Fishing off-shore will add a new dimension to your sport, and the range of tackle and techniques that you will need is quite different to that used for freshwater fishing in rivers or lakes.
The off-shore fishing grounds round the British Isles have something for everyone. There are large skate, halibut, shark and conger, as well as cod, tope, ling, and a wide variety of lesser fish, all of which provide good sport on rod and line.
The secret of off-shore fishing is to know and understand the various species and their favourite habitats. For example, it will be a waste of time fishing over rocky pinnacles for tope. This small shark lives mainly by hunting flatfish and pouting, and usually confines its activities to flat, sandy or shingly ground. But pinnacle rocks are a good place to bottom-fish for conger, ling and cod. In mid-water around the pinnacles you will find the free-swimming fish such as pollack and coalfish.
Deciding where fish should be found is vital. Like people, fish will be found where the most food is available. Around wrecks or weed-covered reefs, for example, there will be a thriving population of small fish, crabs, prawns and immature lobsters. These creatures form the food of bigger fish, such as cod, ling, conger and pollack.
All fish have good times and lean times. During the summer, shoals of mackerel and sand-eels provide a superabundance of food for larger species, and during the winter months, along the south and east coasts, huge shoals of sprat and immature herring drift inshore followed by packs of hungry cod, pollack and spurdog. This is good for the fish, but at times they can become so glutted that they ignore the bait.
Seasons for sea fish
Anglers find that fish come and go through the seasons. In West Country and Scottish waters, huge influxes of coalfish and cod appear to mix with the ever-present pollack and ling. This leads to bumper catches. On the South and East Coasts, fish stocks have declined and anglers now rely on migratory species such as bream to provide good fishing. Off the Sussex coast, it is the April influx of good-sized black bream that everyone looks forward to, while a little later in the year, and farther along, off Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, anglers can find bass and tope, and perhaps even heavyweight cod during the winter. The same pattern applies right around the country with various species predominating according to latitude.
As basic equipment, the off-shore angler will need a 6ft boat-rod. Longer rods are used, but as the hook is dropped straight down over the side and there is virtually no casting to be done, length is not necessary to provide leverage for distance casting. Most boat anglers use the very effective multiplier reel which has a fast rate of line retrieve (useful when winding in from deep water), good braking and a ratchet which enables the angler to prop his rod securely and adjust the brake to a correct tension so that a bite will be registered by the ‘clack’ of the ratchet. For off-shore fishing, line breaking strain (b.s.) should be about 30lb, although a stronger line should be used if you are fishing specifically for conger. In shallow water, when fishing for flatties, or out deeper for black bream, a lighter line will be adequate, but the 30 lb b.s. line will stand a great deal of punishment if a sizeable conger is hooked.