June see’s the arrival of smooth hounds on many shore marks across the southern half of the UK.
These energetic sport fish can be a real eye opener to the new angler who is fortunate enough to hook one and may yet to have experienced the thrill of a sea fish that really knows how to pull back.
The prospect of landing a fish of this magnitude after mundanely winching in small fish such as whiting, pout and dogfish could appear quite daunting, but with a little preparation and a solid approach, the smoothhound is relatively easy to catch once located.
Noted marks across the south coast include Selsey, Pagham and Chesil Beach. The south west’s hotspot is undoubtedly the Bristol Channel and it is here that I first encountered the species many years ago. It is worth considering a number of points before you select a venue to give you the very best chance of making contact with a smooth hound. Tide has a massive effect on these fish and put quite simply, they love it! Choose a venue that is subject to a decent run of parallel tide. By this I mean that the tide sweeps along the length of the beach from either right to left, or left to right. Smooth hounds use the tide to travel and chances are that if you find somewhere that historically produces the species, they will locate your bait sooner or later. If the tide run is not visible to the eye, placing the rod back on the tripod after a cast and seeing the tip pull over will indicate that your bait has landed in the tide. If it remains straight, chances are that there is no tide and you will be unlikely to catch.
Tackle need not be fiercely robust, but the rod should be able to cast at least 6oz of lead and a bait and the reel should hold enough line of a breaking strain suitable to the terrain you may encounter on the sea bed. Smooth hounds are massive lovers of crabs in any form, so it is highly likely that a reputable venue will feature a rough sea bed, thus providing an ideal habitat for the hunted crab.
It will come as no surprise to learn that peeler crab is without any doubt THE bait to use and it is always a good idea to stock up prior to the season getting under way. Buy crabs by the dozen and select those that are splitting down the sides and still lively. Put them in a freezer bag and freeze as they are. The shells will prevent freezer burn and ensure that the bait is in tip top condition when you come to use it.
Favoured rigs are a subject of much discussion, but my personal choice has always been a simple pulley rig featuring an impact shield bait clip to aid casting distance and a pair of 4/0 hooks. Hook size can be changed to suit the size of bait, but I would usually fish a single peeler crab bait on hooks of this size and expect to hook 95% of the fish that find my bait.
Most smooth hound bites are extremely positive and will usually be seen as a solid pull over of the rod tip or a slack line bite as the fish breaks the grip lead from the sea bed. In either case, wind down to the fish taking up any slack line and lift the rod tip in a purposeful manner. Fish of an average size will certainly pull back, but can be subdued fairly easily, but larger fish can pull harder still and will occasionally require you to use the clutch of the reel. Take your time playing the fish, especially as it nears the shore line, as this is the time most fish are lost.
If you intend to land it alone, initially grab the fish by the tail, but do not try lifting it from the water in this way. Cradling fish with both arms is the only way to prevent damage to the cartilage of the fish. It is also becoming increasingly popular to see weigh slings and unhooking mats used for this species. They have a tendency to thrash around and this prevents any undue damage. You can eat the smoothhound, but many now consider the fish as one of the UK’s premier sporting species and it is rare to see one retained. Weigh the fish with care, take a picture and savour the fish making its way back to sea through the shallows and the memory will remain with you forever!