Beach Casting Guide
Could you survive an apocalypse with just a beach casting set up?
You turn on the news and see that there is an apocalypse in the UK. Supermarket shelves are bare. Everyone from London got on the train and went to France but protests meant they got stuck in the Euro tunnel – everyone is freaking out! Now is not the time to blank – you need to catch fish and you’re going beach casting. How do you increase your chances? This series explains how we would go about doing it. We may not be the best bait fishermen in the British Isles, but it looks like you’re hunkered down with us now…
Beach casting is a specialist shorefishing method which is useful when you need to cast a long distance, hold a bait to the bottom in a current or land one of the UK’s larger species, such as conger, huss and rays. These are rods that are designed for ledgering. This means putting baits on the seabed, leaving them there and seeing what comes to take them. Beach casting works in places with very murky water and allows you to fish in places that would be unfishable to most anglers.
This is good because a huge number of the UK’s most common and desirable fish species are either ‘demersal’ (live on or around the seabed) or at least spend some of their time down there. There’s an extraordinary range of species we can catch with beach casting tackle.
1. Choosing a beach casting rod
Most anglers underestimate the numbers of fish that feed very close to their feet. However, in general, it’s useful to have a long cast. The angler with a long cast can always fish close in. Casting just beyond the breakers for bass, or into central gulleys of estuaries for cod, can require very long casting distances.
It’s also satisfying and useful to be able to place baits exactly where you want them with accuracy – such as on a sandy spot surrounded by rough ground. To achieve this, you need fairly decent beach casting gear (with a rod and reel likely costing £120 minimum). Some people will buy cheaper kit and won’t survive the first week of the apocalypse, but don’t worry, they’ll be useful for shark bait later.
Most beach casting reels on the market are very poor quality. This is because the UK sea fishing market is a race to the bottom on price, with companies at the low end competing to bring prices as low as possible. As you know the average sea angler does not value quality, they value low cost. Did you know some tackle brands release one version of a reel for the UK market, and another, higher quality version for international markets?
There are good options out there, but you don’t want to just grab whatever looks decent without knowing its reputation. This reel needs to reliably crank in 8oz leads. We want decent line lay to maximise casting distance and avoid tangles in the middle of the night too. If we’re going to survive the apocalypse with this reel, we can’t be dealing with something unreliable. Think of the children you cruel bastard! Every dogfish counts.
3. Find the best sea fishing line
We haven’t finished testing the various sea fishing lines yet but this article covers where we’re up to so far. There are a few key things to know about line, and for beginners it’s often worth swapping out line that comes pre-loaded onto a rod and reel combo. In an apocalypse, it would pay to be using braid. You don’t need fancy braid for beach casting because you actually want a line with a fairly high diameter for the abrasion resistance. That said, sea fishing lines are far from equal, even at the same price point.
Some may think a hook is a hook, but they won’t survive the apocalypse. There are several different types and using the right ones for the job will increase your chances of catching fish. For instance, if you use a hook with a thick gauge with a worm bait, the worm is likely to come off, leaving you fishing with no bait. If you use a fine hook over rough ground and hook a huss or conger, they could easily bend your hook straight. It’s worth having a few different types to match your target species and the bait you’ll be using.
4. Hunt down the best sea fishing baits
Certain species have fairly established preferences for specific baits. It’s also good to match baits to what fish are feeding on in the area you’re fishing, which can be worked out somewhat by the season. Using baiting elastic or tipping baits off with something firm like squid will help keep your bait on the hook, even if it is being clawed at by crabs. Ultimately, if you cast out and your bait is gone within 5 minutes but you’re fishing for 20 minutes, you’re only actually fishing 25% of the time. If you eat your catch, you will find out what they’re eating when you gut the fish.
Sea fishing weights come in a few varieties and are designed for fishing over different types of ground. The circular weight above is designed to grip the bottom but also stir up the sea bed on a drift. The torpedo shaped weight to the left of it is designed to minimise water resistance when mackerel feathering or trolling. The others all have specific purposes, and it’s important to know which type to use.
What fish species can I catch while beach fishing in the UK?
The most commonly caught fish by beach fishermen in the UK are whiting and dogfish. Neither of these fish are very commercially important. Whiting are mostly small – a good fish is 1lb in weight. Dogfish are not very valuable and are marketed in fishmongers as ‘rock salmon’ as an attempt to make them seem more appealing. Cod and bass are the two most popular species to catch. Bass numbers have risen from pitiful lows in the south of the UK and as of 2023 feel relatively abundant. Cod disappeared in the south between 2017-2021, but some have been caught in 2022 by skippers. Further up country more cod are caught, but the formerly rich waters of Scotland are pretty barren of cod today.
The most exciting big fish that you’re likely to catch are rays, conger and bull huss or other shark species depending on your location. There are tons of other sea fish species you could catch – I’ve caught over 40 species in the UK and some people have had many more.
