Making the most of some rare free time, I decided to spend a few hours on Dorset's Chesil beach with rod and line to see what was about.
October is a great time of year at Chesil because there is such a wide variety of fish species within casting range. Whiting and early codling were my target species - I also expected the seemingly unavoidable dogfish and there's always the chance of the odd surprise.
I arrived at midday, around low tide, planning to fish the tide up until a few hours after sunset. There was a steady right to left breeze so I opted for a six-ounce lead to hold bottom against the drift and combined this with single-hook paternoster rigs on each of my two rods. One of the rods was baited with squid and the other with ragworm.
Predictably, it was a slow afternoon. An early knock on one of the rods failed to materialise into a proper indication, and a quiet couple of hours followed.
At around 3pm, the rod with the ragworm bait sprung back, indicating a dropback bite. I grabbed the rod from the tripod, wound up the slack and struck into what felt like a reasonable fish. A few moments later, and with much delight, I cranked a decent sized black bream up the shingle.
As far as I'm concerned, sea bream is pretty near the top of the list of table fish so this was a great result. The fish was dispatched with a swift smack to the head, then gutted in the surf before the line went back out in search of another.
The hoped-for second bream didn't follow and all was quiet until sunset. With the exception of summer mackerel fishing, Chesil can be very quiet by day but the fish really seems to get going when the light fades.
True to form, I had another indication on the rod tip - on squid bait this time - just as the sun was sinking behind the horizon at high tide.
This time it was a whiting, and a nice-sized one too. On went another bait and the rig went back out to sea. I busied myself tidying up my gear and setting up my petrol lamp in readiness for nightfall - constantly looking over my shoulder to check the rods for any indications.
Before I'd finished my preparations, I had another heavy pull on the squid-baited rod. A quick scramble across the shingle and I grabbed the rod, which arched into what was clearly a decent fish. I cranked the fish in, scanning the surf with my headlamp in the hope of seeing a codling break through the surface foam. It turned out to be a dogfish - there's no shortage of these on Chesil.
I lot of anglers treat dogfish, or 'doggies', like vermin, and just chuck them back. I think they make good eating (fishmongers and chip shops sell them under the guise of huss or rock salmon) so I keep them. Admittedly, removing their rough, sandpaper-like skin is a bit of a fiddle but it's worth the effort.
I prep dogfish on the beach. After dispatching the fish with a blow to the head (don't panic if they still squirm for a while - doggies are very sinuous fish and their muscles spasm for an age after they die) I make a cut down into the belly from just behind the head and then cut right along to the tail the remove the bottom (guts) part of the the fish. I then cut a slither of skin all the way down the back from head to tail. After this, the two remaining pieces of skin can be pulled off with pliers while you pin the head to the ground with your heel. Cut off the head and the tail and you're left with a large chunk of meat that has a very similar texture to monkfish.
Back to the fishing, things got more and more hectic as a flurry of whiting followed. Things also got a bit hectic when my big lamp packed-up - because of a blocked petrol jet, I think. With the fish biting so well, there was no way I was going home just because my main light source had gone down. My headlamp generated adequate illumination for baiting, casting and unhooking and I managed to beach five whiting before the batteries started to dwindle a couple of hours later.
After lugging my gear back across the shingle to the distant car park, I drove home with the basis of a few tasty meals in my boot. I'll share the recipes next time...