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Guide to fishing on the Suffolk coast

12:31 30 July 2010

Robert MacDougall-Davis with a prize catch

Robert MacDougall-Davis with a prize catch

Enjoy cooking, and eating, your own local catch this summer says angling expert Robert MacDougall-Davis

Enjoy cooking, and eating, your own local catch this summer says angling expert Robert MacDougall-Davis

Suffolks wide open beaches and pebbly shores provide an array of fantastic sea fishing opportunities. The cool, nutrient rich water that laps the coast is home to an impressive range of fish. The lucky angler who ventures forth can hope to catch sea bass, sole, mackerel, plaice, whiting, dog fish, skate and many other species. Most of these species are absolutely delicious and, as allotment owners and mushroom collectors will tell you, there are few things in life as satisfying as cooking your own catch.
Contrary to popular belief you dont need to be a wise man with a grey beard to catch fish from the Suffolk coast. In fact, all you really need is some simple tackle, a pot of bait and a little bit of luck. If you have fished before, you will be familiar with the thrill of waiting for a bite and if you have yet to make your first cast then do not fear, for beginners luck is a powerful thing; it is often the most inexperienced anglers who land the catch of the day. So where on earth do you start if you want to catch from the freshest fish counter in Suffolk?

Where to start?
One of the best things about fishing from the seashore is that anyone can do it for free! Sea anglers fall under the umbrella of the Recreational Rod Fishery, which encompasses all the water immediately adjacent to the coast. While countless years of commercial over-fishing has all but destroyed many of our offshore sea fisheries, the inshore recreational rod fishery is in a relatively healthy state. This is thanks, in part, to astute conservation measures that apply to rod anglers such as increasing the minimum landing size of sea bass to 36cm this ensures bass breed at least once before they can be taken for the pot.
Another major plus for sea fishing is that you dont need deep pockets to get together the essential tackle. It is easy to see how free fishing for all, cheap tackle and the chance of a delicious self-caught meal make sea fishing one of Britains most affordable and popular hobbies.
However, the real magic of sea angling lies in the connection that every angler makes with their environment. As the waves gently lap at your feet and a dawn sun climbs into the sky your spirits will soar. Even some of the sea birds may accept you as part of the ever changing tidal landscape and there are few things as beautiful as an iridescent mackerel glistening in the soft morning light.

What about tackle?
The first thing to do is to get your hands on a decent sea rod and reel.
Sea rods differ from other fishing rods in that they are stronger and less flexible because they need to hurl heavy weights far out into the surf.
Have a rummage in the attic or ask around because invariably someone will have some old fishing gear that needs a home. Failing that, a great way to get started is to find a local sea fishing shop on the coast (of which there are many) and ask for a little help getting together an all-round sea fishing outfit which will probably include a rod, reel, line and rod stand. You can get a perfectly good outfit for around 50 and it should last you for years.
Once you have got a rod, reel and line sorted you only need a few more bits and pieces like hooks, feathers, weights, bait and a sharp pocket knife.
Again the best thing to do is to ask for a little advice at the local sea fishing shop. Tackle shops are almost always run by passionate anglers who are more than happy to point you in the right direction and help you get together the essential tackle and bait for their local area. Other sea fishers are also a fantastic source of knowledge and are generally more than happy to point you in the right direction.

There are many different tactics and rigs for catching sea fish from the shore, but it is best to keep it simple. Two basic yet highly effective techniques are i) the running ledger and ii) feathering for mackerel.
Running ledger (Rig 1)
This simple yet hugely effective rig (see diagram) is used all over the world from Felixstowe to Miami. It is a very successful method for fishing along the Suffolk coast and a great way to catch bass, plaice, sole, dog fish, whiting, cod, and much more.
You can customise the rig to target individual species by varying the strength of your line, the size of your hook and your choice of bait. For example, fresh squid on a big hook with strong line works very well for bass whereas plaice and sole prefer rag worms on fine line and small hooks (ask a tackle shop for details).
If you are fishing from the beach try to cast on top of or just beyond the second breaker as this is the area that most fish patrol in search of tasty morsels rolling in the surf. If you are fishing from the end of a pier then you only need to cast a little way.
Once you have made your cast, wind up the slack line until you feel the resistance of the weight. Maintain continuous contact with the weight and cross your fingers you will know if a fish takes because you will feel a sharp pluck on the line which will feel like an electric bolt passing up the line!

