon we’re bouncing over the meaty waves to a rough-ground mark five miles off the coast. (The whole coastline from Blackpool to Fleetwood is home territory for Mick.)
According to Mick, anglers in this area catch many codling in the 2-5lb (0.9-2.3kg) weight range from late November to the end of December. In January, however, the hordes of small codling move farther out to sea, and a few precious large specimens come in to feed. “During this time it’s not unusual to catch a twenty-pounder,” says Mick. “But the sport in January is patchy -one week you may have a bonanza, the next a bust. We’ll have to take it as it comes.”
If you find areas of rough ground – rocky outcrops, pinnacles or banks – you’re on your way to finding both cod and whiting, not to mention the odd bonus conger. This is true of both boat and shore angling. The innumerable crevices are home to crabs and shrimps while the structures themselves, rising off the featureless bottom, attract shoals of pouting, sprats and whiting.
Cod scour the bottom for whatever they can find. “Black lug is especially high on their agenda,” says Mick. “If they are in the vicinity, only an invasion of sprats will outperform juicy black lug.” Mick has brought ample specimens, wrapped and frozen in neat, efficient rolls of paper. “Frozen lug works as well as fresh,” he says confidently With the help of an echo-sounder to locate precisely the mark he wants; manoeuvres Lucifer and then plunges to big anchor overboard. Once the boat is ii the right place, he sets up his two rods Straightforward sliding legers with long stemmed fixed-grip leads make up the terminal tackle to begin with. The trace length is about 1.2-1.5m(4-5ft). “Compared with a medium or small tide. says Mick, “a large one is is usually the most productive. You want to fish the dropping tide for whiting and cod.”
Mick threads two semi-thawed black lug up each size 1/0 Aberdeen hook then lobs the bait down and across the tide. The rig swings around in the tide until the lead bites into the bottom and holds, tensing the line and arching the rod tip slightly.
He retreats to the shelter of the canopy, out of the wintry January wind, and waits for that familiar knocking of the rod tips.
There’s nothing complicated about this style of angling. Fishing the right bait (black lug) at the right place (rough ground) under the right conditions (dropping tide) is about all you can do. The rest is up to the fish. Mick sits back, takes a drink of hot coffee from his flask and gazes across the sea, his thoughts as far removed as Ireland.
The knock, knock, knock of the rod, however, brings him quickly back. He picks up the rod and strikes. Kicking and screaming along the surface of the rough, dirty-coloured water comes a lone pout.
Soon the other rod does likewise, and a long, sleek 1lb (0.45kg) whiting lies at the bottom of the boat.
An hour later several whiting have succumbed to Mick’s lug and mackerel baits. The only thing missing is a chunky cod; this would complete the picture nicely. But the rods continue to rattle away, producing whiting and the odd pout on worm.
Mick attaches a Knotless Tackle wishbone rig, and puts a slice of mackerel on each hook. Normally after 15 minutes or so he would change the washed-out baits – but this isn’t a big problem today down among the hungry, bait-robbing whiting.
He gently casts the rig away from the boat. (There’s no need to blast the bait a long way.) The wishbone rig allows you to use more bait, and you can bring in two fish instead of one. It’s also not as prone to tangle as a two- or three-hook paternoster.
With a dozen or so nice 0.68kg whiting, Mick decides to move to another rough-ground mark a couple miles away. Chances are the whiting will be there — again in abundance — along with a few cod. To stay in one area all day isn’t a feasible strategy when you’re after cod — if you’ve fished a mark without any reward, move on.
Mick picks up the anchor, and we motor off, facing the pounding waves yet again. This hardened angler has been out to sea so many times he’s oblivious to the waves.
He drops the plug, and the boat swings around in the tide and wind. He casts out his rigs – both baited with black lug – and we wait.
The light is fading fast. Radio conversations with his mates reveal that no other member of the club has a cod. And with the tide dropping, Mick decides to call it a day.
He isn’t disappointed, though. ‘That’s just how things go: one weekend you may catch, the next one nothing. The week before I had a fifteen pound cod and relatively few whiting. The fishing is almost as changeable as the sea.”
So, with a large bag of fresh 0.45-0.68kg whiting stowed safely away in the bottom of the boat, we start the roller-coaster ride back to Fleetwood.