Afloat Off Jersey Shores
Jersey resident Daniel Ferguson appreciates the wonderful fishing that he has on his doorstep and he is keen for others to come and share in the great sport available to the boat angler.
When I was 16 years old a friend told me of a job which was up for grabs, a chance to be a crew man on a charter boat, the Anna 2 skippered by Tony Heart. This sounded like my dream job as I was mad keen on my shore fishing, even though I never seemed to catch anything decent , unless you class a mackerel as a decent fish?
I was successful with my job application and when I had finished my first shift afloat I realised that this was something I wanted to carry on doing for as long as I could. After a few months my shore and boat fishing improved immensely, you can learn so much about angling when you are assisting and instructing other anglers and speaking daily with people on the subject of fishing. Of course it helps tremendously when your boss has been fishing the local waters for decades an he’s willing to pass on valuable information. I crewed for two years, even passing up on college so I could get a full season in the following year. Some people might have said this was silly, but I thought the complete opposite. I felt so passionate about angling that I just had to be out at sea helping others catch fish. What would you rather do take in that fresh air every day catching fish and loving life or revising for your next exam? Times move on and you do have to take a step back and think about your future more seriously and financially, which I have done now but I wouldn’t change anything about my past.
What does Jersey have to offer boat anglers? I think the easier question to ask would be; what does it not offer? I will start with our charter boats on the island and what times of year is best to target the wide variety of species of fish available and when the specimens are likely to turn up.
Jersey only has two charter boats, the Anna 2 and Theseus II, and both skippers are fantastic and both can arrange a wide range of fishing. The angling is so good in Jersey that these guys are booked up months in advance with visiting anglers from Europe and tourists so you have to make sure you arrange your trip well in advance.
Drift fishing for the powerful, hard fighting turbot is extremely popular on the banks off the Island. As the turbot hold high commercial value both pleasure anglers and commercial fisherman take part in rod fishing for them around the Islands. These fish can reach over 20lb in weight around the coast of Jersey. Many 10lb+ fish come up each year so the angler would always be in with a chance of topping the twenty mark. I would say the average sized turbot is 6lb and the best months to be in with a chance of catching a specimen fish would be April, May & June but you can catch them all year round.
I have personally had turbot over 10lb in January in F6 winds so even if you can’t make it over in the warmer months, there is always a chance during winter. You can get over five turbot in a session when the fishing is at its best and while waiting for the turbot to bite you will also be in with a chance of many other species including its close relative the brill, tub gurnard, red gurnard, whiting and the occasional bass. From experience I have always liked using mackerel fillet for bait, I even favour mackerel over the popular live sandeel for them.
A Wide Variety of Fishing
Bottom fishing at anchor is a style of fishing which ranks among my favourite forms of boat fishing, it is more relaxing as the angler is in no rush to get their baits in the water so as not to miss the drift or having to rush to get a new rig tied on.
Black bream can be targeted from April right through to September, with the bigger specimens showing up during the months of April and May when fish well over 4lb can be caught, with three pounders also getting landed regularly. These are a very hard fighting fish, and the best places for them are in deep water, around 40 to 55 meters (140-180ft) deep and they will fight every inch of the way from the seabed. The best bait to use is squid strip on small circle hooks for easy unhooking.
Larger fish, like tope and conger eels can be caught over the same ground as the bream, as this tends to be a hard rocky reef bottom. I have witnessed reef caught congers weighing over fifty pounds over the years, and many tope over thirty pounds. Another of the hard ground usual suspects are bull huss which will pick up your large baits and these are normally over 8lb in weight and they are a beautifully marked shark species.
My personal favourite target is the sleek, speedy smoothhound. Many anglers think that smoothhounds roam around in the shallow waters but this is not always the case, I have had them in 180ft of water and I have had a fair number over the 10lb mark. I have had fish over the Channel Island record weight twice in one week but never like the idea of killing a shark species just for my name on paper so they were returned to fight another day. Skipper Tony Heart is part of the UK Shark tagging program and as a supporter of the cause every shark is tagged and released. Hermit crabs & hard back green crabs are the favoured baits but we do pick up a good number of smoothies squid baits each season.
