Alderney – only 3 by 1 miles and crawling with fish!

There is a lot of boat fishing around this island, mainly from Weymouth based charter boats that make the trek over, but it is the shore fishing that has made famous this tiny island just off the coast of France.

There is shore fishing all year round, but if you want a chance at the best fish, think of going in late Autumn and right into the depths of winter. The only real way of getting to Alderney at this time of year is via the planes that fly from Eastleigh airport (Southampton). It is a 45min flight, but made all the longer by the sense of expectancy and the craving to wet a line where the fish grow big and the tides run strong. I am sure many of you have heard of the famous week long Alderney festival that runs in October; some of the fish that come to the scales are quite fantastic, but I personally choose not to get involved, for I prefer less crowds and a bit of solitude. Outside this festival means that the favoured marks are often empty and there are less anglers competing for space; but then the festival is a great social occasion and you can get to learn a lot about the fishing.

As I said in my mullet article, there are shoals of monsters out there, but it is essential to fish during the winter; this may seem a bit weird to those who associate mulleting with those long summer days, but the biggest mullet I have ever seen came when I was wearing a woolly bear and a floatation suit, sitting down on Alderney’s rugged south coast at 8am on Christmas Day morning; it was that cold!! A ripping south easterly 5 to 6 was howling in from France and kicking up a typical easterly lop, but that did not stop these gigantic shoals of monster mullet from congregating and playing with our heads. We caught a few to just over 7lbs, but really we should have had a double figure fish out.

Loads of conger lairs

If you go to Alderney, you will see what I mean about this place being a mecca for big eel hunters; there is loads of rough ground beneath your feet, relatively deep water, tide, lots of food for the conger, and a massive breakwater where monsters roam!! There is no point messing about with light gear for these conger. Shore fishing is different from on a boat where the fight may be "straight up, straight down". Rock fishing for conger is a whole different ball game, where a multitude of factors serve to break your heart and lose you the fish of a lifetime, but how sweet it is when everything goes right!! I have had the nightmare of losing a couple of 50lb plus eels on the surface and it haunts you for months!!

Fish big baits, heavy leads and strong mainlines. Traces need to be at least 200lb mono to 8/0 hooks. There are times when you will actually be casting onto clean ground for the roaming eels, and there is the ever present chance of a tope. When I was last out there filming, there was a 75lb tope netted within casting range of Platte Saline beach!!

Alderney already holds various Channel Island and National records, but I do think it will also one day hold the ballan wrasse record; there are some seriously big wrasse out there. I would advise on using almost conger strength tackle, 6/0 Mustad Viking hooks and big hardback crab baits. Huge pollack are often caught on conger baits (12lb 8oz is the best I have seen, but I have heard of them over 15lbs!!!) and double figure bass are caught fairly often. There are less of the famous big flatfish around, but you do always have the chance of outsize sole and plaice if you put the time in. Ten pound plus undulate rays are often taken on the south side of the island, especially off Raz island and the Volta. Ledgered sandeels can take massive blonde ray and the odd double figure small-eyed, shoals of black bream are everywhere, and garfish always turn up. In fact, part of the problem is deciding what to go for!!!

Boat fishing off Jersey

I have recently spent some time sampling some of the charter boat fishing from the main Jersey port of St. Helier; I fished with a seriously competent skipper called Tony Heart. He takes his 33’ Aquastar "Anna II" out to some completely unspoilt and untapped fishing that does not entail long steams; most of the best fishing is very close inshore, so you get more time fishing and less time steaming.

Tony Heart is himself a mad keen angler and he works extremely hard at putting his anglers over the abundant quality fish; his spacious boat is purpose built for angling and cruises effortlessly at 14/15 knots. By all means take your own gear, but the boat is equipped with loads of rods, reels and terminal tackle.

The winter fishing is quite spectacular; the wrecks are stuffed with hard fighting, prime conditioned pollack that average over 10lbs. In fact, they very rarely catch them under this weight and the chance of a 20lb plus pollack is always on the cards. Their seasons are different to ours, for at this time their wrecks are also stuffed full of big black bream. Most fish will be 4lb plus, with many attaining 5lb and over; over 100 of these hard fighting scrappers in one day is the norm.

Spring sees the start of serious tope and ray fishing on the banks and scuddy ground close inshore. Big blonde and small-eyed ray snaffle mackerel and sandeel baits fished uptide and downtide around the sandbanks, and there is the chance of turbot and brill, as well as the odd big bass. Numbers of tope to 50lb turn up and will put up the most amazing scrap; again, put your baits uptide or downtide and wait for all hell to break loose!! 200lb mono traces are advised and braided line does help combat the fierce tides; you can get away with relatively light rods that allow the fish to really scrap. Bream also turn up on the tope grounds at slack water; I put down a small bit of squid for a bream and was hit by a 30lb tope that then took 15 mins to land!! Luckily the hook was right on the edge of its mouth, for I was only using 30lb trace line for the bream. That is part of the fun in fishing these waters; you never quite know what is going to bite next.

The wrecks are festooned with big ling at this time of year. If required, Tony will drift the boat over the wreck and you can pull them out all day long if you really want to. Ling do have this reputation for not scrapping, but that’s because most anglers usually hook them on 50lb class conger gear. I put down mackerel baits on a 4-10oz Conoflex uptide rod and every 15lb plus ling scrapped like mad on the 30lb braid mainline. There are loads of big conger eels on these wrecks and on the reefs inshore, but you want the neap tides when the anchor can be put down.

As spring moves into summer, you can catch the rays, tope and bream close inshore, and bass, brill, turbot, smoothounds, and various other species that turn up unannounced. Autumn sees another good run of big blonde rays on the sandbanks.

Like anywhere , the boat fishing is dependent on the weather, and although they do get more of a summer than us, Tony usually has somewhere sheltered he can take you if the wind picks up. There is some excellent shore fishing over there as well, but most of my fishing from Jersey has been from Tony’s boat and I really cannot wait to get back out there. They have so many different fish to go for and the fish fight so hard in the tide and shallow water. To see the tope run and then head uptide as your line sings with tension is a whole experience in itself. They tag and release all these tope and I must point out how conservation minded Tony is; it is nice to see a skipper itching to put fish back to fight another day.

To contact Tony Heart, skipper of Anna II :

Tel: 01534 863507
Mobile/Boat direct : 07797 725301
Email : hearty@localdial.com