BEGGINERS GUIDE TO WRECKING FROM NORTH EAST PORTS.
Thinking of having a go at wreck fishing from a charter boat from one of the many ports along the North East coast? The traditional style of wreck fishing by North East skippers is to drift over wrecks for cod and ling. Wreck fishing however is not the easiest or most relaxing form of boat fishing by any means, and can be hard bloody work. However, it can be very rewarding for someone out to catch a personal best fish and fill your scrapbook up with photos to show off to your grandchildren.
The first misconception about wreck fishing I would like to put right straight away is, that you will not catch loads of fish every time out. The big catches of 1,000lb plus you read about and see pictures of in angling magazines are not the norm. If you are lucky you will at sometime during your trips be part of that exceptional day when everything, tides, wind, sunshine and company will be right and the fish are feeding well. More often than not, you will have to endure a bit of rough water and come back with only a few fish and on some occasions, although others are catching fish you may not. The reason for this maybe explained later.
So, how do we go about going on our first fishing trip? Obviously, the first thing to do is book a boat. This may seem simple but it may sound easier than you think, do not just dive in and book the first boat you see advertised or hear about. You may end up with a decent boat or you could end up floating in the North Sea on and old tub. Start looking through the local angling columns, read catch reports on angling web sites, ask in local tackle shops for information about boats. You will soon find out which boats have been taking the best catches, as the same names will keep cropping up. You could also pop down to your local marina or quayside and watch the boats coming in and see what they have caught and talk to the anglers who have been aboard. One word of advice on boats, the biggest, fastest boat may not be the one that catches the most fish, it is the skippers knowledge that catches fish. Above all else make sure that any boat you put to sea on has all the Department of Transport certificates. If you are not sure, do not be afraid to telephone and ask the skipper.
You have now found and booked the boat you intend to fish from. The forecast for the day is great, nice and sunny and no wind so you will not need waterproofs or bulky clothing right – WRONG. Be prepared for any type of weather. It maybe nice sunny and warm when you leave port but this can change quickly as you steam out to sea, just as the weather can improve the further offshore you go. Essential clothing is good warm trousers and top, waterproofs, and waterproof footwear. The boat maybe dry but rain, water slopped from buckets can soon soak a pair of trainers. Nothing more miserable than standing for hours with wet feet (first hand experience). The best item of clothing I invested in was a one-piece flotation suit. However, find out whether you like wreck fishing or it likes you before you go to any great expense. Otherwise you could find yourself leaning over the side shouting for Hughie or worse still Clarence, swearing you will never put a foot on a boat again in some of the most expensive gear known to angling. Whilst I have mentioned that well know affliction "sea sickness" that turns anglers into a variety of colours ranging from green to grey and some even looking like they are the living dead. There are measures you can take to either prevent or alleviate the condition, which is giving the rest of the party so much amusement, you are in. There are tablets you can take before hand, unfortunately if you find yourself at sea feeling ill, there are not many chemists around. So, take some with you until you find if the motion of the sea affects you. If feeling ill look at the horizon and not at the bottom of the boat. I have advised quite a few anglers who feel queasy on board to drink diluted orange juice, and been told it works quite well. If you are being ill, you must remember to try and keep eating. Even after you have ground baited the area, your stomach is empty the feeling of seasickness does not go away, and you could do yourself damage.
This brings me onto another essential item you will need, your bait, no not the bait you put on your hook but the bait you feed your face with. Wrecking is hard work, it can also be miserable work if the conditions are wet and cold. There is nothing better than a hot drink and a sandwich to perk you up. Always take plenty to eat and drink, even if the boat provides drinks. My favourite sarnies are egg, tomato mashed together with cucumber, and onions, sprinkled liberally with paprika. Lovely tasting and ensures you get plenty room on the boat.
Now down to the nitty gritty, the tackle. Buying a rod and reel will probably be the biggest outlay you will have to make, however there are ways to make sure you are not wasting money. For the first time wreck angler I would suggest that you find out if the boat you are going on hires equipment. This gear may not be the best, but it will be able to do the job it is intended for. You may also be able to hire tackle from a tackle shop or borrow some from a friend. If borrowing make sure, the tackle is suitable. After a few trips, you may find you want to keep going wreck fishing on a regular basis and so will need your own gear. The first advice I would give on this is buy second hand, but be prepared to pay a reasonable price. Both the reels I use where purchased second hand, most tackle shops now have a decent range of second hand tackle. For many years, it was deemed that for wreck fishing you had to have the stiffest rod and the biggest reel possible. To winch fish up from the depths as fast as you could, and possibly the wreck along with it if you were stuck. This gear may be great for filling the freezer but you get little or no pleasure from your angling. I myself fish relatively light when wreck fishing and get great sport from it. I will describe my tackle later. However for beginners I would suggest a rod of about 6-8ft with a test curve of 50lb. For a reel I would suggest something along the lines of a Shimano TLD20, although some may find the lever drag system awkward at first, it is worth getting used to. There are two different types of line now used for wrecking, the normal nylon and braided lines. For the beginner I would advise you to stick to nylon and fill your reel up with line with a breaking strain of 50/55lb. Where I would differ with most anglers is in the trace line. For some reason, most anglers make their traces of line exceeding the breaking strain of the main line. If you are caught with this end tackle, quite often when you break free your line snaps at or near the surface loosing not only end tackle but also many yards of line. I would make mine out of breaking train about 40/45lb, you may loose your end tackle but will not spend valuable fishing time re filling your reel.
