Fishing sand, rock and gravel banks

Banks of different types are found all around the British coastline. Made from sand, shale, gravel, or a mix of these materials, they are created by the action of the wind and tide. Whatever their make-up and distance from the shore, they have one thing in common – they all attract fish.

Bank deposits

There are banks off most parts of the coast and in all depths of water. They are formed by a complex combination of factors such as wind, tide, river deposits and the shape of the local shoreline.

Constantly shifting, banks act as natural bottlenecks, forcing the tidal flow to accelerate as it moves up and over the obstruction. This funnelling effect helps to concentrate the water-borne food into a much smaller area, making banks attractive hunting grounds for many species of fish.

Tackling up for banks

There are three basic methods for fishing banks; uptiding, downtiding and drifting. Uptiding is best suited to fishing over shallow banks, when the disturbance caused by the boat’s hull in the tide flow can frighten fish away. It presents the bait in a different way to more conventional downtide methods. Use a 9-10ft (2.7-3m) uptiding rod capable of casting 2-10oz (56-300g), coupled with a multiplier reel holding 250-300m (270-330yd) of 25lb (11.3kg) line.

Downtiding is the method used when fishing from a boat at anchor in deeper water. A 20-30lb (9-13.6kg) class boat rod about 7ft (2.1m) long is ideal – match it to a medium sized multiplier. Choose the 30lb (13.6kg) class tackle if you are fishing well offshore to handle the heavier weights needed to hold bottom in the deeper water. Fishing on the drift allows you to use a lighter lead than with downtiding, as you aren’t fighting the tide to hold bottom. This makes it ideal for fishing in a very strong tide when holding bottom, even with a large lead, is difficult. The same type of equipment is used as when fishing at anchor – it’s common to use both methods, depending on the state of the tide.

When faced with fast tide races over banks, some anglers use wire line. This is very effective at cutting through the flow, allowing you to get away with less lead. However, because of its natural springiness wire is not as ‘user-friendly’ as nylon and does require a rod fitted with a roller tip ring or full rollers throughout.

End of the line

You can’t beat a simple running leger with a long trace for bank fishing. For boatcasting uptide you will find it difficult to use a trace more than about 1.8m (6ft) long. Always use a breakaway or fixed-grip lead to hold the bait firmly on the bottom and to give a positive indication of drop-backbites.

For drifting and downtiding it is possible – and desirable – to use a much longer flowing trace. To help prevent tangles when lowering your bait to the bottom, use a lead boom to keep the trace away from the reel line. It is similar to the Flying Collar , especially when fishing up in the water for bass.

The longer the boom the better. While Clements and Eddystone booms are effective, the new bent plastic tube type are best of all as they rarely tangle. A swivel joins trace to reel line, and acts as the lead boom stop. A bead between boom and swivel helps prevent damage to the knot. Forged 2/0-4/0 hooks are ideal for bank fishing with most baits and for most species.

Holding bottom

The type of lead you choose is important.

Bombs and conical leads tend to roll around too much in the strong currents over banks.

The best sort of lead is the ‘watch-grip’ type which, being flat, allows the tide to flow over it, pushing the small projections into the sand or gravel. The amount of lead you need depends on the tide and whether you want a firmly anchored bait, or one that you can ‘trot’ back with the tide.

Bank baits

Many baits work on banks, but there are some that seem to outfish the rest. Sandeels are probably the best. They are prolific over banks, particularly sandbanks, and fish can become preoccupied with them. Bounce them back in the tide on a long trace, alive or dead. Retrieve them slowly at the end of each ‘trot’ — bass and turbot in particular hit them as they move towards the surface. Mackerel and other fish baits are also effective, especially for rays. Use flappers, fillets or thin sandeel-size strips. Crabs are also proven fish catchers, with the underused hermit crab being notably successful. The other killer bait is king rag. All bank dwellers seem to find a big worm fluttering in the tide quite irresistible.

What, when, where?

The different species of fish tend to favour different parts of the bank. Thornbacks like to sit and wait for prey on top of inshore banks, or he on the sloping sides when the tide is flowing strongly. Fish baits on a long trace are best. Uptiding in shallow water is very effective. Small-eyed rays sit in shallow gutters around banks, or wait at the base. Fish baits trundled back with the tide are best. Blonde rays like deep pits and hollows around off-shore banks. Use a fish bait on a very long trace and keep the bait moving. At the first sign of a bite, give the fish some line and it will take with confidence. Turbot and brill wait for food in the lacker water just downtide of banks. They ove sandeels, so bounce one back with the tide. Use a long trace and remember to retrieve your bait slowly — turbot often follow a bait as it heads for the surface. Bass are normally found in front of the surf or on top of it when the tide is running. King rag and sandeels, both natural and artificial, are favourites. Bass often feed quite high up in the water, so it is not vital to keep the bait on the bottom. Retrieve your bait in a jerky sink-and-draw fashion to tempt them to strike. Cod scour the pits and gullies behind the bank. Almost any bait will do, as long as it is large and fished close to the bottom. Plaice are very fond of the top of gravelly banks. Worm baits used with beads and attractor spoons are good for this species. Tope and dogfish hunt around the base of banks and the tailend of the tide races. Fish baits on a flowing trace work well.