Matt Crowe goes through weed hell to find hound heaven on the Norfolk coast.
The fishing has been poor to say the least at the beginning of this year on the east coast of the UK. The East Anglian coastline normally starts to warm up in April with a spring run of codling, and we usually have the bass starting to turn up in numbers as well, but this year it’s been a complete non-starter.
As I write this we are currently in May, and apart from a handful of codling showing and a smattering of bass, nothing is showing in numbers to give us consistent sport on our local beaches. This means that I have been putting in a lot of road miles, looking for sport further afield, rather than local sessions which were producing the standard pin whiting and even dabs to 5/0 hooks and crab intended for bass. Something had to give, and this particular night it did.
With a week off work I had to get out on the rods somewhere; I had been looking at tides and watching the wind reports constantly, looking for when the two coincided perfectly to create a window of opportunity on one of our more local spots.
I noticed on Tuesday that the winds were dropping to a very light westerly, and with a high tide that occurred at 5.20 am an idea popped up in my head. This idea was to fish the full flood and some of the ebb on one of the Norfolk beaches famed for their bass fishing. Now, along with the bass at this time of year there was always an outside chance of picking up one of the hardest fighting fish we can catch from our shores, the smoothhound!
I love these fish, they are great fun on light gear, and when fishing for them if a pack attack occurs it can be very fast frantic sport.
Chatting to one of my fishing buddies, Stefan Cawston, it transpired that he was also off work on this day, and never one to turn down an opportunity to hit the beach he was champing at the bit to get out and hopefully get into some fish. The day before our session a few messages were pinged around on social media asking the local lads what the weed situation was like on their beaches. With that information freely given, the choice narrowed down to two beaches, one a shallow sandy surf beach and the other a deeper shingle beach. I finally made up my mind, we would hit the shallow sandy beach and hope that a bass or two may show, and if not then maybe the hounds may well put in an appearance.
The beach we were going to hit was Trimingham. Located on the north Norfolk coast this beach has a reputation for throwing up a few beasts each year. The beach itself is a shallow sandy beach that has lots of gulleys all the way along the stretch.
My advice if you visit here would be to arrive at low tide and scan the beach in front of where you are going to be fishing; look for where the waves start to form and roll or where patches of white water form, these are where the gullies and underwater features are and finding these and casting to them could improve your session vastly.
Stefan picked me up from my house at 9pm, it was an hour and 45 minute drive to Trimingham and we were due to arrive literally at the bottom of the tide and then fish the full flood and maybe a couple of hours down – depending on tiredness and if it was fishing well.
Armed with some of the best fresh peeler crab from mail-order bait company Crab ‘n’ Lug, we headed off. The winds were non-existent and the sun was setting on what was a beautiful evening. The chat flowed all the way there with talk of what we could expect to catch, with Stefan never having fished Trimingham before this was a new experience for him and when I told him there was an outside chance the hounds could turn up I could see the glint of excitement in his eye at maybe getting stuck into these hard-fighting fish from the shore.
Hounds just never know when to give up.
His previous PB was a fish of only a couple of pounds so he was yet to experience the full fighting potential of a smoothhound from the beach. Driving through the quiet country lanes that lead to the beach the excitement was building. We were 10 minutes away and the weather looked spot on, not a breath of wind and a slightly cloudy sky with hardly any moon. Even if it didn’t produce the goods tonight then it was still going to be a beautiful night to be out.
As quickly as we had pulled up we were unpacked, loaded up like carthorses and heading down to the beach. After a short walk we finally set foot on the sand and headed left under the cliffs, the beach was just how I like it – deserted!
Stefan Cawston encounters a decent smoothhound
Stefan with his new PB smoothhound
The sea was flat calm, almost mirror-like with just the occasional disturbance on the water showing from one of the many gulleys that form this beach and make it so productive. We found our spot, set all our gear down and our headtorches scanned the surroundings. In front of us the sea was a fair way down from the high tide line and was just gently lapping at the sand. Behind us the cliffs rose up, towering over us and deflecting what little wind there was straight over our heads, making for very comfortable fishing indeed.
After finalising in my head how I was going to tackle tonight’s session I started setting up and my plan of attack was going to be two rods, both Continental-style rods with one being fished on a rolling lead setup, two-hook flapper with 3/0 Varivas hooks baited up with half a crab on each, and the other was going to be a pulley dropper with 3/0 Varivas hooks set up Pennel style baited up with a whole crab.
