Boy with sea fish boat fishing

Get Into Sea Fishing

About sea fishing

The UK’s coastline offers up one of the richest opportunities for sea angling to be found anywhere in the world. From the warm waters of the Atlantic in the south west to the chilly waters of the Northern North Sea, a wide variety of habitats and species can be found that offer year-round sea fishing action. Here are some tips on how to get into sea fishing…

Ask Your Tackle Shop

Your local tackle shop will be able to give you advice about what tackle you will need to get into sea fishing. Some expert anglers might spend hundreds of pounds on rods and reels, but you could buy a basic fishing setup for about £25. The key to getting started is to keep things simple and try and get a friend or family member who has been fishing before to show you the basics.

Join a Fishing Club

Joining a local fishing club is a great way to learn how to fish and to get access to places to fish and charter boats near to you. A lot of fishing clubs will arrange fishing sessions for new or young anglers. If you are interested in competitive match fishing where you might win prizes, your local club will be able to help you get started. You can find clubs that are members of the Angling Trust, angling’s representative organisation HERE.

Watch our How to Fish Videos

Our ‘How To Fish’ films with world champion angler and fishing dad Rob Hughes are produced by The Angling Trust with funding from the Environment Agency. They explain the basics of angling and cover diverse subjects for beginners from where to get a fishing licence and how to set up a rod, all the way through to holding and unhooking fish. Watch here.

Our Fishbook Guide to Sea Fish Species

Our waters contain over 60 species of fish. Some can be caught all year round and some only in the summer months. Popular target species for beginners tend to be mackerel, garfish, whiting, pollack and wrasse; all species which can be caught on piers and breakwaters where access is relatively easy.

Popular species with more experienced anglers like bass, black bream, cod, mullet, tope, turbot, flounder and smoothounds might need a bit more knowledge, or possibly trips out in a boat, but once you have mastered the basics and have safe access to good venues then anything is possible. You can find many of the most common species that anglers catch in our Fishbook guide here.

Watch our beginner guide to sea fishing

Here’s a quick guide about how to start sea fishing. Jimmy Willis from the Angling Trust has a look at some of the most common questions that are being asked by newcomers. If you need help with the right kind of items of tackle to buy and how to set it up please ask Jimmy [email protected].

Sea fishing techniques – the basics

There are a variety of methods which can be used to catch your target species but in general there are three basic techniques which are used to catch sea fish.

1. Bait fishing: this can either be with a float or more commonly on the bottom using what is commonly known as ledgering. Floats are popular on piers and breakwaters in the summer and bottom rigs are more efficient and easier to use in boats and on beaches. There are a wide variety of rigs available and your local tackle shop or angling club can help you to decide which is best for the fishing you are engaging in. Paternosters and running ledger rigs are the most commonly used. Common baits used are lugworm, mackerel, squid and ragworm.

2. Lure fishing or spinning: More specialised but certainly more fun especially when fishing for bass or mackerel. There are many different types of lures of all different sizes and for beginners it is always best to keep it simple. For mackerel spinning with a set of what are call hockeye’s, feathers, or sebiki’s – three to six small hooks on a rig designed to imitate the actions of a shoal of bait fish – are deadly for mackerel and bass and can be great fun to use on boat or breakwater.

3. Fly Fishing: The most specialist type of sea angling technique and usually practised by more experienced anglers when hunting for bass and mullet. species there has been a surge in interest over recent years in saltwater fly fishing and fishing with artificial lures – the latter of which has been largely influenced by angling techniques in both the USA and Japan.

Tackle

The tackle and equipment needed to fish at sea can be extremely specific. Boat rods and reels must, for example, be able to cope with very large fish in deep water. Likewise, beach fishing rods may require casting distances more than 150 meters. Generally, sea angling equipment tends to be tougher, more resilient to corrosion and more powerful than other forms of fishing tackle. However, there are also circumstances where lighter coarse and game fishing tackle can be used, such as when light lure fishing or fishing for mullet, bass or flatfish like dabs and flounder.

Watercraft

As with any other form of angling watercraft (or understanding the marine environment) can have a dramatic effect on your success – arguably even more so with sea angling. To many this watercraft and developing an understanding of the natural environment and its interactions, is one of the great pleasures of angling.
Many different factors affect the presence and movement of sea fish. Understanding the influence of the main ones listed below is essential to becoming a successful sea angler.

