Fishing in Rocky gullies

Where a pounding, sucking sea has gouged deep gullies out of a rocky shoreline, fierce undertow, surf, boulders and thick kelp should encourage not deter the sea fisherman.

A rugged stretch of coast immediately sets the shore angler thinking of big fish. There is justification for this optimism, because specimen bass, conger, wrasse and many other species are there for the catching along most rocky shores.

Risking your tackle

The problem lies in recognizing the spots where big fish are most likely to be feeding, and knowing how to overcome the problems created by the snaggy, tackle-punishing underwater features.

The geology of the coast makes a large difference to the type of shoreline. Where alternating bands of hard and soft rock enter the sea on an exposed coast, the shoreline is usually etched by deep gullies, flanked on either side by jagged, out-jutting rock promontories and ledges. These gullies are the best of all rock-fishing locations.

But remember to take care when fishing them. The flanking walls of rock act as a funnel for big ground-swells capable of surging high up the rock face with tremendous force. If there is a big sea running, do not risk it. Even in calm weather, beware of the occasional rogue wave, which may suddenly appear and swamp even the most experienced and well-prepared angler.

The species of fish that inhabit a gully are determined by the nature of the surrounding seabed. Some gullies are edged by dense jungles of kelp, and this attracts big wrasse. Of course, the kelp will snag your line if you carelessly cast into it, but often, on peering down through the water, it is possible to make out the lighter, tawny hue of a clear, sandy patch between the darker masses of rock and weed. A simple one-hook paternoster rig, baited with crab, prawn, lug or ragworm, and cast out accurately on to the sand, will produce a response from wrasse.

Occasionally, however, the bottom is littered with large boulders which have tumbled down from the cliffs above, and ledgering is impossible. Then you either use a slider float or spinning tackle.

Bass and pollack enter rock gullies in search of the prawns, crabs, rock-ling, blennies, gobies and other small fry which shelter among the weedy boulders. Spinning with an artificial lure or natural sandeel is a good way to catch them.

Retrieve the lure as deep as possible—so that it just clears seabed obstructions—to reach big fish hunting prey on the bottom.

On some coasts, where the rock strata are complex and distorted, gullies may run in at an angle to the coastline. One side of the gullies then takes the full brunt of the incoming waves, while the other provides a relatively safe and sheltered fishing position. In such gullies there is often a circulating current, which you can put to good use with float tackle by allowing your baited hook to go on an exploratory drift around all parts of the inlet.

Natural forms of shelter

Between deep gullies there are often fingers of rock extending seawards, and in reasonably calm weather these minor promontories make excellent vantage points for the shore angler spinning or float fishing for species such as bass, pollack, coalfish, mackerel and garfish.

Usually, the fingers continue seawards for some distance beneath the surface, forming natural breakwaters which provide shelter for prawns, crabs, whitebait, and many other small marine creatures. Predatory fish spend a good deal of time foraging around the weedy edges of the outcrops, where the rock runs into the adjoining sand.

When spinning or float fishing, it is a mistake to cast the lure or bait directly over the rock, because apart from mullet browsing on the green silkweed, this area is generally barren. Instead, present your offering close alongside the rocky fingerpreferably on the downtide side during the early part of the floodtide.

Sandeels a bonus

Ledgering on sandy ground adjoining a rock finger is likely to produce rays, bass and conger—and even big I tope on some stretches of coast. I Contrary to the belief of many sea a anglers, sandeels are often plentiful H off rocky coasts, provided the under water rocks are bordered by coarse sand or shell-grit. They make a first-class bait with this technique.

The gradient at which rock strata enter the sea is very important because it is this which largely determines the angler’s safety. If the strata slope downwards steeply, there is almost certainly a good depth of water close inshore. But this advantage is offset by the fact that the face of the rock is likely to have been worn treacherously smooth by the action of waves and spray. You may therefore find yourself compelled to fish from a cliff ledge well above sea level. If a big fish is hooked from such a spot, it may be impossible to scramble down close enough to the water to gaff or net it.

Better fishing can be had where the rock strata run more or less horizontally or slope upwards at a gentle angle. Horizontal strata usually produce a series of step-like ledges which provide the angler with excellent fishing platforms. Also, the underwater strata nearest to the seabed are often undercut by large crevices, and these are a favourite haunt of large conger.

Where the strata slope upwards at a moderate angle (between 10 and 20 degrees) the rock ledges often contain small tidal pools. On exposed coasts these contain little life, but in sheltered spots prawns are often trapped in them as the tide recedes. The prawns are a useful livebait with a float.

Pioneering tactics

When the rock strata slope steeply upwards, the shoreline becomes much more difficult to fish. If the rocks are shale or slate, you will have to pick your way across thousands of razor-sharp edges of upthrusting rock. Moreover, on this sort of coastline, deep gullies often run parallel with the coastline—and these can be a source of considerable danger because they are liable to fill up quickly when the tide rises.

Nevertheless, although this type of shoreline is difficult to fish, in those places where a safe vantage point exists, it can be very worth-while. The numerous back-gullies and tide-pools are nearly always teeming with small fry, prawns and shore crabs—irresistible to bass.

A good working knowledge of the terrain to be fished is an essential weapon in the armoury of the dedicated shore angler. Many en-thusiasts make detailed maps showing the geography of the sea bottom which are drawn at dead low water during a big spring tide. What lies beyond the tideline can also be accurately recorded if the ground is surveyed from high cliffs when a bright sun is lancing through the water. Gullies, overhangs and clean sand can be seen quite easily even under 20ft of water. Knowing this, it is possible to fish for a given species and save a great amount of end tackle—and time!

It is not a bad idea to make a distinctive mark with paint on a rock that is above the highest possi-ble tide, as a point of reference.

In some places deep gullies flanked by high walls of rock are found some way out from the base of cliffs. These can be reached quite easily at low tide, but a careful watch must be kept to ensure that rising water doesn’t creep round behind you, cutting off your retreat. It takes only a few minutes for a swift incoming tide to turn a narrow cleft into a gap impossible to jump.

Some very large, high rocks may stay above water when a spring tide is full. While it may be safe to fish, bear in mind that the way back to the main land will be covered by water for approximately 12 hours.