Shore fishing from steep shingle beaches

A wide variety of species comes within casting range off steep shingle beaches, giving anglers opportunities to land double-figure cod and loads of flatties.

Year after year anglers drive hundreds of miles to fish premier steep shingle beaches such as Chesil Beach in Dorset and Blast Beach in Durham. The fishing potential of these beaches is incredible.

Types of shingle beaches

The pounding surf pushes shingle to the shore, creating a narrow strip of land. Depending on the features of the shoreline, there can be four types of shingle beach. Fringing beaches are perhaps the most common. Tidal drift and wave action deposit small stones and shingle along a flat, featureless shoreline. The beaches at Brighton and Hastings are good examples. Shingle bar beaches A strip of shingle enclosing a bay or a lagoon forms a shingle bar beach. Chesil Beach in Dorset is an excellent example of this – 16 miles of shingle bank confining a tidal lagoon.

Deep water, warm water

You don’t have to cast very far to reach deep water on a steep shingle beach. Perhaps this is why many novice anglers begin there. A cast of 40yd (37m) at Chesil Beach, for example, puts the bait in deep water -30-40ft (9-12m). During windy storms which stir the sea bed and colour the water,

Shingle spit beaches Blakeney Point in Norfolk and Milford-on-Sea in Hampshire are shingle spit beaches that draw many anglers. The sea drives a narrow length of small stones and sand into the sea, forming a natural breakwater.

Apposition beaches Shingle builds up along an existing sandy beach. Storms and large waves drive the small stones up the beach, creating deep ridges and grooves. Dungeness in Kent and Selsey in West Sussex are excellent apposition beaches.

Underwater terrain

Though there are different types of shingle beaches, most have similar shore and underwater features – making it fairly easy to find the fish.

Gullies The gullies or shelves which the surf produces are the main feeding grounds for species like cod, pollack, conger, plaice and dabs. These gullies run parallel to the shore and occur at different intervals, depending on the beach.

Many beaches have a wide range of gully intervals, some of which occur as little as 3yd (2.7m) apart. At Chesil Beach (Dorset),’ for instance, the first deep gulley begins about 40-50yd (37-46m) out from the high tide mark. The sea bed drops slowly away from the first gully for 80yd (73m) or so before forming another gully. Experience is probably one of the best ways to locate the gullies and to know exactly where to cast at what time of day or night.

Many smaller species feed along the deep-water gullies. These fish in turn attract larger species roaming within casting distance.

Warm water The waters along steep shingle beaches stay relatively ‘warm’ even in winter. What makes some beaches ‘warmer’ than others is how far the tide goes out. In autumn and winter at low tide on shallow surf beaches, for example, the sea can retreat up to a mile, exposing the naked shoreline to the bitter winter cold. When the tide comes in, the water flows over the cold shoreline. This happens day after day, and the water gets very cold, very quickly.

With steep shingle beaches, however, the tide generally doesn’t go out too far – most of the shoreline isn’t exposed to the frigid conditions. At high tide, the sea doesn’t meet a long, frosty shoreline, so it stays ‘warmer’ than the waters of shallow surf beaches.

The seasons

Though it isn’t the norm, many species such as bass, plaice, wrasse and conger (which are sensitive to cold water) remain along deep-water shorelines long after most anglers expect. Bass, for example, have been caught off Chesil Beach in December.

Cod, whiting, pouting and dabs can be found during the winter on most steep shingle beaches. Spring – usually March and April—is the season for plaice. In early summer the shores are packed with anglers seeking bass.

Basic approach

Though in some ways it may seem easy, angling from a shingle beach for the first time can be a daunting task. Follow a few simple rules, and you won’t go far wrong. Rigs Terminal tackle plays a crucial role in putting fish on the beach, especially from marks such as Chesil. A three hook rig with size 2 Aberdeens is fine for flatfish. For large species such as bass and cod, a two hook rig with size 3/0 O’Shaughnessy is recommended. The hooklengths need to be at least 25 lb (11kg) mono – with light hook-lengths, the fish spins as you reel in. Secure your tackle Don’t leave your equipment unattended. Many novice anglers set up their gear too close to the shoreline, not taking into account larger than average waves or tidal movements which can easily sweep away their tackle.

Not monitoring your equipment is also a mark of a bad angler. Countless anglers have lost rods and reels from beaches (and breakwaters).

Tip up If there is a big surf sweeping up the beach, always keep your rod tip high, for slack line quickly gets buried in the shingle and frays from the friction. Bait variety Lugworm usually works well, but taking an assortment of baits like white rag, peeler crab and mackerel (or herring) is a good strategy. You can try different combinations (such as lugworm tipped with mackerel) until you find a successful formula.

Spare tackle And finally, to get the most of your day and to ensure you don’t have to run to a tackle shop every few hours, stock your box with spare lines, rigs, weights, hooks and shock leader.