It has been several years now since I fished off the shore for winter cod and whiting – perhaps too long, as I feel it calling me back for more.
Much of the beach fishing I have enjoyed has been on the East coast – Orford, Shingle Street, Aldeburgh, with occasional trips to Yarmouth, Lowestoft and Pakefield. At one time I just couldn’t get enough of it. My good friend, Rod Barley, and I used to finish work on a Friday, drive from the Midlands to the East Coast (quite a journey before the A14 was built), then fish all night… We were keen in those days!
But it was worth it: the very first cod I ever saw taken from the beach was a twenty pounder, caught by that brilliant all-round angler, Arthur Cove, at Bawdsey. My own personal best shore-caught cod weighed 18lbs from Orfordness. That was a few decades ago and I’m afraid you would have to be quite lucky to get one of that size these days – overfishing has taken its toll. Having said that, there are still a few cod to be caught in the autumn, plus huge shoals of my favourite – the whiting. Freshly caught whiting fillets, friend in butter and served with chips and peas are hard to beat!
The best shore fishing is invariably after dark when fish tend to venture closer in to shore and this necessitates the use of a lantern and/or L.E.D. lights on the rod tips. There is great peace and satisfaction in watching those rods gently nodding with the wind and waves, only to be interrupted by a sharp ‘jag-jag’ as a hungry whiting attacks the bait, or the quick rattle of a ‘flattie’, or, if you`re really lucky, the slower but more determined pull of a cod. One hundred yard casts are more than possible with today’s tackle, but not really necessary on the steep beaches of the East Coast, where throws of 30 yards are often far enough, especially on an incoming tide.
18 or 20lb line is standard for this type of work with a 50 or 60lb shock leader to take the strain of casting out with a 4 to 6oz lead. Sea fish on the whole do not tend to be tackle-shy, especially in the coloured water of the North Sea, and complicated end rigs are not necessary. A one- or two-hook paternoster is really all that’s required. I make mine by threading a small swivel onto the trace, trapped by a bead both sides and held in position either with power gum or with metal sleeves. I find size 1 or 1/0 hook(s) ideal for whiting, or size 4/0 for cod, both attached to 12 inches of 20lbs breaking strain monofilament and tied to the swivel(s).
As for bait, lugworm is universally used, or sometimes ragworm, often tipped with a small strip of squid or perhaps herring or mackerel. If you want to target whiting specifically, fish on its own will suffice.
Whiting usually turn up in great numbers in September and the cod follow slightly later – maybe mid-to-late October.
Obviously a whiting of a pound-and-a-half on 20lb line and a 5oz lead cannot put up much resistance, although a cod of 5lbs or more can show its mettle, and it can be a tricky business guiding it through the surf to the pebbles.
There is a certain charm in sitting on a comfortable chair behind a wind-break or brolly watching those rods, and just being at the edge of the ocean is a joy in itself. The other bonus is of course that you can eat your catch. Lovely. Perhaps I will see you on the shingle in September?