The offshore 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 offshore 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 bottomfish for conger, ling and cod. In midwater around the pinnacles you will find the freeswiming fish such as pollack and coalfish.
As basic equipment, the offshore angler will need a 6ft boatrod. Longer rods are becoming popular, 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 offshore fishing, line breaking strain should be about 30 lb, 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.
With boom, swivels, a twoyard leader and end hook, will work well on practically all types of seabed, except rocks. Here, some form of paternoster is necessary. With this rig, the angler will feel the weight hit bottom but know his hooks are placed above this. If care is taken to keep the sensitivity to a fine degree, with the lead just in touch with the bottom, the hooks will not snag.
Tacklingup is the first job, while the boat is heading out to the mark. First make sure that any items of gear not needed immediately—extra clothing in case of a squall, spare rods, food and drink—are all stowed away in the cabin, or somewhere out of sight. When fish are coming aboard there must be no gear to get in the way, especially if a conger is thrashing about in the boat.
Boat owners do not look kindly on anglers using seatboards or the gunnel for cutting up bait strips from mackerel or squid. Use a board and sharp knife.
Wait before dropping down
When the boat anchors, wait until the craft is steady before dropping down The lines. It may take a few minutes for the boat to sit right in the tide. Sometimes a small sail may have to be hoisted to hold the craft steady in the tide if the wind is coming from the side. The stern corners are the ideal places from which to fish. From these places the lead can be of just enough weight to get the bait down, and then allowed to work out with the tide, but always being kept in contact with the seabed. The anglers behind them must have heavier weights to avoid tangling.
The successful offshore angler will adjust his tackle so that he is in constant touch with the bottom. He will not allow his lead to bounce up and down in the sand or mud because this will set up vibrations and echoes in the water that may well keep fish away. The ideal method is to be able to ‘feel’ the seabed all the time, and be able to differentiate between the small tugs and pulls of the tide and anchor rope, and similar sensations from fish.
Different species of fish have different ‘bites’. But as with other forms of fishing, it is not necessarily the biggest fish which give the strongest bites. Some large cod will give tentative pulls at first, but this fish has a very large mouth, so a hurried snatch by the angler may well pull the bait out of its mouth. Wait. Let the take develop, and strike when the cod has taken the bait, turned, and is swimming away. The hook will then be set properly and the fish can be played to the boat.
Before setting out, whether in your own boat or not, be sure to have enough food and drink for the trip, a thick pullover and some weatherproof clothing. The day may be fine and the forecast good, but things can change in the long periods that sea anglers stay out— especially if the day’s fishing is good. Remember not to anchor in a busy sea lane; watch for the onset of a seamist; keep and eye on the sky. Squalls can blow up in minutes and the time taken to upanchor may be just enough for real trouble to develop as the wind rises and turns a calm sea into a heaving and dangerous place for a small boat.