Stick close inshore for bags of fish

Dinghy fishing inside a bay allows sea anglers to enjoy the freedom and independence of skippering their own boat, without the added risks that forays into the open sea can entail.

This is not to say that a trip into a bay should be treated lightly. Disaster can strike anywhere, no matter how sheltered. Bays can have other boats, fast tides, sandbanks and submerged rocks, all of which can be the undoing of an unwary angler.

Inshore sport

While the best of the fishing can sometimes be many miles out to sea, anglers often motor past much better fishing than they eventually find farther out. This is especially true of some owners of large boats -and is where the dinghy angler can score.

While the bigger boats head for the horizon, dinghy anglers can have the sometimes surprisingly good sport inside the bay all to themselves.

As always, location is the key to the best catches. Much of the sea bed is pretty barren, with most of the fish feeding in certain restricted areas.

Some hotspots such as underwater shellfish or worm beds create no tell-tale signs on the surface, so local knowledge or trial-and-error is needed to pinpoint them. Other fish-producing areas are more obvious, though they may take a while to locate. An Admiralty chart is a good starting point, particularly in the bigger bays. It shows where the banks and gullies are, as well as the obstructions and major pieces of wreckage. Remember that any variation on the sea bed attracts fish and all such areas are worth checking out.

Once you have located and fished the interesting-looking areas shown on the chart, it’s time to find your own. In smaller bays which may not be shown in such detail on a chart, this has to be your starting point anyway.

The lie of the surrounding land usually provides a few clues. Sheer cliffs plunging straight down into the sea often mean deep water, where fish such as conger, pollack and wrasse feed.

However, you must keep an eye out for pinnacles of rock reaching up from the bottom. They can easily smash the boat’s hull, though they also provide some very good fishing. If you don’t have an echo sounder, watch out for swirls on the surface as the tide runs over a pinnacle. Rocky headlands running out to sea often continue under water, providing sanctuary for fish such as bass in the south and coalfish in the north. A river or stream running into the bay may have worn a depression which carries on under the sea. Remember that the fresh water often deters some species such as cod and whiting, but attracts others such as bass, flounders and eels.

Steep shingle beaches usually mean deep water close inshore. In some cases quite large fish patrol along the junction of the sloping shingle and the flatter sea bed. Flat, sandy beaches, on the other hand, often mean that the sea bed continues to slope quite gently underwater. This kind of terrain usually suggests flatfish, with other species determined by the location and time of year.

Electronic wizardry

The next step is to carry out an inspection of the sea bed using an echo sounder. Time spent reconnoitring in this way is rarely wasted and leads to improved catches.

Carefully plot any variation on the sea bed and take a fix of the most interesting looking areas. A modern electronic navigation system can be a very worthwhile investment, allowing you to build up your own ‘set of numbers’ pinpointing the marks you have found.

A cheaper alternative is to take compass bearings on three landmarks or buoys. This is especially useful in bays, as the land is always pretty close.

Try to use landmarks that are unlikely to change – cairns, houses or church spires are ideal. You can use trees too, but a gale can destroy weeks of hard work!

Log these compass bearings on to your chart, so you can find the area of your marks time and again. You might have to do a little searching with the echo sounder to find the exact spot, but you often need to do this with the most sophisticated electronic equipment as well.

If you find pairs of landmarks which line up when you are over your fishing mark, you can fix the spot by triangulation. Line up one pair of landmarks, and, keeping them in line, line up the second pair. When both pairs are in line, you are in position.

You can use any additional pairs of landmarks as a check of your position. Take pictures with a telephoto lens on a clear day and you’ll be surprised at how many pairs of features you find which line up.

Essential equipment

Even on the smallest dinghy you need life-jackets, flares, a foghorn, a compass and a hand-held VHF radio. With slightly larger craft you should also carry a lifebelt, an echo sounder, a spare anchor and rope and a spare outboard motor.

The spare outboard needn’t be a big one. Even the smallest of outboards gives the dinghy steerage, which might save your life in an emergency.

Tackle depends on the strength of the tides, the terrain you are fishing, and the fish you are after. Pollack and conger from deep water rough ground marks are obviously going to need heavier gear than flounder over a shallow sandy bottom.

Whatever the fishing opportunities, if you use your common sense and stay safe, and are prepared to put in the work finding the fish, you can enjoy excellent sport only a few minutes motoring from the shore.