fishing Dartmouth sea angling Devon uk charter boat shore plaice turbot bass river dart
SO YOU WANT TO CATCH A DARTMOUTH PLAICE?
It was back in the 1960s when the vocalist P.J. Proby immortalised the words of the popular song, "There's a place for us, somewhere a place for us"......... So now you want one too! I'll try to point you in the right direction .............
Regular visitors will know that Dartmouth is renowned for the excellent Plaice fishing on the "Skerries Banks" in Start Bay, which commence at their eastern extremity, just inside and west of the "Skerries Bell Buoy", about 4.2 nautical miles due south south west from Dartmouth.
It is possible to catch good "flatties" there throughout the year, although for the top results, you will need to pick the best tide.
The majority of the plaice fishing is done from either a charter, or a private boat, while freely drifting on the tide along the edges of the banks, where the shingle falls off into deeper water. The Plaice lie on the shingle, just behind the edge of the banks, waiting for small food items to be wafted into their vicinity by the tidal flow.
This permits the use of lightweight tackle, with sinkers of just a few ounces. It allows the average sized Plaice to give a good account of itself when hooked.
Some anglers prefer to fish at anchor, allowing their lines to be carried by the flow back towards the edge of the bank. This can be very productive, but requires substantial weight as the tide begins to run harder, in order to keep the bait nailed to the sea bed.
Fishing at anchor, on a clearly identified feature such as a submerged sand bank, using large baits comprising such delicacies as Mussel or Razorfish, secured by shearing elastic on a hook which may be as large as size 3/0, nailed to the bottom by lead weights which can be as heavy as 1 Kg, in the bigger tides in excess of 5 metres, tends to produce the largest fish.
This is a game for the angler with patience, who may spend an entire day without catching a single fish, but the fewer fish that it yields will often prove to be extraordinary.
An excellent compromise can sometimes be fruitful and still allow the effective use of light tackle. That is to fish at anchor near the turn of the tide, then revert to drifting as the tide flows more strongly.
Back in 2002, I tried fishing, with quite a degree of success, at anchor on the shallower banks, using an up-tide rig. It allows you to fish lighter "gripper" leads in water up to perhaps 50 feet in depth, from an anchored boat.
A rod of about 9 feet 6 inches, capable of casting a gripper lead in the 6 to 8 ounce range is ideal, allied to a multiplier reel loaded with 15 lb b.s. mono.
You thread your shock leader through a sliding lead link, followed by a bead & swivel, to which you attach a short hook length and 1/0 hook.
You cast your terminal tackle up-tide, away from your anchored boat, which allows you to explore more of the sea bed. As your lead is cast, you let out a very large loop of your main line, on which the tide can exert great force and which pulls the wires on your relatively light gripper lead into the bottom.
When you see a bite on your rod tip, which can show as a nod, or sometimes a drop back bite, you reel in the slack to set the hook into the fish against the weight of the lead.
If you can't hold bottom with your offering, then you will not catch Plaice, because that's where they live and feed.
Tides, Winds & Weather
Too little tide and the bait moves too slowly to be attractive - too much flow and the bait has whizzed past the waiting fish before they have time to grab it!
The perfect tides seem to be anything between 3.8 and 4.6 metres. It may sound very little to many of you where tidal ranges can hit as much as 10 metres, but off Dartmouth our biggest spring tides of the year are only a little over 5 metres.
It is best to avoid a wind direction with any east in it. An easterly wind, even a light one, seems to quickly build a "Channel Chop" which turns the Plaice off the feed.
It is probably due to excessive particles of sand being stirred up into the water, irritating the fishes' gills. It may be related to barometric pressure which the fish sense via their lateral line.
Easterly winds are often associated with pressure troughs and resulting turbulent seas over the shallow banks. Whatever the reason, the old saying certainly holds true, "When the wind's in the east, the fish are least."
Plaice are voracious predators and lie just behind the edges of the banks, waiting for the tide race to bring them copious small sand-eel as a ready food source. It's the marine equivalent of "fast food".
Charter, or Own Boat
At the risk of stating the obvious, fishing on the Skerries has to be from a boat. There are a number of excellent charter boats plying out of Dartmouth. You can find details of all of them on the "Charter Boats" page on this web site.
I really enjoyed many happy hours, fishing the banks from my own small boat "Smokin' Bloata" as it gave me the freedom to fish the shallow multiple banks at the western extremity of the Skerries, just inside Start Point, about 9 miles from Dartmouth.
