Turbot and Brill are far more widespread than most people imagine. They are frequently caught as a by-catch when targeting other species in a variety of terrains. Whilst anglers tend to target Turbot on sand banks that rise up from the seabed, they are in fact a deepwater fish. They are often found populating areas close to underwater structures such as rocky ground or wrecks that make them hard to target. Turbot and Brill seem to move onto the shallower banks to feed, where they gorge on shoals of small fish such as sandeels. They tend to gather in small shoals as they hunt on the sand banks. We know this because having caught one, concentrating our efforts in the same area will usually produce a few more, for a short period of time.
Most of our specialised Turbot and Brill trips take place around the Channel Island of Alderney from April until October. In March and April we may venture to the Shambles Bank off Portland for them, but the real big ones tend to come from ground south of Poole during August through to October.
Fishing for these "King of Fish" as they are sometimes known is usually done on the drift. Bait can be fish strip or live bait and tackle is simple. Some days can be a real waiting game, but even when the catch rate is low, it is one type of fishing where optimism remains high.
Often we drift over banks, trying differing drift lines and areas but unless we move over the fish, anglers remain bite-less. It is the old saying, "you can only catch what is under the boat." The fish of course are moving too, albeit at a much slower rate and every now and again, the boat's track will intersect the moving flatfish and then it's "Fish on".
The diagram on the right shows a simple rig that works for Turbot and Brill. 1. The mainline can be mono or braid, although most anglers prefer braid in the 20 to 30b range. Mono has the advantage of smoothing out the feel of the undulating seabed, but can make bite detection harder. 2. A simple boom, such as a Zip-slider is ideal for securing the weight. 3. Weight choice is in the region of 6 to 12 oz, but nearly always 8oz is ideal. Since the boat is drifting in the moving column of water, (the tide), you don't need to change weight size as the tide changes. Consider using a weight that is not rounded as these may roll laterally into a neighbouring anglers swim, causing an unnecessary tangle. Watch leads can be a good choice as they don't roll and are supposed to kick up the sand, which can act as an attractant. 4. A good quality swivel, I use a 1/0, and a bead to protect the knot next to the zip-slider and weight. 5. The breaking strain and length of the trace varies. I use 30b mono for the trace and usually start the day with a length of around 120cm (4 foot). I may lengthen or shorten this during the day depending on catch results from around the boat.
What Rod and Reel?
If you have a choice, pick a light rod with a soft tip, that can handle dragging an 8oz lead weight. Reels can be either multiplier or fixed spool, but most anglers prefer to use multipliers.
In principal, Turbot fishing is quite easy. We simply drag a well presented bait over the sea bed, as the boat moves across the target area in the tide. If you can do this and remain free from tangles, then you are in with a chance of a bite. Get used to the feel of your tackle being dragged over the often undulating seabed. At first you may feel that you are getting bites when actually it is just the roughness of the ground. Once you have had your first bite though, there will be no doubting it, and you will know what to expect from then on.
Turbot and Brill will often hit the bait hard, their mouth exploding around the bait and sucking it in, in an instant as it passes near them.
The problem is that the bait is attached to your line that is being dragged along. On feeling the resistance, the fish will usually, unless already hooked, spit the bait out. If you the angler, do nothing, then you will continue to drag your bait, moving it away from the interested fish. If the boat is drifting quickly, then the Turbot may not pursue the fast moving bait and so you will have had a missed opportunity. As the angler, you need to be prepared for a bite and this involves fishing with your reel in "free spool" mode, but with your thumb on the spool to prevent the line running out. When you detect a bite, lift your thumb instantly. This will cause the line to spool and even though the boat continues to move, your bait will stop on the seabed, right by the interested fish. Free-spool for 3 to 5 seconds, during which time the fish will usually take the bait again. This time without feeling the resistance of the bait being dragged, the fish will sit there trying to swallow its easy meal. Reapply your thumb, stop the free-spooling, feel the weight of the fish and lift into it. If the Turbot or Brill is still not hooked, then carryout the drill again. Once hooked, apply gentle constant pressure to bring the fish to the boat. Although not always good fighting fish, their shape does provide a large cross section, which causes more drag than usual when reeling in a fish, particularly as you retrieve the fish off the bottom. Too much pressure or bullying at this point can result in some of the larger flatfish being lost.
1. If your fish comes off the hook, no matter how far you had reeled it in, even if it happens when your fish was on the surface, instantly free-spool. A feeding Turbot will nearly always retake the bait if you can keep it close to the fish.
6. Hook choice is a personal thing. Some anglers prefer a single hook, while others opt for a pennel rig. The idea of the pennel rig is to be able to present a long streamlined bait. In this case, the top hook will carry the weight of the bait and so it is vital that this hook is tied and not just thread through the eye of the hook.
Hook size is based on how ambitious you are, or what size class of fish is being caught. In the absence of knowledge at the start of the day, I usually begin with a hook size 6/0. Turbot and Brill have huge mouths so you can get away with large hooks. Some anglers prefer to use hooks as small as 2/0.
On a charter boat, anglers that work as a team will catch more fish. This is particularly true when drifting for turbot.
When baits are dragged along the seabed, lines will always run towards where the boat has come from. It follows therefore that one side of the boat will have their lines running away from the boat. (We call this the Lead Side on Trueblue.) The other side of the boat will have their lines running under the hull. There are advantages and disadvantages to both sides, but the important thing to remember is that anglers that are ready to fish as soon as the boat starts the drift, will always go on the lead side. Those dropping in last will always fish on the side of the boat that runs under the hull. Furthermore, if an angler retrieves mid drift and needs to drop again, then he will always drop under the boat, regardless of where he or she was fishing before retrieval.
As can be seen from the diagram above, when a line is first dropped in, it goes down near vertical and is likely to snag another already fishing if it is dropped on the lead side.
It is crucial to get to the end of any drift without anglers being tangled and so good skills from everyone are required. Further separation of lines can be achieved by anglers on the lead side spooling lots of line to fish well away from the boat, while anglers fishing under the boat, fish tight.
At the start of each day, your skipper starts with a blank canvas. He has no idea where on the bank the fish will be. As the day progresses a pattern usually develops as to where the fish are, enabling concentrated effort around a particular area. Evidence of fish comes though successful catches, but equally important is the evidence of missed bites. Always report when you have a bite, at the time you have it, so that your skipper can make a mental note of the location by referring to the plotter.