Short and Sweet

When you’re young and relatively free of responsibilities, you can mould your life around your fishing. With few people to answer to other than yourself, you can afford to fish long hours and sleep whenever you need to get back on track. Some people are even able to maintain this lifestyle indefinitely, seemingly immune to the loneliness that gnaws away at most single men and women.

For all of us save a fortunate few, beginning a serious relationship and starting a family is the single worst thing that you can do for your angling freedom. Unless your partner is extremely understanding then your fishing time is going to take a hit – big style. Yet, without people we love to share our lives with, most of us will always feel like there is something missing. So how do we maintain a peaceful balance between family and fishing?

For many anglers, especially those who live some distance from the coast, the answer will be a lengthy session once or twice a week. This is the obvious way to go if your favoured style is heavy bottom fishing for larger species. But for others, there may be alternative options to explore. There are many species in our waters whose lifestyles lend themselves to being targeted with lighter tackle in short concentrated sessions. The most obvious example is lure fishing for bass but there are plenty of other prospects that lend themselves to short sessioning and are equally as deserving of your time.

Lure fishing for bass is a fantastic short session option

Before exploring any angling methods and species, let me define what I mean by a ‘short’ session. If we figure that the average beach or rock fishing session lasts around four to six hours, anything up to around 3 hours could be considered short by comparison. Whether or not you factor travel time into this equation is up to you but I generally do myself. Part of the whole short session game is that you are not gone long enough for your better half to really get frustrated by picking up the slack in your absence. The idea is that you can fish more frequently as a result and actually rack up more prime time by the water per week than if you just fished a single long session. In a whole day’s fishing, you will be ploughing on through slack points in the tide and likely not catching. If you fish short concentrated sessions, you can just focus on being there for the optimum windows in the cycle.

So let’s say for the sake of argument that a total absence of three to four hours is the longest that you are going to be gone fishing on any given day, you have decisions to make about how far out of your way you are prepared to travel. I wouldn’t be thinking about any more than an hour’s drive at the absolute most. And marks that are only reachable by a lengthy walk aren’t ideal either, unless they have a sweet spot of two hours or less. Where short sessioning comes into its own is when you are fishing an area that you know well and are familiar with the hot times. 

Enjoyable short session fishing is all about finding styles that give you a lot of sensory feedback in a short space of time. You are ideally looking for fish that react quickly to being presented with food and that can be present in some numbers. That’s not to say that you can’t fish for ray for two hours but it will seem like a very short stint behind the rods and will most likely leave you unfulfilled. So let’s look at a couple of different shore fishing prospects that could help you to find that balance between finding fulfilment in your angling and keeping your home life harmonious.

Ballan Wrasse
A 4lb plus ballan wrasse is a worthy opponent on light lure tackle

The beauty of fishing for ballan wrasse is that they are among the quickest species out there to attack baits and lures that enter their domain. You can also fish for them using a range of methods and most of the time you are barely even casting. Typically, you will be fishing rocky shorelines and these lend themselves to a roving style of angling, covering plenty of ground throughout the session. 

The key to enjoyable short session wrasse fishing is zeroing in on the point in the tide when the fish really get their nosebag on. On my local marks, that tends to be the hour leading up to high water. Armed with this knowledge, you can pick your method of choice and turn up for a short session confident that you’ll get bites from the first cast to the last.

Just recently, I’ve really been enjoying lure fishing for wrasse. Bumping a plastic along the bottom is such a sensory way of angling and when the fish switch on, the action is just electric! Picture yourself stood on a lump of rock staring down a promising gully full of boulders and swaying fronds of kelp. You pitch your lure 15 yards out into the clear water and soon feel the bump of the worm weight touching the deck, responding with a gentle upwards tap of the rod tip to get the lure moving. A sudden jolt of electricity flies down the line to your rod and hands as something attacks the soft plastic. Then the rod pulls round steadily against your grip and you lift into a meaty presence that rips line from your reel against the tightly-set clutch. The battle is short and brutal but you get the upper hand and soon slip the net under a handsome multicoloured fish. Over the next hour, you repeat this feat another ten times, along with the inevitable break offs and hook pulls that are part and parcel of this style of fishing and its totally absorbing and addictive charm.

A chunky wrasse nailed right in the scissors

Tackle-wise, all you need is a lure rod of around eight feet in length, casting up to 25g or so. I look no further than the HTO Rockfish range and have found them very reliable and great value. A 3000 size fixed spool completes the outfit. This must be loaded with braid and here you have some tricky decisions to make. Light braid of around 0.15mm feels great to use as you get superb connection with the lure and the wind has less influence on your line, but hook a decent fish that takes you over a rock and it will all end in tears. Coarser braid of around 0.23mm is more suited to dealing with the harsh environment, although you definitely lose some of that feedback. It’s your choice to make but, whatever you choose, I would tend to go with a tougher cheaper braid like Powerpro rather than something expensive and soft.

