Out on Kentland Fleet

K entland Fleet is one of several short, narrow drains on the Pevensey Levels, a low-lying area of reclaimed marsh on the East Sussex coast between Eastbourne and Bexhill. About a mile long, it was originally just a dyke, but was widened and deepened by dredging in the late 1970s.

It varies in width from 10-15m (11-16yd), but has a fairly uniform cross-sectional profile. There are no marginal shelves to speak of, except where silting has occurred at the mouths of feeder dykes. Rather, the banks go straight down into about 1.8m (6ft) of water, and most of the drain is this same depth from bank to bank. The flat bottom is silty, with very little weed. On both sides most of the margins are lined with reeds, with here and there some thick beds of rushes.

The fishing on much of the Fleet is controlled by the Langney and District Angling Society. Annual membership is open to all and can be obtained from local tackle shops. The club book tells you where to park and how to find the water, but be prepared for a very long walk!

Flagships of the Fleet

The Fleet is permanently slightly coloured, a sure sign that the main species is bream. They go to 5 lb (2.3kg) and in summer and autumn are the main target – along with common carp which average 4-5 lb (1.8-2.3kg) but reach low double-figures. Common carp have always been present, but over the years their numbers have been greatly boosted by stocking.

A few words of warning ‘There are hundreds of carp and bream in here, and most of them have never been caught,’ enthuses Roger. ‘You don’t need any fancy baits or rigs.’ However, he cautions that both species are easily scared. ‘Where lots of people fish, fish get used to bankside disturbance, but very few people ever come here as it’s so remote, so the fish are wild and wary.’ Stealth and concealment are therefore even more important than usual. ‘Think how easy it is to scare wild birds away,’ he says. ‘The fish here are just the same.’

Weather conditions are also critical, warns Roger. It’s no good turning up in the middle of a hot, sunny day, especially when it’s still – they just won’t want to know. Dusk and dawn are the only times worth fishing on such days. When it’s cool and overcast, however, you can catch throughout the day — particularly when there’s a fresh south-westerly wind blowing.

Kentland carp-craft

The beds of rushes are highly attractive to the carp, offering them cover as well as food such as water snails. ‘Sometimes you can see the rushes swaying as the carp move between the stalks,’ says Roger, ‘and you can often hear them ‘clopping’ – sucking food off the surface. To catch them you must feed and fish right in among the stalks, rather than alongside them.’

But the rushes aren’t the only places you find the carp, he explains. They patrol the reedy margins all the way along the Fleet.

The sides of the drain are sheer, even slightly undercut in places, and the carp find food and shelter under the overhang-ingreeds and bankside vegetation. ‘Bait up the margins anywhere there are reeds and you can catch carp. But you must feed and fish really tight to the margins — the closer, the better,’ he says. ‘Usually, if you’re going to catch carp here you see some sign of them, because when they’re active they’re normally feeding.’ He reckons sweetcorn is as good a bait as any, and advises baiting up with a few handfuls then legering two to four grains on a size 6-10 hook with 6 lb (2.7kg) line and a straightforward paternoster rig. ‘When a carp moves over your feed, it scoffs the lot, so rebait after each fish.’ Prebaiting works but is not essential – carp usually move in an hour or two after your initial baiting up.

Scoring with slabs ‘The bream can turn up anywhere here,’ says Roger. ‘They roam up and down the drain a lot, and aren’t drawn to the rushes or margins as much as the carp.’ Your best bet, he reckons, is either to get down early and look for signs of them rolling, or to choose a spot and prebait it for several days with the aim of intercepting a wandering shoal. He favours corn and mashed bread, with flake or corn on the hook. Maggots and casters attract too many eels, small roach and skimmers. He uses exactly the same tackle as for the carp: a 6-10 hook, 6 lb (2.7kg) line and a simple paternoster.

Put to the test

In July we went to the Fleet with Roger at the start of a hot, sunny spell following several days of heavy rain. He chose a spot with reeds on the far bank, and a bed of rushes in the silted mouth of a feeder dyke on the near bank 15m (16yd) to his left.

He prebaited for three nights. For bream he fed corn and mashed bread about three-quarters of the way across. For carp he fed corn in the rushes, and corn tight to the reedy far bank directly opposite.

Because of the weather, an early start was essential, and he made his first cast before sunrise. He took two bream and a big skimmer straight away, then concentrated on carp. There were no signs of any, however, and Roger suspected the heavy rain had lowered the water temperature and put them off. He resumed fishing for bream but by then the sun was up and they were gone.

What it’s all about

Roger wasn’t complaining, though. He has fished the Fleet since he was a boy, and the joy of being out on the marsh at dawn is something he knows will never pall. ‘I love coming here, even if I don’t catch anything,’ he says. ‘It’s a wonderful place. You hardly ever see anyone else all day. It’s so peaceful and unspoiled. Above all, there’s so much marvellous wildlife. ‘You see everything here: frogs, grass snakes, hares, all kinds of butterflies and dragonflies, and so many different birds. There was a whole family of yellow wagtails here last night, chirping away, perched on the footbridge.’ He goes on to list hen harriers, marsh harriers, short-eared owls, skylarks, snipe, whitethroats, kestrels, common sandpipers, oystercatchers, reed buntings, kingfishers, sedge warblers, partridges, swans, geese… ‘Catching fish here really is just a bonus,’ he concludes.