At 11 am Dorian was waiting in the bar of .the Queen’s Head on the sea front in Ramsgate. There was no point in being anywhere else, since the tide had about a metre to rise before it would be worth fishing. It was a bright, crisp spring day at the beginning of May – the sort of day when, if the water’s clear, you’ll catch absolutely nothing.
We made our way to the promenade. Fortunately for us there was a slight onshore breeze and the water was a lovely shade of brown – just right for hungry flounders and eels. Dorian began setting up his tackle and unpacking boxes of bait. Mean while, some way offshore the gulls were greedily feasting. A shoal of mackerel, or maybe even bass, driving whitebait to the surface? No, reckoned Dorian. Just some rubbish that one of the ferries had dumped – over the side into the sea.
Dorian is very keen on getting hold of the best bait possible for the area. He’s right, of course. Fish will always eat whatever’ is most appealing rather than any other food. After all, they’re not stupid. In this area in early May the most appealing food around is peeler crab. While it can be a killer bait at any time, during a mild spring male crabs peel almost simultaneously. In these circumstances, there are so many peelers around that the fish will not look at anything else.
Thanet – the area around Ramsgate – provides excellent cover for prey species with its rock gullies worn in the chalk by the tide and wave action. In late spring and early summer the area can be even more attractive to fish as the many male crabs of the area start to peel. The day on which we fished was ideal because a gentle onshore wind for a few days prior to our visit had coloured the water, giving fish the confidence to feed in shallow water.
The pendulum Dorian sets up lets him get more of a curve in his rod, giving greater power.
First remove the legs and claws. Next, pass the hook point through the soft shell several times. Then push the hook in one leg socket and out the next until you have done this with all of them. The bait will stay on the hook during casting so there’s no need for elastic.
A knotty problem. Dorian struggles to get to grips with unhooking an eel while it ties itself in knots trying to escape. If you don’t bring a rag with you when eeling your hands and tackle will get covered in slime, and it’s a lot more difficult to cast when the rod keeps slipping out of your hands.. This’ll make a tasty tea. Dorian Yates looking well pleased with some of the best flounders and the largest eel. All the fish fell to peeler crab. The eel made a last minute bid for freedom, hence the sand on Dorian’s hands.
In keeping with his belief that baits are the key to catching, Dorian had collected bucket-loads of peelers. He quickly prepared a bait-sized peeler crab and demonstrated how to hook it up without the use of elastic. Not for him the lugworm left over from yesterday’s session. Of course, there’s no point having the best bait if, by the time the fish begin feeding, it’s so stale or washed out that they won’t eat it. Dorian therefore re-baits every cast, and he certainly does catch a large number of fish.
The tide was almost right when Dorian casually started his pendulum cast and swung his lead some 120m (130yd) out into the perfectly coloured water. He was fishing-two rods, one for flounders and one for eels, each with a simple two-hook paternoster rig with no booms, just traces about 30cm (lft) long. At the business end there were size 1 Mustad Limericks, perfect for holding peeler, though you do have to be able to tie a spade-end hook on to the line. With this setup, Dorian expected his baits to be right on the bottom, where they belong for flatties and eels – and most other sea fish, he said.
There was no fairytale start to the day and we must have gone all of 20 minutes without a bite. This gave Dorian plenty of time to explain his tactics and for about 40 giant lorries to roar past us off the ferries. He was casting from the end of a concrete promenade next to the harbour with the main access road about 1.5m (5ft) from where he stood. There’s nothing like fishing for getting you back to nature …
Although Dorian would recommend that bait should be anyone’s first priority, he is no slouch when it comes to casting. His reel is set at the butt end of the grip which gives a longer curve and is therefore more forgiving of a jerky casting action — not that he has one. He does not appear to be concentrating as he starts his lead swinging for his pendulum cast, but he is. Despite casting in cramped circumstances with bystanders all round, he fired his rig well over 120m (130yd) with no apparent effort. Even more impressive, his confidence was infectious and no one seemed even slightly worried as the lead whistled about their ears. Well, he is one of the best.
Dorian stressed that it took years of practice to produce such a lazy looking style. Most people can’t get the distances that he does, even with a whole beach to themselves. As with everything else, practice is the key. It is also very important to use a shock leader (heavy trace) to absorb the power of the cast, or it doesn’t matter how carefully you swing your lead, sooner or later your line will break and there will be a nasty, or even fatal, accident.
The tide was rising quite rapidly now and Dorian responded to the most imperceptible of bites. The reason for this was soon apparent – a three-bearded rockling had taken the bait. Not a big fish but a good sign, Dorian reckoned.
Two casts later and the flounders began to prove him right. The eels that he had expected weren’t much in evidence though, so he switched his second rod over to flounder-sized baits. Flatties seem to prefer a largish peeler, whereas eels need a peeler about the size of a ten pence piece, or a large one cut in half. Despite their greed they do have small mouths.
Three flounders rapidly followed each other (perhaps they were part of the same family) and then it all went quiet. Apart from the roar of articulated lorries leaving the harbour, that is.
It was almost lunchtime when the eels began coming – thick, fast, tangled, and very, very slimy. You could tell that Dorian is a match angler – he had the eels unhooked, terminal tackle re-baited and back in the water in under a minute. Then he explained about his quick-release swivels. One twist and the old terminal rig is free. Attach another pre-baited one, cast it – and you can take your time while you’re re-baiting the original one.
While he was demonstrating these small but useful items of tackle, Dorian’s eyes remained glued to his rod tip. “If you don’t see an eel bite, they can wreak havoc with your terminal tackle,” he said, referring to an eel’s ability to reduce all of your carefully tied rig to a compact ball of nylon, lead and hook. We never got the chance to test the truth of this as Dorian spotted every one of his bites as soon as the fish showed any interest. He landed a nice eel of over 2lb (0.9kg), wiped his tackle and his hands (a rag is essential for eeling, as is a bucket if you’re going to keep the fish to eat) and reckoned it was time for lunch.
The fish, with a brilliant sense of timing, stopped biting at almost exactly the time Dorian took the first mouthful of his sandwich.
The velvet-backed swimming crabs started to assault the baits. It seems that when the crabs are out bait robbing, the fish aren’t. Perhaps fish eat hardback crabs after all, despite what they say in the books.
A most curious incident. . . Dorian began his retrieve suspecting he had hooked something. It turned out to be a 1 oz (28g) cockle, so there wasn’t much of a tussle. It seemed that it had taken a fancy to the hookbait and had closed its shell around it. What makes this especially odd is the fact that cockles are filter feeders and don’t eat large solids. A peculiar, perhaps even unique, molluscular event.
After that it was back to a more usual scenario. Another run of larger eels and a second run of flounders occupied Dorian’s attention, with some nice fish to round off the day.
The tide was falling quite quickly and Dorian was packing up to go, but the flounders would not stop biting. They had obviously not read the books that say that fish only feed on the rising tide. Finally, a pint of beer proved just too tempting. Rather like the peeler crab had done all day. Still, it had been hectic – and Dorian had shown us why there was no vacancy at the top of the England team.