The bonus is that tope grow big. It's not unusual to get tope in the 20lbs to 40lbs weight range when shore fishing and you are in with a realistic chance of fish to 60lbs at certain times of the year. Cod and conger aside, no other fish reach these weights that a shore angler can realistically expect to come across.
I won't try to convince you that tope from the shore are an easy option, but nor are they that difficult. This feature contains all the information you need, all you have to supply is a little patience and the will power to try it!
WHERE TO FISH Tope are found just about all around the UK, though they are scarce in the north-east quarter from roughly north of The Wash to Aberdeen. That said, the best of the fishing is on the south and west coasts.
The rock headlands and ledges falling on to clean sand are the prime marks. Look to Devon, Cornwall around St Just, south-west and north Wales, and Burrows Head and the Mull of Galloway in south-west Scotland. The north-west coast of Scotland is littered with sea lochs and deep-water rock marks that undoubtedly holds the best potential but it is little fished. The rocks and breakwaters on the Isle of Man also produce superb shore tope fishing.
To give an example of rock mark potential, back in 1982, Ray White took a 52lb 8oz tope from the rocks at Baggy Point, North Devon.
Surf beaches, more associated with bass, are also visited by the tope packs and can produce excellent sport. Chesil Beach and the Dorset coves hold tope, Again Cornwall around Porthleven, St Ives and Newquay, the beaches inside Carmarthen Bay and St Brides Bay in south-west Wales, the west and north Wales beaches especially Dinas Dinlle near Caernarfon, also Luce Bay in Scotland being the more noted ones, but many other beaches carry tope during the year with anglers unaware of their presence.
Ireland also holds a wealth of beach and rock fishing with the tope more evenly spread than on the UK mainland. The best chances occur from the Wexford, Cork and Kerry beaches, and from the Kerry and Mayo coast rock marks.
SEASONS Tope can show from the Cornish and Welsh beaches as early as late April, though late May is more usual, with numbers peaking in June. The tope packs are targeting small flatfish and school bass in the surf tables at this time. The inshore run in Scotland is later with fish working the beaches in late June and July.
Cornish and Welsh deep water rock marks tend to see tope close in from April to June when the sandeel shoals have fully formed and inshore fish stocks have built up to form a consistent food supply. The tope can stay around for about a month here before moving out to deeper water through mid summer prior to coming back inshore with the whiting shoals during September and October to feed up prior to moving offshore for the winter. This autumn period can see some bigger than average fish present.
Scottish rock ledges fish later. Expect August and September to be the peak times, though fish can show during October in settled autumnal conditions.
The Cork and Kerry beaches in Ireland hold fish from May through June, and again in September, but the rock ledges can produce just about anytime throughout the summer period, especially the Mayo rock marks.
TIDES & WEATHER The spring tides after the full moon rather than those following the new moon are best for surf beach tope, especially the building tides two or three days before the tide cycle peaks. Fewer tope are taken on tides falling in size immediately after the very biggest tide. Tope can be in the surf table as soon as a new tide starts to flood, but it's far more likely they'll appear during the mid flood tide period and stay until just before high water when they'll disappear.
The best chances are always at night as the light fades in to darkness. The surf beaches are generally shallow and carry clear water. Tope, being a predator, prefer the advantage of a night attack, plus small potential food fish are moving on to the beaches to feed as night falls to provide food for them.
Ideal conditions for beach tope are hot, humid nights, a flat calm sea with gentle surf tables and little or no wind. Moonlight is okay, but overcast skies are best.
It's less critical from the rock ledges and small neap tides and daylight conditions can produce fish. On the whole though, even on the rocks, aim to fish a bigger than average tide towards dusk and into dark for the best results. Calm seas are best, but the deep water neutralises any major movement, though avoid fishing after recent storms and in sediment coloured seas.
BAITS Shore tope are looking for sandeels and flatfish in the surf tables and these prove to be the best baits.
Either a whole or half launce sandeel 15cms long with the hook threaded down inside the body cavity and the hook point brought out about 5cms above the bottom end of the bait and secured with a few turns of light elastic thread is ideal.