Tides – the impact of tides on fish movement and feeding patterns cannot be overestimated.
Weather fronts – wind strength, wind direction and water temperature can all have a significant impact on your chances of finding, and catching, fish.

Light – bright sunshine can be very bad for fishing while many fish often feed and come closer to shore in the hours of darkness.

Seasons – fish migrate on a seasonal basis. Knowing these migration habits is essential to sea angling. Although global warming has affected the timings and numbers of fish which migrate in general, they will move according to their breeding patterns. For instance, black bream come inshore to populate reefs and rocky areas to breed moving off to deeper water later in the summer. Bass will spawn in huge aggregations in the spring and then disperse into smaller shoals as the season progresses. Mackerel will move up the channel in the early summer and quite of move inshore during August and September when sea conditions allow providing great sport on piers and breakwaters. Wrasse on the other hand do not migrate and will stay in the same area for most of their lives.

Features – most fish will aggregate around features on the seabed or shoreline. This tends to be where the concentrations of food species like invertebrates and crustaceans will accumulate. Wrecks, piers, breakwaters, gullies, rocky formations, seaweed beds are all places to identify. Different depths of water will affect tidal movement and sea-bed topography. Some fish will follow features like gullies or ridges hunting for food. Other will find a back of rock ledge and use it as cover to ambush prey. Experienced beach anglers will spend time exploring at low tide to identify these areas as act as holding areas for either fish or their prey. Boat anglers use sophisticated mapping software and sonar to identify suitable fish holding areas.

Conservation

There is a high interest among sea anglers in marine conservation and the sustainable management of our sea fish stocks. Over the years surveys carried out have increasingly revealed that poor fish stocks are the biggest issue for sea angling and many are also concerned that over fishing by the commercial fishing sector is another big threat to the future of recreational sea angling. The Angling Trust works hard to highlight and counter these threats. We are involved in promoting conservation measures around the UK coastline working with Inshore Fisheries Associations and other conservation bodies. We also engage where we can with the commercial fishing sector to work together to promote sustainable fishing.

While one of the great pleasures of sea angling is being able to eat the fish that you catch, most anglers practice ‘catch and release’. Recent research suggests sea anglers return 80% of the fish they catch. It is important that angler s only take what they can reasonably eat. In some areas bag limits have been agreed to prevent damage to breeding fish. Anglers and clubs have a set of legal minimum sizes. The Angling Trust publishes recommended minimum retention sizes for most species and provides lots more information on minimum landing sizes. With the prevalence of mobile phones “trophy” fish can be caught, unhooked, photographed and returned un-harmed in a matter of minutes so there is no need to bring back everything you catch. Careful fish husbandry is essential, and it is important you get advice on how to make sure you handle fish in the correct way. Distinct species have different tolerance levels, and this is also important to understand. If you are going to keep a fish to eat, then make sure you despatch it humanely as quickly as possible.

Getting Competitive

There is a strong match fishing scene within sea angling with international teams that represent England traveling the World to represent the country. These include senior men’s teams, lady’s teams, junior teams, veteran teams and disabled teams. Qualifying matches take place throughout the year and team members are selected by the Angling Trust’s committee of selectors. More information on competitions can be found HERE. In addition, clubs run their own competitions which may be one off or annual fundraising competitions, social matches for fun or leagues throughout the year with a more structured system of points.

Shore, Boat or Even Kayak…

Sea angling is generally split into shore fishing and boat fishing. Shore fishing is by far the most widely practiced but there are an ever-growing number of privately-owned boats with anglers fishing considerable distances from the coast. In addition, the charter boat fleet around the country provides anglers with the opportunity to pay for access to boat fishing with experienced and knowledgeable charter skippers. In recent years kayak fishing has become increasingly popular because it allows anglers to get onto the water with relative ease compared to owning a boat and provides a new dimension to the sport. Boat fishing and kayak fishing offer the opportunity to target species that may be unavailable to the shore angler.

Habitats

The UK coastline has a phenomenal variety of marine habitats that support a huge range of recreationally important angling species. From the shore, sandy or shingle beaches, estuaries, rocky outcrops, shellfish beds and fabricated structures such as piers, breakwaters, groynes, and harbours are all excellent habitats in which to find fish. From a boat, sandbanks, reefs, wrecks, and other natural and fabricated underwater structures provide excellent habitat for fish of distinct species.

Find out how to get into Coarse Fishing

Find out how to get into Game Fishing