The Varne is a typical sandbank. Ly-ing eight miles out from Folkestone, in 14 fathoms, the steep-sided bank is roughly seven miles long and a few hundred yards wide. In parts the top is less than four fathoms under the surface – and in low-water spring tides one can often see the bait lying on the hard, clean sand below. The bottleneck here, between the French and English coastlines, creates extremely fast currents. Although the length of the bank runs roughly in the direction of the flow, the tide is bent as it meets the bank, sweeping diagonally across. On meeting the obstruction of the bank, the deep, fast water is compressed and deflected upwards. As it races across the top of the bank its speed is greatly increased, smoothing the surface of the water and causing giant eddies and swirling currents to form. Then it meets the deeper waters on the farther side, and the sudden check creates a back wave clearly outlining the bank’s contours.
This is where the angler must position his boat, presenting the baits so they lie halfway down the slope in about eight fathoms of water, the area found to be most productive. Turbot and brill lie in ambush for sandeels below the edge of the bank. When first fishing the Varne, I concentrated on the shallow waters on the top. Here I took plenty of plaice, dabs, whiting, dogfish and cod, but only the occasional turbot or brill. Then I noticed that French longliners always set their hooks along the down-tide edge during slack water, waiting for several hours until the baits were swept down the incline towards the waiting fish. When the lines were recovered, I was surprised at the quantity of turbot and brill that were taken aboard.
From these observations I started to fish the downtide side of the bank and had immediate success. As the tide changes from ebb to flood, one must move to the opposite edge. Due to water disturbance, the edge of the bank can be easily located during strong tides, but this effect is not so apparent during weaker tides. Here it is essential to use an echo-sounder to find the correct position.
Two methods can be employed to present the baits at the correct posi-tion on the sloping bank. The boat should be anchored on the top of the bank and the cable then played out, allowing the boat to drift back until the bait is positioned correctly.
The second method, and perhaps the more effective, is to fish on the drift. It does mean, however, that the boat must be repositioned every few minutes, otherwise the baits will reach deeper water away from the fish. Drifting ensures that the whole length of the bank can be covered.
On the Varne, my best catches have been from October until Christmas; on the Shambles, April, May and June fish well, and reports of plaice and turbot from the Sker-ries bank appear throughout spring, summer and autumn.
Last, a serious note of warning. Fishing sandbanks should only be attempted from a sound boat in set-tled conditions. In troubled weather, with wind against a strong tide, shallow waters, obstructed in their movement, toss in fury. If ex-perienced boatmen consider weather conditions are wrong, take their advice seriously. In doubtful weather, leave judgments to the experienced.