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The Cold, the Wet and the Ugly

Written by Adrian Farley

How to tackle shore fishing in rough weather.

How many of us have arrived at a venue at this time of year and found extreme conditions which can make fishing impractical, difficult and sometimes dangerous. Well, if the latter is the case, as it was for me once on Dover’s Admiralty Pier (Hurricane Charlie, I think!), then good sense says ‘cut your losses’ and head for home. There are, however, some circumstances in which it is possible to fish and take a good bag of fish, which are also taking the feeding opportunities offered by inclement weather. The biggest problems we usually face in such conditions are wind, weed and the accompanying surf.

So, lets see where we should start:

storm leadsLeads - we need to anchor our bait where the fish are feeding and searching-tactics are probably out of the question given the rough seas. Every time you cast out, within a minute or so the rod tip starts nodding as grip wires break out; we need GRIP.  Firstly, you are not going to get away with a plain lead in these conditions. Gemini do a screw in long-nose for their leads, which helps; while the usual break-out leads are made much more efficient by tightly wrapping an elastic band around the grip wires; effectively they become ‘fixed’ rather than ‘breakouts’. Go a stage further , where the ground is not too rough and use a fixed lead. This is often needed anyway where strong tides sweep close to shore at venues like Dungeness, Chesil and Orford. It often pays to increase the weight of the casting lead in rough conditions. As long as your rod is up to it, go to 6 (170g) or even 7oz (200g). Even a rod rated 4-6oz will handle 7oz as long as you restrict your casting style to something gentler than a full blown pendulum. I’ve used the new fixed grip D-Vice to good effect in similar conditions.

grinner to grinner knot

Leaders – one of the most aggravating effects of fishing in rough conditions is the habit for seaweed to cling to a leader knot. This will be greater where normal parallel shock leaders are attached to main line. Aim for the smallest knot possible and try a slightly shorter shock leader than normal. You can then often pull your tackle or fish clear of the water’s edge by walking backwards instead of forcing the leader knot weed through the top ring. Various companies now make tapered shock leaders which give a smaller knot than usual and will often pass through accumulated weed even before it reaches the rid tip. Tapered shock leaders make fixed-spool casting smoother anyway.

weed pushed up the line to the rod tip is better than a bow in the line Wind direction – you obviously can’t change the wind’s direction, but you can make things easier for yourself by casting into it when it is 45 degrees to the shore. Keep your line straight into the wind by casting 30 metres upwind of the rod rest (if space allows). The idea is to get weed and tide pushing weed straight up the line to the rod tip rather than forming a great bow in the line which will pull even fixed-grippers out. You’ll almost certainly find distance casting more difficult, but using the slightly heavier lead and then releasing a much lower than usual cast will give you a few more yards. It’s the line which will drag your cast back, so don’t let it balloon upwards; aim low into a headwind. It’s as well to remember that fish like bass will be foraging just 20 or 30 metres out in these conditions anyway.

Tides - in strong lateral tides, it will be even more necessary to cast uptide of your fishing position and to give some slack line while the lead sticks in. In crowded conditions, try to come to a verbal agreement with those fishing uptide of your fishing position to do the same. In a match, this is much more difficult, but may be of benefit to all. On a storm beach, it is often easier and more rewarding to fish low water when wave crests are smaller. Even lobbing twenty metres can produce excellent bags of bass and flounders when shellfish has been smashed up by strong winds.

tripod lampIllumination – too many anglers struggle at night with, at most, a 2 or 3 LED headlamp and perhaps a light stick on the rod tip. A sure way to hypnotise yourself to sleep! Over the years I have developed a lighting system which makes sure that I can see close at hand and the rod tip with ease. It’s no good spending five or six hours straining your eyes to tell between a bite and accumulated clumps of weed. Several of my pals have adopted a similar lighting arrangement to mine and I’m surprised there is no real dual close to hand/rod tip illumination available over the counter. I make a perfectly suitable tripod light with a hand drill and a ‘Wilkinsons’ (or similar) large torch (£2.99 with a 6v battery!). Drill a short piece of aluminium bar and attach via your rod rest’s top nut so that it shines up the length of your rod(s). To make the tripod light more economic, buy a sealed lead-acid battery (6v/4AHr). Choose a 3Watt bulb from one of the suppliers listed and you have a re-chargeable light …. and no more missed bites or tired eyes. Headlamps are a matter of choice. Some anglers prefer the less bulky multi-LED headband, while others look set to pop down to the last coal shaft with their weighty but very effective halogen re-chargeables. One thing is for sure: for less than the cost of bait and a little ingenuity, you can be perfectly equipped for a winter’s night fishing.  

rod restRod rests – a stable, long tripod is essential during windy conditions. Don’t get anything less than six feet long and seven feet is better. For pleasure fishing make sure it has two rests on a bar across the top and two cups which can be positioned up the stem of the tripod. A bag of shingle or bucket of water attached via a hook from the top bar will make it much more stable. A sand spike just will not do during rough conditions. The trick in high wind and wave conditions is to keep the line out of the surf where the weed gathers and then to keep the rod tip as high as possible. Use the cups as far up the tripod as possible and use the maximum height you can. Keep a fairly tight line and don’t let weed drag the line down into the surf area, where most weed will be found.

Traces – it’s just plain fact that the more complex a rig you use in rough sea conditions, the more tangles you will get and the more weed you will pick up.Most of my surf bass fishing is done with a single paternoster using a loop to loop connection. Avoid long flowing traces when casting into strong winds; use hooks attached above the lead and use bait clips, impact shields, ‘Imps’ or cascade swivels. A flapping bait will cut your distance and shred baits.  

Bait – now here’s the key to this rough weather fishing: use natural baits which the fish are feeding on. In my part of the world (eastern Solent) this invariably means slipper limpets which can be ankle deep on the shingle following a strong south-westerly. How many times do I meet anglers armed with twelve quid’s worth of ragworms, when the bait is there for the picking. Further east, from Brighton to Deal, it might be clams, razorfish, butterfish and even whole black lugworm thrown up the beach. Folkestone and Hythe are excellent beaches to collect your bait free-gratis before a session. Dwell on this one for a moment: there are many occasions through the year when you will not catch fish unless you ‘match the hatch’ as they say in fluff-chucking circles.

Clothing and shelter – of all the obvious assets to rough weather fishing, this is the one most often overlooked. It can be a matter of preference, but don’t skimp. You cannot fish effectively when cold and wet! I prefer two or three layers and a light waterproof suit. Many anglers like the one or two piece insulated suits and I have to say that a flotation suit is essential for rock fishing and steep shingle beaches like Chesil or Dungie. Wet feet are usually cold feet, so get yourself a pair of insulated winter boots. I prefer ankle deck-boots with thick woollen socks.Your Argos brolly is not going to cope with strong winds or the rain on the beach. For around £45 you can get a Ron Thompson or similar shelter or go for the big Daiwa (John Holden) one at around at around £140. Make sure you get the flaps fully covered with shingle or sand to aid stability. There’s no short cut here. You’re either comfortable and dry or cold and wet!

Copyright  Adrian Farley 2010

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