Alternatively, half a fillet of a small dab with the hook passed through two or three times, then the fillet rolled up and secured by elastic thread oozes juices but is aerodynamically shaped for long casting.
Lamprey is a little known but highly effective bait. Present it the same as the sandeel, but this has masses of blood juice, is streamlined for casting and tends to pick out better-sized fish.
Mackerel is okay either as a cone bait formed by cutting the tail fin off and cutting through the body about 7cms above the tail fin cut, or as a large slice, but it is not as effective as sandeel or dab.
TACKLE & RIGS Although tope are powerful fish and run fast and far you don't need heavy tackle for them. Stick to a standard 5oz to 6oz beachcaster and a multiplier reel in the ABU 7000 size loaded with roughly 300-metres of 15lb to 18lb line and 22-feet of 60lb shock leader to take the strain of casting. It's the capacity of reel line that counts not the overall strength. Fixed-spool reels are okay, but choose a quality one with a good smooth drag.
The only rig worth considering for both beach and rock fishing is a pulley rig. Here's how to construct it.
Take 4-feet (122cms) of 60lb mono line and tie a size 4 rolling swivel to one end. Slide on a 5mm bead then pass the line through one eye only of a second size 4 swivel followed by another bead. At the other end, add a 3/0 Mustad oval split ring. The hook trace is formed in two parts. To the original tied on swivel add 18-inches (46cms) of 50lb mono then a size 6 swivel. Add to this by crimping 18-inches (46cms) of 50lb wire, preferably not the type that has a plastic sleeving over it and at the other end crimp on a size 6/0 Mustad Barbless Tope & Ray hook. The barbless hook is much easier to set in the jaw of a tope, won't fall free if you maintain a tight line, and is easier to remove when releasing the tope.
The free running swivel is attached to the leader line. When a tope takes the bait, the rig body line slides through the eye of the connector swivel pulling the lead free of the seabed and sliding it upwards out of harms way. The main advantage is that the pulley effect gives you 7-feet (213cms) of heavy rig line and hook trace to avoid the rough body of the tope cutting the line if it should come in contact with it.
The lead is important. Use release wired leads with long tail wires. Fix in place on the tail wire a bait clip made from stainless steel wire of 18-gauge diameter. By placing the baited hook in this bait clip on the tail wire the bait becomes part of the lead enabling it to cast further, gains protection by flying in the calm pocket of air broken by the nose of the lead in flight which maintains perfect presentation. As the rig falls slack as the lead hits the sea after the cast, the bait simply falls free ready to fish.
TECHNIQUE On surf beaches, look for the slightly deeper gullies or gutters that run parallel along the beach. Aim to position your baits in the middle of these as tope like to run through them when hunting.
Have the rod placed in a rodrest, the reel in free spool but with the ratchet on. A tope's initial run will be fast and can be between 50-metres and 75-metres long. When it slows down almost to a stop then the fish is beginning to swallow the bait and must be struck. Expect a series of fast runs, kiting in the surf tables and dogged stubbornness during the fight. A tope is beaten only when it starts to roll slowly rather than free swimming.
The best way to land a tope from the beach is to tail it. Wade in to the surf and get behind the tope, grab the wrist of the tail and then walk it slowly up on to dry sand. Be aware that the tope can twist around and bite, so keep it at arms length and well away from your legs.
The hook can be easily freed if at the front of the mouth. A deeper hook should be left in by cutting the wire. The hook will fall free by itself later. Take a picture, then gently slide the tope back in to the water by sliding it in to the surf holding the wrist of the tail. The fish will swim away of its own free will when ready.
There is no need to gaff tope, even from the rock marks. Simply get down to the waters edge and let the angler draw the fish towards a convenient access point. With the tope alongside, grab the wrist of the tail and pull the fish up on to dry ground, but without hurting the fish. If possible, lift the fish by both the tail and the dorsal fin. Again, free the hook, take a photo and release the fish gently.