Tiny bait to catch relative of the shark

WARM CONTINENTAL winds helped raise the early June temperature to around the average for the time of year but cold winds from the North and rough seas have kept me from boat fishing this month.

Stewart Calligan with the smooth hound he caught in the North Sea near Spurn.

Fortunately, the beaches have continued to produce some good and varied catches and the smooth hound was my latest target. My favourite summer beach fish, from the cruel and dangerous shark family as some people say, it is actually anything but a danger to humans. If you were a peeler crab or a shrimp you might agree with the former description though.

Peeler crabs are one of their favourite foods and these are in plentiful supply along our shores at this time of year. The crabs shed their old out-grown hard shells which reveal a softer new shell requiring weeks to harden. During this period they fall victim to lots of marine creatures including smooth hounds, thorny backed ray and cod. I rang my usual fishing tackle shops, only to find there were no peeler crabs left as lots of anglers had the same idea.

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My next cunning plan came from the memories I had of an experienced angler showing me how to catch hounds with live shrimp. His name was Ian and he caught his own shrimps and put one on a medium-sized hook.

Until I saw him catch a hound on one shrimp I couldn’t believe that one little shrimp would attract a hound in that big North Sea. But that’s exactly what Ian did and he was very good at it. He even gave me one of his home made weights designed for this type of fishing which is a fine example of the camaraderie experienced amongst us sea anglers.

I made a shrimping net out of an old keep-net and a ‘T’ shaped wood handle. Being just north of Spurn on a six-metre tide at 7.30am, the tide was well out which is essential when shrimping. They are best caught at the lowest water wading about 20 yards out.

In my chest waders with bank stick for safety and shrimp net, I pushed the ‘T’ bar along the bottom in the general direction of Holland. Among the bits of seaweed, plastic and sand were some shrimps and a few inch-long flat fish. After 20 minutes I gingerly made my way back to the beach through the murky water and uneven bottom. The water was only 2ft deep but the occasional wave splashed up the waders.

A problem with catching live shrimp at low water is the long wait until the beach fills up and becomes deep enough to fish. This is normally three or four hours before top of tide or high water. I went back to the car for a coffee and some bacon, egg and tomato sandwiches as it was still only 8am hours. The gentle waves were making their relentless twice daily progress up the beach. About three hours from top of tide I began to fish. I remembered what Ian had said about hooking the live shrimp. The tail must be allowed to vibrate as this is what the hounds zoom in on.

I gently put the hook in the shrimp’s blunt end with the hook protruding amongst its many legs. This left the tail intact quivering like a fiddler’s elbow. Casting out about 50 yards I put the rod on the tripod rod rest and repeated the procedure with my other rod. After 10 minutes one of the rods had a quick bend forwards which resulted in a lost shrimp and no fish. I rebaited the hooks several times with various bites but no fish so decided to put a few turns of fine bait elastic around the shrimp making it difficult for the hounds to eat their canapés.

Finally I hooked something. With the 16ft rod bending to absorb the sudden jerks of the fish, taking the initial energy well until I was able to reel in bit by bit. I pulled a handsome hound through the breakers and up the beach. Around the 5lb mark it was out of the water just long enough for a selfie and then back to the wild North Sea.