These can be treacherous waters, with "stopper waves" generated by fast tidal flows surging up from deeper water. On a low spring tide, you can sometimes be in as little as 12 feet of water. If you have your own small boat, and have little prior knowledge of these waters, choose a calm day and follow the majority of others until you know where you are going and the location of the best marks.
If you haven't already got electronic navigation aids on your own boat, you will almost certainly need them to hit the best spots. A GPS chart plotter and a good fish finder make the task very much simpler. A more basic GPS navigator, or even a magnetic compass, can also help you to get safely back to harbour in the event of sudden fog or mist, but you must remember to enter some sensible waypoints during your trip out to the banks, to guide your return.
You will already have gathered from my various articles that my personal preference is for light tackle, as it provides the best sport.
My usual rig consists of a 6lb test curve boat rod with a soft tip that lets you clearly spot bites. Rods over 12lb test curve tend to be too heavy and unresponsive, when drift fishing, particularly as, dependant on your choice of line and the tidal race, you will only be using, weights between 3 and 6 ounces.
One of the most suitable rods to choose is the Shakespeare "Ugly Stik" 6 lb class boat rod, which is 8 feet 2 inches long and retails for around £52 at discount. (2009 prices).
I prefer my own boat rod to be between 7 and 8 feet long. Very short rods are uncomfortable when landing fish on a long terminal trace. If the rod is too long, it can be inconvenient to handle aboard a small boat.
particularly on charter trips, I have taken to
using a longer 11 foot long rod with a 7 lb test curve for Plaice..
A good sized Plaice, hooked on a light carp rod can provide great fun.
If you decide that you are going to do most of your fishing at anchor, then you will require a heavier rod. I have a boat rod of 12 to 30lbs test curve, which is excellent when retrieving lead weights of anything up to 2 lbs, though as I said, that is not my favourite way of doing things.
Line - Mono or Braid?
Many anglers swear by nylon monofilament of about 15lbs b.s. They claim that the inherent stretch in such lines gives a good cushioning effect and reduces the feedback to the rod tip as the sinker traverses the ripples across the sandy bottom.
About 10 years ago, I went out on
a charter trip from Dartmouth, armed with a 6lb rod and 10lb "Spiderwire"
braid line. I recall the skipper telling me it would be no use for
Plaice fishing because there was no "give" in it and it would feel too
sensitive to distinguish bites from bottom bounce.
I proved him wrong, I out-fished the other half dozen fellow anglers aboard for the trip. I caught the most Plaice and the biggest fish of the day. I admit to feeling quite smug at the time!
I have used "Spiderwire" of between 10 and 14½ lbs b.s.
on many trips since then. I also regularly use "Berkley" braid and
rate that very highly. My current favourite is 20 lb class braid
line from "Power-Pro". The advantage of either, is that the diameter
of 12 lb braid is equivalent to about 3 lb mono. The reduced water
resistance lets you use lighter sinkers.
Using braid, you will feel every "false bite" as your weight drags across the undulating sea bed. At first you will be very excited, believing you are feeling constant tugs from hungry fish. When you do feel a genuine bite, you will realise the unmistakable difference and quickly learn to distinguish the real "tap tap" from the false rhythmic "bounce bounce".
The minimal stretch in braid will let you easily set a hook at distance. but more of that later.
I now tip my braid reel line with about 15 feet of 15lb mono. This gives the best of both worlds. It absorbs the abrasion created when it is dragged across a sea bed composed of shingle and shell. It reintroduces a slight degree of cushioning. You can change this tip regularly at the first sign of wear and it is less expensive than braid. Mono is stiffer when passed through bottom tackle which will probably include a running boom.
Whenever you join mono to braid, you must use a strong and suitable knot.
I recommend a "Double Grinner" knot, (descriptions of how to tie it can be found in many popular angling publications), with 10 turns of the braid around the mono and 6 turns of mono around the braid.
The secret of this knot is to use plenty of spit to lubricate it. Loosely tighten the two halves of the knot and gently snug them together before finally pulling them tight.
How to Successfully Tie a Braid Line to a Monofilament or Fluorocarbon Line - I am often asked to show fellow anglers a successful way of tying a braid fishing line to a monofilament or fluorocarbon leader line. I recommend and use the "Double Grinner" knot, which works and has never let me down.
The "Double Grinner" knot is what is known as a 100% knot, which means that because it does not cut into itself, it is 100% as strong as the breaking strain of your line. Many other knots will weaken the integrity of the lines by as much as 50% of their breaking strain and I do not use them for that reason. Be careful, you can strip the surface off the braid if you over-tighten it and that will substantially weaken it. Practice this knot at home in comfort until you can tie it well.