Now for the sharp end, the traces. For some reason wreck anglers like to loose as much expensive end tackle as possible. They achieve this ambition by making great long traces with up to six muppets on, and a huge expensive jigger fitted with the biggest treble hook you can imagine. Looking more like a christmas tree this set up is ideal for catching wrecks and not as hoped to catch a fish on each hook, something, which rarely happens. In addition, if you get tangled it takes ages to unravel and valuable fishing time lost. For cod, the trace I would recommend would be a single muppet on a 6/0 hook above a jigger with a single 6/0 hook on the bottom. A diagram of how I make jiggers and muppets can be found on the tips page of this site. You will certainly catch just as many fish and loose a lot less gear. Hokkai’s and daylights are very popular for wreck anglers. For some reason they always come in fours, when I use either I split them into sets of two, again saving expense. One major fault I find when using them is that the line used to make them has a very high breaking strain. For the other main species the ling, again simple is best. I use a 6/0 hook attached to 4/5 ft of 60lb nylon attached to an oval split ring. This can easily be attached to your main line, the lead being attached to the split ring with a length 12 inches of 15lb line. The light line will easily break if your weight is stuck. The best way I have found to store traces is in re-sealable sandwich bags. You can easily see what is inside them and if you snap any traces, what is left can be quickly put into one out of harms way, to be sorted on dry land. I also keep all I carry in a multi-pocketed rucksack.
Now for some general tips when fishing for cod and ling. I am a great believer in making the job as easy and pleasurable as possible. Many anglers when fishing for cod when they have set their tackle to the depths, start yanking their rods up and down as if their life depended upon it. I wonder how many fish have shot underneath as their artificial prey has suddenly disappeared skywards. I prefer to lift my rod up and down slowly every so often, keeping in contact with the end tackle at all times, ready for a take. Sometimes especially if there is quite a bit of rise and fall of the boat, I simply hold my rod out straight and let the action of the sea do the work. What you may often find is that the fish take your gear as soon as it gets to the bottom. It is often worthwhile rather than keep lifting your rod up and down to wind in twenty feet and then dropping back down. Referring to a point, I mentioned earlier, if someone is catching and you are not – look at what the fish he is catching are taking, the angler may be using bait on his muppets, they could be a different colour, he may be using a different fishing action to you. All these have to be taken into account.
For ling it is always a quandary when to change tactics, the general rule I use is, that when there is tide running I fish for cod. As soon as the tide eases this is the best time for ling if you want to try for them. Ling normally take a fresh bait readily, fresher the better, however at times when feed has been in good supply for a few weeks, although they may give you a good hard pull, they may not be taking the bait. If you find this happening and you are not connecting let them have a good go. Try just lifting your rod up, if they have got a hold you will feel a strong pull downwards. If while ling fishing you snap your lead off, do not immediately reel in. If there is no tide running and your line is not interfering with other anglers lines, the weight of the chunk of mackerel you have on the end should be enough to keep it near the wreck.
Now you have hooked your fish, whether it is cod or ling it is essential to get it away from the wreck as quickly as possible. The way to do this is to give a few strong pulls on the rod while winding on the down stroke. Do not loose contact with the fish or it will be back in the wreck. Once away from the wreck you can enjoy your fish. Unfortunately, many anglers think the only way to get a fish safely on the deck is to pump, reel, pump reel and reel furiously all the way to the surface. Very tiring and often leads to the loss of a good fish. Once your fish is in clear water keep your rod straight out and gently reel in, stopping if the fish makes a sudden dive, especially if it is a good fish. If you pump a fish every time you raise your rod you are opening the hook hole, if the hook is set in soft tissue, the hole will open enough for the hook to come out. Bang goes what would have been your biggest fish.
WHATEVER YOU ARE DOING LISTEN TO THE ADVICE OF THE SKIPPER OR CREWMEN
Now you have a good bit of experience you may want to try and get a bit more enjoyment out of your wreck fishing, by trying a lighter class of tackle and braided lines. For many years’ anglers and skippers thought that using, heavy tackle was the only way to fish a wreck, BOLLOCKS. However light tackle fishing wrecks especially using braid is not for beginners. The rod I use is a nine-foot uptider, made from an old North Western blank, with a test curve of 30lb, and a soft action. The reel I use is a Penn 12T International, my spare is a Shimano TLD 15. The reels are loaded with 80lb braided line, with a 20-30 foot length of 50/55lb nylon attached. Remember though before putting braided line on to fill the reel partly with nylon backing. The length of nylon has two very important uses. The first as a shock leader, as braid has no stretch, to take the initial shock when a fish first takes, also to take the shock out of any sudden dive a fish may make for freedom. The soft rod action also helps to dampen any sudden dive or take. The second use is to prevent very bad tangles, as braid tangled with braid is virtually impossible to undo if pulled tight, and very costly if it has to be cut. Generally, as tangles occur at the trace end, the added length of nylon makes sure the tangles are in nylon and making it easier, quicker and less expensive if a cutting job is needed. One of the most exciting things about braid is that with it having no stretch you can feel every movement a fish makes. The fact that braid is very strong and thin and having no stretch does present a real danger though. DO NOT GRAB IT TO PULL IT FREE. Wear a pair of gloves, wrap it round a piece of wood or better still let the crewman do it for you, he has had plenty experience. Unless of course you want to loose a few fingers. Another advantage of using braid is, you can fish with lighter end tackle, I myself use jiggers of no more than 1lb and 10oz weights when fishing for ling.
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