My Dad, Pops, had sneakily travelled down a day early and headed out for a session on our target species, bass. Unfortunately the silver torpedoes did not come out to play and as a result of this Lyle decided that our day out would be targeting plaice in the morning switching to turbot and squid later in the day to make the most of the available fishing.
My heart sank when I heard this as flatfish are my nemesis. In 35 years of angling my sum total of flatfish caught are two plaice, a turbot, a dab and I seem to recall a couple of flounder from the shore when I was a kid. I steeled myself for a day of drifting, not knowing whether the knock on the rod was a fish or the seabed, and secretly hoping for a dogfish to relieve the boredom. If I should have learned anything from my recent outings it would have been to take nothing for granted and remain positive, because today would blow my misconceptions out of the water!
After a quick bacon sandwich and cup of coffee at the Sailor's Return, where breakfast is served from half past six daily, Pops and I headed down to the boat to meet Lyle and the rest of the crew. We rigged up with flowing traces with short 30cm (12") snoods, 2/0 black Kamasan hooks, and a stack of beads, sequins and spinning blades. Black and green are reckoned to be the best colours and I added some 'glow in the dark' beads for good measure. Lyle pointed out to me that I had quite an act to follow after Pops’ performance the previous day. I explained that I have a complete mental block with regard to flatties and Lyle asserted that I was likely to beat my career plaice total in the first drift today - a brave prediction but then he is the expert.
We set off into a fabulous sunrise that seems to typify this time of year - "if only it wasn't a flatty day it would have been perfect" I mused.
As we arrived at the mussel beds Lyle said the tide was still a bit too strong to fish where he wanted to set up so we would have a first speculative drift on a different part of the established plaice grounds. I baited the hooks with three rag worm and a strip of squid and lowered away. As we covered the ground my rod shook and trembled with the braid on my reel feeling every lump and bump of the seabed. "This is hopeless I thought", it feels like I'm getting a bite all the time.
One drift produced no fish and Lyle called for lines up and we headed further west and south. Here the ground was not so broken and there was less of an impact on the rod when drifting. I wondered whether maybe, just maybe, I might be able to find a fish here and know that I had hooked it. It wasn't long into the drift before the first plaice came aboard. I've spent many days before watching other anglers boat flatties with ease whilst I struggled and pessimistically I thought this day would follow a similar pattern.
As we neared the end of the drift however I felt something different. It had to have been a nudge from a fish. I forgot completely that you are supposed to give line when you get a bite and kept a tight line. A couple of seconds later and the end of my rod bent over and I was in to a fish. I couldn't believe it, the day had barely started and I was into a fish - was it a flattie? After a lively fight a plaice surfaced, not a keeper, but a red spotted flat fish none the less. My enthusiasm rose and I quickly re-baited to make sure I was ready for the next drift.
The next drift was the same, a few quiet minutes and then we were in to the fish. Lyle got busy with the net and I had another bite. No time to worry about giving line - the fish just leapt on the hook. Lyle explained that the wind over tide was assisting us by dramatically slowing the drift. The result for me was my first fish for the table and I had doubled my lifetime career plaice tally.
Another drift and I had another fish for the coolbox. What had I been worrying about, this plaice fishing was easy peasy. Lyle kept us on the fish for the whole morning with drift after drift producing more plump 'spotties'.
Pops had a slow start after his previous day’s success but then got in to his stride with a nice fish.
Everyone was getting a slice of the action and one of our crew, after real bad luck with tackle loss, bagged a double shot; perhaps the purple beads did the trick.
Both Pops and I noticed that we were getting a different type of bite at the end of each drift without hooking up. We gloomily predicted that they must be pouting or poor cod. A camera shy angler at the stern proved us wrong when he landed a clonking bream which the skipper duly displayed. Lyle was by now was very pleased with his morning's work - quite rightly I should add.
Encouraged by the appearance of the bream, Pops and I both switched to hastily modified Wessex Rigs. We attached a Plaice snood to the bottom of the rig and fished smaller bream baits on the 'up' hooks.
The result was instant for me. It didn't feel like a bream though and not like the plaice I had taken earlier. I wondered whether it might be a codling and Lyle said it was possible from the area of ground we were fishing. We were all surprised when it turned out to be a double shot of a plaice on the bottom hook and a nice squid on the top. The squid had take a size 4 hook baited with half a squid head and decorated with a yellow muppet - nothing like a bit of cannibalism in the squid world I guess.
Pops' tactics were altogether more successful and he managed two bream as well as another plaice.
So with a box full of plaice, bream and the odd squid, the Skipper suggested we try a speculative mark for a cod before we headed to the Shambles for crack at the Turbot. With the best of the tide disappearing from this mark and having had our fill of plaice we were all up for it. With thoughts of my seven plaice, I dropped another two, fresh in my mind we headed off to a piece of rough ground where we would fish shads for cod on hopping rigs for half an hour. We didn't manage a cod but a few large pout gobbled the artificials, which the sea-gulls were grateful for. I did have one heart stopping moment when my rod locked up solid but if it was a fish it let go pretty quickly.
Next stop was the Shambles bank and this is a mark where I’ve struggled in the past. I wasn't too concerned though as I had enjoyed a brilliant morning and was keen to see if my good fortune would continue. We set up with flowing traces, 4/0 hooks and long, thin strips of mackerel. Soon after the start of the first drift Pops was in to a fish straight away which proved to be a small turbot. That made two turbot in two days for him and he didn't get to eat either of them as they both failed to meet the boat’s sensible size limit of 45cm.
On the same drift a nice brill came to the boat as well as a good tub Gurnard. On the second drift I had a number of bites but I just couldn't hook a fish - the Shambles will continue to get the better of me I guess.
Not the case elsewhere on the boat as another small turbot was boated and then another nice brill for the angler who would go on to catch a smashing turbot to complete his Weymouth Flatty Grand Slam.
The fishing then went quiet on the bank and we headed back to the Mussel beds for a final crack at the plaice. The tide was running hard however and with the wind now with the tide we were scooting along at 2.5 knots. Pops managed one very nice plaice but the rest of us blanked and Lyle quickly made the decision to head back in to Weymouth Bay and have a final go at a squid while he cleaned and gutted the fish.
We didn't have the instant action we had enjoyed on a trip six days earlier and one by one a number of the crew set their rods down and watched Lyle preparing the catch. But I persevered and, as the fat lady was warming up her tonsils, I felt a pluck at my jig followed by my rod bending double. A couple of minutes later and I had another nice squid for tea! Another squid was lost at the back of the boat before two more were netted within the space of a few minutes.
This was a great way to end a superb day's fishing. Lyle made an excellent call to change to change the plan rather than allowing us to waste our time and money by drifting the race for bass that weren't there and his prediction of doubling my plaice tally was slightly out of whack as I more than quadrupled it. I look forward to having another crack at these lovely fish again.
So now my thoughts will turn towards the winter staple of the Channel Whiting and it will be spring when we are next back aboard Supanova for a battle with the seasonal pollack.