Mudflats, maddies and flatfish in Essex

At about half tide, there’s perhaps 90cm (3ft) of water covering the flats within easy casting range. It may not be much water but it’s more than enough for the flounders to feed in.

Low tide at Mucking Creek leaves the hannel clearly exposed. The walkway to the channel is for boat launching but it’s also handy for returning fish at low tide.

Crabs, shrimps and other small animals live among the rocks and weeds, providing another source of food for the fish.

Immature bass are fairly common in summer and some wait around right through the winter months. Their elder brothers are much rarer, but they are not unknown.

The colonies of harbour rag

living in the mud are the staple diet of the many fish that congregate in the sheltered water of the mud flats.

Shoals of migratory smelt live and feed in the Thames Estuary.

Flounders usually hook themselves but sometimes bite after bite produces nothing – often when it’s rough. If this happens, don’t just leave them to get on with it, work your bait to tease the fish on to the hook. At the first sign of a bite, let out a little line, or slowly draw the bait away until the fish can resist the bait no longer.

flatfish in Essex

Mick tries to rescue the keepnet while his companion looks helplessly (and unhelpfully) on. In the wind and waves, it got swept away, along with a few fish – something to watch out for in a match!

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Despite losing five fish in the keepnet incident, Mick still managed to put together a good bag of flounders. Here he poses with the best ten, before returning them to the muddy water.

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Angling opportunities are fairly limited the from the Essex sea wall marks of the liver Thames. Not that there aren’t plenty if fish at times, there just isn’t much variety. Flounders are the mainstay, with some iels, mullet and school bass in the summer.

The deeper marks produce whiting in the lutumn, and in good years the same venues five up a few codling in November and December. Unfortunately, this bonanza is isually over by Christmas. So if you want to see something rattling your rod tip in “January, your best bet is probably to take a bass or carp rod down to an upriver mark ind put out a bait for flounder. kick’s method Mick Toomer is well respected for both his boat and shore fishing and he’s our guide to he flounders on his local mudflats. “There ire plenty of fish at Stanford le Hope, just west of Canvey Island, but there are dozens more venues like it on the Essex coast and most of them produce,” he explains as he walks to the mark. ‘There aren’t as many flounders nowadays as there were a few years ago. Natural cycles, and netters willing to send our flounders to market to make a pound or two a stone for pot baits, have seen to that. But it’s still fairly easy to pick up 10 fish on a tide, and 30 isn’t out of the question for a good angler.” Not a bad average for fishing that’s gone downhill. “You aren’t looking at specimens, though. A one and half-pounder is a good fish, and the average is around the pound. It’s good fun and flounders win almost all the matches. There was a match here at the weekend but because we put them all back now after the weigh-in, there should be enough around to give us a few bites.”

Mucking flats

The venue consists of a low sea wall which protects the land behind from flooding. It also provides a handy fishing platform and, being higher than the surrounding land, is ideal for inspecting the fiats at low tide.

The water retreats almost half a mile at low water, revealing an expanse of apparently featureless mud. Mucking Creek winds across the flats to the west of the sea wall before heading inland to the town of Stanford le Hope.

The mud itself is very soft – this is not the sort of venue that you can explore at low water since it could prove dangerous. Besides, there is little to explore – the bottom is fairly even and fish can come from almost anywhere. “It’s difficult to predict before a session which areas will fish best,” says Mick, as he sets up. “Let’s hope we’ve got it right today.” “We’ve started beside The Stones [where the stones at the base of the sea wall stick out slightly farther] and this often fishes a little better than the area surrounding it -but not always.”

Racing tide

Once the tide starts to come in, it fairlj races across the fiats, taking about 15 minutes to reach the base of the wall “Flounders move over the mud in as little as 15cm [6in] of water, so get a bait out as soor as the tide floods the mud and keep fishing until the water has almost drained away.’ The fish, it seems, are reluctant to leave the good feeding and stay as long as they can before retreating to deeper water.

Mick explains. “Flounders are the ideal hape to move across the flats in shallow vater, so they often move in early and stay ate. Of course, if there’s a creek channel or I gutway in front of you offering a little leeper water, it’s a good idea to put a bait here when there’s little water on the flats. “The extra water in a gutway provides a •oute in over the flats as the tide floods and I route back after the flats themselves have >ecome almost impassable. Because the ish often hang around until the last possi-)le moment before retreating, creek channels and gutways can be especially Droductive right at the bottom of the ebb.

Look for them at low tide before you fish.”

At high tide there’s about 1.2-1.5m (4-5ft) of water, so it’s still not deep, but that doesn’t bother the flounders. But when it’s rough, the turbulence of the waves puts them off and can make the fishing hard.

Flatfish fiesta

Once the muddy brown water has covered the flats, Mick puts out two paternoster rigs baited with a variety of ragworms — bunches of sand rag (otherwise known as maddies or harbour rag) and white rag and half a single king rag on a 2- 4 Aberdeen.

Stanford is a worm venue, with sand rag the killer. Lug also catches, but the various sorts of ragworm are better. Mick casts one rod perhaps 60m (66yd) and the other much closer. The fish can come at any distance and it pays to experiment, especially if you aren’t catching. “In a match,” says Mick, “watch how fax your neighbours are casting, and then catch rate. That way you can see where most of the fish are coming from and make sure you keep your baits there. “In the summer, you get the odd eel tc about 2lb, especially on peeler crab. If the flounder fishing is very hard for whatevei reason, you can win matches with a fev eels. Distance casters have a distinc advantage where the eels are concerned.”

Since you tend to get most of the noun ders at short range in shallow water, tht bites can be fierce, but resist the temptatior to strike. Like flounders everywhere, thest fish can usually be relied on to hang them selves. In a match with the fish feeding hard, it often pays to leave the bait out for I few minutes after a bite to try for two oi three fish on a single trace.

However, in windy weather, the fish car play hard to get, and when the sea is rougl at Stanford, working the bait can improve your catch rate. Mick faced rough condi tions all day, but showed that if you wort for every fish, you can catch well.

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