The rolling lead was flicked out no more than 40 yards and started to work its way slowly across the sand, searching out any unsuspecting fish that may be lurking. Meanwhile, I sent out the whole crab around 80 yards and sat back and waited. Not a lot occurred first cast on either rod, no rattles and no fish, which suited me down to the ground. A fish first cast for me is normally the sign I’m in for no more fish that session.
Second cast showed the first sign that there was life in front of us. The rolling lead rod tip smashed over out of nowhere; jumping up I picked up the rod and held it still, keeping tension to the lead to see if I could feel any thumps to show the fish was still there. Unfortunately it wasn’t, so I rebaited the rod and sent it back out to the same area.
It didn’t take long for the same rod tip to pull steadily over and then slacken off slowly and I was soon into a fish. Straightaway it was obvious the culprit was a dogfish and within a minute a beautiful little spotty was unhooked and returned.
The next few casts were the same story for me with dogs, dogs and more dogs; this carried on until around an hour and a half before high tide. It was then that copious amounts of weed started coming though, dragging both of Stefan’s leads out and causing him an almighty tangle. I had to go down to the one rod as the weed was ripping the rolling lead away, but within 10 minutes it became apparent it had become completely unfishable. We were pulling rafts of weed in within five minutes of casting out and upon closer inspection of the waves our headtorches lit up a thick mass of weed all the way along the beach. This was hell for us… should we pack up or wait it out?
Only a pup but it brought the scores level
The decision was made that we would wait an hour until high water and see if the weed dropped off so that we could fish again. It was a bit disheartening. Stefan hadn’t caught yet and all I had caught were woofers.
Dawn was starting to break and time was running out for us. We chatted for a while and after looking at the time I saw it was high tide. I decided to cast out the fixed lead and give it 10 minutes to see if the weed had vanished. Anxiously we waited and watched the rod tips. There was no excessive bending or lead being tripped out. Game on! The weed had gone for the time being and baits were sent back out, now was the time to fish it hard. With crab baits being quickly prepared and sent out we sat back and waited. First blood was to me, another dog, then an hour after high Stefan called out that he finally had a bite, I watched as his rod tip pulled over strongly and then slackened off.
The bend in his rod showed this was no dog – the hounds had turned up at last. As he played the fish I had another slam over bite but it turned out to be a dog, I quickly unhooked my woofer and helped Stefan land his hound, after a few pics the fish was returned and baits were back out. Yet again Stefan was quickly into a hound and yet again while playing his fish I had another dog!
The unmistakeable eye of a smoothhound
It was two nil to him and I was losing hope of catching a hound when my rod signalled another bite. Winding down, thinking it was yet another dog, I was taken by surprise when the rod lunged down and the telltale pulls of a hound were felt. Wahey, at last I was off the mark!
These fish put up a brilliant scrap in the shallow water, charging up and down with their dorsal fins standing proud above the surface – a great sight to see.
Once beached it was a lovely fish, just under double figures, I was a happy man and no longer tripping over my bottom lip.
Next cast we both had hounds again, making it 3-2 to Stefan, he then had another hound and I needed to make a comeback so he couldn’t take the all-important bragging rights. I knew I’d never hear the last of him beating me, with me catching pin whiting and dogs while he caught more hounds. My crab was running low and hopes were fading when I had another smaller pup, it was now 4-3 to Stefan and it was last chance lottery! The next bite was a nice little slack liner; winding down into the weight it was obvious it wasn’t a large fish but was it a hound to tie us at 4-4, as it came through the surf could see It was a little hound pup.
That tied us at 4-4 and with my crab stocks now empty we started to slowly pack up and chat about the night’s action, both of us agreeing that we were so glad we sat it out and waited for the weed to disappear otherwise we would have really missed out.
Seeing how happy Stefan was that he had had some hounds off the beach was great. It wasn’t one of the more manic sessions I’ve had on the big grey dogs, but it will stick in my memory as one of the more special ones – and after enduring the hell of that weed we were certainly rewarded with the heaven of hard-fighting hounds!
No wonder Stefan was smiling - he'd raced into 2-0 lead on the hounds