Sea fishing: Blasted by sand but game for the catch

Stewart Calligan with a young ray
Stewart Calligan with a young ray
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THEY say that this time of the year is as good a time as any for blowing away the cobwebs but they weren’t so much blown away, more like ferociously sandblasted clean off on a recent excursion to Easington in County Durham.

The spot had been recommended for its cod, whiting and rays, and when I arrived in a strong westerly breeze it swirled round on the beach from the south west. At this point it was force five to six on the Beaufort wind scale: fresh to strong breeze giving moderate to rough seas.

The cliffs were fragile; in places there was evidence of feet sinking 2-3ft into mud. The odd wellington boot sticking out showed where to avoid.

Getting down wasn’t too bad but as I walked about 50m to the approaching sea the wind speed increased and sand blasted my face, piling up against my fishing box side. It was in my hair, eyes and ears. Sea spray reached me from the wave tops.

It was a wild day as the wind helped me to cast well out. When I put my rods on their rest I had to weight it down with a bag full of pebbles hung from the top. The rod tips were dancing like the rumba. Bites would be difficult to detect.

I thought it can’t get worse than this but reeling in, fine weed clung to my line and clogged up the rod rings. Each time it took five minutes to clear and cast out again.

As the top of tide approached the fishing improved and I had what I thought were bites. The rod tip dipped when the waves and the wind were not affecting it. I struck two or three times before hooking something.

It felt big and decided to stop dead a few times during the reel in. I suspected it was a skate or ray digging its body and wings into the soft sandy bottom. It was hooked a long way out and there was 75m of line to retrieve.

Eventually it was in the surf and looked about half a metre from wing tip to tip. Using a big wave I hauled it up the beach to reveal a young thorny backed ray in perfect condition.

The hook came out easily. I took a quick photo and as I was doing so could imagine its wings sizzling away in a frying pan accompanied by a bay leaf and a sprig of rosemary. Call me an old softie, but as I still have cod and mackerel in the freezer it was sent on its merry way.

After a few more bites the wind swung to towards me and I couldn’t cast out to where the ray were feeding.

As morning became noon the wind drove black rain clouds my way. I chanced my luck until the first drops of rain came. After quickly packing up I was halfway up the muddy cliffs when the heavens opened. I was caught in a force eight, rain driving in from the left, a heavy box on one shoulder and a big rod bag on the other. Using the folded up rod rest as a third leg I took one step up and slid two steps back.

The path was a mass of gooey mud. I could return to the beach and look for another way up or there was a tiered way up of 20 grass topped ledges. It was hot work, three ledges collapsed and I grabbed at tufts of grass to stop from falling.

Thousands more anglers from across Europe will negotiate such muddy cliffs, which should have dried out by March 4-6, when the European Open Beach Champion Match 2016 takes place.

On March 4, the flat fish competition will be held at Hornsea Beach and over the following two days the main match is fished from Bridlington to Spurn.

Tickets are available from most angling shops and via the East Riding of Yorkshire Council website - www.eyevents.co.uk

A key change to the rules, due to new government restrictions, is that all bass caught from January 1-June 30 by recreational anglers must be returned. From July 1, one bass measuring 46cm or more per day may be taken. Therefore no sea bass will be allowed at the match weigh-in.