Fishing from cliffs is a type of sea fishing which divides opinion. Some anglers avoid it due to the dangers whereas others believe that – provided the right safety precautions are taken – fishing from cliffs can be an exciting and productive type of sea fishing. Indeed, in certain areas of the UK, such as the North East of England, cliff fishing is growing in popularity and during winter days when cod are around clifftops around the Northumberland and North Yorkshire coastline can be busy with anglers.
The most important aspect of cliff fishing is that a safe location is chosen. Many cliff tops appear to be ideal fishing locations but are either made of loose stone which can crumble away underfoot, or are muddy and slippery meaning that there is no way fishing can be safe from these marks. Locating a safe, secure area to fish from is therefore essential.
The safest type of cliff fishing takes place from a wide, level and stable ledge – especially one which is recognised as a safe fishing mark by anglers. In some areas there are a number of well known, well used and relatively safe and stable clifftop marks, which may get very popular at certain times of the year when fish are there to be caught. Anglers arriving to find these marks taken should never be tempted into fishing somewhere dangerous because the clifftop mark they planned to fish from was already taken. As well as safety other fishing related issues need to be taken into account. Anglers must be able to cast out and then reel in without the line rubbing on the cliff face, and any fish which are hooked must be able to be retrieved – winching a large fish up a cliff face can prove impossible (more on this below).
Rods and Reels
Cliff fishing for big winter cod requires heavy gear. Light rods or long Continental-style rods are not appropriate and instead traditional strong, stiff 12ft beachcasters are the best choice, and are usually paired up with a strong, high-capacity, fast-retrieval multiplier reel. The vast majority of anglers who are cliff fishing do not use a light mainline and a shockleader as this creates a weak point which is likely to give way when winching fish up the cliff face. Instead anglers usually use a mainline of around 30lb breaking strain all of the way through.
Rigs and Bait
Rigs are similarly straightforward and no-nonsense. Single hook flapping rigs can be used, whereas many anglers these days prefer a pulley rig. Since cliff fishing is usually used to target larger fish such as cod the hook size used is usually 4/0 to 6/0 or even larger. As strength is key with cliff fishing the minimum strength of line used to construct cliff fishing rigs should be 60lb for the rig bodies and 30lb for hooklengths, although anglers decide to use even stronger line than this. Many anglers include some form of rotten bottom/weak link release (such as Breakaway Escape Links) as many cliff fishing marks involve casting onto rough ground. However, fishing from cliffs can actually help avoid snags as the weight and rig is reeled upwards and not dragged over snags along the seabed. Since most anglers fishing from cliffs target larger species such as cod all of the usual baits are used, such as large cocktail baits of squid, blow lugworm and mussel, while peeler crab, black lugworm, whole squid and mackerel fillet will all attract the attention of cod.
Some cliffs can be fished at all stages of the tide, although it is likely that high tide will produce the best results as the water will be deeper, attracting a wider range of fish. Some cliff fishing marks may actually dry out at low tide, or have so little water there that no fish are present. It is therefore essential that prior research is carried out by talking to other anglers or observing the mark at high and low tide before fishing takes place to ensure that any cliff marks are fished at the most productive stage of the tide.
When fishing from a cliff many anglers simply cast out as far as they can, on the basis that the further they cast the deeper water they will be fishing into. This is indeed an effective tactic from many cliff marks, but others may have gullies, holes or other underwater features which anglers can aim for when they cast. In some areas it may be productive to simply drop a line straight down from the cliff, without casting at all. This can be a particularly effective tactic for summer cliff fishing for species such as wrasse, although in some areas larger fish such as cod can also be caught very close to the cliff face with a bait dropped straight down.
Landing any fish which have been hooked can prove to be one of the most difficult (and dangerous) aspects of clifftop fishing, and something anglers should consider carefully. If fishing from a cliff ledge or other stable platform it may be possible to us a landing net, but from many clifftops (such as the one pictured at the top of this page) using a drop net is too dangerous as it requires anglers to get too close to the cliff edge. In many cases anglers simply have to winch any fish they have hooked upwards and hope that the hookhold, the hook itself, line, rod and reel are all strong enough. The vast majority of fish under 3lb should be possible to winch up a cliff face if they are securely hooked. However, fish heavier than this will put a great deal of strain on even the sturdiest of sea fishing tackle. It can prove simply impossible to hoist a large cod up a cliff face with a rod and reel. In most scenarios the hook will come out of the mouth of the fish, or the line will break, but in a worse-case scenario the rod itself can snap! Anglers should never be tempted to get too close to the cliff edge when trying to reel in a fish up a cliff face – no fish is worth falling from a cliff into the sea for!
Fishing from a cliff is dangerous enough in calm conditions, so anglers should avoid fishing from clifftops in even moderately bad weather. High winds carry the obvious threat of increasing the chances that an angler may fall off the edge of a cliff, while rain will lead to slippery conditions – particularly if the area being fished from is mud or grass. While fishing at night can be more productive it also makes clifftop fishing even more dangerous, and anglers should take even greater care when fishing from cliffs during darkness, and ensure that they have powerful headtorches, lanterns to light the whole area, and backups in case any of the lighting equipment they have fails.