Beach Casting Tips
Use Navionics to find deep water shore fishing marks near you
First of all, deep water is not universally better for fishing. Bass and flatfish for example can be caught over shallow ground, sometimes just a few feet deep. However many of the best fishing marks for species like ray, conger, big pollack etc do involve being able to cast straight into water that is unusually deep from the shore. Consider Chesil beach. Chesil is one of the most famous beach fishing marks in the UK, and part of its productivity is because the beach shelves off quickly into deeper water. Not too far offshore, there is very deep water, so larger fish don’t have to move far to be caught from shore.
Navionics is a tool that shows you what underwater features there are in an area. When the lines on the map are close together, it means the water changes depth there. You can click anywhere on the map and see how deep the water is there. This is an invaluable tool for the angler seeking deep water shore fishing marks.
When shorefishing for conger, chum the water
Conger are one of the few species that are still abundant in the UK. In interviews we’ve had with charter boat skippers, this species pops up as one that is a reliable catch in many parts of the UK. Especially the strap conger (under 25lb) that have not yet settled down in a wreck somewhere, as they’re still roaming the open seas.
Conger spend parts of their lives in water 3km deep. There is no light there, so the fish rely on extraordinary sense of smell (and other abilities nobody properly understands). When you’re night fishing for a session of more than a couple of hours, you’re likely to benefit from chumming the water with bits of fish head, fish guts etc. This will draw conger in from good distances away and increase your catch rate. Other species will also be drawn in by this, including small fish, which can sometimes then help attract bass, too.
In winter, hand warmers useful for getting in longer sessions.
Fishing longer sessions increases your chances of catching fish. Let’s face it, in British wintertime it’s the weather that is often the limiting factor in how long we fish for. Night fishing in January in the UK does require a good level of commitment. A hot flask, hand warmers and fingerless gloves help to get you through those long winter nights. It’s worth it, because there’s nowhere more peaceful than a frozen beach in the middle of the night.
Hold conger by the gills. Hold dogfish by the head and tail at the same time.
There are ways of holding certain species that makes a quick unhooking or release much easier. Conger can be lifted by the entrance to the gills. They have firm enough bodies to be able to support their weight in this area. With dogfish, you can grab the head and the tail with one hand. These fish are hyper flexible, as you will know if you’ve tried to just grab a dogfish by the neck, only to have it wrap its tail around your arm in a serpentine grip! Bass of course are best carried with a very firm grip between your thumb and forefinger on the lower jaw, and a second hand to support the body. A wet towel will allow you to grip fish without getting spiked, and the moisture in the towel will protect the delicate skin of many species.
The cheap combo rod will probably only last you a few months and the reel maybe a bit longer.
Unfortunately the UK sea fishing market has a lot of very cheap kit that doesn’t work well and has a very short life by the water. Some major fishing manufacturers actually know that the UK market is not as discerning as other international markets and make lower quality products especially for us! The solution is of course to buy some decent kit rather than spending £60 on a rod, reel and line. It does cost about £100 for a basic kit that actually works.
Going on guided fishing trips can drastically reduce the learning curve
Let’s face it, we anglers are a notoriously proud bunch. In some other countries, paying for a guided fishing trip is as normal as going to a tackle shop. Having somebody experienced show you how they do things in person is extremely useful. It’s also a great way to support the UK’s sport fishing industry, which in turn can help promote more sustainable fishing in the UK and give anglers more of a voice. We thoroughly recommend anyone at any skill level or level of experience considers an angling guide if you can. On trips abroad, I’m sure I’m not the first person to make the mistake of assuming that my knowledge from home would be enough to get me into the fish.
The way of going on guided fishing trips for free is to join an angling club or find people on Facebook groups to go fishing with. You may meet people there that give you local knowledge and improve your angling.
Fish love gulleys to feed, as its a natural holding place for food and slightly deeper water
When beach fishing, it pays dividends to know what underwater features there are at a mark. For instance, a beach mark may have areas of rough ground, gulleys, drop offs, or areas where the ground goes from sandy to stoney. All of these are likely fish holding features. Rocky gulleys for example – channels with deeper water between two rocks – are home to a huge number of small fish species and crabs. All those creatures kids catch in their nets when rock pooling. This means those areas are rich food sources for larger fish. You can find these areas by visiting marks on big low tides and then fishing the tide on the push. Knowing where there are deeper channels in an estuary tells you where to place a bait for cod, which will often push up those channels with the tide on the push. For bass, finding rocky gulleys where the sea has carved out strips of deeper water between rocks increases your odds of success.
Another more involved method is to go snorkelling or freediving! Any takers!?
Big tag ends are not good with worm baits, but help fish baits stay on the hook.
