Beaches are one of the most popular fishing destinations in the UK and it is not difficult to see why – many feature easy access, snag free fishing and a multitude of different species to catch. Despite many beaches looking similar there can be a huge range different features hidden beneath the water and every beach will require different methods and techniques to catch the fish which are present there. The beaches around the British Isles offer great views, (mostly) snag free fishing and the chance of some very good fish – just avoid the crowds that descend on these venues in the summer months!
Beaches and Fish Species
Sandy beaches are home to many me species of fish which are highly sought after by anglers. Flatfish are obviously adapted to live on flat sandy seabeds and are a regular catch from beaches. Flounder are often caught very close to the shoreline as they come into incredibly shallow water – they will happily feed covered in just a few inches of water, while plaice and dab are caught on beaches around the country and Dover sole show more to beaches around the south and west of the British Isles. Less common flatfish that occasionally show around the UK include both turbot and brill. Sandy beaches can also hold ray species with thornback rays the most commonly targeted ray species in the UK, but blonde ray, small-eyed ray and even stingray all caught on UK beaches. Cod are a familiar catch to many beach anglers in the winter, while summer can see big bass coming into very shallow water as they feed just behind the breakers when some sea is running. Pouting, whiting and silver eels will all also show around beaches, and anglers fishing on sandy patches which are located next to rocky areas may find themselves having the best of both worlds as species associated more with the rocky ground will also be caught.
Beach Fishing Equipment
While some anglers use tournament and specialist distance rods these are not necessary for successful beach fishing – general, all round beachcasters are designed for this type of fishing (hence the name) and will do the job of catching fish from a beach perfectly. A selection of these type of rods can be viewed by clicking here. In terms of reels a decent quality fixed spool reel or a casting multiplier are ideal, and the choice of which to use is purely down to the angler’s personal preference. As there is very little chance of getting snagged, but a need for distance, it makes sense to use 15lb main line with a shock leader of the appropriate strength. Other equipment needed would be some kind of rod stand or rod rest, and most anglers bring a fishing box that they can sit on during a long fishing session.
When targeting flatfish on beaches anglers often step down their equipment and fish using light gear – usually 11ft bass or specialist flatfish rods which are rated to cast 2 – 4oz, as the snag free conditions allow gear this light to be used. Most anglers find they have much more fun and enjoyment fishing for flatfish such as plaice, sole and flounder which are unlikely to weight more than 1lb using this type of gear, and angler targeting bass may also use this type of set-up due to the additional subtlety and finesse this type of equipment offers.
When fishing on a beach most anglers use a tripod to hold their rod in, although sand spikes can also be useful on some beaches. Both of these items of equipment are reviewed in more detail on this page.
Beach Fishing Rigs
There are a wide variety of different rigs which can be used from beaches, with the species which is being targeted dictating exactly which rig should be used. Anglers fishing close in for flatfish will more than likely use multi-hook rigs as casting range is not important and having three baits in the water allows a greater scent trail to be built up and increases the chances of hooking a fish – the three hook flapping flatfish rig with size 1 or 2 hooks would be a good choice for this kind of fishing. For general fishing where a range of different species are being sought at short to medium range the two hook flapping rig with size 1/0 or 2/0 hooks is a good all round rig for fishing a beach mark. However, anglers aiming to cast our further into deeper water for larger fish should consider using the single hook clipped down rig, as the clipped down nature of this rig means that longer casting distances can be achieved and the bait is protected as it makes impact with the water. Size 1/0 or 2/0 hooks are a good choice as they can catch the smaller species which are found around the UK, but also handle any larger fish which may take the bait.
Types of Beaches
There are a number of different types of beaches around the UK, and the vast majority of them offer a range of species to catch. One of the most popular types of beach are shingle beaches. This is because they often shelve steeply and offer relatively deep water close in – the famous Dungeness beach in Kent and Chesil Beach in Dorset being perfect examples of this type of beach. Furthermore, tides and currents can constantly reshape underwater gullies and features which are found on shingle beaches, meaning that new fish holding features can be created with the tides. Other sandy beaches will also be productive but if no flatfish are feeding close in it can be necessary to cast a good distance to be in with a chance of catching fish. One type of beach that tends to be less productive are vast, open, flat featureless beaches, such as Southport Beach in Merseyside. This type of beach tends to be very shallow and even very long casts will end up in shallow water, meaning that anglers would raise their chances of catching a fish by selecting a different venue which gives access to deeper water.
For a detailed diagram of the layout of a beach with all of the different areas and sections labelled, click this link.
Beach Fishing Techniques
While many beaches may look featureless at first glance this is rarely the case as there are often gullies and channels that have been cut out over time by the tide where dislodged shellfish, marine worms and other sources of food will gather and attract fish. Casting into, or near to, a feature such as this will hugely increase the chances of catching. Other features such as rocks, natural reefs and other undersea features will cause the tide to act differently and churn up the seabed which will also attract fish, and fishing near to one of these can also result in better catch rates. Basically, anything that offers differentiation or change to a stretch of beach is likely to be a source of interest to smaller sea creatures, and in turn the fish that feed on them. Often local knowledge will play a part in knowing where these features are, but an experienced angler can see the differences in the surface of the sea caused by an underwater feature, while coming to a beach at low tide will reveal the gullies and channels that will be covered with water when the tide comes back in.
A common way of maximising the chance of catching on a clean sandy beach is to use a plain weight, as this will roll around with the tide and eventually come to rest in gullies and channels that are likely to be of interest to fish. Most anglers fishing clean beaches use plain weights whenever possible and only switch to grip leads when the tide becomes so strong that a plain weight no longer holds the bottom. Changing fishing positions after every few casts also increases the chances of finding some kind of fish holding feature. Similarly, a stretch of beach near to mixed, broken or rocky ground may be more productive as the rocks will hold shellfish and crabs that fish will feed on. Similarly, fishing a beach after a storm or spell of sustained bad weather will increase the chances of catching as worms and shellfish will have been dislodged from their homes (and will end up in the aforementioned gullies) and fish will be actively feeding on them.
Fishing a beach can often involve moving around a lot as anglers will need to walk up to the edge of the water and cast out and then move forwards or backwards depending on whether the tide is coming in and out. The actual amount of moving that and angler will have to do will depend on the size of the tide and the specific mark being fished – be aware that in some parts of the UK – such as the areas around the Bristol Channel – there can be over a mile between the high tide and low tide marks, and when the tide turns it can come in with great speed! Many anglers take the minimum amount of gear they can get away with, and keep their equipment neatly organised and arranged, so that they can move quickly with the tide. Beaches are usually fishable in most conditions and are seen as relatively safe places to fish. However, in bad weather with onshore winds the breaking waves can be so vast that they cannot be cast past making the beach unfishable.
Crowds and Safety
Beaches are obviously popular with tourists and many beaches the length and breadth of the country will become so crowded over summer that any kind of fishing is simply impossible due to the risk of hitting someone with a lead, either when casting or when the lead hits the water. In these situations beaches have to be avoided at peak times and the only chance the angler has to come fishing is either very early in the morning before the crowds arrive (luckily dawn is a key bass feeding time), or make their fishing a night session. At many marks the fishing is better at night, and this is particularly true of beaches where the fish are more likely to come into the relatively shallow waters under the cover of darkness. Even outside of summer beaches can be popular with dog walkers, birdwatchers and wind surfers so take care when casting – it is only safe to perform pendulum casts if no one is around, and it is never safe to cast into the water if wind surfers or kayaks are in the area. Although it is frustrating the only option is to pack up and move to a new quieter fishing mark.