Watch this video clip which I have recorded for your information and learn to tie this useful knot in the comfort of your own home, until you can tie it without any problem, particularly when you have to do so on a rocking boat in a rough sea. It lasts around 7¾ minutes and is easy to view on a Broadband connection.
How NOT To Do It - I have also shown you in my next video clip, a superficially similar knot which is NOT a 100% knot, and which I actively discourage you from using. Watch, learn, and understand why. This clip lasts around 4¾ minutes and is easy to watch on a Broadband connection.
I want to see you all catch very big fish, without any tears and troubles. Preparation goes a very long way towards eventual success.
The grinner knot also serves you well when tying braid or fluorocarbon to swivels, or fluorocarbon tippets to hooks.
Any reliable reel will do the job. It matters little whether you favour a "fixed spool", or "multiplier".
I favour a multiplier, if only because it is easier to control line when letting line out, the importance of which will become apparent later.
I used to always use a reel from the Abu 6600 range. You could just as well use one of the Shimano "Calcutta" and "Charter Special", or Penn ranges. There are some excellent economy models available from companies such as Shakespeare.
I like the "Abu Garcia", because it is reliable if you rinse it off in clear fresh water after use. Its level wind, lays the line evenly across the spool. It has the added advantage of a thumb operated pad which conveniently releases the spool to let line out.
Look for a model with a thumb operated clicker ratchet, which will attract your attention to a Plaice bite if you leave your rod unattended at any time. The Abu 6500 and 6600 was originally designed as a multiplier reel for casting lures to sea trout and salmon in the rivers of Scandinavia, but it is perfect for our intended purpose.
More lately my preferred choice of multiplier reel has
been an "Accurate" B-197 reel, made in the USA, from a solid block of
aircraft grade aluminium. This is a far more expensive option, but
if you like to wear a "Rolex", then this is the one for you.
First, put a large plastic bead onto your reel line, this prevents the tackle being pulled into the tip eye of the rod, which can break the ring liner (if it has one), and ruin your day out.
Next pass your line through a lightweight boom or running link, to which your main sinker can be attached via a clip fitting, to allow quick and trouble free weight changes as the tide flow fluctuates.
The most effective weight is a "watch lead" pattern. It kicks up spurts of sand as it drags across the bottom, which excites and attracts the plaice to see what is causing it.
After that, pass the line through a small bead and tie on a small but good quality swivel, using a 6 turn grinner knot, or a tucked blood knot.
Cheap poorly constructed swivels are not sufficiently free running to prevent line twist.
The bead prevents the knot jamming in the end of the sliding boom and reduces the likelihood of the weight and boom damaging the knot.
To the other end of the swivel, tie your hook length. I have found that fluorocarbon of about 10lbs b.s. is perfect for all conditions. It has a refractive index close to that of water and is therefore almost invisible.
If the water contains plankton or sand particles, plain mono will work just as well, but seems to be a disadvantage when the water is clear.
I favour a hook length of around 6 to 8 feet total length. I often insert another swivel in the middle of this hook length as the hook bait will rotate in the tidal flow imparting twists and this additional swivel minimises that effect.
I often use 15lb mono above this mid-trace swivel and 10 to 15 lb fluorocarbon below it, through to the hook.
Quite often I place a half ounce drilled bullet lead above this mid-trace swivel and thread a single small bead onto this trace, below the lead. This will ensure the trace really is nailed to the bottom.
I'll return to the use of second hooks on a flyer,
together with coloured beads, rattlers, spoons, worm stops and other
attractors in a moment, but first, let's talk about the hook.
Don't fish too light. If your bait is not nailed to the sea bed, you will not catch any Plaice. If you are on a charter boat, use a slightly heavier weight to help you avoid tangles with fellow angler's end tackle. Remember that all the time you are out of the water, sorting out tangles, it is time wasted, when you should be catching fish.
Ideal weights are "Watch leads" in the range 3 to 6 ozs
depending on the thickness of your line, the strength of the tide, and
the speed of drift of the boat.
For general use a good quality long shank wire Aberdeen hook - size 1/0 will be just fine. Avoid cheap hooks which are too soft and can easily straighten.
The "Mustad" brand long shank hooks which are made from very fine but strong wire are excellent. They have a needle sharp point and are easy to bait.
I often use the "Sakuma" "Stinger" range of hooks in size 1/0.
The major disadvantage is that Plaice are greedy feeders and often gulp traditional Aberdeen hooks deep inside.
