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Chesil Beach

Plenty of dogfish can be caught after dark. A typical codling from Chesil

Chesil is a long length of shingle beach on the Dorset coast between Bridport and Portland Bill. If my memory serves me correctly, there's supposed to be 18 miles of it. Generally speaking, the shingle size grades from fine in the west, to larger sized pebbles at the east end of the beach. The water is generally shallower towards the western end, too; but that's relative, you could never say it was shallow. From Abbotsbury east, the shingle forms a bank that cuts off a tidal lagoon to the landward side from the sea. This lagoon is called the Fleet. It's connected to the sea via the harbour on the east side of Portland Bill.

Though superficially the shoreline all looks much the same, the species encountered vary significantly along it's length. This a function of water depth, as well as the presence of features such as wrecks, as well as localised reefs. I can't hope to cover all the finer points of fishing chesil here; but anyone keen enough can soon winkle enough information out of locals, and tackle shops to give themselves a headstart. There are a number of access points including (from west to east) Cogden, West Bexington, Abbotsbury and Ferrybridge. The length of shingle backed by the fleet is only accessible by boat or a very long walk.

Almost any fish that swims in UK waters can be encountered on Chesil, in fact a number of shore caught records have been taken from the beach including whiting and turbot (I think); though, I'm not sure if those records are still current. Anyway, it does produce impressive whiting, and although whiting aren't exacty big fish, a couple of 2lbers isn't to be missed, and the best I've had is 3lb 4oz! Cod fishing's good too, though if you want big fish you may be better of statistically speaking in the Bristol channel. Codling, like the photo on the right, are taken right along the beach from September through to February, and usually precede the whiting that arrive in November. Actually, September to November is one of the best times, as well as the usual autumn species, bream and trigger fish put in an appearance in September, and the flatty fishing can be good, too. Plaice, sole and dab can be taken from marks to the west. The mackerel, garfish and scad are still around into October, and it's possible to get quite a mixed bag of fish. Just before writing this I had a trip to West Bexington and caught mackerel, garfish, codling, pout and dogfish. Unfortunately, the sole I was after didn't show, but it was fun, anyway, and the best codling was around 4lb.

Spring used to be the time for plaice at West Bexington and Cogden, unfortunately, from what I've heard, the fishing at that time of year is not what it used to be. Additionally, from May through into summer, you'll be plagued by the annual invasion of spider crabs.These things must literally carpet the seabed in places, and a bait will not last five minutes under those conditions. In fact, not content with the bait, the bloody things usually bite through the hook length and take the hook, too!

Like anywhere, as well as considering time of year, time of tide, and exact location on the beach, bait is the other important variable needing to be correct in order to maximise results. I can't say I've fished the venue enough to know all the various peculiarities, in this respect, but as far as codling go, you can't beat peeler. Whiting are more convenient, in that they'll happily take frozen squid or mackerel; sandeels work well too, if you've some left over in the freezer. The trigger fish at the eastern end of the beach are also partial to crab, and so are smoothhounds when they show. For flatties, lug or rag does the job; which is best, I'm not sure, so I hedge my bets and fish lug on one hook and rag on the other. That fish show preference for one or the other may seem strange, but they do on certain venues.

For someone who mainly fishes the Bristol channel, Chesil has the attraction of a wider variety of species and relatively leisurely fishing from a fixed base camp -- no 50' tides down in Dorset! It is no different to the Channel, though, in that you can't just turn up anywhere, cast out, and expect to bag up. You need to do some homework to stack the odds in your favour. Although, you can set up base on the beach and do an overnighter,or even 24 hours, hours spent fishing are not necessarily proportional to results.

Chesil Beach at West Bexington.