The sea holds a vast variety of fishes, many of which are sought by the saltwater angler. Britain’s coastline offers every kind of sea fishing from rocks, beaches, sea walls, harbour walls, piers; while the offshore waters attract huge numbers of anglers in charterboats and their own vessels.
Sea fishing tackle is, of necessity, stronger and more durable than the delicate and sensitive equipment of many coarse fishermen. There are times when 10 lb b.s. Line can be used, but in general 1520 lb b.s. Is needed simply because the pull of the tide and the nature of the seabed demand that line be of a diameter to combat erosion from sand and the oftensharp teeth of fish. Playing a large cod, or infuriated conger, some 100ft below in a 3 or 4 knot tide, especially for the newcomer to sea fishing, means that a great deal of strain will be put on angler and tackle.
As with the coarse fishes, a few species have had to be omitted. You will at some time or another hook black bream, dabs, one of the colourful gurnards and from close inshore perhaps a mullet, or from brackish esturial waters a flounder. Most of the flatfish have bites that send vibrations up the line as a signal. Mullet are shy, suspicious fish that can sometimes be tempted to take bread paste fished on very light floatfishing tackle.
A decade ago, when Leslie MoncriefT popularised beachcasting with his famous layback style, he started what has become an artform in itself. Now, beach casters vie with each other in competitions of distance casting and the rods have become specialist weapons in the angler’s armoury. In extreme cases, distance casting in competitions has become divorced from fishing.
Deepsea fishing for large shark uses tackle that in some cases would haul a fairsized boat from the water —if the angler’s arms were strong enough. But whatever kind of sea fishing, indeed any fishing at all, that you decide to follow, never be too humble to seek the advice of those with experience. At sea, the skipper’s decisions are always final. The sea must be treated with the greatest of respect for it can change very quickly from a pleasant rocking, lulling the angler into an afternoon snooze, to a very nasty whitehorse sea. So if the skipper says ‘OK, lads, reel in, I think the weather’s turning’, don’t argue!
There is a wide diversity of fishes in the sea, and for the angler the great unknown is that when he lets his line down to the seabed or casts out from the shore he never knows whether his bait will be taken by something stronger than he is! When that sudden, mighty tug pulls the rod over in your hands and you either give line or break it, sea fishing’s excitement becomes real.
Clothing for the sea fisherman must be of good quality, for the sea is a corrosive element and quickly spoils anything left wet. The rule is always have weatherproof, warm clothing with you even if it is a nice, sunny, summer morning when you set out. Britain’s weather is not as reliable as some lucky parts of the world, and when you are 15 miles out in a boat that can only do 5 knots, you may well spend a couple of very cold, wet hours on the way in.
Perhaps food and sea sickness should not be discussed in the same section of this introduction. But wholesome food and warm drinks are essential to a day’s pleasurable fishing at sea. Many anglers, the author is one of them, seem to feel perpetually hungry while out in a boat and that hunger must be assuaged if the day is to be enjoyed. But a hot summer’s day and a cold winter’s one both require adequate drinks to be available—preferably not spirits or fizzy beer.
A word here about sea sickness. There are anglers who never set foot on a boat, but who just go beach and pier fishing, and it may not be believable, but even some of them always feel sea sick! There really is no cure, but one of continual involvement in fishing at sea. The advice to the newcomer, out in a boat for the first time and suddenly feeling ‘wrong’, is to wrap up warmly, sit still and keep the eyes on the horizon. Sea sickness stems from the motion of fluids in the inner ear, where the organs of balance are situated, and if one can convince one’s body that things are quite normal, the horizon nice and flat, the feeling may pass. The pills available from chemists do work, but must be taken well before setting out and on top of a good meal—preferably not too fatty.
Records are kept, of course, and in the official rodcaught list there are over 100 different species. These record fishes span a remarkable range in weight from the vast 851 lb tunny caught off Scarborough in 1933 to the tiny £oz sea stickleback hooked in Poole Harbour in 1978.
The tunny record is not likely to be broken, for this species has not been seen for decades. But the huge 226 lb common skate, the incredibly powerful 109 lb 6oz conger, the 500 lb mako shark—all these records will surely fall. It may be your turn to suddenly find the rod and fish fighting you, while you hang on, strength draining from tired muscles and the skipper holding you back in the boat.
Sea fishing is exciting, fun, challenging, rewarding, healthy, and really is a getawayfromitpastime. Added to that is the fact that, unlike the coarse fisherman, you can eat pretty well all you catch. And you will receive a royal welcome home!