Chalk cliffs are rich seascapes posing a number of angling problems that differ from those of many other venues. They allow some specialization, especially when it comes to catching bass, but the many other kinds of fish coming inshore to feed make for exciting and varied fishing.
However, a chalk cliff is no place for anglers who prefer an easy life. With steep cliff access, treacherous footing and weedy gullies it is only for people who are surefooted, alert and careful. It always seems that the least fished marks, farthest from car parks and access points, are the best.
If you choose to fish one of these marks, you are likely to be fishing well away from other anglers. It may be more peaceful but it also means there is no-one nearby if things go wrong.
You must follow basic safety rules. Always tell someone where you are going and what time you expect to be back. Watch out for deep gullies and weed-covered holes. These are not places for wellies, but for strong boots and vigilant eyes.
Though there are dangers in scaling the cliffs, in most cases you’ll find clearly defined pathways, while some feature a convenient promenade.
At the base of the cliffs the chalk stretches into the sea in a series of steps. These are strewn with boulders and interlaced with gullies carved by tide and waves. There are ridges between the gullies running out to sea. From these you can fish the gullies, retreating with the tide.
The surf eats its way through the chalk, and each year some more of the cliff tumbles to join the boulders which were last year’s cliff edge. This creates a continuously changing sea bed – but there are a number of constant factors which can guide you to the fish.
A spring tide can offer you a glimpse of the fishes’ feeding grounds and allows you to map out some of the most productive areas. Standing on the cliffs at low tide gives you an excellent overview of the network of weed, boulders and gullies.
Look out for odd patches of surf below the low tide line – caused by waves rolling over shallow ground. Areas of unbroken water can indicate gullies or other deep marks. And keep half an eye out for kelp fronds -another clue to shallow water over a chalk ridge. Finally, dark areas usually indicate deep water, while turquoise patches mean shallows.
Fully stocked larder
Many fish come in to take advantage of the rich feeding. From spring through to autumn you’ll catch bass, flounder, eels, wrasse, conger and the odd codling. In winter there are cod and whiting.
Bass, and many other species, thrive in the turbulent shallows, feeding on anything the surf dislodges among the maze of gullies, weed and sand. These species seem to use the fissures and gullies as food channels. They move up them with the tide, feeding as they go.
Flounders browse over sand patches which collect between the rocks and gullies. Farther out in deeper water, the crevices and waving kelp are home to wrasse, conger and pouting.
The point where two or more fissures or deep areas join can be a real hotspot and is well worth noting. A patch of sand at the junction of several gullies is often even better as you can cut down the inevitable tackle losses. Although you can catch very well, you must be prepared to lose tackle if you fish among the weed.
Tides and weather
The best time to fish these marks is generally over low water and up the rising tide. That’s when the fish move into the gullies to forage for food. The first hour of the flood is almost always best – you’re in position to intercept the hungry fish as they start to enter the narrow channels.
You can use the rising tide to your advantage once you’ve worked out which are the deepest, most inviting gullies. Plan out a route back along the chalk ridges that takes in the best looking spots, but which still gets you back to dry land in safety. By fishing from the chalk ridges you can place your baits in fairly deep water which is close at hand.
A neap tide is a good opportunity to fish a fairly inaccessible mark – you won’t be pushed back as quickly or as far by the advancing tide. But make sure your route back up the cliffs is well worked out. Generally big spring tides don’t fish that well. The water is too shallow at low water to encourage the fish to come inshore looking for food.
An onshore wind kicks up a good surf which stirs up the food animals and can really get the fish feeding. The action of surf on the chalk can also produce a lot of extra colour. Both the sand and the chalk itself colour the water, making it cloudy and off-white. The murky conditions seem to give the fish confidence to feed.