Night fishing for Dover Sole from the River Crouch
Updated: May 2, 2019
The New Year’s resolution to catch all of the edible species of fish on and around our local river – The River Crouch - continued.
I had already taken the following Monday off as the weather was forecast to be excellent and had even planned a small fishing trip too! The Thursday before my extended weekend and my Dad phones me keen to target a species of fish that he had only ever caught two of in his life.. The Dover Sole.
The Dover Sole eats well, very well!! In fact prices in London for this flatfish are obscenely high and its taste (as well as its cost to buy) was why I keen to target this fish as well. On top of that I also was made aware that the summer season fish were here in abundance. There was even talk of a near record Sea Bass caught just the week before.
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A couple of re-arrangements to our plans and the plan and date was set. Sunday to Monday 24 hour fishing bonanza! The Dover Sole is a night time feeder; it eats little baits such as small shrimps and worms and doesn’t stalk its prey but ambushes it! Courting this fish was going to be difficult and we would have to fish through the night to stand a chance.
We had planned to also lay out three lobster pots as well. Although the River is not known for Lobster we had seen one landed at the mouth of the Crouch and we also knew that one had been accidentally caught from in the moorings. Unfortunately, on the day of the fishing trip I was an hour late due to an unforeseen incident involving another car and some detail swopping (another time hey!) so we missed the tide to get them out.
I arrived at the jetty for 1pm, an hour late, and we had to catch the last two hours of the Ebb to get to our mark 15 miles offshore.
There were three of us who had chosen to take this fishing adventure. My Dad, myself and a friend of ours called Steve. We had all the bait and food that we needed, the weather was fantastic and we were heading offshore!
Although our target species was Dover Sole we also had some choice fishing up until it got dark as well as the next morning. The summer species were here and the fishing tackle shop that I had bought my bait from had confirmed and even shown me pictures of the near record bass that tipped the scales at just over 20lb (the second biggest Sea Bass ever caught and recorded).
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2 hours motor offshore and we arrived at our mark. The ground that we chose was just over 50ft in depth, it was rough ground and there was fish sign showing on the finder. The mark was just to the South of the huge and now very close wind farm; we set the anchor and prepared our rods.
The New Year's fishing resolution that we had set ourselves was that between myself and my Dad we had to catch one of every edible species that entered (or swam by) the River Crouch. A huge task but fun nonetheless! This was our first real trip out with the summer fish so we were game on to bag lots more species. The tackle that we opted for emphasised this point. The gear ranged from white Mackerel feathers on a small boat rod, heavy bottom fixed rigs for Skate, Smoothound or Big Bass and smaller rigs such as two hook paternosters and single hooked rigs with spoons and coloured beads for more difficult species including the target of the day the Dover Sole!
15 miles off shore the weather is rarely good! The temperatures on land were in the mid to late 20’s and the winds light, this time the weather wasn’t that different and turned out to be a real treat! There was a rolling swell that moved the boat most of the trip but its gentle rocking motion was welcome.
The rods fished well from the moment we had them on the water 3 or 4 hours passed and we had bagged two lovely bass as well as many dogfish and Whiting. By the time we were getting towards the evening, our homemade rations were running out and I was already thinking about dinner. I had made my second mistake of the day and presumed that we were going to catch Mackerel.. I was so confident of this that I did not bring any other meat for dinner.. No Mackerel in the boat there was only one thing for it! The Bass were soon prepared and the beautiful super fresh fillets were being passed to me in the wheelhouse. I had packed two disposable BBQ’s as well as lots of other foods. The BBQ’s were starting to turn grey and get hot, the fish was marinating in Lemon Thyme, Chilli and Olive Oil. I had made potato salad from Jersey Royals and Mint from my garden as well as having Asparagus, Spring Onions and Sweet Red Peppers that I was going to griddle too!
The most fantastic thing about sea fishing is that you never know what you are going to catch. The pink skies were signalling the imminent sunset and the BBQ was signalling imminent dinner when I got a call from the back of the boat to see what my Dad had struck into. He continued to tell me that he saw his line trundling down tide and hit into a solid..
Something! The struggle was on and the fight lasted. By now I had the net out and was perched on the back of the boat waiting to see this hard fighting fish. As the fish neared the surface I saw that its broad back was golden brown and its head was huge.. Cod! There was an air of disbelief until we eventually landed the fish and brought it on board. A fantastic looking lightly coloured Cod in stunning fat condition - in late May! The moment was not lost on Dad and he turned to us holding his proud catch to say 'does it get any better', and it did! At that moment a small pod of Porpoise swum by the stern of the boat and headed toward the Wind turbines.. If Carlsberg done fishing trips!!
The ultimate fresh Bass was delicious BBQ’d! And the cheeky and still cold bottle of White that I pulled out of a cool bag was all the more enjoyed for it! Back to the serious stuff!
Bellies full and darkness now well set in we turned the deck lights on and charged up an old Paraffin Tilley lamp. The first part of the evening was non stop, Dogfish and Whiting continuously, the fishing never stopped and although most of the catch was small doggies the occasional Bass came in as well as another 6lb Smoothound.
Night time off shore is magical. Total darkness finally set in about 11pm and the only light visible from the boat (apart from our own of course) was the lights of the Wind Turbines and the orange glow of the coastal Essex towns.
Its strange how tiredness affects you, I felt most tired around my normal bedtime but this eventually passed and before we knew it sunrise was starting to show.
In the small hours my Dad pointed out what he initially thought was an Eel swimming by.. It wasn't in fact an Eel but a large Garfish. These Garfish were attracted by the lights and ended up swimming up to the boat to investigate this strange intruder in their normally dark environment. Needless to say I knew that they were edible and before we knew it Steve had rigged up a basic float rig with a small ragworm it was cast and remained there for the next few hours.
So what about it?? No Sole! Not a sniff! We fished solidly for them and never skimped on bait, regularly re-baiting and unhooking smaller fish that kept us awake (as well as a lot of tea) but not a sign of the elusive Dover Sole – no Garfish either (another that we have to add to the list now as well!).
As sunrise broke the fish started to slow and by the time we had some light we had decided to try a wreck mark for a bigger sized Bass or Skate. We arrived at our new mark about 530am in the morning, tiredness had started to take its toll and I even dared to close my eyes for 20 minutes whilst we moved the boats position. The boat was anchored just 25m from a wreck that we could clearly see the water bubbling over and the rods went in for another go.
Both Steve and I were not as lucky on this mark and it was Dad who had all of the luck! Within a 30 minute spell he had another sizeable Bass in the boat as well as two Skate weighing in at 8lb and 9lb each!
In disgust I moved to the wheel house to cook up bacon sandwiches and more tea and before we knew it we were heading home.
We had been awake on the boat for 22 hours however I had been awake for nearly 36 so was glad to be heading towards my bed. A two hour motor back in allowed me to ponder our catch and plot my next trip to capture this hard to catch species!
The trip was productive however! We totalled 7 very nice Bass, 2 Skate, 2 Smoothound a big fat Cod and a whole bag of Whiting!
Estuary fishing for the Dover Sole might prove more successful… Maybe that’s what I’ll do next time!
New Years Fishing Challenge Species scratched off:
Cod (to 7lb)
Thornback Ray (Roker) (to 12lb)
Smoothhound (to 6lb)
Bass (to 4lb)
Dogfish (Lesser Spotted and Spotted)
And one more added a Garfish (how am I going to catch one of those!!)