Hooked by the lure of a catch of the day

Failing to plan is planning to fail. Stewart Calligan prepares for Europe's top beach angling tournament, being held on the Yorkshire coast.

The big one is fast approaching. The largest and best angling competition is coming to our coastline.

So dust off your old rod or buy a new one, get down to the sea and brush up your technique.

Am I ready? One day this month I went to bed at 10pm and kept waking up every half-hour. When the alarm went off, at 3am, I loaded my van in 15 minutes, having carefully prepared my tackle, bait, clothing and dog the night before.

It was minus two degrees Celsius when I put my black labrador, Cassie, into the back of the van and we set off on the 30 miles from Brough to the Holderness coast north of Withernsea.

The ground was frozen and it was pitch dark as I made my way along the cold beach to my favourite mark.

No wind, freezing temperature, a clear sky and a calm sea made for almost perfect fishing conditions. First cast was about 4.15am when a meteorite shower was quite active.

The bait was fresh lug worm tipped with squid on pennal pulley rigs with size one and two hooks. It was difficult to see how far my cast went but I can usually top 100 yards with my gear – 16 feet Penn Affinity and Emcast.

Twenty minutes passed and my headlight showed the rod gradually straightening. Something must have moved the 6oz breakaway lead from the seabed. I wound down to check whether the lead was still gripping and then I felt a thump, thump.

"Fish on", I thought, and realised that it was something big that would not be bullied. By myself (apart from Cassie), in the dark and working only by my headlight and beach tilley lamp, it was going to be tricky to play a very strong fish.

Would the rig hold out, would the shock leader knot hold, would the fish get snagged?

Hundreds of things flash through the mind but as the adrenaline kicks in, the buzz that anglers dream of is there to be enjoyed. The hunting instinct was up and running. It was now down to experience, the gentle touch and co-ordination of man and tackle to land the fish. It was a text-book 10 minutes of not being too rough and getting it through the swell to the last wave.

I saw the fish surface in the surf and fought to get it up the beach. As the wave receded, I saw this North Sea monster in the sand. I tried to grab its tail but missed and it slid off in the dark. It took a well-placed size 13 wellington boot to help it up the beach.

I got the headlight on it and for the first time I saw it was a huge cod, in the 16lb region. I stood in awe, took some deep breaths, made a couple of whoops and dispatched the monster to its maker with a piece of drift wood.

I thought, "I've got to tell someone".

I rang my fishing friend, Stewart, at 4.50am. I apologised for the early morning call and told him my news. He muttered something about "golden balls" but was soon wide awake revelling in my catch. He thanked me for waking him up as he would now be able to listen to the Ashes Test live from Australia.

The next problem was getting the fish back to the van. It was too big for my box and I didn't have a big enough carrier-bag. But somehow I got it back to my local fishing tackle shop where it was weighed at 16lbs 8oz – and photographed. After more photos at home, the post mortem revealed the only thing in its stomach was a five-inch flat fish. Each fillet weighed 4lbs and when cut into generous portions, there was enough for more than 12 meals.

What a session. I also caught another cod of two pounds and a decent bite. It was a day I'll never forget and a personal best that I doubt I'll ever better. It was an excellent reward for persevering during this winter's extreme conditions with many a blank outing. Keep at it, friends, and enjoy your fishing.

How do you get the best out of a day on the beach? Read the signs – doing detective work and collecting evidence. Gather all the relevant factors for the day's fishing. Like the clues to an unsolved murder, some are relevant and some will be discarded. Recognising the right clues comes with experience, and successful anglers do it as second nature.

There are many variables to consider – wind, sun, light, high-tide times, metres of tide and its strength, the presence of weed and/or crabs, the type of beach (sandy, shingle or rocks), the colour of the sea and the temperature for ice, snow, rain. I could go on.

Wind can hold a tide out, or push a tide, and that can make a difference of several feet. Wind affects the swell and the power of the waves. If the spring tides coincide with onshore winds (from the east on our coast) the tide can be much higher than predicted.

The run of the tide can easily suck you off your feet and would be impossible to swim against.

When these conditions prevail, it is impossible to fish. The best times are just after such stormy conditions in the gullies and holes scoured out by the big sea. The violent movement of water dislodges small creatures from their homes and they become food for the larger predators. The coloured sea stirs up the nutrients and this encourages all types of marine life to multiply, including the dreaded crabs and weed.

The three-day European Open Beach Championship, including the Bridlington Flattie Bash, has long been number one with the British sea anglers.

Here, besides rubbing shoulders with anglers from Ireland, Belgium, Greece, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Spain, Portugal, France and Germany, each angler will be able to pick up valuable information, tactics, skills and new techniques.

It's a superb way of networking and an opportunity not to be missed.

European Open Beach Championship 2011, February 25-27, South Cliff Caravan Park, Bridlington. Tel 01482 391668 or go to http://www.eyevents.co.uk/events/open/

CW 22/1/11