I quite often favour a "Circle"
pattern hook in size 1/0 or 2/0, which was originally developed for
commercial longline fishermen. These are less convenient to bait
with worm, but have the considerable advantage that more often than not,
they result in fish being cleanly hooked in the scissors of their jaw.
Excellent models are produced by "Eagle Claw", "Owner Mutu", and "Gamakatsu".
The "Gamakatsu Octopus Circle hook is branded as "G Point" and distributed
to the trade by Daiwa here in the UK. More recently "Sakuma"
supply a good quality fine wire circle hook to the trade here in the UK. All work extremely efficiently and reportedly give a hook-up rate some 80%
higher than traditional designs.
We will discuss the differences in fishing the various hook styles later in this article.
I tend to simply head hook my Ragworm baits and no longer thread them up the shank of the hook. This seems to ensure the worm stays alive and wriggling for far longer.
In the days when I used to thread my worms up the hook shank, even when fishing a plain hook on a trace without fancy spoons and attractors, I used to habitually put a moveable stopper knot just above the hook, similarly to those used on shore fishing rigs.
I find the simplest method is to thread the line twice through a short length - say about 4mm of small diameter, fine silicone tube. If you prefer it, you could use a wrap of fine telephone wire.
Below this I put on a single small bead. The luminous green oval ones work well, as they can prove to be an extra attractor.
I then thread a single sequin onto the line, immediately above the hook.
This prevents baits from working their way up the trace from the hook.
Its major advantage is that if you accidentally break off a hook deep inside a Plaice, this stopper will prevent all your beads and sequins falling off your trace.
The best bait is whatever the fish fancy on the particular occasion! So, take an assortment with you and don't be afraid to experiment.
Ragworm - Lugworm (live or frozen) - Mussel - Peeler Crab - Hermit Crab Tail - Mackerel Strip - Cockle - Razor Fish - Cuttlefish - Squid Strip - and Sandeel or Launce, alive or a filleted strip from a dead one will all work at different times. I have even caught Plaice on a strip of cooked chicken skin when I ran out of traditional bait!
My favourite all-round bait is a cocktail of ragworm, followed by a piece of lugworm, then a lump of frozen Prawn, tipped off by a sliver of Squid, which will move enticingly in the tide. I prefer the lug to be a couple of days old, so that it is starting to "blow" and smell. Flatties seem to love it that way.
People have said to me, why don't you just use Sandeel, if that is their normal diet? Believe me, we've tried that and yes, it does work, but fish are like kids, they prefer a juicy fruit sundae to plain old bread and butter. Exotic baits seem to work better.
It is interesting to note that the guy who won the shore prize at a recent Dartmouth Plaice Festival later told me that he had applied a commercially available bait enhancer, which the manufacturers claim contains pheromones, to his baits. This obviously worked for him and the fish.
More recently, we have discovered that Plaice love a fillet sliced from half of a raw warm water Tiger Prawn, cut lengthways in half; the kind you can buy in frozen bags at most big Supermarkets. I guess it's obvious, there's hardly a creature in the sea that will refuse a hearty meal of Prawn.
It may sound far fetched, but Plaice also appear to be partial to a touch of Garlic. I have my suspicions that it masks the smell of human contact from your hands, but it does work very well. I have several pals who marinade their Squid tippet strips in raw garlic before use. They catch well.
Additional hooks on flyers
The disadvantage is that they can create additional spin on the trace, resulting in a tangle that impedes your fishing on that particular drift.
Their clear advantage is that they allow you to fish a greater variety of baits on a single rod. They permit more scent and juices to flow into the water, alerting the fish and doubling your chance of a hook up.
If you're going to use them, keep the snood short and of heavier trace material, so it stands clear of the main trace.
You can tie them directly to the 90 degree link of a standard three-way swivel, just a little way, say no more than 18 inches, above the main hook.
A better solution is to tie them to one of those three way swivels sold by Veale's Mail Order, that are constructed as a complete two way swivel which rotates around the link of another two way swivel. These will minimise line twist resulting from a flyer rig.
I sometimes use a "Spreader" rig which permits me to fish two identical hook traces, complete with beads and small spinner blades, sis by side. You can buy wire "Spreader" rigs for "flattie" fishing from most good tackle shops, or you can make your own.
Attractors - beads - sequins - rattlers & spoons
Many anglers will not drop a line into the water when in pursuit of Plaice, without festooning the hook trace with all manner of beads, spoons, sequins and rattlers.