Feathering for mackerel (Rig 2)
One of the most popular techniques used along the entire British coast is Feathering This method is specifically designed to catch mackerel and involves casting out a weight with a series of feathered hooks from a beach with a sharp drop-off, from a pier or over the side of a boat.
Once you have made your cast, let the weight sink to the bottom and then immediately start to reel in, sharply lifting and dropping the rod as you do so to impart life to the feathers.
If mackerel are around, feathering is a great way to catch your breakfast. Mackerel are voracious predators and move in vast shoals and it is not uncommon to catch two or three quivering mackerel all at once!

While it is possible to fish along the Suffolk coast all year round, the spring through until the autumn coincides with the best fishing for most species.
April and May see the start of the plaice and sole fishing and bass and mackerel increase in numbers from May onwards until November.
The tides also influence the best time to try your luck. Although you can catch fish at any stage of the tide, it is well worth keeping an eye on the tide timetables (available from the BBC weather website).
As a rule of thumb, the best fishing is during the three hours before and three hours after high water. This six hour window in the tide is the period in which most feeding goes on as fish are actively searching for prey. At low water the fish are less active and move a little further out to sea, which makes it a bit trickier to catch your supper.

So with summer just around the corner and a bounty of fresh fish just beneath the waves why not head for the beach and try your luck fishing from the Suffolk coast?


It is important to note that much of the Suffolk coast provides excellent fishing. Here are a few good places to get you started, but remember you will discover the best places yourself.

Orford Ness: Perhaps one of the most famous fishing spots on the coast of East Anglia. This is a wild and remote shingle spit that reaches far out to sea the largest in Europe. Every year large cod are caught and there is a good chance of running into bass, rays, dog fish, sole and whiting. The best way to access the Ness is to catch the National Trust Ferry from Orford Quay (just off the A12). The ferry costs 4 for an adult. Contact: 01782648024 Email: ofordness@nationaltrust.org.uk

Walberswick beach: The stretch of shoreline from Walberswick to Dunwich offers some fantastic fishing. Here you have the chance to catch a wide variety of species including big summer bass if you are lucky. The beach can be accessed directly from the Walberswick beach car park.

Aldeburgh beach: Aldeburgh is a small seaside town on the unspoilt east Suffolk coast. The beach can offer excellent fishing when conditions are right. Walk south from Aldeburgh for some way until you come across a series of groynes reaching out to sea. This area is a great spot for bass, flounders, sole, dabs, cod, whiting and eels.

Bonus spot: Just around the corner from Suffolk, Cromer pier is a great place to try your luck feathering for mackerel. Although very busy, this is a particularly good spot from June onwards an hour or so before high water tight lines!


There are few things as satisfying as cooking your own catch, especially when fresh wild sea bass from the fishmongers costs up to 28 per kilo! What they say about super-fresh fish being a cut above is absolutely true. A fresh mackerel caught on the morning tide and fried up for breakfast is a totally different fish from the mackerel off the supermarket fish counter. Here are a few culinary suggestions if you manage to haul something in!

  • Bass fillets lightly fried in butter served with hollandaise sauce, new potatoes and green beans. Tip: Scale bass before cutting into fillets

  • Enjoy the deliciously delicate flavour of laice fillets rolled in flour and fried in butter served with creamy mashed potatoes and red peppers. Tip: Delicious on its own, no sauce needed.

  • Grilled mackerel fillets on crispy toast. Make sure you enjoy this dish super fresh as mackerel breaks down very quickly. Tip: For best results, flip on the grill as soon as you get back


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