If you leave a long strand of worm hanging below your hook, fish are going to bite that off and not take the hook. However, with fish baits leaving a slightly longer tag end can help you get a stronger hook hold on the bait, preventing it from falling off.
Baiting elastic helps to streamline baits
Baiting elastic is useful for holding baits to your hooks. It stops crabs being able to pull your baits apart so quickly, which in certain marks at certain times of year are a real problem. Another lesser known advantage of baiting elastic is that is makes your baits more streamlined, so you can cast further. If it sounds like a faff – at least we’re not shaving our legs like cyclists…
Don’t use a beach caster for mackerel fishing
Many anglers will use a beach caster for throwing out mackerel feathers. Certainly the method is effective, as you are able to cast a long way and seek out the fish. It’s also cost effective as you can use the same rod for both mackerel fishing and ledgering with baits. However, beach casters are heavy and do tire your arms out after a while, and they’re just not as fun to catch mackerel on as a light spinning rod. We recommend targeting mackerel with lighter gear and not buying an ‘all rounder’ rod that attempts to do everything.
If you’re going to be doing a lot of feathering and spinning I also wouldn’t recommend a telescopic rod because they tend to be quite a bit heavier than a regular rod.
For daytime fishing, a rising tide or a high tide are the best times to fish
Most fish are more plentiful inshore when the tide is pushing in. This is because the fish follow baitfish inshore as they are pushed in by the tide. It’s also because areas of intertidal zone become submerged with the pushing tide, and lots of delicious morsels don’t get into their holes in time, so make for good eating for the fish. Going fishing when the tide is low or going out is rarely the best decision in most UK marks. There are of course many exceptions to this rule, particularly for bass.
The best moon for fishing is a new moon or full moon
The highest and lowest tides through the year are on the day of a new moon +3 days and also on a full moon +3 days.
On a new moon or full moon you have about 4 days when the tidal range is larger. This means the tide comes in further than usual and goes out much further. I have had dreams where the tide has gone out so far my friends and I can walk around our local bay and see every underwater rock or gulley. In some estuaries and beach marks, the areas of intertidal zone are huge.
Fishing tends to be very good on these spring high tides. They very reliably bring in species like mackerel and bass – but a huge number of species are more easily caught on big springs.
Use rolling leads to find gulleys in a moving tide
If you’re fishing in an estuary or a beach with a lot of water movement from the tide, you can use rolling leads to find gulleys for you. The lead will roll until it reaches a pocket of deeper water. It may then stop rolling. Even if it doesn’t the lead will move towards gulleys more often than you will cast into a gully by chance. These are fish holding features. Rolling leads do increase tangles, so rigs with fewer hooks and short traces are best. I wouldn’t recommend this for a beginner because tangles in your terminal tackle are likely.
Set up a good distance from the sea when fishing at night
Setting up your tripod further away from the sea, even if you move closer to the sea to cast, means you’ll have more time before you have to move with the pushing tide. In some marks, you do have to move a lot. Sea surges are also real and hazardous when fishing alone at night. Occasionally you do get a random freak surge and the sea comes in much further than usual. It’s safer to be sat a bit further inland than you think is necessary to avoid this.
Where there are lots of footprints is usually the HT line
You can often spot the high tide line by the number of foot prints on the beach. There are a lot more footprints just above the tide line than there are below it.
You can also use the tool to identify areas with rough ground for targeting species that prefer heavy structure, like Bull Huss. Or, you can use Navionics to find areas of sandy ground for targeting fish like Plaice.
Do not cast straight out into a running tide
If you cast straight out into water moving to your left, the water will carry your line a bit creating a bow in the line. If you cast at an angle in the direction the line is bowing, you can remove some of this slack line.
Change bait often and have pre-rigged baits ready
At many marks baits get torn to shreds quickly by crabs, small whiting and little gobies etc. In these cases especially when you’re changing baits a lot it’s useful to have baits pre-rigged on hooks so you can reduce the amount of time spent without a bait in the water. This makes a huge difference, which is why competition anglers – like formula one drivers – focus on reducing these wait times!
Experiment with fishing different depths and locations until you find the fish
Sometimes the fish just aren’t where we expect them to be, and it pays to cast all over the place into different areas to find the fish. Sometimes this means fishing much shallower or deeper than expect to.
Garfish as a rough guide will be around 4ft to 10ft under the water. Mackerel and pollock as a rough guide will be half way up
Garfish and mackerel are pelagic fish. Pelagic fish are those species that roam the open seas, rather than staying in one area most of the time, like wrasse. Garfish feed in the very top areas of the water. Their bills mean that they don’t really have the option to eat much of what lives further down the water column. Mackerel on the other hand can be at any depth from the surface to the seabed. Searching the middle of the water column with baits when float fishing is a good move.