I often use such attractors. I believe that when the water is at all coloured, their flash can excite the fish, which as you have already learned are fierce predatory ambush hunters, teasing them into a frenzy.
Several years ago, I fished the Dartmouth Plaice Festival from a charter boat. One of the guys had beads, interspaced with red sequins just above his hook. He caught about 3 fish to every one of the other anglers. He joked that he would sell us red sequins at £5 each. At least I think he was joking?
I've fished both with and without attractors and generally now fish a long trace with a spinner blade and a minimal number of sequins and beads just above the hook. In clear conditions, I find them unnecessary, though they are undoubtedly a help in lightly clouded water.
Just as a silly aside, I went shopping with my Daughter in a store in Reading. I was attracted to the wide variety, shapes and colours of sequins and beads on sale in a material shop where she was browsing. I selected several packs as they were far less expensive and identical to those sold in tackle stores. When I went to pay, the assistant enquired why, as a man, I wanted them? Before I could say a word, my Wife, who was also with us, blurted out, "Oh, he's a cross dresser." My Daughter looked shocked at this sudden revelation and the assistant moved one pace further away from me! I paid and quickly left.
The basic method when drifting, is to gently lower your terminal rig slowly to the bottom, ensuring the long trace does not tangle around the main line as it sinks through the water.
You must feel the line with your fingertips to be certain your weight is on the sea bed. It is essential that it is not swept up from the sea floor by water resistance as your boat drifts, or the tide puts weight on your line when at anchor.
On occasions, a small Plaice of only a pound and a half will strip line against the ratchet of an unattended rod. At other times, the bite will be no more than a gentle "knock knock" double pull. The fiercer bites tend to happen when conditions are good, the Plaice are feeding well and competing with one another for available food.
Lesson one, do not immediately strike at a bite. All you will do is pull the bait away from the fish. Quite often, what you felt was the Plaice grabbing at the waving tail of a squid tippet or worm.
You must give line, perhaps 5 or 10 yards, depending on the speed of your drift, so the Plaice has time to inspect and take the bait into its mouth. Frequently you will have to give line on two or three occasions, until you feel the weight of the Plaice come onto your line. This is the point when you set your hook.
If you are fishing a conventional Aberdeen style hook, you strike to set the point. It is the period of waiting for the Plaice to take the bait well inside its mouth that can result in a lot of deeply hooked fish when using traditional hooks.
If you are fishing a Circle pattern hook, tactics are a little different. When you feel the weight come onto the line, you just gently tighten by pointing your rod tip down the line and then smoothly lift it without the jerky action of a conventional strike. This causes the fish to realise the hook and bait is attached to something. The fish will turn away to the side as it tries to spit the bait from its mouth. As it does so, the inward angled sharp point prevents the hook catching deep in the fish, but as it is leaving its mouth, against a sideways turning movement, it inevitably hooks the Plaice in the scissors of its jaw. Believe me, they really do work well.
Make use of a landing net to lift
your fish from the water alongside the boat. It is not unknown for flatties to hang on to the bait, without actually getting hooked!
Catch & release
Last, but certainly not least, please return any fish you do not want for your own table to the water with the minimum of fuss and delay. They will be there to be caught again another day. If you respect wild fish and conserve them with care, there will be stocks for our sons and daughters to catch in future years.
Plaice do make exceptionally good eating, but don't be greedy. One August afternoon, around 5 years ago, my Wife Patsy and I caught 14 plaice. We returned 6 good fish unharmed to the water. We kept 8 as we had friends visiting for that weekend. The 8 fish we kept totalled more than 24 pounds!
Days such as that are the exception. As with most
locations, commercial fishing pressure has reduced the overall size and
numbers of fish, but it's not unusual for a charter trip today in 2009
to catch around 3 dozen Plaice during a day on the "Skerries".
A final thought
At Dartmouth, we do not often capture the huge Plaice that present themselves off Weymouth on the Shambles banks. Ours are medium sized fish, but they are there the year round.
The largest Plaice to be brought into Dartmouth in recent years by an angler weighed a magnificent 6lbs 4ozs 12dr.
It was caught on the 19th May, around 2002, by David Pakes, who was fishing an unmarked wreck, some 15 miles off Dartmouth. He was using a whole fish bait on 30lb class tackle rigged for conger and ling.
As he retrieved his line, he saw the outline of a large flat fish. He initially thought it was a Turbot, until it broke surface, when he could see that it was a large Plaice in prime condition.
Now that is not the usual "method" - so what do I really know about catching Plaice?