It’s half past nine in the morning, the tide’s well into the flood and the sun is shining brightly on a late April day in Hampshire. It looks as though it’s going to be a taxing day lying around on the beach, waiting for the reluctant fish to overcome their shyness of the sun.
Ian Golds isn’t particularly optimistic. Most Hampshire beach marks fish best at night, especially when, like today, it’s flat calm and the water is clear. There isn’t a cloud in the sky, making it perfect weather for sunbathing – and blanking.
Ian Golds joined the England shore angling team having fished successfully in Opens for many years. He designs and manufactures fishing tackle, believing that too much tackle is faddy and impractical.
For Ian, match fishing is pleasure fishing – he really loves what he does and makes sure he’s free to do it all year round.
Ian tightens up the line to his breakaway. A grip lead lets you keep a taut line. This gives excellent bite detection and may help the fish hook themselves.
Ian shows off the first fish of the day (above) which isn’t a monster, but at least it’s a plaice. Ian is a bit surprised to catch so soon but there is no time to relax and he casts out again (below) to try to get a good bag of this tasty fish. How to get there
By car Hayling Island is between Portsmouth and Chichester. Take the A27 and then the A3023 to South Hayling, over the bridge. This leads to the seafront. Ian was at the eastern end near Eastoke point.
By train The nearest station is at Havant and there are buses to South Hayling.
- To unhook a deep-hooked flatfish carefully without killing it, open the gill cover wide and gently put your forceps between the cover and the gill rakers.
- Push the forceps out of the mouth. Hold the line taut and grip it with the forceps. Gently pull the line back through the gill cover and let go of it.
- Pull the line taut out of the gill cover – this should leave the eye of the hook showing. You’ve now reversed the hook. Here the bait is visible, still on the hook.
- Grip the hook with the forceps and push it towards the mouth. This should free it, letting you push or pull it out of the mouth. the hook does not appear at stage 3, try the other gill cover.
This plaice of about a pound (0.45kg) came as the tide began to ebb. Note the beads on the hooklength, which Ian sometimes uses and which some people think are essential plaice attractors. The biggest fish of the day is this flounder – part of a haul of three plaice and six flounder, which surprised even Ian. He was quite prepared to blank! A decent clipped rig needs to be slip-proof or the baits may wobble, reducing distance. However, if the clips are too tight, the hooks won’t unclip on the sea bed. Ian recommends shortened clip arms -just long enough to hold the hooks in the cast while allowing easy unclipping.
Ian sets up two rods to give himself a better chance of catching. They are fast taper, medium power rods – perfect for the calm conditions and moderate tide.
He’s fishing a standard two-hook paternoster on his first rod, which allows him to cast easily up to 150m (165yd). On the top hook he’s got half a peeler crab held on with knitting elastic, with three ragworm on the bottom hook.
Both these baits fit neatly on a size 2 Aberdeen. ‘Hook size should match bait.
Fortunately Ian is after plaice, and plaice feed mainly in daylight. Even better, they won’t come inshore if it’s rough, so the glassy sea ought to suit them. Still, we’ll just have to wait and see… size,’ says Ian – a useful rule of thumb that’s all too often ignored by anglers who should know better.
On his second rod he has the same bait combination, resting inside a Baitsafe. This plastic box protects the baits during the cast and stops a hook on a long trace catching your ear on the way past. On hitting the water it opens to release the bait. Ian gives the impression he’s only using it for a bit of variety.
Ian chose this section of beach because it had fished very well in the match the night before. ‘But any area could fish, or none of them,’ he laughs. ‘So we’ll just have to lie around and find out.’ He’s a real confidence builder.
It doesn’t take very long. After 15 minutes he cocks an eye at the rod he cast first, and watches the tip for a while. There’s definitely some movement, but he just says, ‘I think it’s time to change the bait on that one.’
Two minutes later, without saying anything, he swings in a small plaice of just over the size limit. It had found the rag-worm irresistible. ‘That’s a bit of a surprise – can we go home now?’ Ian asks as he returns the fish.
Not ten minutes after re-casting there’s a tap-tapping at the same rod. He waits. ‘That’s a flounder,’ he says, ‘and you can’t give a flounder too much time.’
He gives it 15 minutes before he brings in a kicking fish. As predicted, the tapping had turned into a plump flounder of about Valb (0.6kg) – tempted by the juicy charms of peeler crab. It is deeply hooked, but Ian frees it quickly, the forceps a blur of steel. The lucky flatfish is back in the water almost before it’s realized it has been caught.