Jersey has one of the largest tidal ranges in the whole of the UK with high tides rising to over 12 metres, (40ft) and this is possibly why our ray fishing is so good. Undulate rays are back on the increase as a commercial landing ban has been in place for a couple of years stopping all fisherman landing them. Many double figure fish of this intensely marked species turn up during the course of the year, normally over rough ground. Blonde rays are my favoured ray species as they can grow so large with these magnificent fish growing to weights close to 40lb and 25lb+ fish are regularly landed year. I have had them to 32lb and find it’s normally best to target them when the tide is running strongly although this necessitates the use of leads up to 2lb. Of the other rays small eyed are also a common catch while fishing the sand banks with fish weighing over 10lb showing regularly, thornback rays on the other hand are uncommon around Jersey but when they do show up they so seem to be big as the only one I have ever caught weighed 16½lb.
Our wreck fishing can be exceptional as we have a large number of submerged ships to fish around the whole of the Channel Islands. Guernsey gets the better pick of them and we frequently head in that direction to get to the most productive of these manmade reefs, although it can take a couple of hours to get to them. The closest ones which holds big fish are around 10 miles off shore and these hold giant pollack, ling and conger eel. Live sandeel are favoured by the pollack, producing more hook ups than the artificial soft lures but lures from Red Gill, Eddystone and Savage Gear also produce fish. Our current Island pollack record is over 21lb which fell to a Red Gill lure so you don’t always need the live bait. I have experienced days with well over 50 to 60 pollack being landed, it is best going with a charter boat as they have licences to sell their catch on the local market. If you are a visiting angler nothing will get wasted, sometimes reeling them in from the depths affects the swim bladders which makes it difficult to release them.
Small Boat Fishing
Smaller marine craft like Orkney’s, Ribs and kayaks offer something completely different from all the heavy rod fishing malarkey. The angler can get right among the shallow ground on the south east coast of Jersey, known locally as “the gutters” and which hold lots of bass. Many double figure bass are boated each year on both hard and soft plastic lures or the angler can go “old school” and drift with a live sandeel. My preferred lure is a white pearl 42 gram Savage Gear lure, I like the way I can work all different depths with this to try and locate the bass and also keep myself in with a chance of picking up ballan wrasse which feed close to the bottom. The picture shows my friend Callum Robertson with a cracking lure caught bass landed last summer in the “gutters” on a 4″ Ayu Xlayer 7g Bachi Head, this fish weighed in at 12¾lb and measured 79cm in length.
Ballan wrasse over 5lb are regularly caught and these feisty rockfish provide great sport for the lure fisherman, on some days 30 wrasse in a session is standard. Kayak fishing is very popular in Jersey, being such a small island you can easily launch kayaks around many of the beaches and harbours.
Because I like to mix things up a little I try and target different species of fish and I really enjoy chasing a fish which is normally unheard of while discussing boat fishing, the mullet. In St Aubins Bay you can find mullet roaming the shallow waters I really enjoy the sport they provide. More so the thin lipped species which you can catch using Mepp spinners and white cat (rag) worm for bait, I have witnessed and netted thin lips over 6lb from the kayak.
Finger on the Trigger
Another of my chosen fish to target is the trigger fish which if the conditions are right come in shore and provide great fun for the small boat anglers. They don’t appear on our shores every year but when they do they typically show up during August and September. There are not many places in the British Isles these fish are available to boat anglers and even though they can turn up anywhere around our shores there are a couple of locations where it is possible to catch up to ten in an outing. Nothing is guaranteed with this zigzag, fighting species I have managed a good few over the years the biggest weighing 3lb 7drm.
You never quite know what is going to turn up when boat fishing in Jersey, many rare and unusual species have been caught in our waters, the Channel Islands are known worldwide as a location which provides great fishing so it is worth a trip out to one of the islands to experience it for yourself, you won’t regret it.