If you’re float fishing, you can setup the stopknot depth to around 10ft and see what happens. If nothing happens after 10 to 20 minutes raise or lower the depth until you find the fish.
The fish are not always deeper out!
It’s a common myth on harbour walls around the country that the fish are present but are just too far out to catch. Sometimes it’s true. More often, the fish are actually most around your feet, and people are casting over them! At your average harbour wall in the UK, there are likely species like wrasse and conger at your feet or even inside the harbour wall itself if there are underground pipes. You don’t always need a long cast, even for very big fish. A short cast is often the best, especially at night when fish will come into shallow water to feed under the cover of darkness.
Pay attention to other anglers rigs if you’re not catching
Sometimes another angler will catch more than you to the point that it seems unbelievable. Strange things do happen in angling. I’ve been on trips when a similarly skilled friend has either outfished me or been outfished by a factor of ten. Often, the cause is the use of the wrong hook size or wrong bait for the day. Then of course, there is the role of luck!
Don’t feather after dark, mackerel don’t hit them at night
Mackerel are site feeders and are best caught in daytime. Casting feathers at night is not a good way to catch fish. Baited feathers can give success with members of the cod family, though.
If you’re feathering and not catching change your rig
Mackerel are pelagic, they come and go. If they’re not there and nobody is catching despite having a good casting distance and searching different depths, it’s time to try something else. You can always let other anglers keep fishing and use them as an indicator for when the mackerel have arrived! When the mackerel aren’t around, whack out a bait on the bottom and see what’s around.
The first person to put a glittering bead just above a hook must have felt like they were creating a vajazzle. And yet it works for species like Plaice that are strongly attracted to a bit of sparkle. I myself have bitten off 90% of a soft plastic and just fished with the tail end when I wanted to catch a lance (greater sandeel) as part of a species hunt. Experimentation can lead to results and a surprising amount of the time is actually necessary in order to catch anything at all! You have nothing to lose.
Most sandy beaches are most productive after a good onshore blow
Heavy wave action during onshore blows churns up the seabed and flings all kind of morsels into a suspended flight. After the wrath of the seas is over, bodies and carcasses of myriad creatures are left swaying gently on the seabed. This is a great time to catch big bass and all kinds of other species that move in to clean up the carnage.
Many beaches may look featureless at first glance this is rarely the case
There are often gullies and channels carved out by the water where dislodged muscles and clams with accumulate and draw in fish. Big storms can completely change the structure of a beach. Casting into gullies will increase your catch rate.
Seeing your rod tips in the dark is essential when sea fishing at night time
Glow in the dark rod tips are useful, because they allow you to detect bites at night. The best beach fishing in the UK is often had at night time, so rods with glowing tips are useful. You can always attach your own glow stick to your rod top to make bites visible.
Casting over rough ground requires a stronger outfit
Rough ground means rocks, weed, kelp and snaggy structure. You can’t avoid it because so many species live in the rough stuff. Mainlines of 30lb and with heavy duty reels and rods can help you to pull rigs through this heavy ground. A stiffer rod tip will also help when pulling through snags.
Shallow water beaches are mainly good for catching bass and flatfish
Other species will come inshore at shallow beaches but the most common catches by far in shallower waters are bass and flatfish. These spots also tend to fish much better at night.
You can remove weed from your line by hitting your rod with your palm or twitching your rod rapidly
Weed getting caught on your line is a common problem and there are faster and slower ways of dealing with it. You can often get it off with sharp rod movements or by hitting your rod. Then you can carry on retrieving.
Local knowledge is invaluable
FISHMAG is trying to bring together guides to create useful guides for beginners wherever they happen to be in the country. Local knowledge is pretty much 80% of what fishing is. The easiest hack for catching fish is to go with somebody that’s already made all the beginners mistakes.
A tripod with a sliding butt cup can hold your rod higher above weed
If you can get your rod tip higher, less line will be near the surface of the water because the angle of your line will be steeper. This can be achieved more easily if your tripod has a sliding butt cup (what a word!) as you can adjust it to get the rod held higher.
You can understand new ground by casting out a hookless lead weight first
If you cast a weight with no hook and retrieve slowly over the bottom, with a sensitive rod you’ll be able to get a feel for what type of ground you’re fishing over. You will feel for instance when you run into an area of weed, or encounter a major snag, or a steep drop off.
When reeling in heavy leads, try to remove strain from the reel
If you reel in without lifting the rod first then lowering it to retrieve some of the slack, your reel is having to work harder. When you catch a big fish or have caught a big clump of weed, beginners may try to retrieve without lifting the rod first. This will tire your reels out more quickly and is also more work for the angler.
Is there a more relaxing past time than casting out a baited line from a beach at dawn or dusk?
Bait fishing is the most primal mode of fishing. It gets us out and about, enjoying the coastline and seeing the marvels that it can produce on the end of our lines.