Permutations of tide and season along Britain’s variegated coastline produce an infinite variety of challenges whether you like to fish a raging storm beach or some sheltered, sandy cove.
At first glance, the average shingle beach appears to be a completely barren stretch of shoreline. No small bait and fish-food creatures are able to exist among the constantly moving pebbles. However, the environment is usually much more attractive below the surface of the water, as any inquisitive angler can discover by donning swimming trunks, snorkel and face-mask. Low water is the best time for this kind of reconnaissance.
In summer, during prolonged spells of calm weather, the water off a shingle beach is often crystal-clear.
the beaches around our coastlines differ greatly, due to the complex influences of waves, tides, river estuaries and geological strata. Nevertheless, the majority of beaches can be divided into four main categories—shingle, surf, lee and flash beaches—each with its own special fishing characteristics and bait-gathering possibilities and tackle requirements.
Most shingle beaches are situated on exposed stretches of coast, where f waves pile the pebbles into a steeply I shelving bank. Consequently, there I is usually a good depth of water £ close in to the shore.
The face-mask, the base of the shingle bank will be clearly visible, with sea-rounded pebbles giving way to a comparatively level expanse of sand or shell-grit. In-numerable small pouting, poor-cod and shore crabs are usually seen against the sandy bottom, with here and there the sudden, silvery flicker of darting sandeels.
Few sea anglers realize just how close inshore most of these small I marine creatures come. In calm I weather the main feeding zone for large predatory fish lies within 15-50 ‘ yards of the average shingle beach. Compulsive distance-casters who j persist in hurling their bait 100 j yards or more out to sea will often fail miserably to contact these in-shore concentrations.
I seawards largely determines the gradient of the beach itself.
Sea conditions vary, but generally a gently shelving beach calls for fairly long casting; a steep-to beach is best fished with a short to medium-distance cast.
Of course, these obbervations do not apply to all conditions. During strong onshore winds, the clawing backscour from the waves spreads the underwater pebbles over a wider area of the seabed, forcing the small creatures on which fish feed farther out to sea. Under these cir-cumstances, long-distance casting usually produces the best results —especially when the angler is seeking winter cod and whiting.
Shingle beaches on the open coast often take the form of crescent-shaped bays between two out-jutting rocky headlands. Because of their shape, they provide a natural trap for all kinds of small fry-generally referred to as brit. These fry in turn attract shoals of mackerel, bass, garfish and—near the headlands—pollack.
Spinning with artificial lures frequently produces brisk sport with these species. So does float fishing, although for this last method it is advisable to choose a day when the wind is blowing offshore and the sea is reasonably calm.
But the method most widely used from shingle beaches is bottom fishing. The fish taken in this way include pouting, dogfish, rays, dabs, plaice, cod and whiting. Where the shingle adjoins a rocky headland or reef, conger and wrasse are also taken. With the exception of the flatfish and wrasse, best results are nearly always obtained in the late evening or after dark.
A surf beach in full thunder is very dramatic, with rank upon rank of white-crested combers, with all the power of the open ocean behind them, rolling in towards a broad expanse of golden sand. For the sea angler, this type of beach offers some of the most exciting shore fishing, every beach having its own character. These subtle variations need to be studied and understood if you want consistent success.
One very variable factor is the slope of the beach. Very often, the coarse sand or shell-grit forming the beach is only an upper layer, maybe only 10-30ft deep, resting on a stratum of bedrock. The angle at which this underlying rock slopes venture out in your waders before casting. A steep surf beach can be deceptively treacherous, particularly when a big sea is running and the backscour from a receding wave is clawing sand from beneath your feet. And if your waders are swamped by a wave and fill up, you will be effectively pinned to the magnificent, thundering surf that ends up around the angler’s waders as creamy-white tables of surging, foam-flecked water.
On an ocean-facing surf beach, it is often possible to enjoy first-class surf fishing even in settled, windless weather. This is due to the presence of big groundswells which may have travelled 1,000 miles or more from some storm raging far out in the Atlantic. When the wind blows offshore it has the effect of ironing-out the surf. The resulting glassy, surfless sea usually produces plenty of flounders, but in such conditions your best chances with bass won’t come until after nightfall.
In contrast to the exposed surf bottom, at the mercy of the next wave to knock you over.
Because, it is so exposed, and because water quickly drains out of the sand as the tide ebbs, the average steep-to surf beach does not provide a suitable habitat for many small bait animals between the tide-lines. Farther out, however, in the surf just beyond the breakers, there are likely to be numerous shoals of free-swimming sandeels, smelts and other small fry. Around low spring tides, sandeels can often be captured with the specialist’s launce hook.
Where there are sandeels there is usually excellent fishing for bass and flatfish such as flounders and plaice. Also, on many West Country surf beaches, it is not unusual for small-eyed rays to venture after dark within casting distance of the shore based angler.
When assessing the fishing potential of a surf beach, always take into account the effect of wind and weather on the sea. For example, bass fishing is usually at its best when there is a good run of surf. Ideally, the breakers should be large and powerful, but not so huge and gale-driven that they become impossible to fish.
One of the most productive times to fish a surf beach is a day or two after a strong onshore blow. Then, the full, relentless strength of the surf is beginning to abate. Yet the groundswells stirred up by the storm are still rolling in to form beach, there is the completely sheltered type of shoreline known as a lee beach. This type of beach has a very gentle slope, and is composed of soft sand, mud or muddy sand. It is very rich in life, and provides the angler with excellent scope for gathering such baits as lugworms, cockles, ragworms, razorfish, clams and sandeels. Where rocky outcrops fringe the lower parts of the beach, you are also likely to find mussels and peeler crabs, as well as prawns and shrimps in the tide-pools and channels. Lee beaches occur most often just inside the mouth of a tidal estuary or inlet, where a rocky promontory or extensive shingle spit provides a natural breakwater.
The wealth of food on a lee beach attracts flatfish, rays, mullet and many other species—particularly when the tide is rising. However, because the water is shallow, and the rising tide advances swiftly up the gentle slope, it is not an easy shoreline to fish. The best strategy is to look around for some out-jutting vantage point that allows you to cast out into a reasonable depth of water. Quite often, the tip of the promontory that shelters the beach from the waves of the open sea provides just such a spot.
A flash beach is intermediate between a surf and a lee beach. Situated on the open coast, and usually of firm sand, one end of it is sheltered from the prevailing westerly or south-westerly winds by a headland or abrupt curve in the coastline, but the other end is exposed. In the sheltered corner, there may be sandeels and lugworms for the bait hunter, but they are rarely as large as those found in the organically rich, muddy sand and silt laid down in most estuaries.
Although partly sheltered for most of the time, a flash beach is capable of developing a lively surf when the wind is blowing onshore, and on these occasions there may be good fishing for bass. In addition, on some flash beaches, the protection for the sheltered end is an out-jutting reef which rises clear of the water to form a natural breakwater. These rocks provide a habitat for prawns, small crabs, tiny wrasse, gobies and many other fish foods.
The bass fishing may thus remain productive even in fairly calm sea conditions, provided you cast out close to the rocks and use a bait natural to the area.