The Dogs Of War

The conditions were perfect, a light southeasterly wind had been forecast and low water was around 09.50. My fishing partner for the day was my good friend and carp ace Mathew Lee. Mat, like my self, has been angling all his life, but where as I have concentrated on sea angling; most of Mats time has been spent doing battle with very large carp. Today however, he would be targeting something very different. The local grape vine was buzzing with reports of lots of smooth hounds being caught by the charter fleet, so expectations were high.

I keep my small boat on the river Crouch in Essex, so the plan was to leave the mooring at 05.45 to catch the hardest run of the ebb, then to steer south to arrive at the middle deeps for 07.00. We arrived at the middles as planned and after studying both the chart and echo sounder a likely looking edge was located and the boat anchored in 45 feet of water. Although we had bought plenty of peeler crabs with us, the first job of the day was to get the drop net working – This is important when targeting hounds as although they will take a number of baits they have a passion for hermit crabs.

My drop net is a bit on the large side especially as my boat is only 16 feet, its around three foot long and two foot wide; it’s made of two inch angle. This may seem a bit excessive but it does mean it can be worked in quite strong tides, and it does catch lots of hermits!

The drop net had been baited with a couple of frozen mackerel and was gently lowered to the seabed and it was time to set the rods up. My outfit consists of two quite old Diawa up-tiders, one is a 3 to 6 oz with an Abu 6000CT, loaded with 12lb line, the other a 6 to 8 oz with an Abu 8000C, loaded with 20lb line. Mats outfit consisted of two Diawa Amorphous 2.5 test curve carp rods with Diawa Emblem Zs, both loaded with 15lb line. Our end tackle was the same; two-rod lengths of 30lb line as a rubbing leader, as hounds have rough skin and have a habit of twisting and rapping them selves up in your line. Standard running ledgers were employed with 20lb hook lengths at 2.5ft long. At the business end was a Cox and Rawle Uptide Extra, size 3/0. 4oz break out style leads were attached to the link swivels and the hooks baited with prime peeler crabs. Then the outfits were cast out and across the tide, the trap was set and it was time for our first tea.

Mat with his first ever hound of around 4lb

After around 20 minutes it was time to haul up the drop net, this is not an easy task, as already mentioned it’s very heavy and with the tide still running fairly hard it took the two of us to get it to the side of the boat. When at last we had retrieved the drop net it was apparent it had as usual done its job well and around 35 hermits were collected and the net lowered back down. The rods were then reeled in and the peelers changed for hermits, the bites were very slow and only one small bass and a pouting were caught, so we decided to make a short move. After studying our chart we decided on a mark in between to sand banks and slipped down the anchor in 50 foot of water at the bottom of the edge. Rods were re-baited and cast out, the kettle put on again and we set down to relax. The tea didn’t even get made as Mats lead popped out, before he even got to pick it up the fish had taken up the slack and his rod slammed round, Mat caught it by the but before it went in the drink, he was into his first ever smooth hound. Five minutes later the fish was in the boat, not a big fish, around 4lb but the power of these fish never fails to impress.

Mat with the largest hound of the day, at around 7lb

We baited all the rods and re cast, not five minutes had passed and Mat was into his second hound. The fish were coming to Mats rods due to the position of the boat along the edge and it was half an hour until I caught my first hound of the day, again not a big fish around the 5lb. By this time Mat had caught four fish. The tide was now easing off, as were the bites. The boat started to swing and all we caught until the flood started was a few bass to around 1.5lb. When the flood started it was my turn to get the bites, I caught another three hounds to just under 6lb. After 45 minutes of the flood Mat struck into what appeared to be a better fish, it wasn’t until the fish was at the back of the boat that the reason the hound was putting up such a fight became apparent. During the fight the fish had spun and wrapped itself up in the hook length. As it turned out, the fish was a bit larger and was the best of the day coming in at around 7lb.

We fished that mark for a total of two hours and caught 13 smooth hounds. In the end we moved while still catching fish to try and locate some larger fish on a mark a few miles closer to home in the gullies on the Maplin Sands. As it turned out, by the time we arrived at the maplins the tide was running very hard, we fished for around an hour and didn’t even get a bite. The tide had come in enough for us to cut straight across the top of Foulness firing range, so we decided to call it a day and make for home. The first plan had worked well; Mat had caught his first smooth hound and had ended up beating me nine fish to my four. Although none of these small pack hounds were very large they are great fun on relatively light tackle, and Mat said pound for pound they fight as well if not better than any carp.

Mat playing his first hound

I feel I must mention that although smooth hounds can be taken for the table, they smell foul when being gutted and don’t taste as good as their cousins the spur dogs, which are normally sold as rock. For this reason and the fact that they are such a fine sporting fish we released all our catch to be enjoyed again by anglers on another day.

Sam Cox – 2005