Fishing Coves – small bays of plenty

Often barely 100m (110yd) wide, most coves are seldom if ever fished. Sometimes safe access is extremely difficult, if not impossible. But more often these tiny patches of coast are simply overlooked in favour of larger and better known beaches and rock marks nearby.

Cove craft

Coves offer a wealth of undersea features within the confines of a small area. This wide range of environments makes them attractive to a host of marine plants, animals and fish.

Nearly all coves comprise a central plain of sand edged by rocks and weed beds. The rocky zones range from low outcrops to towering cliffs. Coves with high outcrops and headlands usually shelve away very steeply into deep water, with the high and low tide marks only a few metres apart. Coves with low outcrops and headlands more often slope gently into shallow water and are usually fully exposed at low tide.

Despite the enormous range of make-up, coves share a common pattern of underwater life. This means fishing tactics applied to one cove can pay dividends in another, even one with different species of fish.

Bass play the role of hunters and scavengers, operating from dense cover and in the open. They lurk in the rocky fringes by day to search for crabs among the weeds, and hunt small fish over the central sands at night. Shoals of schoolies and groups of larger specimens cover a lot of ground dur- ing a single tide.

Essentially a South or Atlantic coast species, bass are unlikely to turn up in the coves of Northern England and Scotland. Instead, cod and codling take over the same ecological role, moving in and out with the tide, ranging over the open ground and the weeded edges.

Other than a switch in baits – and even that is not always essential — a Cornish bass fisherman can expect to do well with Yorkshire cod in winter, and a Yorkshire cod angler can succeed with Cornish bass in summer. Different places, different fish, different seasons – but the same game plan.

Open ground

As a rule, the open ground in the middle of a cove fishes best at night. A very long cast might pick up the odd ray or flatfish during the day when a stiff inshore breeze and swirling waves stir up the bottom – but in normal conditions fish are seldom keen to feed by day. They move offshore or go into hiding around the rocks.

Night is the time to be out with a rod. According to season and region, bass, cod, rays, flatties, whiting and dogfish are on the cards. A significant number of big congers have also been beached from coves at night, suggesting conger eels travel more widely than is generally supposed.

Long casting at night can be a mistake. Fish come in to hunt and scavenge just behind the wave backwash, where food collects. That is where your bait should be. On the other hand, a long cast sometimes picks up rays, spurdog and even a tope or pollack. Experienced anglers therefore use two rods – one well out, the other close in.

The bottom of a cove is never featureless. Odd patches of boulder-strewn ground, small reefs and weed clumps, mussel beds and gullies are all well worth attention. Rays, pouting and conger sometimes take up residence, but even if they don’t you can be certain that the roving shoal species call in on almost every tide. Cod and bass have a particular liking for these hotspots. Always be on the lookout for freshwater streams running into the cove; flounders and bass love them.

Rocky sport

The rock fringes of a cove offer cover, food and more stable surroundings. Tending to be deeper too, the rough ground at both ends of a cove attracts wrasse, pollack, coalfish and garfish. Many of these feed during the day – provided the tide is running and a bit of a breeze ruffles the surface. Overcast weather raises the bite rate. Congers and small-eyed rays, however, still prefer to feed at night.

During the warmer months on the Atlantic side of Britain, the headlands protecting coves draw in tope, mackerel, garfish and – if you’re extremely lucky -black bream. It’s not even unknown for a shark to cruise within casting range. These open-sea species are particularly attracted by swirling tide rips. You can never be sure what might grab a big, juicy chunk of mackerel legered on a patch of clean sand!

Mackerel and gars chase brit and sandeels along the surface. Spinning, feathers and float fishing can all score heavily, especially during late evening. Bass can’t be ruled out either. And if the lure or bait sinks unnoticed through a shoal of surface feeders, it might just be hammered by a pollack deep down in the rocks.

A word of warning here. Whether from a cove or along the open coast, take extreme care when night fishing from rocks. Never fish alone, respect the tides, and carry all the right gear including a lamp, a length of rope and a gaff.

Every year brings a crop of tragedies, with anglers – local experts included -being swept out to sea on big, rogue waves that come in from nowhere. The golden rule is: if in doubt, don’t go out.