To the end of the braid, attach a length of fluorocarbon of around 15-20lb breaking strain using an FG knot. For the end gear, I like the simplicity of a Texas rig, usually opting for weights of around 7-10g. A 1/0 worm hook and a soft plastic of 4’’ or so mounted weedless completes the setup. The technique is simple, cast it out, let it hit the deck and gently jig it back, maintaining contact with the bottom throughout the retrieve. Pausing is good and you’ll be surprised how often the wrasse will attack your lure as it’s just chilling on the bottom. They’ll also take it on the drop, dangled at the end of the retrieve and when it’s moved higher in the water. It’s fun to experiment and see what the fish want on the day.

As a last tip, I’ve found it to be of real value to take a landing net with me when I’m fishing for wrasse. As well as the advantage of being able to lift them gently to and from the water, ballans can be a real handful on the rocks and keeping them secure in the landing net mesh helps to stop them from causing themselves too much mischief. The fish definitely seem to go back better from this extra little bit of care.

Thin lipped mullet are a classic target for the baited spinner method

Lots of anglers associate mullet with being difficult to catch but in the right situations, all three species of grey mullet can be very obliging and capable of giving themselves up in good numbers in a short space of time. Just like with wrasse, it’s important to home in on that most productive portion of the tide, especially if you are fishing an estuary or river spot for passing fish.

One of my favourite ways to fish for mullet is with a baited spinner. This method is most commonly associated with thin lipped mullet but here in Cornwall at least, it is an effective technique for golden greys and thick lips too. The beauty of this technique is that you find out pretty quickly whether there are fish present and if they want to play ball or not. It lends itself really well to an hour or two’s fishing, especially when you have a natural conclusion to the session and aren’t faced with the temptation to keep on casting to browsing mullet!

Rod wise, I use an 11 foot Avon type rod rather than a specialised spinning rod, although you can use whatever you like within reason. An LRF outfit is huge fun to play fish with but your casting range will be restricted, especially in windy conditions. Couple your choice of rod with a 3000 size spinning reel filled with 15-20lb braid. At the business end, I usually use a bombarda float to add mass for casting and then a trace of around eight feet of 6-10lb fluorocarbon.

Roy Moore spins through the shallows of a sandy beach for golden greys

When it comes to spinners, your choices are vast, ranging from off-the-shelf mullet spinners to all kinds of DIY concoctions. I would tend to go DIY personally as you can tailor your spinners to different conditions and how you like to fish (for example, adding various different colours of beads and choosing whether to add weight or not). I make my favourite mullet spinners using a size 3 or 4 Dexter Spin Swivel, tying a length of 15lb fluorocarbon to it and adding a few yellow beads held in place with a little neoprene stop. Most anglers prefer to modify a Mepps spinner, however, and here’s an excellent video detailing how to do this. If baiting with harbour rag, I just tend to use a single size 6 Kamasan Aberdeen, although I do add a tiny pennel hook if I’m using king rag to keep the worm straight. You can vary the distance between the spinner blade and the bait to see what the fish respond best to.

I mostly use harbour ragworms for my mullet spinning as I can just go and quickly dig them myself any time. A really key aspect of using harbour rag for this style of fishing, however, is making sure that they are in good order for mounting on the hook. Fresh out of the ground, the worms will be carrying a lot of water and you’ll likely find these difficult to work with. To harden them up, wrap them in newspaper and give them a day or two in the fridge. I usually thread one large worm up the hook shank and finish off with a couple of smaller ones head hooked. I’ll nip the tails off a bit to not leave too much trailing. Some people don’t like to leave any worm trailing at all – your mileage may vary.

I’ve found that the common advice about retrieving just fast enough to keep the blade ticking over is usually true. However, on numerous occasions I’ve had more success by retrieving a little faster. Indeed, on one session several years ago, the only way I could get the fish to show any interest at all was by retrieving the spinner super fast just under the surface. I had some spectacular takes that afternoon with several fish leaping clear of the water to take the spinner, although, ultimately, none of them stayed on and I finished up empty handed.

Cornish thick lips are also partial to a baited spinner
And Lastly

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief look at a couple of my favourite types of short session fishing and found something that you can use in your own angling. Of course, there are plenty of other sea angling prospects that make great short session targets and your favourites might be completely different to mine. The key is finding suitable opportunities and honing in on that magic feeding time until an hour or two’s fishing is all you need to make the most of them. This leaves you a happy angler while not upsetting the delicate balance of life at home. Everyone’s a winner!