Half and hour and a few knocks on the same rod tip later and another, smaller flounder falls to ragworm. This is followed after 20 minutes by a third flounder, drawn by the freshly dug rag.
Ian, like many top sea anglers, knows the importance of fresh bait. He dug these ragworm on the low tide this very morning, and it shows. They ooze delicious juices when he puts them on the hook, and are a very different proposition from the stale, dry ones you often get from tackle shops.
The disadvantage of juicy ragworm is that there are more juices to get under your fingernails. This might not sound particularly serious, but it hurts – sometimes for a day or two afterwards. If you don’t believe it, use ragworm as your main bait for three days on the trot and then try playing a guitar.
High water is fast approaching and the tide is getting pretty sluggish. Ian doesn’t expect fish over slack water, as some sort of tidal flow seems to encourage the fish to feed.
Despite this, he suddenly stands up and sniffs the air. ‘I can feel a plaice coming on.
Definitely.’ Experienced England International angler or not, this is stretching the bounds of credibility. Especially as he then settles down to a distinctly dodgy burger and chips – that’s some sense of smell he’s got.
He does keep an eye on his rods while he’s eating and half way through his burger he points to the rod which is farther out. There’s something having a go at it, but Ian waits. After a leisurely lunch Ian stretches out in the sun. ‘Well, I suppose I ought to change the baits really. It’s all go here, eh?’ ‘Strange-but-True’ Part One: Ian’s plaice. Unbelievably, the prediction comes true, not once, but twice! On the baits he cast 120m (130yd), Ian finds a plaice of almost respectable size at around a pound (0.45kg). It took a ragworm bait on a trace with attractor beads.
This is a bit odd in itself as Ian doesn’t often use beads as plaice attractors. ‘If a fish is close enough to see the beads, it’s already smelt the bait. But then, what do I know? They certainly don’t stop you catching fish, and I do use them from time to time.’
The Baitsafe, sitting about 60m (66yd) out, also produces a plaice, though it is quite a bit smaller. It is also quite a bit greedier -it managed to cram both baits into its mouth, hooking itself twice.
It misses the size limit, though only by a whisker. If you want to take up match fishing, you need to take a measuring board and to know the size limits – ask if you’re not sure. You can’t weigh-in an undersized fish, so why kill it?
The tide has begun to move again and as it increases, so Ian’s confidence grows. As an experiment he puts a clam and ragworm cocktail on one hook of each of his rods to see if that’ll drive the fish potty with bait-lust.
Ian doesn’t have much faith in clams though. And when the hooks come back fishless and plundered by marauding crabs — all except two untouched pieces of clam — he decides there’s no point proceeding with the experiment. It’s back to the tried and tested crab and rag.
While he’s changing baits, he also changes to a clipped-down Pennell rig. This lets him cast a lot farther to try to find a big plaice. With both sets of bait back in the water, Ian lies back in the warm sunshine, and talks about fishing. ‘What a life eh? I wish I was in an office now, doing some work, instead of out here in the sunshine, fishing.’ When he isn’t gloating over the fact that he has organized his life to maximize fishing time, Ian spends most of his time thinking about fishing. To him, there is nothing which can’t be improved on with a bit of thought. There are no sacred sea cows.
He earns money by designing and making items of tackle, such as his widely used and enormously practical tripod rod rests, dispensers for bait elastic and nylon-zip-pered rig wallets.
The tide picks up speed and the breakaways bite the sea bed properly. As expected the fish are on the feed again, spoiling Ian’s sunbathing. This is shore fishing at its most relaxed. Cast out, bait up a new trace, lie in the sun for a while and then retrieve to re-bait or unhook a fish. There can’t be many better ways to spend a day.
A flounder of over a pound (0.45kg) accepts an appealing chunk of peeler crab on the paternoster rig. It is followed in short order by one just a few ounces lighter – also on crab. For the bigger flounder, you can’t beat crab. Talking of which, they (the crabs) have been quiet most of the day, but when they do go on the rampage you know all about it.
Crabs have been about at intervals, stripping the bait off the hooks. Along the coast at Eastney they can be a real plague. When this happens, use peeler as bait – crabs are only reluctant cannibals.
A final flounder manages to get to the ragworm and hooks itself. It’s quite a decent fish but it won’t break any records and, like the others, is quickly unhooked and released into the shallows.
With the slackening of the tide as low water approaches, Ian decides to pack up. After all, it’s very draining sitting on a sunny beach all day. Especially if, counter to expectations, you do actually catch.