I made the foolish mistake of taking up a job in a land locked town and although I do manage a couple of decent sessions a month it does leave a significant portion of time to kill in between. My trace wallets are already bulging with all the rigs that I have made up during these interludes and I really do not need any more weights moulded either. It really is sad when you find yourself hoping to lose some tackle on the next trip just so it makes room for you to make up more. Now spring is here (allegedly!), the withdrawal symptoms really kick in and I desperately need a fix. I need another diversion to make the time go quicker, so it seems practical that I put down some of my fishing related thoughts in writing if only for the sake of my sanity.
The shore fishing tips on the site are excellent sources of information for catching bass, mackerel, pollock, wrasse and mullet. All great sporting fish that I enjoy to pursue but a little brash at times (with exception of the shy mullet) in comparison to another seasonal visitor, the plaice. I like to think of plaice as a more subtle and quiet species and one that perhaps does not get as much coverage as it deserves. I only hope I can do this great fish justice.
Plaice are perhaps my favourite fish for a number of reasons. They start appearing in shore in numbers in early spring fresh from the rigours of spawning, in search of food, and for me are the best indication that winter has broken and the water and weather has started to warm up a little. Forget blossom on trees, forget daffodils, blue bells and other variations of flora – I live by the mantra that spring has not sprung until the plaice start showing.
Plaice are also one of those species that seem to actually prefer feeding in daylight, so there is no need to fish into the small hours in a bid to snare one. Finally, they are a great eating fish but please note that early season plaice may not always make the best eating as they tend to be a little anorexic after spawning. Those caught from early summer onwards are usually of much better quality as they have had a chance to fatten up.
I have had reasonable success in attracting plaice in my still relatively short fishing career (I am not quite 30 so in fishing terms that is still young!) and I am happy to share my approach. It is not truly innovative; in fact I am not ashamed to say that most of my tactics have been gleaned from other published articles, by watching seasoned anglers in action like my old man (who has had an uncanny ability to winkle out plaice the size of a dustbin lid on occasion) and by learning from my past mistakes.
Gear – as most plaice are caught from beaches or at times in sandy estuaries, a beach caster or a decent bass rod is an ideal choice. The rod needs to be able to handle sufficient weight to get the required casting distance, say 60-120 yards. Needless to say, like all forms of fishing just match your reel to your rod. To reiterate other articles on the site a shock leader is a must since distance casting may be necessary, – the rule of thumb being 10lb breaking strain per ounce of lead minimum. Targeting plaice is sometimes a waiting game so a rod rest is a practical addition to your kit, after all it’s hard to open a thermos flask with one hand and you will definitely need that cuppa if bites are few and far between.
Rigs – any basic ledger rig will do such as a pulley rig or a simple multi-hook paternoster. There are only two mandatory requirements in my eyes to catch the attention of a plaice – 1. Jazz up the hook lengths on whatever rig you choose with every type of sequin, bead or shiny trinket in your tackle box (I always like to add a small spinner blade in the mix of all the other bling). 2. Keep your hook lengths quite long to enable the bait to move around a little. Plaice do not have massive mouths so use a hook to suit, a size 1 or 2 Kamasan fine wire hook is perfect.
Bait – Plaice do not seem to be particularly fussy eaters when it comes to type of bait but I have learnt that presentation is crucial. Showing all the warning signs of an obsessive/compulsive disorder, they seem to prefer smallish, neat, compact baits rather than the larger, messy, “anything goes” offerings that fish with larger mouths, such as bass, cod, or dogfish, welcome so readily.
My favourite baits for plaice include any cocktail combination of ragworm and lugworm, tipped with a silver sliver of mackeral or strip of squid. Other notable enticements also include peeler crab, razor fish and mussels as all these baits come into season when the plaice are around.
Tactics – the main tip is to be patient as sitting it out is sometimes a pre-requisite of plaice fishing. Holding the rod, feeling for bites, and tightening the line is not a deal breaker however, and at times can even help a hook up as it moves the bait around a little which can result in attracting the fish.
When the bite comes the rod tip will either rattle frenetically or slowly bend forward, but blink and you will miss it as I have found that a lot of plaice will take the hook down deep but not give you much of a sign. Many a time I have reeled in to check the bait, only to find a small plaice on the end. If targeting plaice, it helps to fight the temptation to strike at the first sign of a bite as you need to give the fish time to take the bait. Similarly to other flat fish the first twitch can just be the fish settling over the bait.
Plaice seem to be more prevalent on bright, sunny days when the water is clear with good visibility. There are many documented reasons why this is, but I think (in my not so expert opinion) that it is purely down to the fact that plaice like to see what they are eating and the warmer conditions perks them up a little. The crusty old fishermen that used to drink in the pubs in Weymouth where I worked as a student (you know the type – look a bit like Captain Birdseye and their beards are riddled with fish scales) used to swear that plaice feed best on mid-sequence spring tides, so four or five days before the peak. This is because the bait moves around more as the tide is flowing faster. I cannot testify that this is true but nor can I dispute it either as those guys have forgotten more about fishing than I will ever know.
Whilst I write this I cannot help thinking that I should probably put the caveat in that like anything in the world of sea fishing, plaice fishing is not an exact science. Whilst bright, sunny days have worked best for me, it is not unheard of to pick them up at night and during overcast, stormy conditions as well.
Marks – I must admit the bulk of my plaice hunting has taken place along the extensive expanses of Chesil Beach in Dorset at places like Cogden, West Bexington and Abbotsbury, but there are several marks closer to home and detailed on this site that throw up plaice. Some of those on my list to target this season include: East Portlemouth including Wolf Rock (I hear this can be a top spot for specimens), the beaches around Start Bay (Beesands, Slapton Sands, and Blackpool Sands) and Putsborough on the north coast of Devon.
My knowledge of Cornish plaice marks is pretty limited but searching the Sea Fishing Guides on the site shows that any of the marks along Whitsand Bay can produce place, particularly the beach at Freathy and at The Grotto.
Other Species – life would be boring if fishing sessions did not throw up the odd surprise every now and again and although plaice may be the primary target, the tactics involved are pretty versatile and have provide the scope to encounter many other species. These have included other daytime feeders that share the same habitat such as flounder, black bream, bass, dabs, dogfish and gurnard to name a few. In the right location and in the right conditions I have even managed to pick up trigger fish, although these are much rarer.
Other Key Facts – the old NFSA minimum size limit for plaice is 28cm (11 in) for both shore and boat caught fish.
For all you specimen hunters the Shimano Mission Accomplished Badge weights (South) are 2lb and 4lb for shore and boat caught plaice respectively, making it one of the more readily attainable species on the list.
In short, plaice for me are synonymous with spring and summer time and when you see the bright orange spots appear through the clear water; your spirits cannot help but be lifted. Just take a look at the picture, in a world full of ugly looking fish surely a plaice cannot fall into the same category, it is a thing of beauty and style.