Halfway down the steep, gorse-infested cliff path you stop for a welcome rest. From your vantage point you can see the inlet clearly. It’s about 45m (150ft) below. From so high up, the azure water looks shallow. Only where the parallel fingers of rock poke into the open sea does it darken to a deep, inpenetrable blue. It’s deceptive, though. At low tide the principal inlet still holds a good 4.5-6m (15-20ft) of water -plenty deep enough to catch wrasse, small pollack and coalfish.
Making a map
Inlets are created over centuries by the continuous pounding of the waves. Soft rock is worn away and the harder surrounding rock remains. Sometimes a cave is formed and the roof, eventually collapsing, leaves a rock-strewn gulley which is finally cleared and smoothed by the never-ending action of the tide.
A high viewpoint, bright sunlight and low water offer a golden opportunity for studying fine detail. You can record information about the contours of the inlet’s walls, the size and position of isolated rocks, patches of clean sand and the type and position of weedbeds, by committing it all carefully to graph paper.
Make a note of approximately how much water will cover the rocks and weed beds at high tide on neaps and springs. Record the position of any likely-looking ledges and spots to fish from.
The inlet’s walls at its inland end are high. This is the region where coarse cliff-top grass and pink thrift give way to lichen-covered rocks – too far off the water to fish comfortably. Farther down though, small, stagnant rock pools – choked with green, slimy weed – begin to appear. They are too remote to be frequently refreshed by the tide, and have probably been created by sea spray and rain water, or perhaps by an exceptionally high winter wave. This is where you decide to set up camp. A base camp enables you to leave the bulk of your equipment near the cliff. Unburdened but lightly armed with a rod, reel and bait box, you are now totally mobile. You don’t have to worry about clambering back and forth, shifting your gear to safety every few minutes as the tide encroaches.
Flat rocky platforms offer the most comfortable fishing. When exploring inlets it is usual to work from the farthest end of the spit at low tide, moving back up the rock as the tide rises. If you are lucky there may be a series of platforms — rather like steps -allowing you to keep at a convenient distance from the water at each stage of the tide. You go from platform to platform, finally reaching the last step which is still above the top height of the biggest spring.
What to look for
One advantage of fishing an inlet is that it can provide sheltered water out of the full force of the open sea – an almost totally enclosed marine environment all of its own. Not only do inlets afford excellent fishing but they offer the chance to observe marine life in its natural state. Pop on a pair of polarizing glasses and you may see large spider crabs clinging to the vertical walls of the inlet. As the water moves and the kelp sways the crustaceans come into view. Sizeable wrasse can sometimes be seen sticking their heads out of holes and clefts many feet below the surface. Wrasse are always the most prolific inhabitants of deep inlets. There are often some mighty fish holed up in this kind of rocky terrain which is ideally suited to their survival. The bold ballan – much the largest of the nine-strong wrasse tribe in British waters -is territorial, and seldom moves far from its chosen home. A ledge going deep into the rock face, with a thick mantle of kelp over it, makes a perfect habitat. When a big wrasse has been tempted to take a bait – invariably a juicy crab on a single hook leger rig – it makes full use of the rough environment and its great strength to try to break free. Heavy gear and an electric reaction to the bite are needed to get a 7 lb (3.2kg) fish into the clear water.
Specimen inlet wrasse seem only to take a bait that is right on the bottom. Sliding float gear – while great fun to use and less likely to be lost on snags – tends, in the main, to produce only moderate-sized or small wrasse.
Grey mullet often ghost in and out of inlets, swimming clockwise and keeping close to the boundary walls – along which they feed. This same circular pattern -always clockwise — has been noted on many, quite geographically distant, inlets. The extremely deep inlets on Penninins Head on the tip of St. Mary’s Island in the Isles of Scilly is one example.
Bass tend to enter only large inlets and then only at high tide — when a fair-sized lagoon has formed. They really prefer to look for food outside the entrance, some instinct telling them that to enter a confined space might be dangerous. Fishing at the mouth of an inlet can score. Inlet pollack are wonderfully coloured — their backs and sides of a deep burnished gold which comes from living among the kelp. High water is best and you can catch them by float fishing or spinning. A VA -2 lb (0.45-0.9kg) fish is average for an inlet but there are still a few pollack in the 5 lb (2.3kg) category. If you want to latch into a real monster you’ll have to go to the west coast of the Republic of Ireland – where commercial fishing has had less of an impact. Small-eyed ray frequent deep inlets with sandy bottoms and are one of the interesting bonus species. Others include conger, bull huss and lesser-spotted dogfish.